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 12 August 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.”

 


Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
Updated 8 sec ago

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s finance minister resigned Tuesday, two government officials said, over the country’s worst political crisis in years involving an influential Shiite cleric and his Iran-aligned rivals.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions. They said Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister.
Allawi’s decision came weeks after members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned from parliament and his supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr later demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.
Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the election last October but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself. They called the Al-Sadr supporters’ storming of parliament a “coup” and have held demonstrations in support of the government.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
Updated 27 min 11 sec ago

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
  • Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, the Lebanese man who was hailed a hero for taking hostages at gunpoint in a Beirut bank while demanding the release of his frozen funds to pay for his father’s medical treatment, has been released, according to TV news channel Al Arabiya. 

Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported on Tuesday. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank to show their support for Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein. (File/AFP) 

The man – who held eight employees hostage inside the Federal Bank branch in the capital city – was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 11, after a seven-hour standoff, despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free. 

The 42-year-old surrendered after authorities told his family he would be given $35,000 of his money and would only be held for questioning. The Lebanese central bank had imposed a freeze on all deposits in 2019. 

According to media reports at the time, Al-Sheikh Hussein had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which he said he would use to set himself alight. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank on Thursday to show their support and applauded the man as authorities took him into custody. 
 


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
Updated 33 min 27 sec ago

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
Updated 16 August 2022

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
  • The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis on the occasion of the latter hosting a Caribbean meeting on climate change.

They discussed issues of common interest, including Egypt’s hosting of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference in November.

Shoukry discussed Egypt’s preparations for the conference, the most prominent topics on the agenda, and its desire to enhance international climate action.

Davis gave Shoukry the perspective of island nations on climate change and its consequences.

The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change.

Davis said 15 percent of his country’s gross domestic product is threatened by climate change, and 11 percent of Bahamians are threatened by rising sea levels, Reuters reported.