CAIRO: Egyptians are heading into the holy month this year with economic concerns that will prevent them from going all out with their celebrations of Ramadan, and result in overflowing dining tables not creaking quite so much as usual.
The first day of Ramadan usually means a busy kitchen as everyone lends a hand to prepare the feast. It requires bringing out the fancy china for special guests, so that when the Maghrib prayer starts everyone is gathered around an impressive dining table full of soups, juices, duck, meat, and an assortment of carbs.
This year might be different as Egyptians continue to struggle with the cost-of-living crisis. February’s inflation rate jumped to 31.9 percent, a five-and-a-half-year high, according to official data.
Food prices led the jump with a 61.8 percent annual increase, with poultry prices leading the way.
This jump in inflationary pressures, paired with the Egyptian pound’s continued depreciation against the US dollar and other currencies, has hit people’s purchasing powers.
This will result in the iftar table being emptier than usual this time around.
Menna Mahmoud, who has three children, said: “This year we will definitely cut back on inviting people over for iftar.
“Our food spending is so high and our salaries are not able to cover our usual level of living. We have had to stop buying name brands and switch to generic products.
“Meats have become so expensive and you can’t really host an iftar without a variety of meat dishes, so we decided to keep our hospitality scarce this Ramadan season. We can’t afford to host as many people as we once did.”
The government has been working to help those struggling with the cost of living, with Ahlan Ramadan discounted outlets playing a big part in securing families’ needs ahead of the holy month.
The outlets sell rice, oils, sugar, flour, poultry, fish, vegetables, and other items, at a 25-30 percent discount. The state has thousands of Ahlan Ramadan outlets to ensure all families are able to get their hands on essentials.
Bank teller Mohamed Abdo, a father of three, said: “Things are significantly more expensive these days but Ramadan isn’t about fancy dinner tables and piles of food.
“It is about bringing family and friends together, so even if we’re breaking our fast with just cheese sandwiches, we will invite people over.”
Ramadan was hit by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, while last year a global wheat shortage resulted from the Ukraine conflict. This time economic concerns are the issue, but people are still keen to celebrate.
IAEA resolves nuclear issues with Iran — Iranian Media
Updated 10 sec ago
DUBAI: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has resolved nuclear issues with Iran relating to one of three sites being investigated over the presence of uranium particles, Iranian media reported on Tuesday.
The agency’s alleged case regarding the findings of uranium particles with 83.7 purity has also been closed, a source told the semi-official Mehr news agency.
The IAEA is due to issue quarterly reports on Iran this week, ahead of a regular meeting of its 35-nation Board of Governors next week.
The spaceship would travel 5 billion km on a voyage to seek clues to life’s origins found in the asteroid belt
Updated 12 min 52 sec ago
DUBAI: The UAE has unveiled plans to send a spaceship to explore the main asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter in a new space mission.
Dubbed MBR Explorer, the spaceship would be expected to launch within a three-week period in March 2028.
Unveiling details on Monday, the UAE said the spaceship would travel 5 billion km on a voyage to help understand the foundation of the solar system and seek clues to life’s origins found in the asteroid belt.
It will pass Mars to explore seven asteroids in the main asteroid belt before finally deploying a landing craft on one of the asteroids in 2034.
The 13-year mission “will cover 10 times the distance” travelled by the ‘Hope Probe,’ which the UAE launched in 2021 to provide new insight into Mars, tweeted Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
“The Emirates Mission to the asteroid belt is a massive scientific project that will result in the establishment of private Emirati companies specialized in space science and technology,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
بحمدالله أطلقنا في قصر الوطن التفاصيل العلمية لأحد أهم مشاريعنا في مجال الفضاء "مشروع الإمارات لاستكشاف حزام الكويكبات " . المشروع يستمر 13 عاماً.. 6 سنوات للتطوير و7 سنوات رحلة استكشاف.. ستقطع خلالها المركبة الاماراتية MBR Explorer ٥ مليار كيلومتر متجاوزة كوكب المريخ لاستشكاف… pic.twitter.com/C0peR7JAMe
The mission comprises a six-year development phase of the spacecraft followed by a seven-year flight to the main asteroid belt beyond Mars, and a series of close flybys to conduct unique observations of seven main belt asteroids, said state news agency (WAM). It will culminate in the deployment of a landing craft, fully developed by UAE private start-up companies, onto a seventh, rare “red” asteroid that scientists say may hold insight into the building blocks of life on Earth.
The multiple-asteroid tour would “investigate the potential of water-rich asteroids as a usable resource and evaluate the presence of volatile and organic compounds in the asteroid belt – the building blocks of life on Earth,” read the WAM statement.
It would also allow for possible future resource extraction from the asteroids.
The UAE became the first Arab country and the second country ever to successfully enter Mars’ orbit on its first try when its Hope probe reached the red planet in February 2021.
The unmanned spacecraft aims to provide the first complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers, helping answer key questions about the Red Planet's climate and composition.
Rescue groups say Malta coordinated the return of 500 migrants to Libya instead of saving them
The migrants, who included 55 children and several pregnant women, had been trying to reach Europe on May 23 aboard a fishing vessel
Three days later they were reportedly disembarked in eastern Libya and sent to a detention center in Benghazi
Updated 30 May 2023
BARCELONA: A group of non-governmental organizations dedicated to rescuing migrants in the central Mediterranean is accusing the European island nation of Malta of coordinating the return of around 500 people to Libya where they were subsequently imprisoned, in violation of international maritime law.
The group of migrants, which included 55 children and pregnant women, had been trying to reach Europe on May 23 aboard a rusty iron fishing vessel when they reported to Alarm Phone — a hotline for migrants in distress — that they were adrift and taking in water, the NGOs said in a statement.
People smugglers have increasingly packed migrants and refugees into old and dangerous fishing vessels that set out from Libya to Italy or Malta.
Migrants aboard the vessel shared their GPS location with Alarm Phone showing they were in international waters in an area of the Mediterranean where Malta is responsible for search and rescue.
Despite repeated requests for help sent to Maltese authorities, the migrants were reportedly taken back to Benghazi in eastern Libya three days later, Alarm Phone said, citing relatives of the migrants.
“Instead of bringing people who had tried to escape from the extreme violence people on the move experience in Libya to a place of safety, … (the Rescue Coordination Center of) Malta — decided to organize a mass pushback by proxy at sea, forcing 500 people across 330km into a Libyan prison,” read the joint statement issued by Alarm Phone, Sea-Watch, Mediterranea Saving Humans and EMERGENCY on Monday.
The Maltese Armed Forces responsible for search and rescue operations did not immediately respond to the AP’s questions sent by email or answer the phone.
The International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency told the Associated Press that 485 people were reportedly brought back to Benghazi by a vessel belonging to the self-styled Libyan National Army, a force in the east of the country led by military commander Khalifa Haftar. The UN agencies could not immediately confirm it was the same group of migrants reported by Alarm Phone.
The vessel that intercepted the 485 migrants, the Tareq Bin Zeyad, is named after a militia led by Haftar’s son. In a report last year, Amnesty International accused the Tareq Bin Zeyad militia of subjecting “thousands of Libyans and migrants to brutal and relentless abuses since 2016.”
In their statement Monday, the NGOs said the Tareq Bin Zeyad had been spotted navigating in “peculiar patterns” close to the last known location of the boat in distress on May 24, suggesting the militia was looking for it.
Separately, eastern Libyan forces said over the weekend they had intercepted a large vessel carrying over 800 migrants, including entire families and children. The migrants were brought back to Libyan shores in Benghazi on May 26, three days after their vessel broke down in the Mediterranean.
In a video posted by the same east-based forces on May 27 showing the disembarkation of migrants intercepted at sea, one migrant interviewed says that the vessel broke down off Maltese shores, and that the Libyan navy rushed to rescue them. The AP could not independently confirm if this was the same vessel that had reached out to the NGOs near Malta.
Both the IOM and the UNHCR have repeatedly condemned the return of migrants and refugees to Libya, saying the lawless nation should not be considered a safe place for disembarkation as required by international maritime law.
Migrants returned to Libya are subject to arbitrary detention, extortion, torture and enforced disappearances by militias and human traffickers, in what a UN panel of experts said may amount to crimes against humanity.
Human rights organizations have long accused Malta of a policy of “non-assistance” and of colluding with Libyan forces, who are trained and funded by the European Union, to take back the migrants.
Alarm Phone said it was contacted by relatives of some of the intercepted migrants on May 26 to denounce their detention in Benghazi.
“The people fled wars and prisons in Syria, and now, unfortunately, they have been returned to Libya,” the statement read, quoting one relative.
Turkiye’s Erdogan retains power, now faces challenges over the economy and earthquake recovery
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a mandate to rule until 2028
Erdogan secured more than 52 percent of the vote in Sunday’s presidential runoff
Updated 30 May 2023
ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a mandate to rule until 2028, securing five more years as leader of a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia that plays a key role in NATO. He must now confront skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis and rebuild in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
Erdogan secured more than 52 percent of the vote in Sunday’s presidential runoff, two weeks after he fell short of scoring an outright victory in the first round. His opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, had sought to reverse Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian leanings, promising to return to democratic norms, adopt more conventional economic policies and improve ties with the West. But in the end, voters chose the man they see as a strong, proven leader.
Erdogan thanked the nation for entrusting him with the presidency again in two speeches he delivered in Istanbul and Ankara.
“The only winner today is Turkiye,” Erdogan said outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkiye’s second century, which he called the “Turkish century.” The country marks its centennial this year.
Kilicdaroglu said the election was “the most unjust ever,” with all state resources mobilized for Erdogan.
“We will continue to be at the forefront of this struggle until real democracy comes to our country,” he said in Ankara.
Supporters of Erdogan, a divisive populist and masterful orator, took to the streets to celebrate, waving Turkish or ruling party flags, honking car horns and chanting his name. Celebratory gunfire was heard in several Istanbul neighborhoods.
Leaders across the world sent their congratulations, highlighting Turkiye’s, and Erdogan’s, enlarged role in global politics. His next term is certain to include more delicate maneuvering with fellow NATO members over the future of the alliance and the war in Ukraine.
Western politicians said they are ready to continue working with Erdogan despite years of sometimes tense relations. Most imminently, Turkiye holds the cards for Sweden’s hopes to join NATO. The bid aims to strengthen the military alliance against Russia. Turkiye is also central to the continuity of a deal to allow Ukrainian grain shipments and avert a global food crisis.
In his victory remarks, Erdogan said rebuilding the quake-struck cities would be his priority. He also said a million Syrian refugees would go back to Turkish-controlled “safe zones” in Syria as part of a resettlement project being run with Qatar.
Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in Turkiye, which was founded on secular principles, and raising the country’s influence in international politics.
Erdogan’s rival was a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. The opposition took months to unite behind Kilicdaroglu. He and his party have not won any elections in which Erdogan ran.
In a frantic outreach effort to nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu had vowed to send back refugees and ruled out peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he was elected.
Erdogan and pro-government media portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and supporting what they described as “deviant” LGBTQ rights.
In his victory speech, Erdogan repeated those themes, saying LGBTQ people cannot “infiltrate” his ruling party or its nationalist allies.
Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Turkiye’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.
Erdogan is now serving his second term as president under the executive presidency. He could run again for another term if parliament — where his ruling party and allies hold a majority — calls early elections. The number of terms was a point of contention ahead of the elections when critics argued Erdogan would be ineligible to run again since he had also held the office before the system change but he pointed to the constitutional amendments that brought in the executive presidency as justification.
The first half of Erdogan’s tenure included reforms allowing the country to begin talks to join the European Union, as well as economic growth that lifted many out of poverty.
But he later moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his own hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Turkiye says was orchestrated by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.
Sudanese displaced by violence find sanctuary in Al-Jazirah state — for now
Al-Jazirah has thus far received the largest number of displaced people from war-stricken capital Khartoum
The state faces a scarcity of commodities that are normally distributed from Khartoum to outlying areas
Updated 30 May 2023
WAD MADANI, Sudan: Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Sudan have been displaced since the confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces began six weeks ago, with the vast majority of them choosing to remain within the nation’s borders.
One state, Al-Jazirah, situated just a three-hour drive southeast of Khartoum, has so far received the largest share of people fleeing the war-stricken Sudanese capital, becoming something of a microcosm of the wider displacement crisis.
While those fleeing to Al-Jazirah have been spared the difficult journey over bridges, waterways and international borders to reach safety, many have faced new struggles upon arrival in displacement camps, with limited access to healthcare, shelter and food.
Given the swelling ranks of displaced, Al-Jazirah faces mounting shortages of medicine, fuel and food — commodities that under normal circumstances would be distributed from Khartoum to Sudan’s various outlying states.
Asaad Al-Sir Mohammed, Sudan’s commissioner of humanitarian aid, says relief organizations are active on the ground in Al-Jazirah dealing with the influx of the displaced. But capacity is already stretched.
“We are well networked with all organizations in Sudan,” he told Arab News. “With us now are organizations that specialize in dealing with refugees. There is coordination with the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme.”
A number of organizations have signed up to coordinate with Sudan’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Humanitarian Aid Commission and the Commission of Refugees, including the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Alight, ZOA, the Danish Refugee Council, Medical Teams International and Islamic Relief.
“Our plan is to absorb the first trauma for the displaced and provide housing worthy of their humanity, and then the organizations intervene,” said Mohammed. “There are a number of organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, who have already started their work on the mandate.”
However, despite solid coordination between service committees and Al-Jazirah state authorities, Mohammed says the sheer number of displaced people may lead to even greater shortages unless aid agencies and Khartoum’s Supreme Committee act quickly.
Local food producers, in particular, are under pressure to boost production in order to meet the mounting demand of extra mouths to feed and the collapse of supply chains from the capital.
Mudther Abdul Karim, who represents local flour producers, told Arab News that the seven biggest flour mills in Al-Jazirah will likely face an increased workload owing to the closure of several units in Khartoum due to fighting.
All of Al-Jazirah’s flour mills have been compelled to operate at maximum capacity, Karim says, with authorities arranging for the import of flour from mills in Red Sea state and neighboring countries to meet the increased demand.
As for fuel, although the state benefits from a direct supply via a 217 km-long pipeline connected to the Al-Jely refinery, many citizens are still forced to wait in line for more than two days to fill cars and jerrycans.
To accommodate the human tide flowing out of Khartoum, Fatah Al-Rahman Taha, Sudan’s minister of social welfare, told Arab News that Camp Five in Al-Qadarif state, which used to house Ethiopians displaced by the Tigray War, is being reopened to prepare for new arrivals.
“The problem of war is an imposed reality, but the clouds will lift and Sudan will rise again,” said Taha.
The fighting across Sudan has killed more than 1,800 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The UN says that more than 1 million people have been displaced within Sudan, in addition to 300,000 who have fled to neighboring countries.
Increasingly desperate civilians have been waiting for brief lulls in fighting to flee or for assistance to flow through as battles have left Khartoum with intermittent supplies of food, water and electricity.
Escape from the conflict zone is not easy. Western travel advisories say that Khartoum International Airport is closed, evacuation flights from the Wadi Saeedna airbase, north of Khartoum, have ceased, and evacuation options from Port Sudan are limited.
Consequently, people seeking to leave Sudan using commercial options have to do so at their own risk. Then again, there are serious concerns about the safety and reliability of local airlines, with many of them banned from operating in international airspace.
Khartoum state is where the national capital of Sudan, Khartoum city, is located. It is the smallest state by area but the most populous. The capital city contains offices of the state, governmental and non-governmental organizations, cultural institutions and the main airport.
Foreign citizens seeking to depart Sudan for neighboring countries by other means are instructed to take advice before doing so as border crossings may be closed, or may involve long transit and processing times, in the absence of the necessary infrastructure and staffing.
As of Monday, fighting continued in key battlegrounds despite a new ceasefire agreement which took effect on May 20 — the latest in a string of attempted deals.
The US and Saudi Arabia, which brokered the deal, reported “serious violations” since it took effect, but said in a joint statement on Friday that there had been “improved respect for the agreement,” despite “isolated gunfire in Khartoum.”
Not all of those arriving in Al-Jazirah from Khartoum state are Sudanese. For many years, the state hosted 307,000 refugees and asylum seekers from conflict zones across the African continent. But now, with the capital city and its surrounding areas engulfed in violence, they have been forced to flee once more.
“The refugees are mainly Eritreans, Ethiopians and South Sudanese,” Mustafa Mohammed, secretary-general of Al-Jazirah’s local authority and head of the chamber of volunteers formed to deal with people displaced from Khartoum, told Arab News.
“Some of them asked to return to their places of origin and means of transport were provided to them. Some were deported to refugee reception.
“With the help of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, we were able to limit the number of expatriate families nationwide, which are about 500 families to 24,700 individuals, and the number is still increasing,” he added, noting that this does not include families hosted by relatives.
“The incoming numbers to the state are large and unexpected. We are providing various services, from medical services to providing housing and food.”
The Sudanese Red Crescent Society recently reported that there were 5,244 families spread across 28 camps in various localities, totaling some 28,217 displaced individuals. Meanwhile, some 272 families are staying in apartments and 2,114 individuals in hotels.
The camps themselves suffer from water shortages and numerous other challenges, according to Yasser Salah, head of the Sharaa Alhwadeath youth volunteer initiative in Al-Jazirah.
“Since the escalation of violence in Khartoum state, we have faced a very large humanitarian disaster that volunteers address in the first place through the work of small camps, some of which are hosted in schools and others in homes,” Salah told Arab News from Al-Shaima Camp, a student housing complex in Al-Jazirah’s state capital, Wad Madani, which is receiving displaced households.
Salah said that there was no ignoring the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in the state, as pharmacies struggle to obtain basic medicines and blood banks run out of stock for transfusions.
Unofficial camps, which are not recognized by the state, have also sprung up in the wake of the crisis. Of the 18 camps in Wad Madani, just two are recognized by the government. Local volunteers told Arab News that no state assistance is provided to the remaining 16.
Instead, the displaced depend upon donations from friends and young people working in local as well as international aid agencies.
One local volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The camps at our disposal suffer from lack of water and drinking water, as well as food, (medical) treatment and general (healthcare), beds and mattresses.
“There is a lack of electricity and there are a large number of patients. Therefore, we host treatment days in the presence of doctors.”
Despite the lack of government support, the volunteer said that those housed in the unofficial community-supported camps are often better off than those in state-recognized camps.
“The condition of the camps under the control of the government is worse than in the camps we operate, which are based on the principles of humanism and contribution.”