Syrians vote in election certain to give Assad new mandate

Syrians vote in election certain to give Assad new mandate
The presidential elections in the war-ravaged country are being held May 26. (File/AP/Hassan Ammar)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Syrians vote in election certain to give Assad new mandate

Syrians vote in election certain to give Assad new mandate
  • The vote is the second presidential election since the country’s conflict began 10 years ago
  • No vote will be held in northeast Syria, which is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters

DAMASCUS, Syria: Syrians in government-held areas of the war-torn country headed to polling stations early Wednesday to vote in a presidential election set to give President Bashar Assad a fourth seven-year term.
The vote is the second presidential election since the country’s conflict began 10 years ago and has been dismissed as a sham by the opposition and Western countries. Two other candidates are running for the country’s top post, which has been held by members of the Assad family for five decades.
They are little known figures, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marie. But competition with Assad is largely seen as symbolic.
Starting at 7 a.m., thousands began arriving at polling stations in Damascus, where streets have been decorated with giant posters of Assad and banners praising his rule. Few posters of the two other candidates appeared in the streets.
“We choose the future. We choose Bashar Assad,” read one of many banners raised in the capital Damascus.
No vote will be held in northeast Syria, which is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters, or in the northwestern province of Idlib that is the last major rebel stronghold in the country.
Still, in some parts of government-held areas, including the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, many have rejected the vote calling it “illegitimate.”
The Syrian Democratic Council that runs daily affairs in northeast Syria said in a statement it will not take part in the vote “before political solutions in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, release of detainees, return of displaced and putting the basis for a political structure far away from tyranny.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Hussein Arnous traveled to Sweida along with a dozen Cabinet ministers in the first such visit in years to meet local officials. There has reportedly been widespread anger against the vote and overspending on pro-Assad campaigns in the city at a time when much of the region’s population lives in poverty.
The vote this year comes as Syria’s economy is in free fall as a result of Western sanctions, government corruption and infighting, the coronavirus and the financial crisis in Lebanon, Syria’s main link with the outside world.
Some of the voters waiting at polling stations were putting on face masks. Over the past three months, intensive care units in public hospitals in Damascus reached full capacity due to a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, leading doctors to transfer patients to hospitals in other provinces. In March, Assad and his wife, Asma, tested positive for the virus.
The Biden administration has said it will not recognize the result of the Syrian election unless the voting is free, fair, supervised by the United Nation and represents all of Syrian society.
“We are not involved in these elections ... in any way, and we, of course, have no mandate to be,” UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday.
“We are, of course, aware that the elections are taking place. It’s important to remind you in answering the question that ... these are being called under the auspices of the current constitution and not part of the political process that was established under resolution 2254.”
Syria’s Interior Minister Mohammad Rahmoun said 12,102 polling stations were set up in all the Syrian governorates. He said there are more than 18 million illegible voters in Syria and abroad. Syrians living abroad voted last week.
Syria had a population of 23 million before the conflict broke out a decade ago. The fighting has left nearly half a million dead and half the country’s population displaced, more than 5 million of them refugees outside Syria.
The civil war broke out in 2011 when Arab Spring-inspired protests against Assad family rule turned into an armed insurgency in response to a brutal military crackdown.
Assad has been in power since 2000 when he took over from his father, Hafez, who ruled before that for 30 years. Despite the war, which seemed at one point to threaten his rule, Assad remained in power supported by regional powerhouse Iran and Russia, which sent in military advisers and air power to push back the armed opposition.
Fifty-one persons, including seven women, applied to run for president but earlier this month, Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court accepted only three applications.
Syria began a multicandidate vote in 2014 when Assad won nearly 90 percent of the vote. Before that, Syria held referendums in which Assad and his late father got landslide support.


Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
Updated 17 sec ago

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
  • Professional syndicates elections fail to inspire political shifts

BEIRUT: Elections held by professional syndicates in Lebanon over the past few weeks have not ended in tangible change.

The results of polls for the Lebanese bar associations, the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon, and the Lebanese Press Editors’ Syndicate returned expected candidates, while the elections of the Lebanese Dental Association were suspended after a fight broke out between members.

Hezbollah members, meanwhile, entered the vote counting hall and proceeded to destroy ballot boxes.

However, the elections of the Order of Engineers and Architects saw the only official breach for the opposition candidates.

The last of these elections were those of the Press Editors’ Syndicate, which was held on Wednesday and saw an unprecedented voter turnout exceeding 73 percent. Twenty-seven candidates contested 12 seats on the syndicate’s council.

Joseph Kosseifi, the re-elected head of the syndicate, told Arab News that “journalists are part of this Lebanese society, but the syndicate is not politicized. It is the least politicized of the liberal professions syndicates. It is normal for journalists to have political tendencies, however, the work of the syndicate is related to the profession.”

Many of the candidates had called for change. May Abi Akl, who scored the second largest number of votes among the candidates who lost, was one of them. She noted that her decision to run for election “aimed at bringing about change within the Press Editors’ Syndicate and preventing the election of a closed list that only represents itself. Our objective was to introduce new blood into the syndicate and we were able to stir up the still water.”

As the results were announced on Wednesday night, the opposition candidates chanted “down with the rule of the ruling class.” However, Kosseifi said: “Whoever wants real change has to be a partner within the public assemblies and this is not happening. All the revolution on the streets was able to achieve is make people protest and scream. Apart from that, they failed to achieve a qualitative breach.”

Activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said that “the elections of the liberal professions syndicates gave indications regarding the alignment of the ruling parties. Their performance was not good, even among themselves. We saw the Shiite duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, working alone, while the Future Movement-Progressive Socialist Party alliance was somewhere else. On the other hand, the weakness of the ruling parties was not matched by a unified opposition.

“There are two opinions within the opposition. Some say that holding on to pure opposition will not achieve anything and that it sometimes needs an alliance with the opposing political forces to bring down the symbols of the ruling class. For example, an alliance between the opposition forces and the Kataeb Party could make a difference in regards to removing the representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement. However, others stress the importance of unifying all of the forces that are not part of the ruling class to be able to confront it,” Abdel Samad explained.

Electoral expert Zeina El-Helou told Arab News: “The political forces, no matter how opposed to the ruling class, want to build an alliance with me in order to take from me, not to give me. There are fundamental differences between the forces of the revolution and the opposing political forces. We do not agree on any political objective. How can we be their allies? They tell us to be their allies now and oppose them in Parliament. Does that mean that we are replacing one party of the ruling class with another party? We do not want to fight battles in Parliament. We want the Parliament to work. We want to make changes.”


Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets
Updated 14 min 45 sec ago

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets
  • The Yemeni army troops have mounted many attacks on the Houthis in Bayhan, Ousylan and Ain since September

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen government forces liberated a large swathe of land in the southern province of Shabwa after heavy clashes with the Iran-backed Houthis as the Arab coalition struck more militia sites across Yemen.

Backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled Bayhan and Ousylan districts, expelling militia fighters from wide areas and taking control of a strategic road that connects the two districts, a military official told Arab News on Thursday.

The official said that at least 60 Houthis were killed in the fighting and government troops are pressing ahead with their attacks on the Houthis in the two districts.

The Yemeni army troops have mounted many attacks on the Houthis in Bayhan, Ousylan and Ain since September, when the Houthis seized control of the three districts and rolled into government-controlled areas in the neighboring Marib province.

In addition, government forces pushed to cut off key supply routes to the Houthis south of Marib, thereby alleviating the militia’s pressure on the central city of Marib.

At least 35 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government troops west and south of Marib city amid intensifying airstrikes by the Arab coalition warplanes, the military source said.

The heaviest battles occurred in Al-Amud and Abu Resh, where government forces repelled Houthi attacks. Less intensive fighting broke out in Mashjah and Al-Kasara, west of Marib, and the Houthis were forced to retreat after failing to make headway.

The Arab coalition announced on Thursday that it carried out precision airstrikes on targets in Sanaa, Saada and Marib that killed more than 45 Houthis.

The coalition said that early on Thursday its warplanes struck major weapon and supply warehouses and two sites under construction for military use in Sanaa and destroyed workshops for assembling drone and ballistic missiles in Saada, the Houthi heartland.

Hundreds of Houthi fighters have been killed in Marib province since last month when the Arab coalition intensified its air raids, paving the way for government forces on the ground to push back Houthi attacks.


Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos
Updated 02 December 2021

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos
  • Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's appeal against disqualification for the Dec. 24 vote was delayed for days as fighters blocked off the court
  • The elections commission said armed men had stormed five election centres in western Libya, stealing ballot cards

TRIPOLI: A Libyan court ruled on Thursday that the late leader Muammar Qaddafi’s son could run for president, his lawyer said, as arguments intensified over the conduct of an election aimed at ending a decade of turmoil.
Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi’s appeal against disqualification for the Dec. 24 vote was delayed for days as fighters blocked off the court, one of several incidents that may foreshadow wider election unrest.
In another incident on Thursday, the elections commission said armed men had stormed five election centers in western Libya, stealing ballot cards.
Analysts fear a contested vote, or one with clear violations, could derail a peace process that this year led to the formation of a unity government in an effort to bridge the rift between warring eastern and western factions.
A final list of candidates for the election has not yet been released amid a chaotic appeals process after the election commission initially disqualified 25 of the 98 who registered to run for president.
Qaddafi, who was sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in absentia in 2015 for warcrimes committed during the failed battle to save his father’s 40-year rule from a NATO-backed uprising, is one of several divisive candidates in the race.
He is a figurehead for Libyans still loyal to the former government of his father, whose toppling and death in 2011 heralded a decade of strife. After his lawyer announced the decision, his supporters celebrated in the streets across Sebha, witnesses said.
However, many other Libyans, including in the armed groups that hold the balance of power across swathes of the country, view his presence on the ballot as unacceptable after the bloody struggle to oust his father.
The blockade of the Sebha court this week by fighters allied to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar indicated the potential chaos that the planned election could unleash with armed groups backing or opposing rival candidates.
Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls much of eastern and southern Libya, is himself a candidate for the election. The LNA said the units allied to it had been protecting the court rather than blocking it.


El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security
Updated 02 December 2021

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security
  • Speaking after a meeting with Spanish prime minister, Egyptian president stressed the importance of a just agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on use of the dam
  • He also warned against any unilateral action that results in a fait accompli that ignores the rights of peoples in countries downstream of the dam

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday reiterated Egypt’s determination to guarantee and maintain its water security, now and in the future, in light of concerns about the new Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

Speaking in Cairo after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, he stressed the importance of reaching a comprehensive, just and legally binding agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the rules for filling and operating the dam, which is on the Blue Nile River. He also highlighted the important role of the international community in pushing for this and working to support an effective negotiation process to achieve it.

El-Sisi also warned against any unilateral actions that result in a fait accompli that ignores the rights of the countries’ peoples, and Egypt’s vision to make the Nile River a source of cooperation and development as a lifeline for all the people of the Nile Basin countries.

Regarding the other issues discussed by the two leaders, El-Sisi said: “I had fruitful and constructive discussions with the Spanish prime minister which clearly reflected our common political will to strengthen cooperation frameworks between Egypt and Spain in various fields, allowing optimal use of our capabilities to serve the interests of both countries.

“I also exchanged views with the Spanish prime minister regarding developments in our region in general, and with regard to the overall strategic situation in the Mediterranean Basin and our common regional neighborhood."

According to the official spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Sanchez stressed that Egyptian-European cooperation reflects common interests and enhances the distinguished relationship between the two sides, especially in light of the fact that Egypt hosts millions of refugees, and its efforts to control its coasts which have resulted in no cases of illegal immigration since 2016.

Ethiopia’s decision to proceed with the second phase of the filling of the Renaissance Dam this year before reaching a binding agreement with downstream countries Sudan and Egypt has been the most prominent challenge during the decade-long negotiation process between the three countries about the dam. The talks have been officially suspended since April after they failed to reach an understanding prior to the start of phase two. Egypt and Sudan reject Ethiopia’s decision to proceed before reaching a binding agreement on filling the dam and its operation.


Christmas cheer at Gaza Catholic school as war damage repairs go on

Christmas cheer at Gaza Catholic school as war damage repairs go on
Updated 02 December 2021

Christmas cheer at Gaza Catholic school as war damage repairs go on

Christmas cheer at Gaza Catholic school as war damage repairs go on
  • Holiday decorations are going up even as repairs to the facility continue after last May's 11-day Gaza war
  • "War won't stop us," said Sister Nabila, who joined colleagues and students in decorating a Christmas tree

GAZA: Seven months ago, Sister Nabila and two other nuns huddled in a Gaza Catholic school compound, shaken by the sound of explosions from Israel’s bombing of what it said were Palestinian militant targets nearby.
Now she is looking forward to some Christmas cheer in the Rosary Sisters’ school, where she serves as principal. Holiday decorations are going up even as repairs to the facility continue after last May’s 11-day Gaza war.
The explosions outside the school perimeter were still powerful enough to cause the structure to lean 8 centimeters (3 inches), Sister Nabila said. Engineers saved it from demolition and began fixing damaged classrooms.
No students were in the kindergarten-grade 12 school during the night-time attack on what Israel described as tunnels in the neighborhood used by militants who fired rockets at its towns.
“War won’t stop us,” said Sister Nabila, who joined colleagues and students in decorating a Christmas tree. “We are determined to have a Christmas atmosphere inside the school because this symbolizes continuity.”
With fewer than 1,000 Christians in Gaza, where two million people live, 95 percent of the 1,150 students are Muslim. Mainly Greek Orthodox, Gaza’s Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.
Sister Nabila said she was still “overcome with fear and horror” when she recalled the night of the bombing. She and two other nuns live in the school compound.
“I thought the entire school had collapsed,” she said. “I hope there will be no more wars because Gaza had enough — our children shouldn’t live through any more wars because they leave bad memories.”
Palestinian authorities said Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 250 people, while Israeli officials put the death toll in Israel from Gaza rocket salvoes at 13. The Hamas group, which has fought four wars with Israel since 2008, runs Gaza.