Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:00:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Syrian Regime Survives on Russian Arms & UN Vetoeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 16:25:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149679 Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the devastating civil war in Syria entered its seventh year last week, President Bashar al-Assad has continued to survive— despite faltering efforts by the United States and the UN Security Council (UNSC) to rein him in, or impose sanctions on his beleaguered regime.

Assad, who did his post-graduate studies in the UK and was trained as an ophthalmologist in London, is not your average, run-of-the mill Middle East dictator.

Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch calls him an “Arab dictator 2.0” – technologically upgraded from the likes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, both of whom died in the hands of their captors.

“He is a different kind of blood thirsty dictator who shops online on his I-pad,” says Houry, describing Assad as more dress-conscious and technologically sophisticated in an age of the social media.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “For six years now, the Syrian people have been victims of one of the worst conflicts of our time” – and under Assad’s presidency.

The death toll is estimated at nearly 400,000, according to the United Nations and civil society organizations monitoring the conflict.

And the Syrian President’s political survival has depended largely on three factors: Russian vetoes in the Security Council (aided occasionally by China) protecting his presidency; a wide array of Russian weapons at his command; and the sharp division among multiple rebel groups trying unsuccessfully to oust him from power.

Assad, however, is not unique in the protection he receives from a divided Security Council. Israel continues to be protected by the US and Morocco by France.

After losing Iraq and Libya — two of its former military allies who were heavily dependent on Russian weapons– Moscow has remained determined to prevent any Western-inspired regime change in Syria.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS: “Although the harsh U.S. criticism of Russia and China for the abuse of their veto powers is in itself quite reasonable, it should be noted that while Russia and China have now vetoed six resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Syria, the United States has vetoed no less than 43 resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Israel.”

Though the Russian and Chinese vetoes of these modest and quite reasonable resolutions on Syria have been shameful, Assad would probably still be in power regardless, he said.

“None of these resolutions allowed for foreign military intervention or anything that would have significantly altered the power balance. The opposition is too divided and, despite the regime’s savage repression, it still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given popular fears of a takeover by Salafist radicals if Assad was overthrown,” he noted.

Furthermore, even the Assad regime’s harshest Western critics have never appeared ready to dramatically escalate their support for Syrian rebels or their direct military intervention regardless of whether or not they had UN authorization to do so, said Zunes who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

In a statement last week, the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee [Democtat-California] pointed out that “President Trump recently deployed 400 troops to Syria and reports indicate that the Pentagon is planning to send 1,000 additional troops in the coming weeks, marking the latest front in this endless war.”

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is currently involved in a fifth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, described as “Geneva V”.

A coalition of civil society organizations, however, warned last week that Geneva IV failed to deliver tangible progress to improve the lives of our people. “Unless there are consequences for the continued killing of civilians, Geneva V will suffer the same fate.”

“As this new round of talks begins, we appeal to you to bring leverage to the table – otherwise your presence does nothing to increase the chances of success. We know what we want for our future and how we should get there. We need what we can’t deliver and what has always been missing: pressure on and leverage over the regime and its allies to enforce Security Council resolutions, which are clear and explicit.”

In a guest editorial in the current issue of the magazine published by the UN Association of UK, Lakhdar Brahimi, who served as UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria from 2012 until 2014, said: “Yes, the UN failed to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but a deeper understanding is needed of why the UN fails when it fails, and why the UN succeeds when it succeeds.

Asked about the continued vibrant military relationship between Syria and Russia, Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the Syrian conflict is seemingly intractable.

Bashar al-Assad has remained in power, despite a conflict that has persisted since 2011. She said Russian support, including arms transfers, has helped President Assad stay in power.

“The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has documented small quantities of weapons transfers to Syria from China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as possible transfers from Belarus. But over the last 15 years, Russia has been by far the Assad regime’s dominant arms supplier.”

President Assad has remained in power, but at great cost, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues

Russia has remained the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, and badly in need of refurbishing or replacements. As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

Goldring said Syria is yet another example of the costs of proxy warfare. Continued arms transfers fuel the conflict, and the Trump Administration’s plans for US forces in Syria magnify this risk. She said the pattern of the conflict suggests that a military solution is unlikely.

When one group has been able to attain an advantage, it has been temporary, as another group has responded. “Rather than perpetuating the conflict through weapons transfers, the suppliers should stop supplying weapons and ammunition to ongoing conflicts, including in Syria,” said Goldring.

Singling out the role of the United Nations in resolving international crises over the years, Zunes told IPS “the Syrian dictator is not the only autocratic Arab dictator to have received support from a divided Security Council.”

He pointed out that Moroccan King Hassan II and his successor Mohammed VI’s ongoing occupation of Western Sahara, and refusal to go ahead with the promised referendum on the fate of the territory, has put Morocco in violation of a series of Security Council resolutions.

But France—and, depending on the administration, the United States as well—has prevented the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions through Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

As with Indonesia’s 24-year occupation East Timor, he pointed out, Morocco’s permanent member backers have never had to formally exercise their veto power as has Syria’s allies, but the threat of a veto has prevented the United Nations from carrying through with its responsibilities to uphold the right of Western Sahara, as a legally-recognized non-self-governing territory, to self-determination.

Today, more than four decades after the UNSC initially called on Morocco to pull out and allow for self-determination, the occupation and repression continues, he noted.

“If anything, the case for UN action in Western Sahara is legally more compelling. While the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Syria is far worse, it is primarily an internal conflict taking place within that country’s sovereign internationally-recognized borders, while Western Sahara—as an international dispute involving a foreign military occupation–is clearly a UN responsibility,” Zunes declared.

“Though the Russian and Chinese vetoes of these modest and quite reasonable resolutions on Syria have been shameful, Assad would probably still be in power regardless.”

“None of these resolutions allowed for foreign military intervention or anything that would have significantly altered the power balance.”

He said the opposition is too divided and, despite the regime’s savage repression, it still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given popular fears of a takeover by Salafist radicals if Assad was overthrown.

Furthermore, even the Assad regime’s harshest Western critics have never appeared ready to dramatically escalate their support for Syrian rebels or their direct military intervention regardless of whether or not they had UN authorization to do so, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Food Security in the Middle East Sharply Deterioratedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/food-security-in-the-middle-east-sharply-deteriorated/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-security-in-the-middle-east-sharply-deteriorated http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/food-security-in-the-middle-east-sharply-deteriorated/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:41:26 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149663 An Egyptian farmer feeding cows fresh fodder. Credit: FAO

An Egyptian farmer feeding cows fresh fodder. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME/CAIRO, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

Food security and nutrition levels in the Near East and North Africa have sharply deteriorated over the last five years, undermining the steady improvement achieved before 2010 when the prevalence of undernourishment, stunting, anaemia and poverty were decreasing, a new UN report warns.

According to the FAO Regional Overview of Food Insecurity in the Near East and North Africa, issued on March 27, the deterioration is largely driven by the spreading and intensity of conflicts and protracted crises.

The assessment made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) shows that the prevalence of severe food insecurity in the adult population of the Near East and North Africa was close to 9.5 per cent in 2014-2015, representing approximately 30 million people.

“The region is facing unprecedented challenges to its food security due to multiple risks arising from conflicts, water scarcity and climate change,” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa. “War and conflicts are the worst enemies of food security, ” Graziano da Silva

Countries of the region need to implement long-term and comprehensive sustainable water management to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030, he added. “A peaceful and stable environment is an absolute pre-condition for farmers to respond to the challenges of water scarcity and climate change.”

“Wars, Conflicts, Worst Enemies of Food Security”

José Graziano da Silva, FAO director general, said in a recent visit to Lebanon, “We are reminded once again that war and conflicts are the worst enemies of food security.

“Our own reports and other have described, sometimes in rather horrible detail, the unrelenting process through which the conflicts in the region are destroying people’s lives and livelihoods, disrupting agriculture production, increasing food prices, stoking fears and insecurity and triggering large-scale displacement of people and alarming flows of refugees.”
Lebanon, a small country that has itself suffered the misfortunes of war and internal conflict, has courageously and generously hosted more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, da Silva added.

“To put that in perspective, that’s the third of the country’s population, the proportional equivalent of the European Union taking in more than 170 million people… The unprecedented influx of refugees has put extraordinary pressure on Lebanon’s economic and social infrastructure, its food security and its social cohesion.”

According to FAO, the Syria crisis in particular has deepened during the period 2015-2016, leaving more than half of the population in need of food assistance and 4.8 million refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries. The numbers of food insecure and the internally displaced are also rising in Iraq and Yemen.

The Water Factor

Beyond conflicts and crises, the report argues that water scarcity and climate change are the most fundamental challenges to ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030.

Workers cleaning up the main Al Jazeera irrigation canal as part of a project to resupply water for agricultural production in Iraq. Credit: FAO

Workers cleaning up the main Al Jazeera irrigation canal as part of a project to resupply water for agricultural production in Iraq. Credit: FAO

Water scarcity is the binding factor to agricultural production in the Near East and North Africa region and the driver of the region’s dependency on food imports.

Building on the evidence accumulated in the framework of FAO’s Regional Water Scarcity Initiative in the Near East and North Africa, the report shows that climate change is expected to affect food security in terms of availability, access, stability and utilisation. Most of the impacts of climate change will affect water availability.

The FAO Regional Overview underlines the urgency to develop and implement strategies for sustainable management of water resources and to adapt to the impact of climate change on water resources and agriculture.

It documents several positive experiences in sustainable management of water resources and climate change adaptation in the region and highlights the importance of accelerating investments aimed at improving water efficiency and water productivity as well as the need for a shift in cropping patterns towards less water-consuming crops.

The report explores other major options for the adaptation to climate change impacts on water and agriculture, including the need for designing and implementing social protection measures for building resilience of farmers to extreme events, cutting food losses and improving trade policies.

The report stresses the importance of building a strong evidence base for assessing the impact of climate change on food security and for the formulation of sound and flexible water adaptation measures and agricultural policies.

It calls for strengthened regional collaboration to face the massive challenge of water scarcity and climate change, building on the strong political will expressed by the leaders of the region and building on the positive experiences in many countries.

Ould Ahmed noted that, “sustainable agriculture and water management should include strategies and policies to improve irrigation efficiency, establish sustainable ground water management, promote incentives for farmers to shift to crops with higher economic returns per drop, cut food losses and waste, and enhance resilience of vulnerable population and farmers to climate-induced shocks.”

“Achieving food security is still at hand, provided we take concerted efforts and make the right moves now.”

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Women and Tribal Leaders Call for “Balanced” Libyan Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:42:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149611 "Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City." Credit: MAFO

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

A delegation of Libyan tribal leaders and women leaders has called on the UN to take a balanced approach to the Libyan peace process.

The delegation from the National Movement for Libya (NML) met with UN officials and U.S. government representatives while visiting New York and Washington D.C. to discuss the UN-led peace process in Libya.

“We don’t have a state, we don’t really have a government to control everything. The whole institution has collapsed after 2011,” said Libya Institute for Advanced Studies’ Head of the Mediation Department Ali Masoud to IPS.

“The only thing to help people find a solution and help peace-building is the tribal leaders or community leaders,” he continued.

Despite a UN-brokered peace deal known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in 2015, which established the internationally-backed unity government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, armed factions have continued to battle for control over the oil-rich nation.

Most recently, pro-unity government armed forces expanded their control in the capital of Tripoli, fighting rival militias including groups allied with former Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweli.

Ghweli was ousted from power when al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) took office and has refused to recognize the new administration, instead forming his own Government of National Salvation (GNS).

Khalifa Haftar, who leads troops for a third rival government in the Eastern region of the country, also opposes the UN-backed GNA but has focused on battling Islamist militias including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia and Islamic State (ISIS). His Libyan National Army (LNA) recently recaptured major oil ports from militias.

The NML was formed to address the country’s complex conflicts and engage in reconciliation efforts. However, community leaders have been left out of the peace process.

“[The UN] has carried on with the political track with politicians who are really not representative of the Libyan people,” Masoud told IPS.

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

“Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City.” Credit: MAFO

“They failed to start the tribal track which is really very important to engage tribes in Libya where they feel they own this political agreement and own the [dialogue] process,” he continued, adding that the dialogues stopped inviting tribal leaders as they were hosted outside of Libya.

Another NML representative Nour Elayoun Mohamed Abdul Ati Alobeidi highlighted the role that women have played in mediation, pointing to a case in the southern Libyan town of Ubari where Tuareg and Tebu tribes have clashed.

“In that war, men tried to mediate to stop the fire, but it was only when women decided to build a mobile tent in the middle of the shooting—only then the war stopped immediately because of those brave women who initiated this even though it was risky but they weren’t scared because they wanted the war to stop,” she told IPS.

Alobeidi said that tent was established to bring together the two sides to have a dialogue.

“This led both sides of women to understand that their pain is the same. And those women, the same women who were against each other, helped in bringing peace back to the Ubari area,” she continued.

Masoud and Alobeidi called on the inclusion of community leaders to create a National Charter that represents and ensures the rights of all Libyans.

“There is no national charter, no constitution, no surveys to understand what Libyan people demand, what they would like exactly, and what kind of a system they hope to have after this era of dictatorship,” Masoud told IPS.

They believe that creating a National Charter is essential before holding elections in order to help unite Libyans.

They also called on the international community to support inclusive tribal and political tracks that focus on building institutions rather than on one person or politician.

“All these tracks should feed each other, and when a national agreement is reached, then we will shrink the power of these politicians–they will have no space for violence, only the vision of Libyans that they should rely on,” Masoud told IPS.

The NML consists of tribal groups that both supported and opposed Gaddafi during the 2011 revolution. The delegation of tribal and women leaders was sponsored by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies, with the support of Finn Church Aid.

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Argentina and UAE Agree to Strengthen Economic Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/#comments Fri, 17 Mar 2017 23:01:25 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149473 Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade.

This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the latter’s official visit to Buenos Aires.

The two ministers held a working meeting at the San Martin Palace, the headquarters of Argentina’s foreign ministry, then gave a brief press conference before having lunch with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

“This week started and ended for us with the United Arab Emirates, which shows the importance that both countries put on this relationship and the shared interest in reinforcing our friendship,” Malcorra said.

She was referring to the visit to Argentina early this week by a high-level delegation from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, headed by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, that came to learn about the present economic situation and business climate in the country.

The delegation was received in the Casa Rosada, the seat of the central government, by President Mauricio Macri. The members of the delegation also met with Malcorra, Michetti, the president of the Central Bank, Federico Sturzenegger, and the ministers of the treasury, finance and energy and mines.

In addition, they held meetings with business representatives from different sectors of the economy: oil, steel, agriculture, food, real estate, energy and finance, among others.

A broad UAE delegation headed by UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammed Sharaf also visited Argentina this week.

Malcorra wore black at Friday’s meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Mar. 17, 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 22 dead and dozens injured.

During the news briefing, Minister Al Nayhan expressed his solidarity referring to the incident and said he hoped nations “will work more effectively to put a stop to terrorism.”

He had a message of political support for President Macri, congratulating the government on its determination “to take the very brave steps it has been taking to ensure that Argentina becomes the country it deserves to be, generating openness, not only for tourists but also for investors and for its different partners and allies.”

Since Macri, of the centre-right Cambiemos alliance, took office in December 2015, one of his priorities has been to generate the conditions for drawing foreign investors to Argentina and improving the country’s access to global credit markets.

The measures he has taken to that end include an agreement to pay 4.65 billion dollars to holdout hedge funds, creditors that have been in conflict with Argentina since the late 2001 default declared in the midst of the severe economic crisis that led to the resignation of then president Fernando de la Rúa.

This is the second time that the UAE foreign minister has visited Buenos Aires since Macri became president. The first visit was in early February 2016, when the main aim was to meet the new authorities here.

In November 2016, an Argentine delegation headed by Vice President Michetti visited the UAE and held several meetings, with the aim of “attracting investment and generating jobs for our countries,” as the vice president stated at the time.

In the trade balance between the two countries Argentina – which mainly sells food to the Gulf nation – has a surplus of 133.6 million dollars.

“Although it is true that trade between our countries has not yet reached the levels that we would like, our presence will help it grow and will bring about a greater presence of the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Argentina. We have also been exploring opportunities to reach cooperation accords involving third parties, and we are optimistic,” said the Emirati foreign minister.

For her part, Malcorra referred to the sectors in which Argentina could receive investment from the UAE.

She especially mentioned “tourism, not only to draw a significant number of visitors from the Emirates, but also as an opportunity for investment in the hotel industry,” and “health, since the Emirates has become a model health centre, which draws people from the entire region; we are looking at the possibility of exchange and complementarity in this area.”

The Argentine minister also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed regarding visas, “to facilitate the exchange between the two countries.”

During the visit, Malcorra gave Minister Al Nahyan a letter from Macri in which the president promised that Argentina would take part in the Expo 2020, the world fair to be held in Dubai between October 2020 and April 2021, which is expected to be visited by 25 million people, 70 percent of them from abroad.

The Emirati minister came to Argentina from Brazil, the other leg of his current South America tour, where he signed three agreements on Thursday Mar. 16 with his Brazilian host and counterpart, Aloysio Nunes. Al Nahyan will return from Buenos Aires to Brazil, where he will inaugurate the UAE consulate-general in São Paulo on Tuesday Mar. 21.

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Brazil and the UAE Determined to Explore New Bilateral Frontiershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 23:00:49 +0000 Doris Calderon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149459 The UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd-L), and his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes (3rd-R) sign agreements in Itamaraty Palace, Brazil’s foreign ministry. Credit: Doris Calderón/IPS

The UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd-L), and his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes (3rd-R) sign agreements in Itamaraty Palace, Brazil’s foreign ministry. Credit: Doris Calderón/IPS

By Doris Calderon
BRASILIA, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, made his fifth visit to Brazil Thursday, Mar. 16, in search of new opportunities to exploit the enormous potential in relations between the two countries.

In statements to reporters in the Itamaraty Palace, the headquarters of Brazil’s foreign ministry, after a working meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes, Al Nayhan said he was “very pleased about the strengthening of ties of friendship between the two countries seen year by year.”

“There are great opportunities between the UAE and Brazil, not only in the economy and trade, but also in other sectors, like tourism. We are particularly interested in increasing the presence of Brazilian nationals in our country,” he added.

He said he was pleased that 60,000 Brazilians a year visit the UAE, making the Persian Gulf country the third destination for tourists from Latin America’s giant. “Brazil is opening up and finding new horizons in other parts of the world,” he said.

Al Nahyan, who has been foreign minister since 2006, commented that the Middle East currently finds itself in a complex moment, making it necessary to jointly take on challenges like fighting violence and terrorism.

Brazil’s foreign minister said they discussed a wide variety of questions on the regional and global agenda, as well as bilateral issues.

Nunes stressed that the latest visit by Al Nahyan, who also came to Brazil in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, “shows the high priority that the two countries put on bilateral relations and cooperation.”

The Brazilian official was referring to the mutual interest of the private sector in the two countries in long-term projects in strategic areas like infrastructure, industry and services, and to investment in Brazil by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, worth nearly one trillion dollars.

The two ministers signed three bilateral accords during the meeting. Two of them were visa waiver agreements, and another involved the strengthening of air travel services between the two countries.

The UAE is home to the largest community of Brazilians in the Gulf: 4,500.

Al Nahyan’s agenda also included meetings with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Senate head Eunicio Oliveira, and the ministers of defence, Raul Jungmann, and industry, trade and services, Marcos Pereira.

The Emirati minister will visit Argentina on Friday Mar. 17, before returning to Brazil on Mar. 21, to participate in the inauguration of the new UAE consulate-general in São Paulo.

Relations between the two countries were formally established in 1974. The Brazilian Embassy in Abu Dhabi opened in 1978, and in 1991 the UAE opened its first embassy in Latin America, in Brasilia.

Ties grew stronger in recent years thanks to the number of visits by high-level Brazilian officials to the UAE: 31 ministers and 14 state governors since 2007, it was noted on Thursday.

The new emphasis on bilateral ties began in December 2003, with the visit to the UAE by then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), at the head of a broad delegation of government officials and business leaders.

Ten years later, in 2013, then vice president Temer made an official visit to the Emirati cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Since 2008, the UAE haaçs become Brazil’s second-largest trading partner in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of bilateral trade.

The UAE is currently one of the biggest Middle Eastern importers of Brazilian goods, such as chicken, refined sugar, aluminum oxides and hydroxides, and cast-iron pipes.

Brazil imports from the UAE products like sulphur and electrical control panels and distribution boards.

More than 30 Brazilian companies have offices in the UAE, a business hub which re-exports products to third countries and large markets, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Bilateral trade soared from 300 million dollars in 2000 to three billion dollars in 2015.

In 2014, the two nations reached a defence accord that included the exchange of technology, cooperation in military instruction and training, weapons, crisis management, and logistical support in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

It was the first treaty of its kind signed by Brazil with a Middle Eastern country.

A new phase has now been launched in the promotion of trade and the exchange of people to make Brazil the UAE’s main ally in Latin America.

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UN FARMS to Create One Million Days of Work for Mideast Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 17:18:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149437 Fedah sayah Irshaid (42 years old) tends to some of her grape vines with the help of her husband and daughter. Fedah is a recipient of a Revolving loan for her plant nursery and rabbit raising business. She received the loan from the Al Khaldiyah Cooperative for Military Retired. Copyright: ©IFAD/Ivor Prickett/Panos

Fedah sayah Irshaid (42 years old) tends to some of her grape vines with the help of her husband and daughter. Fedah is a recipient of a Revolving loan for her plant nursery and rabbit raising business. She received the loan from the Al Khaldiyah Cooperative for Military Retired. Copyright: ©IFAD/Ivor Prickett/Panos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

The problem is rather complex and often not recognised: in one of the major regions of both origin and destination for migrants and refugees — the Near East and North of Africa, 10 per cent of rural communities is made up of forcibly displaced persons, while more than 25 per cent of the young rural people plan to emigrate.

This has a strong rural dimension, with large numbers of displaced people originating in rural areas, and now living in rural host communities within or outside their home countries.

In recent years, forced displacement has become a global problem of unprecedented scale, driven by conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations.

While the total number of displaced people reached an all-time high of more 65 million people, global attention has focused on the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, where continued conflict and violence most acutely affect Iraq, Syria, Yemen and neighbouring countries.

The total impacted population in the region is estimated at around 22 million people, a fact that generates additional pressure on both the host areas and the sending areas.

The UN, through its Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), designed an innovative response to the on-going crisis: FARMS (Facility for Refugees, Migrants, Forced Displacement and Rural Stability), which was announced at the UN World Summit on Migration held in September last year at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Internally Displaced, Migrants, Refugees

IPS asked Khalida Bouzar, Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division, who is in charge of FARMS at IFAD, if the Facility is meant for displaced rural persons within each country or if it also includes migrants and forcibly displaced persons fleeing conflicts and/or natural and man-made disasters?

Bouzar explains that in terms of displaced people, FARMS will cover both international refugees (people displaced across borders) and internally displaced people (forced to flee from their homes due to conflict or other extraneous factors but remaining within their country), she adds.

Khalida Bouzar greeting Sudan's Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Badr Al Din Mahmoud Abbas.  Credit: IFAD

Khalida Bouzar greeting Sudan’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Badr Al Din Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: IFAD

FARMS will also address the needs of host communities (the local population) to reduce the stress on natural resources and economic opportunities. In origin communities, it will create opportunities for the entire community.

Specifically, Bouzar said that in host areas, the local communities will be supported in coping with the influx of displaced people by making their agriculture more productive and sustainable. The displaced, in turn, will be better able to contribute to their host communities, and better prepared to return home when the situation improves.

Regarding the “sending areas”, economic opportunities will be created so that people who have left have something to return to, and those who remain have a chance to build their livelihoods. “With FARMS, we seek to deliver long-term peace and development dividends. It is paramount to create a healthy climate for economic opportunities, and enable displaced people to return to their communities,” says Bouzar.

So far, about USD 20 million has been identified for the facility, with the goal of reaching USD 100 million.

FARMS resources will be provided in the form of co-financing support for the on-going IFAD portfolio of about USD 1.2 billion in the NENA region as well as stand-alone grants or activities and communication products to raise global awareness of the issues.

According to Bouzar, FARMS will strengthen the resilience of rural host areas to the impacts of large inflows of refugees, and will also create resilient livelihoods in the origin areas to break the cycle of migration and incentivise the eventual return of migrants.

One Million Days of Work

FARMS will create one million days of work, including at least 20,000 opportunities for youth. “This will be achieved over the life of the projects, and therefore over the next 5 to 6 years,” says Bouzar.

Other objectives are to implement at least 500 community infrastructure projects, and to increase social resilience by strengthening community and local government capacity to manage their development, resolve conflicts, and address the needs of refugees.

FARMS also aims at improving governance and management of natural resources, particularly land and water, as well as to improve the policy and regulatory frameworks to address the needs of rural host and sending communities.

Regarding the main causes of displacement, the IFAD’s Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division explains that these could be conflict, natural disasters, or climate-change related vulnerabilities and pressures. Often the cause is a combination of different factors.

Ten Priority Countries

Bouzar informs that the initial priority countries include: Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen.

In the first phase, the facility will focus on the NENA region where the current crisis is most acute, with the possibility of scaling up globally in the future. In fact, says Bouzar, after the initial pilot of projects in the NENA region, FARMS could be scaled up to potentially include displacement in other regions.

Asked about the countries, which have been supportive of FARMS and about the amount of financial resources allocated to this project, Bouzar says the IFAD has received support from a wide range of IFAD members.

“Countries in the region have stepped up as crucial early partners, too. The Government of Jordan is collaborating with IFAD, and more partnerships are being designed with Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan.”

Why IFAD? According to Bouzar, the Fund is well positioned to be a key partner in bridging the gap between humanitarian and sustainable development responses in rural areas, and is already actively engaged in many of the most affected regions.

In fact, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda recognised IFAD’s comparative advantage as a major investor in poor rural people and affirmed that rural development could achieve “rich payoffs across the SDGs,” she adds.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since its creation in 1978, it has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.

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Suffering of Children in War-Torn Syria ‘Hits Rock Bottom’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/suffering-of-children-in-war-torn-syria-hits-rock-bottom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suffering-of-children-in-war-torn-syria-hits-rock-bottom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/suffering-of-children-in-war-torn-syria-hits-rock-bottom/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 19:26:44 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149397 Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 13 2017 (IPS)

The suffering of children in war-torn Syria “hit rock bottom” in 2016 with the highest number of grave violations against them since verification began in 2014, underscored the United Nations children’s agency.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least 652 children were killed last year – a 20 per cent increase ccompared to 2015 – 255 among them were killed in or near a school.

Maiming and recruitment of children also rose sharply as violence across the country saw a drastic escalation, UNICEF on March 13 said UNICEF in a grim assessment of the conflict’s impact on children, as the war reaches six years.

Verified instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country.

• At least 652 children were killed – a 20 per cencent increase from 2015 – making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children sinnce the formal verification of child casualties began in 2014.

• 2555 children were killed in or near a school.

• More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the number recruited in 2015. Children are being used and recruited to fight directly on the frontlines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards.

• There were at leaast 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel .

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down,” said the UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere, announcing the study Hitting Rock Bottom – How 2016 became the worst year for Syria’s children.

“Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future,” he added.

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF


The UN agency also highlighted that challenges accessing several parts of the country obstructed a full assessment of children’s suffering and delivering urgently needed humanitarian assistance.

The most vulnerable among Syria’s children are the 2.8 million in hard-to-reach areas, including 280,000 children living under siege, almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid.

“Beyond the bombs, bullets and explosions, children are dying in silence often from diseases that can otherwise be easily prevented. Access to medical care, lifesaving supplies and other basic services remains difficult,” read the release.

UNICEF also warned that coping mechanisms are eroding both within Syria and across its borders – families are taking extreme measures just to survive, oftten pushing children into early marriage and child labour.

After six years of war, nearly six million children now depend on humanitarian assistance, a twelve-fold increase from 2012. Millions of children have been displaced, some up to seven times.

According to estimates, over 2.3 million children are now living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

However, there are some “remarkable stories” of children determined to pursue their hopes and aspirations, added the UN agency.

“We continue to witness the courage of Syria’s children,” said Cappelaere. “Many have crossed frontlines just to sit for school exams. They insist on learning, including in underground schools. There is so much more we can and should do to turn the tide for Syria’s children.”

“Beyond the bombs, bullets and explosions, children are dying in silence often from diseases that can otherwise be easily prevented. Access to medical care, lifesaving supplies and other basic services remains difficult.”

UNICEF also warned that coping mechanisms are eroding both within Syria and across its borders – families are taking extreme measures just to survive, oftten pushing children into early marriage and child labour.

After six years of war, nearly six million children now depend on humanitarian assistance, a twelve-fold increase from 2012. Millions of children have been displaced, some up to seven times.

According to estimates, over 2.3 million children are now living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

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New Evidence Confirms Risk That Mideast May Become Uninhabitablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 16:42:43 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149392 The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 13 2017 (IPS)

New evidence is deepening scientific fears, advanced few years ago, that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years.

This sharp water scarcity simply not only affects the already precarious provision of drinking water for most of the region’s 22 countries, home to nearly 400 million inhabitants, but also the availability of water for agriculture and food production for a fast growing population.“Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response" – Graziano da Silva.

The new facts are stark: per capita availability of fresh water in the region is now 10 times less than the world average. Moreover, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields a further 27 per cent to 55 per cent less by the end of this century.

Add to this that the region’s fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations leading agency in the field of food and agriculture.

Moreover, 90 per cent of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45 per cent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, adds the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Meanwhile, agriculture in the region uses around 85 per cent of the total available freshwater, it reports, adding that over 60 per cent of water resources in the region flows from outside national and regional boundaries.

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

This alarming situation has prompted FAO’s director general to call for urgent action. On his recent visit to Cairo, Jose Graziano da Silva said that access to water is a “fundamental need for food security, human health and agriculture”, and its looming scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an “urgent and massive response”.

Meantime, the rising sea level in the Nile Delta –which hosts the most fertile lands in Egypt– is exposing the region’s most inhabited country (almost 100 million people) to the danger of losing substantial parts of the most productive agriculture land due to salinisation.

“Competition between water-usage sectors will only intensify in the future between agriculture, energy, industrial production and household needs,” on March 9 warned Graziano da Silva.

FAO’s chief attended in Cairo a high-level meeting on the Rome-based organisation’s collaboration with Egypt on the “1.5 million feddan initiative” {1 feddan is equivalent to 0.42 hectares, or 1.038 acres}, the Egyptian government’s plan to reclaim eventually up to two million hectares of desert land for agricultural and other uses.

What to Do?

Egypt’s future agenda is particularly tough as the country “needs to look seriously into the choice of crops and the patterns of consumption,” Graziano da Silva also warned, pointing to potential water waste in cultivating wheat in the country.

“Urgent actions supporting it include measures aimed at reducing food loss and waste and bolstering the resilience of smallholders and family farmers, that require implementing a mix of social protection interventions, investments and technology transfers.”

Specialty crops such as fruit and vegetables, here on sale at a Cairo market, have a key role in Egypt's future. Credit: FAO

Specialty crops such as fruit and vegetables, here on sale at a Cairo market, have a key role in Egypt’s future. Credit: FAO

The UN specialised agency leads a Near East and North Africa Water Scarcity Initiative that provides both policy advice and best practice ideas on the governance of irrigation schemes. The Initiative is now backed by a network of more than 30 national and international organisations.

The Big Risk

Several scientific studies about ongoing climate change impact on the Middle East region, particularly in the Gulf area, had already sounded loud warning drums.

“Within this century, parts of the Persian Gulf region could be hit with unprecedented events of deadly heat as a result of climate change, according to a study of high-resolution climate models,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research said.

The research–titled “Persian Gulf could experience deadly heat”, reveals details of a business-as-usual scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, but also shows that curbing emissions could forestall these “deadly temperature extremes.”

The study, which was published in detail ahead of the Paris climate summit in the journal Nature Climate Change, was conducted by Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University.

The authors conclude that conditions in the Persian Gulf region, including its shallow water and intense sun, make it “a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.”

Running high-resolution versions of standard climate models, Eltahir and Pal found that many major cities in the region could exceed a tipping point for human survival, even in shaded and well-ventilated spaces. Eltahir says this threshold “has, as far as we know … never been reported for any location on Earth.”

For its part, the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change latest assessment warns that the climate is predicted to become even hotter and drier in most of the Middle East and North of Africa region.

Higher temperatures and reduced precipitation will increase the occurrence of droughts, an effect that is already materializing in the Maghreb,” said the World Bank while citing the IPCC assessment.

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:17:59 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148944 Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

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The World Faces a ‘Terrible Lack of Trust’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:51:32 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149045 Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By IPS World Desk
DUBAI/ROME, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

The world faces a “terrible lack of trust,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said addressing the World Government Summit in the Emirati city of Dubai, and called for reconciliation between people, their governments and global multilateral institutions.

The UN chief’s speech has been one of the most strait full bold statements made in this 5th annual World Government Summit 2017 (WGS), which brought together some 4,000 world leaders and experts at the fifth annual conference in the Middle East (12-14 February).

Improving governance, and improving confidence between governments and people, is essential and it is a condition to improve the confidence in the relations between countries, Gutterres said while describing the progress globalisation has brought to parts of the world, but also “the rust belts” where people feel left behind by their governments.

“If one looks at today’s governance problems at the country level, between countries or at multilateral governance in the world, we face a terrible lack of trust… As a result, in a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves.”

Guterres stressed the need for global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role”, and called for a surge of diplomacy for peace with “honest brokers” who can address the root causes of conflict and an international community that is organised to respond.

The UN chief also singled out the Security Council, which he said no longer corresponds to the logic of today’s world in relation to what the world was after the Second World War when the UN and its main body for maintaining peace and security were created.

Speaking at the opening of the World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he said, adding, “We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us.“

The UAE prime minister underlined that success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

Tolerance, a Fundamental Value

Against this backdrop, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, focused on her country’s policy of promoting tolerance and fighting extremism.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi


This year, more than ever, people from all over the world should continue their dialogue and together find ways to promote coexistence and acceptance – and counter the waves of division that are increasingly inciting hatred and extremism, she said.

“Extremism has no religion or nationality, and violent terrorist groups threaten the safety of all countries and people. Securing borders and strengthening immigration and refugee policies alone are not the answer.”

According to Sheikha Lubna, facilitating dialogue that builds understanding between cultures is important. But governments, too, have a critical role to play, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance stressed, reminding that in her country, for example, new policies and initiatives are promoting greater understanding among all people and bringing cultures together.

An ‘Incubator’ of Tolerance

“Recently, I had the honour to be entrusted with our newly-established National Programme for Tolerance as Minister tasked with strengthening the government’s role as an “incubator” of tolerance, promoting tolerance, coexistence and respect for others throughout the UAE.

The UAE’s philosophy of acceptance is deeply rooted in our history and heritage, she said. “We have always been a gateway to the world, a hub for trade, culture and industry.”

Sheikha Lubna also underlined the fact that the UAE is home to over 200 nationalities from almost every corner of the world, with 80 per cent of its population being expatriates.

“It fills me with pride to see people of many faiths and backgrounds coexisting peacefully,” she said. “That’s part of our history.”

The UAE’s minister of State for Tolerance added “Earlier this month, I accompanied nearly 30 Christian leaders, including American Evangelicals, Catholics and Arab Christians, on a visit to a key part of the UAE’s heritage, a 7th Century monastery west of our capital, Abu Dhabi.”

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founder and first president, was an advocate of peace among all cultures, a strong believer that hatred and terrorism have no place within humanity, Sheikh Lubna reminded.

Then she underlined the fact that today, the UAE is part of an international coalition combatting extremism, on and off the battlefield. “We and our partners have developed initiatives to counter extremist rhetoric, understand the root cause of dangerous ideology and provide hope and opportunity for those seeking a more peaceful path.”

Freedom for All to Practice Religious Worship

The UAE minister recalled that her country’s Constitution guarantees freedom for all to practice religious worship of their choosing. “The UAE’s anti-discriminatory law enacted in 2015 forbids discrimination against anyone because of nationality, race, class, culture, gender or religion.”

The WGS brings together prominent leaders from the public and private sectors, as well as international thought leaders and pioneers. They engage in inspirational, thought-provoking, and future-focused dialogues that aim to shape the future of governments and help improve the lives of citizens worldwide.

This year’s edition of the Summit gathered high representative from over 130 countries, with more than 100 key speakers and around 4,000 participants.

The Summit’s key themes included: Innovation of Government; the Future of Government; Government Services, and Smart Government.

The World Government Summit Organization regularly produces series of specialized studies and reports published for the first time in the region, seeking to be a platform for regional exchange of knowledge and expertise in the field of shaping the future governments.

Some key reports have dealt with the Future of Money; Best Government Emerging Technologies; Pro-Active Government and the Future of Cities.

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Dubai Ruler Warns Against Economic Isolation at Summit Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:50:36 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148932 By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Speaking at the opening of the two-day World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he told a gathering of nearly 4,000 global leaders and experts from 139 countries at the 5th annual World Government Summit.

“We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us. The GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) achievements over the past four years are equal to achievements made by the GCC over the past 40 years, he added.

He said success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

“The GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, will have a major role and positive impact on the Arab level,” he added.

Referring to the rise of terrorism worldwide, he said: “We have those who kill others in the name of the Holy Quran, and they blow themselves up in the Arab, Europe and the US. But they have nothing to do with Islam, which is innocent and a religion of tolerance. Prior to Islam, tribes were fighting and invading each other. With the advent of Islam, a great civilisation was built, one that benefitted the entire world.”

Asked about the relationship with the United States and newly-elected President Donald Trump, Sheik Mohammad said: “Our relationship with the United States is a relationship between countries and governments, not with individuals. He went on to say that, “The UAE will continue to prioritize its interests to guide its foreign policy agenda.”

In his opening address, he also said the policy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is based on placing the interests of its people over any other considerations. The previous US administration committed a series of mistakes, such as the invasion of Iraq and supporting revolutions, he said.

“The UAE, like any other country, was subjected to plots, however this never prevented us from working hard and accomplishing achievements. I believe that there are conspiracies targeting countries, and this has existed for thousands of years. Each country works for their own interests, but this will not stop us,” Shaikh Mohammad added.

“Mankind creates civilisations, and the Arab people have the cultural fundamentals to rise again,” he added.

Among the keynote speakers on the opening day February 12 were the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who cautioned governments about the global ‘emotional turmoil’ saying, “If we want to go forward, we need a completely new system where the human-being is at the center, and societal advancement is the key.”

Speaking at a panel discussion, US economist and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, said the success of a government must be defined by its ability to facilitate the happiness and well-being of its citizens, and should replace old paradigms that focus overwhelmingly on economic performance.

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health & Social Interaction, was presented with the “2017 World’s Best Minister Award”.

The award was based on four parameters of excellence – innovation, leadership, impact, and reputation. She was honoured for her contributions towards the eradication of Ebola, reduction of child mortality rates and the prevention of malaria in Senegal.

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Dubai Global Centre of Green Economy in UAE’s Vision 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:01:03 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148870 By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

When former UN Secretary-General Ban K-moon was in Abu Dhabi for the World Future Energy Summit last year, he singled out the key role played by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in “safeguarding the future of our planet” by showcasing clean, sustainable energy — a centre piece of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

wgs_As one of the countries leading a major campaign for both renewable energy and solar energy, the UAE will be hosting the World Government Summit 2017, scheduled to take place in Dubai on February 12-14, under the theme “Shaping Future Governments”.

Described as a global platform dedicated to shaping the future of governments worldwide, the fifth annual Summit sets the agenda for the next generation of governments with a focus on how they can harness innovation and technology to solve universal challenges facing humanity.

The Summit takes place under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Ahead of the Summit, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has been selected as its Sustainable Energy Partner.

Selecting DEWA as a partner to the summit reflects the vision of Sheikh Al Maktoum, to develop government services based on innovation to make customers happier and contribute to achieving the UAE Vision 2021.

“The partnership with the World Government Summit supports DEWA’s strategy and efforts to develop its services, by encouraging creativity and innovation in developing its services, initiatives and programmes. The summit has become a key knowledge platform, presented from the UAE to the world to foresee and shape the future, which emphasises the prominent position and effective role of the UAE to promote sustainable development to the world,” said Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA, during a press conference to announce the Summit’s partners.

“We are pleased to share our experiences and expertise in shaping the future of energy and in developing Disruptive Technologies and long-term plans to cope with the fourth industrial revolution. This supports our efforts to achieve the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who sees that the future holds opportunities, challenges, and knowledge, and that defining these opportunities and challenges as soon as possible is the most important way of dealing with them,” said Al Tayer.

“At DEWA, we realise that the early recognition of future opportunities and challenges and analysing them, while developing long-term proactive plans, are key enablers to ensure the success of the governments of the future, to enhance government services and achieve happiness of individuals and society as a whole”.

“We are working to achieve the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, to increase the share of clean energy to 75% by 2050 and transform Dubai into a global centre for clean energy and green economy”.

“We will also work to achieve the Demand Side Management Strategy to reduce consumption by 30% by 2030. At the World Government Summit 2017, we will highlight a number of key initiatives and programmes we are implementing to help provide world-class long-and-medium-term sustainable electricity and water services,” he added.

He also said: “We will announce a number of initiatives and mega projects that we are implementing to improve our electricity and water generation efficiency. We recorded a continuous and sustainable improvement in our electricity and water projects, and we have achieved an efficiency of 90% in fuel utilisation in our major power stations. Our projects will have positive environmental and economic outcomes and will contribute in reducing the carbon footprint and ensure the sustainability of our resources to achieve Dubai’s strategic goals. This in turn will achieve AED 60 billion in savings and reduce 201 million Tonnes of by 2030,” he noted.

“I would like to thank the World Government Summit and those involved in it, for their considerable efforts, and for providing us the opportunity to be part of the largest and most important event for shaping future governments,” concluded Al Tayer.

Participants from 150 countries are expected to attend the Summit, including government leaders, international experts and prominent speakers in key interactive sessions, bringing together leaders, decision makers, ministers, CEOs, thought leaders in government innovation, officials, and experts.

They will present their opinions, ideas, and views on the future of government services in 50 specialised sessions.

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Syrian Prison, a “Human Slaughterhouse” – Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 12:19:42 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148860 Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

At Saydnaya Military Prison, “the Syrian authorities have quietly and methodically organised the killing of thousands of people in their custody,” according to a new Amnesty International (AI) report.

The AI report says that “the murder, torture, enforced disappearance and extermination carried out at Saydnaya since 2011 have been perpetrated as part of an attack against the civilian population that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and carried out in furtherance of state policy.”

“We therefore conclude that the Syrian authorities’ violations at Saydnaya amount to crimes against humanity.” Amnesty International urgently called for an independent and impartial investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya.

Every week, often twice per week, between 20 and 50 people are taken from their cells to be hanged, in the middle of the night, says AI, adding that as many as 13,000 people have been killed in Saydnaya since 2011, in utmost secrecy, between September 2011 and December 2015.

According to this global movement of more than 7 million people campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all, many other people at Saydnaya have been killed after being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care.

“The bodies of those who are killed at Saydnaya are taken away by the truckload and buried in mass graves. It is inconceivable that these large-scale and systematic practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.”

Before they are condemned to death, adds AI, victims face what the Syrian authorities call a “trial” at the Military Field Court. “In reality, this is a one or two-minute procedure in an office, in front of a military officer, where effectively the detainee’s name is logged into a death registry.”

On the day of the execution, which prison guards refer to as “the party”, they collect those who will be executed from their cells in the afternoon, says AI. “The authorities inform the detainees they will be transferred to one of the civilian prisons, which many believe have much better conditions. They are instead brought to a cell in the basement of the building, where they are severely beaten.’

Amnesty International reported that a former prison guard described how detainees are severely beaten throughout the night before being driven to an “execution room”: “The execution room at Saydnaya was expanded after June 2012, so that more people could be executed at once. Nooses line the wall. On entry to the room, the victims are blindfolded, and do not know that they are about to be killed.”

AI reported that they are then asked to place their fingerprints on statements documenting their death. Finally they are taken, still blindfolded, to concrete platforms, and hanged.

“They do not know how or when the execution will be carried out until the nooses are placed around their necks. Detainees held in the building in the floors above the execution room reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.”

To this day, “detainees are still being transferred to Saydnaya, and ‘trials’ at the Military Field Court in al-Qaboun continue. There is therefore no reason to believe that executions have stopped,” according to Amnesty International.

Middle East, Scenario of Torture

Like other major human rights organisations, Amnesty International also denounced cases of torture in other Middle East and the so-called “Greater Middle East” countries.

In addition to abuses in the U.S. military base Bagram near Afghanistan capital Kabul, Amnesty International focused on “human rights violations for which the US-led Multinational Force is directly responsible and those which are being committed by Iraqi security.”

In its Mar. 6, 2006 report “Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq”, AI said: “since the invasion in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces without being charged.”

“Many cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in facilities controlled by the Iraqi authorities have been reported,” AI added. “Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi, US and UK authorities to take urgent, concrete steps to ensure that the fundamental human rights of all detainees in Iraq are respected.”

For his part, Human Rights Watch’ senior legal adviser Clive Baldwin on Jan. 27, 2017 wrote: “Last week, the United Kingdom Supreme Court delivered several key rulings about the application of human rights protections to British military detention overseas and accountability for alleged involvement of British forces in torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The rulings are mixed in terms of ensuring the rule of law and prevention of torture.”

A high number of cases of rights violations and torture have also been denounced by major international human rights organisations in other Middle East states, some of them considered close allies of Western countries.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Heads for 50 Years of UN Failurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:03:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148220 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

Come 2017, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longstanding unresolved political problems firmly entrenched on the UN agenda: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to the Six Day War in June 1967.

When Antonio Guterres takes over as the new UN Secretary-General on January 1, he will inherit a rash of ongoing political and military conflicts, including the six-year-old civil war in Syria, the devastating bombings in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq, the widespread political chaos in Libya, renewed violence in the Central African Republic, the continued atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan and the rise of global terrorism.

But one of the most elusive problems — crying out for a solution despite half a century of negotiations and unimplemented Security Council resolutions —will be the demand for a Palestinian homeland.

As Guterres told reporters December 12: “We need a surge in diplomacy for peace when we see this multiplication of new conflicts — and old conflicts that seem never to die”.

Perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to live forever—and has never shown signs of dying in 50 long years.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Contributing Editor at Middle East Report, told IPS: “As the UN commemorates the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, we need to recognize that the world body is in many respects but a shadow of the organization it was in 1947, when the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to partition Palestine, or even 1967 when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip commenced.”

What capacity it does retain to act effectively has, when it comes to Palestine, been deliberately and completely paralyzed by the United States, acting on Israel’s behalf, he declared.

Indeed, it has in this respect been somewhat ironic to watch (US Ambassador to the UN) Samantha Power and other US diplomats incessantly whine about Russia shielding the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council these past several years, said Rabbani, who is an Associate Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network.

“Will Palestinians be condemned to another half century of military occupation?”, he asked. “If they have to rely on the United Nations for salvation from Israel the answer would be “almost certainly”, but fortunately this is not the case.”

Asked specifically of the UN’s role, Rabbani said among recent Secretaries-Generals none have been more timid in their dealings with Israel and the US, and more solicitous of US and Israeli policy, including on the Question of Palestine, than outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“His tenure has been a disaster for Palestinian rights. Full stop. So the mere fact of his departure and replacement is welcome news”, said Rabbani.

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, told IPS it seems that the partition plan and two state solution has been destroyed by Israeli settlements.

The UN policy is out of step with this reality. The new Secretary-General will have to confront this position, viz the virtual impossibility of a two state solution.

What remains? What kind of Palestinian future is possible? These kinds of questions need to be asked, said Prashad, who has written extensively on Middle East Politics and is the author of “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution”.

Israel will refuse both one state and two state solutions. It wants to annihilate the Palestinian Question, he noted.

“The Palestinians are playing defense. What kind of positive strategy is possible for Palestine and will the new Secretary-General enable such a discussion? I hope so,” said Prashad, co-editor of the recently-released “Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World”.

Asked what his message would be, if and when he meets with US President-elect Donald Trump, Guterres, avoided a direct answer.

“Well, to restore confidence, I think the first thing that is important is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ignored in political relations around the world. And when people talk to each other, the truth is that many times there are different perceptions about each other.’

“And I believe it is with truth that I need to engage with all governments in the world and, of course, also with the next Government of the United States, showing a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges that we’ll be facing together,” Guterres declared.

Rabbani told IPS predicting about how a Trump administration will approach the Question of Palestine is a difficult task, primarily because Trump is an empty vessel with multiple – and therefore essentially no – views of his own.

“But as is generally the case with empty vessels, they tend to be filled by those with privileged access. And in this case the indications are not good.”

Regarding Guterres, Rabbani pointed out the new Secretary-General (SG) will be operating under the same constraints any other SG would encounter, but has the advantage that the UN is no longer as fully dominated by the US as it has been in recent decades.

It also seems reasonable to presume his ambitions exceed being an errand boy for Washington like his predecessor, Rabbani noted.

“I know little regarding his personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, though given the fact that he is a former European social democrat premier his views presumably fall within the European/EU mainstream. “

But the more important point is that this will be less about his personal views and more about the environment in which he operates and his willingness (or otherwise) to use his political clout.

“Will he want to expend political capital on Palestine when he may prefer to or feel he needs to spend it on other files such as Syria? This is difficult to divine.”

And it will depend not just on his priorities and preferences, but crucially upon how energetically this matter is promoted by member states and international public opinion.

“So I would see his tenure as an opportunity that I very much hope the Palestinians manage to utilise. But once again, I would advise to spend less time examining his personal views and preferences, and more on the environment in which he operates,” said Rabbani, a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said Guterres, whose appointment is arguably one of most challenging jobs on the planet, brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the role to guide the UN in the years to come.

“The new Secretary-General must face up to a world of numerous protracted conflicts, reprehensible breaches of the rules of war and a massive global displacement crisis,” she said.

But besides the ongoing political problems, he must also readily confront the extreme economic inequality crisis that is trapping people in poverty, undermining economic growth and threatening instability around the world.

Referring to the gender gap at the UN, Byanyima said: “Governments in seventy years have picked only men to lead the UN; the journey to find a woman, feminist Secretary-General goes on. We do however fully expect that the new Secretary-General will be a feminist Secretary-General who puts women’s rights and gender equality at the very core of the international agenda.

“And for the UN to be relevant, effective and accountable – in a world so different from the times when it was founded in 1945 – Mr. Guterres must spearhead essential reforms to the UN.”

She also congratulated Ban Ki-moon for his outstanding, dignified leadership.

“Among his achievements were ushering in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement: both will be remembered in history for charting a better

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Mideast: ‘Climate Change Will Make a Difficult Situation Much Worse’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 13:56:31 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147822 Men from the Koloma IDP camp in Goz Beida, Eastern Chad, build a shelter for a generator that the community has purchased in order to pump water through a water system built by Oxfam and handed over to the IDP committee in 2012. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

Men from the Koloma IDP camp in Goz Beida, Eastern Chad, build a shelter for a generator that the community has purchased in order to pump water through a water system built by Oxfam and handed over to the IDP committee in 2012. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

By IPS Correspondents
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

“Climate change will make a difficult situation much worse, and will affect millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa region,” World Bank MENA Vice-President Hafez Ghanem stated at the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco on 7-18 November.

Aware of their vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have begun taking action to confront the phenomenon and today, several highlighted their initiatives at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco, known as COP 22.

Agriculture in the MENA region is especially vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. As global temperatures rise, they will rise even faster in MENA, causing more frequent and severe droughts.

The 2015 drought in Morocco destroyed more than half the wheat harvest and led to a 1.5 per cent drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Output.

During a panel discussion on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Initiative on Climate Resilience at COP 22 on November 11, Saudi Arabia’s Chief Climate Negotiator, Khalid Abuleif, said that the region “is going to see a lot of challenges from an ecosystem point of view and from a socio-economic point of view.” The challenge is not only about reducing gas emissions but also about raising “our resilience.”

Abuleif stressed that as Saudi Arabia is diversifying its economy, any new sector will be put under regulations that will address sustainability and climate resilience.

He added that his country is focusing especially on water management, “making sure we are using water in a sustainable manner,” and on the protection of coastal zones.

Tunisia has announced a 41 per cent emission reduction by 2030. Most importantly, 13 per cent will be based on national efforts, while the rest will come from support provided by the international community.

Country Flags outside the UN COP22 venue in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: UNFCCC

Country Flags outside the UN COP22 venue in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: UNFCCC


A week after COP 22 concludes, Tunisia will host an international investment conference (29-30 November) to mobilize 2.4 billion dollars, 40 per cent of which will be allocated to projects pertaining to the ‘green economy,’ with a focus on renewable energy.

In Morocco, to meet the country’s commitments on climate action, the “Bank Al Maghrib” (Central Bank of Morocco) recently unveiled the road map of the Moroccan financial sector in climate financing.

The country has also taken steps to adapt its agriculture, with better water management and more climate-resistant crops, while also lowering its emissions by eliminating most energy subsidies and with the construction of the large solar plant in Ouarzazate, World Bank senior official Hafez Ghanem noted.

“This is the kind of comprehensive climate action we will support across the region, with a special focus on the poorest and most vulnerable,” he added.

The World Bank Group announced on November 15 a new plan to ramp up support for countries in the MENA region by nearly doubling the portion of Bank financing dedicated to climate action, taking it to around 1.5 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The plan focuses on four priorities: food and water security; sustainable cities adapted to new climate conditions; the transition to low-carbon energy; and the protection of the poorest that are most exposed to the impacts of climate change.

The Marrakech Conference follows the adoption by 196 UNFCCC States Parties last December, of the Paris Agreement, so-named after the French capital where it was approved, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Agreement entered into force in time for COP 22, which has been under way since 7 November. Before the meeting wraps up on18 November, parties hope to define the rules of implementation of the Paris Agreement and establish a viable plan to provide financial support to developing countries to support climate action.

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International Women’s Boat to Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-womens-boat-to-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 15:25:01 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147588 Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of Peace People, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. ]]> “I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,”  Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

“I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,” Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

By Mairead Maguire
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A few weeks ago, the US government agreed to give Israel $38 billion dollars, the largest military funding package the U.S. has given any nation.

This $38 billion in military and other type of Aid will be used to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza, and continue Israel’s military occupation, and imposition of an apartheid state, upon the Palestinian people.

This money will be used in the training fields of Israeli military, which are in Gaza, where military experiments are done, using US military weaponry, by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

The U.S. military and government is complicit in the crimes against the people of Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territory by the use of military hardware given by USA and by the training that Israelis give to Americans and USA gives to Israel. It is also estimated that some 70% of European humanitarian aid to Palestine ends up in Israeli pockets.

Gaza continues to suffer from the continuing Israeli blockade, naval and land, and this 25-mile-long tiny strip, 5 miles wide, with l.9 million people, living in it, is a brutal blockade and Israel controls everything including electricity, food, etc.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Indeed, everything that comes into Gaza comes through Israeli hands. Gaza’s only airport was completely destroyed in 2002 by Israeli jets and ground forces.

Egypt continues to be a part of this blockade as they have blocked Gaza’s southern border; and Egypt continues to receive USA military funding.

Medical authorities have reported that the time for operations in Gaza now goes up to 2025 as so many are awaiting health care, and the increasing issues around food, water, sewage, electricity, all of these mounting problems have led the U.N. to declare in their latest Report, that by the year 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable.

What hope is there for the Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are young people?

In order to give hope to the people of Gaza by showing solidarity and support the Women’s Boat to Gaza sailed in September 2016.

Also we sailed in order to challenge this illegal and immoral blockade and occupation of Palestine by Israel, and draw international attention to the fact that under Geneva Conventions it is illegal to punish civilians, which is what Israeli government policies continues to do.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza set sail from the Spanish Port city of Barcelona (Barcelona is twinned with Gaza) in mid- September 2016.

The three legs of the trip were 1715 miles from Barcelona to Ajaccio, Corsica, France and then down to Messina in Sicily, Italy. It was hoped to have two boats but when one developed engine trouble in Barcelona, the other 50’ sailing boat, Zaytouna-Oliva, continued alone.

At all Ports the women were greeted and hosted by mayors, officials, and supporters of the Free Palestine Movement. Over 40 women from around the world flew to Messina in hopes of being able to sail to Gaza.

I joined the boat in Messina, and was grateful to be chosen as one of the 13 women from thirteen countries, being finally chosen to sail to Gaza. It was sad for those of us sailing to leave behind so many wonderful women due to not enough boats to sail, but it is hoped the Palestinian Coalition will be able to get more sailings to accommodate those wishing to go on a future occasion.

The 13 chosen participants included Ann Wright, (boat leader) the captain and two crew, two Al Jazeera journalists, and women from USA, Ireland, Russia, UK, Spain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden/Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, and Algeria.

The third leg of the journey from Messina to Gaza was almost 1000 miles and a nine-day journey. On 29th September 2016, we set sail from Messina, Sicily, after a wonderful reception from the mayor, the Muslim community, and many Palestinian friends in Messina.

The first few days sailing the weather was rough and many of us were seasick, but several days into the journey we had got our sea-legs and busied ourselves helping with the tasks to be done such as cooking, reporting, night watches with the crew, etc.

We shared our stories and held nonviolence training. It was a wonderful experience getting to know the women whose courage was inspiring. Their love for the Palestinian people and their freedom was very deep.

Unfortunately, some 400 miles from Messina, with some 600 miles to go, we had problems with the boats rigging. An appeal to friends in Crete resulted in a boatful of people coming out to meet us, bringing many gifts of food, and four men to fix the rigging!

This was for me one of the most moving experiences of the journey, and it proved yet again, the magnificence of the human spirit.

Around 20 men and women answered our call for help and came to our aid, and all for the people of Gaza. After the men fixed our boat rigging, we passed greetings to our rescuers from Crete and sailed in a happy and hope filled mood towards Gaza.

On Wednesday 5th October, we were contacted by the Israeli navy by phone. A few hours earlier all communications via our own phones were cut off. The Israeli navy communicator told Captain Madeleine that we were nearing the 20-mile military Israeli security zone and were breaking Israeli law. They said if we did not turn back or agree to be escorted to Ashdod, they would confiscate our boat and take us to Israel.

However, we kept sailing towards Gaza. We saw several Navy military ships on the horizon. At 6 p.m., a Zodiac boat came alongside our boat.

There were 30 Israeli sailors including Israeli women sailors who were the first to come on board our boat. They were not in combat gear. They wore baseball caps, and long sleeved jerseys. In 2010, I had been on the Rachel Corrie Irish/Malaysian boat, which was part of the Freedom Flotilla and when we were boarded by Israeli sailors, they were in combat gear, with rifles, and sniffer dogs, and we were handcuffed and forcibly taken to Israel.

I was surprised when this different approach was used to confiscate our boat, the Zaytouna. In 2010, on the Mavi Marmara, the Israelis murdered nine people, and subsequently a 10th person died as 50 people were wounded. Therefore, the treatment of our women’s boat to Gaza participants was very different from what happened on previous ones where I had travelled.

On the Zaytouna, when the Israeli navy sailors confiscated our boat, took us under protest against our will to Israel, arrested, held us for several days without contact with our families, and deported us for ten years, it was all completely illegal under international law. However, it is sad to report that no governments or international bodies have taken up our case for being hijacked, and again the Israeli government has been allowed to break international laws.

All the women were deeply saddened as we knew many people in Gaza were preparing for our visit, and yet again Israel was denying our entry into Gaza. So as we watched the coastline of Gaza in complete darkness and then the coastline of Israel fully lit up against the night sky, we were again witnessing the injustice and unfairness of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. With this experience, many of us committed in our hearts to continue our support for the Palestinian people’s ongoing work to break the blockade and end the occupation.

We also saw just off the coast of Gaza two huge gas rigs fully lit up and whose gas is piped to Israel. Yet Gaza has only a few hours of light, as Israeli bombings have destroyed most of its electricity and sewage infrastructures.

When we reached Ashdod, Israel, after six hours sailing, we were processed by Israeli security and searched, taken to Prison and released two days later. All the women on board the Zaytouna, now have a ten-year deportation order. As this is my 4th time being given a 10-year deportation order, it will be 40 years before I can return to Israel or get into Palestine.

This thought reminds me that there are over 7 million Palestinian people who cannot return to their country, and this is why it is so important to campaign for the right to return for the Palestinian people.

I would like to thank the Freedom Flotilla Coalition who gave us the opportunity to participate on the journey to Gaza. Their work of joining in solidarity with the people of Gaza is so important and I thank them for all they do.

To the Palestinian people of Gaza, please keep your hopes high and believe that freedom and peace will come. Thank you for your perseverance and ongoing inspiration to us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 31 October 2016: TMS: International Women’s Boat to Gaza

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147293 An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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