Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
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In this file photo taken on June 18, 2021 Iranian ultraconservative cleric and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi waves after casting his ballot for presidential election, in the capital Tehran. (AFP)
Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
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A woman examines a ballot before casting it at a polling station in Iran's capital Tehran on June 18, 2021, during the 2021 presidential election. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2021

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”

The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord

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Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon
Updated 1 min 42 sec ago

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon

Massive fire ‘almost under control’ in north Lebanon
  • Lebanese Red Cross reports 2 hospitalized and 17 evicted due to blaze
  • More than 16 firefighting brigades from Tripoli and Beirut respond as Aoun has Cypriot authorities on standby

BEIRUT: A massive fire broke out in the Qobayat area north of Lebanon on Wednesday and spread so fast that many families were stuck in their properties.
A spokesperson for the Lebanese Civil Defence (LCD) told Arab News the blaze was a result of high temperatures, humidity, and winds but was “almost under control” after more than 16 firefighting brigades responded to the fire.
“Fire brigades from Tripoli and Beirut have been extinguishing the enormous flames that we face every summer season,” the LCD spokesperson said. “The head of LCD operations is supervising the fire-extinguishing process.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) told Arab News it also dispatched teams to the Qobayat area when the fire broke out.
“We evicted families including women, children, and the elderly as our teams remain on the ground,” the LRC spokesperson said.
According to the LRC Twitter account, 17 people were evicted, seven were treated at the site and two were hospitalized as a result of the fire.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun ordered the Lebanese Army and LCD to exert all efforts to extinguish the fire and prevent it from reaching homes and properties. He also gave orders to evict any families that could be in the path of the fire.
Aoun asked local authorities to communicate with Cypriot authorities for assistance if the fire escalated. 
The National News Agency (NNA) said the Lebanese Army rescued a number of citizens from their cars after they were surrounded by fires that broke out near the Qobayat-Rowaymah Highway.
One of Qobayat mayors, Youssef Nader, told Al-Jadeed TV that 60 percent of the fire that surrounded residential areas had been brought under control, but blazes in the nearby fields “remain out of control.”
One wounded person was transferred to the Al-Salam Hospital Emergency Department in Qobayat.
Lebanese Army helicopters, civil defense teams, and volunteers from Qobayat and other areas in Akkar continued to battle the blaze on Wednesday, which expanded towards new areas in Mount Akroum, the NNA reported.


Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials

Tunisia in political turmoil as president dismisses more officials
  • Late Tuesday, Saied issued decrees sacking a list of government officials, including the army’s chief prosecutor
  • He has also lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, and assumed judicial powers

TUNIS: Tunisia lurched further into political uncertainty Wednesday, as President Kais Saied sacked more officials, days after he suspended parliament and assumed executive powers in what opponents labelled a “coup.”
Key civil society groups warned against any “illegitimate” extension of Saied’s 30-day suspension of parliament, and demanded in a joint statement a timeline for political action.
After suspending parliament and sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday, and firing the defense and justice ministers on Monday, Saied then ordered the dismissal of several top officials.
Late Tuesday, 63-year-old Saied, a former law lecturer who was a political newcomer when he won a landslide 2019 presidential election victory, issued decrees sacking a long list of senior government officials, including the army’s chief prosecutor.
He has also lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, and assumed judicial powers.
Saied say his actions are justified under the constitution, which allows the head of state to take unspecified exceptional measures in the event of an “imminent threat.”
On top of the political turmoil, the North African nation is beset by a crippling economic crisis including soaring inflation and high unemployment, as well as surging Covid-19 infections.
The moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, which was the largest faction in the coalition government, has labelled the power grab a “coup d’etat,” while the US, EU and other powers have voiced strong concern.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Wednesday urged Tunisia to rapidly appoint a new prime minister and government.
Further ramping up tensions, the Tunisian prosecutor’s office announced on Wednesday the judiciary has opened an investigation into allegations that Ennahdha and two other political parties received illegal funding ahead of elections in 2019.
The financial arm of the judiciary opened the probe on July 14, focusing on “the foreign financing and acceptance of funds of unknown origin,” prosecution spokesman Mohsen Dali said.
Tunisians are waiting anxiously for clarity on the next political steps.
Saied, an austere law academic who has said he is determined to revolutionize the political system through the law, said he would assume executive power “with the help” of a government whose new chief he would appoint himself.
Names of possible candidates circulated Wednesday after Saied met with representatives of national organizations late Monday.
“President Saied will be very careful in choosing the future head of government, because he wants a trustworthy and loyal person who would adopt the same policies as him,” said political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi.
The young democracy had often been cited as the sole success story of the Arab Spring.
But, a decade on, many in the nation of 12 million people say they have seen little improvement in living standards, and have grown infuriated by protracted political deadlock with infighting among the elite.
The ousted government had also been criticized for its handling of the Covid pandemic. Tunisia has one of the world’s highest official per-capita death tolls.
“President Saied is faced with a great challenge: to show Tunisians and the world that he made the right decisions,” added Jourchi.
After violent clashes outside the army-blockaded parliament on Monday, the Ennahdha party said “organized thugs” were being used to “provoke bloodshed and chaos.”
On Tuesday Ennahdha said that, “for the sake of the democratic path,” it is “ready to go to early legislative and presidential elections” while demanding “that any delay is not used as a pretext to maintain an autocratic regime.”
Noureddine B’Hiri, a senior Ennahdha leader, said the party had “decided to campaign peacefully to defeat” the president’s plans.
But before any elections, “parliament should resume its activities and the military end its control,” B’Hiri told AFP.
In the 10 years since Tunisia’s popular revolution toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has had nine governments.
Some have lasted just months, hindering the reforms needed to revamp the country’s struggling economy and poor public services.


US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials
Updated 57 min 3 sec ago

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials

US imposes sanctions on Syrian prisons, officials
  • The prisons “have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees,” the statement said
  • The Treasury Department also put sanctions on Syrian armed group Ahrar Al-Sharqiya

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury Department said on Wednesday it had imposed sanctions on eight Syrian prisons run by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s intelligence apparatus and five senior officials who control the sites, where human rights abuses have taken place.
The Treasury Department also put sanctions on Syrian armed group Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, which operates in northern Syria, for abuses against civilians, as well as on two of the group’s leaders, it said in a statement.
“Today’s designations promote accountability for abuses committed against the Syrian people and deny rogue actors access to the international financial system,” said Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Andrea Gacki. “This action demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator.”
The prisons “have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees,” the statement said. It accused Ahrar Al-Sharqiya of numerous crimes against civilians, especially Syrian Kurds, “including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property.”
In a separate statement, the Treasury said it had imposed sanctions on one Turkey-based Al-Qaeda financial facilitator for materially assisting the militant group as well as one Syria-based terrorist fundraiser and recruiter for providing material support to Hay’et Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a militant group previously sanctioned under US counter-terrorism authorities.


Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system
Updated 28 July 2021

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system

Schools in Egypt flourishing with Tokkatsu system
  • Japanese system develops all the skills of the student, focusing on creativity and thinking rather than conservation and indoctrination
  • Egyptian-Japanese schools in Egypt are preparing for the new academic year, which begins in October

CAIRO: The Japanese education system, Tokkatsu, continues to flourish in Egypt as the country had 48 schools that used the system during the last academic school year. 

These Egyptian-Japanese schools teach Egyptian curriculum in addition to the Japanese Tokkatsu educational system, which develops all the skills of the student, focusing on creativity and thinking rather than conservation and indoctrination.

Safwat Al-Jamai, an educationist, told Arab News the Tokkatsu method relies on activities that help the students with daily life, self-development, health, safety, and creativity.

“It encourages students to help with the management and planning of the activities, and there are cultural exchange programs for different age groups within the school,” Al-Jamai said.

“It also entails activities that develop a sense of belonging and solidarity toward others and working for the public interest through practical activities carried out by students."

These activities, according to Al-Jamai, transform the role of the teacher into that of a facilitator. They no longer merely teach facts and concepts leading students to a right-or-wrong answer, but rather facilitate social and emotional learning for the student through trial and error in an individual or group environment.

The activities also enable the development of the personal and social skills needed when students enter the real world, and it requires them to share tasks, set rules, experience leadership as well as follow rules and adhere to order.

Egyptian-Japanese schools in Egypt are preparing for the new academic year, which begins in October. One of them is in Sharm El-Sheikh, which was inaugurated by the Egyptian Minister of Education, Tariq Shawky, and the Governor of South Sinai, Maj. Gen. Khaled Fouda, last March.

The Egyptian-Japanese School in Sharm El-Sheikh is located near King Salman University and consists of 28 classrooms from kindergarten to secondary school. It is the second such school in the governorate after another that was established in Tur Sinai in October 2018.

The Egyptian-Japanese School finished conducting personal interviews for students initially accepted to the school for the academic year 2021-2022. Prospective students applied to enroll in the school through the school's website, under the supervision of the Egyptian-Japanese Schools Administration Unit at the Ministry of Education.

They canceled paper submissions due to coronavirus (COVID-19) safety precautions. 

The admission process for students included a personal interview with parents, submission of supporting documents with the application, a math test, and a cognitive skills test for the child. Personal interviews were also conducted for students applying for kindergarten.

Mahmoud Abdel-Aal, director of the Egyptian-Japanese School, said interview results will be announced after they are completed in all schools nationwide.


Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon
Updated 28 July 2021

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon

Lebanon's Mikati hopes to form government soon
  • Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said he hoped to form a government in the "near future"

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said on Wednesday that he hoped to form a government shortly after securing the approval of President Michel Aoun for most of his nominees.
Mikati, a businessman, is the third potential prime minister to be nominated since Hassan Diab's government resigned after an explosion in Beirut's port area on Aug. 4 last year that killed more than 200 people and flattened large areas of the city. He spoke to reporters after meeting Aoun.
Diab's government has stayed on in a caretaker capacity, but Lebanon's currency has collapsed, jobs have vanished and banks have frozen accounts in the country's worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
"I gave my proposals, President Aoun approved most of them and he made some remarks which are acceptable; God willing ... we will be able to form a government soon," Mikati said.
Mikati has been prime minister twice before and, unlike many Lebanese leaders, does not represent a political bloc or hail from a dynasty.
Like the previous nominee, Saad Al-Hariri, he must navigate the sectarian, power-sharing structure and secure agreement on a cabinet equipped to address the financial meltdown in Lebanon, one of the world's most heavily indebted states.