Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party
Head of Ennahda Rached Ghannouchi. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party
  • The probes follow President Kais Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members

JEDDAH: Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to the Islamist Ennahda political party.
Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.
The probes follow President Kais Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.
Ennahda and two other political parties are accused of obtaining illegal funding before elections in 2019. The investigation will focus on “the foreign financing and acceptance of funds of unknown origin,” said Mohsen Dali, spokesman for the financial prosecutor’s office.
Rachid Ghannouchi, the Ennahda leader and parliamentary speaker, admitted that his party was a perfect target to blame for Tunisia’s raft of economic, health and other problems.
Ghannouchi conceded that Ennahda, which has been accused of focusing on its internal concerns instead of managing the coronavirus, “needs to review itself, as do other parties.”
The Islamist party has accused the president of carrying out a coup, but the claim has attracted little support in the international community. The US, EU and other world powers have stopped short of condemning Saied’s actions, and instead urged him to rapidly appoint a new prime minister and government.
Saied said he would assume executive power “with the help” of a government whose new leader he would appoint himself. Names of possible candidates circulated on Wednesday after Saied met representatives of civil society.
“President Saied will be very careful in choosing the future head of government, because he wants a trustworthy and loyal person who will adopt the same policies as him,” said political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi. “He is faced with a great challenge — to show Tunisians and the world that he made the right decisions.”
Saied said his actions were necessary to stabilize a country in economic and health crisis, and they have received widespread support among ordinary Tunisians.
Omar Oudherni, a retired army brigadier and security expert, said the president’s moves, coming after a day of nationwide protests, “put an end to the development of anger ... This decision calmed the situation and protected the state and citizens, and even the ruling political parties, from the people’s wrath.”


EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Updated 13 sec ago

EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
  • 400 Iranian-American scholars urge Biden to call for Raisi to stand trial for his role in mass executions
  • Borrell ‘underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks’ at a meeting with Iran’s top diplomat

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday Iran’s top diplomat had assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.
The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.
An EU statement said Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting on Tuesday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement said.
Raisi voiced support on Tuesday in his international debut for reviving the nuclear accord, even as he berated the US.
“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said in a recorded speech to the UN.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he expected a resumption of the talks “in the coming weeks,” without giving an exact date.
The 2015 nuclear agreement offered Iran a reduction of UN sanctions in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, but Tehran has progressively stepped away from its commitments in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal and imposition of sanctions.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to return to the deal, which was negotiated when he was Barack Obama’s vice president and under Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
In a letter to President Biden, ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly, more than 400 Iranian-American scholars urged the president to call for Raisi to stand trial before an international tribunal for his role in the 1988 mass execution of dissidents. Dissidents have zeroed in on his role in a “death commission” that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Iran’s new president slammed US sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first UN address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.
President Ebrahim Raisi delivered a far more critical and blunt take on American foreign policy than his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the UN General Assembly.
“Sanctions are the US’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to “crimes against humanity.”
In taking aim at the US, Raisi also referenced the shocking Jan. 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and the horrific scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US aircraft evacuating people.
“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: The US’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Raisi said.
He said “the project of imposing Westernized identity” had failed, and added erroneously that “today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”


Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 9 sec ago

Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
  • Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

AL-TUHAYTA, Yemen: Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi gives a science lesson to children sprawled across the ground at her home in a remote village in the southern province of Hodeidah.
For these boys and girls, learning at Mahdi’s sun-scorched compound is their only opportunity for an education in the small rural area of Muhib in the Al-Tuhayta district.
She had already been teaching children to read and write before the outbreak of the impoverished country’s devastating war in 2014.
“What pushed me toward teaching was the high rate of ignorance in the village and that children were deprived of an education,” Mahdi told AFP.
With dozens of children to tend to, Mahdi has divided them into three groups based on age, teaching each class for two hours a day.
Other than learning how to read and write, the children also get lessons in maths and science.
But Mahdi said her house, with hundreds of books piled on a single shelf, is not really equipped for teaching. “There is lots of damage from the sun and heat,” she said, wearing an all-black niqab.
Yemen’s war pits the government against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 2,500 schools in the country are unfit for use, with some destroyed and others turned into refugee camps or military facilities.
UNICEF has estimated that 2 million children were without school even before the coronavirus pandemic, a further systemic shock which it warns has likely propelled the number even higher.
“We wouldn’t have been able to read, write or learn if it weren’t for Miss Amina,” one of the pupils, Ibrahim Mohib, told AFP.
His father, Mohammed, said he had no regrets sending his three children to learn at Mahdi’s home.
“They were taught there from the first until the fourth grades, and thank God for (Mahdi) striving to teach them,” he said.
Mahdi said she hopes to get some form of help to teach the children.
“I ask all those who are charitable to bring joy to these children ... and offer aid to establish a real school,” she said. “My small home is not good enough, and it has become a public place where I am no longer comfortable.”


Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
Updated 47 min 14 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
  • Saudi Arabia remains the top donor of humanitarian aid to its war-torn neighbor
  • Saudi, Yemeni govts call for pressure on Houthis to choose UN-led political solution to conflict

NEW YORK:  Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU and other nations announced hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of additional humanitarian and development aid for Yemen at a high-level meeting at the UN on Wednesday. 

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, supervisor-general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, announced that Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $90 million in humanitarian aid for war-torn Yemen.

“Over the last six years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided more than $18 billion to support Yemen,” he said. “This year alone, Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen with more than $848 million.” 

The latest pledge means Saudi Arabia is once again the largest donor of aid to Yemen. But “monetary donations alone won’t alleviate the crisis in Yemen,” Al-Rabeeah warned. 

“Unless we work together to end the conflict and minimize the obstructions of aid delivery, the situation will continue to worsen,” he added.

“Ongoing aggression by the Houthi militias against the UN and international NGOs only adds more misery to the Yemeni people.”

Al-Rabeeah expressed the Kingdom’s desire that the international community support its political plan “to put an end to the conflict and bring long-lasting peace to all Yemenis.”

The US promised an additional $290 million in donations for 2021, while the EU announced that it will donate a further €119 million ($139.65 million), which the bloc’s Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said is a “joint humanitarian and development aid pledge.”

She added that “in the immediate term, our support will help families access food and basic commodities,” and that “in the long term, the EU seeks to help Yemen build a bridge from crisis to recover.” In this, she said, “investing in youth and women will play a critical role.”

Canada, Qatar, Sweden and Brazil together pledged additional donations worth over $120 million, some of which will be provided to UN bodies such as the World Food Programme to assist their operations in Yemen.

In total, around $600 million in additional humanitarian funding was announced at the UN meeting.

That money will be used to ensure that food security, sanitation, healthcare and education continues to be delivered to as many Yemenis as possible.

But while the aid provided by the international community will alleviate some of the hardship facing the country’s 29 million people, world leaders repeatedly made clear that a political solution to the conflict is the only way to truly end the humanitarian crisis.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and it was plunged into civil war when the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government in 2015. Since then, famine and conflict have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Yemen’s Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned on Wednesday that “despite the generous contributions of the international community, including the UN-led Humanitarian Response Plan, the humanitarian crisis witnessed by Yemen is still the largest and most urgent in the world.” 

He blamed the Houthis for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, citing their assault on the city of Marib as an example of how they perpetuate the suffering of Yemenis — in this case by preventing the supply of household fuel to people across the country.

“Marib is the main source of household gas in Yemen … The continued brutal attacks by the Houthi militias on Marib exacerbate human suffering,” Bin Mubarak said.

He warned that a continuation of the Marib offensive could force thousands of internally displaced Yemenis who had sought safety in the city to seek refuge overseas.

“All humanitarian efforts provided by the different (UN) agencies won’t end the suffering of the Yemenis unless this war stops,” he said.

“Therefore, I’d like to call upon the international community to exert more effort on the Houthi militias and their supporters to give up the option of war and engage in a peace process that’s led by the UN.”


Hamas rejects PA’s call for Palestinian local elections

Hamas rejects PA’s call for Palestinian local elections
Updated 22 September 2021

Hamas rejects PA’s call for Palestinian local elections

Hamas rejects PA’s call for Palestinian local elections
  • Hamas is a long-standing rival of the Palestinian Authority
  • Hamas, which was furious by Abbas's general election postponement, said Wednesday that it "would not be part of... fragmented municipal elections"

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, said Wednesday it would not participate in municipal Palestinians elections set by the Palestinian Authority for December unless a general election is also called.
Hamas is a long-standing rival of the PA, based in the occupied West Bank, and had supported the decision to hold Palestinian legislative and presidential elections in May and July.
But president Mahmud Abbas in April indefinitely postponed those votes, which would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.
Abbas cited Israel’s refusal to guarantee voting in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
But Palestinian experts said Abbas balked out of fear that Hamas would sweep the polls, in a repeat of 2006 results that the president’s Fatah movement did not accept.
Hamas, which was furious by Abbas’s general election postponement, said Wednesday that it “would not be part of... fragmented municipal elections.”
“The right solution is to hold comprehensive elections” for the Palestinian presidency, Palestinian legislative council, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), municipal bodies and trade and student unions, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told reporters.
Those votes could happen “simultaneously or according to a nationally agreed timetable,” he said.
“If that is plan, we are ready to participate.”
The municipal elections called by the PA would take place in 387 localities throughout the West Bank and Gaza on December 11, and then in 90 other places at a later date that has yet to be set.
Of the 477 voting sites, just 11 were in Gaza.
Hamas’s rejection of the process would make voting impossible in Gaza, an Israeli-blockaded territory controlled by the Islamists since 2007.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union but is seeking to bolster its legitimacy through election wins and by joining the PLO, a group of Palestinians factions recognized by Israel and the international community.


Tunisia’s Saied issues decree strengthening presidential powers

Tunisia’s Saied issues decree strengthening presidential powers
Updated 22 September 2021

Tunisia’s Saied issues decree strengthening presidential powers

Tunisia’s Saied issues decree strengthening presidential powers
  • The provisions come almost two months after his initial power grab
  • Under the current system, most of the executive power was in the hands of the government

TUNIS: Tunisian President Kais Saied took exceptional measures on Wednesday that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, which he will effectively replace by ruling by decree.
The provisions, laid out in a series of decrees published in the official gazette, come almost two months after his initial power grab.
Under the current system, most of the executive power was in the hands of the government and the measures announced by Saied clearly tip the balance in favor of the presidency.
“Legislative texts will be promulgated in the form of decrees signed by the President of the Republic,” one of the articles stipulates.
A second article says that “the President shall exercise executive power with the help of a Council of Ministers chaired by a Head of Government.”
“The President of the Republic presides over the Council of Ministers and may mandate the Head of Government to replace him/her,” says another.
Saied, a political outsider, came to power in 2019 on a wave of public outrage against political parties widely seen as corrupt and self-serving.
On July 25, Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed lawmakers’ immunity and put himself in charge of the prosecution.
He has since renewed the measures, and has not responded to calls for a roadmap for lifting them.
Saied has repeatedly insisted his actions are in line with the North African country’s post-revolution constitution, under which the head of state can take “exceptional measures” in case of an “imminent danger” to national security.
Street protests in early 2011 toppled longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sparking a string of “Arab Spring” revolts across the region, and setting in motion a Tunisian transition to a parliamentary democracy solidified by a 2014 constitution.
Tunisia has won praise for that transition but, more recently, many citizens feel their quality of life has worsened in the face of grinding economic, social and political crises, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, before his latest move, Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party said that Saied’s measures to extend his powers risked setting in motion the “dismantling” of the state.
Ennahdha formed the largest bloc in parliament before the president’s shock actions.
Several hundred protesters, many of them Ennahdha supporters, marched through central Tunis on Saturday to demand a return to parliamentary democracy.