LONDON: The majority of people in the Arab world have no stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a striking finding from a region that has been directly economically impacted by the war, a new Arab News-YouGov survey has found.
Out of 7,835 respondents from the Arab world, 66 percent did not have a view on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, compared with 18 percent who sided with Ukraine, and 16 percent who sided with Russia.
“When you talk about public opinion, it’s much more about everyday life, in that sense the conflict is further away, it’s further away than issues that are much more important and much more immediate,” Tobias Brock, associate fellow and Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News.
“The conflict is, first of all, geographically farther away than the war in Syria, or the conflict in Yemen, or the conflict in Libya or what is going on in Israel and Palestine right now,” he said.
Brock, with Jack Senogles, recently wrote a paper on the implications of the Russia-Ukraine war for countries in the MENA region. In their paper, the authors explain that “most Middle Eastern states have been so slow off the mark in formulating their positions vis-a-vis Russia and its war.”
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Experts highlight that general Arab opinion might be echoing the perspectives of their respective governments, which also see the war as a European conflict.
The survey also reveals that the majority of respondents who sided with Russia came mainly from 4 out of 14 countries surveyed: Algeria (19 percent), Oman (19 percent), Qatar (19 percent) and Tunisia (18 percent).
Meanwhile in Jordan, respondents who did take a stand were divided equally (13 percent) between Russia and Ukraine.
Both Ukraine and Russia are among the top wheat exporters in the world (about 29 percent of global supply), and on which many countries in the Arab region depend. One would assume, for example, that Egyptians — who source 85 percent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine combined — would be more opinionated about the conflict.
Among the Gulf states, 22 percent of respondents sided with Ukraine, compared with 15 percent with Russia. While the difference is somewhat insignificant, two Gulf states stand out for favoring Russia over Ukraine, namely Oman and Qatar, both with 19 percent of respondents favoring Russia.
Oman and Russia have enjoyed good bilateral relations, particularly in the past few years as Muscat seeks to diversify its relations with non-Western powers. Trade between both countries have also increased significantly, growing by 62 percent in 2018.
In early May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Oman to discuss trade. The two countries have announced a wide package of bilateral agreements, including a mutual visa exemption program.
Much like other Arab states, Oman did not take a concrete stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict but affirmed its position that the two countries should reach political and diplomatic solutions through dialogue.
While state attitudes do not necessarily determine how the general public will side in a conflict, experts believe that sometimes public opinion mirrors state behavior, which might explain the slightly higher than average position of Oman on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse
Updated 26 September 2022
TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.
Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
At least 41 people have died since protests erupted over the death of the 22-year-old
Amini was arrested by morality police for allegedly violating the regime’s strict dress code
Updated 26 September 2022
DUBAI: Protests have spread to almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces and urban cities since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. On Sept. 13, Amini was arrested by a morality police (Gasht-e Ershad) patrol in a Tehran metro station, allegedly for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
She was hospitalized after the arrest, fell into a coma and died three days later. Iranian authorities maintain that she died of a heart attack. Her family says thart she had no pre-existing heart conditions.
Her death has sparked outrage in a country seething with anger over a long list of grievances and a wide range of socio-economic concerns.
Iranian women, fed up with the morality police’s heavy-handed approach, have been posting videos of themselves online cutting locks of their hair in support of Amini. Protesters who have taken to the streets have been chanting “Death to the moral police” and “Women, life, freedom.”
In acts of defiance, female demonstrators can be seen taking off their headscarves, burning them and dancing in the streets. State police have been cracking down on the protesters by attacking them with tear gas while volunteers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been beating them. At least 41 people have died so far.
“The Internet in Tehran has been cut off. I have not been able to reach family members, but every now and then they are able to get a message through,” an Iranian man who fled to the US during the days of the Islamic Revolution, told Arab News.
Mehdi, who did not want to give his full name, added: “We are hopeful that the government will offer concessions this time. It has been the biggest demonstration since the revolution. We take pride in what is happening in Iran.”
Writing in The Washington Post, Karim Sajdadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the protests against the killing of Amin as “led by the nation’s granddaughters against the grandfathers who have ruled their country for over four decades.”
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sharia laws in the country require women to wear headscarves and loose garb in public. Those who do not abide by the code are fined or jailed.
Iranian authorities’ campaign to make women dress modestly and against the wearing of mandatory clothing “incorrectly” began soon after the revolution, which ended an era of unfettered sartorial freedom for women under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. During the shah’s rule, his wife Farah, who often wore Western clothing, was held up as a model of a modern woman.
By 1981, women were not allowed to show their arms in public. In 1983, Iran’s parliament decided that women who did not cover their hair in public could be punished with 74 lashes. In recent times, it added the punishment of up to 60 days in prison.
Restrictions kept evolving, and the extent of enforcement of the female dress code has varied since 1979, depending on which president was in office. The Gasht-e Ershad was formed to enforce dress codes after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, became president in 2005.
The restrictions were eased a little under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a relative moderate. After Rouhani accused the morality police of being aggressive, the head of the force declared in 2017 women violating the modesty code would no longer be arrested.
However, the rule of President Ebrahim Raisi appears to have emboldened the morality police once again. In August, Raisi signed a decree for stricter enforcement of rules that require women to wear hijabs at all times in public.
In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, Raisi tried to deflect blame for the protests in Iran by pointing to Canada’s treatment of indigenous people and accused the West of applying double standards when it comes to human rights.
When I look at how the women are standing up to the vicious regime that never shied away from genocide, it gives me goosebumps.
Mehdi, who fled to the US during the Islamic Revolution
Raisi’s government, meanwhile, is seeking some form of guarantee whereby the lifting of severe sanctions and resumed business activities by Western firms cannot be disrupted if a future US president rescinds the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials also dispute the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about illicit nuclear material found at three sites and want the IAEA’s investigation to close.
Protests in Iran are not new. In 2009, the Green Movement held protests over election results believed to be fraudulent. In 2019, there were demonstrations over the spike in fuel prices and deteriorating standard of living conditions and basic needs.
This year’s protests are different in that they are feminist in nature. Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, a human rights NGO, said it is unprecedented for the country to see women taking off their hijabs en masse, burning police cars and tearing down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the country’s supreme leader).
It is also unprecedented to see men chant “We’ll support our sisters and women, life, liberty.”
“Through social media, mobile apps, blogs and websites, Iranian women are actively participating in public discourse and exercising their civil rights,” Mahmoudi said. “Luckily for the growing women’s rights movements, the patriarchal and misogynistic government has not yet figured out how to completely censor and control the Internet.”
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian political activist who has been living in exile in America since 2009, said that she has been receiving many messages from women in Iran. They have been sharing with her their frustrations, videos of the protests, and their goodbyes to their parents, which they believe might be for the last time.
Saying that she can feel their anger through their messages, Alinejad said the hijab is a way for the government to control women and therefore society, adding that “their hair and their identity have been taken hostage.”
Scores of Iranian male celebrities have also voiced their support of the protests and women. Toomaj Salehi, a dissident rapper who was arrested earlier this year because of his lyrics on regime change and social and political issues, posted a video of himself walking through the streets saying: “My tears don’t dry, it’s blood, it’s anger. The end is near, history repeats itself. Be afraid of us, pull back, know that you are done.”
For its part, the movie industry released a statement on Saturday calling on the military to drop their weapons and “return to the arms of the nation.”
A number of famous actresses have taken off their hijab in support of the movement and the protests. Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, Iran’s culture minister, said that actresses who voiced their support online and removed their hijabs can no longer pursue their careers.
In a tweet on Saturday, Sajdadpour said: “To understand Iran’s protests it’s striking to juxtapose images of the young, modern women killed in Iran over the last week (Mahsa Amini, Ghazale Chelavi, Hanane Kia, Mahsa Mogoi) with the images of the country’s ruling elite, virtually all deeply traditional, geriatric men.”
Iranian authorities have shut down mobile Internet connections, disrupting WhatsApp and Instagram services. On Iranian state media, ISNA, Issa Zarepour, minister of communications, justified the act for “national security” and said it was not clear how long the blocks on social media platforms and WhatsApp would continue, as it was being implemented for “security purposes and discussions related to recent events.”
However, Mahsa Alimardani, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies Iran’s Internet shutdowns and controls, said the authorities are targeting these platforms because they are “lifelines for information and communication that’s keeping the protests alive.”
On Twitter, the hashtag #MahsaAmini in Farsi has exceeded well over 30 million posts.
“Everyone in Iran knows that the authorities will crack down very hard on the protesters and kill them,” Mehdi, the US-based Iranian, told Arab News.
“It’s almost target practice for them. When I look at how the women there are standing up to the ruthless and vicious regime that never shied away from genocide to maintain their power, it gives me goose bumps. It takes a certain courage to do what they are doing.”
Looking forward to the future with hope, he said: “The flame has been ignited and we are not the kind of people who back out.”
CASABLANCA: A Moroccan prisoner of war released as part of an exchange between Moscow and Kyiv said he wanted to draw attention to the “struggle” of Ukraine as he returned home Saturday.
“I’m happy to come home after going through very difficult times,” said Brahim Saadoun, 21, an aeronautical engineering student who had been based in Ukraine since 2019.
“I want to draw attention to the difficult situation in Ukraine and the struggle of its people in this painful time,” he said at his family home, in a working-class district of Casablanca.
Saadoun was freed on Wednesday, one of 10 foreign prisoners of war — including five British and two American citizens — transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv.
Smiling and appearing in good health alongside his mother, Saadoun thanked Saudi Arabia, the Turkish government and the Moroccan people “who stood in solidarity with us.”
His father, Taher Saadoun, said he had “an indescribable feeling of joy,” and also praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the release.
Brahim “has suffered from the imprisonment but he will recover and get back to his studies,” he said.
Brahim Saadoun was sentenced to death alongside two British men by the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic in early June.
After his trial, the Moroccan government said that Saadoun had been “captured while wearing the uniform of the military of the state of Ukraine, as a member of a Ukrainian naval unit.”
It said he had been “imprisoned by an entity that is recognized by neither the United Nations nor Morocco.”
Rabat has adopted a position of neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Morocco is keen not to alienate Moscow, a UN Security Council member, on the issue of the disputed status of Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Rabat considers part of its own territory.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police
Updated 25 September 2022
BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.
In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”
Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce
The Quad countries called on the Houthis to open the main roads around Taiz
Reaffirmed support for Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed importance of cohesion in the council
Updated 25 September 2022
LONDON: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US have condemned the Houthis’ large scale military reinforcement and all attacks that threaten to derail the truce in Yemen.
The countries, known as the Quad, recently met to discuss the situation in Yemen and also condemned recent Houthi attacks on Taiz and a Houthi military parade that was put on in Hodeidah at the beginning of this month which violated the Hodeidah Agreement.
The Quad welcomed the tangible benefits of the truce in Yemen for the country’s people since it began on April. 2 and the continued implementation of agreed confidence building measures by its government.
The countries welcomed the flow of fuel into Hodeidah Port despite a Houthi order that delayed the established process for clearing ships, and the resumption of flights in and out of Sanaa airport.
They called for the implementation of outstanding measures including the opening by the Houthis of the main roads around Taiz and an agreement on a joint mechanism for the payment of civil servant salaries.
The Quad said it fully supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg to extend and expand the truce which is due for renewal on Oct. 2, and that all terms of the truce must be fully implemented.
The governments of the four countries also agreed that a permanent ceasefire and a durable political settlement must be the ultimate objectives of the Yemeni political process, under UN auspices, and that such a settlement must be based on the agreed references and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
They reaffirmed their support to Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed the importance of cohesion in the council, and welcomed the council’s commitment to improving basic services and economic stability in the war-torn country.