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


Sirens warns of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

Sirens warns of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor
Updated 9 min 59 sec ago

Sirens warns of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

Sirens warns of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

JERUSALEM: Sirens sounded in the southern Israeli district of Abu Qrenat near the Dimona nuclear reactor on Thursday, the Israeli military said without immediately providing further details.
Such siren alerts are generally activated by rocket attacks.
A Reuters reporter about 90 km (56 miles) away from Abu Qrenat heard the sound of an explosion minutes before the military’s text message.
 


UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
Updated 22 April 2021

UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
  • Comments came after Syria’s parliament confirmed Bashar Assad will run for re-election in next month’s poll
  • Secretary-general’s spokesman said the vote is not part of the political process set by Security Council resolution

NEW YORK: The UN on Wednesday reiterated that it is not involved in the upcoming Syrian elections and has “no mandate to be.”

In came after the Syrian parliament announced on Wednesday that President Bashar Assad will run for re-election on May 26 in what will be the second presidential election held during the decade-long civil war in the country.

“(Syria’s) elections have been called under the auspices of the current constitution and they’re not part of the political process established under Resolution 2254,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “For our part, we will continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“Resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians including members of the diaspora.”

Pressed on whether or not his comment means the UN does not consider the elections to be free and fair, Dujarric said: “I think my words on Syria were pretty clear,” and reiterated his previous comments.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, has been working to support efforts to draft a new constitution as part of the political process aimed at ending the war and ensuring free and fair elections, supervised by the UN, in which all Syrians can vote, including refugees.

During a Security Council briefing last month, however, he acknowledged that due to a lack of “true engagement” by the Syrian regime, the political process has not succeeded in bringing about any tangible changes as yet, nor has it led to the adoption of a vision of the future for Syrians.

He said “free and fair elections” based on the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254 still “seem far into the future.”

Assad has been accused by Western countries, including members of the Security Council, of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to avoid UN-supervised elections.

Last month Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, asked the international community to “not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections. These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime. They do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254, including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution.”

Barbara Woodward, the British envoy to the UN, said the UK “stands with the Syrian people to deliver all the steps enshrined in Resolution 2254: a nationwide ceasefire; unhindered aid access; the release of those arbitrarily detained; conditions for safe refugee return; and free and fair elections pursuant to a new constitution — all of which represent the only way out of this conflict.”


Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
Updated 21 April 2021

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
  • British-Iranian labor rights activist Raoof and German-Iranian national Taghavi are being held in solitary confinement and are due in court next Wednesday
  • Multiple reports suggest Tehran is using cases to increase pressure before next stage of Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna

LONDON: Iran has set trial dates for British-Iranian labor rights activist Mehran Raoof and German-Iranian national Nahid Taghavi, who are due to appear before judges on Wednesday in separate cases, the UK-based newspaper The Guardian reported.

Raoof, 64, a former teacher in London, has been held in solitary confinement for more than five months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after he was secretly recorded talking about politics in a cafe, human rights campaigners have revealed.

Taghavi, 66, a retired architect who has diabetes, was arrested last October during a crackdown on women’s and labor rights campaigners. She has also been held in solitary confinement at Evin and will be tried before the revolutionary court, her daughter, Miriam, told The Guardian.

Multiple reports suggest that Tehran is using these two cases, in particular, to increase the pressure before the next stage of talks on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna.

Both Germany and the UK are supposed to be involved in the nuclear deal talks in Vienna, which are due to resume next week. Both countries backed the 2015 deal with France, Russia, China and the US. Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the pact three years later.

Amnesty International said Raoof is an arbitrarily detained “prisoner of conscience,” and expressed concern that he could be given a sentence of up to 16 years.

Taghavi appeared before a judge last week after six months in pretrial detention and the charges against her remain unclear.

Martin Lessenthin, of the International Society for Human Rights, said Taghavi is “innocent and has no chance to get a fair trial.” He said her lawyers have not accessed her files and that she is a victim of “political hostage-taking and the arbitrary judicial system of Iran.”


Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA
Updated 22 April 2021

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

VIENNA: Iran has installed extra advanced centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and plans to add even more, a report by the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday showed, deepening Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal with major powers.
The report is the latest evidence that Iran is pressing ahead with the installation of the advanced machines, even though it is not allowed to use them to produce enriched uranium under the 2015 agreement.
The accord only lets Iran produce enriched uranium at its underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are far less efficient than the advanced models.
“On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: ... six cascades of up to 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges; and two cascades of up to 348 IR-4 centrifuges ... were installed, of which a number were being used,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report to member states said, referring to the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. The report was seen by Reuters.
According to a previous report, the IAEA verified on March 31 that Iran was using 696 IR-2m machines and 174 IR-4 machines at the FEP.
Wednesday’s report also said Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to install four more cascades, or clusters, of IR-4 centrifuges at the FEP, where both of the IR-4 cascades it had planned have now been installed.
Meanwhile, the European parties to the agreement have seen progress in the first two rounds of indirect US-Iran negotiations to revive the deal but said on Wednesday that there were still major hurdles to overcome. The United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Grant McCool)


Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
Updated 21 April 2021

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
  • Judge Ghada Aoun staged a third raid on the offices of Mecattaf, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority
  • If she persists in defying judicial decisions she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council and face prosecution, a source told Arab News

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge on Wednesday raided the offices of Mecattaf money exchange company in Awkar for a third time, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority (JIA).

Judge Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s public prosecutor, was accompanied by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). She was previously dismissed from an investigation into possible breaches of currency export rules.

“What is happening is a rebellion that will duly be dealt with,” a judicial source told Arab News.

Other sources revealed that the head of the JIA, Judge Barkan Saad, called Aoun as she was forcing her way into the business’s premises and asked her to leave, but she refused to comply.

“What Judge Aoun is doing goes against the statements she made during her hearing before the Supreme Judicial Council and this is unacceptable,” the judicial source said.

“We will act accordingly and she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council, meaning that she could be prosecuted, because what she is doing falls under the judges’ crimes section. If the judiciary moves forward with this measure, she will be prosecuted by the prosecutor general.”

Mecattaf is one of the largest money and gold-trading companies in Lebanon. Aoun arrived at its offices in Awkar, Beirut, with her bodyguards, who are members of State Security, and broke the locks on metal gates at the entrance as her supporters cheers and shouted: “May God be with you, Ghada Aoun.”

They sat on the ground in the yard outside the building while Aoun entered it accompanied by a financial expert. The Internal Security Forces cleared the yard of protesters but allowed them to remain on the street outside.

Journalists were prevented from accompanying Aoun into the building but before she did so she told them: “I was prohibited from entering the company with my car, so I entered on foot. I was not allowed to enter because the company’s data exposes the people that smuggled their money abroad. I ask the judiciary to stand with me because these are the rights of the people, not my own.

“What was issued by the Supreme Judicial Council is just a statement, not a decision, and I have yet to be informed of it. Preventing me from entering with my car is a recognized crime and I call on the security forces and the president to intervene.”

Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Ghassan Oueidat, previously transferred the financial-transactions case that Aoun was handling to Judge Samer Lishaa. Aoun refused to abide by the decision and continued her investigation. She is backed politically by President Michel Aoun and his political bloc, represented by the FPM.

There are fears that the issue will become a political battle that will lead the international community to believe that while some officials are trying to fight corruption in Lebanon, others are attempting to prevent this.

“Judge Aoun is saying that Mecattaf Company possesses data with the names of all those who smuggled their money abroad before the decision to block deposits in dollars in Lebanese banks was issued in 2019,” a judicial source told Arab News. “However Michel Mecattaf, the director and one of the company’s shareholders, confirmed that his company is abiding by the Code of Money and Credit, meaning that it is subject to banking secrecy.”

Mecattaf has also stated that he is following the law “and a witness in this case, not a suspect.”

Groups of Judge Aoun’s supporters, using the names United Alliance and Cry of the Depositors, issued a statement in which they said: “Mecattaf’s representatives and the employees of his company are suspiciously refusing to hand over the remaining data, bearing in mind that the data extracted so far shows loopholes in the chains of (US dollar) transactions abroad during a crucial period from before the October Revolution in late 2019 to early 2020.

“This has pushed Judge Aoun to head to the company’s headquarters again, as the requests of the financial expert to obtain the accounting records and the documents related to money transactions were denied.”

In February last year, Mecattaf said that “shipping (of currency) is done under prior authorization from the Central Bank and under the supervision of the Banking Control Commission. The money we ship is ours, whether in dollars, pounds sterling or euros.

“So if we want to ship money abroad from Lebanon, we buy it as a commodity and transfer it aboard. Most importantly, money shipping is done exclusively from and to a banking or financial institution. There are no limits to shipping but we are not allowed to transfer money to a third party.”

Mecattaf also said: “Since the beginning of 2019, I have been receiving more than 100 calls daily from most of the politicians, bankers and rich people, asking me to transfer their money abroad. This went on for months.

“Carrying out such a thing is very difficult. It cannot be done unless a large majority of bank directors and employees are a part of it,” otherwise transactions that violate rules will not go unnoticed, he added.