Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

Images of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir walking round a hospital ward caused controversy earlier this year. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 05 December 2022

Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

KHARTOUM: Former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir has been moved from prison to hospital to complete some medical treatment, his lawyer Hashim Abu-Bakr said on Sunday.

The 78-year-old has been in custody while he is being tried over the 1989 coup that brought him to power. He was ousted in an uprising in 2019.

His lawyers had on Tuesday petitioned the court to transfer him to hospital, saying blood pressure and kidney issues posed a threat to his life if left untreated in prison.

Images of Bashir walking round a hospital ward caused controversy earlier this year.


Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

Updated 12 sec ago

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

TEHRAN: An aide to Sunni Muslim cleric Molavi Abdol Hamid, an influential leader of Iran’s ethnic Baluchi minority, was arrested in the restive southeastern city of Zahedan late Monday, state media said.
Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion” and “communicating on several occasions with foreign individuals and media outlets,” the official IRNA news agency said.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is home to the ethnic Baluch minority and had been the site of often deadly violence even before nationwide protests erupted in September over the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.
On September 30 last year, dozens of people, including members of the security forces, were killed when thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers at the city’s Makki mosque, headed by Abdol Hamid.
They were protesting the alleged rape of a 15-year-old-girl in custody in the port city of Chabahar by a local police commander.
As the protests raged on for weeks and months, Iranian officials were critical of Abdol Hamid, describing his prayer sermons as “provocative.”
“If there were no provocative remarks in the sermons, we would have seen peace in Zahedan,” Iran’s deputy interior minister Majid Mirahmadi said in late October when asked about the persistent unrest.
State media characterised the unrest as attacks by “extremists” on police stations. Abdol Hamid said security forces “shot at people” around the mosque, amid public anger over the alleged rape.
Zahedan is one of the few cities in Shiite-majority Iran which is mainly Sunni.

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

Updated 31 January 2023

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

  • Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face

DUBAI: Long-haul carrier Emirates successfully flew a Boeing 777 on a test flight Monday with one of its two engines entirely powered by so-called sustainable aviation fuel. This comes as carriers worldwide try to lessen their carbon footprint.
Flight 2646 flew for just under an hour over the coastline of the United Arab Emirates, after taking off from Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, and heading out into the Arabian Gulf before circling to land. The second of the plane’s General Electric Co. engines ran on conventional jet fuel for safety.
“This flight is a milestone moment for Emirates and a positive step for our industry as we work collectively to address one of our biggest challenges — reducing our carbon footprint,” Adel Al-Redha, Emirates’ chief operation officer, said in a statement.
Emirates, a state-owned airline under Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, described the sustainable fuel as a blend “that mirrored the qualities of jet fuel.” It included fuel from Neste, a Finnish firm, and Virent, a Madison, Wisconsin-based company.
Virent describes itself as using plant-based sugars to make the compounds needed for sustainable jet fuel, while Neste’s fuel comes from vegetable oils and animal fats. Those fuels reduce the release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide typically burned off by engines in flight.

An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER is filled with sustainable aviation fuel in preparation for a milestone demonstration flight on Jan. 30, 2023 at Dubai airport. (AFP)

Aviation releases only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks, according to World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. However, airplanes are used by far fewer people per day — meaning aviation is a higher per-capita source of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face. Emirates, for instance, used over 5.7 million tons of jet fuel last year alone, costing it $3.7 billion out of its $17 billion in annual expenses.
But analysts suggest sustainable fuels can be three times or more the cost of jet fuel, likely putting ticket prices even higher as aviation restarts following the lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much the fuel used in the Emirates’ test on Monday cost per barrel. Jet fuel cost on average $146 a barrel at the end of last week, according to S&P Global Platts.
The UAE, a major oil producer and OPEC member, is to host the next United Nations climate negotiations, or COP28, beginning in November. Already, the seven sheikhdom federation has been criticized for nominating the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s state oil company to lead the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name.
 


Tunisia president blames hatred of parliament for low turnout in elections

Updated 31 January 2023

Tunisia president blames hatred of parliament for low turnout in elections

  • The electoral commission announced that only 11.4 percent of the electorate had voted on Sunday in parliamentary runoffs

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president on Monday blamed ultra-low turnout for parliamentary elections on hatred among voters of the parliament, not to a decline in his own popularity.
The electoral commission announced that only 11.4 percent of the electorate had voted on Sunday in parliamentary runoffs. Critics of President Kais Saied said the empty polling stations were evidence of public disdain for his agenda and seizure of powers.
Opposition parties called Saied to resign after what they called a “huge failure,” saying early parliamentary and presidential elections were the only route out of the crisis.
Saied rejected accusations, calling his critics “traitors.”
“90 percent did not vote. ... This confirms that Tunisians no longer trust this institution. ... During the past decade, Parliament has been an institution of absurdity and a state within the state.,” Saied said.
“Our popularity is greater than theirs,” he added during a meeting with prime minister Najla Bouden.
Saied closed parliament with tanks in 2021, dismissed the government and started ruling by decree, a move the opposition called a coup.
He accused lawmakers of accepting huge sums of money in return for passing laws.
The newly configured parliament has had its role shrunk as part of a political system Saied introduced last year.
Many Tunisians appeared initially to welcome Saied’s seizure of powers two years ago, after years of weak governing coalitions seemed unable to revive a moribund economy, improve public services or reduce stark inequalities.
But Saied has voiced no clear economic agenda except to rail against corruption and unnamed speculators, whom he has blamed for rising prices.
Unlike the previous parliament, the new one elected on Sunday will have limited powers. The formation and dismissal of governments will be in the hands of the president.
Over the past decade, parliament has been powerful and has appointed and dismissed governments. Despite the political tensions that took place in the previous parliament since the revolution, it had the ability even to dismiss the president and hold all officials accountable.

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Cost of living crisis cuts a cruel swathe through Arab political economies

Updated 56 min 43 sec ago

Cost of living crisis cuts a cruel swathe through Arab political economies

  • The middle classes of Middle East and North African countries are now feeling the impact of soaring costs
  • They have suffered triple blow of pandemic, rising food and fuel prices, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

DUBAI: With economies in crisis, currencies under pressure and inflation sapping purchasing power, it has long been clear that the poor of the Arab region are suffering. But as even the middle classes in some countries begin to feel the pinch as well, more families are struggling just to put food on the table.

“It’s like we were hit by an earthquake; suddenly you have to let go of everything,” Manar, a 38-year-old Egyptian mother of two, told the news agency Agence France-Presse.

“Now, whatever semi-human life people had has been reduced to thinking about how much bread and eggs cost.”

Bread prices have shot up in some Arab countries as a result of the war in Ukraine. (AFP)

The Egyptian pound has lost half its value against the dollar since March last year, following a devaluation that was demanded as part of a $3 billion International Monetary Fund loan agreement. Official annual headline inflation in the country hit 21.9 percent in December and food prices have soared by 37.9 percent.

The Egyptian economy had been struggling to recover in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that sparked the latest crisis, as both of those countries are key exporters of wheat to Egypt and sources of mass tourism.

According to the World Bank, nearly a third of Egypt’s population of 104 million people currently live below the poverty line, and almost as many are “vulnerable to falling into poverty.”

Meanwhile, gloomy economic forecasts are already casting a pall over 2023, with economists predicting a deepening global recession that will bring with it further depreciation of currencies, skyrocketing prices, and rising rates of unemployment and poverty.

In the past year there have been multiple setbacks for the world economy. Nations and businesses that were just beginning to recover from the lockdowns, restrictions and other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic suffered a fresh blow with the start of the war in Ukraine almost a year ago.

The conflict has disrupted global supply chains, causing the price of food and fuel to rise sharply, contributing to inflationary pressures. This has placed additional strain on national currencies and business confidence, endangering jobs and hobbling growth.

The depreciation of Arab currencies against the dollar is a particular concern for the most vulnerable nations because households that had built up savings prior to the economic downturn have seen the value of their financial reserves plummet and safety nets cut from beneath them.

A Lebanese activist displays mock banknotes called “Lollars” during a stunt to denounce the high-level corruption that wrecked the country in Beirut on May 13, 2022. (AFP)

The Lebanese pound recently hit another all-time low and has now lost about 95 percent of its value since the start of the financial crisis in the country in late 2019.

Jordan, Syria and Iraq are likewise experiencing massive rises in the costs of food, fuel and other essentials items while public purchasing power continues to fall, leading to protests and occasional waves of violent unrest.

The lives of about 130 million people in the region are now blighted by poverty, according to the Survey of Economic and Social Developments in the Arab Region, which was published in December by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

INNUMBERS

130 million - People in the Arab region affected by poverty.

12% - Unemployment rate in Arab region (highest in the world).

36% - Proportion of the Arab population in poverty by 2024. *

* excluding Libya and GCC countries

(Source: UN ESCWA)

It found that, excluding Libya and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, more than a third of the region’s population, 35.3 percent, is now living in poverty. This rate is expected to increase over the next two years, reaching 36 percent by 2024.

The survey also revealed that the Arab region had the highest unemployment rate in the world in 2022, 12 percent, reflecting widespread economic stagnation, pressures on businesses, and the effects of government austerity measures.

The effects of inflation have not been uniformly felt across the region, however. According to Ahmed Moummi, the lead author of the survey report, it is likely that GCC countries and other oil-exporting nations will continue to benefit from higher energy prices, while oil-importing countries will experience several socioeconomic challenges.

“The current situation presents an opportunity for oil-exporting Arab countries to diversify their economies away from the energy sector by accumulating reserves and investing in projects that generate inclusive growth and sustainable development,” Moummi said.

Saudi Arabia is expected to be the fastest-growing economy in the G20 group of developed nations this year. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s economy contracted last year amid political paralysis and delays in implementing a recovery plan.

Tunisians take to the streets on January 14, 2019 to complain about the high cost of living. (AFP)

Economists said the recent effects of inflation have had disproportionately harsh effects on Arab countries that are dependent on imports of food and other essential commodities. The Arab world was already among the world’s most food-insecure regions, and in the past year the number of hungry households has increased.

Before the war in Ukraine began, Russia was the world’s biggest exporter of wheat and Ukraine the fifth-biggest, accounting for about 20 percent and 10 percent of global exports respectively, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Between them they were also key exporters of other important products.

The blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports last year therefore resulted in massive spikes in the market prices of grain, cooking oil and fertilizers. This caused the price of staple goods such as bread to soar throughout the Arab region.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year disrupted the country's grain exports, jacking up food prices worldwide. (AFP)

Although a UN-brokered deal last summer summer allowed Black Sea grain shipments to resume, easing fears of a supply-side shortage, Western sanctions on Russian goods, including hydrocarbon products, raised the price of fuel and, in turn, the cost of importing and exporting.

“Food security has been jeopardized in several countries, especially those witnessing conflicts and unrest (whether political or economic), as the food basket is becoming more and more unaffordable,” Majed Skaini, regional manager of the International Comparison Program at UN ESCWA, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, because of the added pressures on governments and businesses, wages have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living, leading to a decline in living standards in many countries and mounting levels of public anger.

People in the Arab region are “probably more adversely affected by the rising cost of living for two reasons,” An Hodgson, the global head of consumer research at Euromonitor, told Arab News.

“Firstly, consumers in the region have a relatively low savings ratio, which means that they don’t have much of a financial cushion to help them weather the cost-of-living crisis.

“In 2022, the savings ratio in the Middle East and North Africa stood at 10 percent of disposable income, below the global average of 17.6 percent. In comparison, the savings ratio in Asia Pacific was 26.7 percent of disposable income during the same year.”

The second reason is the high reliance in the region on food imports.

“In 2021 (the latest year for which Euromonitor has data), imports of foodstuffs in the Middle East and North Africa averaged $105 per capita, compared with $44 per capita in Asia Pacific and $67 per capita in Latin America,” said Hodgson.

“This means that consumers in the region are more vulnerable to soaring food prices as a result of global supply-chain and food-production disruptions.”

The mounting cost of living is putting particular pressure on the middle classes, who tend to make up the biggest and most economically active group in societies.

“We see middle classes all over the world struggling to maintain their socioeconomic status, as well as their standard of living, in the context of weak income growth, soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis,” said Hodgson.

“As a matter of fact, the middle class in developed countries, especially in Western Europe, have never recovered from the financial squeeze they experienced during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.”

This squeeze has resulted in a widespread shift in consumer habits, including a fall in conspicuous consumption, more cautious spending and general belt-tightening.

Lebanese shop at a fresh-produce market in Tripoli, north of Beirut, as grinding poverty pushes many back onto the streets to eke out a living. (AFP)

According to Euromonitor’s latest findings on global consumer trends, the vast majority of households will focus on saving over the course of the coming year. Its research found that about 75 percent of consumers did not plan to increase overall spending, and 43 percent had reduced their energy consumption.

A recent survey by the World Economic Forum found 92 percent of respondents said people in their countries are “adjusting their budgets to pay for food, some even going without.”

The report added: “When asked how rising prices had impacted consumers, 68 percent said household debt had increased and 59 percent that access to healthcare had been affected.”

Many believe 2023 will be another tough year for parts of the Arab region, which will experience a further widening of the gap between the wealthier oil economies and the more unstable, import-intensive nations of the Levant and North Africa.

In Egypt, the new reality is driving families that were once considered part of the middle class to seek help. Ahmed Hesham of the Abwab El-Kheir charity said a growing number of middle-class Egyptians have been seeking assistance.

“A lot of people had life savings they were keeping aside … Now they’re using them for healthcare or daily costs,” he told AFP.

“They used to make a good living. Now they can’t make ends meet. They’ve never been in this position before and they’re mortified to come to us.

“One man told us he can either feed his kids or put them through school but not both.”

 


Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region

Updated 30 January 2023

Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region

  • Field leader of Fatah movement in Nablus expresses fear that settler groups could commit ‘massacres’

RAMALLAH: Israel faced fresh accusations of launching an unprecedented security escalation against Palestinians as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Jerusalem on Monday to urge a deescalation in deadly violence.

Blinken called for “urgent steps” to calm spiraling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after high-level talks in Jerusalem.

Tensions have risen further since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power in December, with religious nationalists in key Cabinet posts promising tougher stances and enraging Palestinians.

The Israeli army deployed checkpoints across West Bank cities and towns, with unprecedented settler attacks against Palestinian citizens preventing movement on main roads.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for placing violent settlers on terrorist lists.

Palestinian factions have called for broad participation at an open sit-in protest in Khan Al-Ahmar, which will start at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

They stressed that Khan Al-Ahmar is a “red line in front of the policies of demolition, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing” that Israel is promoting.

Palestinian activists also called for people to attend a central sit-in in Ramallah at 4 p.m on Tuesday in rejection of favorable US policy toward Israel.

The protest coincides with Blinken’s visit to the city.

Palestinian residents and activists called for the formation of protection committees to address settler attacks.

Birzeit University, one of the largest Palestinian universities, has returned to the virtual e-learning situation of the COVID-19 pandemic after thousands of students from the West Bank were unable to reach its campus over security fears.

Palestinians spend hours waiting at Israeli checkpoints deployed across the West Bank during the daytime, and become targets for settler violence at night.

Ahmad Al-Chami, a researcher in political science from Ramallah, told Arab News that Palestinian citizens were forced to protect themselves individually due to the inability of the Palestinian Authority to safeguard them from attacks in Area C as well the north and south of the West Bank.

“The Palestinian Authority has become unable to protect the Palestinian citizen who travels between Ramallah and Jenin or any other place in the West Bank in front of the attacks of the army and settlers, and he realizes that if he was also killed, the authority could not prosecute the killers,” Al-Chami told Arab News.

“Therefore, citizens are thinking of protecting themselves by their means, away from relying on the fragile authority,” he added.

The Palestinian Authority ended security cooperation with Israel on Jan. 27 following the murder of nine Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp.

But many Palestinians view the measure as having failed to stop Israeli armed forces and settler attacks, Al-Chami said.

He added: “Did the Palestinian Authority’s decision to stop the security coordination save the lives of the Palestinians, bring them closer to reaching a solution or restore their rights?”

Hisham Al-Sharabati, a human rights activist from Hebron, agreed with the researcher, telling Arab News that Israel was failing to apply its laws against violent settlers, with most attacks against Palestinians occurring in the presence of the Israeli army.

Al-Sharabati said that some violent incidents were left unattended by Israeli police for long periods of time, despite authorities receiving requests for help by Palestinian victims.

“If a Palestinian tries to defend himself against settler attacks, the Israeli army forces will arrest him,” said Al-Sharabati.

He added that settler communities, in the wake of Netanyahu’s return to power, had become more aggressive and violent after being empowered by the new administration.

“The settlers’ feeling that they have government political support motivates and encourages them to commit more attacks,” Al-Sharabati said.

He added that the Palestinian Authority must safeguard Palestinians in Area C — which is under complete Israeli security control — and transform it from a functional apparatus into an authority.

Taysir Nasrallah, one of the field leaders of the Fatah movement in the Nablus region, told Arab News that it had become essential to activate and strengthen popular protection committees in Palestinian villages to discourage settler attacks in Area C.

Nasrallah expressed his fear that settler groups would commit massacres against Palestinian citizens, describing the behavior of the settler community as “very violent” and “reprehensible.”

He told Arab News: “Even during the Israeli military operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Israeli army was the only group which attacked Palestinians. But now the army and the settlers are together, sharing roles among themselves in abusing Palestinian citizens and their property.”

Israel’s right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich lives in a settlement in the West Bank, demonstrating the new government’s close ties to the settler community, the Fatah leader said.

January was the deadliest month for Palestinians killed in Israeli raids in the West Bank since 2015, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Monday — with an average of more than one person killed each day.

It added that 35 Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli military and settlers in the new year as of Jan. 30.

The figure includes eight Palestinian children and an older woman. Twenty of the deceased were from Jenin in the northern West Bank, a ministry statement said.

The death toll includes Omar Al-Saadi, 24, who was shot on Thursday during an Israeli raid on Jenin refugee camp that has been described as a “massacre.”

Al-Saadi, who died from his wounds on Sunday, was the 10th person killed as a result of the raid.

Another Palestinian was killed in clashes with the IDF in Al-Ram on Thursday.

Palestinian National Economy Minister Khaled Al-Osaily said on Monday that the annual losses of the Palestinian economy since 2020 amounted to $3.4 billion primarily due to Israeli restrictions on Area C.

Palestinians are barred from using land — 65 percent of the state’s territory — in the area, which contains vital economic resources.