LONDON: An Iran expert on Wednesday warned that none of the candidates in the country’s presidential election on June 18 offer a route out of its many crises.
Nazila Fathi, an independent journalist and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, was speaking at an event hosted by Chatham House titled “Iran’s presidential election: Domestic and international implications” and attended by Arab News.
“Coronavirus has really wreaked havoc in Iran. The death tolls are huge. While it’s true that the country started vaccines before the elections, no one knows what shots they’ll get, what the plan is, and how the majority of people under 50 are going to get vaccinated,” she said. “People are traveling out of the country for huge prices to get vaccinated.”
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Iranians have also faced intense political pressure with “the suppressions of 2018 and 2019,” and the regime “has used extreme force and violence to crack down on any kind of dissent,” said the former New York Times Iran correspondent.
“People are just fed up. They don’t feel like there’s a reason for them to take part in the election or any other political event that would show support for the regime,” she added.
“Long before the candidates were decided, people were calling for boycotting the election because they don’t want their vote to be counted as support for the regime,” Fathi said.
“Unfortunately none of the candidates, including Ebrahim Raisi — who seems to be the frontrunner — have been able to offer a policy, a roadmap or any kind of agenda that describes how they’d address the serious concerns that people have.
“Economic problems are deep and serious. They’ve impacted people in very profound ways. But none of the candidates have offered any policy on how they’ll address the problem, including the head of the central bank, who has been in charge of monetary policy.”
Fathi added: “People don’t know what’s going to happen to them on basic questions that every presidential candidate should answer.”
She said the regime is increasingly disinterested in the views of the people, and the outcome of the election has been manufactured with the disqualification of candidates.
“The regime is on a trend where it cares less and less about how people are going to vote. It’s showing less and less accountability,” she added.
“The regime doesn’t care about turnout, and they want to move with this election so there would be no risk to Raisi winning.”
Deadly attack on Kurdish family sparks public anger
Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara
Updated 11 min 18 sec ago
ANKARA: Seven people from a Kurdish family, including three women, were shot dead by armed assailants in the central Anatolian province of Konya on Friday.
The attackers also set the house alight after the daytime massacre.
“We warned the authorities several times,” the family’s attorney Abdurrahman Karabulut tweeted on July 30.
They had been living in Konya for 24 years and were attacked by 60 ultranationalists in May, with four family members grievously wounded by knives, stones and sticks. They were told they would no longer be allowed to live in that district.
Following the May attack, 10 people were detained and seven of them were taken into custody. But many were released.
The Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği) has been following the case for months and was informed that the family members were being harassed. IHD chair Eren Keskin tweeted: “They murdered the family they previously attacked.”
Authorities knew the family were at risk and failed to protect them, Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb said.
Violence against Kurds has sparked public anger over the past few months. The assaults are believed to be the result of political polarization in the country, where the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been threatened with closure and hundreds of its politicians have been slapped with a five-year ban.
During an armed assault on the HDP’s office in the western province of Izmir in June, a female party staff member was killed.
Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara.
Far-right and pro-government media have been fueling conspiracy theories against the HDP with an increasingly hateful and racist discourse against Kurds.
Although witnesses said the attack was racially motivated, authorities rejected this allegation and said the investigation was ongoing and so far without any connection to their Kurdish origin.
Yaşar Dedeogullari, one of the victims, said back in May that the family was attacked because they were Kurds.
“We are nationalists, you are Kurds, we will get you out of here, this is what they have been saying for 12 years, we will not let Kurds live here,” he said.
In a joint statement, 48 bar associations across Turkey recently criticized the pro-government daily Yeni Safak for targeting the 15 bar associations that had condemned the attacks on Kurds.
A Yeni Safak headline read “Barons of Qandil” - a reference to the headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the northern Iraqi mountains.
“We received news of a terrible massacre from Konya. Since the subject is very sensitive, I did not want to talk before the details were clarified. Our delegation is currently in the region. Findings will be shared,” the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted.
“Our most valuable asset is the Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood. I know that our country faces several problems, but our hearts are together. I call out to the gangs who make the mistake of considering themselves as the deep state: We will definitely not allow your efforts to disrupt the brotherhood of our people!” he added.
From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19
North African states are seeing varying degrees of success at containing the coronavirus amid a devastating third wave
Slow vaccine rollouts, lockdown fatigue and the spreading Delta variant stretch health systems and economies to the limit
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago
DUBAI: First identified in India, the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant has since been detected in around 100 countries, prompting new waves of infections, travel restrictions and concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines.
One region that has been especially hard hit is North Africa, where the economic havoc caused by lockdowns has forced governments to reluctantly reopen borders and businesses despite the slow pace of inoculation.
Tunisia, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported 582,638 infections and 19,336 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, making it one of the worst-hit nations in Africa, alongside Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
The collapse of the health system and severe economic hardship triggered mass protests that in turn have plunged the country into a political crisis.
War-ravaged Libya has also witnessed an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases over the past month. Because of its two centers of political power with parallel institutions, its response and vaccination rollout have been disjointed and sluggish.
The country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 3,845 new COVID-19 cases on July 25 — at that time the highest daily rate since the onset of the pandemic.
Libya has recorded roughly 246,200 cases and 3,469 deaths, but the true figure is likely far higher given the country’s acute shortage of tests and laboratory capacity.
“We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” AbdulKadir Musse, UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, said in a statement.
“The vaccination rate is very low, and the spread is fast. We must be quicker in our response. The most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants, is ensure everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated.
“Countries with high coverage of two doses of vaccines have been able to drastically reduce the rate of hospitalization and deaths. We also need to follow and abide by preventive measures.”
Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October 2020, but was only labeled a “variant of concern” (VOC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 11 this year.
The strain, itself the product of multiple mutations, is thought to be 60 percent more infectious than the alpha (or Kent) variant, an earlier mutation that emerged in southern England in November 2020.
Arab countries of North Africa have particularly felt the economic pain of the coronavirus crisis. Find out why here.
In many countries, including the UK, delta has now become the dominant strain. Although it is thought to cause more severe symptoms than its ancestor variants, placing additional strain on health services, there is currently not enough data to suggest it is more deadly.
More encouraging is the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96 percent effective after two doses, while AstraZeneca was 71 percent effective after one dose and 92 percent effective after two.
This is all good for countries with high rates of vaccination such as the UK. But for countries in the developing world, including the Arab states of North Africa, the slow rollout of vaccines means there is limited protection against the virus.
Delta is taking a terrible toll in these countries, leaving hospitals overburdened and mortuaries short of space.
Africa as a whole recently recorded a 43 percent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths. Hospital admissions have increased rapidly and countries face shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.
According to the WHO, the continent has vaccinated around 52 million people since the start of the rollout in March and only 18 million are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with more than 50 percent in some high-income countries.
South Africa, with its population of almost 60 million, has recorded 2,422,151 cases and 71,431 deaths since the pandemic began. Based on deaths per head of the population, Tunisia tops the region.
However, the picture is not uniform across the region. To date, 1.63 percent of Egyptians and 1.68 percent of Algerians have been fully vaccinated, compared with 27.68 percent of Moroccans, and 8.24 percent of Tunisians. Just 0.43 percent of Sudanese have received two doses, while data for Libya is unavailable.
“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.
Some countries have “really invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while other countries have focused on enforcing public-health measures to slow the spread of the virus, he said.
“I think Morocco has really made a great investment and progress on administering more people with the vaccine compared to a number of other countries. And the cases you see are actually very minimal compared to previous waves, so I wouldn’t worry much about Morocco,” Abubakar said.
Nevertheless, cases in Morocco have been steadily increasing since mid-May, prompting the government to announce an extension of its state of emergency until Aug. 10.
Having already inoculated older age groups, Moroccan health authorities are now offering vaccines to people over the age of 30. But compliance with social-distancing and other hygiene regulations appears to be slipping.
“In Casablanca, I saw many people wearing masks but without adhering to other physical and social-distancing measures,” said Um Ahmad, who recently returned to Dubai following a family visit.
“I saw crowds on the streets and in markets as usual. And when I visited Fez, I saw people living normally with no precautionary actions whatsoever. I even asked my relative ‘are we on a different planet?’”
In Algeria, which decided to close its borders to curb the spread of the delta variant, there is another more pressing problem — a shortage of oxygen in its hospitals to treat the seriously ill, forcing the government to establish a special unit to supervise the distribution of oxygen cylinders.
Egypt has reported a recent decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, with officials recording less than 70 new infections and less than 10 deaths per day. The country has even started sending its surplus medical kits to Tunisia.
But here too, public compliance with social-distancing measures leaves much to be desired. Eman Amir, an Egyptian working in Dubai who traveled to Cairo in May to visit her ailing mother, said she was shocked by the public’s relaxed attitude toward virus containment.
“Those who don’t care whether they die of coronavirus are those who feel they have little to lose given their already precarious existence,” she told Arab News, referring to contract and informal-sector workers most affected by pandemic restrictions.
In neighboring Sudan, cases are surging, particularly in the eastern city of Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea State.
Dr. Ahmed Dreyer, the state’s director of the Emergency and Epidemic Control Department, has urged authorities to impose a three-week lockdown — known in policy circles as a circuit breaker — to help contain the spread of the delta variant.
Hana, a young Sudanese woman who lives with her family in Dubai, says many people back home are still not convinced the coronavirus even exists — the product, it would seem, of widespread misinformation.
“People have enough problems to worry about,” Hana said. “They don’t want to add to them and worry about the pandemic.
“They try to lead normal lives, by earning their livelihood and putting bread on the table.”
Egypt officials say Daesh militants attack kills 5 troops in Sinai
At least six other troops were wounded in the attack in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and taken to a military hospital
Security personnel killed three militants in the firefight, and the area was reinforced, the officials added
Updated 31 July 2021
CAIRO: Daesh militants ambushed a checkpoint in the restive northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing at least five troops from the security forces, officials said.
At least six other troops were wounded in the attack in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and taken to a military hospital in the Mediterranean city of El-Arish, they said.
Security personnel killed three militants in the firefight, and the area was reinforced, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Egypt has been battling militants in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula for years. Violence and instability there intensified after the 2013 military ouster of Muhammad Mursi, an elected but divisive Islamist president, amid nationwide protests against his brief rule.
The militants carried out numerous attacks, mainly targeting security forces, minority Christians and those who they accuse of collaborating with the military and police.
The pace of Daesh attacks in Sinai’s main theater and elsewhere has slowed to a trickle since February 2018, when the military launched a massive operation in Sinai as well as parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya.
The fight against militants in Sinai has largely taken place hidden from the public eye, with journalists, non-residents and outside observers barred from the area. The conflict has also been kept at a distance from tourist resorts at the southern end of the peninsula.
US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition
Samantha Power is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan
She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s
Updated 31 July 2021
CAIRO: The US official who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide landed Saturday in Khartoum, aiming to support Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy before traveling to Ethiopia to press the government there to allow humanitarian aid to the war-torn Tigray region.
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian face of Sudan’s transitional government.
She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s.
“I first visited Sudan in 2004— investigating a genocide in Darfur perpetrated by a regime whose grip on power seemed unshakeable. I couldn’t imagine Sudan would one day be an inspiring example to the world that no leader is ever permanently immune from the will of their people,” Power wrote on Twitter upon her arrival in Khartoum.
Power’s visit to Khartoum is meant to “strengthen the US Government’s partnership with Sudan’s transitional leaders and citizens, explore how to expand USAID’s support for Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy,” USAID said.
Sudan is now on a fragile path to democracy and is ruled by a military-civilian government after a popular uprising led to the military’s ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. The Khartoum government, which seeks better ties with the US and the West after nearly three decades of international isolation, faces towering economic and security challenges that threaten to derail its transition into chaos.
The US official would also meet with Ethiopian refugees in Sudan who recently fled the conflict and atrocities in the Tigray region which borders Sudan.
Since the Tigray war began in November, tens of thousands of Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan, adding to the country’s economic and security challenges.
Power’s five-day trip will also take her to Ethiopia as part of international efforts to prevent a looming famine in Tigray, a region of some 6 million people that has been devastated by the months-long war.
Power will meet with Ethiopian officials “to press for unimpeded humanitarian access to prevent famine in Tigray and meet urgent needs in other conflict-affected regions of the country,” USAID said.
The world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade is unfolding in Tigray, where the US says up to 900,000 people now face famine conditions and international food security experts say the crucial planting season “has largely been missed” because of the war.
Ethiopia’s government has blamed the aid blockade on the resurgent Tigray forces who have retaken much of the region and crossed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, but a senior official with the US Agency for International Development this week told the AP that is “100 percent not the case.”
Jordan re-closes crossing with Syria after security situation escalation on Syrian side
The number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased
All nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the crossing
Updated 28 min 28 sec ago
AMMAN: The Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria will be temporarily closed for the movement of goods and passengers as a result of the developments in the security situation on the Syrian side, Petra News Agency reported an official source in the Ministry of Interior as saying.
The source added that the crossing will be reopened if the “appropriate conditions” are in place.
The crossing was set to operate at full capacity from Aug. 1, following almost 10 years of complete and partial closure due to rising violence in Syria and the coronavirus pandemic.
Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya recently announced that the Jaber-Nasib crossing would operate at full capacity after all technical and administrative arrangements were completed with the Syrian side.
Al-Faraya said that the decision came after directives from Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh following his field visit to the crossing on July 8.
The minister added that a set of new measures will be implemented at the border crossing — located about 90 kilometers north of Amman — to increase passenger and cargo traffic between Jordan and Syria, including the cancellation of the back-to-back shipment protocol.
“This means that the Syrian trucks will continue their way to Saudi Arabia and other the Arab Gulf countries without anymore needing a Jordanian freight forwarder,” he said.
Al-Faraya added that the number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased and that all nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the border crossing with no prior approval from the interior ministry.
In April 2015, Jordan completely closed its border crossing with Syria as a result of escalating violence in the Syrian bordering town of Nasib, which, at the time, was reportedly captured by the Syrian rebels and fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
With Syrian government forces recapturing the southern regions and raising the country’s red-white-and-black flag above Nasib, Jordan reopened the crossing with Syria in October 2018, but only partially, and for a limited number of passengers and cargo traffic.
Following concerns of the crossing becoming a coronavirus hot spot, Jordanian authorities closed the country’s sole gateway into Syria in August 2020 to reopen it shortly afterward, but also at a limited capacity.
The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a vital economic artery for Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese traders and merchants.
Strategic analyst Amer Sabaileh said that Jordan “getting closer” to Syria has to do with Amman’s frustration with the international community’s inaction on Syria and its failure to resolve the ongoing crisis.
“After 10 years of crisis, nobody is offering solutions for the Syrian conflict and this puts more pressure on Jordan to start at least exploring for new opportunities to put an end to this crisis, because it is the most affected by its ongoing consequences, be they economic, security or social,” Sabaileh told Arab News.
Jordan is home to about 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR.
Asked whether Jordan’s emerging activism on Syria was approved by the US following King Abdullah’s visit to Washington, Sabaileh said: “These attempt were before his visit to the US, but the activism became more active after he returned home. If there was no green light given from the US, at least there was no rejection.”
Political commentator Shaqfiq Obeidat hailed Jordan’s decision to reopen the border crossing with Syria as “wise and historic,” and reflective of “brotherly ties” between Amman and Damascus.
Obeidat said that the reopening of the Jaber border crossing with Syria is in line with Jordan’s “unaltered position” on Syria which, he said, had always been to promote a comprehensive political solution to the ongoing conflict there.
Describing Syria as “Jordan’s northern gateway” to the world, Obeidat said that the reopening of the border crossing at full capacity will generate “immeasurable” contributions towards enhancing bilateral trade and increasing Jordanian exports to Syria, Lebanon and eastern Europe.