AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however.
Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance.
The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations.
Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said.
Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians.
In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll.
In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30.
Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.”
Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.”
In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.
Exclusive: Ethiopian survivors retell horrors of last month’s ‘Houthi holocaust’
Witness testimonies confirm that racism underlies Houthis’ abuse of Africans trapped in Yemen
Lawyer says 10 women taken to hospital after the March 7 fire are now nowhere to be found
Updated 19 April 2021
NEW YORK CITY: When Abdel Karim Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, fled the recent violence consuming Ethiopia’s Oromia region, he never imagined he would fall into the hands of Yemen’s Houthis.
In fact, like many of his compatriots desperate to escape conflict-ridden Ethiopia, he had not even heard of the Iran-backed militia, which seized control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2015.
When he first set out on his dangerous voyage across the Red Sea, Abdel Karim had envisioned an arduous overland crossing to one of the Arab Gulf states where opportunity and prosperity awaited him.
Events had taken a frightening turn in his native Ethiopia, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate amid growing unrest and political tensions. Human rights abuses, attacks by armed groups and communal and ethnic violence have forced thousands to seek refuge abroad.
Abdel Karim’s first encounter with the Houthis came just two days after his arrival in Sanaa, when two militiamen approached him in a marketplace. They singled him out in the crowd and demanded to see his ID.
Without so much as glancing at his papers, he was placed under arrest and taken to the city’s Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) Holding Facility, where he found hundreds of African migrants languishing.
Among them was Issa Abdul Rahman Hassan, 20, who had been working a shift at a Sanaa restaurant to save for his journey when Houthi militiamen stormed in and carried him off to the detention center.
There he was placed inside a hangar with dozens of others. In a video recorded three months after his arrival, Issa gestures around him. “Look, we are living on top of each other. We have no food. No water. Some people are exhausted, as you can see. They just sleep night and day.
“We don’t even have medicine here. And organizations like UNHCR do not care about us. All of us here are Oromo,” he said, referring to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Human Rights Watch has corroborated several accounts like Issa’s, describing conditions in the detention center as “cramped and unsanitary, with up to 550 migrants in a hangar in the facility compound.”
On March 7, unable to tolerate these conditions any longer, the migrants went on hunger strike.
According to witness testimonies, the camp’s Houthi guards told the migrants to say their “final prayers” before firing tear gas and what may have been a flash grenade into the hangar. A fire quickly broke out.
Amid the smoke and chaos, migrants trampled one another in their desperation to escape. According to Houthi accounts, 40 migrants succumbed to the smoke and flames. Human rights groups put the figure closer to 450 — not to mention the scores of burn victims and amputees.
Abdel Karim was in the bathroom when the fire broke out. He survived, but suffered severe burns to his arms. He was taken to a government hospital, where he could see from the window a heavy security presence deployed around the medical facility, blocking relatives and aid agencies from reaching the injured.
Afraid he would be rearrested, Abdel Karim discharged himself and escaped.
Despite his injuries, he joined survivors and relatives of the dead outside the UNHCR building in Sanaa to demand international action to hold the perpetrators to account.
They also demanded the names of all those killed, dignified funerals and closure for the families of those still missing.
“UNHCR did not respond to us,” Abdel Karim said in a video, shared with Arab News by the Oromia Human Rights Organization (OHRO).
“Only two days after the protests began, a UNHCR guy came out and told us that they (the agency’s staff) are also refugees like us here, guests who are incapable of doing anything. He told us that since 2016, the refugee file has been in the hands of the Houthis.”
550 Migrants in the IPNA hangar before March 7 fire.
6,000 Migrants in detention in mainly Houthi-controlled Yemen.
Source:Human Rights Watch
Undeterred, the crowd refused to leave, camping outside the UNHCR building for several weeks. Then, in the early hours of April 2, Houthi militiamen cordoned off the area, and dispersed the protesters with tear gas and live rounds.
“They hit us, dragged us by force, took our fingerprints and photographed us, before loading some of us into cars and shuttling us to the city of Dhamar, where they abandoned us in the rugged mountainous areas,” said Abdel Karim.
“We knew nothing and no one there. We just kept walking. We had no food, no water and hardly any money. When we stopped at one of the small villages, one of us got a bottle of water, and we passed it on to one another. There was only enough water to wet the tips of our tongues.”
The group eventually made it to Aden two days later. From the UNHCR’s headquarters in the port city, Abdel Karim asked to be taken to hospital to have his burns treated.
According to Arafat Jibril, head of OHRO, only 220 of the 2,000 detainees at the detention facility on the day of the fire made it to Aden. The fate of the others remains unknown.
“African migrants just keep disappearing,” Jibril told Arab News. “The numbers of the forcibly disappeared are on the rise. But we have no means of knowing the exact numbers. This would be the job of international organizations, provided they are given access to secret detention centers, many of which are in Sanaa.”
As a lawyer and activist, Jibril collects eyewitness testimonies from inside Houthi-occupied territories in the form of secret WhatsApp recordings made by determined volunteers compelled to expose the horrors they see committed against African migrants.
Piecing together what happened to the disappeared is proving a challenge. “We know, for example, that 10 women who were taken to hospital are now nowhere to be found,” she said.
“We know that detentions of African migrants are continuing on a large scale, and that there is a long ‘wanted’ list, including the names of protest ringleaders and those migrants who talked to the press.
“And we know that the Houthis sort the migrants out. They send the young and healthy to war, and position them at the forefront of the trenches so ‘the blacks’ — as the Houthis call the African migrants — would die first. We have heard many accounts like that from those who survived the battles and returned to their families.
“They send African women to the battlefield, too, referring to them as Zaynabiyat (the Houthis’ all-female militia), to do the cooking and other services. At least 180 women and 30 children who had been detained were kidnapped two days before the fire. We also know nothing about them.”
Few doubt that racism lies at the core of this maltreatment.
“Shortly after the tragic fire, Houthis were bullying the African migrants, hurling racial slurs at them, calling them ‘the grandchildren of Bilal’ — the Ethiopian companion of the Prophet and the first muezzin in Islam — and threatening ‘to burn you one by one like we burned your friends’,” Jibril said.
She fears these examples are just the tip of the iceberg in a largely overlooked tragedy that, despite its increasing severity, has failed to capture the interest of the international community.
The Houthis are well aware that African migrants have no one looking out for their interests.
“No organization to protect them,” said Jibril. “No one. So, the Houthis say, ‘let’s use them’. The only ‘sin’ these migrants committed was that they were born black.”
Greek FM visits Egypt in lead-up to Saudi Arabia visit
Diplomatic move by Athens against backdrop of Libyan situation, tension with Turkey
Updated 19 April 2021
Muhammad Abu Zaid
CAIRO: Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias arrived in Egypt on Sunday during a tour leading up to a visit to Saudi Arabia. It comes within the framework of a diplomatic move by Athens against the backdrop of the situation in Libya and tension with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.
Dendias tweeted on Saturday: “Yesterday I was in Cyprus to participate in the quartet meeting with Emirates, Israel and Cyprus, and I will go tomorrow to Cairo, and on Tuesday to Saudi Arabia, while I will participate on Monday in the European Council meeting.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held talks with Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias on his arrival in Cairo. They dealt with the bilateral ties between the countries and ways of enhancing them, in addition to the trilateral cooperation between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, and regional and international issues of common concern.
Last February, foreign ministers participating in the “Friendship Forum” in Athens, which included Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Cyprus, in the absence of Jordan, stressed the importance of stability in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Participants said that “discussion of confronting provocative acts and violations in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean was held.”
Saudi Arabia and Greece carried out a joint air exercise, “Eye of the Falcon 1,” in Crete, with the aim of refining and developing the skills of the air crew and technical division, and raising the combat readiness of their air forces. This was in addition to exchanging military expertise in the implementation and planning of air operations.
Saudi Arabia and Greece carried out a joint air exercise, ‘Eye of the Falcon 1,’ in Crete, with the aim of refining and developing the skills of the air crew and technical division, and raising the combat readiness of their air forces.
Greek and Turkish disputes over maritime rights continue in the eastern Mediterranean region, with each side claiming encroachment on their maritime areas, while Arab countries condemn what they describe as Turkish military intervention in several Arab countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.
The two ministers held a consultation session in Cairo to address common regional issues.
The Greek foreign minister tweeted through his official account on Twitter that he and his Egyptian counterpart discussed bilateral relations and developments in the eastern Mediterranean.
Spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Ahmed Hafez, said that the talks between the two ministers dealt with issues of bilateral cooperation and regional issues that were a priority for both countries.
The Greek minister’s visit is the second in less than a month and a half. He is discussing with Egyptian officials bilateral cooperation and reviewing the latest developments within common political files, most notably the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, as well as Syria.
Berbers: North Africa’s ‘free people’ struggle for rights
The Berbers comprise about 10 million people in Algeria, making up roughly a quarter of the country’s population of 40 million. The majority live in Kabylie, a restive, mountainous region to the east of the capital Algiers
Updated 19 April 2021
ALGIERS: Thousands rioted in Algeria’s northern Kabylie region 20 years ago this week — a symbolic chapter in the long fight for Berber rights.
The indigenous group is also in the vanguard of the Hirak anti-government protests that have rocked the country since 2019.
The Berbers are descendants of pre-Arab North Africans, whose historic homelands stretched from the Canary Isles and Morocco to the deserts of western Egypt.
They refer to themselves as the Amazigh, meaning “free people,” and have long fought for recognition for their ancient culture and language in modern states across the region.
Here is an overview of the Berbers’ varying fortunes in the Maghreb and Libya.
The Berbers comprise about 10 million people in Algeria, making up roughly a quarter of the country’s population of 40 million.
The majority live in Kabylie, a restive, mountainous region to the east of the capital Algiers.
On April 18, 2001, a teenager held at a gendarmerie post near Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Kabylie, was hit by a hail of bullets. He died two days later.
Massinissa Guermah’s death sparked riots, as Kabylie was preparing to celebrate the 21st anniversary of its fight for recognition of its Berber identity.
An estimated 126 people died in the two months of unrest, many of them youths shot in clashes with riot police.
Thousands of others were wounded in the crackdown.
In 2002, Berber was finally recognized as a national — but not an official — language, allowing it to be taught as a second language in some Berber areas.
Its recognition as an official language only came with constitutional reforms in 2016.
Berber New Year was celebrated as an official feast day for the first time on Jan. 12, 2018.
Morocco is home to the world’s largest Berber community.
According to a 2014 census, more than a quarter (26.7 percent) of Morocco’s population of 35 million use one of the country’s three main Berber dialects.
Their language was only given official status alongside Arabic in a new constitution in 2011.
Their Tifinagh alphabet now appears on many public buildings next to Arabic and French.
Since 2010, the Tamazight TV channel has been dedicated to promoting Berber culture.
In Libya, the Berbers were persecuted under former ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
However, they make up around 10 percent of the population, living mainly in the mountains west of Tripoli or in the vast southern desert regions.
In Tunisia, official statistics based on ethnicity are prohibited.
While their traditional heartland is in the south, an exodus from the countryside means Berbers today are mainly found in the capital Tunis.
How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic
Data from polling agency YouGov suggests pandemic will have long-lasting impact on attitudes towards public health
Fear of catching COVID-19 has fallen among Saudi and UAE respondents, while willingness to accept vaccines has grown
Updated 19 April 2021
DUBAI: On March 11, 2020, just a matter of months after it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, outbreaks of the novel coronavirus were reported from multiple continents — marking the start of an unprecedented health emergency and an abrupt change in daily habits.
After the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to raise its alert from a scattering of localized epidemics to a full-blown pandemic, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area were quick to respond.
Mandatory nationwide closures were put in place, schools and workplaces emptied, front-line workers mobilized and households ordered to stay home. Few could remember a time of such disruption or ever seeing their streets so empty.
Data collected by British polling agency YouGov found that in April 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, some 75 percent of respondents across Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt “somewhat” or “very scared” of contracting the virus. This fear has generally fallen as the pandemic has worn on.
To curb the spread of COVID-19, governments placed much of the onus on the general public to abide by new personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines.
In the same YouGov poll, 78 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents said they had improved their personal hygiene (frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer), while 80 percent said they had avoided public places and 70 percent said they had started wearing face masks in public.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through contact with infected individuals when airborne particles are expelled through coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and transferring particles to the eyes, nose and mouth.
The combination of lockdown measures and ubiquitous public health messages has had a profound effect on people’s daily lives, running the gamut from how they work and study to how they travel and socialize.
It has also highlighted the significant role that widespread community uptake of hygiene and social distancing rules can play in successfully containing outbreaks.
During the first six months of the pandemic, YouGov data showed rates of mask wearing were high in the GCC. Some 80 percent of UAE respondents and 69 percent of Saudi respondents said they were consistently wearing face masks during this period.
Throughout the pandemic, at-risk groups, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, have been urged to be extra vigilant. In August 2020, 80 percent of Saudi respondents over the age of 45 reported having avoided public places, whereas just 58 percent of 18-24-year-old Saudis said they took the same precautions.
In the same month in the UAE, 81 percent of people aged over 45 reported wearing a face mask in public, while just 66 percent of 18-24 year olds said they were complying with the mandatory mask rule.
Although men and women are equally susceptible to catching coronavirus, medical data suggests men are more likely to suffer from severe symptoms and ultimately die from the disease.
And yet, despite WHO advice to the contrary, YouGov data found that male Saudi and UAE residents were less likely to improve their personal hygiene, less likely to wear face masks, less likely to avoid crowded places and less likely to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
Since the pandemic began, nearly 142 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 3 million have died. The UAE has seen about 500,000 COVID-19 cases, while Saudi Arabia’s total is approaching the 405,000 mark.
Compared with many European states, where governments were slower to react to the pandemic, the outbreak in the GCC has been relatively mild, with a much lower death rate. But even here, as vaccines are rolled out and restrictions are gradually eased, things feel a long way from normal.
“What’s happening to us may seem to so many people to be alien and unnatural, but plagues are not new to our species — they’re just new to us,” writes social epidemiologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis in his book “Apollo’s arrow: The profound and enduring impact of coronavirus on the way we live.”
And just like the great epidemics of the past, writes Christakis, the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually pass, bringing with it a brighter period in which people seek out long-denied social interactions.
The Yale professor even predicts a second “roaring 20s” similar to the decade of prosperity and cultural resurgence that followed the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.
But in order for this to happen, people must be safe — and feel safe. Annual vaccinations, improved treatments and vaccine passports are all possible tools to get societies and economies back on track.
Until then, the behavior of those least at risk will continue to impact those most at risk. Therefore, getting “back to normal” will depend not only on medical science, but on the actions of the community as a whole.
Without a widespread uptake of vaccines and containment measures, the virus will enjoy a stronger foothold and a greater chance of mutating, allowing it to become more transmissible and its symptoms more severe.
“When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases,” according to the WHO’s “Vaccine Explained” series. “The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it replicates — and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.”
83% Saudi respondents who believe the pandemic situation is improving.
14% UAE respondents who believe the pandemic situation is getting worse.
70% Saudi and UAE respondents who say they will continue avoiding crowded places.
Source:YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor, March 2021
A major factor in uptake is the trustworthiness of the vaccines on offer.
In early December last year, the UAE became one of the first countries to approve the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use. YouGov’s polling data at the end of that month found that just 56 percent of UAE respondents felt comfortable taking the vaccine or had already done so. In Saudi Arabia, that figure was only 42 percent.
Since the national vaccination program was launched in Saudi Arabia, more than 2 million doses have been administered at 500 centers across the Kingdom. In the UAE, which has one of the highest vaccination rates per head of the population in the world, more than 10 million have been administered.
Since the December 2020 poll, confidence in the safety and efficacy of the new crop of COVID-19 vaccines has grown. Data from the YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor in March 2021 showed an increase in willingness to take the vaccine by 20 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia and 26 percent in the UAE.
Now the vast majority of respondents in the UAE (82 percent) and in Saudi Arabia (62 percent) say that they have either received a vaccine, or are willing to take one.
In other findings, 83 percent of Saudi respondents believe the pandemic situation is improving; only 14 percent UAE respondents believe the pandemic situation is getting worse, while but 70 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents intend to continue avoiding crowded places.
None of this is surprising given that scientists still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, its mutations, spread patterns, long-term symptoms and its ability to outmaneuver the vaccines and treatments doctors throw at it.
Mask wearing, hand sanitizing and social distancing might therefore be requisite behaviors for some time yet to come.
Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’
Updated 18 April 2021
RIYADH: The deputy commander of Iran’s military wing that oversees its foreign proxy militias has died from a “heart condition.”
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi’s death was announced by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian media reported. No further details were given about his death.
He was a senior figure in the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the IRGC, whose overall commander Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike in January 2020.
The statement said Hejazi, who was 65, was involved in operations in Lebanon where Iran supplies and funds Hezbollah.
The Quds force is considered a terrorist organization by the US, Europe and many countries in the Middle East.