US designates Iranian officials over crackdown on protesters, Internet access

US designates Iranian officials over crackdown on protesters, Internet access
Iranian nationals living in Ecuador protest against the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died in Iran while in police custody, in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 06 October 2022

US designates Iranian officials over crackdown on protesters, Internet access

US designates Iranian officials over crackdown on protesters, Internet access
  • US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on Iran’s minister of interior, communications minister, and the head of the Iranian Cyber Police
  • Rights groups put the death toll at over 150

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on seven Iranian officials over the shutdown of Internet access and the crackdown on peaceful protesters following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it imposed sanctions on Iran’s minister of interior, Ahmad Vahidi; Communications Minister Eisa Zarepour; and Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, the head of the Iranian Cyber Police, among others.
“The United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions,” Under Secretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in the statement.
The nationwide unrest sparked by Amini’s death has spiraled into the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leaders in years, with protesters calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic founded in 1979.
Rights groups say thousands have been arrested and hundreds injured in the crackdown waged by security forces including the Basij, a volunteer militia affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Rights groups put the death toll at over 150.
The United States last month imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini, an Iranian Kurd who died after being detained in Tehran on Sept. 13 for “inappropriate attire.”
Authorities have reported numerous deaths among the security forces, accusing foreign adversaries, including the United States, of meddling to destabilize Iran. 


GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy
Updated 12 sec ago

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy
  • Agreement outlines plans for joint professional development programs

RIYADH: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Assimi, director general of the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States, and Dr. Osama Obeidat, CEO of Jordan’s Queen Rania Teacher Academy, signed an agreement to strengthen partnership through teacher training, exchanging expertise and establishing joint programs for professional development, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday. 

The move is in line with the ABEGS framework on boosting cooperation with specialized organizations and institutions.

 


Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock
Updated 04 December 2022

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

RABAT: A global fertilizer supply shock deepened by Russia’s Ukraine invasion has brought boom times for the North African phosphate superpower Morocco and earned the country new diplomatic capital.

Rabat is using the leverage especially in the decades-old fight over the disputed desert territory of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony also claimed by Algeria-backed rebels, analysts say.

Morocco is set to chalk up record revenues for a second year running as farmers worldwide scramble for phosphate, made scarce by sanctions against top world producer Russia and a Chinese ban on exports.

Phosphate is a key ingredient of artificial fertilizers, which are vital for industrial agriculture and global grain supplies despite the long-term damage they inflict on soil and groundwater.

“It’s a strategic mineral for the future because it’s crucial for global food security,” said Abderrahim Handouf, an agricultural policy expert.

“As populations grow, fertilizers are the most effective way to increase farm productivity.”

According to Morocco’s state-owned phosphates firm OCP, the country controls around 31 percent of the international trade in the substance.

The OCP, which holds a national monopoly in the trade, is on track to record more than 131 billion dirhams ($12.4 billion) in revenue this year, up 56 percent on 2021 — already a bumper year.

Even before the start of the year, prices had been edging higher as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic and market leaders like China imposed export restrictions, said sector expert Mounir Halim.

There was also “strong demand from India, one of the world’s biggest importers, which had exhausted its stocks,” Halim said.

Then as Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, prices of fertilizer shot up.

That made Morocco a vital alternative supplier. 

The kingdom’s exports of phosphates and their derivatives jumped by two thirds year-on-year in the first nine months of 2022, according to the latest official figures.

Morocco has around 70 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, and has been mining four sites since 1921, including in the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco’s OCP has ramped up its production capacity by a factor of four since 2008, hitting 12 million tons last year, on target to reach 15 million by the end of 2023.

That makes it a major player in a global market fearful of further supply shocks.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned in a report this year that “fertilizer supplies remain restricted, stocks are depleted and geopolitical tensions could spark additional supply restrictions at short notice.”

The result is that Morocco is enjoying not only an influx of cash, but also growing diplomatic muscle, particularly on Western Sahara.

The kingdom sees the vast stretch of desert as an integral part of its territory, but the Polisario movement backed by Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria seeks independence there.

Rabat has placed the question at the heart of its diplomacy.

King Mohammed VI in August demanded that Morocco’s allies “clarify” their stances on the issue, calling it “the prism through which Morocco views its international environment.”

According to L’Economiste, a Moroccan French-language newspaper, OCP has become “the economic arm of Moroccan diplomacy.”

In September, Rabat recalled a shipment of 50,000 tons of fertilizer destined for Peru after Lima restored diplomatic relations with the Polisario’s self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

But as well as sticks, OCP offers carrots.

The firm has been expanding its presence across Africa, with branches in 16 countries, a fertilizer factory in Nigeria and a deal signed in September to open another one in Ethiopia.


Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem
Updated 04 December 2022

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: In Jerusalem’s Old City there are dozens of churches, but as Christmas beckons there is just one Santa Claus — a towering Palestinian former basketball player.

Each December, the streets sparkle green and red as Christian pilgrims and others arrive to celebrate Christmas in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Seven years ago one resident, Issa Kassissieh, transformed the ground floor of his 700-year-old home into a grotto, complete with candy, mulled wine and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.

Welcoming the season’s first visitors to Santa House, the red-suited and bearded Kassissieh belted out a “Ho, ho, ho!” at families queueing to see him.

“We are dealing with many religions here in Jerusalem. We have Muslims, Christians and Jews. I have all religions come to my house. I open my hands to everybody,” said Kassissieh, himself a Christian.

Among the visitors were a group of Israeli tourists, as well as two priests who blessed the opening with prayers in Arabic and the ancient language of Aramaic.

At 1.9 meters tall, Kassissieh’s height served him well as captain of the Palestinian basketball squad, and does not seem to intimidate the children he towers over.

“I’m not a Christian, but I still love Santa Claus ... We have a (Christmas) tree at home too,” said eight-year-old Marwa, a Palestinian Muslim, grinning.

Visitors from around the world also lined up to sit on Santa’s lap, and to find out if they were on his naughty or nice list.

Alison Pargiter, from the US, waited with her children.

“It is important that our kids have fun, but we also want them to know the true story behind Christmas,” the 52-year-old said.

At Santa House, Kassissieh said his young visitors have more modern concerns.

“Every child asks me for an iPhone,” he chuckled.

“I never promise anything, but I say: ‘Let’s pray, and if you’re on my good list, you will get it’.”

As a child, Kassissieh’s father would dress up as Santa for him and his two sisters.

Fifteen years ago, he found his father’s suit and decided to slip into the red velvet role.

But it has involved more than just putting on a suit.

Since then, he has attended the World Santa Claus Congress in Denmark and studied at a Santa school — yes, there is such a thing — in the US state of Colorado.

Kassissieh displayed a certificate from another center of Santa learning, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and said his training makes him Jerusalem’s only accredited Santa.

Based in Michigan, the Howard school traces its establishment to 1937, making it the world’s longest-running.

In his role, he is all too aware of the sensitivities in Jerusalem.


‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film

‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film
Updated 04 December 2022

‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film

‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film
  • Netflix release, directed by Jordan’s Darin J. Sallam, tells 1948 story of girl in village overrun by Israeli militias
  • Jordan chose ‘Farha’ to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during the next edition of the world’s premiere film event

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are defending the newly released movie “Farha” following an Israeli backlash against the film’s depiction of events in 1948.

As Netflix faces criticism for airing the film, activists advocating the Palestinian cause are taking the initiative to support its release.

The Jordanian film depicts the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948, known as the Nakba.

Screening of the film has caused widespread Israeli anger with threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.

Israeli ministers and officials have accused the film’s creators of promoting a false narrative and inciting violence against Israeli soldiers.

The movie, directed by Darin J. Sallam, a Jordanian woman of Palestinian origin, tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who witnesses the murder of her entire family, including an infant, when Israeli militias overrun her village and execute civilians during the Nakba. The girl dreams of moving from her Palestinian village to the city to continue her education.

The village’s exposure to the invasion prompts the girl’s father to hide her in a small room, and her life changes dramatically in a matter of days.

The film, inspired by real events, was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021.

Jordan chose “Farha” to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during the next edition of the world’s premiere film event.

The film was launched on Netflix on Dec. 1.

Israeli officials claim that Farha “presents a false narrative” about the Nakba, in which 760,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homelands.

Prominent Palestinian poet and writer Mutwakel Taha told Arab News that the reason for the Israeli anger was because the country’s actions in the Nakba had been exposed to the world through the film.

“They want to monopolize the victim image alone. So their madness is because the Palestinians appear as victims of the Israelis,” Taha told Arab News.

Taha said that Palestinians are betting on cultural solutions after the failure of efforts to reach a political settlement with Israel.

A Palestinian narrative of events during the Nakba frightens Israeli, said Taha.

Palestinian writer Tahsin Yaqeen agreed.

Yaqeen told Arab News that Israel considers every artistic or literary work from the side of Palestine as an attack, adding that Israel’s narrative had been challenged and undermined through the work of Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappe.

Shlomo Sand, another prominent historian who has questioned Israel’s actions, has also challenged prominent narratives, Yaqeen said, adding: “We do not need as Palestinians to explain what happened in 1948 and before and after that, because the world knows very well what happened.”

Israelis should view “Farha” and listen to the stories of Palestinians, even if they do not agree, said Yaqeen.

The writer asked: “If the Israelis are not believing what is narrated by the ‘Farha’ film, would they not ask themselves today, what is their government and army doing in the West Bank?”

Yaqeen said that the Israeli reaction to the film was based on “a national rejection because it violated the Israeli narrative.

“It is not artistic criticism of the film’s narrative.”

Sireen Jabarin, an Israeli-Arab activist from Umm Al-Fahm, told Arab News: “Israeli authorities limiting freedom of art is not new, but, interestingly, the Israeli policies in this direction are tending toward racism and extremism and not accepting the narration of the other party, and even rejecting any action that explains the truth to the Palestinians about what happened decades ago.”

An Israeli intellectual who opposes the release of “Farha” told Arab News: “Netflix is a global network and has many subscribers in Israel. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli subscribers have canceled their subscriptions to Netflix during the past few days in protest of its marketing of the Jordanian film ‘Farha,’ which lacks balance and objectivity, and neglects to mention the Israeli point of view.”

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced the release of the film.

Lieberman said: “It is insane that Netflix decided to broadcast a film whose sole purpose is to present a false claim and incite against Israeli soldiers.”

Lieberman added: “We will not allow the reputation of Israeli army soldiers to be tarnished.”

The minister said that he had directed the leadership at the Ministry of Finance to take measures to withdraw the budget of the Jaffa Theater, which chose to screen the film.

Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said that the screening of the film in Israeli cinemas was a “shame,” adding that “Farha” promotes “lies and slander.”

Darin J. Sallam and producers Dima Azar and Aya Jardaneh condemned criticism of the film.

They criticized a social media campaign targeting the film’s rating on IMDb, attempts to stop the screening of the film at Jaffa Theater and threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.

They also condemned hate messages, harassment, accusations and bullying on social media.

The trio said that they would not tolerate any harmful threats against any member of the “Farha” team.

“These attempts to silence Arab women and filmmakers is a stripping of humanity and freedom of expression,” they said.

“The film’s existence is a reality, and our existence is a reality. We have been robbed of a lot, but our voices will not be taken away.”

Azar and Jardaneh stressed their support for Sallam’s decision to “tell this human and personal story, and share it with the world, and to realize this creative vision cinematically without any restrictions.”


Tehran’s actions lessen prospect of nuclear deal revival: US envoy

Tehran’s actions lessen prospect of nuclear deal revival: US envoy
Updated 04 December 2022

Tehran’s actions lessen prospect of nuclear deal revival: US envoy

Tehran’s actions lessen prospect of nuclear deal revival: US envoy
  • Robert Malley: ‘The more Iran represses, the more there will be sanctions’

LONDON: Tehran’s decision to arm Russia in the war against Ukraine, and its crackdown on anti-regime protests, have made the prospects of reviving the nuclear deal slim, said the US special envoy on Iran, The Observer reported on Sunday.

At a conference in Rome, Rob Malley said Iran’s leadership has trapped itself in a “vicious” and “self-reinforcing” cycle in which it continues to ostracize itself from its own people and the international community. 

“The more Iran represses, the more there will be sanctions; the more there are sanctions, the more Iran feels isolated. The more isolated they feel, the more they turn to Russia; the more they turn to Russia, the more sanctions there will be, the more the climate deteriorates, the less likely there will be nuclear diplomacy,” he added. 

“The repression of the protests and Iran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is where our focus is because that is where things are happening, and where we want to make a difference.”