Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar

UAE's Protocol Chief Shihab Al-Faheem greets with an elbow-bump US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C-R) alongside his wife Susan (R) in the presence of US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta (L) and his wife Terry, at al-Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 20, 2020. (AFP / POOL / Patrick Semansky)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar

  • The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government
  • The US earlier said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan

ABU DHABI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will Saturday meet negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government amid signs of progress in their talks as the United States speeds up its withdrawal.
The State Department said late Friday that Pompeo will meet separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pompeo will also see Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the foreign minister on his stop in the capital Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy, the State Department said on its public schedule.
The outgoing top US diplomat is on a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East as President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars,” including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a quick timetable.
The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government.
The talks started September 12 in Doha but almost immediately faltered over disagreements about the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appear to have resolved some of the issues, however.
Among the sticking points so far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to agree on common language on two main issues.
The Taliban are insisting on adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities.
Another contentious topic is how the US-Taliban deal will shape a future Afghan peace deal and how it will be referred to.
The Doha peace talks opened after the Taliban and Washington signed a deal in February, with the US agreeing to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban promise to start talks.
Despite the talks, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces.
Trump’s plan to slash troops by January 15 — less than a week before his successor Joe Biden is to be sworn in to office — has been criticized by Kabul residents who fear it will embolden the Taliban to unleash a new wave of fighting.
Afghan civilians have long borne the brunt of the bloodshed.
Officials in Kabul also worry it will harden the Taliban position at the negotiating table, where the future of hard-won gains including women’s rights are on the line.


Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 30 min 16 sec ago

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.

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