Syria, Iraq sign agreement to regulate water resources between the two countries

Syria, Iraq sign agreement to regulate water resources between the two countries
As Iraq bakes under a blistering summer heat wave, its hard-scrabble farmers and herders are battling severe water shortages that are killing their animals, fields and way of life. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 July 2021

Syria, Iraq sign agreement to regulate water resources between the two countries

Syria, Iraq sign agreement to regulate water resources between the two countries

DUBAI: Iraq and Syria signed an agreement on Saturday to regulate water resources between the two countries, state news agency INA reported. 
Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani, and his Syrian counterpart, Tammam Raad, signed a joint agreement to exchange data related to the imports of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers “periodically and in emergency situations."
The pact also includes the creation of technical committees and unification of positions regarding the quantities of water received at the Turkish-Syrian border. 
The two sides also agreed to a joint cooperation, an exchange in experiences, an increase in bilateral technical and administrative meetings as well as sharing the effects of the decline in water imports and the impact of climate change.


Crises in Tunisia brings Ennahda’s moment of truth one step closer

A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag at an anti-government rally as security forces block off the road in front of the Parliament in the capital Tunis on July 25, 2021. (AFP)
A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag at an anti-government rally as security forces block off the road in front of the Parliament in the capital Tunis on July 25, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 5 min 31 sec ago

Crises in Tunisia brings Ennahda’s moment of truth one step closer

A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag at an anti-government rally as security forces block off the road in front of the Parliament in the capital Tunis on July 25, 2021. (AFP)
  • Tunisians no longer see governance failure and Ennahda’s presence in government as mere coincidence
  • The Islamist party has become the face of mismanagement of COVID-19 outbreak and the economy

DUBAI: On the face of it, the political crisis unfolding in Tunisia could be viewed as fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, an unforeseeable event that does not look to have run its course.

But such a simple explanation barely scratches the surface of the problems confronting the country, problems that many Tunisians now regard as almost intractable. How did the situation reach this point in a nation that was hailed as the Arab Spring’s only success?

Judging by the images coming out of Tunisia, it seems clear that the people who blame the political class for the deteriorating economic, social and health conditions represent not some small pocket of opposition but a broad swath of public opinion. Equally, it is important to recognize that they have singled out a particular political party for criticism despite its leaders’ historic knack for dodging democratic accountability.

The offices of Islamist party Ennahda have become the common target of protesters’ ire in the towns of Sfax, Monastir, El-Kef, Sousse and Touzeur in recent days, as surging COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed the health system and aggravated economic problems.

Given Tunisia’s fractured polity and fractious politics, no rival of Ennahda could have manipulated public opinion on such a massive scale. The stark truth is that the biggest party in the Tunisian parliament is facing a trust crisis of its own making.

“Until a few years ago, Tunisia used to enjoy good public-health infrastructure,” Ammar Aziz, an associate editor at news channel Al Arabiya and a Tunisian citizen, told Arab News. “But everything has collapsed, especially during the last two years, owing to mismanagement and corruption, compounded by lack of equipment. This has prompted thousands of doctors to emigrate to Europe.”

Aziz said that Tunisian authorities initially had succeeded in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, registering zero infections in May 2020.

“However, Ennahda, which made a grand entry into power in 2019, had the government of Elyes Fakhfakh, who had been appointed prime minister by President Kais Saied in February 2020, dismissed in September,” he added.

“The new government that took over did not arrange for adequate vaccine purchases and, to make matters worse, opened the country’s borders without the needed restrictions. This caused the spread of COVID-19.”

A member of the Tunisian Islamist Ennahda party flashes the victory sign following a plenary session at the parliament in the capital Tunis on July 30, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

By mid-July, Tunisia had the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rate in Africa, and was also recording one of the continent’s highest infection rates. The health ministry acknowledged that the situation was dire. “The current situation is catastrophic,” ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya told a local radio station. “The number of cases has risen dramatically. Unfortunately, the health system has collapsed.”

Many Tunisians consider political instability as the biggest impediment to progress in the fight against the deadly coronavirus. Tunisia has had three health ministers since the start of the pandemic. In September, it got its third government in under a year — and the ninth since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings ended the 24-year rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisians were not without friends in their hour of need. Saudi Arabia sent an aid package consisting of 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, 190 artificial respirators, 319 oxygen tanks, 150 medical beds and 50 vital signs monitoring devices with trolleys. The UAE donated 500,000 vaccine doses. France provided the same number of vaccines, along with medical equipment and supplies.

“Ennahda was seen as wanting to take advantage of President Saied’s success in obtaining aid from Saudi Arabia and France,” Aziz said. “The party tried and succeeded in getting the minister of health (Faouzi Mehdi) replaced, making him the scapegoat for the government’s mishandling of the situation. When these revelations came out, many Tunisians concluded that Ennahda was using the pandemic to reap political profit.”

The parlous state of affairs since April might also have stirred in many Tunisians bitter memories of a time when an Ennahda-led coalition government was slow to tackle one of the deadliest extremist mobilizations in the Arab world, following the 2011 uprisings.

Supporters of the Islamist Ennahdha party wave flags during a demonstration in support of the Tunisian government on February 27, 2021 in the capital Tunis. (AFP)

Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia made the most of the post-2011 prisoner amnesties to grow its ranks. Ennahda, originally inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and an advocate of an overtly Islamic identity and society for Tunisia, appeared not to be up to the task of fighting militancy. The assassinations in 2013 of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two leaders of the leftist Popular Front electoral alliance, further polarized Tunisian public opinion.

By the time the government designated Ansar Al-Sharia as a terrorist organization in August 2013, many saw it as a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. Five years later, a group of lawyers and politicians accused Ennahda of being behind the killings of Belaid and Brahmi, and of forming a secret organization to infiltrate the security forces and judiciary, charges the party rejected.

The government’s reluctance to take off the kid gloves and smash militancy during this formative period of Tunisian democracy has haunted Ennahda ever since. As Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in a Wilson Center research paper: “Between 2013 and 2019, thousands joined jihadi movements abroad. … From Libya, Tunisians planned three large-scale attacks in 2015 and 2016 — at the Bardo Museum, a beach resort in Sousse, and the attempted takeover of Ben Gardane, a city along the Tunisian-Libyan border.”

As recently as 2018 the Washington Post reported that a study published by Mobdiun, an organization that works with youths in Kram West, a poor suburb of Tunis, found that nearly 40 percent of young men there said they knew someone who had joined a terrorist organization. A further 16 percent said they had been approached about adopting violent extremist ideology.

Tunisian President Kais Saied gesturing as he enters a vehicle in Tunis's central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, after he ousted the prime minister and ordered parliament closed for 30 days. (AFP/Tunisian Presidency)

Those not drawn to militancy look for other, perilous ways to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Consequently, every month large numbers of young Tunisians risk their lives in search of a better life in Europe. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2020 alone 13,000 Tunisians made the sea crossing, many of them probably aware of the dangers they would face on the journey.

“If you compare the short periods in which Beji Caid Essebsi, for example, or the prime minister of Ben Ali ruled Tunisia after the departure of Ben Ali himself in 2011, and the periods in which Ennahda ruled, you will notice a big difference: terrorism appeared with Ennahda,” Aziz said.

“More recently, with Ennahda controlling parliament and also the government, everything has simply collapsed — from security to the economy. The same is true for the country’s transport system and public-health institutions. All Tunisians have noticed the deterioration and it is for this reason we saw the protests in different towns on July 25.”

In an attempt to disarm critics in the West and win over secularists at home, Ennahda announced with much fanfare in 2016 that it was moving away from its religious roots to focus more on politics. But this claimed exit from political Islam and entry into “Muslim democracy” has remained just that, a claim, critics say. As some scholars of political Islam have noted, Ennahda has yet to clarify exactly what the “Muslim democracy” to which it has committed itself actually means in practice.

Supporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied chant slogans denouncing the country's main Islamist Ennahda (Ennahdha) party in front of the Parliament which was cordoned-off by the military in the capital Tunis on July 26, 2021. (AFP)

Now, even as it faces growing public anger over a perfect storm of crises battering Tunisia, Ennahda knows it cannot afford to alienate its core constituency. Open admission of failure could result in loss of support from traditional Islamists.

It is also concerned that working with secular parties and making political compromises could open up ideological fissures and expose vulnerabilities. Over the years, Ennahda must have surely realized that the rhetoric of human rights and democratic politics cannot be a substitute for genuine reforms. But the jury is out on its ability or willingness to undertake such an exercise.

“Ennahda has governed or taken part in governing Tunisia for an entire decade now. It has been the worst decade in Tunisia’s modern history, according to many people,” Aziz said, adding that the latest protests offer some indication of the current public sentiment.

“These Tunisians hold Ennahda responsible for all the country’s problems. They see the party as the main reason behind the ineffective governments, the widespread corruption, the lack of jobs, the unprecedented migration movements toward Italy and France and, at present, the country’s high COVID-19 death rates relative to other African and Arab countries.”


British woman arrested for smuggling cash to Dubai

Tara Hanlon, from the north of England, was arrested on Oct. 3 while boarding a flight to Dubai and carrying £1.9 million of cash hidden in five suitcases. (National Crime Agency)
Tara Hanlon, from the north of England, was arrested on Oct. 3 while boarding a flight to Dubai and carrying £1.9 million of cash hidden in five suitcases. (National Crime Agency)
Updated 27 July 2021

British woman arrested for smuggling cash to Dubai

Tara Hanlon, from the north of England, was arrested on Oct. 3 while boarding a flight to Dubai and carrying £1.9 million of cash hidden in five suitcases. (National Crime Agency)
  • British border officials said the seizure was the biggest cash capture that the force had made in 2020

LONDON: A 30-year-old British woman has been jailed for almost three years over money laundering offences worth more than £5 million ($6.8 million).

Tara Hanlon, from the north of England, was arrested on Oct. 3 while boarding a flight to Dubai and carrying £1.9 million of cash hidden in five suitcases.

She pleaded guilty at a London court in June having previously admitted to three counts of removing criminal property relating to cash amounts.

When arrested, Hanlon had been travelling with a friend to Dubai for a holiday with pals and told arresting officers that she had many suitcases because she “wasn’t sure what to wear” while away.

British border officials said the seizure was the biggest cash capture that the force had made in 2020.

Hanlon had hidden the cash in vacuum-packed bags surrounded by coffee to keep sniffer dogs off the scent.

She told investigators it was her first trip, but when they searched her phone and checked with her airline, they found she had made three previous visits as a courier. These were in July and August 2020, and she was paid approximately £3,000 for each trip.

Hanlon had texted friends that her job gave her the “perfect life,” and said: “Few days in the sun and a few at home.” She also bragged about her job and added: “Three big ones … with this wage and the next my debts go bye.”

Hanlon’s lawyer argued in court that she was vulnerable at the time of the offences because the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic meant that she had lost access to work. He added that her crimes were committed shortly after the unexpected death of her mother in March.

Judge Karen Holt said: “Although you were vulnerable at the time, I don’t find that you have been exploited and find that you knew what you were doing.”

National Crime Agency (NCA) senior investigating officer, Ian Truby, said: “Tara Hanlon thought that she was going to be living a jet-set lifestyle, instead she is now serving a prison sentence.

“I hope her story is a cautionary one for others who would consider doing the same. Stopping the flow of illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”


Egypt reiterates commitment to Gaza reconstruction

Egypt reiterates commitment to Gaza reconstruction
Updated 27 July 2021

Egypt reiterates commitment to Gaza reconstruction

Egypt reiterates commitment to Gaza reconstruction
  • Ambassador praises reconstruction efforts at function hosted by Cairo’s embassy in Palestine

CAIRO: Egyptian Ambassador to Palestine Tariq Tayel said Cairo is in constant dialogue with other nations over the reconstruction of Gaza and efforts to stabilize the truce between Hamas and Israel following the conflict in May.
Fighting broke out after Jewish settler groups tried to evict and confiscate the property of long-time Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem.
On May 10, armed Palestinian groups in Gaza started to launch rockets toward Israel. The Israel Defense Force retaliated, firing on Gaza with aircraft, drones and artillery.
Tayel said Cairo would continue its efforts for reconciliation at a function on Monday at the Egyptian Embassy in Ramallah, where he highlighted the work accomplished so far in removing the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza to pave the way for new projects.
He said the Palestinian cause will remain the central issue in the Middle East.
“Work has been done on two levels; the first is the launch of the tripartite cooperation formula between the people in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, with the aim of developing a common vision to deal with the challenges facing the issue and the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said.
“As for the second level, it is pushing toward reviving the peace process at the international level and working to conduct international contacts within the international determinants … to achieve peace,” Tayel added.
The Arab Peace Initiative was drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, with Arab nations offering Israel normalized ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
Emphasizing the strength of Egyptian-Palestinian relations, Tayel said they “most often go beyond what governments can achieve individually, or what traditional diplomatic work can accommodate, as it is a direct relationship between two fused peoples.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, referring to the ties between the two people’s since Egypt’s revolution on July 23, 1952, said: “The July Revolution is a turning point in the history of Egypt and the entire Arab region. This revolution raised the values of freedom, social justice and self-reliance.
“During the July Revolution, we found the Arab commitment to Palestine, and it strengthened the blood bond between the Egyptian people and its national forces, and between the Palestinian people and its revolutionary forces. Egypt has a firm position in support of Palestine, its people, its cause and its leadership,” Shtayyeh said.
“We are partners with Egypt in the political solution toward ending the occupation, establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for refugees. We are partners in saying and believing that the Palestinian legitimacy is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization and its fighting forces,” he added.


Italy fears current crisis in Tunisia may lead to new waves of migrants

Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 5 min 41 sec ago

Italy fears current crisis in Tunisia may lead to new waves of migrants

Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Calm sea weather could incentivize up to 15,000 migrants to head toward Italian shores
  • Italian foreign minister calls on EU to increase cooperation with Tunisia

ROME: Italian authorities fear that the ongoing political turmoil in Tunisia may result in a drastic increase in migrants arriving from Tunisia, with numbers potentially reaching up to 15.000.

Despite bad sea conditions, yesterday nearly 200 people arrived on dinghies and small boats from the Tunisian shores to Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean, where the local holding center known as the “hotspot” and designed to accommodate only 100 people came under pressure once again.

However, in the next few days, the situation could progress from strained to intolerable. As weather forecasts announce calm seas, this could significantly incentivize migrants to depart from Tunisia toward the Italian shores.

“We are seriously worried about this situation,” Adm. Giovanni Pettorino, chief of the Italian Coast Guard, told Arab News.

“Our primary mission is saving lives at sea. In the past 10 years, 900,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean, and we have always made every effort to save them. We will continue to do so, but solutions to the issue of migrant flows must be found on land and not at sea. Every time a boat leaves the coasts of North Africa overcrowded with people, it’s a defeat for everyone. The solution must go beyond rescue,” he added.

A source in the Italian Interior Ministry believes that “the political turmoil could exacerbate the economic crisis in Tunisia, which is already severe due to the impact of the pandemic.”

The same source added: “If Tunisia faces social unrest, protests, or even civil war or a new dictatorship, as it is realistic to expect, the impact will immediately be felt in Lampedusa with a surge in arrivals by sea.”

Since the beginning of the year, 5,805 Tunisians have arrived in Italy. Italian intelligence services told Arab News they estimate that over 15,000 Tunisians could reach Italy by the end of the year if the situation in the country does not improve.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio immediately called on the EU Commission for help, asking for increased cooperation with Tunisia to solve the local economic crisis and discourage the departure of migrants. The government is also worried about the Italian community in Tunisia, comprising 3,537 nationals.

“In this situation, we can only show great concern for what is happening now in Tunisia. We believe that this crisis can be solved through democracy,” Di Maio said.


Discontented Iranians march through central Tehran, chanting ‘death to the dictator’

Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
Updated 27 July 2021

Discontented Iranians march through central Tehran, chanting ‘death to the dictator’

Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
  • The Tehran protests come after recent violent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan province

LONDON: Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. 

Demonstrating in Jomhouri Avenue and other parts of central Tehran, angry protestors shouted “death to the dictator,” and “Khamenei, shame on you, leave our nation alone.”

Other chants from the crowd included “Tanks, guns (are not going to save your regime), the mullahs must go,” and “Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran.”

The Tehran protests come after recent violent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan province.

Ahwazi Arabs are one of the largest minority groups living in Iran and most of them live in Khuzestan. 

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

The President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Maryam Rajavi praised the protestors in Tehran.

“The sacrifices of martyrs in Khuzestan now echoes in the cries of “Death to the dictator” in Tehran’s central streets, near Khamenei’s headquarters. The uprising continues on for the twelfth day and shows that the henchman of the 1988 Massacre cannot save Khamenei from his inevitable destiny,” Rajavi said.