Algeria frees opposition figure after vow to quit politics

Algeria frees opposition figure after vow to quit politics
Rachid Nekkaz was released on "humanitarian grounds", the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees said on Facebook. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 January 2023

Algeria frees opposition figure after vow to quit politics

Algeria frees opposition figure after vow to quit politics
  • Rachid Nekkaz was released on "humanitarian grounds", the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees said on Facebook
  • Algerian daily Le Soir d'Algerie reported the 51-year-old had been granted a presidential pardon

ALGIERS: An Algerian businessman and activist imprisoned for urging a boycott of the country’s 2019 presidential election was released Wednesday, a rights group said, after he announced this month he would quit politics.
Rachid Nekkaz was released on “humanitarian grounds,” the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees said on Facebook.
Algerian daily Le Soir d’Algerie reported the 51-year-old had been granted a presidential pardon.
Nekkaz had unsuccessfully tried to stand as a candidate in the 2019 poll.
In a letter from prison published on his Facebook page on January 2, Nekkaz said he had written to President Abdelmadjid Tebboune the previous month to “officially” inform him of his decision to “give up politics in Algeria.”
Nekkaz said in the letter he would dedicate himself “exclusively” to writing, his family and addressing health issues.
He had previously been jailed between December 2019 and February 2021 for “incitement to violence on social media,” where he has a large following.
The French-born Nekkaz was arrested again in May 2021 and last year sentenced to five years in prison.
Despite having renounced his French citizenship, he had been ruled ineligible to run in 2019 because of a law banning candidates who had ever possessed a nationality other than Algerian.
Instead, he put forward his cousin, a mechanic by trade, who has the same name.
Tebboune, a former premier under long-time ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika, won the 2019 elections after mass protests forced his predecessor to resign.
His government has banned demonstrations by the Hirak pro-democracy movement and stepped up legal proceedings against opponents, activists, journalists and academics.

Planet-friendly farming takes root in drought-hit Tunisia

Planet-friendly farming takes root in drought-hit Tunisia
Updated 23 sec ago

Planet-friendly farming takes root in drought-hit Tunisia

Planet-friendly farming takes root in drought-hit Tunisia
  • Tunisia rely on grain and fertilizer imports from Ukraine and Russia

CAP NEGRO, Tunisia: Saber Zouani lost his job as a waiter when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the Tunisian tourism sector, so he decided to try something new and started a permaculture farm.

Now he grows all the food he needs and has become a pioneer of the style of ecological agriculture that is gaining fans worldwide, including in his country.

Many hope it will help Tunisia weather the impacts of climate change and wean it off its reliance on global supply chains, including grain and fertilizer imports from Ukraine and Russia.

In his western hometown of Cap Negro, Zouani, 37, proudly showed off his 3-hectare farm, set up to mimic natural ecosystems in line with ideas popularized in the 1970s by Australian ecologists.

Permaculture, as an alternative to industrial agriculture, aims to work in harmony with the environment, keep soil structures intact, and do without artificial inputs such as chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

“No, these are not weeds,” said Zouani, a biotechnology graduate, pointing to nettles and dandelions growing wild all around his rows of onions, peppers and radishes.

When he harvests his vegetables, he said, he puts the excess green matter back onto the soil to slow evaporation — hoping to keep the ground as moist as a forest floor covered with fallen leaves.

Such methods are especially useful in Tunisia where an unprecedented drought has parched the countryside and left water reservoirs at dangerously low levels this spring.

At his farm, Zouani captures precious rainwater in a pond and only sparingly waters his plants, which are all grown from his own seeds.

Zouani also keeps cows, sheep, goats and chickens and composts their droppings to create soil enriched with the nitrogen-rich natural fertilizer.

“We need to create living soil, attract earthworms, fungi and all the nutrients for our plants and trees,” said Zouani.

Permaculture, he said, draws on farming methods and wisdoms of centuries past — “returning to our roots, to the traditional methods used by our grandparents.”

Zouani said he earns around 300 dinars ($100) a month from selling farm produce, with enough left over to make him, his brother and their elderly parents self-sufficient.

In two or three years, he hopes to make “a decent income” and turn his farm, named “Om Hnia” in honor of his late grandmother, into an eatery and eventually a rural eco-lodge.

Zouani started off more than two years ago with the help of the Tunisian Association of Permaculture, which gave him initial training and then financial support for basic equipment.

The group’s “Plant Your Farm” project aims to create 50 micro-farms over five years, of which around 30 are already up and running, said its president Rim Mathlouthi.

The goal, Mathlouthi said, is to “demonstrate to the authorities and other farmers that permaculture is a profitable and efficient agricultural system which brings back biodiversity when the soil is depleted from plowing and chemical inputs.”

UAE, Egypt congratulate Turkiye’s Erdogan on presidential win

Erdogan addresses his supporters following early exit poll results for the second round of presidential election.
Erdogan addresses his supporters following early exit poll results for the second round of presidential election.
Updated 12 min 2 sec ago

UAE, Egypt congratulate Turkiye’s Erdogan on presidential win

Erdogan addresses his supporters following early exit poll results for the second round of presidential election.
  • Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also congratulated Erdogan

DUBAI: The UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sent a message of congratulations to Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he declared victory in a historic runoff election.

UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum sent a similar message to Erdogan, Emirates News Agency reported.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also congratulated Erdogan, as did French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin said the win was evidence the Turkish people appreciated Erdogan’s independent foreign policy.

UAE delegation visits Czech Republic to boost bilateral cooperation

UAE delegation visits Czech Republic to boost bilateral cooperation
Updated 30 min 54 sec ago

UAE delegation visits Czech Republic to boost bilateral cooperation

UAE delegation visits Czech Republic to boost bilateral cooperation
  • High-level talks focus on trade, investment, and include agreement on tax

DUBAI: A high-level delegation from the UAE visited the Czech Republic with the aim of expanding bilateral cooperation in various areas of common interest, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday. 

The delegation headed by Ahmed Ali Al-Sayegh, the UAE minister of state, included Saeed Mubarak Al-Hajri, assistant minister for economic and trade affairs; Abdullah Al-Mazrouei, president of the Federation of UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry; and a large number of senior representatives from ministries and companies from the public and private sectors.

During the visit, Al-Sayegh held meetings with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala; Jozef Sikela, minister of industry and trade; Zbynek Stanjura, minister of finance; Jiri Kozak, deputy minister of foreign affairs; Jana Vohralikova, head of the Office of the President; and Tomas Pojar, National Security Adviser.

The visit also witnessed the signing of the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement.

 “The signing of this agreement and the keenness to establish a Joint Economic Committee, as well as the exchange of high-level visits, reflect the mutual desire of the UAE and the Czech Republic to deepen bilateral relations which extend for more than three decades, in all fields, particularly in economy and trade,” Al-Sayegh said. 

The two sides also addressed strengthening cooperation in the sphere of climate action in light of the UAE’s hosting of COP28, during which participants will conduct a worldwide stocktake of progress toward meeting the Paris Agreement’s global climate objectives.

During the visit, Al-Sayegh emphasized that the bilateral economic cooperation has grown significantly in recent years, particularly after the signing of an agreement on economic, commercial, and technical coordination in January.

The agreement also resulted in the implementation of effective programs and processes to explore opportunities for collaboration and partnerships in the domains of trade, investment, and knowledge exchange, which will help to both nations’ long-term economic progress.

Al-Sayegh added: “The Czech Republic is a prominent economic destination and an important partner for the UAE in Central Europe. 

“It has strong economic and industrial infrastructure and is rich in potential opportunities through which a sustainable and fruitful partnership can be built with the UAE business sector.”

Meanwhile, Al-Hajri will help to reinforce the UAE’s position as a critical gateway for Czech exporters and investors to capitalize on prospects in domestic markets and expand them to other countries, regionally and worldwide.

The most important agreements inked by the two countries to support their developing bilateral economic engagement are the Air Services Agreement, the Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, and the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement.

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point
Updated 10 min 37 sec ago

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point
  • Saturday’s border clash erupted just weeks after Iran warned Taliban not to violate its rights to Helmand River water
  • ’Fragile’ Afghanistan may not favor military confrontation, with China also likely to advise de-escalation, say analysts

KABUL: Tensions between Afghanistan and Iran escalated over the weekend after a heavy exchange of gunfire near a border post that killed at least three people and wounded several others. The clash appeared to have its roots in a simmering dispute over the rights of the two neighbors to their shared water resources.

On Sunday, reports indicated that the fighting between the Iranian and Afghan border security forces had eased, with both sides engaging in talks to defuse tensions. Analysts say countries of the region, especially Afghanistan, can ill afford a conflict, which could begin with the kind of gun battle that the Sasuli border post in Iran just witnessed, but end with regional powers picking sides.

The burst of belligerence comes just weeks after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the Taliban not to violate Iran’s water rights over their shared Helmand River, as laid out in a bilateral treaty signed in 1973.

The waters of the Helmand, which is over 1,000 kilometers long and flows from Afghanistan into Iran’s arid eastern regions, have been a matter of concern for Tehran because of Kabul’s decision to dam it to generate electricity and irrigate agricultural land.

A Taliban official at the Bakhshabad Dam. (AFP)

Iran has faced increasing water scarcity issues in recent years. The situation prompted protests by farmers in 2021, when an estimated 97 percent of the country was facing some level of drought, according to the Iran Meteorological Organization.

The issue of Helmand water sharing was discussed on May 18 between Amir Khan Muttaqi, Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Again on Saturday, Muttaqi met Hassan Kazemi Qom, the Iranian ambassador, in Kabul, to discuss bilateral relations, including water issues.

“The minister of foreign affairs also noted that issues between the two sides can be better resolved through mutual dialog and understanding,” Afghan Foreign Ministry’s deputy spokesman said on Twitter.

Muttaqi had said earlier in the week that the Taliban “remains committed” to the 1973 treaty, while adding that “the prolonged drought in Afghanistan and the region should not be ignored.”

Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi. (AFP)

As Afghanistan faces its third year of drought, the country was ranked third on a 2023 emergency watchlist issued by the International Rescue Committee, which highlighted how climate change contributes to and compounds the crisis in the country.

Addressing the residents of Sistan and Baluchestan, Muttaqi said Afghanistan “shares your pain equally.”

In a statement issued on May 22, he said: “I call on the government of Iran not to politicize this vital issue of water. It is optimal for us to resolve such issues through understanding and direct talks instead of making remarks in the media.


• Drought has blighted Iran for 30 years, but has worsened over the past decade.

• Iran Meteorological Organization says 97% of the country faces some level of drought.

• An estimated 79% of Afghan households lack sufficient water for their daily needs.

“During the last two years, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has taken steps to resolve controllable problems; however, the force majeure that exceeds human capacities (due to climate change) must be understood and a solution found accordingly.”

Within days, however, tensions between the two countries over water sharing had reached boiling point. Taliban officials accused Iran of opening fire first on Saturday morning along the border of Afghanistan’s Nimroz province and the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the entrance gate of Afghan-Iran border crossing bridge in Zaranj. (AFP)

“Today, in Nimroz, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counterreaction,” Abdul Nafi Takor, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said in a statement issued on Saturday night.

He said that the firefight killed two people, one from each country, adding: “The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not condone the clashes.”

Iran, for its part, accused the Taliban of shooting first, with state-run IRNA news agency quoting the country’s deputy police chief, Gen. Qasem Rezaei, as condemning the “unprovoked attack.” IRNA also said Iran inflicted “significant damage and casualties.”

Two Iranian border guards were killed while two civilians were injured in the clash, according to IRNA, which also reported that the situation was under control by Saturday night.

“The Islamic Emirate considers dialog to be a reasonable way for any problem,” Enayatullah Khawarazmi, the Afghan defense ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

Acting Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob

“Negative measures and looking for excuses for war are not in the interest of either side.”

The spike in Afghan-Iranian tensions over water rights comes amid accumulating disagreements between the two regimes since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, including previous clashes at their borders and reports of mistreatment of Afghan refugees.

Though Iran does not officially recognize the Taliban administration, it has maintained relations with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

For decades, Iran hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country, and the number of Afghans crossing west has increased since 2021.

Almost 600,000 Afghan passport holders live in Iran and about 780,000 are registered as refugees, according to 2022 data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while 2.1 million Afghans remain undocumented.

A general view of Hamoon wetland. (AFP)

Tensions surrounding refugees threatened to break out into violence several times, including in January this year, when reports of mistreatment widely circulated on social media, prompting Taliban officials to raise their concerns with Tehran over the difficulties faced by Afghan refugees in Iran.

Iranian security forces have “unlawfully killed” at least 11 Afghans, according to a report by the rights monitor Amnesty International published last August, which also documented the forced returns and torture of Afghans.

Even so, as friction between the neighbors flare up, Afghanistan is likely to seek a resolution of the problems through negotiations, according to Geneva-based Afghan analyst Torek Farhadi.

“The Taliban will avoid a standoff with Iran,” he said in a statement shared with Arab News. “Afghanistan is fragile itself after 40 years of war … history has shown Afghanistan is better off solving challenges with neighbors through talks.”

Any conflict between Afghanistan and Iran would have implications for the region, Farhadi said, adding that China’s geopolitical role and relations with the Taliban government may also come into play.

Like Tehran, Beijing too has not officially recognized the Taliban government. However, it has welcomed Taliban representatives and engaged in various talks, while also keeping its embassy open in Kabul.

“China wants a secure Afghanistan in order to have access to Afghan minerals and it also wants access to Iran’s oil and gas through Afghanistan,” Farhadi said.

“China would be unhappy with developments that would compromise the newfound stability in Afghanistan (and) will advise the Taliban not to escalate armed hostilities with Iran.”

Yemeni traders accuse Houthis of harassing them

Yemeni traders accuse Houthis of harassing them
Updated 28 May 2023

Yemeni traders accuse Houthis of harassing them

Yemeni traders accuse Houthis of harassing them
  • Militia criticized for ‘seizing goods-laden vehicles without legal justification and selling them by force’

AL-MUKALLA: Two major umbrella organizations for Yemeni businesspeople have accused the Iran-backed Houthis of harassing traders in areas under their control through the imposition of illegal levies, the confiscation of their products, and other means.

In a strongly worded statement, the Federation of Yemen Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Sanaa Chamber of Commerce and Industry have complained that the Houthi Ministry of Industry and Trade closed businesses without legal justification, seized vehicles carrying goods for traders in Houthi-controlled areas, tampered with and even sold those goods by force, and imposed a pricing list of items without consulting traders. 

The two organizations criticized the Houthis for “seizing goods-laden vehicles without legal justification, forcibly opening them, disposing of the goods, and selling them by force.”

Dozens of lorries carrying vital products, such as flour, have become stranded outside Houthi checkpoints in Al-Bayda, Taiz, and Sanaa, as the Houthis have prohibited Yemeni businesses from importing goods. Yemeni traders say the Houthi action ruined their goods and cost them millions of dollars in losses.

In addition to obstructing the movement of their goods, the Houthis imposed fixed prices on traders and did not adjust prices even after the war in Ukraine, when imported goods were priced higher.

They also delayed for months the issuance of new business licenses or the renewal of existing ones.

Traders referred to the Houthi ministry’s actions as a “hanging sword” and warned that they would force businesses to fail and force others to abandon their communities.

“These practices cause losses and destruction to national companies and are considered an economic catastrophe that will affect the economic sector and market balance,” the Yemeni traders said in their statement.

The practices “will lead to the suspension of imports and the disruption of the country’s strategic stock, and their continuation will lead to the displacement and migration of national capital in search of commercial and economic security,” the statement added.

Yemeni economists argue that the Yemeni private sector, which has historically avoided conflicts with the Houthis, has decided to react this time as Houthi measures threatened to shut down their operations.

“This statement’s language indicates that (Houthi) practices, violations, and procedures have reached a level that threatens the private sector and national capital, as well as the significant business groups that have operated in Yemen for decades,” Mustafa Nasr, director of the Studies and Economic Media Center, told Arab News.

“It appears that the situation has spiraled out of control and that the private sector is no longer able to remain mute.”

Yemenis believe that Houthis are harassing the private sector in their areas of control in order for their budding private sector to grow and thrive.  

In March, the Houthis kidnapped Abdullah Ahmed Al-Hutheily, the owner of a large oil transportation, logistics, and oil-related services company based in Sanaa, for allegedly breaching their ban on working in government-controlled oil fields.

However, according to other Yemeni journalists and economists, despite their growing resentment against Houthi measures in Sanaa and other cities under Houthi control, businesspeople would not relocate their operations to government-controlled areas because the majority of their customers are in Houthi-controlled provinces and the Yemeni government in Aden offers no incentives.

“At the moment, it is difficult for any trader to leave Sanaa and travel to Aden because more than 80 percent of Yemen’s population lives in Houthi-controlled territories,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, told Arab News.

He added that the Yemeni government’s 50-percent hike in the US dollar exchange rate, along with security concerns, would deter firms from relocating to Aden.