Despite direct economic consequences, study finds majority of Arabs do not care about Ukraine-Russia war

Special Shockwaves from the conflict are affecting millions of Arabs, faced with rising costs of basic foodstuffs heavily imported from Russia and Ukraine, and could lead to protests in countries like Iraq. (AFP)
Shockwaves from the conflict are affecting millions of Arabs, faced with rising costs of basic foodstuffs heavily imported from Russia and Ukraine, and could lead to protests in countries like Iraq. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2022

Despite direct economic consequences, study finds majority of Arabs do not care about Ukraine-Russia war

Despite direct economic consequences, study finds majority of Arabs do not care about Ukraine-Russia war
  • Survey says 66 percent of respondents l had no stance on the conflict, while 18 percent sided with Ukraine and 16 percent with Russia

LONDON: According to an exclusive Arab News-YouGov poll, the majority of people across the Middle East and North Africa do not seem to care very much about the war in Ukraine.

Experts, however, say there are plenty of reasons why they should.

“It does seem like it is taking place so far away,” said Abeer Etefa, the Cairo-based senior spokeswoman for the UN World Food Programme in the Middle East and North Africa.

Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, is more than 3,000 kilometers from Riyadh.

“But also, the politics and dynamics of the conflict in Ukraine are far too complicated for a lot of the audiences in this region.”

The survey was carried out among 7,835 people across 14 countries in the MENA region between April 26 and May 4.

Asked where they stand in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, 18 percent sided with Ukraine, and 16 percent with Russia.

But an overwhelming 66 percent of respondents answered with a collective shrug, opting to take “no stance” on the crisis — indifference that peaked in Jordan and Algeria (74 percent) and Saudi Arabia (71 percent).

The complexities of European history and politics aside, Richard Gowan, UN director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, sees another reason for the apparent indifference of many Arabs to events in Ukraine.

“We are seeing a very big gap between how Americans and Europeans see this conflict, and how it’s viewed in other parts of the world,” he said.

“One key issue is that many people in the Arab world see this as NATO pitched against Russia, and the reality is that you’re not going to be able to turn around suspicions of NATO and the US in the Middle East and North Africa any time soon.”

Although the fighting in Ukraine and the reasons behind the conflict do indeed have nothing to do with the Arab world, shockwaves from the conflict are already affecting millions of Arabs, who are faced with rising costs of basic foodstuffs, said Etefa.

She added that even if the fighting stopped tomorrow, “the world will need between six months to two years to recover, from a food security perspective.”

Even before the conflict, she said, “by February food prices in many countries across the region had already reached an all-time high.

“Last year the cost of a basic food basket, the minimum food needs per family per month, increased by 351 percent in Lebanon, the highest increase in the region, followed by 97 percent in Syria and 81 percent in Yemen.

“And now the Ukraine crisis is driving up prices even higher.”

Experts had expected wheat from India to make up some of the shortfall from Ukraine, but last week the Indian government banned exports after crops in the country was hit by a heatwave, driving up the prices of some foods to a record high.

Even before the conflict, the WFP was providing assistance to millions across the region, in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. Now, even as demands on its resources grow rapidly as a result of events in Ukraine, the rise in food and oil prices means the WFP’s own costs have escalated alarmingly.

“This is happening at a very difficult time for the World Food Programme,” said Etefa.

“Because of the war in Ukraine our global operating costs have been pushed up by $71 million a month, reducing our ability to help those in need in the region at a time when the world is facing a year of unprecedented hunger.

“That means that each day, globally, there are four million people fewer we can assist with a daily ration of food.”

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Many countries in the region are heavily dependent on food exports from Russia and Ukraine which, thanks to a combination of disruption to farming, port blockages and sanctions, have slowed to a trickle.

Both Russia and Ukraine are among the most important producers of agricultural commodities in the world — in 2021, either Russia or Ukraine, or both, ranked among the top three global exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil.

Russia is also the world’s top exporter of nitrogen and other fertilizers, indispensable make-or-break ingredients for countries with significant agricultural sectors of their own.

In a recent report, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned that disruption of harvests and exports in Ukraine, combined with the impact of sanctions on Russian exports, threatened to create a “global supply gap that could raise international food and feed prices by 8 to 22 percent above their already elevated baseline levels.”

Economically vulnerable countries would be the first to feel the effects of a prolonged reduction in exports from Russia and Ukraine — and countries across MENA are directly in the line of fire.

The FAO predicts that “the global number of undernourished people could increase by 8 to 13 million people in 2022/23,” with the worst effects felt in the Asia-Pacific, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.

“The region collectively imports 42 percent of its wheat, and 23 percent of the vegetable oil from Russia and Ukraine,” explained Etefa.

“In the month following the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, the price of wheat flour, a staple in the diet of most families across the region, had already gone up by 47 percent in Lebanon, 11 percent in Yemen, 15 percent in Libya and 14 percent in the Palestinian territories.”

One of the countries most exposed to food shortages and price hikes triggered by the Ukraine crisis is Egypt, which has been struck a double blow. Egypt sources 85 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and a large part of the country’s tourism sector is dependent on visitors from the two countries.

Back at the beginning of February, just before the Russian invasion, Egypt was already suffering from high global wheat prices and the government was considering controversial reforms to the expensive national bread subsidy scheme.

Under the scheme, which at 2022 prices cost the government $5.5 billion, more than 60 million Egyptians receive five loaves of bread a day for just $0.5 a month.

Regional governments are also keenly aware that in various countries spiralling food prices were linked to the uprisings of the Arab Spring — and in March this year protests erupted in Iraq against a big hike in the cost of flour, triggered by the war in Ukraine.

Indeed, warned Dr Bamo Nouri, a lecturer in international relations and honorary research fellow in the Department of International Politics at City University of London, “Iraqis may be the first in a global movement of protests over price rises as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.”

There had, he highlighted, “indeed been a trend in various Middle East countries where there has been little interest, with no particular stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”

One reason was that in many Middle Eastern states, “the responsibility to resolve any given crisis is placed on the government, and unless and until it reaches ordinary the reaction or debate around it will be minimal.”

He added: “In the stable oil rich Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, this may be justified, because the government has the means and the infrastructure in place to keep the domestic impact of any external crisis to a minimum .”

On the other hand, in less stable regional states, such as Iraq and Lebanon, “a large proportion of society watches outside events closely, because they are aware of the repercussions and try to proactively plan and manage the situation, because the government does not have the capacity to do so.”

 


Israeli military, Palestinians clash at West Bank shrine

Israeli military, Palestinians clash at West Bank shrine
Updated 45 min 43 sec ago

Israeli military, Palestinians clash at West Bank shrine

Israeli military, Palestinians clash at West Bank shrine
  • Palestinian teenager and 16 others were earlier wounded in clashes with Israeli forces

JERUSALEM: Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Jewish worshipers on Thursday at a flashpoint holy site in the occupied West Bank, wounding an Israeli military officer and two civilians, the Israeli army said.
The Palestinian official news agency Wafa said a Palestinian teenager was wounded by live fire and 16 others by rubber bullets in clashes with Israeli forces at the site near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, a frequent point of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Some Jews believe the biblical Joseph is buried at the site, while Palestinians say it’s the tomb of a Sheikh. Jewish worshipers escorted by the Israeli military often visit the shrine to pray.
The Israeli military said Palestinian gunmen opened fired on hundreds of Jewish worshipers who came to the site overnight on Thursday. The commanding officer of the unit suffered slight injuries, and two civilians were wounded, the army said.
Last month, a Palestinian teen was killed and at least 15 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with the military near the shrine, according to Wafa.
In April, Palestinians set fire to the shrine before they were dispersed by Palestinian security forces, an incident that drew condemnation from Israeli leaders.
Thursday’s clash was the latest in a wave of violence that has persisted for months following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel, Israeli arrest raids across the West Bank, and the killing of a Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians seek the territory as the heartland of a future state. Almost 500,000 Israeli settlers live in over 130 settlements dotting the West Bank alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.


Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be ‘transparently’ shared 

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be ‘transparently’ shared 
According to the prime minister, authorities have reached the advanced stages of the investigation. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be ‘transparently’ shared 

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be ‘transparently’ shared 
  • At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh confirmed on Wednesday that the results of the investigation into the deadly gas leak in Aqaba will be shared “transparently and objectively,” state news agency Petra reported. 
At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke. 

At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke.  (AFP)

 According to the prime minister, authorities have reached the advanced stages of the investigation and are working “around the clock to reach full results about the incident,” the Petra report added. 
 During the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Khasawneh also expressed condolences to the families of the Aqaba port victims and wished a speedy recovery for those injured.
 He praised the efforts of state institutions in containing the gas leak, adding that all efforts were done under the supervision and guidance of King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II. 
 King Abdullah II had on Tuesday called for those responsible for the leak to be held accountable, stressing the need “to provide transparent explanations to the public after investigations conclude, as well as identifying shortcomings and holding those responsible to account by law,” according to a statement by his palace.


Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal
Updated 29 June 2022

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal
  • Passenger terminal is considered largest infrastructure project in the civil aviation sector in Bahrain
  • Construction started in April 2016 and was completed in 2020

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi inaugurated the new passenger terminal at the Bahrain International Airport on Wednesday.
In the presence of Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, King Hamad and El-Sisi were welcomed by the airport’s Board of Directors Chairman Kamal bin Ahmed bin Mohammed, Transportation and Telecommunications Minister, Mohammed bin Thamer Al-Kaabi, and senior officials.
The new passenger terminal is considered the largest infrastructure project in the civil aviation sector in the kingdom and represents a qualitative leap in the field of services and airport facilities, Mohammed said.
Mohammed added the project was implemented in a record period of time that’s considered the fastest in building airports in the world.
The construction started in April 2016 and was completed in 2020.
“We have invested in national competencies and cadres during the implementation period, and we are proud today that they are the ones who operate and maintain the airport,” he said.
Mohammed pledged to spare no efforts in order to continue enhancing the kingdom’s status regionally and internationally.
The King and El-Sisi unveiled a commemorative plaque, thus officially opening the new passenger terminal at the Bahrain International Airport.
King Hamad, El-Sisi and Prince Salman toured the departure hall building and were informed about its various facilities.
The King expressed delight at El-Sisi’s participation in the inauguration of the new Bahrain International Airport, which confirms the depth of the solid Bahraini-Egyptian relations.
He affirmed that the new Bahrain International Airport will consolidate the kingdom’s status as a pioneering regional and international aviation sector hub, as well as support the national economy.
Moreover, the King congratulated the Chairman and members of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Airport Company after naming the Bahrain International Airport as the ‘World’s Best New Airport’ at the Skytrax 2022 World Airport Awards held at the Passenger Terminal EXPO in France.
 


Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement
Updated 29 June 2022

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement
  • 33 percent of respondents said that they believe Hamas is more appropriate than Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian public opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah between June 22-25, has indicated a significant decline in the popularity of the Fatah movement and its leadership.

Similarly significant decreases in support for the two-state solution and the one-state democratic solution were also recorded, and an increase in support for a return to an armed intifada and support for the recent armed attacks inside Israel.

The majority of respondents, meanwhile, still see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a national struggle over land and sovereignty, rather than a religious conflict.

The poll results indicate a shift in the internal balance of power in favor of Hamas and its leadership; 33 percent of respondents said that they believe Hamas is more appropriate than Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to represent and lead the Palestinian people. In comparison, 23 percent said they think that Fatah is more appropriate.

Thirty-three percent say that if new presidential elections were held today and only two candidates, Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, stood, they would elect Abbas, while 55 percent said they would elect Haniyeh. 

If the competition was between Marwan Barghouti and Haniyeh, though, Barghouti would receive 61 percent and Haniyeh 34 percent, and if President Abbas did not run for elections, Barghouti was the preferred candidate, as 30 percent chose him, followed by Haniyeh with 16 percent, then Mohammed Dahlan with 6 percent, then Yahya Al-Sinwar with 4 percent, then Hussein Al-Sheikh with 3 percent.

Twenty-three percent said they are satisfied with President Abbas’ performance, while 73 percent are dissatisfied, and 77 percent say they want the president to resign. Just 18 percent say they want him to stay in office.

In all, 79 percent of the public said that the Palestinian government does not play an influential role in addressing high prices and their effects. In comparison, 57 percent objected to President Abbas’s internal decisions, such as transferring powers to the General Secretariat of the Legislative Council for the Presidency of the National Council.

In addition, 71 percent said that they want to hold general Palestinian legislative and presidential elections soon in the Palestinian Territories. A majority of 54 percent, though, say they do not believe that elections will take place soon.

Just over a quarter of the Palestinian public say they want to emigrate due to the current political, security and economic conditions, and 86 percent believe there is corruption in the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. In comparison, 71 percent say that there is corruption in the institutions run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and 59 percent believe that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people.

Forty-two percent of the population of the West Bank say that people can criticize the PA without fear. In comparison, 54 percent say that this is not possible. In contrast, in the Gaza Strip, 62 percent say criticism of Hamas is not possible.

Meanwhile, 73 percent believe that the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh will not succeed in achieving reconciliation and uniting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In comparison, 21 percent think that it will succeed. Twenty-three percent believe the government will succeed in holding legislative and presidential elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In comparison, 69 percent say it will not succeed, and 75 percent expect that the government will not succeed in improving economic conditions.

Fifty-nine percent believe that individual shootings inside Israel by Palestinians not affiliated with political movements contribute to ending the occupation, and 50 percent believe armed struggle is the best way to establish an independent state. In comparison, 22 percent said it would be done through negotiations, and 21 percent said it would happen through peaceful popular resistance.

Seventy percent believe the two-state solution is no longer feasible due to settlement expansion, but 27 percent believe it is still achievable. Likewise, 77 percent say that the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel during the next five years are slim or very small, and 19 percent say that the chances are medium or high.

Sixty-nine percent say that under the current circumstances, they do not support the return of the Palestinian side to negotiations with Israel without preconditions. In comparison, 22 percent say they support this, 65 percent oppose returning to dialogue with the US, and 29 percent are in favor.

Seventy-five percent say that the PA should remain neutral in the war between Russia and Ukraine, with 14 percent backing Russia and 6 percent Ukraine.

Thirty-two percent said that the biggest problem facing the Palestinians is the occupation, while 23 percent said it was corruption. A further 17 percent said it was unemployment.

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson for the PA, told Arab News: “Citizens’ satisfaction with the performance of the Palestinian government in particular stems from circumstances; sometimes there are good conditions that allow the government to provide the best services, and therefore it is fortunate to obtain citizens’ satisfaction, but sometimes the government faces a multi crisis, so the percentage of people satisfied by its performance declines.

“We make every effort to obtain reasonable satisfaction and provide the best services to citizens within what the government's available capabilities allow,” he added.

Amer Hamdan, a human rights activist, told Arab News: “I think the percentage in the poll results is logical and reasonable, because frankly, there is resentment against the performance of the PA, and people want to hold elections so that the factions can participate in the political process, but the PA continues to arrest political activists and continues to normalize with Israel.

“People in the PA in the West Bank enjoy economic, political and security privileges for themselves and their children. Therefore, it is not in their interest to organize elections,” Hamdan added.


Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of
Updated 29 June 2022

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of
  • Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s, sold its business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream throughout Israel and the West Bank.

JERUSALEM: A new agreement in Israel will put Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back on shelves in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank despite the ice cream maker’s protest of Israeli policies, according to Unilever, the company that owns the brand.
But it’s unclear if the product, which would only be sold with Hebrew and Arabic lettering, would still appeal to Ben & Jerry’s fans or have the support of the Vermont company, which has long backed liberal causes.
Israel hailed the move as a victory in its ongoing campaign against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS aims to bring economic pressure to bear on Israel over its military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 but distanced itself from the ice cream maker’s decision last year to halt sales in the territories, said Wednesday that it had sold its business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank.
When Ben & Jerry’s was sold, the companies agreed that the ice cream maker’s independent board would be free to pursue its social mission, including longstanding support for many liberal causes, including racial justice, climate action, LGBTQ rights and campaign finance reform.
But Unilever would have the final word on financial and operational decisions.
Unilever said it has “used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
In its statement, Unilever reiterated that it does not support the BDS movement. It said it was “very proud” of its business in Israel, where it employs around 2,000 people and has four manufacturing plants.
Unilever sold the business to Avi Zinger, the owner of Israel-based American Quality Products Ltd, who had sued Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in March in a US federal court over the termination of their business relationship, saying it violated US and Israeli law.
Zinger’s legal team said the decision by Unilever was part of a settlement. He thanked Unilever for resolving the matter and for the “strong and principled stand” it has taken against BDS. “There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” Zinger said.
There was no immediate comment from Ben & Jerry’s. A spokeswoman pointed to the Unilever announcement.
But reaction to the new agreement arrived quickly.
Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said Unilever seeks to undermine Ben & Jerry’s “principled decision” to avoid complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, which his organization says amount to apartheid, an allegation Israel adamantly rejects.
“It won’t succeed: Ben & Jerry’s won’t be doing business in illegal settlements. What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognized social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream.”
Israel hailed the decision and thanked governors and other elected officials in the United States and elsewhere for supporting its campaign against BDS. It said Unilever consulted its Foreign Ministry throughout the process.
“Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice-cream,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. “We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm.”
BDS, an umbrella group supported by virtually all of Palestinian civil society, presents itself as a non-violent protest movement modeled on the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. It does not adopt an official position on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved, and it officially rejects antisemitism.
Israel views BDS as an assault on its very legitimacy, in part because of extreme views held by some of its supporters. Israel also points to the group’s support for a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees — which would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state — and BDS leaders’ refusal to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s decision was not a full boycott, and appeared to be aimed at Israel’s settlement enterprise. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and considers part of its capital. Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.
Most of the international community views the settlements as a violation of international law. The Palestinians consider them the main obstacle to peace because they absorb and divide up the land on which a future Palestinian state would be established. Every Israeli government has expanded settlements, including during the height of the peace process in the 1990s.