Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
The new right-wing government in Italy is expected to be tougher than previous governments on illegal migrants, but nothing is expected to change toward the Arab world. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
  • ‘Every Italian government will respect the Constitution,’ religious leader tells Arab News
  • ‘Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change,’ politician tells Arab News

ROME: Islamic communities in Italy say they do not expect a negative attitude toward the 3 million-plus Muslims living in the country by the new right-wing government that will be formed after Sunday’s general election, and “look forward” to working with the new Cabinet with regard to the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

A concrete change in the country’s leadership is now expected. The far right led by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, traditionally bound to the country’s right, gained a solid majority in both branches of Parliament.

Almost certainly in mid-October, Meloni will be asked by President Sergio Mattarella to form a new government.

She will then be the first woman prime minister in Italy, leading what will be the first far-right government since the Second World War.

The new leadership is expected to be tougher than previous governments on illegal migrants, but nothing is expected to change in the traditionally good attitude of Italy toward the Middle East and the Arab world.

Italian political analysts also point out that the new Cabinet is unlikely to show a tough face toward the Muslim population in the country, especially since the League (Lega), the xenophobic and anti-migrant party led by Matteo Salvini, performed poorly in the election. The League will still be part of the majority, but will hold a much less powerful voice.

“We’re absolutely confident that every Italian government will respect the Constitution, which includes in its founding principles freedom of worship. We expect the new government will be attentive to the rights of Islamic communities,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy, told Arab News.

Lafram said for Muslims in Italy, “there are still many problems, from Islamic cemeteries to the need for a law regulating the construction of places of worship for all religions.”

He also expressed his wish for a formal agreement between the Italian state and its Islamic communities to be underwritten soon.

“It’s in the interest of the new government that there be a full legal recognition of Islamic communities. It will boost integration,” he said.

“We expect a lot from a government that promises to represent all Italians. Italian Islamic communities can’t be accused of being close to Islamic fundamentalism. We’re all citizens of the Italian Republic who feel they’re an integral part of Italian society,” Lafram added.

Andrea Delmastro from the Brothers of Italy told Arab News right after the election results were declared: “Good citizens have nothing to fear, no matter their religion, as long as they respect the law. And Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change.”

In her victory speech, Meloni struck a moderate tone, saying: “If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians, and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country).”

During the electoral campaign, the left warned that Meloni could push Italy into Europe’s illiberal bloc alongside Hungary and Poland, fighting against diversity and agitating against Brussels.

They quoted her past remarks, such as a speech from 2017 in which Meloni said mass-scale illegal immigration to Italy was “planned and deliberate,” carried out by unnamed powerful forces to import low-wage labor and drive out Italians.

“It’s called ethnic substitution,” Meloni said at the time, echoing the far-right “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

She also said Italy “cannot think of Islamic cemeteries in a country where there are not civilized cemeteries even for Italians in several parts of the country.”

In more recent times, she often spoke of “good integration” and “mutual respect” in a country where “the law has no religion and must be respected whatever the citizen’s creed is.”

In defense of her rhetoric, those close to Meloni say she has a strict stance on migrant traffickers and encourages integration, so long as those who come to Italy share and respect its national values and laws.

The main points of Meloni’s political manifesto concerning immigration, Delmastro said, involve the “fight against all forms of antisemitism, Islamic fundamentalism and irregular immigration; the orderly management of legal immigration flows along with the promotion of social and labor inclusion of legal immigrants; and the blocking of vessels to prevent human trafficking, in agreement with North African authorities.”

Imam Izzedin Elzir, former president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, stressed that Muslims in Italy “are a non-partisan community, and we want to be an added value for the country.

“We expect attention from the government, which is expected to implement the Constitution, particularly on religious freedom. I believe we can do a good job together. Governing is different from campaigning for votes.”


UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan

UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan
Updated 27 November 2022

UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan

UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan
  • Conditions worsened by violence, public health challenges, climate change

JUBA, South Sudan: Some 9.4 million people in South Sudan will need humanitarian assistance and protection services next year, half a million more than the current number, the UN  has said in a report.

According to the 2023 South Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview report, more people will face food insecurity in 2023. Currently, nearly a third of 12.4 million people living in South Sudan are facing severe food insecurity.

Humanitarian conditions have been worsened by endemic violence, conflict, access constraints, operational interference, public health challenges and climate change effects such as flooding and drought, the report said.

The need for assistance will be greatest in counties in the Upper Nile and Western Equatoria States that have been facing conflict.

“Something has to change in South Sudan because the number of people in need continues to rise every year and the resources continue to decrease,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, in a statement. Nyanti appealed to the government to ensure conditions of peace and to foster development in order to reduce the need for humanitarian aid.

Violence continues to plague the country, posing a threat to a peace deal signed in 2018 by former rivals President Salva Kiir and deputy Riek Machar.

Machar has in recent times accused Kiir of violating the peace agreement.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced in a civil war before the peace deal was signed.


Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss
Updated 26 November 2022

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

TAIPEI: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses on Saturday suffered by
her party.

Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races across the self-ruled island in an election in which lingering concerns about threats from China took a backseat to more local issues.

Tsai had spoken out many times about “opposing China and defending Taiwan” in the course of campaigning for her party. But the party’s candidate Chen Shih-chung, who lost his battle for mayor of Taipei, only raised the issue of the Communist Party’s threat a few times before he quickly switched back to local issues as there was little interest, experts said.

Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday evening, a tradition after a major loss, in a short speech in which she also thanked supporters.

“I must shoulder all the responsibility,” she said. “Faced with a result like this, there are many areas that we must deeply review.”

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China — which claims the island as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary — has a large role to play this time around.

“The international community has raised the stakes too high. They’ve raised a local election to this international level, and Taiwan’s survival,” said Yeh-lih Wang, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

BACKGROUND

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China has a large role to play this time around.

During campaigning, there were few mentions of the large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan that China held in August in reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even need to consider it in cities in the south.”

Candidates from the Nationalist party won the mayoral seat in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, as well as in Taoyuan, Taichung and New Taipei city.

Taiwanese were picking their mayors, city council members and other local leaders in all 13 counties and in nine cities. There was also a referendum to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which was defeated, according to local media.

Chiang Wan-an, the new Taipei mayor, declared victory Saturday night in a large rally. “I will let the world see Taipei’s greatness,” he said.

Not all votes had been formally counted by the time of his speech, but Chiang and the other candidates’ numerical lead allowed them to declare victory.

Kao Hung-an, a candidate in the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party, won the mayoral seat in Hsinchu, a city home to many of Taiwan’s semi-conductor companies.

Campaigns had resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic snarls in Taipei’s tech hub Nangang, and the island’s COVID-19 vaccine purchasing strategies, which had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.

The defeat for the ruling DPP may be partly due to how it handled the pandemic.


DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023

DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023
Updated 26 November 2022

DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023

DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023
  • President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader

KINSHASA: The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its next presidential polls on Dec. 20, 2023, the country’s electoral commission said on Saturday.
The announcement comes as rebels have advanced in the restive east of the African country, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes.
The electoral commission’s president said “persisting insecurity in some parts of the territory” would be a challenge to holding a “free, democratic and transparent” vote.
In the DRC, the presidential poll is held at the same time as parliamentary, provincial and local elections.
The president-elect would then take office in January 2024.
President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader.
It was the country’s first peaceful handover of power.

FASTFACT

President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader.

He has already announced his intention to run for a second term, despite clashes over the results.
Other possible contenders could include Martin Fayulu, the runner-up in the 2018 presidential polls who claims he was deprived of a victory in the vote.
There has been no immediate announcement from former prime minister, Adolphe Muzito, and the ex-governor of the southern region of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, who are also seen as potential candidates.
Augustin Matata Ponyo, another ex-premier, has said he will run.
Ponyo last year went on trial on charges he embezzled public funds, but the constitutional court ruled it did not have the authority to judge him.
The court’s lineup has however now changed, and has said it could try him.
Tshisekedi’s inauguration ceremony in 2019 capped more than two years of turmoil sparked by Kabila’s refusal to step down when he reached the constitutional limit on his term in office.
The last two presidential elections before that, in 2006 and 2011 — both won by Kabila — were marred by bloodshed and dozens died in a crackdown on protests after he chose to remain in office in 2016. A country the size of continental western Europe, the former Belgian colony lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003.
The March 23 rebel group took up arms in late 2021 after years of dormancy, claiming the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances.
After four months of relative calm, the conflict erupted again on Oct. 20 and the rebels made a push towards Goma.
The fighting has dashed relations between the DRC and Rwanda, with Kinshasa accusing its smaller neighbor of backing the M23 — something UN experts and US officials have also said. Kigali denies the charges.
Tshisekedi and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta met in Angola on Wednesday, agreeing to a cessation of hostilities in eastern DRC from Friday evening.
M23 rebels were to withdraw from “occupied zones,” failing which an East African regional force would intervene.
But the rebels, a largely Congolese Tutsi militia, said on Thursday the ceasefire “doesn’t really concern us,” and called for “direct dialogue” with DRC’s government.
The frontlines seemed quiet on Saturday morning, but residents in the eastern DRC remained sceptical that it would hold.

 


5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
Updated 26 November 2022

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
  • Rotherham General Hospital staff said ‘there are no beds and not enough doctors’
  • Uncle: ‘We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it’

LONDON: A family in Britain who “begged and begged” for their nephew to be admitted to hospital have told Sky News the boy would still be alive if they had been listened to.
Five-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir died on Nov. 21 after being refused admittance to Rotherham General Hospital as staff said “there are no beds and not enough doctors,” even though the doctor treating him described it as “the worst case of tonsilitis he had ever seen.”
Nazir first complained of a sore throat on Nov. 13, with his GP prescribing antibiotics, but as his condition worsened his parents took him to the Rotherham emergency department.
Nazir’s uncle Zaheer Ahmed told Sky News that the family waited all night to be seen by a doctor, who after examining the child sent him home despite Nazir struggling to breath, being unable to swallow and clearly in a distressed state.
Paramedics were called to the family home, but with the infection having spread to his lungs, he experienced multiple organ failure leading to a series of cardiac arrests that killed him.
Ahmed told Sky News that Nazir “stopped breathing, he stopped talking, when he was choking, he couldn’t breathe. He was struggling. And it’s led to his life being taken at 5 years old.
“If they would have treated him where we wanted him to be treated, he would be here with us now. He would have been here playing like he was.
“We’ve lost a beautiful child … It’s not his fault. We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it. We just did not get the help we wanted, or we needed, or we should have got.”
Senior paediatric consultants have warned of unsustainable pressure on emergency children’s services.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All children deserve the highest levels of care and we are taking urgent action to ensure no families have to experience these kinds of tragedies.
“Last week we announced up to £8 billion ($9.67 billion) for health and social care in 2024/25 and we’re giving an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds.”


Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
Updated 26 November 2022

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
  • Global energy price hike, gas crisis forces fertilizer companies to cut production
  • Country has imported over 1.1m tons from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar this year

DHAKA: Bangladesh is relying more on Middle Eastern countries to meet its demand for urea, a state agency official said, as an ongoing gas crisis tightens local supply and raises concerns about food security in the South Asian nation.

With a population of about 166 million and an agriculture sector making up more than 11 percent of its gross domestic product last year, Bangladesh needs around 2.6 million tons of urea, a fertilizer widely used in food crops.

As local gas fields struggled to meet rising demand amid a global hike in energy prices sparked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer companies in Bangladesh were either shut down or forced to cut their production, leading to a dwindling supply of urea. To resolve the supply gap, the Bangladeshi government has been importing more fertilizer from countries in the Middle East.

“We can say our fertilizer imports from Middle Eastern countries have increased around 15 percent due to the gas supply crisis in the local market,” Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corp., told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

He said more than 1.1 million tons of urea had been imported from three countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — and there were plans to increase that quantity later this year.

“Considering the present global situation, we have already confirmed the respective countries to buy this additional amount,” Islam said.

He added that Bangladesh normally imported about a quarter of the urea it needs, but since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February, the price per ton had more than doubled.

“Due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the global fertilizer market has turned very volatile,” agricultural economist and researcher Dr. Jahangir Alam told Arab News.

Due to its dwindling reserves of foreign exchange, he said Bangladesh should consider setting up a long-term contract with its foreign suppliers to buy urea “at a cheaper rate” and “pursue the urea purchase on a credit basis.”

Dhaka should also look to boost local fertilizer production, said Alam, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Global Village in southern Bangladesh.

“Producing urea locally is much cheaper for us. So, the authorities should try to increase the production ability in the country.”