Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

Palestinian children walk next to the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. AFP The mosque was destroyed during Israeli bombardment. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

WASHINGTON: Economies in the Middle East and North Africa face a “shadow of uncertainty” from ongoing tensions in the region, a senior IMF official said.
“We are in a context where the overall outlook is cast into shadows,” Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia department, said in an interview in Washington.
“The shadow of uncertainty on the geopolitical side is an important one,” added Azour, a recent candidate for the next Lebanese president.
In the face of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and a recent cut to oil supplies by Gulf countries, the IMF has pared back its growth outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region once again.

FASTFACT

Economic activity in Gaza has ‘come to a standstill’ and the IMF estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by six percent last year.

The IMF expects growth in MENA of 2.7 percent this year — 0.2 percentage points below its January forecast — before picking up again next year, the IMF said in its regional economic outlook report.
The risks to growth in the MENA region remain heightened, the IMF said, pointing to the danger of greater regional spillovers from the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
“We have concerns about the immediate and lasting impact of conflict,” Azour said.
The IMF report said that economic activity in Gaza has “come to a standstill” and estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by 6 percent last year.
The IMF said the report excludes economic projections for the West Bank and Gaza for the next five years “on account of the unusually high degree of uncertainty.”
The IMF cannot lend to the West Bank and Gaza because they are not IMF member countries.
However, Azour said it has provided the Palestinian Authority and the central bank with technical assistance during the current conflict.
“When we move into the reconstruction phase, we will be part of the international community support to the region,” he added.
Azour also discussed the situation in Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a civil war that has also devastated the economy, causing it to contract by almost 20 percent last year, according to the IMF.
“The country is barely functioning, institutions have been dismantled,” he said.
“And for an economy, for a country like Sudan, with all this potential, it’s important to stop the bleeding very quickly and move to a phase of reconstruction,” he added.
The recent Houthi attacks have particularly badly hit the Egyptian economy on Red Sea shipping, which caused trade through the Egypt-run Suez Canal to more than halve — depriving the country of a key source of foreign exchange.
Egypt reached an agreement last month to increase an existing IMF loan package from $3 billion to $8 billion after its central bank hiked interest rates and allowed the pound to plunge by nearly 40 percent.
A key pillar of the current IMF program is the privatization of Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, many of which are owned by or linked to the military.
“This is a priority for Egypt,” Azour said. Egypt needs to have a growing private sector and give space for the private sector to create more jobs.”
“We have an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s role, to give the state more responsibility as an enabler and less as a competitor,” he said.

 


German FM to travel to Middle East next week

Updated 56 min 58 sec ago
Follow

German FM to travel to Middle East next week

  • On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah
  • Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit the Middle East next week, Berlin said Friday, as the Gaza war grinds on and fears grow of a wider regional conflict.
Baerbock will travel to Israel Monday immediately after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
On arrival in Israel, Baerbock — who has visited the region several times since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — will give a speech at the Herzliya Security Conference.
On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
Baerbock will also meet with the Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem.
Subsequently, Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister.
Baerbock’s discussions with officials would focus on “the war in Gaza and the continuing catastrophic humanitarian situation,” as well as “the question of what a future could look like that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live together in safety,” the ministry spokeswoman said.
“In the Palestinian territories, the situation in the West Bank will also be a focus, as will the reform efforts of the Palestinian Authority,” the spokeswoman said.
“The particularly tense and dangerous situation on the border between Israel and Lebanon,” would also be discussed on the trip.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

  • WFP said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024
  • Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year

CAIRO: Families in Sudan’s embattled western Darfur region have finally received an emergency increase in food aid that is much needed to help avert looming famine, the UN food agency said Thursday.
The World Food Program said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024.
Some aid trucks entered the region on June 10 and completed deliveries in southern Darfur on Thursday, Leni Kinzli, the head of communications at WFP’s Sudan office, told The Associated Press. Distribution was continuing in central and western Darfur.
“The food distribution is an emergency scale-up to avert famine and to get to those people in the highest level of food insecurity to prevent widespread starvation,” Kinzli said. “But, we need to continue to do more and expand access and we’re working on possibly opening new corridors from South Sudan and Egypt and also expanding crossline access from Port Sudan into the Darfur region.”
Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year. That’s when tensions between leaders of the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into intense fighting and spread across the country, including to Darfur.
The latest WFP distribution was part of two aid convoys that made their way to Sudan over the past weeks, carrying enough assistance for more than 245,000 people. The first convoy crossed on May 23 and delivered aid for 117,000 people in South and Central Darfur states.
“We aren’t just delivering for immediate needs but ensuring people have enough to get through the coming months,” said Kinzli. “Especially in those areas that we anticipate will become harder to reach when the road conditions further deteriorate in the rains in the coming weeks.”
In May, the WFP said in a report that at least 1.7 million people are already experiencing emergency levels of hunger in Darfur, including in Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state that is besieged by RSF.
Some of the challenges in reaching communities in Darfur include securing access through negotiations, which Kinzli described as “complicated” because many of the checkpoints are controlled by different armed groups. She added that getting aid into places with intense fighting such as Al Fasher is extremely dangerous.
Some WFP aid trucks encountered mechanical issues in the most recent food aid delivery because of deteriorating road conditions. Still, three more WFP convoys carrying food and nutritious commodities are planned to enter Darfur in the coming weeks from Chad through the Tine crossing to help 675,000 people.
Carlos Perea-Milla, with the logistics team for Sudan at the international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, told the AP that Tine, which leads to North Darfur state, is the only authorized crossing point for UN agencies. The Adre crossing point, occasionally used by humanitarian organizations, provides access to RSF-controlled areas. The UN’s humanitarian agency is pushing for Adre to be used as the other official crossing point to Sudan.


One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

  • The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved

TUNIS: A Tunisian military helicopter crashed Friday during exercises in Gafsa province, killing one crewman and injuring another, the defense ministry said.
“The accident occurred during a normal maneuver and the aircraft’s descent,” ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
“The helicopter crew, which consisted of two personnel, was taken to the military hospital in Gafsa. One of them died and the other was in stable condition.”
The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved.
The Tunisian military has lost several aircraft on training or reconnaissance missions in recent years.
In June 2023, four personnel died when a helicopter crashed off the country’s northwest coast.
In October 2021, three were killed in another accident during a night exercise in the southern province of Gabes.


Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

  • The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.


Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

  • A series of countries have recognized Palestine amid Israel's ongoing war in Gaza
  • Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia's long-time arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia announced Friday its recognition of the State of Palestine, the latest country to do so during the war in Gaza, saying it was against “violence toward civilian populations.”
A series of countries have recognized the State of Palestine amid the war between Israel and Hamas, drawing strong rebukes from Israeli officials.
“Confirming its commitment to international law, equality of nations, sovereignty and peaceful coexistence, the Republic of Armenia recognizes the State of Palestine,” Yerevan said.
Armenia added that it is “genuinely interested in establishing long-term peace and stability in the Middle-East.”
Yerevan, which has itself been ridden by conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan for decades, slammed Israel’s military conduct in Gaza.
“Armenia deplores using civilian infrastructure as shields during armed conflicts and violence toward civilian populations,” the ministry said.
It also deplored Hamas for “the captivity of civilian persons” and said it “joins the demands of international community on freeing them.”
A senior official from the Palestinian Authority, Hussein Al-Sheikh, welcomed the move.
“This is a victory for right, justice, legitimacy and the struggle of our Palestinian people for liberation and independence,” Al-Sheikh said on social media.
“Thank you our friend Armenia.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia’s arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan had been locked in a decades-long territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that Baku recaptured last year from Armenian separatists.