UN-Arab League cooperation essential for tackling regional crises, says UN chief

Ahmed Abul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (UN photo)
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Updated 24 March 2022

UN-Arab League cooperation essential for tackling regional crises, says UN chief

  • Security Council discusses merits of enhanced relationship in efforts to address humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, and broader challenges across Arab world
  • Arab League secretary-general said international community has been “merely managing” long-running conflicts instead of actively working to resolve them

NEW YORK: The UN and the Arab League remain united in their pursuit of multilateral solutions to “cascading” challenges facing the Arab world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

Stronger cooperation between the two organizations is essential for the enhancement of multilateralism, he added. He pointed out that the war in Ukraine and its profound ramifications around the globe have revealed the need for such cooperation to be all the more urgent, as many Arab countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, import at least half of the wheat they require from Ukraine or Russia.

Since the war began on Feb. 24, food and fuel prices have soared as supplies were disrupted, which is “hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest across the globe,” Guterres added.

He was speaking at a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Security Council. It was convened by the UAE, which holds the presidency of the council for the month of March, to discuss ways to improve partnerships and strengthen and institutionalize cooperation between the UN and the Arab League in areas such as conflict prevention, diplomacy, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to promote the role of women and youth in efforts to maintain regional and international peace and security.

The meeting was chaired by Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, minister of state at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Guterres highlighted the existing aspects of cooperation between the UN and the Arab League relating to conflicts and crises in the Middle East. He welcomed the latter organization’s “constructive engagement” with efforts to safeguard the unity and “hard-won” stability of Libya since the ceasefire agreement of October 2020, and said he counts on it continuing to prioritize the need for an agreement on a comprehensive political process in the country.

Guterres also said that the two organizations remain firmly united in their support for the Syrian people, “who feel abandoned by the world as they enter the 11th year of a war that has subjected them to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale and left the country in ruins.”

He reiterated that the only way to break the deadlock in Syria and alleviate the suffering of the people there lies in a “credible” political process that includes the implementation of Security Council resolutions.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, Guterres said the UN is grateful for the work of the Arab League in urging authorities in the country to address the crisis there through a process that includes meaningful reforms, timely elections, constructive engagement with the International Monetary Fund and the full implementation of applicable Security Council resolutions.

He also welcomed the enhancement of strategic cooperation between members of the Iraqi government and the Arab League, including a mission to observe and monitor Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October last year.

A strengthening of regional cooperation is also critical in Yemen, Guterres said. Without efforts to agree a ceasefire, defuse tensions and advance an inclusive political process in the country, unceasing hostilities threaten to cause the already dire humanitarian situation to deteriorate further and dim the hopes of peace, he added.

The UN chief expressed disappointment at the results of a recent pledging event for Yemen, during which less than a third of the funds needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country were received.

“I cannot overstate the severity of the suffering of the people of Yemen,” Guterres said. “I appeal to the generosity of members of the Arab League at this critical time.”

During the meeting the Security Council adopted a presidential statement, drafted by the UAE, welcoming the close cooperation between the UN and the Arab League and reiterating the intention to enhance their collaboration in a number of areas, including maritime safety and security, counterterrorism, respect for international law, poverty eradication, water security, and desertification and drought management in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The statement also affirmed the role of the youth population in efforts to maintain international peace and security, including the prevention and resolution of conflicts in MENA.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the international order is again at a “most serious,” critical juncture as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“It is a deplorable situation,” he said and expressed hope that the international community can work to end the bloodshed, while honoring the security requirements of all those involved in line with the UN’s charter and principles.

However, he also said that he hopes the situation in Ukraine will not affect the ability of the Security Council to focus on other crises.

“The crises of the Arab world must not be forgotten,” Abul Gheit said. “These crises will not resolve themselves.”

The conflict in Ukraine provides a new prism through which to view the continuing suffering of the Palestinians, for example, he said as he stressed that the international order “cannot be based on double standards.”

Abul Gheit lamented the political impasse in Syria and the continuing repercussions for millions of Syrians. He also called for the withdrawal of foreign militias and fighters from Libya, saying that such interventions are complicating efforts to hold democratic elections in the North African country.

In Yemen, Abul Gheit said the Houthis refuse to engage with efforts to reach a political settlement and continue to threaten Saudi Arabia and the UAE with attacks using drones and ballistic missiles. He again welcomed the recent adoption of Security Council Resolution 2624, which extended sanctions against the Iran-backed Houthis and categorized them as “terrorists” for the first time.

He said Iran’s disruptive interventions in the region continue and its missile program is a “legitimate concern for the Arab League.” The organization seeks good relations with Iran, after Tehran ends its interference in regional and international affairs, but “this goal is still not within reach,” he added.

Emirati minister of state Almarar said Wednesday’s meeting was particularly important given that most of the issues on the Security Council agenda are Arab issues.

“As a result of the international community merely managing these crises rather than resolving them, several of these issues have been on the council’s agenda for decades,” Almarar said.

“The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia have taken a high economic and humanitarian toll on the region.”

He said that these Arab crises, which have taken on cross-border and international dimensions, require efforts to address them on both the regional and international levels.

“The League of Arab States has a long history … extending back 77 years since it’s founding in 1945,” said Almarar. “It also possesses a deep knowledge of regional challenges, as well as the concerns of its member states, which enables it to play a leading role in supporting the implementation of the Security Council’s core mandate to maintain international peace and security.”

He called for enhanced cooperation between the UN and the Arab League, including the institutionalization of the relationship between them.

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  • Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt

CAIRO: Eight people were killed and 44 injured in a car crash on Thursday near Egypt’s southern province of Aswan, the state-run news agency reported.
The incident took place in the early morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck, on a highway linking Awsan to Abu Simbel, the seat of the ancient temples of Ramses II, MENA said.
Ambulance vehicles rushed to the scene to carry the casualties’ bodies to Aswan’s morgue and to transfer the wounded to the province’s main hospital, added the report.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
In January, at least 16 people were killed 18 others injured when a microbus collided with a public transportation bus in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s official statistics agency says there were around 10,000 road accidents in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.


UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

Updated 07 July 2022

UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

  • The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014
  • Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year

UNITED NATIONS, US: The United Nations Security Council votes Thursday on extending its authorization of aid transfers across Syria’s border without approval from Damascus, with Russia seeking a six-month prolongation while Western nations want a full year.
The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014, but is set to expire on Sunday.
Norway and Ireland, two non-permanent members of the 15-country Security Council, have drafted a resolution that would extend the authorization until July 10, 2023.
Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year, bound for the rebel-held Idlib region in northwestern Syria. It is the only crossing through which aid can be brought into Idlib without navigating areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
The resolution, which was obtained by AFP, calls on “all parties to ensure full, safe and unhindered access by all modalities, including cross-line, for deliveries of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Syria.”
Russia, a veto-holding Security Council member and ally of Damascus, has hinted in recent months that it would oppose an extension, having already forced a reduction in the number of allowed border crossings on the grounds that it violates Syria’s sovereignty.
According to diplomats, Russia ultimately put its own draft resolution on the table, which includes an extension of six months.
In an attempt to persuade Moscow, Norway and Ireland have inserted several amendments touching on the transparency of humanitarian shipments, possible contributions to Syria’s reconstruction, and on the need to develop aid deliveries via government-controlled territory.
Russia has long called for the West to participate in Syria’s reconstruction, but some council members, most vocally France, have refused until political reforms have been enacted.
However, during a Security Council meeting in June, a majority of countries — including the United States — offered support for financing so-called “early recovery projects” in Syria.
In this vein, the resolution by Norway and Ireland calls for “further international initiatives to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects.”
By Wednesday evening, few diplomats dared to predict whether the additions would be enough to convince Russia to agree to a full-year extension.
But some told AFP that a last-minute compromise was possible, by making the six-month extension renewable for an additional six months practically by default.

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Updated 07 July 2022

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JEDDAH: Protesters in Sudan took to makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for a seventh day on Wednesday as military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan fired the last civilian members of the country’s ruling council.

Burhan, who seized power in a coup last October, has vowed to “make room” for civilian groups to form a new transitional government after he disbanded the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The council’s members said they had received no formal notification and were surprised to discover that their official vehicles had been taken away.

Protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons. At least 114 people have been killed in the crackdown since October.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust dictator Omar Bashir.

Sudan’s main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, said Burhan’s latest move was a “giant ruse” and “tactical retreat.” They also called for “continued public pressure,” and protesters returned to the streets of Khartoum on Wednesday.

Democracy campaigners say the army chief has made such moves before. In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival.”


United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

Updated 06 July 2022

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

  • UAE aims to make it easier for digital companies to incorporate
  • Sets a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates is cutting red tape to make it easier and quicker for digital companies to incorporate, the latest economic policy announcement as the government seeks to further diversify the economy away from oil revenues.

Trade minister Thani Al Zeyoudi, flanked by executives from many state-linked entities, on Wednesday announced the changes that include better access to the financial and banking system.

“We want to show digitally enabled companies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, that the UAE is the world’s best place to live, work, invest and scale,” the minister told reporters, setting a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year.

Those setting up in the UAE, home to financial center Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, would have visas issued sooner and be offered attractive commercial and residential leases, he said.

As other governments step up national efforts to increase renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels, the UAE is rolling out a series of initiatives to double the economy to $816 billion by 2030.

“We want to show that we are here to help; from commercial licenses and work visas, to opening bank accounts, finding office space and the perfect place to live,” Al Zeyoudi said.

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi gestures during an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Some company executives complain about the bureaucracy involved in setting up a business, including in hiring international staff in a country where citizens are a minority.

Still, the UAE’s Dubai has established itself as the region’s premier business hub and is already home to many multinational corporations and international businesses.

But regional competition has intensified as Saudi Arabia takes steps to re-mold itself as a leading financial and tourism center under the leadership of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We’re moving from a regional hub to a global hub,” Al Zeyoudi said. “We’re competing with the big, big boys now.”


Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.