Opinion

It’s not that complicated, Mr. Biden!

It’s not that complicated, Mr. Biden!

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In response to a question from Al Arabiya at the White House on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said his administration was considering restoring the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.

That would be a positive step, and the sooner … the better. I say this because the current US president is known to be deeply reflective and thoughtful — sometimes, perhaps, too much so.

In our fast-moving world, with rogue nations and malign groups at large, the best answer may be the obvious one.

To many of us here in the Gulf, the argument could not be any simpler. Indeed, the US has already made the case itself. In their own statements condemning this week’s Houthi drone strike on Abu Dhabi, both the White House and the State Department described what happened in Abu Dhabi a few days ago as a terrorist attack. With all due respect to the highly experienced and no doubt extremely smart advisers to the Biden administration, but who — other than a terrorist or a terror group — might possibly commit an act of terrorism?

It is not even as if the Houthis claimed the Abu Dhabi attack was a mistake, and apologized; on the contrary, they bragged about it.

With all due respect to the highly experienced, extremely smart advisers to the Biden administration, but who — other than a terrorist or a terror group — commits an act of terrorism?

Faisal J. Abbas

If the Biden administration does indeed restore the Houthis to its terror list, the question remains: Why were they removed in the first place? In February 2021, 12 days before the Trump-era terror designation was fully revoked, Abha Airport in southwest Saudi Arabia — a civilian facility, just like Abu Dhabi’s — came under attack from Houthi drones and missiles.

Further terror attacks on the airport followed in July, August, October, November and December, causing injury and loss of life. Far from offering support to its ally and partner in the face of this barrage, the US actually withdrew Patriot missile defense batteries from the Kingdom. As has been pointed out here before, that is the equivalent of denying Israel access to Iron Dome technology while it was under attack from Hamas missiles launched from Gaza.

It is axiomatic that the foreign policies of any country, even a global superpower such as the US, are ultimately driven by self-interest — which makes the US neglect of its allies and partners all the more inexplicable. Rather than doing what’s best for America, the Biden administration is almost literally shooting itself in the foot.

The Houthi slogan is “Death to America,” and if nothing else at least they’re honest; they attacked the US Navy three times in 2016 under the Obama administration, and in November last year they stormed the US Embassy compound in Sanaa and held local staff hostage. And after this week’s Abu Dhabi attack, more than 50,000 Americans who live in the UAE are now a target.

Then there is oil, of which both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are major producers. The Biden administration is under pressure at home because of rising fuel prices at the pump. Do his advisers seriously believe that the global price of oil — currently at its highest in seven years — is entirely unconnected to the security threat posed by the Houthis, including attacks on Saudi energy infrastructure in 2019?

The simple, uncomplicated truth is that America needs its regional allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. The issues on which we disagree with the US — such as how to deal with Iran and its malign interference throughout the region via proxy militias — are vastly outnumbered by the areas in which there is genuine and valuable partnership. It’s time the US president and his advisers remembered that.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list

Biden focused on his domestic efforts and the fight against COVID-19, but also touched on foreign policy issues. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list

  • US leader faces criticism over failure to address terrorist violence as he says it is 'not the time to give up' on nuclear talks with Iran

CHICAGO: US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization days after the Iran-backed group killed three people in a drone strike in the UAE.
Marking his first full year in office with a two-hour press conference, Biden focused on his domestic efforts and the fight against COVID-19, but also touched on foreign policy issues, mostly addressing the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and also taking questions on Iran and Yemen.
Weeks after taking office in 2021, Biden officially delisted the Houthi militia as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a designation put in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The US leader has also worked to bring Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.
Asked if he would redesignate the Houthis as a terrorist group, Biden replied: “It’s under consideration.”
Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE.
Biden’s Special Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was sent to the Gulf and London on Wednesday “to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials and other international partners,” according to a statement from US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“The special envoy and his team will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” Price said.
Lenderking will also address “the urgent need to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis.”

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Price quoted UN data released last week that shows 16 million people in Yemen need aid totaling about $3.9 billion.
“It is imperative that donors, especially regional donors, provide additional funding, and that all parties to the conflict take steps to improve humanitarian access and address Yemen’s fuel crisis,” the UN said.
Biden was also asked if he was making progress with Iran in efforts to force the regime to adhere to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal.
“It is not time to give up. There is some progress to be made,” he replied.
However, the lengthy press conference was clearly intended to highlight Biden’s achievements since being sworn in as president one year ago on Jan. 20, 2021.
Political analyst Dalia Al-Aqidi said Biden’s press conference sounded more like a campaign speech, and appeared to be orchestrated to allow him to address his political talking points as Democrats and Republicans prepare for a midterm election battle for control for the House and Senate this year.
“Basically, we just saw the first draft of his presidential campaign pitch, and I expect that America will hear the same speech over and over while the country is suffering from a stalling economy and colossal inflation,” said Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy.
She criticized Biden’s failure to address terrorist violence that resurfaced in Colleyville, Texas, this week when four members of a synagogue were held hostage until the gunman was killed by police.
The US leader confirmed he plans to run for re-election and will keep Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. He also defended his role in the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden initially took questions from 11 reporters, who were on a list he held at the podium. Questions focused on the economy, mounting tensions with Russia over Ukraine, and growing polarization in the US. He acknowledged the need to get out of the White House and “speak directly” to the American people.
Halfway through the press conference, Biden accepted questions from other reporters who were sometimes openly critical of his performance.
The US leader insisted he has made significant progress easing the economic burden caused by the global pandemic, including creating 6 million jobs, reducing unemployment to 3.9 percent and getting 210 million Americans fully vaccinated.
Biden also claimed he is working to bring the country together, and blamed the failure to bridge the nation’s growing divide on Trump, citing private discussions he has had with several Republican senators who say they fear Trump will undermine their re-election if they support Biden’s agenda.


Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli forces during raid in occupied West Bank

Updated 21 May 2022

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli forces during raid in occupied West Bank

  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks
  • Last week journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli firing while covering a raid

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.


Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Updated 21 May 2022

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited “national dialogue” – at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Updated 20 May 2022

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.


Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Updated 20 May 2022

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

  • The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Sanaa
  • In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of "treason and spying for foreign states"

DUBAI: Amnesty International has urged Yemen’s Houthi militia to free four journalists facing the death penalty for “espionage” in the war-torn country, ahead of an appeal court hearing on Sunday.
The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram Al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must quash the death sentences and order the immediate release of four Yemeni journalists who are facing execution following a grossly unfair trial,” the rights group said in a statement on Friday.
In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of “treason and spying for foreign states.”
“This has been a sham of a trial since the beginning and has borne a terrible toll on the men and their families,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Lynn Maalouf, according to the statement.
One of the detained men, Mansouri, is in a “critical health condition” with heart and other ailments, Amnesty said.
“Pending their overdue release, the journalists must be provided with urgent medical care — the denial of medical treatment for the seriously ill is an act of cruelty which amounts to torture and other ill-treatment,” the statement said.
At the time of their trial, Amnesty criticized their sentencing on “trumped-up charges,” while Reporters Without Borders called the verdict “totally unacceptable.”
Their arrest was motivated by their reporting on “human rights violations committed by Houthis,” the International Federation of Journalists and the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate have said.
An appeal will be heard by the Specialized Criminal Appeals Division in Sanaa on Sunday.

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Sudan frees detained anti-coup figures, Communist Party says

Sudanese demonstrators take to the streets of the capital Khartoum on May 19, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sudan frees detained anti-coup figures, Communist Party says

  • Thousands of protesters took to the streets, mainly in Khartoum but also elsewhere, to again call for civilian rule in the latest rally against the October coup

KHARTOUM: Sudanese authorities released on Friday two anti-coup figures from the Communist Party a day after their arrest, the party said.
The military’s October takeover in Sudan has sparked nationwide demonstrations which sparked a crackdown that has killed at least 95 protesters and wounded hundreds, medics say.
Hundreds have also been arrested after rallies calling for civilian rule in the northeast African nation.
On Thursday during protests mainly in Khartoum, authorities arrested the Communist Party’s political secretary Mohammed Mukhtar Al-Khatib and another member.

BACKGROUND

The military’s October takeover in Sudan has sparked nationwide demonstrations which sparked a crackdown that has killed at least 95 protesters and wounded hundreds, medics say.

They were detained after meeting rebel leader Abdel Wahid Nour who has refused to sign a landmark 2020 peace deal with the Sudanese government, the party said.
The pair were released on Friday, it said.
Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who led the coup, pledged in April to release political detainees to set the state for talks among Sudanese factions.
Last year’s military power grab has sparked international condemnation.
The UN and African Union have called for a dialogue between all Sudanese factions to resolve the crisis.