West ‘has given up hope’ of revived Iran nuclear deal, say expert analysts

West ‘has given up hope’ of revived Iran nuclear deal, say expert analysts
There is a growing belief among negotiators from the major powers that the agreement, under which Iran restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions, may be beyond salvation. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 03 May 2022

West ‘has given up hope’ of revived Iran nuclear deal, say expert analysts

West ‘has given up hope’ of revived Iran nuclear deal, say expert analysts
  • Removal of the Revolutionary Guards from US terror list is one demand too far, negotiators say

JEDDAH: Western politicians and diplomats have largely given up hope of reviving the nuclear deal with Iran and are looking at other ways to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, according to expert analysts.
There is a growing belief among negotiators from the major powers that the agreement, under which Iran restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions, may be beyond salvation.
“They are not yanking the IV out of the patient’s arm ... but I sense little expectation that there is a positive way forward,” one diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency. Four Western diplomats also described hopes of a revived deal as “withering away.”
The agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015 but abandoned by the US in 2018 — appeared on the brink of revival in early March after lengthy talks in Vienna. However, Tehran brought progress to a halt by demanding that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its official list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Aides to US President Joe Biden say that if Washington were to take a such step, then Tehran must also address issues outside the deal — including its regional meddling, and its ballistic missile program.
“If they’re not prepared to drop extraneous demands, continue to insist on lifting the FTO, and refuse to address our concerns that go beyond the JCPOA then, yes, we’re going to reach an impasse that is probably not going to be surmountable,” said a senior US official.
“I don’t think anybody wants to say enough is enough,” one Western diplomat said. “Does this go on indefinitely with neither side conceding that it’s over? Probably.”


Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
  • From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony

CAIRO, Egypt: Under the steady hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads through black fabric, creating Qur'anic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, huge pieces of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic structure that is the centerpiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the Hajj annual pilgrimage, which starts this week.

In this file photo taken on April 4, 2021 the keys of the Kaaba (box), Islam's holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and a fragment of the black-clothed Kiswa (wall) which is used to cover the Kaaba, the final one provided by Egypt (in 1961) during the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, are displayed at the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), in the Fustat district of Old Cairo. (AFP)

Othman’s family used to be honored with the task of producing the kiswa.
His family’s creations would be despatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest site in western Saudi Arabia toward which Muslims across the world turn to pray.
Now, Othman keeps the tradition alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, where mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.
The area is historically home to Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, but artisans face growing challenges.

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy (R), whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, supervises as another employee (L) sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Materials, mostly imported, have become expensive, particularly as Egypt faces economic woes and a devalued currency.
Plummeting purchasing power makes high quality hand-crafted goods inaccessible to the average Egyptian, while master craftspeople find it hard to hand down their skills as young people turn to more lucrative jobs.
This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good money in the craft,” Othman sighed, hunched over one of the many tapestries that fill his workshop.
Sheets of black and brown felt are covered in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold.
Every stitch echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924.
“For a whole year, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, using silver thread in a lengthy labor of love.

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony.
Celebrations would mark the processions through cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.
Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the last to supervise a fully Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926.
From 1927, manufacturing began to move to Makkah in the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would fully take over production of the kiswa in 1962.
The family went on to embroider military regalia for Egyptian and foreign dignitaries, including former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“In addition to our work with military rank embroideries, my father started embroidering Qur'anic verses on tapestries,” and then reproducing whole sections of the kiswa.
Clients began flooding in for “exact replicas of the kiswa, down to the last detail.”

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy, whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Though today they offer small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds (about $5), massive customised orders go for several thousand dollars, such as replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Makkah.

But the family has not been immune to the economic turbulence that began with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small businesses and craftsmanship in Egypt.
Since early 2020, they have sold around “two pieces per month,” whereas before they would sell at least one tapestry a day.
Othman worries that a sense of “worldwide austerity” makes business unlikely to bounce back.
Today, there might only be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers authentic, with many artisans leaving the craft for quicker cash flows.
“They can make 200 to 300 pounds a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman said. “They’re not going to sit on a loom breaking their backs all day.”
But still, a century and a half after his great grandfather left his native Turkey and brought the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to techniques learnt as a child when he would duck out of school to watch his father work.
“It’s on us to uphold the craft the same way we learned it, so it’s authentic to the legacy we inherited,” he said.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.


Shutting Syria aid crossing would spell ‘catastrophe’, says UN aid official

Shutting Syria aid crossing would spell ‘catastrophe’, says UN aid official
Updated 05 July 2022

Shutting Syria aid crossing would spell ‘catastrophe’, says UN aid official

Shutting Syria aid crossing would spell ‘catastrophe’, says UN aid official

BEIRUT: A closure of the last aid corridor from Turkey into northwest Syria’s rebel-held areas would spell “catastrophe” for millions of people, a UN aid official has warned.

“This is one of the most vulnerable populations anywhere in the world,” said Mark Cutts, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis. “It is absolutely essential that we keep this lifeline going.”

Cutts spoke ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew the world body’s authorization to deliver assistance through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing before its mandate expires on July 10.

More than 4,600 aid trucks, carrying mostly food, have crossed it so far this year, helping some 2.4 million people, says the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Russia, an ally of Damascus, has threatened to veto the proposal to extend the aid mechanism having already forced a reduction in the number of crossings, arguing that it violates Syria’s sovereignty.

“We know things this year are even more politicized than in previous years,” Cutts told AFP. “The tensions are very high with the war Ukraine.”

But he warned that a “failure to renew this resolution will be a catastrophe. There is no alternative currently available that can replace the scale or scope of what the UN is currently doing.”

Syria’s humanitarian needs have reached their highest levels since the 2011 onset of a bloody conflict, that has killed nearly half a million people and forced more than half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

About 13.4 million people across Syria were in need of assistance last year, up from 11.1 million in 2020, OCHA says.


Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens
Updated 05 July 2022

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

BEIRUT: The Lebanese have once again sporadically taken to the streets of Beirut and other urban areas to protest the continued strain on their living conditions, but no official nationwide movement has erupted to unify their anger.

On Tuesday, protesters closed the offices of a mobile phone operator in Tripoli, north Lebanon, and asked employees to leave their offices in protest against the rise in prices.

There are growing concerns in Tripoli as thousands of families are unable to provide their basic daily necessities.

Security reports have indicated that nighttime crime is on the rise, punctuated by random shootings in popular neighborhoods. Fears have been compounded after a majority of people in Tripoli have stopped paying their private generator subscriptions, practically living in the dark 24/7, because they can no longer afford the fees.

Many Lebanese have also given up another basic service — the internet — after bundles were priced in dollars. Caretaker Minister of Communications Johnny Korm said: “The new cell phone bill is calculated by dividing the previous bill by three and multiplying it by the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate (25,300 LBP/USD) or multiplying it by 2.5 for the Ogero service.”

Korm added: “Indeed, we expect many to stop using cellphones altogether, but it is too early to give accurate figures. Consumption has so far decreased by 8 percent since the beginning of July.”

Protesters blocked roads in Beirut, complaining about the loss of access to the public water network for the third week, and lamenting the regular power cuts that have blighted all areas due to the suspension of production plants.

Just one power station, the Deir Ammar plant, has continued operations amid a scarcity of fuel coming from Iraq, which is less than the expected quantity as Baghdad battles its own power sector struggles.

Although the Ministry of Economy said that there is enough flour to meet Lebanon’s consumption needs, citizens are still queuing at bakeries that are only selling one bundle of bread per customer in an attempt to provide bread to the largest possible number of customers.

Meanwhile, some are selling bread on the black market amid fears that wheat will not be available after Eid Al-Adha since the Central Bank is yet to open credits for wheat imports.

MP Wael Abu Faour reported: “According to the security services, organized gangs are stealing subsidized flour and selling it on the black market.”

The World Bank country classifications by income level on July 1 showed that Lebanon has become a lower-middle-income country.

“For the eleventh consecutive year, Lebanon’s real GDP per capita fell in 2021, and the country also experienced sharp exchange rate depreciation,” the report stated, as the per capita gross national income in 2021 amounted to $3,450, after it was $5,510 in 2020.

Representatives from the General Labor Union, the Forces for Change groups, the private sector and civil society bodies discussed on Tuesday “a mechanism of action to end the government’s policies of starvation and humiliation and its petty decisions to increase prices, through the deliberate killing of the Lebanese people and the financing of corruption that has been rampant for many years.”

They unanimously agreed on “the absolute rejection of any increase in prices, especially telecommunications and the internet, because it is deliberate theft to continue financing the corrupt system and its groups that are holding on to their posts and suffocating citizens.”

They further called on the Lebanese to be ready to participate in the upcoming moves to restore their rights, the most basic of which are telecommunications services and the internet.

While Lebanon’s economic deterioration worsens and politicians fail to form a government that can approve the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund, the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission — which monitored the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 — issued a report that slammed several aspects of how the elections were held.

Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU team, said during a press conference in Beirut: “The conclusion in the mission’s final report is that although preparations were affected by limited financial and human resources, the election authorities delivered the May 15 parliamentary elections in the scheduled time. However, these elections were overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying and clientelism, which distorted the level playing field and seriously affected the voters’ choice.”

In its report, the mission noted: “The campaign was vibrant but marred by various instances of intimidation (including on social media) and cases of campaign obstruction. Besides, the legal framework for campaign finance suffers from serious shortcomings concerning transparency and accountability.”

The mission included a series of recommendations to improve the electoral process in the future. “These recommendations are setting a framework for a gradual Lebanese-led reform process,” Holvenyi emphasized, adding: “The EU stands ready to support Lebanon in implementing these recommendations to improve future election processes if deemed necessary, feasible, and useful.”


Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations
Updated 05 July 2022

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Tuesday defended a draft constitution set for a referendum this month, after the drafting committee’s chief disavowed a document he said could return the country to dictatorship.

The new constitution is the centerpiece of Saied’s plan to remake the North African country’s political system, over a decade after its pro-democracy revolt which sparked copycat uprisings across the region.

But Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who oversaw the drafting of the new constitution, said the final version Saied published last week was “completely different” from his committee’s draft, and warned that some articles could “pave the way for a dictatorial regime.”

On Tuesday, Saied’s office published an open letter arguing that “this draft was built on what the Tunisian people have expressed from the start of the revolution (in late 2010) up until the correction of its path on July 25, 2021.”

That was the day Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and seized wide-ranging powers in moves opponents have called a coup against the only democratic system to have emerged from the Arab Spring revolts.

Saied wants a presidential system to replace the country’s 2014 constitution, which enshrined a mixed presidential-parliamentary system often beset by deadlock and marred by corruption. “This draft which is proposed to you expresses the spirit of the revolution, and in no way threatens rights or freedoms,” Saied’s letter read.

He dismissed “those who slander and pretend” the document could return the country to tyranny, saying they had not read it in detail.

He urged Tunisians to vote to approve the new draft in the vote set for July 25, the first anniversary of his power grab.

“Say ‘yes’ so the state does not fail, so the revolution’s aims are achieved, so there will be no misery, terrorism, hunger, injustice and suffering,” he wrote.

Wheat crisis

Tunisian farmer Mondher Mathali surveys a sea of swaying golden wheat and revs his combine harvester, a rumbling beast from 1976 which he fears could break down at any moment.

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

The small North African country, like its neighbors, is desperate to prevent food shortages and social unrest — but for farmers on the sun-baked plains north of Tunis, even the basics are problematic.

“I’d love to buy a new combine harvester, but I could only do it with help from the government,” said Mathali, 65. He reckons his outdated machine wastes almost a third of the crop. With spare parts hard to find, he fears a breakdown could cost him his entire harvest.

But even a second-hand replacement would cost him an unimaginable sum: $150,000.

“Our production and even the quality would go up by maybe 50 percent, even 90 percent” with government help, he said. “But our situation is getting worse and the state isn’t helping us.”

Tunisia’s wheat production has suffered from years of drought and a decade of political instability, with 10 governments since the country’s 2011 revolution.