US-China rivalry forces Arab Gulf states to make impossible choices, UAE’s Anwar Gargash tells World Policy Conference

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s presidential diplomatic adviser and former ​minister of state for foreign affairs, was speaking at the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi. (Screenshot)
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s presidential diplomatic adviser and former ​minister of state for foreign affairs, was speaking at the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi. (Screenshot)
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Updated 03 October 2021

US-China rivalry forces Arab Gulf states to make impossible choices, UAE’s Anwar Gargash tells World Policy Conference

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s presidential diplomatic adviser and former ​minister of state for foreign affairs, was speaking at the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi. (Screenshot)
  • China has emerged as a powerful economic player in the region and is the Gulf’s biggest buyer of crude oil
  • China offers lucrative partnerships to Gulf states while the US is a more transparent strategic ally

ABU DHABI: Economic and strategic competition between the US and China is putting immense pressure on the Arab Gulf states, a top Emirati official told delegates on the second day of the 14th World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s presidential diplomatic adviser and former minister of state for foreign affairs, said the geopolitical rivalry is forcing countries in the region to make impossible choices concerning their strategic and business partnerships.

Gargash urged the international community to speak up against such pressure and not to become pawns in a new Cold War. “I think if this message comes across to the Chinese, to the Americans and to others, this will create what I would call a moral collective,” he said on Saturday.

“We’re all worried, very much, by a looming Cold War. That is bad news for all of us because the idea of choosing is problematic in the international system, and I think this is not going to be an easy ride.”

The UAE and other Arab Gulf countries have long been close US allies. However, China has since emerged as a powerful economic player in the region and its thirst for crude oil has made it the Gulf’s biggest buyer, presenting nations such as the UAE with a dilemma.

“This is going to be a big challenge for all of us,” Gargash said. “For us here in the UAE, the United States is our predominant strategic partner but China is our number one or two — with India — economic partner.”

Although the Chinese offer lucrative opportunities for trade and business partnerships, Gargash hinted the UAE considers the Americans a more transparent strategic ally.

“China will continue to be extremely important,” Gargash said. “While America’s direction is something you can glean from various readings and conferences and discussions, understanding China’s direction, I think, is more opaque.”

What began as a trade war over China’s economic policies has since evolved into a clash between differing ideologies, leading to mounting tensions in the South China Sea and schisms between the US and its traditional European allies.

US-China bilateral relations nosedived in 2018 when President Donald Trump imposed punitive tariffs on China. This was followed by restrictions on China’s access to US tech products and foreign investments involving security concerns and by allegations of unfair Chinese commercial practices.

President Joe Biden has since amplified his predecessor’s policies by strengthening anti-China alliances and implementing additional sanctions. Borrowing from the Cold War playbook, Biden has characterized the US-China conflict as “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”

Analysts believe US-China tensions are driven less by economic realities and more by great power rivalries — exacerbated by mutual mistrust over each other’s strategic aims.

Gargash pointed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international affairs, arguing it demonstrated the need for greater cooperation rather than confrontation.

“We are really seeing several dimensions to the changes in the international system,” he said. “I think, on the one hand, the pandemic makes it very, very clear that our geostrategic priorities need not only be political … but it can be about other issues.

“It will need from all of us an understanding … that confrontation is not the way forward, and communication is the way forward.

“It doesn’t mean that we will be able to change Iran’s perception of its role in the region, or Turkey’s perception of its role in the region, or how we see the Arab world and how it should come back to a more lively regional system. But at the same time I think we need to also understand that it is extremely important that we avoid confrontations.”


US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
Updated 20 May 2022

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
  • Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in the elections

LONDON: The US on Friday welcomed that parliamentary elections in Lebanon were held on time and without major security incidents, but urged the country's leaders to quickly form a government to resolve the ongoing economic crisis.

Last weekend’s elections led to Hezbollah and its allies losing a parliamentary majority.

“We congratulate the Lebanese people on their participation despite challenging circumstances, we also recognize the important role the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces played in supporting the process and maintaining security,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

“As Lebanon looks ahead, we urge those elected and the country’s political leaders to heed the Lebanese people’s call for change and to work seriously, and with urgency, to take the necessary actions to rescue the economy,” he added.

 

Price said the US was urging the swift formation of a new government able to carry out the “hard work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community.”

After videos surfaced reportedly showing Hezbollah supporters swapping vote ballots, ripping up others and ransacking voting booths in Baalbek, Price voiced the US’ worries.

“We share the concerns raised by our partners in the international community of allegations of vote-buying, clientelism, and reports of intimidation,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet on Friday passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session just before losing decision-making powers, following the election, that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s financial crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in over 150 years.


Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
Updated 20 May 2022

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
  • UK-based Anton Hammerl was killed by pro-regime forces in Libya 2011
  • Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl says South African government has not made clear how it obtained her deceased husband’s passport

LONDON: The widow of a UK-based photographer murdered by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011 is urging the South African government to release information she believes is crucial to locating her husband’s body.

Anton Hammerl was held captive for 44 days before being killed in the May 2011 incident that resulted in the kidnap of James Foley, who was later beheaded by Daesh, but despite a years-long campaign by widow Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl, his body has never been found.

The Guardian reports that at issue is how Hammerl’s passport came to be in the hands of the South African government, who returned it to Sukhraj-Hammerl, who believes disclosing that information will help in the efforts to locate the photographer’s body.

“(The passport) was posted to my office in mid-2016. I was quite overwhelmed as I didn’t expect it,” she told the Guardian, explaining that her husband would have been carrying his ID document at the time of his death in a photographer’s waist pouch he wore.

Despite repeated efforts, including a freedom of information request, to find out how South Africa came into possession of the passport, the government has continuously stonewalled requests, with the Guardian claiming this led to Sukhraj-Hammerl going public.

“It’s been nearly a year since I first wrote to you and your government to request a meeting regarding the case of my late husband … who was murdered by Gaddafi forces in Libya in April 2011,” she wrote to South Africa’s high commissioner in London, Nomatemba Tambo, copied to the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, earlier this week.

“During this time, we have signalled publicly and privately on several occasions that we would like to meet urgently to discuss a matter of serious concern in the handling of our case. More than a decade since Anton’s death, we still don’t know the location of his remains.

“We still don’t have a grave to visit. We still don’t know the truth. Your administration’s response? Silence.”

Sukhraj-Hammerl told the Guardian: “I’m baffled by their response. They’ve demonstrated no regard for accountability. We’ve requested meetings that have not been granted.

“I feel that they had information that they should have shared with us. So many officials involved that I find it hard to believe that someone doesn’t know something as significant as how a passport came to be handed over.”

South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, led the family to believe he would raise the issue on a visit to Tripoli in the last days of Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, although no evidence exists that he did so. 

Zuma has subsequently been caught in a series of financial scandals, including allegations that he received $30 million from Gaddafi, with whom he had a close relationship, to hide on his behalf.

Sukhraj-Hammerl added: “I think we’re calling for justice and truth. We’ve not had the due — as family, we should have had (it). It’s been really distressing. It’s horrid (to) realise (the South African government) had an opportunity to do more and choose deliberately (to) ignore us.

“We have a right to know. They owe us an explanation. It is least that they can do.”


Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources
Updated 20 May 2022

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources
  • Ministers agreed measure in cabinet’s final session hours before losing decision-making powers
  • Lebanon reached preliminary agreement with IMF in April

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s cabinet has passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown, two ministerial sources told Reuters on Friday.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session hours before losing decision-making powers, following the election of a new parliament on May 15 that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The plan includes several measures that are prerequisites for an International Monetary Fund bailout, including a plan to restructure the banking sector and reforming a banking secrecy law.

Lebanon reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF in April that listed a number of prior actions that the fund said must be implemented before it could reach a full deal.

In late April, the Association of the Banks in Lebanon (ABL) rejected a draft government recovery plan that it said would leave banks and depositors shouldering the “major portion” of a government-estimated $72 billion hole in the financial sector.

An ABL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s events.

Lebanon’s banks have been major lenders to the government for decades, helping to finance a wasteful and corrupt state that tipped into financial meltdown in 2019.

The collapse has resulted in depositors being shut out of their savings as the local currency lost more than 90 percent of its value.

Rewilding Arabia
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife
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Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row
Updated 20 May 2022

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row
  • The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Sanaa
  • In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of "treason and spying for foreign states"

DUBAI: Amnesty International has urged Yemen’s Houthi militia to free four journalists facing the death penalty for “espionage” in the war-torn country, ahead of an appeal court hearing on Sunday.
The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram Al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must quash the death sentences and order the immediate release of four Yemeni journalists who are facing execution following a grossly unfair trial,” the rights group said in a statement on Friday.
In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of “treason and spying for foreign states.”
“This has been a sham of a trial since the beginning and has borne a terrible toll on the men and their families,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Lynn Maalouf, according to the statement.
One of the detained men, Mansouri, is in a “critical health condition” with heart and other ailments, Amnesty said.
“Pending their overdue release, the journalists must be provided with urgent medical care — the denial of medical treatment for the seriously ill is an act of cruelty which amounts to torture and other ill-treatment,” the statement said.
At the time of their trial, Amnesty criticized their sentencing on “trumped-up charges,” while Reporters Without Borders called the verdict “totally unacceptable.”
Their arrest was motivated by their reporting on “human rights violations committed by Houthis,” the International Federation of Journalists and the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate have said.
An appeal will be heard by the Specialized Criminal Appeals Division in Sanaa on Sunday.

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Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife
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US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
Updated 20 May 2022

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
  • ‘Officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations’
  • Biden signed order reversing Trump administration decision to withdraw nearly all 700 troops

LONDON: US military forces redeploying to Somalia must make civilian protection “a priority,” Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order reversing a Trump administration decision to remove nearly all 700 American troops from the East African state and redeploy them as part of a joint operation with the Somali government to tackle Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

“US officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW.

“They will need to work closely with the Somali and African Union authorities to avoid repeating past laws of war violations and promptly and appropriately respond to civilian loss.”

HRW said past American operations in Somalia had not only resulted in loss of life and Somali property, but that the US had neither recognized these losses nor provided redress.

US military activities have been conducted in Somalia since at least 2007, but 2017 witnessed a marked increase in airstrikes before the Trump administration ordered the troop withdrawals in late 2020.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud welcomed the news that some 500 US troops would be returning, with HRW saying Al-Shabab has continued to conduct indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and forcibly recruited children.

Nonetheless, Bader said the return of US military personnel must include a course correction that ensures it takes all allegations of civilian harm seriously and credibly investigates them.

“A culture of impunity for civilian loss breeds resentment and mistrust among the population and undermines efforts to build a more rights-respecting state,” she added.

“The US government recognizes the need to credibly investigate and compensate for civilian harm, but the military has yet to make this a reality.”