Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
Iranian women in Tehran wave their country’s flags during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1 elections for parliament and Assembly of Experts. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
  • Parliament vote could see a low turnout ­— a constant feature of past elections

DUBAI: Iran is holding parliamentary elections this Friday, yet the real question may not be who gets elected but how many people actually turn out to vote.

Widespread discontent over the cratering economy, years of mass protests rocking the country, and tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine have many people quietly saying they won’t vote in this election.

Officials have urged people to cast ballots but tellingly, no information has been released this year from the state-owned polling center ISPA about expected turnout — a constant feature of past elections. Of 21 Iranians interviewed recently by The Associated Press, only five said they would vote. Thirteen said they won’t and three said they were undecided.

“If I protest about some shortcoming, many police and security agents will try to stop me,” said Amin, a 21-year-old university student who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But if I die from hunger on the corner of one of the main streets, they will show no reaction.”

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.

Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.

Under parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.

More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”

“The Islamic Republic, with its ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions and the imprisonment and torture of men and women, deserves national sanctions and global disgrace,” Mohammadi said in a statement.

The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.

On Wednesday, Khamenei himself urged people to vote, describing it as a national duty. “There is no reasoning behind not voting,” he said. “It does not solve any problem of the country.”

He also said “those who express a lack of interest in the election and encourage others not to participate should think some more.”

“If the election is weak, all face harm,” he added.

Though ISPA, the polling agency, conducted election surveys in October, its results have not been made public. Figures from politicians and other media outlets suggest a turnout of around 30 percent.

In the 2021 presidential election that brought hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to power, the turnout was 49 percent — the lowest on record for a presidential vote. Millions of ballots were declared void, likely from those who felt obligated to vote but did not want to cast a ballot.

The 2019 parliament race saw a 42 percent turnout.

Separately, Iranians will also vote on Friday for members of the country’s 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an eight-year term on a panel that will appoint the country’s next supreme leader after Khamenei, 84.

Barred from that race is former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate under whose term Iran struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Some said Iran’s economic woes were the reason they are staying away from the polls. Inflation is reportedly at around 50 percent, with unemployment around 20 percent for young Iranians.

“I will not vote,” said Hashem Amani, a 55-year-old fruit merchant in southern Tehran. “In 2021, I voted for Raisi to become president in hope that similar people in the government can work together and make a better life for me. What I got in return was rocketing prices for everything.”


Head of UN agency for Palestinians urges probe into staff killings

Head of UN agency for Palestinians urges probe into staff killings
Updated 4 sec ago
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Head of UN agency for Palestinians urges probe into staff killings

Head of UN agency for Palestinians urges probe into staff killings
  • Lazzarini stressed an investigation was necessary “to have accountability, in order not to set a new low standard in future conflict situations,” Lazzarini said

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees hit back at Israel Tuesday, calling for a Security Council probe into the “blatant disregard” for UN operations in Gaza after some 180 staffers were killed.
Philippe Lazzarini also revealed that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) had been able to partly offset a funding shortfall by raising $100 million from online donations since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out in October.
His comments came a day after the release of an independent review that said Israel had not yet provided evidence supporting its claim that hundreds of UNRWA staff were members of terrorist groups. The review did, however, identify “neutrality-related issues” within the agency, for example in employees’ social media posts.
While accepting the findings of the review, Lazzarini told reporters that attacks on UNRWA’s neutrality “are primarily motivated by the objective to strip the Palestinians from the refugee status — and this is a reason why there are pushes today for UNRWA not to be present” in Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
UNRWA was established in 1949 to serve Palestinians who lost their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as their descendants. There are now 5.9 million registered Palestinian refugees.
Lazzarini said that he recently “called on the members of the Security Council for an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard of UN premises, UN staff, and UN operations in the Gaza Strip.”
As of Tuesday, 180 UNRWA staff have been killed in the war, 160 premises have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 400 people have been killed while seeking the protection of the UN flag, Lazzarini said.
Vacated UNRWA premises have been used for military purposes by the Israeli army or Hamas and other militant groups, while UNRWA staffers have been arrested and even tortured, he added.
Lazzarini stressed an investigation was necessary “to have accountability, in order not to set a new low standard in future conflict situations,” Lazzarini said.
Allegations by Israel in January that some UNRWA staff participated in the Hamas attacks led to many donors freezing some $450 million in funding at a time when Gaza’s 2.3 million people are in dire need of food, water, shelter and medicine.
Many countries have since resumed their donations, while others, including the United States — which passed a law blocking funding until at least March 2025 — have not.
“In terms of our funding of UNRWA, that is still suspended. We’re gonna have to see real progress here before that gets changed,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
Lazzarini said UNRWA was operating “hand to mouth for the time being” but said that online fundraising to the agency totaled $100 million since October 7, in “an extraordinary indication of grassroots solidarity.”
Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA with Hamas, the militant group responsible for the October 7 attack which resulted in the death of around 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
At least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory bombabardments and ground offensive, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses
Updated 23 April 2024
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Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

JERUSALEM: An Israeli battalion which US media say Washington is likely to sanction over alleged rights violations against Palestinians, has a long history of transgressions and impunity, according to analysts and Israeli media.

The military’s Netzah Yehuda unit was founded in 1999 to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to enlist but has since accepted other religious recruits including residents of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Netzah Yehuda was deployed until 2022.

The unit has mainly attracted marginalized ultra-Orthodox youths “who see the army as a means of integrating into Israeli society and earning a living,” said David Khalfa of Jean-Jaures Foundation, a French think tank.

But it has also drawn “rather radical religious nationalists having strong hostility toward Arabs,” he said. “Marked by a strong ideological and sociological leaning, the battalion has acquired a scandal-prone reputation.”

Marwa Maziad, a visiting lecturer of Israel studies at the US University of Maryland, told the Middle East Eye website that unlike most army units, Netzah Yehuda relies on volunteers.

She said: “The battalion attracts religious Zionists, who combine Jewish religious interpretations with nationalist militarism” and are closely associated with the extreme fringes of the Israeli settler movement.

The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, is home to 3 million Palestinians alongside some 490,000 Israelis living in settlements considered illegal under international law.

“A large part of the unit’s soldiers were born and raised in the West Bank,” Khalfa said, noting Netzah Yehuda was often tasked with policing and “counter-insurgency” operations in the Palestinian territory.

“A significant number of them — not all — committed abuses and the army hardly imposed any sanctions,” Khalfa said.

The January 2022 death of Palestinian American Omar Assad, 78, at the hands of Netzah Yehuda soldiers in the West Bank drew attention to the unit, with the US State Department later that year ordering embassy staff in Israel to investigate the case.

Handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded, Assad was left lying on the ground on his stomach for more than an hour in a freezing winter night.

Following Assad’s death, several Israeli media outlets published reports detailing incidents linked to the battalion that had gone largely unpunished, including beatings of Palestinians and attacks on Bedouin citizens of Israel.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper said Netzah Yehuda troops effectively allowed settlers to attack Palestinians, while Haaretz, a left-leaning daily, denounced the “clear ideological connection between the residents of the settlements and the unauthorized outposts and the soldiers” in the unit.

According to Khalfa, “within the army there are lively debates” over Netzah Yehuda, with some military officials considering it “dangerous for the army to bring together so many young people sharing the same nationalist ideology.”


Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit

Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit
Updated 23 April 2024
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Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit

Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit
  • Aircraft escorted by Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 fighter jets

AMMAN: The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah arrived in Amman on Tuesday for a two-day state visit to Jordan, the Kuwait News Agency reported.

The emir’s aircraft was escorted by Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 fighter jets as it entered Jordan’s airspace. Upon arrival at Marka Airport, he was warmly received by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah.

An official welcoming ceremony took place, according to a statement by the royal court. The day continued with Sheikh Mishal and King Abdullah engaging in formal discussions at Basman Palace which focused on strengthening long-standing bilateral relations and enhancing cooperation to meet the aspirations of their countries.

Sheikh Mishal congratulated King Abdullah on the 25th anniversary of his coronation and spoke of Jordan’s progress under his leadership. The session was attended by top officials from both countries.

Sheikh Mishal was awarded the Al-Hussein Necklace, the highest civilian medal in Jordan, by King Abdullah.

The meeting concluded with a banquet hosted by King Abdullah in honor of Sheikh Mishal and his delegation, which celebrated the deep ties between Kuwait and Jordan.
 


US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’

US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’
Updated 23 April 2024
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US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’

US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’
  • Facility will consist of an offshore platform for the transfer of aid from vessels, and a pier to bring it ashore

WASHINGTON: The United States will begin construction “very soon” on a pier to boost deliveries of desperately needed aid to Gaza, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Gaza — a small coastal territory — has been devastated by more than six months of Israeli bombardment and ground operations against Hamas militants, leaving the civilian population in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.
“All the necessary vessels are within the Mediterranean region and standing by,” Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder told journalists, referring to the watercraft carrying equipment for the pier project.
“We are positioned to begin construction very soon,” Ryder added.
The facility will consist of an offshore platform for the transfer of aid from larger to smaller vessels, and a pier to bring it ashore.
Plans were first announced by US President Joe Biden in early March as Israel held up deliveries of assistance by ground.
US officials have said the effort will not involve “boots on the ground” in Gaza, but American troops will come close to the beleaguered territory as they construct the pier, for which Israeli forces are to provide security on the ground.


Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm

Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm
Updated 23 April 2024
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Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm

Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm
  • DXB CEO Paul Griffiths says challenges remain, including baggage backlog
  • Regular flight schedules have resumed, with 1,400 flights operating each day

DUBAI: Regular flight schedules at Dubai International Airport had resumed by Monday following the storm early last week that caused the highest rainfall the UAE has experienced in 75 years, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said on Tuesday. About 1,400 flights are now operating each day.

“With roads in and around the airport 100 percent clear of water accumulation, our manpower, logistics and facilities are operating as usual again,” he added.

“To have the airport back up and running is no small feat. Also, 2,155 flights were canceled and 115 were diverted. We had to work closely with our airline partners and service providers to rework schedules, boost manpower and look after all those who had been disrupted.

“I’m continuously amazed by the unwavering dedication of our Dubai Airports employees, airline partners, government agencies, commercial partners and service partners. It has been the most challenging adverse weather event we’ve had to navigate, and our people and partners worked tirelessly to keep the operation running and to assist our guests.”

Griffiths said the welfare of passengers remained a central focus throughout the disruptions over the past week. After some initial difficulties in delivering supplies as a result of flooded roads around Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports, more than 75,000 food packs were successfully provided for passengers stranded at the two locations.

“While certain challenges remain, including processing the baggage backlog, we’re working closely with our service partners but know there’s still more work to be done and, once again, thank guests for their patience while we work through this,” said Griffiths.

“We’re deeply saddened by the ongoing impact of the heavy rainfall on affected communities and businesses across the UAE. We’re also supporting our own people who were badly affected by the weather and will continue to support wherever we can.”