Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
A Shi’ite Badr Brigade militia fighter at a checkpoint outside the town of Amerli, September 5, 2014. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 01 March 2021

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
  • Pro-Iran Shiite militias pose ‘major’ Mideast threat: Ex-UK envoy to Saudi Arabia
  • Emirati ambassador: UAE has found success by listening to aspirations of country’s youth

LONDON: The UK and Middle Eastern countries should not allow the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions to distract from the importance of countering extremism, a group of experts said on Monday.

At an event hosted by the UK’s Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “The danger of the pandemic is that it distracts our attention (from extremism), and weakens the ability of governments and societies to deal with it and address it honestly and intelligently.”

He added that the appeal of extremist ideologies “hasn’t gone away,” and that all governments need to remain focused on this issue. 

“One of the major threats to the Middle East is the spread of Shiite Islamist militias that have a degree of loyalty not simply to Iran, but to the supreme leader himself — they’re Khameneists, basically,” he said.

“We see it with Hezbollah in Lebanon, we see it in Syria, and we see it extraordinarily in Iraq. The hollowing out of state capacity in large parts of the Middle East, in favor of these predatory militias, is a major long-term threat,” he added. “The key for governments is not to lose focus of all of this.”

John Woodcock, the UK special envoy for countering violent extremism, echoed those concerns over the persistent threat of violent extremism.

“There has been a danger in the last 12 months that national focuses haven’t been on the issue of extremism,” he said.

“I think that’s potentially a far greater issue for the years ahead because of the huge resource pressure that countries will come under in the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

This financial pressure, Woodcock warned, could trickle down to multilateral agencies working in conflict and post-conflict zones, potentially hampering their ability to carry out work that acts as a preventative buffer to the allures of extremism.

His concerns appear to already be playing out in the UK, amid reports on Monday that Britain will cut its aid budget to Yemen, which is embroiled in a civil war involving pro-Iran Houthi militias.

Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to France, said his country recognized early that religious extremism presented a real challenge that demanded attention, and was successful in tackling it.

In the UAE, “we saw that there was a very powerful narrative within our own Islamic community that was pulling kids into warzones and into acts of violence,” he added.

“This recognition happened some time ago,” he said, but after the 9/11 attacks “this became much clearer to us.”

To counter this, the UAE “focused on young people in particular and what aspirations they have, asking how we as a government can provide them with the means to achieve those aspirations,” Ghobash added.

The UAE “has continued to develop sensitivity to what young people want to do and what they can do,” he said.

“The approach of the leadership has been to invest in intellectual, legal and physical infrastructure to provide uplifting visions of where the country and its people can go.”

The launch of the Mars Hope probe, Ghobash said, presents just one example to the country’s youth of how Emiratis can operate internationally, bypassing cultural or religious differences.

Initiatives like that, he added, encourage the country’s youth to focus on “improving the lot of mankind, not just our own neighborhood.”


UAE confirms 1,843 new COVID-19 infections, 2 deaths

UAE confirms 1,843 new COVID-19 infections, 2 deaths
Updated 27 min 13 sec ago

UAE confirms 1,843 new COVID-19 infections, 2 deaths

UAE confirms 1,843 new COVID-19 infections, 2 deaths
  • The total number of infected cases since the pandemic began has reached 493,266
  • The total fatalities stand at 1,547

DUBAI: The UAE has recorded 1,843 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours after conducting 198,135 tests, state news agency WAM reported.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said the total number of infected cases since the pandemic began has reached 493,266 while the total fatalities stand at 1,547 after two deaths were confirmed.
Meanwhile, 1,503 people had recovered from the virus, raising the total number of recoveries to 476,518.


Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry
Updated 28 min 30 sec ago

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry
  • Over 3,000 foreign investors who paid a minimum 2 million euros were given Cypriot passports between 2013 & 2019
  • In "tens" of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship without giving details

NICOSIA: More than half the passports Cyprus issued to rich foreigners in an investment scheme were illegal, a government-appointed board of inquiry has found.
More than 3,000 foreign investors who stumped up a minimum of 2 million euros were given Cypriot passports between 2013 and 2019, with the scheme proving popular with Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese and Cambodians.
The program was terminated last year after a corruption scandal, embarrassing the island’s center-right administration which had championed the scheme before admitting it was flawed.
“Our interim report gives statistical data concerning illegal naturalizations — those which, in the view of the committee, were issued by exceeding the boundaries of the law — and those are 51.81% of the total,” Myron Nicolatos, who chaired the inquiry, told reporters on Friday.
He said some others were within the proper legal framework but did not meet some legal criteria which applied at the time.
In “tens” of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship, Nicolatos added, without giving details.
His report has been passed to the attorney-general’s office and not been made public.
“The interim report notes possible criminal, disciplinary or administrative responsibilities which will be investigated by the relevant authorities,” said Nicolatos, who was president of the Supreme Court until he retired in 2020.
Panned by critics as opaque and fraught with the risk of money-laundering, the scheme had been staunchly defended by the government through a slew of mainly foreign media reports and European Union misgivings.
The authorities were forced to unceremoniously dump it after the Al Jazeera network secretly filmed a former speaker of parliament and others allegedly offering to help a person with a criminal record obtain a passport.
He resigned, but denied any wrongdoing, saying his comments were taken out of context.
The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus over the scheme last year, arguing that granting EU citizenship for pre-determined payments, without any genuine link to the state, concerned undermined EU citizenship.
Investigators probed 2,478 passports issued from 2007 to 2016, and an additional 417, deemed high-risk, until 2020.


Iran says production of 60% enriched uranium ‘underway’

Iran says production of 60% enriched uranium ‘underway’
Updated 16 April 2021

Iran says production of 60% enriched uranium ‘underway’

Iran says production of 60% enriched uranium ‘underway’
  • The move takes Iran closer to the 90 percent purity level needed for use in a nuclear weapon
  • Britain, France and Germany have expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s latest enrichment move

TEHRAN: Iran has begun producing uranium at 60 percent purity and is making nine grams per hour, the head of the Islamic republic’s atomic agency said on Friday.
“The enrichment of uranium to 60 percent is underway at the Martyr Ahmadi Roshan nuclear facility” in Natanz, Ali Akbar Salehi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said, quoted by Tasnim news agency.
“We are now getting nine grams (almost a third of an ounce) per hour,” Salehi said later on state television.
Iran announced this week that it would boost its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity in response to an attack Sunday on the Natanz nuclear facility that it blamed on arch-foe Israel.
The move takes Iran closer to the 90 percent purity level needed for use in a nuclear weapon.
The Islamic republic has gradually rolled back its nuclear commitments since 2018, when then US president Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral deal and began imposing sanctions.
The 2015 deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Under the accord, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent, though it had stepped this up to 20 percent in January.
Diplomatic negotiations aimed at ensuring the return of the United States to the JCPOA resumed this week in Vienna.
Britain, France and Germany — the European parties to the JCPOA — have expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s latest enrichment move.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday sought to allay Western concerns over the move, saying the Islamic republic’s nuclear program is “peaceful.”


Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya
Updated 16 April 2021

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya
  • Egypt’s foreign affairs minister Sameh Shoukry reiterates support for UN special envoy’s efforts

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry reiterated his country’s support in reaching a comprehensive political settlement to the Libyan crisis in a meeting with UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Libya Jan Kubis.

Shoukry said such a settlement should preserve the unity of Libya, ensure the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from it, and preserve the capabilities of its people and its national institutions.

Egypt’s foreign minister stressed the importance of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which seeks to pave the way for legislative and presidential elections in Libya scheduled for December.

Shoukry also reaffirmed his country’s support for the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, which includes five representatives from each of the rival sides in the conflict. He is optimistic the commission can unify security and military institutions within Libya.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Shoukry is also backing the continuous efforts made by Kubis in his mission to reach a political solution that would serve the Libyan people and achieve their aspirations for a stable and prosperous nation.

The UN envoy briefed Shoukry on the results of his recent contacts with the parties involved in the Libyan crisis. The envoy expressed his appreciation for Egypt's efforts aimed at supporting its national neighbors and his aspiration for continued coordination with Cairo.


US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers
Updated 16 April 2021

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers
  • David Hale: “Those who facilitate progress can be assured of our strong support.”

BEIRUT: The US undersecretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, has issued a warning against “those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda.”

He said that they “jeopardize their relationship with the US and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions,” adding: “Those who facilitate progress can be assured of our strong support.”

Hale’s statement came after his meeting on Thursday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

The political disagreements resulted in the failure of the designated prime minister, Saad Hariri, to form a rescue government of non-partisan specialists to implement reforms demanded by the international community.

President Aoun’s team and his supporters object to the government lineup presented by Hariri last December. Aoun and his political team, represented by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), are demanding that they have the power to name Christian ministers in the government and to have the blocking vote. Hezbollah, which supports a techno-political government, champions some of these demands.

The US administration had previously imposed sanctions on FPM leader Gebran Bassil on charges related to corruption.

Hale stressed that he came to Lebanon “at the request of Secretary Blinken to underscore the Biden administration’s continued commitment to the Lebanese people and our shared desire for stability and prosperity in Lebanon.”

Hale reiterated his condemnation of the performance of the ruling authority.

“The Lebanese people are clearly suffering.  They are suffering because Lebanese leaders have failed to meet their responsibility to put the country’s interests first and to address the mounting socio-economic problems,” he said.

Hale referred to his two previous visits to Lebanon, which were in December 2019 and August 2020. He said: “I heard then an unmistakable call for change from Lebanese from all backgrounds. These demands are universal: For transparency, accountability, and an end to the endemic corruption and mismanagement that have caused such hardship.

“If these demands had been met, Lebanon would be on the road to fulfilling its tremendous potential. Yet today, there has been very little progress. But it’s not too late.”

Hale renewed his call on Lebanon’s leaders “to show sufficient flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of reversing the collapse underway.”

He said: “The time to build a government, not block it, is now. The time to build a government is now. The time for comprehensive reform is now. And America and the international community are ready to help.  But we cannot help, as I said yesterday, without a Lebanese partner.”

Hale specifically criticized Hezbollah: “Hezbollah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling, and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions.”

He added: “They rob the Lebanese of the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country. And it is Iran that is fueling and financing this challenge to the state and this distortion of Lebanese political life.

“This brings me to America’s renewed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A mutual return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal is in our interest and in the interest of regional stability, but it would only be the beginning of our work. As we address the other elements of Iran’s destabilizing behavior, America will not abandon our interests and our friends here in Lebanon.”

Hale, who is described in Lebanon as the godfather of the framework agreement for negotiations on demarcating Lebanon’s southern borders with Israel, stressed that “America stands ready to facilitate negotiations on the maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel on the basis on which we initiated these discussions.”

Hale’s insistence on facilitating negotiations with Israel “on the basis on which we initiated” came as a response to Lebanon’s demand during the 2020 Lebanese-Israeli technical negotiations to amend the area it expects to reclaim due to a calculating error. This amendment will include 2,290 sq. km instead of an area of ​​860 sq. km. This expansion depended on an effort by the Lebanese Army in 2019 to demarcate the maritime borders.

Lebanon drew up a decree to amend this area to submit it to the UN.

This decree has yet to be signed by Aoun, pending the approval of the cabinet. Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab is refusing to hold a cabinet session due to its illegality.

Following Hale’s statement, Aoun stressed “the importance of continuing negotiations on demarcating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel and fulfilling America’s role as an honest and just mediator.”

He said: “Lebanon has the right to develop its position according to its interest, in line with the international law, and in accordance with constitutional principles.”

Aoun called for “the appointment of international experts to demarcate the line and the commitment to refraining from any exploration work in the Karish field and in the adjacent waters.”

He stressed that he would not abandon “the sovereignty, rights, and interests of Lebanon” and would “make every effort to ensure that the demarcation of the borders is a subject of consensus among the Lebanese and not a subject of division, with the aim of strengthening Lebanon’s position in the negotiations.”

Hale’s meeting with Lebanese Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun focused on “the extent to which the army was affected by the approved spending rationalization decision and its impact on the army’s performance of the great tasks entrusted to it.”

Hale’s meetings in Beirut coincided with the visit of Hariri to Moscow. The Kremlin announced on Thursday that a phone call took place between President Vladimir Putin and Hariri, who was present at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The call lasted 50 minutes.

The Kremlin’s statement said that Hariri briefed Putin on internal developments and the initial measures to form a government and overcome the economic crisis. Russia affirmed its position in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

A source among the Lebanese delegation to Moscow told Arab News that the call between Putin and Hariri was “excellent with regard to the government crisis, and it stressed that the government should be formed as soon as possible.”