New Iranian hijab law set to be enforced by facial-recognition technology

New Iranian hijab law set to be enforced by facial-recognition technology
‘Women are seen to be a soft target’ by ‘a failing government,’ says professor. (FILE/SHUTTERSTOCK)
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Updated 05 September 2022

New Iranian hijab law set to be enforced by facial-recognition technology

New Iranian hijab law set to be enforced by facial-recognition technology
  • ‘Women are seen to be a soft target’ by ‘a failing government,’ says professor

LONDON: Iranian women defying the strengthened laws on wearing the hijab will have to avoid government facial-recognition technology on public transport as new plans to support the stricter rules come into power.

The secretary of Iran’s Headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, said Tehran is planning to deploy the technology on public transport and other public places after President Ebrahim Raisi passed stricter rules on women’s clothing on Aug. 15.

The new law came after the July 12 national Hijab and Chastity Day, which was marked by mass protests by women who took to social media to show how they were not complying with the rules on public transport.

Some of the women who defied the rules on buses and trains have faced state detention and even forced confessions.

“The Iranian government has long played with the idea of using facial recognition to identify people who violate the law,” Azadeh Akbari, a researcher at Holland’s University of Twente, told The Guardian.

“The regime combines violent ‘old-fashioned’ forms of totalitarian control dressed up in new technologies.”

The hijab has been mandatory since Iran’s 1979 revolution, but women have pushed against the dress code in the decades that have followed. 

The strengthened laws have ushered in a new era of punishment and surveillance. One of the activists who had footage uploaded of them defying the law, 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno, was arrested after a fellow passenger broadcast a clip of her wearing “improper dress.”

The onlooker who filmed her was forced off the bus by bystanders, but Rashno was then arrested, beaten and forced to apologize on state TV to the passenger who harassed her, according to local rights activists.

There are now renewed fears that more women could suffer a fate similar to Rashno’s as Tehran looks to surveillance technology.

The government has steadily introduced biometric identity cards, which store personal data such as fingerprints and photos.

This information, tied in with the proposed facial-recognition technology, now threatens to police women in public and on the internet.

Akbari told The Guardian that “a large chunk of the Iranian population is now in this national biometric data bank, as many public services are becoming dependent on biometric IDs, so the government has access to all the faces; they know where people come from and they can easily find them. A person in a viral video can be identified in seconds.”

Annabelle Sreberny, professor emeritus at the Centre for Iranian Studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, told The Guardian that Raisi “is a real ideologue.”

She added: “There are terrible economic and environmental problems facing Iran. The inflation rate may now be reaching 50 percent, but the government is choosing to focus on women’s rights.”

Sreberny said: “I think it is part and parcel of a failing government that is simply not dealing with these massive infrastructural, economic and environmental issues. And women are seen to be a soft target.”

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’
Updated 01 June 2023

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’
  • SG Guterres briefs council over ‘shock’ request at closed talks
  • Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan claims Volker Perthes is ‘partisan’

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday rejected a request from Sudan’s military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan to remove his office’s special envoy, but said the Security Council has the final say on the fate of the world body’s overarching mission in the conflict-ravaged nation.

Guterres’ remarks, outlining his “full confidence” in Volker Perthes, as special representative of the secretary-general, came after briefing a closed Security Council meeting. The UN chief had requested the meeting to discuss the situation in Sudan and Burhan’s letter seeking the removal of the allegedly “partisan” Perthes, who serves as the special representative for Sudan, and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS.

This is only the fifth time during his mandate that Guterres has requested a meeting of the Security Council behind closed doors.

The closed Security Council meeting came days after the UN chief had received a letter from Burhan, Sudan’s military leader and chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council, asking for Perthes to be removed from his post.

Guterres told reporters in New York after the Security Council consultations: “In relation to the situation in Sudan, there are areas of responsibility of the Security Council and there are areas of responsibility of the secretary-general. 

“In my area of responsibility, I reaffirmed to the council my full confidence in Volker Perthes as special representative of the secretary-general. 

“It is up to the Security Council to decide whether the Security Council supports the continuation of the mission for another period or whether the Security Council decides that it is time to end it.”

Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres was shocked by Burhan’s letter. He added that the secretary-general was proud of Perthes’ work in Sudan and backed him.

Burhan reportedly accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and claimed the envoy’s strategy in pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement aggravated the conflict.

Last year, Burhan accused Perthes of “exceeding the UN mission’s mandate and blatant interference in Sudanese affairs.” He threatened to expel him from the country.

Perthes had earlier this month told the Security Council that the responsibility for the fighting “rests with those who are waging it daily: the leadership of the two sides who share accountability for choosing to settle their unresolved conflict on the battlefield rather than at the table.”

According to the UN, at least 730 people have been killed and 5,500 injured since the outbreak of hostilities last month. The actual toll could be much higher.

Clashes between Burhan’s forces and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo have continued across several parts of the country, including in the capital Khartoum, and in Zalingi, Central Darfur, Al-Fasher, North Darfur and Al-Obeid.

The internal displacement of Sudanese civilians and the influx of refugees into Sudan’s neighboring states have also been a source of concern for Security Council members. The International Organization for Migration has said that over 1.2 million people have so far been internally displaced since April 15 and about 370,000 have sought refuge in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Dujarric said that IOM’s estimates “are based on preliminary reports from field teams while additional reports are likely to emerge as humanitarian access improves.”

That is while on Wednesday Sudan’s military announced that it would no longer engage in talks with the RSF that it accused of “repeated violations” of the humanitarian ceasefire, including their continued occupation of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in the capital, Khartoum.

On May 20, both sides signed a ceasefire agreement as part of US-Saudi facilitated talks in Jeddah. It demanded a seven-day ceasefire to allow for the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid and the restoration of basic services. The warring parties agreed to protect civilians from violence and refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure or population centers and from acquiring military supplies, including from foreign sources.

In a joint statement issued on May 26, Saudi Arabia and the US said that the monitoring committee had observed significant breaches of the May 20 agreement, including the use of artillery, military aircraft, and drones in Khartoum, as well as clashes in the town of Zalingi in Darfur. Riyadh and Washington “cautioned the parties against further violations and implored them to improve respect for the ceasefire.”

So far, there have been seven declared ceasefires in the country, all of which have been violated. The two sides have accused each other of these violations.

In another joint statement Sunday, the US and Saudi Arabia called out both warring sides for specific breaches of the weeklong truce, saying the military continued to carry out airstrikes, while the RSF was still occupying people’s homes and seizing properties. Fuel, money, aid supplies and vehicles belonging to a humanitarian convoy were stolen, with theft occurring both in areas controlled by the military and by the RSF, the statement added.

A spokesman for Burhan said on Wednesday that by suspending participation in the talks with the RSF the military wants to ensure that the terms of a US-Saudi-brokered truce “be fully implemented” before discussing further steps. The RSF has for its part said it “unconditionally backs the Saudi-US initiative.”

Meanwhile members of the Security council are negotiating a draft resolution renewing UNITAMS’ mandate, first introduced in 2020, which is due to expire on June 3, amid diverging views on how to reflect the situation in the country.

Dujarric said that meanwhile “the mission continues to do its job the best it can, given the circumstances. We continue to have a political presence in Port Sudan. Mr. Perthes will make his way back to the region, I believe, in early next week.

He added: “I don’t think I want to say we’re getting great or good cooperation (from) both sides. We are able to deliver humanitarian goods in certain places when we can manage to talk to the men with guns and to ensure safe passage.

“(The) WFP (World Food Programme) has been able to resume food distribution in Khartoum. We’ve had a large number of trucks being able to move. But what we would like to see is a nationwide cessation of hostilities, so we don’t have to do a case-by-case negotiation for each convoy or each movement, which is time consuming and which is also risky.”

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise
Updated 01 June 2023

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise
  • Turkiye hosts 3.4 million Syrian refugees
  • Erdogan wants to send a million back as resentment grows

ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan played up his plans to repatriate a million Syrian refugees as he rode a wave of nationalism to his third decade in power, but he could struggle to make good on the promise as conflict lingers on in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan, long seen as an ally by Syrian opponents of President Bashar Assad, emphasised refugee repatriation during bitter campaigning for Sunday’s run-off against Kemal Kilicidaroglu, who took an even tougher stance on the issue.
The focus on refugee return ahead of the election caused alarm among the 3.4 million Syrians living in Turkiye, where resentment toward them is growing.
Many of the refugees came from parts of Syria that remain under Assad’s control and say they can never return to their towns and villages while he remains in power.
Under Erdogan’s plans, they would not have to. With Qatari help, he says Turkiye has been building new housing in rebel-held northwest Syria — a region where Ankara has troops on the ground whose presence has deterred Syrian government attacks.
The plans imply a redoubling of Turkiye’s commitment to the rebel-held area where it has been building influence for years, even as Assad demands a timetable for the withdrawal of Turkish troops as a condition for progress toward rebuilding ties.
With Turkish voters increasingly resentful of the refugees — Turkiye hosts more than any other country – Erdogan’s plans put the issue at the heart of his Syria policy, alongside concerns about Syrian Kurdish groups that have carved out enclaves at the border and are deemed a national security threat by Turkiye.
Erdogan has said he aims to ensure the return of one million refugees within a year to the opposition-held areas. His interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, last week attended the inauguration of a housing project meant to accommodate returning Syrians in the Syrian town of Jarablus.
“It is our duty to fulfil our citizens’expectations about this issue through ways and means that befit our country,” Erdogan said in his victory speech on Sunday, adding that nearly 600,000 Syrians had already returned voluntarily to safe areas.
But for many Syrians in Turkiye, the prospect is unappealing.
“I would like to go back to Syria but not to Jarablus ... I would like to go back home, to Latakia,” said a Syrian who gave his name as Ahmed, a 28-year-old student at Ankara University, referring to a government-held region on the Mediterranean.
“I would like to go back, but if Assad stays, I can’t due to security concerns.”
Controlled by an array of armed groups, much of the northwest also suffers from lawlessness.
“Conditions in northern Syria remain so bad and unstable that large-scale return will be difficult to arrange, despite all these reports about Turkiye and Qatar building housing and infrastructure,” said Aron Lund, a Syria expert with Century International, a think tank.
“It seems like a drop in the ocean and the overall economic situation keeps deteriorating.”
Driven partly by its goal of securing refugee returns, Turkiye has changed diplomatic course on Syria, following other regional governments by reopening channels to Assad, who Erdogan once called a “butcher”.
But the rapprochement is moving more slowly than the thaw between Assad and his former Arab foes, reflecting Turkiye’s much deeper role in a country where Russia, Iran and the United States also have forces on the ground.
Analysts think Ankara will not agree easily to Assad’s demand for a withdrawal timetable, noting that any sign of Turkish forces leaving would prompt more Syrians to try to flee for Turkiye, fearing a return of Assad’s rule to the northwest.
“Turkiye is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal, which likely means hundreds of thousands of refugees heading their way if and when they leave Idlib,” said Dareen Khalifa of International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
Many Syrians in Turkiye were relieved at Kilicidaroglu’s defeat. During his campaign, he said he would discuss plans for refugee returns with Assad after reinstating relations, and that returns would be completed in two years but would not be forced.
He sharpened his tone after trailing Erdogan in the first round, vowing to send all migrants back to their countries.
Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser, said on Monday that Turkiye wanted a safe, dignified and voluntary return.
International refugee law stipulates that all returns must be voluntary.
“We’re making plans to secure the return of one or 1.5 million Syrians in the first place,” Kalin told a local broadcaster.
Samir Alabdullah of the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies in Istanbul, a non-profit research institution, said he did not expect much to change now the election battle is over.
“Syrians are relieved after Erdogan’s victory ... There is nothing wrong with voluntary return. We do not expect policy change on migration,” he said.

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy
Updated 01 June 2023

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy
  • The dish originated more than 100 years ago with Bedouin Arab tribes in the neighboring Sinai desert in Egypt
  • Lasima is available just two months a year, it is made with melons that are picked when they are small and not yet ripe

KHUZAA: Locals call it “watermelon salad.” But this delicacy popular in the southern Gaza Strip at this time of year is far from the sweet, refreshing taste the name evokes.
“Lasima,” “Ajar,” or “Qursa” are different names for the hot, savory meal that takes hours to prepare. There’s watermelon inside, but one can hardly taste it.
In a territory that prides itself on its culinary traditions, Lasima is surprisingly divisive. Residents in southern Gaza love the dish. Just a few kilometers (miles) to the north, people shun it as unclean, due to its hands-on preparation.
Lasima is available just two months a year. It is made with melons that are picked when they are small and not yet ripe. They are roasted on a fire and peeled, and the soft flesh is mixed with roasted eggplants and thinly sliced tomatoes, lemon, garlic, onion and olive oil. Then it is eaten with a special dough baked in the ashes of the fire.

The name “Ajar,” or “unripe” in Arabic, refers to the baby melons. “Qursa” is the word for the thick dough. “Lasima,” which means “messy,” refers to the sloppy meal served in a large clay bowl.
Many say the dish originated more than 100 years ago with Bedouin Arab tribes in the neighboring Sinai desert in Egypt.
Others claim it’s a traditional Palestinian food. There is little evidence to support this claim, however. The food is popular only in southern Gaza, near the Sinai border. Farther north, the meal is barely known.
Amona Abu Rjila, 70, of Khuzaa, says it’s a little of each. She says she remembers her parents and grandfathers making it outdoors in the watermelon season. “It’s a traditional Palestinian dish with Bedouin roots,” she said.
Farther north, few would agree with her. Those familiar with the dish object to its preparation, with the ingredients typically mushed together with bare hands, as unclean.
On a recent day, a group of friends gathered in a yard adjacent to Israel’s frontier with Gaza. They diced the vegetables and roasted the ingredients in a fire. When the flames faded and the vegetables were charred, the thick dough was buried in the ash.
Abdelkarim Al-Satari, 33, a jobless accountant, started mixing the Lasima. He shredded the dough and put all the ingredients in the large bowl, squeezing everything with his fist. Wary of the onlookers, he put on black cooking gloves.
“In every season, people call me to make Lasima for them about 20 times,” he said.

To challenge the dish’s negative image, social media content creator Mohammed Aborjela brought the meal in smaller clay pots and offered samples to random passers-by in Gaza City.
Most of the respondents in a nearly two-minute video said they’d never heard of it, but all who tried it liked it.
The video attracted over 1,000 comments — many of them baffled northerners who were intrigued about the taste but turned off by the preparation methods.
“The way it’s made, especially by some men, is not appealing for the eyes,” said Nada Azzam, a Gaza City woman.
She said she has never tried Lasima. But after watching a video of women making it with “clean cooking means,” she vowed to give it a taste.

Moroccan youth address risks of climate change and water scarcity 

Moroccan youth address risks of climate change and water scarcity 
Updated 01 June 2023

Moroccan youth address risks of climate change and water scarcity 

Moroccan youth address risks of climate change and water scarcity 

WASHINGTON: Moroccan youth are working to address their country’s dire environmental future amid drastic climate change, water scarcity and food production issues.

Morocco is one of many countries that have been wrestling with the consequences of climate change and water scarcity, which has the potential to impact population stability and the country’s resources. 

In a session organized by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC on Wednesday, several Moroccan youths addressed the serious environmental challenges their communities are facing. They discussed ways to decrease the impact of climate change in Morocco.

They said climate change had a direct impact on water scarcity, energy, agricultural production and education, and argued that these issues were connected.

Fatna Ikrame El Fanne, an environmental engineer and climate activist, said that the Moroccan government had recently started paying attention to the issue. She said that several water-related strategies were in place to deal with water scarcity and management.

“In recent years, the Moroccan government has enacted a number of policies that are aimed at improving water management and availability within the country,” she said.

She said that the government had put together several long-term strategies — among them an integrated water resources management and efficiency road map, in addition to enacting a national water law that provided a legal framework for water governance, rights and protections.

Ikrame said that the idea behind these governmental measures was to encourage conservation and the sustainable use of water.

Wissal Ben Moussa, an engineer in agro-food industries and agroecology specialist, said that because of its geographical location, Morocco had an ecosystem that was prone to desertification and aridification.

She said that the country’s ecosystem has been severely impacted by climate change, which had increased water scarcity through less rainfall, an increase in water evaporation and rising temperatures. 

These factors, she said, had a direct impact on agriculture and food productivity. 

“In the coastal areas, we see sea level rises, sea water temperatures rise, which has a direct effect on biodiversity and marine life and the whole eco system,” she said.

“Climate change is impacting our unique and very fragile ecosystem in the forests, wetlands, the mountainous regions and more specifically in the southern regions or Morocco, which are already semi-arid and becoming more and more arid.” 

Hasnae Bakhouch, a UN Women Young Peacebuilder and environmental activist, said that water scarcity was impacting women in rural areas because they carried out many household and farming responsibilities. She said that lack of adequate infrastructure in rural areas created added risks for women trying to find water for their families.

Bakhouch said that children also lacked adequate health care due to the impact of climate change in the regions.

“The whole system needs to be fixed,” she said.

Dubai ruler approves futuristic masterplan for Palm Jebel Ali

Dubai ruler approves futuristic masterplan for Palm Jebel Ali
Updated 01 June 2023

Dubai ruler approves futuristic masterplan for Palm Jebel Ali

Dubai ruler approves futuristic masterplan for Palm Jebel Ali
  • Part of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, Palm Jebel Ali is one of a series of projects being undertaken by Dubai-based real estate developer Nakheel

DUBAI: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, has approved a new futuristic development masterplan for Palm Jebel Ali, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

Part of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, Palm Jebel Ali is one of a series of projects being undertaken by Dubai-based real estate developer Nakheel.

Sheikh Mohammed said that Dubai would continue to innovate and deliver world-class lifestyle destinations that enhanced its status as the world’s best city to live, work and visit.

“We have vast ambitions for the future and we are confident that we can transform our grand vision for development into reality,” he said. “Palm Jebel Ali will further strengthen our urban infrastructure and consolidate the city’s emergence as one of the world’s leading metropolises. This new groundbreaking project reflects our strategic development plan centered on raising the quality of life and happiness of residents.

“Dubai has entered a new phase of development driven by innovation and creativity. By taking advantage of the opportunities arising from the evolving global environment, Dubai’s competitiveness and reputation as a thriving global business and tourism hub continue are set to grow further. We remain committed to shaping a brighter future both for our people and the world.

“The urban expansion that Palm Jebel Ali represents is a testament to Dubai’s economic dynamism. It also signifies Dubai’s exceptional outlook as a hub for talent and investment. The project will contribute to Dubai’s sustainable development by opening new avenues for growth in several sectors,” he said.

Palm Jebel Ali would raise the global benchmark in waterfront living and offer a range of luxury lifestyle amenities for residents, families and visitors, supporting the objective of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 to consolidate Dubai’s status as one of the world’s top cities for business and tourism, WAM said.

The project also marks the beginning of a new growth corridor in the Jebel Ali area, underlining the expansion of the emirate.

Spanning an area of 13.4 sq km and occupying an area twice the size of Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali will feature extensive green spaces and distinctive waterfront experiences. The project will add about 110 km of coastline to Dubai that will provide about 35,000 families with luxury beachside living.

It will feature more than 80 hotels and resorts, and a wide choice of entertainment and leisure facilities that will contribute to Dubai’s tourism sector, while distinguishing the archipelago as an aspirational residential destination in the city.

Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Shaibani said: “We are honored to embark on a pathbreaking journey with the new masterplan of Palm Jebel Ali, which is unprecedented in magnitude and scale. The megaproject is inspired by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and will mark a new milestone in the continued growth of the city.

“Palm Jebel Ali will capture the spirit, energy and life of Dubai as a thriving, prosperous and sustainable waterfront community and a world-class lifestyle destination, and secure Dubai’s reputation globally as an innovator in waterfront developments, besides creating exceptional value for investors.”

In line with the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, Palm Jebel Ali will support the emirate’s vision to deliver the highest standards of urban infrastructure and facilities, increase beach destinations as well as support sustainable development and facilitate the expansion of the population, estimated to reach about 5.8 million by 2040.

Setting a model in contemporary urban planning practices, the island will feature mixed-use walkable neighborhoods, incorporate smart city technologies and sustainability practices, as well as provide a range of mobility options for residents, visitors and communities, WAM reported.

Palm Jebel Ali has been designed with sustainability in mind. The plans include renewable energy resources being incorporated into its infrastructure design, allowing it to become almost completely self-sufficient in power generation once complete. As much as 30 percent of Palm Jebel Ali’s energy requirements will be obtained from renewable sources.