‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom

‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom
Saleh, a prisoner who has been languishing in Moroccan jails for 19 years on terrorism charges, sits at the library inside Kenitra Prison, in the coastal city of the same name, near the Moroccan capital Rabat. (AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2021

‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom

‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom
  • The program, launched in 2015 and led by Morocco’s DGAPR prison service with several partner organizations, aims to help terror detainees who are willing to question their beliefs

RABAT: Saleh has been languishing in Moroccan jails for 19 years on terrorism charges, but he hopes to be freed soon thanks to a de-radicalization program.

The former hard-line militant, today a bearded prisoner in his 50s, said he once held beliefs that justified violence.

“I believed Muslims had a duty to fight oppressive rulers who don’t apply Islamic law, and to attack states that fight Muslims,” he told AFP in the library of Kenitra Prison, near Rabat.

But those ideas were based on a literal reading of the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad “that I wasn’t qualified to understand,” he says.

Today, after passing through the North African kingdom’s Moussalaha (“Reconciliation“) program, he is hoping for a reprieve.

The program, launched in 2015 and led by Morocco’s DGAPR prison service with several partner organizations, aims to help terror detainees who are willing to question their beliefs.

Saleh said his journey into militancy began after he emigrated in the 1990s to Italy, where he met an imam at a Turin mosque who belonged to Jamaa Islamiya, the Egyptian jihadist group that assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

In 2001, he left what he used to call “the country of the infidels” and moved with his family to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

But the Sept. 11 attacks in the US forced him to change his plans.

With the US threatening to invade and topple the Taliban, he fled home to Morocco — and was promptly arrested.

He says he does not have blood on his hands, but he has been in detention ever since.

Morocco has had painful experiences with militancy at home and abroad.

In 2003, five suicide attacks killed 33 people and wounded scores more in the economic capital Casablanca.

Fifteen years later, two Scandinavian tourists were murdered by Daesh-linked militants during a hiking trip in the High Atlas mountains.

The security services have dismantled more than 2,000 extremist cells and made over 3,500 arrests linked to terrorism since 2002, according to official figures published in February.

Many cells busted in recent years have been linked to the Daesh group, which seized a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a “caliphate” there in 2014.

More than 1,500 Moroccan fighters are known to have traveled to the area over the past decade, a security source said.

But in 2015, Moroccan authorities launched Moussalaha as part of “a new approach” to detainees, said DGAPR official Moulay Idriss Agoulmam.

The program “includes monitoring the participants and helping those who express a need for guidance,” he said.

It also includes studies on law and the economy, as well as a three-month psychological accompaniment.

It has so far reached 207 detainees, including eight women. Around 116 have received royal pardons and been freed, while 15 have had their terms reduced.

Mohamed Damir, another ex-detainee who had been sentenced to death in 2003 on terror charges, said many radicalized people “only realize they need to leave their extremist ideas once they find themselves alone” in a prison cell.

The 47-year-old said he reached that point after seven years of prison. That began a long process to convince the authorities to help out convicts in a similar situation.

In 2011, his sentence was commuted to 30 years in jail.

Then he was released in 2017 after taking part in the first round of Moussalaha.

Part of his re-education involved reading the works of philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, some of whose ideas “are not far from the spirit of Islam.”

“I discovered the concept of the social contract, which allows everyone to live in peace, as we are obviously all different,” he said.

After leaving prison, Damir joined an Islamic scholars’ association in the town of Mohammadia that oversees the religious aspect of Moussalaha.

Today, he is helping guide detainees through the program.

“It’s not always easy,” he said.

“Most of them don’t know much about the Islamic religion,” he said, adding that he uses religious texts to change their views.

“I try to persuade them that they will not earn God’s favor by following the path (of violence).”


Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
Updated 13 min 42 sec ago

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
  • The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19
  • Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities

CAIRO: Egyptian citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will from Wednesday be denied access to all government services and buildings unless they can provide evidence of a negative PCR test.

The decision was taken by the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Crisis Management, which said the rule would apply to the provision of government services in all governorates and ministries.

The Ministry of Local Development instructed governors to implement the committee’s decision and refuse entry to government departments for anyone who is unable to provide evidence that they have been fully vaccinated or submit a negative PCR test result.

The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in places of work and study.

The Ministry of Health and Population said it had made vaccines available to all citizens and that they should get vaccinated to avoid being disadvantaged by the new ruling.

It added that people who had not yet had their jabs should visit one of the many vaccination facilities located at medical centers, subway and railway stations, or the mobile units that travel throughout villages and towns.

Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities, the health ministry said.

Egypt implemented a rule on Nov. 15 that prevents unvaccinated government employees from entering their place of work.


Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
Updated 5 min 33 sec ago

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
  • The council will hold its next regular meeting in Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference
  • The Muslim Council of Elders is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb

CAIRO: The Muslim Council of Elders has decided to hold the next round of the Dialogue of East and West in Bahrain after postponing it in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The council is an independent international body based in Abu Dhabi and aimed at promoting peace, dialogue and tolerance. It is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and its membership includes an elite group of Muslim scholars.

The council will hold its next regular meeting in the Bahraini capital, Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference.

The imam expressed his appreciation to Bahrain’s people and the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa for hosting the new edition of the dialogue.

He noted that the dialogue comes within the framework of strengthening relations between religious and cultural institutions in Islamic countries and their counterparts in Western societies, establishing common ground based on shared values and promoting coexistence.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahraini Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a member of the Muslim Council of Elders, expressed Bahrain’s excitement to host the meeting and the new edition of the dialogue.

Sultan Al-Romaithi, secretary-general of the council, said that arrangements for the dialogue are now being finalized and that the new edition will witness positive interactions between Western and Eastern scholars and intellectuals.

He explained that the council is in the process of nominating youths to participate in the dialogue who have the capabilities to become future leaders and ambassadors for the Muslim Council of Elders.

The council was founded on July 13, 2014 to spread a culture of peace in Muslim societies, reject violence and extremism, and confront hate speech.


Displaced Syrians face brutal winter exacerbated by economic collapse, charity warns

Displaced Syrians face brutal winter exacerbated by economic collapse, charity warns
Updated 01 December 2021

Displaced Syrians face brutal winter exacerbated by economic collapse, charity warns

Displaced Syrians face brutal winter exacerbated by economic collapse, charity warns
  • One in three displaced Syrians know someone who has become ill or died because of the cold
  • People will be forced to choose between food and fuel during the winter months, says charity head

LONDON: The majority of displaced Syrians face a bitter winter with inadequate shelter and not enough food, a humanitarian organization working in Syria and Lebanon has warned.

Syria Relief said that the already brutal winter is exacerbated by the country’s economic crisis, which has sent prices of fuel and food skyrocketing.

Only 29 percent of internally displaced people (IDP) in Northern Syria believe that their current accommodation adequately protects them from winter conditions, according to a survey conducted by Syria Relief, which provides lifesaving aid and humanitarian interventions in the war-torn country.

The number is higher, at 52 percent, for Syrian refugees living in informal settlements in Lebanon, according to Syria Relief’s survey of over 1,000 people across Aleppo, Idlib, and Lebanon.

Around one in three respondents in Syria and Lebanon know someone who has either died or developed health conditions due to the cold.

Syria Relief Chief Executive Othman Moqbel told Arab News: “All of us, working on the ground, are very worried about this winter.”

He said: “There is the common misconception that Syria and Lebanon are hot, but in the winter months, especially high up in the mountains where there are many refugee and IDP camps, the temperatures regularly plummet to freezing temperatures. Winter is one of the greatest threats to a Syrian IDP or refugee living in a tent, as temperatures can drop as low as -10 C.”

Syria’s collapsing economy, worsening every year, makes the upcoming winter the toughest yet, Moqbel said.

“Last winter it was estimated by the UN that 80 percent of Syrians lived in poverty. Now, it is estimated at 90 percent. There are 13.4 million Syrians who depend on humanitarian aid to survive.

“To simply survive, millions of Syrians need fuel to keep the stoves they use for warmth fired up. But it’s expensive and the economic situation means fuel is harder than ever to find for many families.

“To afford the fuel they need to stop them freezing to death, most families living in tents have to make sacrifices. Maybe they will go without food, maybe one of their children will go without food, maybe all of them will have to go without food for a few days.”

Moqbel explained that Western countries, such as the UK, could take action that would alleviate the suffering of these Syrians.

“We would like to see the UK in particular not cutting its aid budget and instead ensuring that more money is spent on displaced Syrians who are already some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”


Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many
Updated 01 December 2021

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

BAGHDAD: Abu Zeinab says only one of his five adult children has a job, and he only got it through “wasta,” the system of “who you know” that is Iraq’s pervasive scourge.
The practice has fueled frustration, mass anti-government protests and waves of emigration from the oil-rich, war-scarred and poverty-stricken country, say analysts.
“All my children, including my three daughters, have finished their university studies, but only one has been able to find a job,” said Abu Zeinab, a 60-year-old retiree living in Baghdad.
“The others are trying, without success.”
For his 28-year-old son, wasta turned out to be the “joker” that made all the difference, when a relative helped him land a coveted contract job, renewed annually, with a government ministry.
“Poverty pushes people toward wasta,” said the patriarch, with resignation in his voice.
Wasta refers to using one’s family, communal or party connections to obtain jobs and benefits — something that is universal but seen as especially widespread and corrosive in Iraq.
While the lucky few get well-paying and secure jobs with generous pensions, nearly 40 percent of young people are unemployed, with few prospects for their future.
Anger at the patronage, nepotism and cronyism that underpin the system was amid the key grievance expressed by protesters in a wave of mass rallies in late 2019.
It is the hopelessness felt by those who miss out that has fueled the widespread wish to leave Iraq, say analysts.
The latests waves of emigration have seen thousands of Iraqis freeze on the Belarus-Polish border, and some perish when their boat capsized in the icy waters of the Channel.
Some 95 percent of Iraqis say wasta is needed “often or sometimes” to find a job, according to the World Bank’s so-called Arab Barometer Report of 2019.
“All of society agrees that without wasta you cannot achieve anything,” said political scientist Thamer Al-Haimes.
The problem results from a “weakness of the law” which fails to create a level playing field, he said, and “hinders the development of the country” while driving emigration.
Those who fail to benefit often spend all their savings, or take on debt, to attempt the risky journey to Western Europe, dreaming of a better life and the benefits of a welfare state.
Iraq is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, in 160th place out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption index.
Even though it has the second largest energy reserves in the Middle East, one third of Iraq’s 40 million people live below the poverty line, says the UN.
Even though wasta is widely regarded as a problem, most people also say they have no choice but to benefit from it if the opportunity arises.
“I tried several times to find a job in any public institution — I applied more than 20 times, without success,” said Omran, a 32-year-old sociology graduate.
He finally got a position in the police force, but only after joining the right political party, he admitted.
Another man interviewed by AFP, Jassem, had a similar experience: he had become a civil servant only two days after a chance meeting with an influential parliamentarian.
Iraq’s bloated public sector is the country’s biggest employer, and the wages it pays are the state’s largest expense.
Between 2003, when a US-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, and 2015, the number of civil servants soared from 900,000 to more than three million.
“The dramatic rise in clientelistic hiring since 2003 has contributed to a ballooning of public sector employment,” says a World Bank report from 2017.
“Employment and promotion in the civil service have become increasingly non-meritocratic, and the sector has come to be viewed as a de facto social safety net,” it says.
It labelled the system “unsustainable,” arguing that only a well-functioning economy with a good business environment and investment climate creates sustainable employment.
Ahmed, 29, a resident of the southeastern town of Kut, said he spent many years looking for work in his poor and marginalized region.
One day, luck smiled on the father-of-two, who has a degree in management and economics, when he met the bodyguard of a senior government official.
This connection landed him a job in education — but only after he paid a fee of one million Iraqi dinars, about $800, financed with a bank loan.
“I feel remorse because I had to pay a bribe to work, but I had to,” he said. “There is no job without wasta.”


Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls
Updated 30 November 2021

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls
  • FNL, which led the country's war of independence from France and was for decades its only party, won 5,978 seats nationwide
  • Saturday's vote was an important test for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

ALGIERS: Algeria’s long-dominant National Liberation Front has narrowly won local elections, preliminary results showed Tuesday, in a vote seen as key in efforts to turn the page on late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s rule.
The FNL, which led the country’s war of independence from France and was for decades its only party, won 5,978 seats nationwide, followed by its traditional ally the Democratic National Rally (RND) with 4,584, electoral board chief Mohamed Charfi said.
Independents came third with 4,430 seats, Charfi told journalists.
Saturday’s vote was an important test for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement.
Bouteflika died in September, aged 84.
In November last year, less than 24 percent of the electorate approved amendments to the constitution, while at parliamentary elections in June, voter participation hit a record low of 23 percent.
Saturday saw 36.6 percent turnout for the local elections and 34.8 percent for regional polls, Cherfi said.
He had previously rejected any comparison with local ballots under Bouteflika, which were marked by widespread fraud.
The FLN won absolute majorities in 124 out of the country’s 1,541 municipalities, but lost majorities in 479 of the 603 it had controlled.
In 552 municipalities it will have to govern alongside its allies, including the RND, which won absolute majorities in 58 city councils.
Opposition veterans the Front of Socialist forces (FFS) won an absolute majority in 47 municipalities, many of them in the restive Kabylie region.