Iran bans 15 from traveling as official resigns

Iran bans 15 from traveling as official resigns
Iran’s presidency announced the former chief of Strategic Studies Center resigned and Ali Rabiei (C), who already serves as the Cabinet spokesman, would replace him.(File/AFP)
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Updated 30 April 2021

Iran bans 15 from traveling as official resigns

Iran bans 15 from traveling as official resigns
  • Zarif’s leaked remarks included cutting references to the limits of his power and those of Gen. Qassem Soleimani
  • He expressed regret that the recording had leaked out

DUBAI: Iran imposed travel bans on 15 people for alleged involvement in a leaked audio recording in which the foreign minister complained about the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Iranian diplomacy, a semi-official news agency said on Thursday.

In the leaked interview, aired by the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel late on Sunday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had “zero” influence over Iran’s foreign policy.

“According to a judiciary source, 15 people involved in the interview have been banned from leaving Iran,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

The recording, shedding a rare light on ties between the government and the elite IRGC, has angered hard-liners in Iran, who called the leak “an espionage act.” Some lawmakers have called for Zarif’s resignation.

President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday replaced the head of the state-run think tank that was in charge of conducting the interview. Authorities have said the recording was part of a wider project with government officials and was produced for state records rather than for publication.

“Hessameddin Ashena, head of the Strategic Studies Center, had resigned ... President Rouhani has appointed the Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei to replace him,” state news agency IRNA reported.

Ashena, who Iranian media said was present during the seven-hour interview with Zarif, is also an adviser to the president.

Ordering an inquiry into the recording’s release, Rouhani said on Wednesday the leak was intended to disrupt talks between Tehran and six powers in Vienna aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago.


‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
Updated 28 September 2021

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Taher Al-Sonni highlights the challenges facing Libya and how foreign powers are making them worse
  • In addition to national reconciliation there is a need for international reconciliation between the international community and Libyans, he said.

NEW YORK: Libya’s efforts to heal after 10 years of war will require not only a national reconciliation, but also an international reconciliation between the Libyan people and the global community.
That is the view of Taher Al-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, who on Monday reiterated his country’s demand for an end to external interference and the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
“Enough is enough,” he said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “Libyans are tired of 10 years of chaos.
“As much as we talk about national reconciliation, there should also be international reconciliation. As much as we talk about confidence building, there should be confidence building between the international community and Libyans — and that starts with the simultaneous withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, and support for the will of Libyans when they go through the electoral process.”
Libyans have been killed and their country ravaged by thousands of foreign fighters recruited by the rival forces in the country. As long as Libya’s “free will” is held hostage by these armed groups and their foreign sponsors, Al-Sonni said, conflicts will continue to rage in the country at a time when the proliferation of such proxy wars is causing instability across the region.
The rebels who killed Chadian President Idriss Deby in April, for example, were based in Libya, where they amassed money, accessed advanced weaponry and gained battlefield experience as guns-for-hire.
“The challenge with mercenaries is that no one acknowledges their presence,” said Al-Sonni.
The UN-brokered Libyan ceasefire agreement in October 2020 included a call for all 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters to withdraw from the country within three months. But when the UN Security Council discussed ways of repatriating them, observers noted that some council members were fueling the problem.
For example, Russia’s support for the Libyan National Army includes mercenaries from Russian private security company Wagner Group. Turkey, meanwhile, provided transport for thousands of Syrians to fight in Tripoli, paid them salaries and offered promises of Turkish citizenship. Other mercenaries operating in Libya hail from South Africa, the US, the UK, Australia and about 30 additional countries.
Meanwhile, Libyans attempt to navigate this sinister foreign presence as they walk an already tricky path toward national reconciliation, and attempt to consolidate the many small victories achieved in the past year as part of the political process.
These achievements — which paved the way for a ceasefire and the formation of an interim unity government tasked with shepherding the nation toward parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December — would not have been possible without both Libyans and foreign powers reaching the conclusion that no one could win the war through military might, according to Al-Sonni.
“Everything was tried, and in the end everyone was convinced that there can be no military solution,” he said.
He conceded that all countries in the region are entitled to be concerned about preserving their security and national interests, but added: “You don’t need to intervene and interfere the way you did in order to have a stabilized region (and) boost the economy.
“Libya is a hub between Africa and Europe, East and West. Libyans are known for their modesty. I can no longer say Libya is a rich country, but it does have the means and the resources to come back, and with Libya stabilized we can find win-win deals that will satisfy everyone’s national interests as much as possible.
“So, let’s work together, put the past behind us and start a new phase. And let’s not provide an excuse for terrorism and extremism, which feeds on this chaos and perpetuates the conflict.”
The road to the national elections planned for December has been paved with as much fear as hope among Libyans.
Although the new Presidency Council managed to unify civilian executive bodies, the military remains fractured. Some fear that winners with weapons might start another war.
In the absence of a clear constitutional framework setting out the responsibilities of a new president, “who can guarantee that Libyans will not find themselves in the grip of yet another dictator?” asked Al-Sonni.
“There is a group of people that don’t want to lose the power they have today, so they are maneuvering and finding excuses for the elections not to happen,” he added.
“There are also those who fear losing power by having a high-level executive office, in the form of a president, that might lead to them losing popularity. Some want only parliamentary elections, and think a safer option is to have a steady state and give more time to the constitutional framework to be developed.
“And, finally, you have Libyans on the ground who are fed up with all the attempts of the past and want Libya as a state to have separation of power.
“The challenge in this last one is to have an ‘inclusive’ president, not one who has revenge in mind, because those who have ambitions to be president are all affiliated to a certain group, and so that is scaring people.”
All of the fears people have are valid, said Al-Sonni.
“But what are the alternatives that we have today?” he asked. “If I name all the obstacles that we face today, one would conclude that the risk of the elections not happening is high.”
Even if they do go ahead, he said, challenges will remain — but they at least offer the hope for change and a better future.
“Anyone who thinks elections will solve all of Libya’s problems is naive,” he said. “But we have had a sick patient for the past 10 years and we have been using the same medicine.
“Now we have the option of a new medicine in the form of elections. We are not sure how that will unfold — it’s a 50/50 risk. But a certain level of legitimate representation will get the ball rolling.”
Meanwhile, Al-Sonni said, national reconciliation remains “the foundation for any permanent peace in Libya.”
From the establishment of a High Commission for Reconciliation to the release, albeit symbolic, of some prisoners, there have been steps taken in the right direction.
Al-Sonni stressed the importance of “transitional justice” as a means toward lasting reconciliation and true healing of the nation.
“For there to be a comprehensive national reconciliation, truth needs to be revealed, and apologies issued,” he said.
Although he admitted that the responsibility for reconciliation ultimately lies primarily with the Libyan people themselves, Al-Sonni questioned the lack of useful international support for the efforts.
The ambassador, who was a UN staffer for 17 years and so is familiar with the organization’s methodologies, criticized the UN for adopting a “top-down approach” to Libya, which he said has undermined the role of civil society.
“If you follow all the dialogue that took place, they were all technical discussions that tackled military, political and economical challenges, but there was no national reconciliation track,” he said.
“There is also a lack of understanding of the Libyan context by the international community. For Libya to become a success story, we need to adopt a bottom-top approach, work on civil society and try to get the best of the tribal structure that links Libyans together.
“Some have tried to use our tribal structure as a way to fuel the war. But having tribes is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a golden key, I call it, which can lead us to peace if we use it correctly.”
Inclusivity is another important aspect to the process. Al-Sonni took part in the Sukhairat dialogue in 2015, and was one of the signatories to the final agreement for the formation of a national unity government.
“Not all parties who really had power on the ground were represented,” he said. “Many were completely excluded, such as the ex-regime loyalists.”
He warned that such “exclusion in any post-conflict reconciliation is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. It is a fatal error.”
Exclusion can also happen in the form of centralized governance, Al-Sonni said, which can, for example, cause people living outside of Tripoli, where much of the wealth is concentrated, to feel excluded.
Despite all these challenges, however, Al-Sonni is pinning his hopes on the next generation of Libyan youth.
“The only people who will solve this are our young people,” he said. “They are vocal and much more aware than their elders. The problem is that they still lack coordination and leadership.”
Al-Sonni also addressed allegations of flagrant abuses of human rights in Libyan detention centers. While he expressed regret over the fact that his country has become a place where “innocent people die,” he denied any accusation of systemic torture. Once again he pleaded with the international community to “help us make Libya stable and these issues will be resolved.”
He added: “We’re totally against such violations and we’re working hard to fix the system and protect the most vulnerable. But there is a difference between a government that doesn’t care and one that really tries, and sees this as a priority, but is spread thin with all the other different challenges and has resource problems.
“The problem is the hypocrisy of the West, and their unwillingness to devise a comprehensive solution for the migrant crisis. You cannot blame a country in conflict for what happens within it when it comes to migrants. Migrants who come to Libya aim to continue to Europe. Nobody wants to live in the hellfire of conflict, that goes without saying.”
Condemning the “double standards” of the international community, he said: “They ask us to accommodate those migrants when they know our resources are stretched thin. They ask us to shut down detention centers but they won’t tell us what to do with migrants who enter illegally, or those who are arrested at sea and pushed back to Libya.
“If you really care about migrants, then agree on a quota also and take in some of them.
“The countries that are being most forceful with Libya on this issue are the same ones that are shutting their doors to migrants. One such country literally took in four or five migrants out of the thousands that are trying to cross.
“The problem is bigger: it is EU competition between countries, and we know it. You want to blame us? Blame yourself first.”


Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara
Updated 28 September 2021

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara
  • Algerian foreign minister: Region has ‘inalienable right to self-determination’
  • Moroccan counterpart: Algiers ‘perpetuating an invented regional conflict’

NEW YORK: Morocco and Algeria took their bitter dispute over Western Sahara to the UN General Assembly on Monday as they respectively addressed fellow world leaders.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra vowed that his country will continue to defend the “just causes of the people who are fighting for their fundamental rights, including the inalienable right to self-determination, particularly in Palestine and Western Sahara.”

But his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita condemned what he called Algerian “interference” in Western Sahara, and reiterated his country’s commitment to finding a comprehensive settlement to the protracted conflict that “respects Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

He said Western Sahara’s 63 percent turnout in Morocco’s general elections earlier this month was the highest nationally, which shows Sahrawi attachment to the country’s territorial integrity.

Bourita urged the international community to back a “realistic, practical, permanent and consensual political solution” for the protracted crisis, saying such a solution will not be possible until Algiers “shoulders its responsibility for perpetuating an invented regional conflict.”

Algeria recently cut off ties and closed its airspace with Morocco as tensions over who controls Western Sahara have escalated between the two countries.

Rabat says the region is Moroccan territory, and last year the US recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for enhanced diplomatic ties with Israel.

Algeria has backed the Polisario Front, a separatist movement in Western Sahara vying for international recognition.

Decades after the end of the 1975-1991 war between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the latter announced last year that it was resuming armed struggle.

In his UN speech, Lamamra referred to the conflict as a “de-colonization” issue that automatically conjures up the principle of self-determination as “the only solution.”

He said: “Algeria believes that the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination is inalienable, non-negotiable, and not subject to statutory limitation.”


Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects
Updated 28 September 2021

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects
  • During UN address, Abdullatif Al-Zayani also spoke of the importance of the AlUla Declaration, and his country’s efforts to enhance human rights protections
  • Bahrain is also working to advance women’s rights ‘and to uphold the principles of equal opportunity and equality’ he added, and has made advances in criminal justice reforms

NEW YORK: In an address to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on Monday, Bahrain’s foreign minister highlighted the work of authorities in his country to combat COVID-19, along with the efforts they are making to tackle the economic effects of the pandemic. These include a $12 billion stimulus package designed to protect jobs and support business sectors affected by the health crisis.

Abdullatif Al-Zayani also expressed appreciation for the close cooperation the nation receives from the UN. In particular he described the ongoing work to enhance a partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help guarantee and protect human rights in the Kingdom.

In August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the office of the UN resident coordinator in Bahrain signed a declaration of intent to work together to prepare a national human rights plan. Al-Zayani said it is hoped that this will serve as a comprehensive framework for the implementation of government projects designed to protect human rights.

Bahrain has “worked to advance the rights of Bahraini women and to uphold the principles of equal opportunity and equality,” he added, including efforts to ensure wage equity between men and women.

The country has also made advances in criminal justice reforms, the minister said, including a recently passed “alternative sentencing” law touted as a “qualitative leap forward” in the reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

Turning to energy policy, Al-Zayani said Bahrain shares the international community’s concerns about climate change and its drastic effects, and has developed an integrated plan to increase the share of renewable energy as part of a sustainable development strategy to reduce carbon emissions.

He also spoke about the importance Bahrain places on commitments that form part of the AlUla Declaration, an agreement reached in January that resolved a long-running dispute between Qatar and neighboring countries, and which Bahrain considers essential for closer cooperation between Gulf nations.

Bahrain is also a signatory to the Abraham Accords, the agreements last year between a number of Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel. Al-Zayani said the Bahraini government views the signing of the accords as being in line with the vision of King Hamad Al-Khalifa to promote peaceful coexistence, dialogue and mutual respect in the region and among faiths.

He added that this does not mean that Manama has forgotten about the Palestinian people, however, and that the government continues to believe in the need for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East that guarantees the right of the Palestinian people “to live in a secure, stable and prosperous nation … with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the principle of the two-state solution.”

Al-Zayani also reaffirmed Bahrain’s support for Saudi efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Yemen as part of the process to reach a political solution to the crisis in the country and end the suffering of the Yemeni people.

He said his country condemns the continuing Houthi attacks in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia, describing them as a “clear violation of international humanitarian law.

The minister also spoke of the need for an “urgent settlement” of the Renaissance Dam dispute between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia in a manner that preserves the water rights of Egypt and Sudan.

In Libya, Al-Zayani said the Bahraini government supports the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country and the staging of elections that “reflect the will of the Libyan people.”

In the Western Sahara conflict between Morocco and southern separatists seeking independence, he reiterated Bahrain’s support for a political resolution that respects and preserves Morocco’s sovereignty.

Regarding Iran, Al-Zayani said the Middle East should be a region free of weapons of mass destruction and reaffirmed Bahrain’s support for international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

He urged Iranian authorities to help maintain regional stability and security by fully cooperating with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. The IAEA recently reported that Iran was failing to comply with UN-mandated international inspections at sensitive nuclear facilities.


Tehran faces UN rap over atom secrets

Tehran faces UN rap over atom secrets
Updated 28 September 2021

Tehran faces UN rap over atom secrets

Tehran faces UN rap over atom secrets
  • Rebuke by IAEA would kill off hopes of revived nuclear deal

JEDDAH: Iran is facing a humiliating rebuke from the UN nuclear watchdog for blocking inspectors’ access to a workshop that makes equipment for enriching uranium.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj complex. Tehran claimed on Monday that the site was not covered by an agreement with the agency in September for its inspectors to service monitoring cameras and replace memory cards.
The complex makes components for centrifuges, and was hit by a sabotage attack in June in which one of four IAEA cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing.
The US said Iran should allow immediate access to the site or face diplomatic retaliation by the agency’s board of governors within days. “We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” said Louis Bono, the US representative at the agency. “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”
An IAEA resolution criticising Tehran is likely to kill off hopes of resuming talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Iran sought to dominate the Middle East under a “nuclear umbrella” and urged a concerted international effort to halt its nuclear activities.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning,” Bennett told the UN General Assembly.
“The program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed, inspections ignored. They’re getting away with it. But if we put our heads to it, if we’re serious about stopping it, if we use our resourcefulness, we can prevail.”


Rabat’s only woman taxi driver busts social norms and stereotypes

Rabat’s only woman taxi driver busts social norms and stereotypes
Updated 27 September 2021

Rabat’s only woman taxi driver busts social norms and stereotypes

Rabat’s only woman taxi driver busts social norms and stereotypes
  • There used to be seven women licensed as taxi drivers in the capital, but they all stopped working except Hdidou

RABAT: Souad Hdidou is challenging social norms and busting stereotypes from behind the wheel as the only female taxi driver in the Moroccan capital Rabat and one of a few in the country.

Hdidou, 33, started work as a truck driver after dropping out of school and worked for a fish distribution company, but switched to taxis for the better pay and greater freedom, she said.

“I’m the kind who likes challenges,” Hdidou said.

She now earns enough to pay the mortgage on her flat near Rabat as well as supporting her family in the countryside and has built up a solid customer base.

“Mothers often trust me to pick up their kids from school when they’re busy,” she said. “I also receive calls to pick up women at night because they feel more comfortable with me.”

At the wheel of her blue sedan, sparkling clean and fragrant inside, and a heart-shaped talisman with religious verses dangling from the rear view mirror, Hdidou is a rare sight on Rabat’s roads.

“We need more women taxi drivers,” said Nouhila Asah a female client, adding that with Hdidou she can have a conversation and talk freely over the phone unlike when the driver is a man.

There used to be seven women licensed as taxi drivers in the capital, but they all stopped working except Hdidou. Female taxi drivers sometimes face sexual harassment in the form of unwanted advances, she said.

Even for men, the taxi business is tough in Morocco — most drivers have no access to state health and pension coverage, and want the government to reform the sector.

The taxi operating license is so costly that many “rent” it from well-off people who have the right connections. Hdidou said the cost of renting the license as well as car operating expenses account for up to 70 percent of her monthly revenue.

The head of the taxi drivers’ union, Mohamed Touiti, said he hoped the government would give drivers access to state social security.

For Hdidou, she’s taken a step toward fulfilling her childhood dream: “My wish is to work in international transport ... I am now in the process of getting different types of driving licenses. This is Souad’s life,” she said, laughing.