Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey

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Updated 06 July 2022

Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey

  • 23k people were interviewed across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestinian
  • Majority of those surveyed believe economic conditions are worsening in the region

LONDON: BBC News Arabic revealed on Wednesday the findings of a major survey conducted in the Middle East and North Africa region between 2021-2022. 

Approximately 23,000 people were interviewed across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestinian on a wide range of topics, including democracy, women’s rights, the economy and race. 

Conducted between October 2021 and April 2022, the survey was commissioned by BBC News Arabic in partnership with Arab Barometer, a research network based at Princeton University.

Sam Farah, head of BBC News Arabic, said: “The Arab World Survey 2021/2022 is vital in helping us to understand what people living in the Middle East and North Africa think about the pressing issues affecting their lives.”

One of the most noteworthy findings is that faith in democracy is in rapid decline in the countries surveyed.

Over 50 percent of participants in Tunisia, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Palestine believe that their country’s economy is weak under a democratic system, with Iraq having the highest number of people who appear to have lost faith in democracy (72 percent).

That said, the majority of people in all countries surveyed believe that while democracy may have problems, it is still better than other political systems. 

In Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, more than half of those surveyed agreed with the statement that their country needs a leader who can bend the rules if necessary to get things done.

Another notable finding is that people believe economic conditions are worsening. 

Lebanon is ranked lowest out of all the countries in the survey, with less than 1 percent of Lebanese surveyed saying that the current economic situation is good. 

Overall, most people surveyed do not expect that the economic situation in their country will improve in the next few years. Some optimism exists, nevertheless. In six countries, over a third of surveyed citizens say the situation will be better or somewhat better in the coming two to three years.

Of those surveyed, many have experienced food insecurity and scarcity and say that often or sometimes they did not have money to buy more food. The struggle to keep food on the table was most acutely witnessed in Egypt and Mauritania, where around two in three people said this happened sometimes or often.

In general, attitudes toward the role of women in the region are slowly becoming more progressive, apart from Morocco where 49 percent of Moroccans said men are better at political leadership than women. 

While attitudes regarding the role of women were improving, the majority of participants believe that violence toward women has increased, with 61 percent of participants in Tunisia agreeing with this statement. 

The survey also suggests that people appear to be finding their faith again, particularly young people. However, trust in religious leaders is decreasing, with 47 percent of Lebanese and 31 percent of Sudanese surveyed saying they do not have any trust in religious leaders.

In terms of attitudes toward world leaders, US President Joe Biden’s MENA policies are viewed as being not much better than those of Trump, but the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is widely supported in surveyed countries.

Meanwhile, the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remain popular in the countries surveyed. 

Finally, more than a third of people in all countries surveyed except Egypt agree that racial discrimination is a problem, with Tunisia having the highest number of people agreeing with this (80 percent).

However, 82 percent of Egyptians say that there is no racial discrimination at all against black people.


Prince Harry launches legal action against UK media group

Updated 57 min 31 sec ago

Prince Harry launches legal action against UK media group

  • ANL, also the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, said on Thursday it "utterly and unambiguously" rejected the allegations
  • There have been a number of damages claims over unlawful activity at newspapers in the wake of Britain's phone-hacking scandal

LONDON: Britain’s Prince Harry and singer Elton John are among six public figures suing the publisher of the Daily Mail over alleged unlawful information-gathering at its titles.
The others taking part in the legal action are actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, John’s husband David Furnish and Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murder victim Stephen Lawrence, the domestic PA news agency said in a report.
The six had “become aware of compelling and highly distressing evidence that they have been the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), a statement by law firm Hamlins acting for the group said.
ANL, also the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, said on Thursday it “utterly and unambiguously” rejected the allegations.
Lawrence, whose son was killed in a racially-motivated attack in south London in 1993, had also lodged a claim against Rupert Murdoch-owned News Group Newspapers, publisher of various titles including The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World.
The details of that claim are not known, but it is understood also to relate to misuse of private information.
The statement about the legal action against ANL released by Hamlins claimed that the unlawful acts alleged to have taken place included the hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes and the recording of private phone conversations.
It also alleged that payments were made to police “with corrupt links to private investigators” for sensitive information, that medical information was “obtained by deception” and that bank accounts and financial information was accessed “through illicit means and manipulation.”
Hamlins is representing Harry and Frost, while the other claimants are represented by law firm Gunnercooke.
There have been a number of damages claims over unlawful activity at newspapers in the wake of Britain’s phone-hacking scandal.
That resulted in the closure of the Murdoch-owned News of the World.
While most of those claims have now been settled, this is the first claim to be brought against ANL.
News Group Newspapers (NGN) settled claims relating to the News Of The World, while never admitting any liability over claims made in relation to The Sun.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) has settled claims relating to its titles, including The People and The Sunday Mirror.
Both publishers are currently facing further claims, and have recently made attempts to bring the long-running litigation to an end.
A spokesman for Associated Newspapers said it “utterly and unambiguously” refuted “these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence, appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”


Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs

Updated 06 October 2022

Google’s Russian subsidiary files lawsuit against state bailiffs

  • Company's subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in June following the seizure of its bank account by authorities

MOSCOW: Google’s Russian subsidiary has filed a lawsuit against Russian state bailiffs, court documents show, in a year that has seen the unit file for bankruptcy in Russia and have more than 7.7 billion roubles ($127 million) in funds seized.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google declined to comment.
In May, Russian bailiffs seized funds from Google that it had been ordered to pay late last year. A month earlier, Tsargrad, a Russian Orthodox television channel blocked by YouTube, said bailiffs had seized 1 billion roubles from Google.
Google’s subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in June after saying that authorities had seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors.
Court documents published on Oct. 4 showed the Moscow Arbitration Court had accepted an application from Google LLC dated Sept. 30 and would consider the case.
The court listed the Moscow department of Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service and one of its senior officials as the defendants.
Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The RIA news agency reported in August that the same Moscow court had rejected Google’s demand that the 1 billion roubles seized in the Tsargrad case be returned, with the TV channel still unable to access all Google services.
Tsargrad TV is owned by businessman Konstantin Malofeev, who was sanctioned by the United States and European Union in 2014 over accusations that he funded pro-Moscow separatists fighting in Ukraine, something he denies. Russia considers such Western sanctions illegal.
Tsargrad TV had no immediate comment.


Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

Updated 06 October 2022

Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

  • Billionaire, after a surprising U-turn on Monday, pledged to finish his proposed $44 billion takeover of Twitter

WILMINGTON: Elon Musk and Twitter Inc. may reach an agreement to end their litigation in coming days, clearing the way for the world’s richest person to close his $44 billion deal for the social media firm, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Musk, who is also chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla Inc, proposed to Twitter late on Monday he would change course and abide by his April agreement to buy the company for $54.20 per share, if Twitter dropped its litigation against him.
In their effort to end the litigation, the two sides agreed to postpone the billionaire’s deposition in court scheduled for Thursday, the source said on Wednesday, but negotiations are continuing with a full resolution expected to take more time.
However, Twitter’s legal team was yet to accept any agreement and Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, the judge on Delaware’s Court of Chancery, earlier in the day said she was preparing for the looming trial.
“The parties have not filed a stipulation to stay this action, nor has any party moved for a stay. I, therefore, continue to press on toward our trial set to begin on Oct. 17, 2022,” McCormick wrote in a Wednesday court filing.
Musk’s proposal on Monday included a condition that the deal closing was pending the receipt of debt financing. The potential agreement would likely remove that condition, said the source, who requested anonymity as the discussions are confidential.
Twitter’s legal team and lawyers for Musk updated the judge on Tuesday with their attempts to overcome mutual distrust and find a process for closing the deal.
Two firms that were interested in partly financing the deal, Apollo Global Management Inc. and Sixth Street Partners, had ended talks to provide up to a combined $1 billion, two sources told Reuters.
An attorney representing a proposed class action against Musk on behalf of Twitter shareholders said in a letter to McCormick that Musk should be required to make a “substantial deposit” in case he again reneges on his commitment to close. He should also be liable for interest delaying the closing of the deal, said the letter from attorney Michael Hanrahan.
Representatives of Musk and Twitter held several unsuccessful talks in recent weeks about a possible price cut to his $44 billion deal to buy the social media platform before he reversed course on Monday, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Musk initially sought a discount of as much as 30 percent, according to the report, which was later narrowed to about 10 percent and ultimately rejected by Twitter.
A DISTRACTION
It is not clear what led the Musk legal team to offer to settle, but his scheduled deposition on Thursday in Austin, Texas, was expected to include some tough questioning, which could have given Twitter leverage in talks to close the deal.
Shares of Twitter closed 1.3 percent lower at $51.30 on Wednesday. The stock on Tuesday hit its highest level since Musk and Twitter agreed in April that he would buy the company for $54.20 per share.
Tesla stock ended down 3.5 percent on Wednesday as investors worry that Musk may have to sell more shares in the electric carmaker to fund the Twitter deal and that Twitter could be a distraction for the entrepreneur.
Musk sold $15.4 billion worth of Tesla stock this year, but analysts said he may have to raise an additional $2 billion to $3 billion provided that the rest of his financing remains unchanged.
Musk said in July he was walking away from the takeover agreement because he discovered Twitter had allegedly misled him about the amount of fake accounts, among other claims.
Part of Musk’s case was based on allegations by Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko that became public in August, and Musk’s legal team on Wednesday rejected the idea that they had inappropriate talks with Zatko or spoken with him before his concerns became public.
Twitter’s legal team has wanted to investigate if Alex Spiro, a lawyer from legal firm Quinn Emanuel, who has led the case for Musk, communicated with the whistleblower as early as May.
Twitter lawyers were suspicious that Zatko sent an anonymous May 6 email to Spiro. The sender claimed to be a former Twitter employee, offered information about the company and suggested communicating by alternate means.
Spiro said in a filing with the court on Wednesday he never read the email until Twitter brought it to his attention and it appeared to be someone seeking a job. Spiro also said he was unaware of the existence of Zatko’s allegations before they became public on Aug. 23.


Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

Updated 06 October 2022

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

  • Toru Kubota was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July
  • Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar has handed a 10-year prison sentence to a Japanese journalist who was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July, a Japanese diplomat said Thursday.
Tetsuo Kitada, deputy chief of mission of the Japanese Embassy, said Toru Kubota was sentenced Wednesday to seven years for violating the electronic transactions law and three years for incitement, which would be served concurrently.
The electronic transactions law covers offenses that involve spreading false or provocative information. Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest.
Kubota was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon, the country’s largest city, after taking photos and videos of a flash protest against Myanmar’s 2021 takeover by the military.


In Iran, social media tells the real story of unprecedented protests, police brutality

Updated 06 October 2022

In Iran, social media tells the real story of unprecedented protests, police brutality

  • Images of police brutality meted out on young Iranian protesters have gone viral on social platforms
  • To counter the spread of information, the regime has cut internet access and clamped down on social media

DUBAI: As anti-government protests in Iran enter their third week, the death toll has continued to rise, with more than 90 people reportedly having lost their lives in the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, unleashed an outpouring of anger in almost every province over the strict policing of personal freedoms and the deteriorating standard of living. 

Iran’s large diaspora, spread across Europe and North America, has joined the protests in solidarity, with large demonstrations taking place outside Iranian embassies in Western capitals.

Regime authorities have so far acknowledged the death of 41 people since the unrest began yet have refused to give in to demands to relax the strict dress code imposed on women, including the mandatory headscarf.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s ultra-conservative president, has dismissed the anti-regime protests as a “conspiracy” orchestrated by outside enemies and has vowed to “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”

Tehran has attempted to limit the spread of information about nationwide protests with blocks on mobile internet. (ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News)

In a statement on Sunday, he said: “At a time when the Islamic Republic was overcoming economic problems to become more active in the region and in the world, the enemies came into play with the intention of isolating the country, but they failed in this conspiracy.”

Videos and photographs emerging from Iran on social media tell a different story. Shocking images of police brutality meted out on young protesters have gone viral on social platforms, eliciting international condemnation. 

To counter the spread of images and information, the regime has limited internet access and clamped down on applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram — claiming the move was necessary in the interests of “national security.”

Tehran is no stranger to this kind of information warfare. The regime has adopted this strategy multiple times since the proliferation of smartphones and social media in order to control the narrative. 

“Shutting down mobile internet services has become a go-to for the Iranian government when dealing with civil unrest,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik said.

Regime authorities have so far acknowledged the death of 41 people since the unrest began. (AFP)

Protesters have been getting around the regime’s internet controls using secure private connections. They have also been sharing footage and details about forthcoming protests with outlets like the London-based broadcaster Iran International.

Iran’s misinformation strategy is as old as the regime itself. In the 1970s, the revolutionaries fighting to topple the US-backed monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, sought to portray their leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, as a freedom fighter.

Khomeini’s close entourage, which included Western-educated advisers, helped him weave a message that appealed to Iranians inside and outside the country, cleverly modifying his words to appeal to Western audiences. 

Their methods proved extremely effective. Western journalists, who at the time relied on the translations given to them by Khomeini’s advisers, willingly broadcast these messages to the world.

Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps utilizes a stable of media outlets, including Fars News, Tasnim and others, to set the political agenda and undermine domestic dissent. 

Protests have spread across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini after the young woman was arrested by morality police. (AFP)

The IRGC also uses these platforms to broadcast propaganda about operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East where the regime holds sway with local proxies. 

At the same time, the English-language state broadcaster Press TV is used to appeal to viewers in the West, often featuring American and European commentators who support Tehran’s policies and worldview. 

In March this year, Ruhollah Mo’men Nasab, former head of the Iranian Culture Ministry’s Digital Media Center, lifted the lid on how the regime disrupts the flow of information and discredits activists.

Describing his work as “psychological warfare,” Nasab boasted of developing software and “cyber battalions” to manipulate the narrative on Twitter through fake accounts. 

Arash Azizi, a history and Middle East specialist at New York University, says the regime has been developing its techniques for internet information manipulation for more than a decade. 

Shocking images of police brutality meted out on young protesters have gone viral on social platforms, eliciting international condemnation. (AFP)

“Perhaps the first Twitter revolution was in 2009 as events were unfolding in Iran,” Azizi told Arab News, referring to that year’s mass protests, known as the Green Movement, which exploded in response to the disputed reelection of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

“Nowadays, Iranians use a variety of online tools to get their voice out, which is why the government has tried to shut down the internet entirely,” said Azizi. 

“Iranians abroad and many tech experts, however, are playing an active role in dominating social media with messages about what’s taking place.”

A Twitter account called @1500tasvir, which is run by a group of 10 Iranian activists based inside and outside the country, was first set up in 2019 during the wave of protests sweeping Iran at that time. 

Since the latest outbreak of unrest, the account has posted thousands of videos captured by protesters. One of @1500tasvir’s contributors warned that the regime’s limiting of mobile internet services could undermine the protests.

Thousands took to the streets in violent protests in the city of Tehran. (AFP)

“When you see other people feel the same way, you get braver. You are more enthusiastic to do something about it. When the internet is cut off, you feel alone,” the contributor said.

In response to the regime’s internet shutdowns, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, pledged Washington would “make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark.” 

On Sept. 23, the US Treasury issued Iran General License D-2, adjusting sanctions rules to allow technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options for secure, outside platforms and services to help counter the regime’s narrative.

Unable to completely snuff out the spread of information online, the regime has instead resorted to its time-tested strategy of detaining social media users whose material gains widespread traction. 

According to state news agency IRNA, Hossein Mahini, a well-known football player, has been arrested “by the order of the judicial authorities for supporting and encouraging riots on his social media page.” 

Nasibe Samsaei, an Iranian woman living in Turkey, cutting off her ponytail during a protest outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul on September 21, 2022. (AFP)

Another high-profile detainee is Shervin Hajipour, a popular singer who composed a piece using people’s tweets on Amini’s death and the protests. He was reportedly taken into custody last week after his song reached 40 million views on Instagram. 

Although authorities did not immediately confirm Hajipour’s arrest, Mohsen Mansouri, Tehran’s provincial governor, vowed to “take measures against celebrities who contributed to fueling the protests.”

To get around the internet shutdown, some activists have now resorted to distributing flyers to advertise the time and place of planned protests, indicating the regime has failed to quell the unrest.

“They’re yet to have a way of controlling the narrative,” Azizi told Arab News. “The vast majority of Iranians can now see the brutality of this corrupt regime clearly. There have even been letters of solidarity with the protesters from Shiite seminary students in Qom and Mashhad.

“Internationally, thousands have come out in support of the protesters. Even those who usually defend this regime in the Western media are now silent.”