Iran vote turnout poses test of youth frustrations and hopes

Iran vote turnout poses test of youth frustrations and hopes
All seven candidates have been wooing youthful voters and have used social media to reach the 60 percent of the 85 million population who are aged under 30. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2021

Iran vote turnout poses test of youth frustrations and hopes

Iran vote turnout poses test of youth frustrations and hopes
  • Young urban Iranians appear united only in their weariness with a cheerless status quo
  • All seven candidates have been wooing youthful voters and have used social media to reach the 60 percent of the 85 million population

DUBAI: Like many young Iranians yearning for democracy, Shirin doesn’t believe elected officials want to deliver greater political and social freedoms, and doubts Iran’s ruling theocracy would let them even if they tried.
How many share her frustration may become apparent in a June 18 vote, when Iran holds a presidential election seen as a referendum on the Islamic Republic’s handling of an array of political and economic crises.
Official polls suggest record low participation, a prospect critics of the government ascribe to economic hardship and to a lack of choice at the ballot box for an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions.
Religiously devout, less well-off communities are expected to go to the polls and vote for the hard-line front-runner, the strongly anti-Western Ebrahim Raisi, but young educated voters in towns and cities and some villages may well stay home.
After a hard-line election body barred heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates from standing in the race, young urban Iranians appear united only in their weariness with a cheerless status quo.
“I want freedom, I want democracy. Iranian presidents have no authority and desire to change our lives ... So why should I vote?” said French literature student Shirin, 22, from Tehran.
Like most other young people interviewed for this story, Shirin declined to be identified by her full name due to the sensitivity of the election contest.
Under Iran’s clerical system, the powers of the elected president are circumscribed by those of the hard-line supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in office since 1989.
Pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani won the presidency in 2013, bolstered by the support of many women and young people encouraged by his comments that Iranians deserved to live in a free country and have rights enjoyed by others around the world.
But critics say Rouhani, who is not permitted to run for a third consecutive term, has failed to make good on his pledges.
“I am undecided. I have always believed in voting and I voted for the incumbent president in the past two elections, said 28-year-old sales manager Sudabeh.
“But he could not fulfil his promises.”
Hundreds of Iranians at home and abroad – including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 revolution – have called for an election boycott. The hashtag #NoToIslamicRepublic has been widely tweeted by Iranians in the past weeks.
There is also lingering anger over the bloody suppression of a series of street protests in recent years and the military’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020 in what Iranian authorities said was an error.
All seven candidates – five hard-liners and two low-key moderates – have been wooing youthful voters in speeches and campaign messages and have used social media to reach the 60 percent of the 85 million population who are aged under 30.
Khamenei, like many other officials, has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram, although access to social media is officially blocked in Iran.
The ban rankles with many young Iranians. Many get around it by using virtual private networks, while insisting social media should be unblocked.
“Now that they need my vote to pursue their own political agenda, they promise unblocking the social media ban ... I will not vote as long as my freedoms are restricted,” said university student Saharnaz, 21, from the northern city of Sari.
Amid growing anger over economic hardship, candidates have promised to control galloping inflation, create jobs and end the rapid fall in the value of Iran’s currency without detailing their plans.
Jamshid, 27, from the southern city of Ahvaz, was skeptical.
“No, no, and no. I will not vote. I am jobless and hopeless. They get richer. Why should I vote in a system that is the source of my miserable life,” Jamshid said.
The economy, the authorities’ biggest challenge, is beset by mismanagement and US sanctions reimposed after the United States withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal three years ago.
Prices of basic goods like bread and rice rise daily. Meat is too dear for many, costing the equivalent of $40 for a kilogram. The minimum monthly wage equates to about $215. Iranian media regularly report layoffs and strikes by workers not paid for months.
Many voters preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues said they would vote for Raisi, a Shiite cleric who has been a strong advocate of Khamenei’s “resistance economy,” a project to increase self-reliance in Iranian manufacturing and services.
But taxi driver Alireza Dadvar supports low-key moderate former Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati.
“I don’t care about politics. I care about my family’s daily struggle ... Hemmati is the only candidate who can fix the economy,” said Dadvar, 41, a father of three in Isfahan.
Appointed by Khamenei as head of the judiciary in 2019, front-runner Raisi lost to Rouhani in a 2017 election. He is counting on poor Iranians to carry him to victory.
“Of course I will vote. It is my religious duty to vote and to choose a president who is loyal to the revolution. My vote will be a slap in the face of our enemies,” said first time voter Sajjad Akhbari from Tabriz, a city in north Iran.


Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.


Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
  • Shoukry highlights Cairo’s aspiration for continued cooperation with Libya to promote regional stability

CAIRO: Egypt says it trusts the wisdom and ability of the Tunisian presidency to overcome the current crisis as soon as possible.

It also expressed its full solidarity with the Tunisian people and their legitimate aspirations, according to a spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson stressed the need to avoid escalation and refrain from violence against state institutions, praising the role of the latter in maintaining the security and stability of the country.

“We are following with great interest what is happening in Tunisia and what the authorities are doing there to achieve the security, stability and sovereignty of the country,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

“We fully trust the wisdom of the political leadership in Tunisia and its ability to manage the situation to achieve the aspirations of its people,” he added.

Lamamra, for his part, stressed that “what is happening in Tunisia is an internal matter,” adding that Algeria stood in solidarity with the country.

Shoukry also spoke on the situation in Libya. The Egyptian foreign minister said that the opening of the coastal road in Libya was a good sign of dialogue and reconciliation and would enhance the chances of the elections’ success, putting Libya on the right path to restore its stability, eliminate the terrorist threat and work with neighboring countries Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad.

“We need cooperation between these countries in the region due to the turmoil and challenges it is witnessing,” Shoukry said, adding that every positive step taken would find support and sympathy from Egypt, Algeria and the rest of the neighboring countries.

Shoukry spoke on the importance of restoring stability to Libya for the benefit of both the Libyan people and the other countries in the region.

He also stressed the need for foreign forces to exit Libyan land and for the issue of militias to be dealt with.

The Algerian minister said that the relations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were going through a delicate stage and that it was important to reach an agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Lamamra expressed his hope that Algeria would be part of the solution, stressing that the issue of the GERD was of global importance and ought to receive the attention of the international community.


At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
Updated 01 August 2021

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
  • Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters
  • Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of Houthi fighters in Yemen have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Jouf and Al-Bayda, army officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.
At least 40 Houthis were killed on Saturday and Sunday in Rahabah district, south of Marib city, when government troops pushed back their assault in mountainous areas in the district, Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen Army’s military media, told Arab News.
The Yemeni military official said that the army and allied tribesmen, backed air support from the Arab coalition, mounted a counteroffensive in the district and managed to seize control of a mountain and weapons left behind by Houthi fighters.
Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters and weapons heading to the battlefields.
Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib province.
By expelling the Houthis from Al-Abzakh mountain, loyalists would have control over a large swathe of land south of Marib and would effectively push away the Houthi threat to Marib city from the south.
Despite their losses in the south, the Houthis continued to aggressively attack government forces in areas west of Marib city, local media said.
The Houthis mounted attacks on government forces in the Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara regions, but failed to make any territorial gains.
Thousands of people have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a major offensive to control the strategic city of Marib.
Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.
In the neighboring Jouf province, state media quoted Brig. Mohammed Al-Hajji, an army commander, as saying that army troops and tribesmen on Sunday repulsed a Houthi offensive on government-controlled locations in Al-Jadafer, east of Jouf province, and adding that the rebels were forced to retreat after suffering “heavy” losses.
Fighting also occurred in borders between Lahj and Al-Bayda provinces where the Houthis attacked an area controlled by forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council.
Local media said that a government soldier and several Houthis were killed during the failed Houthi attack in the Senah area of Lahj province. Tribesmen on Sunday attacked the Houthi areas in Al-Souma district, west of Al-Bayda province.
Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases continue to fluctuate across government-controlled provinces in Yemen, with the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday recording nine new cases and one death, compared with three new cases and zero deaths on Saturday.
On Friday, the committee announced the recording of 16 new cases and one death.
The total number of confirmed cases in liberated areas is 7,070, including 1,377 deaths and 4,200 recoveries. Local health officials believe that the surging numbers of cases might represent a new wave of the pandemic.
“The epidemiological situation is worrying, as cases have begun to surge,” Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News by telephone.


Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices

CAIRO: The first 10 million doses of Egypt’s coronavirus vaccine Vaccera Sinovac will be distributed in mid-August to more than 500 centers nationwide, the Ministry of Health and Population has announced.

People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices, said Health and Population Minister Hala Zayed.

The certificates are accredited and insured, and carry a unique QR code that will contain the holder’s data, photo and vaccination status, she added.

The ministry is also finalizing an Egyptian Health Passport app to be used in airports.

Zayed stressed the need to continue adhering to the required precautionary and preventative measures, and to stay away from large gatherings.