How the coronavirus crisis disrupted the global urban order

Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Pedestrians, wearing protective face masks, walk on the waterfront next to the White Tower in Thessaloniki on October 31, 2020, as Greek Prime Minister declared a one-month partial coronavirus lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)
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Pedestrians, wearing protective face masks, walk on the waterfront next to the White Tower in Thessaloniki on October 31, 2020, as Greek Prime Minister declared a one-month partial coronavirus lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)
How the world’s cities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic may very well determine their resilience and longevity, say experts. (AFP/File Photo)
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How the world’s cities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic may very well determine their resilience and longevity, say experts. (AFP/File Photo)
A man wearing a face mask gazes at the Dubai skyline from a window, during a lockdown imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Emirati city on April 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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A man wearing a face mask gazes at the Dubai skyline from a window, during a lockdown imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Emirati city on April 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture taken on April 18, 2020 show the Great pyramids lighten-up with blue light and reading with a laser projection the message
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A picture taken on April 18, 2020 show the Great pyramids lighten-up with blue light and reading with a laser projection the message "Stay Home" on the Giza plateau outside the Egyptian capital of Cairo, on the world heritage day, as the country fights against the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 January 2021

How the coronavirus crisis disrupted the global urban order

Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • In order to emerge more resilient from the pandemic, Middle East city leaders must reimagine what comes next
  • For East Asian cities, long-term investment is starting to pay off as they close the gap with their Western peers

DUBAI: History is full of examples of mighty cities brought to their knees by deadly disease outbreaks. While COVID-19’s global toll is miniscule compared with the ravages of, say, the Black Death during the Middle Ages, the sheer scale of urbanization and the interconnectedness of today’s modern economy amplified the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. How different cities adapted to the latest contagion may very well determine their resilience and longevity.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the existing global urban order and thrown the reputation of several Western cities into question. Yet in many ways, the pandemic has merely accelerated a long-established eastward trend.

In its 2020 Global Cities Index report titled “New priorities for a new world,” management consultancy Kearney examined how the pandemic has impacted urban life and economic competitiveness of the world’s metropolises. This year’s study included data from 151 cities — up from 130 surveyed in 2019 — reflecting the growing importance of urban spaces in the Middle East, China and Central Asia.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the findings of the 2020 report are very different from previous years, as cities continue to limit entry to visitors, cancel events and festivals, and restrict the free movement and social mixing of their citizens in the hope of containing successive waves of the virus and its latest mutations.

Kearney’s Global Cities Outlook (GCO) suggests that although some well-established contenders have maintained their ranking over the course of the year, others have witnessed a notable change of fortunes — for better or worse.

London, for instance maintained its high ranking in 2020 despite the British capital’s repeated lockdowns and the economic uncertainties of Brexit. Meanwhile, for many rising cities, particularly those in China and the Middle East, it appears that long-term investment in governance and economic infrastructure is starting to pay off as they rapidly close the gap with their American and European peers.

One example is Abu Dhabi, which has risen to 7th place on the index, 13 notches above its 20th ranking in 2019, overtaking Stockholm, Amsterdam and Dublin. The city also topped the economics metric in infrastructure, which, as the report states, was “thanks to its openness to the private sector and robust engagement in public-private partnerships.” This boosted per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign direct investment.

Dubai also has cause to celebrate, climbing 14 points in the index to rank 18th, up from 34th in 2019 and 41st in 2018. Meanwhile in Asia, Singapore dropped a notch to 3rd whereas Tokyo climbed two ranks to 4th. Although they have not emerged unscarred by the pandemic, these Eastern powerhouses are primed for significant growth in the coming years.

Dr. Parag Khanna, managing partner at FutureMap, a consultancy firm analyzing trends in globalization, says the world can be divided into two categories now. “The places that shifted together and are going to figure out how to move ahead and those that have not been successful at sticking to a plan,” he told Arab News.

“Countries such as the UAE, Kazakhstan and Singapore are all countries that are going to come out of the pandemic not necessarily better tomorrow but in the hierarchy of countries that had a plan and are going to stabilize a profit in the years ahead.”

Kearney’s analysis suggests that in order to emerge stronger and more resilient from the current crisis, city leaders have been forced to reimagine what comes next.

Its study covers four dimensions — personal well-being, economics, innovation and governance — which are key determinants of a city’s ability to attract talented human capital, generate economic growth, increase competitiveness and ensure stability and security.




An aerial view shows King Abdullah Finance City and the northern ring road which remains empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 24, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

It stresses the need for “urban value creation,” meaning that in order to remain relevant and competitive in a post-pandemic world, “global cities will need to deepen their focus on creating public value — that is, value centered on the common good across all sectors and segments of society.”

Other top priorities are promoting “global city connectedness” — meaning the international flow of goods, ideas and people — and “the transformation of urban space” — placing the onus on urban leaders “to address the many challenges tied to physical space that have been so starkly revealed by the pandemic.”

Khanna says the coronavirus crisis has shown that some countries need to slow down and re-evaluate. “It is more important now to fix the cities that you have than to build new cities that you don’t necessarily know if you are going to need in the future,” he said.

“When you are looking at cities now you need to ask yourself the following: Which cities are stable and successful? In what cities are people recongregating? Which cities are going to attract young talented people who could now be anywhere in the world because of remote work? And could Dubai or Riyadh or Tel Aviv or Istanbul or Muscat be that place?”

A case in point is NEOM in Saudi Arabia. Before the pandemic struck, the world watched expectantly as Saudi Arabia outlined its plans for the futuristic smart city located in the northwest Tabuk province.

With the global public-health crisis expected to catalyze the digital transformation of different sectors, “NEOM has an unprecedented opportunity to become the first health technology capital of the world, and a global hub for innovation and cooperation in health and wellness technology,” wrote Roxana Mohammadian-Molina, chief strategy officer at London-based financial technology company Blend Network, in a commentary for Arab News in July last year.

As for the Saudi capital, Afshin Molavi, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said: “Riyadh is making many of the right moves, particularly in its upgrading of transport infrastructure and the expansion of entertainment offerings.

“If it continues to move in this direction, I could envision Riyadh landing on most of the top regional urban indexes over the next few years.”

The pandemic does appear to have accelerated a trend that has long been in evidence — the shift of business eastward, with major economic centers opening in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The continued rise and apparent pre-eminence of the East during this challenging period may also have something to do with planning, allocation of resources and leadership.

“The rise of the East has nothing to do with the fall of the West,” said Khanna. “The global economic pie was growing for centuries and certainly for decades during the entire post-Cold War era.

“The rise of the East began the second the atomic bombs were dropped in 1945 because that’s when Japan started to reinvent itself as a peaceful country. Japan then took exactly 30 years — from 1945 until 1975 — to become the world’s second largest economy.”

Khanna says many countries in the East have withstood the harsh punishment of the coronavirus pandemic thanks in part to sound socio-economic planning. “This reinforces the Asia-centricity of the coming era,” he said.

During this time of global fragmentation, there has also been a noticeable resurgence in economic activity along regional lines. “You don’t have de-globalization but an enhancement in regional cooperation,” said Khanna.

“It’s not an accident that reconciliation with Qatar is happening more now or the normalization of relations between the Israel-UAE or the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — the big trade agreement that has just gone ahead in the midst of a pandemic, because Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thais and Koreans realize that for the foreseeable future, they are going to trade a lot more with each other rather than across the vast oceans.”

Small wonder then, as the Kearney report concludes, the cities that are emerging on top are the ones that have long been innovating for the future, that have stuck to sound plans, and those that have strengthened their regional ties for the bumpy road ahead.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

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Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Updated 23 September 2021

Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
  • Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024

KHARTOUM: Sudanese military leaders said on Wednesday the civilian politicians they share power with had opened the door to a coup attempt by neglecting public welfare while they were consumed by internal squabbles.
A body known as the Sovereign Council has ruled Sudan under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and civilians since the overthrow of Omar Bashir in 2019 but their relationship has remained fractious since then.
Military authorities said on Monday they had detained 21 officers who had attempted to take power in the early hours of the day. The threat appeared to have escalated the tensions between the partners.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia condemned the coup attempt Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Egypt also condemned the coup attempt and stressed its support for its neighbor’s transitional government.
In a statement on its official Facebook page, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry affirmed its support for efforts by Sudan’s government to meet the aspirations of its people at this important stage in the country’s history.
Cairo stressed its keenness to see stability and security in Sudan, and condemned any attempt to obstruct development efforts there.
Speaking at a military graduation in Omdurman, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, accused the civilian politicians of seeking personal gains and forgetting the aims of the revolution.
“The politicians gave an opportunity for the coup because they neglected the citizen and his livelihood and basic services and were occupied with fighting over seats and divvying up positions,” Dagalo said, in unusually strong criticism of the civilian team.
After the coup attempt, civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok reiterated calls to restructure the military and bring its business interests under civilian oversight, a key source of dispute, in a speech that did not emphasize military-civilian unity as he has done previously.
Political parties called on citizens to reject military rule and protect the revolution. Burhan called such statements “unacceptable.”
“Who should they rise to protect the revolution against? From us, the military? We are the ones who are protecting it from them, the ones who want to steal it.”
Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024.
“They are occupied with fighting and yelling and are directing all their arrows at us,” he said.
Both men said they felt their forces were unappreciated.
“The military is met with humiliation and insults day and night, so how can there not be coups,” said Dagalo.


EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2021

EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
  • 400 Iranian-American scholars urge Biden to call for Raisi to stand trial for his role in mass executions
  • Borrell ‘underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks’ at a meeting with Iran’s top diplomat

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday Iran’s top diplomat had assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.
The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.
An EU statement said Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting on Tuesday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement said.
Raisi voiced support on Tuesday in his international debut for reviving the nuclear accord, even as he berated the US.
“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said in a recorded speech to the UN.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he expected a resumption of the talks “in the coming weeks,” without giving an exact date.
The 2015 nuclear agreement offered Iran a reduction of UN sanctions in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, but Tehran has progressively stepped away from its commitments in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal and imposition of sanctions.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to return to the deal, which was negotiated when he was Barack Obama’s vice president and under Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
In a letter to President Biden, ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly, more than 400 Iranian-American scholars urged the president to call for Raisi to stand trial before an international tribunal for his role in the 1988 mass execution of dissidents. Dissidents have zeroed in on his role in a “death commission” that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Iran’s new president slammed US sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first UN address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.
President Ebrahim Raisi delivered a far more critical and blunt take on American foreign policy than his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the UN General Assembly.
“Sanctions are the US’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to “crimes against humanity.”
In taking aim at the US, Raisi also referenced the shocking Jan. 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and the horrific scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US aircraft evacuating people.
“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: The US’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Raisi said.
He said “the project of imposing Westernized identity” had failed, and added erroneously that “today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”


Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2021

Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
  • Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

AL-TUHAYTA, Yemen: Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi gives a science lesson to children sprawled across the ground at her home in a remote village in the southern province of Hodeidah.
For these boys and girls, learning at Mahdi’s sun-scorched compound is their only opportunity for an education in the small rural area of Muhib in the Al-Tuhayta district.
She had already been teaching children to read and write before the outbreak of the impoverished country’s devastating war in 2014.
“What pushed me toward teaching was the high rate of ignorance in the village and that children were deprived of an education,” Mahdi told AFP.
With dozens of children to tend to, Mahdi has divided them into three groups based on age, teaching each class for two hours a day.
Other than learning how to read and write, the children also get lessons in maths and science.
But Mahdi said her house, with hundreds of books piled on a single shelf, is not really equipped for teaching. “There is lots of damage from the sun and heat,” she said, wearing an all-black niqab.
Yemen’s war pits the government against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 2,500 schools in the country are unfit for use, with some destroyed and others turned into refugee camps or military facilities.
UNICEF has estimated that 2 million children were without school even before the coronavirus pandemic, a further systemic shock which it warns has likely propelled the number even higher.
“We wouldn’t have been able to read, write or learn if it weren’t for Miss Amina,” one of the pupils, Ibrahim Mohib, told AFP.
His father, Mohammed, said he had no regrets sending his three children to learn at Mahdi’s home.
“They were taught there from the first until the fourth grades, and thank God for (Mahdi) striving to teach them,” he said.
Mahdi said she hopes to get some form of help to teach the children.
“I ask all those who are charitable to bring joy to these children ... and offer aid to establish a real school,” she said. “My small home is not good enough, and it has become a public place where I am no longer comfortable.”


Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
Updated 22 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
  • Saudi Arabia remains the top donor of humanitarian aid to its war-torn neighbor
  • Saudi, Yemeni govts call for pressure on Houthis to choose UN-led political solution to conflict

NEW YORK:  Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU and other nations announced hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of additional humanitarian and development aid for Yemen at a high-level meeting at the UN on Wednesday. 

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, supervisor-general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, announced that Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $90 million in humanitarian aid for war-torn Yemen.

“Over the last six years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided more than $18 billion to support Yemen,” he said. “This year alone, Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen with more than $848 million.” 

The latest pledge means Saudi Arabia is once again the largest donor of aid to Yemen. But “monetary donations alone won’t alleviate the crisis in Yemen,” Al-Rabeeah warned. 

“Unless we work together to end the conflict and minimize the obstructions of aid delivery, the situation will continue to worsen,” he added.

“Ongoing aggression by the Houthi militias against the UN and international NGOs only adds more misery to the Yemeni people.”

Al-Rabeeah expressed the Kingdom’s desire that the international community support its political plan “to put an end to the conflict and bring long-lasting peace to all Yemenis.”

The US promised an additional $290 million in donations for 2021, while the EU announced that it will donate a further €119 million ($139.65 million), which the bloc’s Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said is a “joint humanitarian and development aid pledge.”

She added that “in the immediate term, our support will help families access food and basic commodities,” and that “in the long term, the EU seeks to help Yemen build a bridge from crisis to recover.” In this, she said, “investing in youth and women will play a critical role.”

Canada, Qatar, Sweden and Brazil together pledged additional donations worth over $120 million, some of which will be provided to UN bodies such as the World Food Programme to assist their operations in Yemen.

In total, around $600 million in additional humanitarian funding was announced at the UN meeting.

That money will be used to ensure that food security, sanitation, healthcare and education continues to be delivered to as many Yemenis as possible.

But while the aid provided by the international community will alleviate some of the hardship facing the country’s 29 million people, world leaders repeatedly made clear that a political solution to the conflict is the only way to truly end the humanitarian crisis.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and it was plunged into civil war when the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government in 2015. Since then, famine and conflict have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Yemen’s Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned on Wednesday that “despite the generous contributions of the international community, including the UN-led Humanitarian Response Plan, the humanitarian crisis witnessed by Yemen is still the largest and most urgent in the world.” 

He blamed the Houthis for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, citing their assault on the city of Marib as an example of how they perpetuate the suffering of Yemenis — in this case by preventing the supply of household fuel to people across the country.

“Marib is the main source of household gas in Yemen … The continued brutal attacks by the Houthi militias on Marib exacerbate human suffering,” Bin Mubarak said.

He warned that a continuation of the Marib offensive could force thousands of internally displaced Yemenis who had sought safety in the city to seek refuge overseas.

“All humanitarian efforts provided by the different (UN) agencies won’t end the suffering of the Yemenis unless this war stops,” he said.

“Therefore, I’d like to call upon the international community to exert more effort on the Houthi militias and their supporters to give up the option of war and engage in a peace process that’s led by the UN.”


Tunisian police re-arrest MP hostile to President Saied

A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2021

Tunisian police re-arrest MP hostile to President Saied

A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
  • Makhlouf and two other Al-Karama MPs are accused of insulting border police who had prevented a woman from flying

TUNIS: Tunisian lawmaker Seifeddine Makhlouf, an outspoken critic of President Kais Saied, has been re-arrested, for “undermining the dignity of the army,” his lawyer told AFP on Wednesday.
Like other MPs, Makhlouf lost his parliamentary immunity when Saied assumed full power on July 25, sacking the prime minister, suspending the assembly and taking control of the prosecution service.
Makhlouf heads Al-Karama, an ultraconservative party allied to the Islamist-inspired Ennahda movement, Saied’s rivals who were previously the strongest party in the legislature.
He was briefly arrested on Sept. 17 on his way to a Tunis military court to appear before an investigating judge.
The MP was already the subject of a warrant issued by military justice on Sept. 2 for a case related to an altercation in March at Tunis airport.
Makhlouf and two other Al-Karama MPs are accused of insulting border police who had prevented a woman from flying.
The latest arrest “is not related to the airport case. It is another judicial file opened against him by the military justice,” said his lawyer Anouar Ouled Ali.
In the latest case, Makhlouf is accused of undermining the army in an exchange with a military official while he was at the military court to support another member of his party, who was being prosecuted in the airport case.
In a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday, the military court of first instance in Tunis said that a judicial enquiry had been opened on Tuesday against Makhlouf, who had “insulted and threatened one of the military judges.”
The lawyer, Ouled Ali, said that “this military prosecution of political opponents is a scandal. What is happening to Seifeddine Makhlouf is the settling of political scores.”