Jordan ‘astonished’ at Dutch ambassador’s claims of declining media freedom

Jordan ‘astonished’ at Dutch ambassador’s claims of declining media freedom
Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates objects to a statement by Dutch Ambassador, labelling it a violation of diplomatic norms, international laws and UN charters. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 October 2022

Jordan ‘astonished’ at Dutch ambassador’s claims of declining media freedom

Jordan ‘astonished’ at Dutch ambassador’s claims of declining media freedom
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates voices objections to statement
  • Amman’s foreign policy UAE protests to Netherlands in solidarity with Amman

LONDON: Jordan’s government has said it is “astonished” after the Dutch ambassador in Amman commented on declining media freedom in the country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates criticized Harry Verweij for weighing in on domestic affairs during a meeting with the minister of information.

On Tuesday, Verweij posted a picture on Twitter where he sat with Minister of Media Affairs Faisal Al-Shboul, saying that he had raised concerns about “Jordan’s declining international ranking on freedom of speech.”

The comment, which also touched upon long-standing friendship between the two countries, prompted an immediate response from the Jordanian ministry.

It said that the ambassador commented about the licensing of a local radio station and its owner, who was neither Jordanian nor Dutch.

The ministry said it deemed the comment “incomprehensible” and said an ambassador representing a friendly country should not interfere in a case governed by laws and regulations with such transparency.

“Jordan is always open to frank dialogue that approaches all issues with all partners and friendly countries through diplomatic channels and direct contact, in accordance with diplomatic norms, but that it does not accept interference in its internal affairs,” a statement on the Petra news agency read.

The incident prompted the UAE to summon the Dutch ambassador in Abu Dhabi, Lody Embrechts.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it had “informed him of the UAE’s strong protest and denunciation of the interference” in “internal affairs.”

“The ministry affirmed the UAE’s solidarity with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and expressed its strong protest against the irresponsible statement breaching diplomatic norms.”

Jordan was ranked 120 out of 180 countries in this year’s World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, an NGO. 

While that represented a rise of nine places on the previous year, the country’s overall outlook was downgraded from the “problematic” category to “difficult,” reflecting a global trend of declining media freedom.


UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
Updated 02 February 2023

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
  • Slim was found dead in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.

GENEVA:UN rights experts voiced deep concern Thursday at the slow pace of an investigation into the killing of Lebanese intellectual Lokman Slim two years ago, demanding that Beirut ensure accountability.
“It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the four independent experts said.
“Failing to carry out a prompt and effective investigation may in itself constitute a violation of the right to life.”
A secular activist from a Shiite family, 58-year-old Slim was found dead in his car on February 4, 2021, a day after his family reported him missing.
His bullet-riddled body was found in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.
In their statement, the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the situation of human rights defenders voiced outrage that no one responsible for his assassination had been identified.
“Shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lokman Slim and bringing those responsible to justice is also part of the State’s obligation to protect freedom of opinion and expression,” said the experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body.
“A culture of impunity not only emboldens the killers of Mr. Slim, it will also have a chilling effect on civil society as it sends a chilling message to other activists to self-censor,” they said.
The experts stressed that investigations into unlawful killings must be “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent.”
“Thus far, national authorities have shown no indication that the ongoing investigations are in line with relevant international standards,” they warned, demanding that the authorities speed up the probe and “ensure that those responsible are held accountable without delay.”
“Mr. Slim’s family must have access to justice, truth and adequate reparation expeditiously.”


Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
Updated 02 February 2023

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
  • Biden recognized Jordan's "crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Thursday underlined his support for the legal “status quo” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound in a meeting at the White House with Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Biden, the king and Crown Prince Hussein had a private lunch in which the US president “reaffirmed the close, enduring nature of the friendship between the United States and Jordan,” the White House said.
Referring to growing tensions around the Al-Aqsa mosque — located on a site venerated both by Muslims and Jews inside Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — Biden reaffirmed “the critical need to preserve the historic status quo.”
Biden also recognized Jordan’s “crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” the White House said in a statement.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden reiterated the US position of “strong support for a two-state solution,” also thanking King Abdullah “for his close partnership and the role he and Jordan play as a force for stability in the Middle East.”
Al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest place in Islam and the most sacred site to Jews, who refer to the compound as the Temple Mount.
Under a longstanding status quo, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there.
In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the compound, angering Palestinians. In January, the national security minister in Israel’s new far-right government made his own visit to the site, sparking a torrent of international condemnation.


Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
Updated 02 February 2023

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
  • Issue illustrates a delicate balancing act between women’s rights and finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS: Under pressure from Afghanistan’s Taliban administration, the United Nations is delivering some food aid using men only, prompting warnings from donors and humanitarian groups that it could be seen as giving in to an internationally condemned ban on most female aid workers.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths acknowledged to reporters this week that women are not involved in some food aid activities, which the World Food Programme described as “operational adjustments” to allow it to continue its work, and he said the situation was inadequate.
“There are still activities that are ongoing where men-only (are), for example, delivering food, but it can’t work,” Griffiths said on Monday after he visited Afghanistan last week.
The issue illustrates a delicate balancing act facing the world body since the ban was imposed on Dec. 24: how to stand firm on women’s rights while finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan, where some 28 million people — two thirds of the population — need help, with six million on the brink of famine.
The Taliban, which seized power in August 2021 as US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, says it respects women’s rights in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law. It has since excluded women from parks, high school and university, and said women should not leave the home without a male relative and must cover their faces.
While women are still allowed to work for the United Nations, its operations are suffering because UN officials said 70 percent of the humanitarian response is implemented by local and international aid groups that are covered by the ban.
PRECEDENT TO REGRET
Any potential change to the UN approach to food aid following the ban has alarmed some donor nations and aid groups.
The United States — a key donor to aid efforts in Afghanistan — is concerned that some UN agencies may be considering an all-male aid delivery model, deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Lisa Carty, said on Wednesday during a briefing by Griffiths to UN member states.
“This could effectively cut off access to aid to women in need,” Carty said. “It could signal international agencies’ acquiescence to the Taliban’s unacceptable conditions thus normalizing the suppression with repercussions for humanitarian settings elsewhere.”
The International Rescue Committee said in an operational note on Wednesday that the role of women was “an operational necessity,” adding: “Without female staff at all levels and across all sectors, we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid and programs at the necessary scale.”
Griffiths stressed that Afghan women need to work in food aid distribution to ensure supplies reached the most vulnerable — women and girls.
“There’s absolute conviction that programs should all include women,” Griffiths said on Wednesday. “This may not be always needed in every single point of delivery, but they should include women, and even when they don’t there should be absolute clarity of reaching all members of society.”
The United Nations has appealed for $4.6 billion to fund the aid operation in Afghanistan in 2023. Griffiths said monitoring of programs would be ramped up to ensure they reach everyone.
“Aid delivery without participation of women cannot be normalized,” Deputy British UN Ambassador James Kariuki said.
When asked about the remarks Griffiths made on Monday, a WFP spokesperson said some changes had been made to operations after the ban was imposed.
“Where it is safe for them to do so, female partner staff continue to attend distributions and monitor assistance. Where needed, WFP has made operational adjustments to continue its life-saving assistance,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
The United Nations has managed to secure some health and education exemptions to the ban. Griffiths and the heads of some international aid groups met Taliban officials last week to push for more, including in the areas of cash and food aid distribution.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who was UN aid chief from 2003-06, said if any organizations started male-only aid delivery programs that would make it difficult for groups like NRC to stay. He said NRC had been forced to freeze its aid efforts until women can resume work.
“It sets a precedent in Afghanistan and in the wider world that we will live to regret,” he told Reuters. “The hard-liners would say ‘We won, we can do it without you’.”

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UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS
Updated 02 February 2023

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS
  • Sultan AlNeyadi: ‘On average, there are 16 sunrises and sunsets daily... When do you (start and) break your fast?’
  • AlNeyadi: ‘I will also take my jiu-jitsu uniform because of my love for the sport’

DUBAI: The second Emirati to journey into space, martial arts enthusiast Sultan AlNeyadi, weighed up Thursday performing Ramadan in orbit — and promised to pack his jiu-jitsu suit for the ride.
AlNeyadi, 41, dubbed the “Sultan of Space” by his alma mater, will blast off on February 26 for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
During his six months in orbit — a record time for any Arab astronaut — AlNeyadi said he would like to observe the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims typically fast from dawn to sunset.
But space travel presents unique challenges.
“The ISS travels quickly... meaning it orbits around the Earth in 90 minutes,” he told reporters in Dubai.
“On average, there are 16 sunrises and sunsets daily... When do you (start and) break your fast?”
AlNeyadi said he could fast according to GMT time, which is used on the ISS, if circumstances allow.
Fasting is not compulsory for certain groups of people, including those who are traveling or unwell.
“I will prepare for the month of Ramadan with the intention to fast,” AlNeyadi said.
He will become the second man from the United Arab Emirates to go to space, after Hazzaa Al-Mansoori’s eight-day mission in 2019.
During the voyage, AlNeyadi will study the impacts of microgravity on the human body in preparation for future missions to the Moon and Mars, he said.
Six months “may seem like a long time, but I don’t mind because the schedule is packed.”
It has already been a long journey for AlNeyadi, who served 20 years in the UAE military.
He also studied electronics and communications engineering in Britain, and then completed a PhD in data leakage prevention technology at Griffith University in Australia.
The UAE is a newcomer to the world of space exploration but quickly making its mark.
It sent an unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2021, in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, and last year a rover to the Moon.
AlNeyadi said he was “happy” to embark on the mission and would take along “pictures of my family, maybe some toys that belong to my children.”
“I will also take my jiu-jitsu uniform because of my love for the sport,” he added.
Asked whether he would do any low-gravity grappling while floating around the ISS, he laughed: “We’ll see how it goes.”


New insights into ancient Egyptian embalming

New insights into ancient Egyptian embalming
Updated 02 February 2023

New insights into ancient Egyptian embalming

New insights into ancient Egyptian embalming
  • Nature of materials used in mummification process unveiled by researchers, ministry says

CAIRO: Researchers have unlocked the secrets of the mummification process used in ancient Egypt, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said.

A team of researchers from Ludwig Maximilian and Tubingen universities in Germany, in cooperation with the National Research Center in Cairo, set out to study materials used by ancient Egyptian embalmers.

Specialists analyzed organic remains found inside pottery pots discovered in a mummification workshop unearthed by the Egyptian-German archaeological mission led by Ramadan Badri in Saqqara in 2018.

Their work was part of a tombs project focusing on the El-Sawy era between 664 and 525 B.C. 

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the research results were published in the scientific journal Nature on Feb. 1.

The mission found the names of organic remains used during the mummification process written in the ancient Egyptian language on the surface of the pottery vessels, as well as the names of organs and body parts the organic materials were used on during the mummification process.

Specialists studied the organic remains to determine their chemical properties and to identify each material according to the target part of the body.

The research revealed three important pieces of information about the mummification process: the material itself, its name in the ancient Egyptian language, and its place of use.

Waziri said that the discovery updates familiar texts about ancient Egyptian mummification techniques.

The team was able to accurately determine the material used to embalm specific parts of the body for the first time after comparing the materials that were identified with what was written on the utensils, he said.

Research revealed that a number of materials used in the mummification process were imported from around the Mediterranean region and from Southeast Asia, indicating the existence of links and communication between those regions in that early period.

Susanna Beck, deputy head of the mission, said that the research contributed greatly to knowledge about many of the embalming components.

Remains found in the pots were partially isolated to determine their chemical components, she said.

For example, the substance “antiu,” — mentioned frequently in describing the mummification processes — was translated as “frankincense,” but the results of the study showed that it is a mixture of cedarwood oil, juniper oil (cypress) and animal fat.

Beck said the study was done by using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry on the discovered materials.