Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director

Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director
Samir Sassi a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia (X)
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Updated 04 January 2024
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Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director

Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director
  • Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied’s swift power grab in July 2021
  • Campaigners voiced concern over a growing number of journalists behind bars in the North African country

Tunis: Tunisian authorities have arrested an Al Jazeera reporter, the network’s bureau chief said Thursday, as campaigners voiced concern over a growing number of journalists behind bars in the North African country.
“Samir Sassi, a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia, was arrested after security forces raided his house” late Wednesday, said Lotfi Hajji, director of the Qatar-based television network’s bureau in Tunis.
He told AFP that police did not disclose the reasons for the arrest nor where Sassi was being held. There was no official comment from Tunisian authorities.
Hajji said the security forces had also seized Sassi’s “computer, phone, and the phones of his wife and children.”
Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied’s swift power grab in July 2021, but the network’s journalists remained accredited and maintained their coverage in Tunisia.
Authorities did not provide a reason for shutting down the bureau at the time.
Tunisia has come under criticism for a crackdown on the freedom of speech, including the arrests of more than 30 journalists in 2023, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
In an open letter to Saied published on Thursday, the IFJ expressed its “deepest concern at the frequent imprisonment of journalists, in total contravention of the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution in respect of freedom of expression and the media.”
It mentioned the case of Tunisian journalist Zied El Heni, who was arrested on December 29 after criticizing Tunisian Commerce Minister Kalthoum Ben Rejeb in a radio show he hosts.
Heni became well known during the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set in motion what later came to be known as the Arab Spring.
The journalist remains in detention, awaiting trial scheduled for January 10.
“Heni’s case is not an isolated one, but clearly indicates the existence of a systematic policy of instrumentalising legal procedures and the judicial system to systematically intimidate, bully and imprison journalists,” said the IFJ.
Last summer, the United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said he was “deeply concerned” over the crackdown on media in Tunisia, with vaguely worded legislation used to criminalize criticism.
Seventeen journalists in Tunisia currently face trial, according to local media.
Heni and some other journalists have been prosecuted under the provisions of Decree 54, which punishes those accused of spreading “false news” with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The legislation “is being used to silence journalists and opponents of the president,” Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the IFJ, said earlier this week, accusing the government of “attacking journalists.”


Malak Mattar aims to raise Gaza awareness with Venice exhibition

Malak Mattar aims to raise Gaza awareness with Venice exhibition
Updated 3 min 43 sec ago
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Malak Mattar aims to raise Gaza awareness with Venice exhibition

Malak Mattar aims to raise Gaza awareness with Venice exhibition
  • The Palestinian artist hopes her show in Venice, coinciding with the biennale, will further raise awareness of the horrors being perpetrated in Gaza 

DUBAI: In the art world this week, all eyes will be on Venice. The Italian city will inaugurate the 60th edition of its namesake biennale, arguably the world’s most prestigious art event, on Apr. 20. Coinciding with the biennale is the opening of an intimate exhibition by the Palestinian painter Malak Mattar, who hopes to shed light on the atrocities unfolding in her native city of Gaza on an international stage.  

Mattar’s parents and two younger siblings were recently safely evacuated from Gaza to Egypt. “A burden has been lifted but I still have family members there,” she tells Arab News from Alexandria, where she has been reunited with her family. “The past six months have been a nightmare, to be honest. The situation has been going on for this long because people have become numb and desensitized.”  

This won’t be the first time that 24-year-old Mattar has shown her work in Italy, but her exhibition at Venice’s Ferruzzi Gallery during the biennale opening is a significant milestone in her career, which is going from strength to strength.  

“Prematurely Stolen,” 2023. (Anthony Dawton)

“This might be the most important exhibition that I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. It all began with a chance encounter at her previous exhibition in London. 

Dyala Nusseibeh, director of Abu Dhabi Art, and a prominent figure in the regional art scene, was in attendance and later approached the young artist with a proposal of setting up an exhibition in Venice. “I told her, ‘Of course, let’s do it.’ I was so happy,” she recalls. “I’m grateful to Dyala for making this happen in a short period of time.” 

Her exhibition, which runs until June 14, is called “The Horse Fell off the Poem.” It features one large-scale painting and seven smaller charcoal drawings, showing harrowing images of victims. The show’s title is based on one of the late Palestinian poet and resistance writer Mahmoud Darwish’s works.  

“Death Road,” 2023. (Anthony Dawton)

“(Darwish) is part of our individual and collective identity,” says Mattar. “We grew up with his poems, his voice and his story. He was so close to us, like a family member. I still remember his death (in 2008) and it was really hard. His poems are timeless and you can always relate to them, especially now.”  

Previously called “Last Breath”, the large-scale painting has been retitled “No Words.” The black-and-white image depicts hellish and disturbing scenes of loss, chaos, deterioration and death. Mattar doesn’t hold back.  

“The horse has a symbolism and a place in the current time of war,” Mattar previously told Arab News. “Its role has changed from carrying fruits and vegetables to being an ambulance. There’s a strength and hardness to a horse, which is how I also see Gaza; I don’t see it as a weak place. In my memory, I think of it as a place that loves life. It always gets back on its feet after every war.”  

“I see Birds,” 2024. (Anthony Dawton)

She is aware that her works could stir controversy. That tends to be the case at the biennale, which is renowned for addressing socio-political issues. This year’s theme is “Foreigners Everywhere.” 

“Any reaction is good, whether negative or positive,” Mattar says. “If the work doesn’t elicit any reaction, then the work is not effective.”  

Mattar believes that her works are being shown at a time when freedom of expression about Palestine is limited. This has affected the art world too. In recent months, a US university exhibition of works by the veteran Palestinian artist Samia Halaby was cancelled, the auction house Christie’s withdrew a couple of paintings by Lebanese painter Ayman Baalbaki from a sale (one of them depicted a man in a red and white keffiyeh), and there were calls from the general public to cancel the Israeli national pavilion at the Venice Biennale.  

“The art world is so black and white,” says Mattar. “There is no freedom to express yourself. There are always restraints. So, for “No Words” to be (shown in the same place and at the same time) of the biennale is important. The genocide is still happening. It’s not ending. (These works) are not a reflection of a time that already happened — it’s happening at the moment. The best time to show them is now.”  


Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority
Updated 16 min 2 sec ago
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Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

CAIRO: The Egyptian government’s main priority is to reduce inflation to within the central bank’s target, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said on Tuesday, adding that economic growth was expected to rise in the financial year starting in July to 4.2 percent, from 2.8 percent this year, according to Reuters.

Maait also said the government aimed to sell more state assets, which would reduce the state’s role in the economy, allow the private sector more ownership, increase productivity and generate revenue to reduce Egypt’s debt.

Egypt’s economy has been hurt over the last half year by the crisis in Gaza, which has slowed tourism growth and cut into Suez Canal revenue, two of the country’s biggest sources of foreign currency.

Revenue from the waterway has fallen by more than 60 percent, Maait said, speaking during the IMF Governor Talks series in Washington.

The challenges prompted the IMF to expand financial support to Egypt to $8 billion, while Egypt sharply devalued its currency, made its latest pledge to move to a flexible exchange rate, and struck a record $35 billion investment deal with a UAE sovereign wealth fund.

Inflation dipped to 33.3 percent in March from a record 38 percent in September, far higher than the central bank’s long-standing target of between 5 percent and 9 percent.

Egypt generated growth over the last decade by financing giant state projects, including a new $58 billion capital in the desert, through a borrowing spree abroad that quadrupled its foreign debt.

The government hopes to lower interest rates to reduce interest payments on debt, Maait said. The central bank so far this year has raised its overnight interest rates by 800 basis points.

The government has put a limit of 1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($20.6 billion) on all public investment, including that of the military, Maait said. The private sector should make up at least 65-70 percent of the economy, he added.

“Giving the main role to the private sector to lead the country is in the benefit of the state. Why? Because we have close to 1 million young people coming to the labor market looking for jobs every year,” Maait said.

“Who will be able to create that? The government cannot create more than 100,000 new jobs. An economy led by the private sector can create 900,000 — even more — jobs, but we have to give them the opportunity.”


Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days

Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days
Updated 19 min 55 sec ago
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Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days

Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days
  • PDMA warns of another spell of heavy downpours from April 17-21
  • Rs160 million released for assistance of families of deceased people

PESHAWAR: At least 32 people were killed and another 42 injured in the last six days as heavy rains and floods have thrashed Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said in a report on Wednesday. 

The rains started last Friday and have caused large-scale damage in different parts of KP while the PDMA has warned of another spell of heavy downpours in the province from April 17-21. 

The report issued by PDMA on Wednesday morning said the 32 casualties in KP included 15 children, 12 men, and 5 women while the injured comprised 6 women, 28 men, and 7 children. A total of 1370 houses had also been damaged, 160 of them completely.

The country’s national and provincial disaster management authorities said on Tuesday almost 60 people had been killed throughout the country due to the current spell of rains and resultant floods. 

“Further heavy rains are expected to cause flash floods in low-lying areas [of KP] and have raised concerns about landslides in hilly regions,” PDMA spokesperson Ihsan Dawar told Arab News. 

“The district administrations should take proactive and immediate measures before the second spell of the rains begins … and ensure the availability of small and large machinery.”

Some of the districts where loss of life and property took place are Khyber, Upper and Lower Dir, Chitral Upper and Lower, Swat, Bajaur, Shangla, Mansehra, Mohmand, Malakand, Kurram, Tank, Mardan, Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Buner, Hangu, Batagram, Bannu, North and South Waziristan, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan and Kozai.

Relief activities have been launched in several affected areas and the PDMA has released over Rs160 million for families of those who have died due to rain-related incidents, according to the PDMA spokesperson. 

“The loss of precious human lives in various incidents resulting from the rains is deeply saddening,” the chief minister of KP said in a statement.

The eastern province of Punjab has reported 21 lighting- and collapse-related deaths, while Balochistan, in the country’s southwest, reported 10 dead as authorities declared a state of emergency following flash floods.

On Wednesday, Balochistan was bracing for more rains amid ongoing rescue and relief operations, as flash floods inundated villages near the coastal city of Gwadar.

In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild. Balochistan saw rainfall at 590 percent above average that year, while Karachi saw 726 percent more rainfall than usual.


Oil Updates – prices dip as demand worries outweigh Mideast supply fears

Oil Updates – prices dip as demand worries outweigh Mideast supply fears
Updated 36 min 52 sec ago
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Oil Updates – prices dip as demand worries outweigh Mideast supply fears

Oil Updates – prices dip as demand worries outweigh Mideast supply fears

TOKYO/SINGAPORE: Oil prices extended losses on Wednesday as worries about global demand due to weak economic momentum in China and a likely rise in US commercial stockpiles outweighed supply fears from heightened tensions in the Middle East, according to Reuters.

Brent futures for June fell 40 cents, or 0.44 percent, to $89.62 a barrel by 9:32 a.m. Saudi time, while US crude futures for May fell 48 cents, or 0.56 percent, to $84.88 a barrel.

Oil prices have softened so far this week as economic headwinds pressured investor sentiment, curbing gains from geopolitical tensions, with market’s eyeing on how Israel might respond to Iran’s attack over the weekend.

“With oil prices highly sensitive to geopolitical risks, the past week has seen some wait-and-see consolidation in place as Israel’s response will determine if there may be a wider regional conflict, which could significantly impact oil supplies,” said IG market strategist Yeap Jun Rong.

“For now, the near-term weakness in oil prices may reflect some expectations that tensions may still be contained and that other key oil producer such as Saudi Arabia may jump in to mitigate any global supply shock,” Yeap added.

In China, the world’s biggest oil importer, the economy grew faster than expected in the first quarter, but several March indicators, including property investment, retail sales and industrial output, showed that demand at home remains frail, weighing on overall momentum.

“Apart from that, a build-up in US crude inventories overnight and a mixed set of economic data out of China also offered some reservations, alongside near-term overbought technicals which prompts some profit-taking,” Yeap said.

US crude oil inventories rose last week more than expected by analysts polled by Reuters, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday. Official data from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the US Department of Energy, is due on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Saudi time.

In the Middle East, a third meeting of Israel’s war cabinet set for Tuesday to decide on a response to Iran’s first-ever direct attack was put off until Wednesday, as Western allies eyed swift new sanctions against Tehran to help dissuade Israel from a major escalation.

Analysts however do not expect Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone strike on Israel to prompt dramatic sanctions action on Iran’s oil exports from the Biden administration.

Meanwhile, the US government could reimpose oil sanctions on Venezuela on Thursday — which in turn could tighten supplies in the market.

Prices could trade sideways in the meantime because of these current market drivers, analysts say.

WTI price movements in the short term are likely to be trapped in a sideways range between $83.20 and $87.70 due to conflicting factors such as China’s disappointing retail sales in March and geopolitical risk premium still remaining intact, said OANDA senior market analyst Kelvin Wong.


Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says

Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says
Updated 41 min 2 sec ago
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Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says

Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says
  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response

DUBAI: Iran’s navy is escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, Naval Commander Shahram Irani said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The move follows the first-ever direct Iranian attack on Israel, carried out in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus.
Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship which Tehran says is linked to Israel.