Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
The more-conservative segments of the Arab community continue to support Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
  • Diversity of Arab population means opinions about far-right president vary widely
  • While his views on Palestine anger many, some still support his domestic policies

With his approval rating at only 33 percent, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been facing street protests, organized by the opposition, in several cities across the country in recent months.

Demonstrators demanding his impeachment accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic; more than 600,000 people in the country have died of conditions related to COVID-19.

They are also unhappy that he has failed to lead the nation out of a persistent economic crisis that has resulted in rising inflation and an increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, which has risen to 27.4 million.

The various Arab communities in Brazil have been viewing the protests in different ways. Historically one of the most relevant immigrant populations in the country, Arabs immigrants and their descendants account for 12 million, or almost 6 percent, of the 210 million people in Brazil, according to a 2020 study.

While Palestinian advocacy groups have been active in mobilizing the protests against Bolsonaro, more-conservative segments of the Arab community continue to support him. Even among these, however, criticism is growing.

“We have a rather diverse community, which is the result of different waves of immigration,” said pharmacology professor Soraya Smaili, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1950s, and one of the founders of the Institute of Arab Culture, known as Icarabe.

“There was a first influx of Syrians and Lebanese at the end of the 19th century. Other large groups arrived after the Second World War and over the following decades.”

That first wave of Arabs from Syria and Lebanon moved to Brazil during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, and most of them were Christian. The Arabs who have arrived since the 1940s have more diverse origins, and some are Muslim.

Each of these distinct groups have specific relationships with the issues concerning Middle Eastern countries, Smaili said.

“In general, the Arab Brazilians who are distant in time from the Middle Eastern reality tend to feel less insulted by Bolsonaro’s actions concerning the Palestinian issue, for instance,” she explained.

The Brazilian president’s much-publicized strong ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, have a huge influence on how some Arab Brazilians see him.

During the 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although this has yet to happen, his announcement was taken by many Arabs as an insult.

Also in 2018 he said that he would close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, on the grounds that “Palestine is not a country.”

“Especially among geographically concentrated Palestinian communities, like the ones that exist in cities such as Santana do Livramento and Foz do Iguacu, those facts generated great opposition to him,” said Yasser Fayad, a physician and member of the leftist Palestinian liberation movement, Ghassan Kanafani.

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1940s from a region on the border with Palestine, Fayad is Muslim and feels deeply connected with the plight of the Palestinians. This fuels his disapproval of the Bolsonaro administration.

“The Brazilian far right emulates its European and North American counterparts, and thus is anti-Muslim,” he said.

That does not mean, however, that all Muslims in Brazil’s Arab community totally repudiate Bolsonaro, he added.

“Some of them are critical of his stance on Palestine but not of his domestic policies,” Fayad explained.

Reginaldo Nasser, a foreign relations professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, told Arab News that refugees from Syria and other nations who are part of the working class in Brazil comprise one of the most consistently anti-Bolsonaro groups of Arabs.

“They have a political identification with the excluded and the poor,” he said. “Besides, they feel the impact of Bolsonaro’s policies on a daily basis; he makes it hard for them to get into Brazil, to integrate into the society and to get a job.”

Nasser, whose grandparents came from Lebanon, does not believe that Arabs in Brazil really form a single community, given that there is a vast plurality of political ideas and economic interests among them.

“But we certainly can affirm that many in the younger generations are more conscious about the Middle Eastern reality than their parents and grandparents, and that reflects on their political views,” he added.

These political differences between Arab Brazilians created great divides during the most recent presidential campaign. The intense polarization, especially in 2018 and 2019, even caused conflicts with families.

“Most of my extended family supported Bolsonaro’s election,” said Nabil Bonduki, an architecture professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “Some of the ones who opposed him decided to leave the family’s WhatsApp group back then.”

Now, with Bolsonaro’s popularity in decline, many of his supporters simply do not talk about politics any more, according to Bonduki, who has served two terms as a city council member in Sao Paulo for the leftist Workers’ Party.

He said that Arab Brazilians have traditionally had a strong presence in the country’s politics, serving as congressmen, state governors and even president, in the case of Michel Temer, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who was in office from August 2016 until December 2018.

“Although some of them are progressive, the majority has always been more conservative,” Bonduki said.

Bolsonaro’s final opponent in the 2018 election was former Sao Paulo Mayer Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party and the son of a Lebanese immigrant.

There have been no studies of how Arab Brazilians tend to vote. However Brazilians living in Israel mostly voted for Bolsonaro, while the ballots cast in Palestine were mostly in favor of Haddad.

In the opinion of Sheikh Jihad Hammadeh, vice president of the National Union of Islamic Institutions, Arab Brazilians, especially Muslims, are affected by the political atmosphere in the country just like all other social groups.

He said there were fierce political debates in his communities’ WhatsApp groups during and after the presidential election, and that he had to intervene at times to prevent further conflicts.

“We always tell people that they need to be respectful,” said Hammadeh. “Each one of us can have a distinct political opinion. As Muslims, we must respect each other’s views.”


US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020
Updated 57 min 15 sec ago

US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020
  • Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, US air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period
  • Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant

WASHINGTON: The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest number of daily passengers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Monday.
The tally was the highest for one day since mid-February 2020. Volume for the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period was 20.9 million, about 89 percent of pre-pandemic travel numbers, TSA added, and more than twice the volume over 2020.
Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, US air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period, in part due to favorable weather. US airlines have been racing to add more staff and flights to handle the rising number of travelers, offering bonuses and other incentives for current staff.
Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed Monday on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant, and are concerned these curbs may expand to other routes with higher traffic.
On Nov. 8, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries including China, Brazil and much of Europe.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that in the week ended Nov. 14, US airline passenger volumes were 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels, with domestic air travel down 8 percent and international down 25 percent.
Travel group AAA had forecast 53.4 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13 percent from 2020, with most travelers going by car.


Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
Updated 29 November 2021

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
  • Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles
MOSCOW: Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.
Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.
As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.
“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.
The missile has undergone a number of recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.
Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.
Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.
Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.
China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.
Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
Updated 29 November 2021

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
  • Pair left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa

AMSTERDAM: A couple caught trying to escape from COVID-19 quarantine in the Netherlands after testing positive for the coronavirus have been transferred to a hospital where they were being held in isolation, an official said on Monday.
The pair, a Spanish man and Portuguese woman, left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa.
“They have now been transferred to a hospital elsewhere in the Netherlands to ensure they are in isolation. They are now in so-called forced isolation,” said Petra Faber, spokesperson for Haarlemmermeer municipality, where Schiphol is located just outside of the capital.
“We don’t know who tested positive for the new variant and we wouldn’t say because of privacy,” Faber said.
The couple fled the hotel on Sunday and had boarded a plane to Spain when they were detained by military police at the airport, said Faber. They were among 61 out of the more than 600 passengers who arrived on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday and tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 13 of those infected have the newly identified omicron variant of the virus, Dutch health authorities said on Sunday.
Security at the hotel has in the meantime been increased to ensure the quarantined guests stay in their rooms. It is being guarded by regular police and military police.
The discovery of omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.
In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.


India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
Updated 29 November 2021

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
  • Narendra Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6 percent of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanized growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.


Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
Updated 29 November 2021

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
  • Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa
  • The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital

ATHENS: Greece’s foreign ministry on Monday urged Greek nationals to leave Ethiopia, warning that conditions in the war-torn country were becoming “increasingly unpredictable.”
“It is recommended to Greek nationals living in Ethiopia that they leave the country on available commercial flights as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said safety conditions in Ethiopia were “particularly fragile.”
It said Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa and the ministry’s crisis management team.
The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital.
The war erupted in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The civil war has left thousands dead and displaced more than two million people.