Blinken: Egypt and US are fully committed to deepening bilateral relations

Special Blinken: Egypt and US are fully committed to deepening bilateral relations
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 30, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 January 2023

Blinken: Egypt and US are fully committed to deepening bilateral relations

Blinken: Egypt and US are fully committed to deepening bilateral relations
  • US, Egyptian officials discussed issues related to Israel and Palestine, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Libya and Sudan
  • Antony Blinken: Sixty percent of the population in Egypt is, of course, 25 years old or younger. So, this is an incredibly dynamic and youthful place

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine in talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Monday at Al-Ittihadiya Palace.

The two exchanged views on a number of international and regional issues of common interest, including the latest developments in the Palestinian territories and the joint efforts to contain recent escalating tensions.

The talks took place on the second day of Blinken’s visit to Cairo, part of a larger Middle East tour the US secretary of state is currently undertaking.

A spokesman for the Egyptian president stated that El-Sisi stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Egypt and the US and expressed hopes to enhance coordination on various political and security matters.

Blinken emphasized that Washington is counting on close coordination with Egypt to restore stability between Palestine and Israel.

President El-Sisi likewise highlighted the importance of working to de-escalate tensions in the region and limit any unilateral measures taken by either party. 

He affirmed Egypt’s desire to reach a just and comprehensive solution that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people in accordance with international frameworks and in a way that achieves lasting peace and stability.

During the meeting, the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was also discussed. 

El-Sisi stressed the need to reach a binding legal agreement to fill and operate the dam in a way that achieves common interests and preserves the water rights of all parties, highlighting the importance of the US in playing an effective role in resolving this crisis.

Blinken wrote on his Twitter account: “Important meeting with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on the US-Egypt strategic partnership.

“We discussed Egypt’s important role in regional stability, bilateral cooperation, and the importance of progress on human rights,” he added.

Blinken also held talks on Monday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Cairo. The two discussed issues related to Palestine, the GERD, Libya and Sudan.

The secretary of state said that the US supports Sudan’s transition to democracy and that the future of the country is dependent on the existence of a government that considers the interests of all segments of the population. Concerning Libya, he stressed the importance of holding elections this year, emphasizing the right of the Libyan people to choose their leadership.

Regarding the GERD, Blinken said: “We have heard from the Egyptian leadership that it is an existential matter for Egypt, and we support any solution that takes into account the interests of all parties.”

As for current tensions between Israel and Palestine, Blinken acknowledged that the present time is characterized by difficulty in light of the recent escalation of violence and said that he wants to hear from all sides during his visit to the West Bank and Israel. 

During a joint press conference with the US secretary of state, Shoukry said the talks that were held “clearly reflected the broad convergence of strategic interests between the two countries and the great consistency in visions on many issues, and also showed the enormous potential for developing strategic partnership in many fields.”

Shoukry praised the friendly relations between Egypt and the US and expressed Egypt’s desire to strengthen the relationship on the basis of mutual respect and shared interests. 

Blinken said that Egypt and the US are fully committed to developing and deepening bilateral relations.

He added: “We have supported a contract worth $600 million to build an underwater communications cable to deliver approved fast communications, and we are also helping Egypt invest in the field of wind and solar energy, and we are trying to move forward in joint economic cooperation in order to build on these relations.”

Blinken affirmed that relations between the two peoples are one of the pillars of the partnership between the US and Egypt.

His remarks came during a meeting with students at the American University in Cairo in Tahrir Square.

Speaking at the campus, Blinken said: “It’s really wonderful to be here in this truly historic institution that has brought Egyptians and Americans together for so many years.”

Blinken acknowledged the importance of the youth in advancing both countries’ common goals and achieving economic empowerment and climate action.

The secretary of state said that he chose Egypt as the start of his tour in the Middle East because of the strategic partnership between the US and Egypt.

He said: “As we’re looking at the partnership between the US and Egypt, the strategic partnership that is of great consequence to the US, we know that going forward (this) partnership ultimately is going to be built and sustained and strengthened by the people here today and the people that you represent. 

“Sixty percent of the population in Egypt is, of course, 25 years old or younger. So, this is an incredibly dynamic and youthful place.  

“It’s important for us not just to engage government to government, as important as that is, but to engage with every sector of society, and again, especially the rising generation of Egyptians because, quite literally, you will be the ones making this country and you will be the ones who are carrying forward the relationship with the US.”

Blinken added: “We want to know what’s on your minds, what you’re thinking about, what you’re concerned about, and how you’re looking at things because, for me, the most important thing is this: Just because we’ve done something one way for the last 50 years doesn’t mean we need to do it the same way for the next 50 years.”

UN rights investigator says EU aided and abetted abuse of migrants in Libya

UN rights investigator says EU aided and abetted abuse of migrants in Libya
Updated 57 min 11 sec ago

UN rights investigator says EU aided and abetted abuse of migrants in Libya

UN rights investigator says EU aided and abetted abuse of migrants in Libya

GENEVA: A member of the UN fact-finding mission to Libya investigating rights abuses said on Monday that European Union support for Libyan authorities that stop and detain migrants had “aided and abetted” the commission of rights violations against migrants.
“We’re not saying that the EU and its member states have committed these crimes. The point is that the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes,” Chaloka Beyani said in a news conference while unveiling the mission’s report.

If Tunisia is not helped, Muslim Brotherhood may ‘create instability’: Italian FM

If Tunisia is not helped, Muslim Brotherhood may ‘create instability’: Italian FM
Updated 27 March 2023

If Tunisia is not helped, Muslim Brotherhood may ‘create instability’: Italian FM

If Tunisia is not helped, Muslim Brotherhood may ‘create instability’: Italian FM
  • ‘We can’t afford the radicalization of the Mediterranean,’ Antonio Tajani tells conference attended by Arab News
  • Rome striving to ensure Tunisia ‘doesn’t become a failed state,’ pushing for IMF loan

ROME: The international community runs the risk of “having the Muslim Brotherhood create instability” in Tunisia if the country is not promptly granted “substantial financial help,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said at a conference attended by Arab News.

“We can’t afford the radicalization of the Mediterranean,” he added, saying Tunisia is on the verge of “economic collapse,” and negotiations for a loan of nearly $1.9 billion from the International Monetary Fund have “stalled” over President Kais Saied’s recent policies.

Elected in 2019, Kais dissolved Parliament in July 2021, reformed the country’s constitution to increase his presidential powers, and then held a referendum followed by parliamentary elections with a very low turnout.

At the beginning of this year he cracked down on dissent, arresting politicians, labor union members, judges and members of civil society.

The economic situation in Tunisia is dire, leading more and more people to try to reach Italy on small boats.

Tajani said Italy is “the most interested” in ensuring that “Tunisia solves its problems and doesn’t become a failed state.”

He added that the Italian government has been working hard to ensure that the IMF and the World Bank help Tunisia.

“But there’s a problem: The IMF, with the support of the US, says, ‘You first carry out reforms, and then we’ll give the money.’ On the other hand, the Tunisians say, ‘First the money and then the reforms’,” he said.

“This is why we propose that the IMF gives immediately a first tranche of money; the rest of the loan can be paid in line with the progress of reforms.”

Tajani said the international community “can’t afford to make the mistake of leaving Tunisia to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Stefania Craxi, president of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Italian Senate, told Arab News: “The Muslim Brotherhood will prosper if the grant doesn’t come and the economy keeps going down.”

She added: “It’s right for the IMF to ask for reforms, but they must grant the loan before the worst happens. That money must come now.”

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
Updated 27 March 2023

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
  • The law revives the electoral law of 2018 and sweeps away one of the gains of the mass protest movement which shook Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament voted Monday to restore electoral laws that were scrapped after 2019 anti-government demonstrations, sparking anger from independent lawmakers who see it benefiting larger parties.
The law, which parliament said in a statement was “adopted” without detailing the votes, revives the electoral law of 2018 and sweeps away one of the gains of the mass protest movement which shook Iraq.
After the protests, a new system favored the emergence of independent candidates, with some 70 independents winning seats in the 329-member parliament in the last legislative elections in 2021.
Parliament is dominated by the Coordination Framework, an alliance of powerful pro-Iran Shiite factions, from whose ranks Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani emerged.
The new law removes 83 electoral districts and creates 18 seats, one for each of Iraq’s provinces.
This “makes it easier for top party politicians to win seats,” analyst Sajad Jiyad said on Twitter.
Conversely, it will make it “harder for candidates in smaller parties and independents to compete” because they will be running at a provincial rather than a local level, he added.
During the debate, which ran from Sunday into the early hours of Monday, several angry independent lawmakers were expelled from the debating chamber, according to videos they filmed themselves.
The law also replaces a first past the post system with proportional representation.
Overall, the changes will benefit the larger parties and make it possible “for their candidates who didn’t get enough votes initially to win seats,” Jiyad added.
“Independent candidates will no longer have any hope of obtaining representation in parliament,” said Alaa Al-Rikabi, an independent lawmaker. “They will be crushed.”
But Coordination Framework lawmaker Bahaa Al-Dine Nouri welcomed the change, arguing that it will “distribute the seats according to the size of the parties.”
Nouri said this will “lead to the formation of a government within the time limits set by the constitution” to avoid the endless standoffs that followed the 2021 election.
The new law will apply to the next legislative elections, the date of which has not yet been set.
It will also apply to provincial elections slated for November 6, to be held in 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces, excluding the three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, regional elections will take place on November 18 under a separate electoral system.

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
Updated 27 March 2023

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
  • Reports of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart
  • Head of Israel’s top trade union calls for an immediate ‘general strike’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition plunged into chaos on Monday, after mass overnight protests over the sacking of his defense chief piled pressure on the government to halt its bitterly contested plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Netanyahu had been expected to make a televised statement on Monday morning announcing the plans had been suspended. But, amid reports that his nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart, Israeli TV stations said the statement was postponed.

Earlier, a source in his Likud party and another source closely involved in the legislation said Netanyahu would suspend the overhaul, which has ignited some of Israel’s biggest-ever demonstrations and drew an intervention by the head of state.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” President Isaac Herzog said on Twitter.

The warning by Herzog, who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm that the divisions triggered by the proposals have caused.

It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel, with tens of thousands flooding streets following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.

During furious scenes in the Knesset early on Monday, opposition members of parliament attacked Simcha Rothman, the committee chairman who has shepherded the bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!” and accusations comparing the bill to militant groups that want the destruction of Israel.

“This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee approved a key bill to go forward for ratification.

“The law is balanced and good for Israel,” Rothman said.

Three months after it took power, Gallant’s removal has plunged Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition into crisis as it also faces a deepening security emergency in the occupied West Bank.

In a sign of the tensions within the coalition, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads one of the hard-line pro-settler parties in the coalition, called for the overhaul to go ahead.

“We must not stop the judiciary reform and must not surrender to anarchy,” he tweeted.

The shekel, which has seen big swings over recent weeks as the political turbulence has played out, fell 0.7 percent in early trading before recovering some ground as expectations grew the legislation would be halted.

As opposition spread, the head of the Histadrut labor union, Arnon Bar-David, called for a general strike if the proposals were not halted.

“Bring back the country’s sanity. If you don’t announce in a news conference today that you changed your mind, we will go on strike.”

Israeli media reported that takeoffs from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport have been suspended.

The judicial overhaul, which would give the executive more control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to override court rulings on the basis of a simple parliamentary majority, has drawn mass protests for weeks.

While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has so far vowed to continue with the project and a central part of the overhaul package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments, is due to be voted on in parliament this week.

As well as drawing opposition from the business establishment, the project has caused alarm among Israel’s allies. The United States said it was deeply concerned by Sunday’s events and saw an urgent need for compromise, while repeating calls to safeguard democratic values.

Lebanon: Clocks will turn one hour forward on Wednesday night

Lebanon: Clocks will turn one hour forward on Wednesday night
Updated 27 March 2023

Lebanon: Clocks will turn one hour forward on Wednesday night

Lebanon: Clocks will turn one hour forward on Wednesday night
  • Government issued last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month
  • Some institutions implemented the change while others refused, causing confusion

BEIRUT: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati reverses a decision to delay daylight's saving move, clocks will turn one hour forward on Wednesday night.

The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion Sunday.
With some institutions implementing the change while others refused, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in a country that is just 88 kilometers (55 miles) at its widest point.
In some cases, the debate took on a sectarian nature, with many Christian politicians and institutions, including the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church, rejecting the move.
The small Mediterranean country normally sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, which aligns with most European countries.
However, on Thursday, the government announced a decision by the prime minister to push the start of daylight saving to April 21.
No reason was given for the decision, but a video of a meeting between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leaked to local media showed Berri asking Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight saving time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.
Mikati responds that he had made a similar proposal but goes on to say that implementing the change would be difficult as it would cause problems in airline flight schedules, to which Berri interjects, “What flights?”
After the postponement of daylight saving was announced, Lebanon’s state airline, Middle East Airlines, said the departure times of all flights scheduled to leave from the Beirut airport between Sunday and April 21 would be advanced by an hour.
The country’s two cellular telephone networks messaged people asking them to change the settings of their clocks to manual instead of automatic so the time would not change at midnight, although in many cases the time advanced anyway.
While public institutions, in theory, are bound by the government’s decision, many private institutions, including TV stations, schools and businesses, announced that they would ignore the decision and move to daylight saving on Sunday as previously scheduled.
Even some public agencies refused to comply. Education Minister Abbas Halabi said in a statement Sunday evening that the decision was not legally valid because it had not been taken in a meeting of the Cabinet. If the government meets and approves the decision, he wrote, “we will be the first to implement it” but until then, “daylight saving time remains approved and applied in the educational sector.”
Soha Yazbek, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is among many parents who have found themselves and their children now bound to different schedules.
“So now I drop my kids to school at 8 am but arrive to my work 42 km away at 7:30 am and then I leave work at 5 p.m. but I arrive home an hour later at 7 pm!!” Yazbek wrote on Twitter, adding for the benefit of her non-Lebanese friends, “I have not gone mad, I just live in Wonderland.”
Haruka Naito, a Japanese non-governmental organization worker living in Beirut, discovered she has to be in two places at the same time on Monday morning.
“I had an 8 a.m. appointment and a 9 a.m. class, which will now happen at the same time,” she said. The 8 a.m. appointment for her residency paperwork is with a government agency following the official time, while her 9 a.m. Arabic class is with an institute that is expected to make the switch to daylight saving.
The schism has led to jokes about “Muslim time” and “Christian time,” while different Internet search engines came up with different results early Sunday morning when queried about the current time in Lebanon.
While in many cases, the schism broke down along sectarian lines, some Muslims also objected to the change and pointed out that fasting is supposed to begin at dawn and end at sunset regardless of time zone.
Many saw the issue as a distraction from the country’s larger economic and political problems.
Lebanon is in the midst of the worst financial crisis in its modern history. Three quarters of the population lives in poverty and IMF officials recently warned the country could be headed for hyperinflation if no action is taken. Lebanon has been without a president since the term of President Michel Aoun ended in late October as the parliament has failed to elect a replacement since.