In Focus – Daily News Egypt Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Sun, 24 Jun 2018 09:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Trump attempts to push ‘deal of century’ past Arabs, Palestinian rights uncertain Sun, 24 Jun 2018 09:00:34 +0000 White House adviser addressed Middle East leaders last week amid PA rejection

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US President Donald Trump announced on 6 December 2017 his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in an historic, unprecedented recognition of the city as solely the capital of Israel, breaching international resolutions on the status of the occupied holy city.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu triumphed, Palestinian rejection of the declaration was echoed by 128 member states of the United Nations General Assembly, which voted in favour of a non-binding motion against the US move.

For Palestinians demanding East Jerusalem as their capital, supported by Arab countries, the US had taken an unacceptable bias that will have a negative impact on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, given that no agreement on Jerusalem’s status will be agreed upon until the final stages of the process.

The Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry supported that argument and said the move halted efforts to resume peace talks.

Nonetheless, Trump revealed his intention to proceed with peace efforts. The Palestinian Authority, however, said it no longer considered the US as leading the process.

Nearly five months after the declaration, the US administration is trying to advance its plan, even as the Palestinians will not yet sit at the negotiating table.

Touring the Middle East in May and June, US officials have reportedly been trying to rally in favour of the so-called “deal of the century”.

Shortly after being sworn in as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo travelled to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Speaking from Amman, he noted that Washington was fully supportive of Israel’s “right to defend its borders.”

The comments followed weeks of tensions at the Gaza-Israel borders, over which Israel was accused by human rights observers to have unjustifiably used excessive force against Palestinian protesters, killing dozens and injuring thousands.

Earlier this week, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt met with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and Jordan in separate visits.

US officials said they discussed with Arab leaders “ways to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, and the Trump administration’s efforts to facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” according to statements issued by the White House on the matter.

“Kushner offered an overview of the US administration’s efforts and contacts underway aiming to put the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis back on track, and to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” a statement from the Egyptian presidency said.

Previously thrown into doubt to some extent by the US embassy move and currently sparking fears of undermining Palestinian rights, the deal is yet to be unveiled, but some details about it have leaked.

What we know about the US deal

Trump dropped the US commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The outline of the new deal, which is yet to be finalised, includes improvement of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas and besieged by Israel on one side and facing restrictions by Egypt on the other, has suffered dire conditions in past years, long signalling a simmering situation about to boil over.

According to a report by Haaretz last week, the Trump administration would seek to convince Gulf countries to invest between $500m and $1bn in economic projects mainly aimed at energy supply.

In his meeting with Kushner, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi asserted that overcoming the humanitarian crisis in the strip is a mutually pursued effort. For its part, Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing for longer periods than usual in past months.

Egypt has also brokered a reconciliation plan between the two Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which is currently in a difficult but ongoing implementation phase.

Egypt refuted previous claims that the deal would relocate Palestinians to the Sinai Peninsula, but new reports on the plan said it would include the construction of a port in northern Sinai.

As Haaretz reported last month, “the plans being considered include a new industrial zone, desalination plants and plants making construction materials in northern Sinai.”

But the Palestinian issue is not only about the Gaza Strip, but also includes demands of historical rights, feared to be compromised by the US deal.

“There are enough facts known about it to cause serious alarm among Palestinians and in the wider Arab and Islamic worlds,” a report by Carnegie Endowment said in February.

The report said the deal seems to ignore East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, aiming to use Arab pressure to make Palestinians accept an arrangement that deprives them of essential issues, such as the right of return.

Palestine’s stance towards US

The Palestinian Authority (PA) clearly established that it no longer accepts US mediation. The official position has been a diplomatic boycott of the Americans.

Trump “is burying the two-state solution,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told France 24 in January. “All the decisions taken by President Trump are only killing and destroying people like us: Palestinian moderates, Palestinians who believe in negotiations, Palestinians who don’t want to use violence.”

The US also made escalatory moves when it decided to cut its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by more than half and refused to renew the Palestinian bureau’s license in Washington.

In June 2017, Kushner and Greenblatt were sitting in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in what the White House described as “a productive meeting,” where they “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

This followed a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, after which the US said it would discuss upcoming steps.

What followed was a US stance fully supportive of Israel and its choice of 14 May as the day of its embassy opening in Jerusalem, coinciding with the so-called Israeli Declaration of Independence, amid an international diplomatic boycott.

The celebration ignored the painful commemoration of the Nakba Day for Palestinians, who were still mourning and burying their dead killed by Israeli forces just ahead of the embassy opening.

With regards to the recent US decisions, PA spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina rejected the American plan, saying it used humanitarian slogans to separate Gaza from the West Bank and push to give up Jerusalem, calling for Arab and international support.

East Jerusalem, a Palestinian capital

A two-state solution along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state remains the approach of the Arab and international community.

In his recent visit, Kushner was reportedly told by the Jordanian and Egyptian leaders that they would remain committed to that demand.

Much of the land the Palestinians seek is now occupied by illegal Israeli settlements.

Several Arab writers also voiced their rejection of a deal that would require Palestinians to give up their right to sovereignty in exchange for humanitarian aid. Some warned that internal Palestinian division would be the best chance for such plans to be imposed.

“It is about annulling the Palestinian cause and enforcing the occupying entity,” wrote Talal Salman, who heads the Lebanese As-Safir newspaper.

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Is Egypt on cusp of drawing a new map for political parties after absence of influence? Thu, 21 Jun 2018 06:00:36 +0000 A take on political life expectations in Egypt

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It became obvious for those who are interested in political affairs that Egyptian parties were absent from political action and participation of masses in political life, despite of having more than 100 political parties, among them 16 under the dome of the Egyptian parliament

The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was sworn in for his second term on 2 June 2018, during a special parliament session and stated in speech afterwards, “I assure you that accepting the other and creating common spaces between us will be my biggest concern to achieve consensus, social peace, and real political development, in addition to our economic development.”

On 16 May 2018, during the last youth conference, he has approved a request to create a coordinating committee to take charge of opening contacts between political parties and state authorities.

The Wafd Party, a historically liberal party in Egypt, responded to Al-Sisi’s call and invited other political parties to discuss establishing the political coordinating committee.

In conjunction with the presidential extended declarations, open political discussions and debate behind the scenes in the Egyptian parliament do revolve around merging political parties and their mechanisms, according to the current statute of political parties.

All of these signs and movements drive people who are interested in political affairs to wonder about political life expectations and how to restructure the political scene in Egypt, according to Article 5 of the constitution, which states that “political life is based on pluralism and peaceful transfer of power.”

Divergence of political point of views

Yasser Al-Hodiebi the spokesperson for Al-Wafd Party said, “we strongly supported and encourage Al-Sisi’s call about creating a political coordinating committee and we invited more than 80 political parties, to discuss opening contacts between political parties and state authorities, but unfortunately El Masryeen Al-Ahrar and Mostakbal Watan the most important liberal parties in Egypt were absent.

“The idea of merging between political parties is often rejected for two reasons, disagreement of visions between powerful parties, which have the same ideology and the second reason is the fear of small parties’ leadership,” Al-Hodiebi said, adding, “we support merging political parties ideas to bring about five or six parties, which have different ideologies, but Al-Wafd is the most historically liberal party in Egypt and will never be merged.”

Abd El-Hameed Kammal Member of Parliament for Al Tagamou Party said, “we cannot restructure a new civil democracy state without the existence of all political parties,” adding, “there is a very hard conflict of visions, some political currents see that we are capable of merging and dividing political parties, to bring about three or four parties who represent conservative, left, and right currents, but that is not applicable and will be in total conflict with the democracy spirit and multi–party system, we have to give the Egyptian people the freedom of choice and assortment.”

Hossam El-kKoly the former vice president of Al-Wafd Party, has resigned and moved into Mostakbal Watan, the party which has the same ideology with the previous one.

El-Kholy said, “the politics in Egypt must be active and working, it is not just talking and slogans, I decided to leave the Wafd Party with full of respect for its history and members, but I felt that there was no longer any new internal, also we did not accept its invitation, due to the absence of objective and seriousness of the meeting,” adding, “I moved into Mostakbal Watan Party, which has almost 50 seats inside the parliament, due to the availability of all success factors present, such as experience, youth, organization, and finances, the party supports the merging idea, but in its comprehensive sense, we have to put aside our differences and the party door is open all the time to active cadres only, I think we are going to see the final political life within two years.”

No disagreement about calls for stronger political life

Dr Amr El-Shobaki, the independent expert and researcher at Al-Ahram centre for political and strategic studies, said the Egypt’s regime has not paid a special attention to political affairs and political life during the first term of the Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

“No disagreement about the necessity of the real political development slogan, but we have not started yet, the next phase demands merging political parties and it should be based on two essential standards, the first point is merging the parties, which have the same intellectual and political affiliation, and the second point is the mergers must be seriousness and non-artificial,” El-Shobaki said, adding, “the weakness of political life in Egypt is a corporate responsibility between the political parties and regime for many years, whereby legislation and laws must be prepared inside the parliament, to exclude the non-influential parties (dissolution of political parties), which have no popular participation and ability to get one in a thousand of voters vote at any election.”

Parties movement between ups and downs

Noteworthy, in Egypt’s political history since the start of limited multi–party system experience in 1976 by a decision of the former Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat until now, there were twice, the political parties were able to participate in the government formation, after 25th January Revolution in 2011, based on the political party law, which was introduced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the second time was following the 30 June Revolution in 2013, when Dr Hazem El-Beblawy took over the position of Egypt’s prime minister at such a critical time.

Before the 25th January Revolution and during the Mubarak’s administration, Egypt has seen limiting and controlling over the freedom of parties’ establishment, which led to existing two main players, which are the National Democratic Party and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Also following the 25th January Revolution, a large number of political parties were established, among them, which belonged to right wing extremist (radical movements) and managed to kidnap the power in a few months, that period was characterized as a political liquidity.

Currently the civil and political parties, that almost 214 seats inside the Egyptian Parliament, are preparing themselves to compete in the upcoming local election, while everyone is waiting for the final scene of political life in Egypt.

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New media laws introduce some journalists’ rights, ignore others Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:00:24 +0000 Parliament approves three laws to regulate media, press

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The Egyptian Parliament, headed by Ali Abdel Aal, approved on Sunday three new draft laws regulating the functions of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, the National Media Authority, and the National Press Authority.

Following the laws’ approval, the legislation was referred to the State Council for legal review and are expected to be later sent to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to be signed into law. The laws were drafted three years ago by the government and several media experts.

The laws were reviewed by more than four bodies, Press and Media Syndicates, the Egyptian Competition Authority, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and the Chamber of the Media Industry.

These laws will replace the Law of Institutional Organisation 92 of 2016, which currently regulates the operations of the bodies.

“These laws include unprecedented rights and guarantees for journalists and media professionals,” said the head of parliament’s media and culture committee, Osama Heikal.

During the current legislative term, the media committee organised around 39 meetings to discuss of the laws.

The government had previously submitted one draft law to regulate the work of all three bodies, but the media committee recommended draft laws for each body due to the difference in nature of each entity.

Heikal confirmed that the laws are comprehensive, covering all aspects of media and press activities in Egypt. According to the laws, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation will be the governing body of all Egyptian media.

The National Press Authority is to be the governing body of all, state-owned or private, newspapers, while the National Media Authority is to be the governing body of state-owned and private audio-visual media.

The new laws are expected to bring radical changes to the three bodies and will ensure the independence of press and media in Egypt through unprecedented guarantees. The laws require all press and media institutions to publish their budget and final accounts, and to send copies of their budgets to the Supreme Council for Media Regulation.

Heikal said that the first law, titled the Law on Regulating the Press and Media and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, comprises 127 articles under six chapters.

The first two chapters address press and media freedoms, the third the rights of journalists and media personnel, the fourth the duties of journalists and media personnel, the fifth press and media crimes and the ownership of press organisations, and lastly, the sixth addresses penalties.

Freedom of press and journalist’s rights

The Law on Regulating the Press and Media and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation includes, for the first time, an explicit provision that will introduce penalties of imprisonment and a fine of no less than EGP 10,000 and no more than EGP 20,000 for anyone who insults a journalist or media worker while they carry out their duties. The law also stipulates that no press or media institution can be searched due to alleged publication crimes, except in the presence of a member of the General Prosecution. The new law made criminal courts the sole entities that can prosecute journalists

During the past three years, many journalists were insulted by citizens and security forces, and in some cases, their equipment were confiscated.

The law cancelled all text regarding the imprisonment of journalists and media professionals that were part of the cabinet’s proposed law. It further stipulated that journalists should not be forced to disclose the sources of their information, and no restrictions should be imposed on the availability of information to the press and media. Moreover, every newspaper and media outlet is obliged to set up a written policy that no journalist or media personnel are permitted to carry out acts contrary to.

The law also requires press and media outlets to establish disability and unemployment insurance funds for their employees. It also obliges partisan and private press institutions to deposit insurance amounts to be paid to their employees when they retire. 

One of the most important guarantees established to ensure journalists’ rights is requiring press and media institutions to set a minimum wage, which outlets must notify the Supreme Council for Media Regulation and the Press Syndicate of.

The law stipulated that no less than 70% of journalists working for a newspaper must be registered with the Press Syndicate.

Online media

Since the previous laws lacked any regulation for online media, which has become increasingly prominent in recent years, the new laws are considered the first to set rules to regulate the operation of online news and media websites.

Parliament’s media committee introduced laws to legalise the operations of websites, making themrequired to obtain licenses from the Supreme Council for Media Regulation. Subsequently, such websites can operate in accordance with the law.

They also stipulated that these sites should not use any advertisements unless they are registered by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation and are adherent tax evasion rules. It further stipulates that a person who aims to own an online newspaper should have a capital of at least EGP 100,000.

Furthermore, editors-in-chief of state-run newspapers will operate independently from the chairperson of the board of the publication or the media outlet that they work at.

Media and press outlets have long operated according to the Union of Broadcast and Radio Law of 1979, which was responsible for audio and video broadcasting and section four of Regulation of the Press Law of 1996. The press community has been long awaiting the issuance of a unified media law, in order to tackle the ethical regulation of media and press outlets, as well as fairly address the issue of imprisonment for crimes related to publishing, in accordance with constitutional articles guaranteeing freedom of expression and banning censorship.

The creation of the three bodies was approved by parliament in December 2016 and signed into law by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in April. They were established to supervise all Egyptian media outlets’ work. Each body has a separate role; the Media National Authority is responsible for supervising radio and broadcast media outlets, the National Press Authority is responsible for supervising state-owned newspapers, and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation is responsible for overseeing the functions of the two authorities.

The new laws will reduce the number of members of each body from 13 to nine.

The National Press Authority replaced the Supreme Press Council, and the National Media Authority replaced the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU).

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Qatari crisis: Stagnant boycott with no prospects for resolution Sun, 10 Jun 2018 12:00:22 +0000 As conflict enters first year, Arab quartet makes no escalation but reinstates stance

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At a meeting in Cairo on 5 June, Saudi Arabia led the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt to announce the suspension of diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar, citing its “support of terrorism.”

A year has passed since those four influential Arab countries jointly decided to boycott their Gulf neighbour, Qatar, sparking yet another crisis in the Middle East, which does not appear to have moved towards any progress.

Marking the day, Arab foreign ministers choose to continue engaging in a war of words which has become conventional, signalling to horizons for resolution.

On Tuesday, an article published in the New York Times by Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs, called the boycott a “reckless” and “ill-considered” blockade, arguing that instead of bringing Qatar “to its knees,” the country emerged stronger.

Al-Thani placed the crisis at the heart of Middle East’s instabilities, which he said should generate Arab unity. He gloated about friendship with the US and promoted Qatar as seeking regional security and agreement.

The following day, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash laid out his own take on Qatar, in an opinion article in Al-Hayat. To him, the conflict remains as it is because of Qatar, which he said is a source of regional instabilities by “adopting terrorist projects in the Arab world.”

Gargash dismissed claims of any Qatari success in managing the crisis, pointing out that it has failed to stick to any of its commitments sponsored by the US and insisting that its only way out of the crisis is to back off.

Further escalation continued as the crisis approached its first year. In May, Qatar banned goods from the Arab quartet, including food and medical products, according to Qatari media.

On the other hand, the Arab quartet’ information ministers met in Abu Dhabi to discuss cooperation on countering extremism through the media and think tanks.

“The ministers highlighted the importance of countering the attempts of some regional countries’ politicised media outlets, which interfere in the internal affairs of other countries in the region with the ultimate objective of implementing suspicious agendas and undermining security,” the website Gulf News reported on 29 May. All of those are accusations the quartet has directed at Qatar.

The above-mentioned examples give a glimpse into how intense the crisis has become and how there have been no initiatives by any of the parties to solve it. No regional event with the goal of bringing them together was organised. Instead, the League of Arab States took a stance against Qatar.

How has Qatar managed the boycott?

One of the major aspects of the boycott was economic. The country’s airspace and ports were closed, which the Qataris considered a de facto siege.

Qatar’s economic growth was slower in 2017 compared to 2016 but reports did not reflect a severe economic crisis.

A trade embargo was putting Qatar under serious pressure, being a heavy importer of food and goods, especially from Saudi Arabia. The latter having also blocked its terrestrial borders with the peninsula, Qatar was left with more costly merchandise routes.

Qatar expanded its Hamad Port, seeking new shipping routes as Oman’s ports became a major alternative.

Having to turn to other countries to avoid plunging into chaos, Turkey and Iran quickly weighed in.

Generally, the prospects for Qatar’s economy are looking positive, according to experts. According to Fitch Ratings in June 2018, Qatar was able to survive the crisis and narrow its fiscal deficit.

In April 2018, the World Bank projected a recovering GDP growth of 2.8% and a further rise to 3% in 2019/2020. The World Bank explained that the economy will be supported by the expected Barzan natural gas facility, rising energy receipts, and spending on infrastructure.

In April, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani met with Trump at the White House

Relations with the US

In both ministers’ articles mentioned above, the US is mentioned as a friend to the two parties. The US is indeed a friend to all parties involved, with financial and military ties.

Since the crisis erupted, eyes have been on the US reaction and what role it would play. President Donald Trump said he would be ready to mediate, back in September 2017.

His position had initially backed the boycott despite US officials taking an opposite stance. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s approach was more neutral and encouraging of reconciliation.

The US pressured Qatar to commit to counterterrorism efforts. Qatar indeed placed people and entities on a terrorism list, including Egyptians and Saudis already declared as such by their countries. In April, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani met with Trump at the White House.

In March, a group of American mediators were on tour to discuss the crisis in Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt. But no progress has been made.

Arab quartet maintains conditions

After declaring cutting ties with Qatar, the Arab quartet also gave Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their territories and banned their nationals from travelling to them.

Among the severe decisions taken by the quartet against Qatar was a list of 13 demands to be met within 10 days, a condition to lift the economic and diplomatic embargo.

Those included reducing the scale of relations with Iran, which is a main source of tension with the Saudis, closing down the broadcaster Al Jazeera, which annoys the Egyptians, and abstaining from interfering in other countries’ affairs, which was a main complaint of Bahrain.

Qatar was also asked to cease being a safe haven for terrorists, or funding such groups, and to hand over “terrorist” figures and halt support for political opposition in any of the four countries.

Demands further included that Qatar terminate Turkey’s military presence in the country.

Qatar dismissed allegations against it and called the demands unrealistic, refusing to cede to what it considered foreign interference into its internal affairs.

Oman and Kuwait remained out of the anti-Qatar alliance, as Kuwait initially mediated between the two sides.

The Arab quartet reinstated those demands repeatedly throughout 2017 and 2018, with the most recent instances happening at the Arab ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the 29th Arab Summit held in Riyadh in April.

In local Egyptian media, Qatar continues to be criticised through talk shows and short videos focusing on accusations of supporting terrorism. Al Jazeera and a few other Qatari websites are blocked inside Egypt.

UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash

A year of the crisis: Foreign media

The issue was a topic of interest in international media earlier this week.

Newsweek published on 4 June a recap on the crisis, highlighting how the US position shifted towards a reconciliatory approach and how Qatar worked to invest in natural gas. “After one year, Qatar shows few signs of caving to the pressures of its former allies. Some have even argued the blockade has made the country’s rulers stronger and helped them shore up greater international investment,” the report said.

In an opinion piece for the Associated Press on 3 June, Jon Gambrell wrote that the crisis left the Arab bloc divided at a time when the US is seeking more pressure on Iran, especially since the crisis improved relations between Qatar and Iran, as the US position remains unclear in the case of a confrontation between Gulf nations.

Likewise, the Washington Post said that the only winner of the crisis seems to be Iran. In an in-depth article on 7 June, the newspaper said that the most troubling issue with the crisis is it created a new power dynamic for Iran.

In Bloomberg, Mohammed Sergie focused on Al Jazeera’s network restructure and reduction of employees as part of cost-cutting measures.

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Cairo’s female mesaharaty struggles to maintain profession, knocking doors of other jobs rest of year Thu, 07 Jun 2018 08:00:11 +0000 It is not begging, it is centuries-old job in Islamic, Arab world, says Dalal Abdel-Qader

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Photo Handout to DNE

Influenced by her older brother, Dalal Abdel-Qader made her way in a non-permanent profession and started working as a mesaharaty in Cairo seven years ago. Despite criticism that she is begging which sometimes comes from her relatives, she still believes that her work should be respected, as it is a part of the holy month of Ramadan’s rituals, which are some say are close to extinction. 

A mesaharaty is the traditional awakener, who beats drums, chants religious and folkloric songs, and sometimes reads poems to wake Muslims up before the suhoor meal before the Fajr (dawn) prayer, during the month of Ramadan.

It is a popular practice in Arab countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Pakistan. It requires a person with a good health and a nice voice, as the work requires walking long distances every day.

Having a female mesaharaty is not familiar in Arab countries. Despite that, there are some who took the lead in such work, such as Abdel-Qader, who decided to enter the field for the sake of remembering her older brother Ahmed, who was also a mesaharaty, and maintaining a part of the holy Ramadan rituals.

“He was not just a brother, he was everything to me, and the only father I knew, as my parents died when I was a child,” said Abdel-Qader, adding, “thanks to him, I became his successor.”

Ahmed Abdel-Qader, who died in 2011, was a well-known mesaharaty in Cairo, who the Maadi neighbourhood knew well, according to his sister. “I used to accompany Ahmed on his wheelchair to wake people up before dawn,” said Abdel-Qader, adding, “I fell in love with what he was doing from the outset.”

Photo Handout to DNE

From her early age, Abdel-Qader became obsessed with what Ahmed was doing, and the little details that distinguished him from others. “Even though he was disabled, nothing stopped him from doing what he loved,” said Abdel-Qader, adding, “he had his own special routine, before starting his night round, he decorated his wheelchair, drum, dressed up very well in preparation to meet people who were waiting for him each night in Ramadan.”

She noted that when being asked about the reasons behind the way he chose to dress, he said, “I am going to meet a lot of people of all ages, to sing, and please them; I had to be prepared for such moments.” 

He was not just a traditional mesaharaty, Abdel-Qader went on describing her brother, saying, “he did not just walk the streets and wake people up, he was passionate about what he was doing, giving it all he can, with a lot of honest feelings,” said Abdel-Qader.

Despite how she started working with her brother 27 years ago, she became a professional mesaharaty only seven years ago, when he died.

“It was a real shock,” she said, adding, “when having a great and kind brother, it is not easy to lose him and be orphaned twice.”

A few days before Ahmed’s death, he asked Abdel-Qader to keep his drum. “I know you are the only one who will keep this alive,” she recalled him saying. Twenty-two days later, he died.

“It was his will for me to continue his path. I said to him, I am here my brother. Also, Abdel Razek, is here (their other brother), we can continue what you started,” she said, adding in tears, “it took almost a year to realise he was not here anymore.”

After his death, Abdel-Qader had to work to cover her family’s expenses, as well as her brother’s. “He never let us be in need of anything when he was alive,” she said, adding, “I also had to work because my husband started to suffer from chondrodynia in the same year, 2011, and becoming unable to work anymore. He had two surgeries and is currently waiting for a third one.” 

Photo Handout to DNE

Her life suddenly changed. “Everything turned upside down,” Abdel-Qader recalled, adding, “after my husband was a manager in his profession, getting a reasonable salary, now he cannot work due to his ailment.”

However, working only as a mesaharaty was never enough for a family consisting of six members. “I would never call being a mesaharaty passes for a job, as it is not permanent during the year. I had to knock on the doors of other professions; I worked as a carpenter, trailer, launderer, and even plumber. Anything that can offer me some decent money,” she noted, adding, “some people criticise our work by saying it is begging, but it is not, it is a respectable job, aiming to maintain a Ramadan tradition, which is about to disappear.”

Abdel-Qader became the breadwinner of three families: hers and her two brothers’ households.
“My brother Abdel Razek died four months ago, the responsibilities are bigger now, so any money I earn, I divide into three parts.” 

She is the youngest sister, the spoiled one, among two male brothers and an older sister. “We used to have a beautiful, warm life, gathering, laughing, and singing old songs of Sayed Mekawy and Abdel Halim Hafez,” she said, adding, “at that time, we had no stresses or worries. Now life is empty, very empty.”

Despite the fact that she never went to school, she knows how to read and write at an average level. “I like to read about who used to work as a mesaharaty in the Arab and Islamic world. I believe the first one who worked such a profession was Bilal ibn Rabah, one of the loyal sahabah (companions) of Islam’s prophet Muhammad,” she said.

Photos of Abdel-Qader in her youth showed contrast to her appearance now, wearing elegant suits, with brown hair, standing with her older, only sister, Fatma. “We were almost a middle-class family in my early age; things have changed a lot through the years,” she said.

Photo Handout to DNE

Ahmed, who was known as Elbasha, the man who put the love of mesaharaty’s work in Abdel-Qader’s heart, used to be a popular singer at weddings and ceremonies in his young years, she said. “The only thing that prevented him from being a famous singer was his disability,” said Abdel-Qader. 

She went on to say, “at the beginning of the 1990s, people become more interested in hiring DJs and playing modern songs of more popular singers at weddings.” She added, “since that became popular, someone advised him to work as a mesaharaty, due to his beautiful voice and smiling face, he accepted the challenge and started.”

Abdel-Qader inherited that passion and love, walking the same streets her brother used to. “In his eyes, I loved Ramadan,” she said. 

Despite her deep love for her work, she is afraid that the role of a mesaharaty is on its way to disappearing. “I wish to meet my colleagues in the streets, but it is rare to see anyone,” she said, adding, “once I saw a female mesaharaty, I was very happy, even if she was challenging me, but unfortunately, I never saw her again or any other women working in such a profession.”  

Only during the two or three hours that she works every day during Ramadan does she feel alive. “I meet kind people, and I feel Ahmed is there, watching me, and wishing me luck.”  

After becoming a nearly famous female mesaharaty, her story attracted the coverage of many media outlets. However, since she only has this attention in Ramadan, she has some bad experiences in that regard. 

Abdel-Qader said that some TV producers “deceived” and even “mistreated” her, adding, “once I was a guest on a TV show, and after the episode finished, they were practically kicking me out of the studio. This was humiliating, why did you invite me if you could not even respect me?” she wondered.

“At other times,” she recalled, “media producers visited me at my house, lying about their media network, and I found out that I was aired on Al Jazeera and Mekameleen TV, without even knowing that.”

Abdel-Qader hopes one of her children could inherit the profession. “I tried with my only daughter, Shyma, but she does not have the required patience to continue working, but I think my son Mahmoud, 20 years old, now will be the upcoming mesaharaty.” 

However, she does not wish the same for her granddaughter, Mecca, who was recently born. “I would never want her to live what I had lived. I will do my best to offer her a decent life and a bright future,” she said, while smiling at her.

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Uzbekistan: Jewel of Central Asia Wed, 06 Jun 2018 10:30:28 +0000 Uzbekistan is one of the Islamic federal republics that were part of the former Soviet Union. Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is divided into twelve autonomous provinces, many of which have a rich Islamic history. The Uzbek language is one of the Turkic languages and is Uzbekistan’s only official state language. Since …

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Uzbekistan is one of the Islamic federal republics that were part of the former Soviet Union. Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is divided into twelve autonomous provinces, many of which have a rich Islamic history.

The Uzbek language is one of the Turkic languages and is Uzbekistan’s only official state language. Since 1992, it has officially been written using the Latin alphabet. Although the Russian language is not an official language in the country, it is widely used in all fields, including official documents.

Uzbekistan has the largest population in Central Asia, up to 31 million people, according to 2016 estimates. Around 42% of the country’s population lives in urban areas, while 58% lives in rural regions. Uzbekistan has a diverse cultural heritage due to its storied history and strategic location.

Uzbeks constitute 80% of the population, followed by Russians (5.5%), Tajiks (5%), Kazakhs (3%), and others (6.5%). In Uzbekistan there are about 15 religions. Muslims constitute 88% of the population, while 5% of the population follow Russian Orthodox Christianity, and 7% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. The Uzbek Constitution secures the freedom of religion for all Uzbek people, and everyone is equal before the law.

On 31 August 1991, Uzbekistan declared independence after a failed coup attempt in Moscow. The Soviet Union was dissolved on 26 December of that year.

Following its independence, Uzbekistan tackled its economic issues, low industrial production, high inflation, a decline in living standards, and the weakness of state institutions. The country sought to go from being a country that opposed capitalism to one that embraces property rights, profits, and free market competition.

The first step taken by Uzbekistan towards economic reform was the preparation of laws and regulations governing its economic course. The Uzbek Constitution secures the right of ownership and privatisation and works on attracting foreign investments.

In September 2017, the country fully liberalising its currency, no longer fixing it to the US dollar lifting restrictions on foreign currency movements. Uzbekistan is a major producer and exporter of cotton. The country also operates the largest open-pit gold mine in the world. With the gigantic power-generation facilities of the Soviet era and an ample supply of natural gas, Uzbekistan has become the largest electricity producer in Central Asia. Renewable energy constitutes more than 23% of the country’s energy sector, with hydroelectricity and solar energy at 21.4% and 2% respectively.

Uzbekistan is a country with potential for an expansive tourism industry. Many of its Central Asian cities were main points of trade on the Silk Road, linking Eastern and Western civilisations. Cultural tourism is the only major product Uzbekistan has offered visitors since its independence. Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva are hotspots of tourism.


Samarkand is the second largest city in Uzbekistan with a population of about 400,000. Samarkand is largely an old city characterised by ancient mosques and palaces. It is a major cultural centre in Asia, and it is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The most impressive place in Samarkand is the Registan Square, which means “a sandy place”. The Registan Square is a huge public square surrounded on three sides by religious complexes like mosques and madrasas (college for Islamic instruction). The Registan Square was rebuilt several times between 1370 and 1500 by the Timurids.


Bukhara was a big commercial trading post on the Silk Road. It is the nation’s fifth-largest city and it had a population of 247,644 as of August 2016. Bukhara was written about in Chinese scriptures around AD400 and it has more than 140 architectural monuments from the Middle Ages. The most famous landmark of Bukhara is the Kalyan minaret which was built in AD1127.


It is a large oasis region on the Amu Darya river delta in western Central Asia. It was the centre of the Iranian Khwarezmian civilisation and a series of kingdoms such as the Persian Empire. Today, Khwarezm belongs partly to Uzbekistan, partly to Kazakhstan, and partly to Turkmenistan.

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Students narrate ongoing thanaweya amma exams ‘nightmare’ Tue, 05 Jun 2018 11:00:14 +0000 This year’s exams season started on Sunday, expected to end in July

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Nervous breakdowns, depression, fainting, anxiety, tension, lack of sleep, fear, intensive preparations and studying, and sometimes committing suicide. Those are just some examples of what happens to students during the annual “thanaweya amma” (secondary school) exams season.

The agonising situation continues in 2018, despite many requests by families and students to improve the secondary education system in a way that could decrease the pressure and burdens on students.

Thanaweya amma is Egypt’s secondary school certificate, which is a prerequisite to apply for any universities or higher education institutions.

The exams season of this year started on Sunday with the first subjects tested being the Arabic language and religious studies. They are scheduled to end on 1 July. Over 500,000 students from different governorates are sitting the exams.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Education introduced the new examination system using booklets, which should reduce errors in the correction process and eliminate exam leaks. In it, the students are required to answer on the test papers and not in a separate answering sheet as in the previous system.

It further focuses on questions requiring short answers to cover most of the curriculum, thus moving away from structural questions and the traditional method of memorisation many Egyptians have grown accustomed to.

Also, recently, the ministry changed the system to calculate the final grade based on the final year, though students must now study extra subjects. The new system was introduced after decades of combining the last two years’ results as the final grade.

Daily News Egypt contacted some students and parents of those who are facing the exams of this year to inquire if there are any changes in the system after the application of the booklet system.

“I was depressed during the past weeks that came before the exams, I could not sleep well, I continuously cry, I break anything in front of me,” said Salma Abdelrahman, a 17-year-old thanaweya amma student registered in the science section.

Abdelrahman said that even though the exams have started, she still does not feel ready for them, despite the fact that she is aware of the entire curricula and she did finish studying big portions of them, to the extent that she is almost fully through her revision.

When asked about reasons why she is not yet ready, she said thanaweya amma exams are always unexpected, adding, “I could not get over the idea of facing any tricky questions, I do not know what will I do if I see the exam paper and find some questions that will sound new to me.”

Thanaweya amma students rely, throughout the whole year, on taking private tutoring classes, as the majority of those studying in governmental schools do not attend their classes. Private tutoring could lead a family to pay over EGP 20,000 over a single year.

The high school exams are famous for being difficult and challenging, however, the exam levels have improved during the past few years. Nevertheless, thanaweya amma trauma continues.

“Throughout the year, I spend too much money on private tutoring classes, I do my best to offer a good atmosphere of studying for my daughter. Still, I cannot guarantee that she will really succeed with high grades, to enrol in her dream university in the specialisation she wishes to study and work in, no matter how hard she studies, as always, final exams of thanaweya amma are an obstacle,” said Amal Thabet, a mother of a thanaweya amma student completing the science specialisation.

“I do wish to be able to finish the exams and have a deep sleep without feeling like I should wake up because something is chasing me,” said Ahmed Ashraf, a high school student, who continuously suffers from anxiety. He said he wishes to close his eyes and open them to find himself done with the thanaweya amma “nightmare” and enrolled in the college he has long dreamt of.

Another student, Yasmin Hussien, also agreed with Ashraf, saying that even if she decided to sleep and leave her studies, her parents will not let her do so. “I am pressured from all sides; my teachers, the curriculum, my parents, and of course, the percentage I should get to be able to enrol in the faculty of mass communications. I really wish all the noisy exaggeration that has been long dedicated to thanaweya amma ends, because our challenges are about getting good grades and this really makes us feel stressed, so please, no need for any other [stress] factors.”

In addition to the touch educational system, parents always impose great pressure on their children by forcing them in some cases to register in the science section to enrol in the faculties of medicine or engineering, as those faculties are regarded as the top ones in Egypt. For decades, Egyptian parents have felt more pride if their sons were able to enter those certain faculties and often hold big celebrations and spread the news. Faculties such commerce, languages, literature, or fine arts are seen as subpar to many families.

Some families hope that their children can achieve through thanaweya amma what they failed to achieve during their own time in education. A large number of students, for many years, were forced to register in the science sections just to satisfy their parents’ dreams and not theirs.

Hassan Ataallah, a 50-year-old supermarket owner, said, “I want my son to be a doctor, this was my dream and I failed to achieve it,” and when he was asked if his son really wants to be a doctor, he said, “I know that him being a doctor will make everyone respect him, hence will provide him with a decent life and a good future.” 

Tayseer Mamdouh, after finishing an Arabic language exam on Sunday, said that the exam was alright, but she still fears other subjects, especially since she is registered in the science section.

“The thing is that I can finish all my curriculum, revise well, and do the exams, but still, I feel that I am not going to do well. I want to also mention that the curriculum we are studying is not totally important, I wasted a whole year studying useless information; I don’t think I would ever go back to it in my life. I am just studying to answer exams to get grades to enter a college,” she said.

Educational experts have always criticised the syllabi of the subjects of thanaweya amma, asserting that they are not of interest to students and that they are not well-trained to study such subjects. In addition to that, they further complained about the difficulty of exams that always include tricks not suitable for the learning levels of students.

For years, thanaweya amma has been a nightmare for Egyptian students, stirring among them fears and doubts of not reaching their goals, as in many cases, the final total of their grades was the main reason that hindered some students from entering the faculty of their dreams.

Parents spend large amounts of money on private tutoring, as well as school tuition fees. Students depend on private tutoring more than school classes during the thanaweya amma stage to learn the subjects they will be tested on. In some cases, parents send their sons or daughters to private universities where they can study their dream specialisation, but the trade-off is large sums of money.

In 2017, Egypt’s Education Minister Tarek Shawky announced that a new system will replace the traditional thanaweya amma system in the academic year 2018/19. The new system will cancel the scoring system of calculating total grades to switch to a grade point average (GPA). The proposed system is yet to be discussed in parliament, however, several lawmakers on the education committee have expressed concerns regarding the new system proposed by the minister.

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President’s second mandate: Challenges and opportunities Sun, 03 Jun 2018 09:00:36 +0000 Economic reform policies top issues, political reform hoped for

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In a ceremony that has not taken place in years, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi swore the oath of office before the House of Representatives on Saturday. The president won his second term with 97% of the votes in an election which witnessed no real opposition and a turnout of 41%; about 22 million Egyptians.

While Al-Sisi drew public support back in 2014 through promises of ending terrorism and restoring economic stability to a country sinking in debt and with deteriorated infrastructure.

As the new presidential term begins, Al-Sisi is facing more public resentment towards economic policies—which experts agree should have been undertaken by former rulers decades ago—with side effects that increased financial burdens on the middle class and underprivileged.

In 2015, Al-Sisi’s regime sought to pursue needed reform through a $12bn loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which in turn set requirements, at the top of which came the flotation of the Egyptian pound and subsidy cuts. The government also introduced a value added tax, originally at 13%.

Since then, continuous waves of price increases have affected all aspects of life, from fuel to cigarettes to commodities. In July 2017, inflation reached a record high of 33%.

Near the end of the president’s first term, the economy looked more stable with a GDP annual growth projected at 5.8% in 2018, a decrease in inflation to 13.1% in April, and the unemployment rate falling to 11.3% in the last quarter of 2017.

Whether such data is reflected on citizens’ lives remains uncertain, with indicators showing resentment at the continuation of price increases. Last week, unorganised protests erupted in metro stations following a significant increase in ticket prices.

Although the impact of such anger is unmeasurable yet, experts are sceptical of the ability of people to bear greater financial burdens, something Al-Sisi has referred to as a national duty for every citizen in order to overcome a critical phase. While the president has reiterated that there were no alternatives to harsh economic decisions, the challenge lies in the politics of their implementation.

Amid other demands the public is hoping for, politicians and intellectuals see several opportunities for Al-Sisi to introduce political and social reform which would empower his economic vision.

Seizing a major opportunity, Egypt is increasing its production of natural gas and expanding exploration of new wells, with the aim of becoming a net exporter and an energy hub. In 2015, the largest achievement in the field was the discovery of the mega Zohr field

Oil and gas expansion

Seizing a major opportunity, Egypt is increasing its production of natural gas and expanding exploration of new wells, with the aim of becoming a net exporter and an energy hub. In 2015, the largest achievement in the field was the discovery of the mega Zohr field.

In May, the Ministry of Petroleum said drilling works were completed for wells of the Nooros area in the Nile Delta, with Italian energy company Eni also announcing a new oil discovery in Egypt’s Western Desert. 

Economic policies pay off, social justice

The first presidential term focused on creating the necessary infrastructure and legislation for the economy to grow and investments to be lured in.

In remarks to the Egyptian government in May, IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton said macroeconomic stability and market confidence have been restored, adding, “[…] now the time has come to take advantage of the hard-won macroeconomic stability and push on to create jobs and raise living standards through sustainable growth. That may be difficult, but it would provide the payoff for all the efforts to date.”

According to Lipton, employing the young population is a challenge that could be an opportunity for Egypt. The IMF previously estimated that Egypt needs to create nearly 700,000 jobs every year.

Besides the need for youth employment, there are also demands for equal opportunities and wealth distribution. The latest public criticism in reaction to increased metro ticket prices also voiced anger over a decision that was recently passed to raise the salaries of senior public officials, including ministers and their deputies.

While the government made promises to increase salaries and pensions, experts pointed out that the step has not yet been implemented and that the increases remain low in comparison to the expensive market prices.

Political reform, openness

Political openness and inclusiveness have been major demands of Al-Sisi’s critics who repeatedly denounced the tight security grip on freedom of expression and closure of the public sphere. These demands have been revived by both opponents and supporters of the president ahead of his second term.

Many believe it would be an opportunity for the president to allow political parties to work freely and enhance legal means of freedom of speech. There were also calls for improvement of media rhetoric which has been pushing for polarisation and demonization of opponents. Women have also demanded more inclusion, such as in the judiciary and other leading positions.

The president, who organised numerous conferences bringing different political and social factions together for dialogue, said he hopes for a qualified political process to gradually take place. He said he was open to suggestions during a May youth conference.

In his first speech after the March election, Al-Sisi promised there would be no discrimination among citizens based on their differences in political views.

Al-Sisi did not ignore the deteriorated educational system which has been in place for decades in Egypt, promising a reform programme. The World Bank also approved a $500m loan for that purpose.


Al-Sisi did not ignore the deteriorated educational system which has been in place for decades in Egypt, promising a reform programme. The World Bank also approved a $500m loan for that purpose.

This comes as the controversy over the educational system increased in recent months, including from parents confused over the Ministry of Education’s vision of the system, teachers calling for decent salaries and trainings to enable them to provide higher quality instruction, and MPs pushing for suitable allocations for education in the new state budget for fiscal year 2018/2019.


The Egyptian health sector remains one of the country’s persistent issues. During his first term, Al-Sisi introduced several initiatives for improvement. A new health insurance law was passed by parliament and more hospitals were built.

One of the successes has been the aggressive government campaign against one of the most widespread diseases in Egypt, hepatitis C, acclaimed by the World Health Organisation.

Yet, most existing health facilities suffer a lack of proper equipment and quality of service, with most of the burden falling on the shoulders of the doctors who often get blamed and even assaulted for such lack of resources.

In his inauguration speech on Saturday, Al-Sisi placed education and health as priorities of his upcoming reformist vision. Al-Sisi reiterated once more that there would be no discrimination between his supporters or opponents, provided they do not use extremism and violence to impose their views. Still, in the past week, several influential activists were arrested from their homes for no apparent reasons but the state security apparatus has accused them of belonging to “terrorist” groups.

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Spending on food: Which countries spend most? Tue, 29 May 2018 10:00:46 +0000 Spending on fast food increasingly growing, linked to higher obesity rates

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Whether it is healthy fruits and vegetables, junk food, or fancy food at upscale restaurants, spending money on food has become more popular than ever across the world. Countries, rich and poor, spend a lot of their money on food of all kinds, and families spend a decent portion of their incomes on buying their meals.

However, some countries spend more money on food than others, specifically on junk food, sweets, and sugary drinks, which have replaced the healthier diet based on fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil, according to Joao Breda, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. This, of course, has been linked to higher obesity rates in countries with less healthy food.

Americans spend only 6.4% of their household income on food, and if you factor in the costs of eating out, that figure increases to 11%, according to data compiled by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2015.

“Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the smaller the percentage of household income it spends on food,” according to the World Economic Forum website. However, there can be wide disparities within a country.

Over the past 25 years, the poorest 20% of households in the US spent between 28.8% and 42.6% on food, compared with 6.5% to 9.2% spent by the wealthiest 20% of households, according to the World Economic Forum.

“There are only eight countries in the world that spend less than 10% of their household income on food. Four of these are in Europe. The UK is third at 8.2%, followed by Switzerland at 8.7%. Ireland spends 9.6% and Austria 9.9%. The remaining four countries are spread across the globe. The US spends the least at 6.4%, Singapore spends the second lowest amount at 6.7%. Canada spends 9.1% on food, while Australia spends 9.8%,” the World Economic Forum website reported.

Nigeria spends over half of household income on food, and there are nine other countries that spend over 40% on food. Four of them are in Africa: Nigeria at 56.4%; Kenya at 46.7%; Cameroon at 45.6%; and Algeria at 42.5%. Four are in Asia: Kazakhstan at 43.0%; Philippines at 41.9%; Pakistan at 40.9%; and Azerbaijan at 40.1%. Guatemala is the only South American country to spend over 40% of its household income on food, at 40.6%.

A good explanation for the difference in the rates of spending on food among these countries is that as countries get richer, they spend more money on other things, like entertainment or leisure. However, this pattern fluctuates, and also highly depends on elements like the specific prices of foods in countries and people’s preferences in terms of these foods. A notable example of how this rule does not hold is that India, which is much poorer than Russia, spends a smaller portion (25.2% v Russia’s 31.6%) of its household budget on food, according to First We Feast online food magazine.

Interestingly, in Western Europe, the Irish spend the most money on their fast food eating habits, despite the prevalent obesity crisis, especially among children.

“The nation forked out €264 per head of population on takeaways such as hamburgers and pizza—up 19% since 2012. The Euromonitor 2018 report on Ireland’s fast food industry said that fast food, overall, continued to see healthy growth rates in 2017, in spite of pressure caused by health concerns. The report showed Ireland is number 11 in the world when it comes to splashing out on fast food. But it pales in comparison to the US, which spend more than any other country on fast food—three times as much as Ireland,” Irish Mirror said. Australia came in second place when it comes to spending on fast food, while Canada came in third.

The spending habits on food differ from one country to another and even from a region to another within the same country. The changes in the spending habits depend on many factors and they result in various health habits and lifestyles. That being said, the popularity of spending money on fast food is likely to continue growing over the upcoming years and may be linked to habits that are even less healthy.

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Government pressed to combat discrimination Sun, 27 May 2018 10:30:17 +0000 Constitution stipulates establishment of independent commission for that purpose

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“I promise to work for all Egyptians without discrimination,” President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said in April, during his first speech after securing a second presidential term with 97% of votes against his only rival Moussa Mostafa Moussa.

The president said he upholds the values of citizenship, by which all shall be equal regardless of whether they voted for him in the election or not and despite their differences of opinion, provided those do not harm the state, Al-Sisi stated.

In 2014, a constitution approved by a public referendum vowed to ban discrimination. Article 53 of the constitution stipulates: “All citizens are equal before the law. They are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties, without discrimination based on religion, belief, sex, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason. Discrimination and incitement to hatred are crimes punishable by law.”

According to the constitution, the state shall “ensure equal opportunities for all citizens without discrimination,” in addition to specifically pointing out to gender equality in article 11.

It is the state’s responsibility to “take necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination,” which the constitution said should be done by creating an independent commission for that purpose.

While this remained a delayed project for the regime, demands for the establishment of the commission have recently resurfaced.

MP Nadia Henry: Some people are not aware their practices are discriminatory

A persistent issue

Al-Sisi came to power in 2014, after two waves of popular uprisings which brought down former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi. On 25 January 2011, people took the streets asking for justice.

Different marginalised groups demanded their rights from the Mubarak regime which “messed up citizenship values, segregated and fuelled tensions between citizens of different race and religion, and embraced widespread discrimination according to social class,” according to the Cairo-based Nazra Organisation for Feminist Studies.

On 20 June 2013, protesters rejected the Islamist rule which discriminated against various groups, at the forefront of which were Copts and women.

Discrimination against women and religious minorities remain the highest reported types of the phenomenon in Egypt, in terms of being subjected to violence by other groups or being incited against in public or in the media.

Members of parliament submitted draft proposals for laws regulating discrimination and organising the work of an anti-discrimination commission.

MP Nadia Henry, member of parliament’s economic committee, was one of the members who submitted a draft law on “equality and banning discrimination among citizens.”

Henry, who is also a member of the Free Egyptians Party and of the 25-30 parliamentary coalition, has been an advocate of rights and freedoms and actively campaigning against discrimination.

“It is a very serious concern,” Henry said in an interview with Daily News Egypt. “The discrimination disease spread in Egypt, perhaps due to years of accumulated injustice and misconceptions.”

Such calls were echoed in a campaign launched months ago focusing on women’s right to work in the judiciary, as women continue to be denied that right in some entities including, the Public Prosecution and State Council authorities, to the contrary of constitutional guarantees.

The campaign grouped civil society women’s rights defenders, MPs such as Henry, and judicial figures, including Mohamed Samir who heads the media department at the Administrative Prosecution, a high-level judicial body.

Samir stressed the importance of fighting discrimination through an established body and clearer definitions of discrimination in the law.

Why is a commission needed?

A copy of Henry’s draft proposal obtained by Daily News Egypt shows that the law aims at establishing legislative rules defining the obligations of all public and private institutions to respect the principles of equality, the prohibition of discrimination among citizens, and the development of appropriate penalties for violating them.

As such, the commission is to have a regulatory role, as an independent body capable of oversight over both public and private institutions.

It further comes with the goal of raising cultural awareness on citizenship principles and equal opportunities as well as developing a system which could effectively counter violations and redress justice for victims.

“Most importantly, people will find an entity to address with these specific issues, in case they faced discrimination of any kind,” Henry said in an interview.

APA spokesperson Mohamed Samir

Discrimination in the law

The Egyptian Penal Code does not contain a clear definition of the crime of discrimination, focusing more on punishments for crimes of hatred and incitement to violence against religious groups.

As for the gender dimension, some laws criminalise certain violations against women and children, including rape, sexual assault, and female genital mutilation (FGM). In 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) added an article to the Penal Code punishing discrimination.

The new law stipulated a short prison term and/or fine for any person who commits an act which would result in discrimination against persons or a specific community based on gender, race, language, religion, or faith, in violation of the principal of equal opportunities and social justice. The penalty would be at least three months in prison in addition to a fine between EGP 50,000 and EGP 100,000 if committed by a public official.

Samir said he was not particularly interested in prison sentences, but rather in heavy fines. “People [also] need to be held accountable for discriminatory comments,” he added, giving, as an example, preachers issuing fatwas 9religious edicts) banning Muslims form greeting Christians during their religious holidays.

Henry’s proposed law defines discrimination as the biased or preferential treatment of a person on the basis of his or her real or perceived belonging to any group based on arbitrary criteria such as sex; language; origin; age; religious belief and religious practice; social status; health conditions, especially disability; family responsibility; or withholding workers’ rights, which leads to the total or partial deprivation of one or more segments of citizens of some of the rights provided for in the constitution and international human rights conventions.

The draft law also prevents indirect discrimination practices, which are defined as the existence of a rule or policy that applies to all but has an unfair effect on some persons who share a particular characteristic, such as women and the disabled, for example.

The draft, which Henry hopes will be pushed for by the parliament in the near future, also sets a framework of action against discrimination by delegating the commissioner to file lawsuits on behalf of the victims.

On a different note, Henry has also been working on eliminating gender discrimination through various legislation, including an expected labour law, women’s right to be appointed in any judicial entity, and the personal status law.

International commitments, local challenges

Egypt ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1967, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) in 1993, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008.

Egypt also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981.

Nazra Organisation for Feminist Studies outlined its own version of the law for an anti-discriminatory commission in 2014. It provided examples of similar bodies in other nations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission was founded in 1986 and operates independently from the government. It is concerned with discrimination against people with disabilities and other forms of discrimination such as discrimination based on gender, age, and race. It submits reports to the Parliament of Australia through the public prosecutor.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission was established in 1977 and is responsible for dealing with allegations of discrimination and submitting recommendations to the Ministry of Justice.

South Africa, which has suffered from a history of segregation based on race, included in its constitution of 1996 a number of independent committees aimed at gender equality and the protection of the rights of cultural and religious groups.

Cultural challenges remain the most prominent obstacles facing the combatting of discrimination. Women’s rights advocates reported having the toughest time under the Muslim Brotherhood rule in 2012-2013, which they considered a setback to equality and female empowerment.

Furthermore, in October 2017, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, head of the leading Islamic institution in Egypt, criticised the convention by pointing out that it is trying to impose gender equality at all levels, which he said contradicts Islamic teachings. Moreover, Khaled Al-Gendi, a well-known preacher, said the convention “threatened” traditional social structures where men are dominant, in a statement to Al-Masry Al-Youm on 18 October 2017.

According to Henry, the “catastrophe” is when a party practices discrimination without being aware of it or without being convinced it is discriminatory. She mentioned the sort of systematic categorisation of tasks according to gender. “Cooking classes in schools are only for female students,” she stated as an example. “At home, boys are taught to be in charge of purchases while girls are asked to handle dishwashing,” she added.

As Ramadan began earlier this month, some TV commercials have faced backlash on social media for promoting gender and social class discrimination, including one for an compound publicly calling on people to choose big brand names in all aspects of their lives, including spouses with “big family names.”

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Slight changes in Ramadan goods prices compared to last year Tue, 22 May 2018 13:00:55 +0000 Unlike every year, yamesh sections face moderate turnout due to price hikes 

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A few months ahead of the holy month of Ramadan every year, supermarkets and spices shops start to devote large sections to be filled with yamesh, nuts, and other types of dry fruits, as part of Egyptian tradition during the holy month. 

Egyptians are always keen to buy these products as a main custom during every Ramadan, to be used for making special juices and desserts that can only be seen on food tables during Ramadan, but for the past two years, the situation of the products’ prices prompted some to back off of buying them. Price hikes also sometimes lead them to save expenses for more important items.

A few days before the beginning of Ramadan, Egyptian families begin to dedicate a certain budget for buying all food products that will be consumed during the month, at sufficient quantities for the 30 days.

Because during the fasting hours, no food or drink is consumed, for iftar, people prepare a variety of dishes of oriental food every day throughout the month, which requires them to buy large quantities of vegetables, meat, chicken, and other products. In Ramadan particularly, people tend to send out more invitations to family members and friends, so they can all have iftar together.

Throughout 2017, it was common for the majority of Egyptians to complain of how the monthly budget dedicated for the supermarket became insufficient for them to secure all their needs.

For the second constructive year, prices of yamesh and nuts have continued to be unaffordable for many families.

Egypt’s monthly inflation rate rose by 1.5% in April 2018 compared to March 2018, while the annual inflation rate declined from 13.1% to 12.9% during the same period, according to Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Egypt’s annual inflation peaked in July 2017 when it neared 35%, but it gradually declined over the following months until it reached 12.9% in April 2018.

The general consumer price index for Egypt reached 273.9 during the month of April 2018, registering a rise of 1.5% compared to March 2018, the CAPMAS said, adding that the increase was due to the rise in the prices of vegetables by 6.2%, meats by 2.7%, cereals and bread by 1.6%, fish and seafood by 0.8%, coffee and tea by 1.4%, oils by 0.3%, and sugar and sugary foods by 0.5%. The prices of dairy, cheese, and eggs, though, declined by 0.4% in April from the prior month.

Since the Egyptian pound’s flotation in November 2016, retailers have raised the prices of different products, including food, medicine, electronics, and fuel, as well as electricity services, making life more difficult for Egyptians. Products that also faced great price hikes were those imported from foreign countries, which increased due to the rise in the US dollar value against the pound. Prices are expected to face extra increases after the expected further slashing of fuel subsidies this summer. The planned move is a continuation of measures taken to reform Egypt’s economy through a programme backed by the International Monetary Fund, tied to a $12bn loan agreement.

Sales of local Ramadan delicacies have decreased, as unlike every year, the section devoted to these products in shops witnessed moderate turnout.

So far in Ramadan 2018, the markets of yamesh have experienced a recession because of the low demand by citizens to buy, which caused some traders to reduce prices out of fear that their goods would expire and hence their inability to sell them if stored for the next season.

Overview of Ramadan goods prices

In April, the spices division of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce said that the prices of yamesh, dates, and nuts will see an increase of 15-20% this year compared to last year.

Since yamesh and other Ramadan delicacies are not categorised as essential goods, they are therefore subjected to the increasing of their prices.

The chamber also said that other Ramadan goods will see an increase this year, such as raisins, which will cost EGP 85-90 per kilogram compared to EGP 60-65 last year. Pistachios will cost EGP 280-300 per kilogram, and cashew nuts will cost EGP 300 per kilogram. 

Amr Asfour, secretary general of the food division of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said that the prices of raisins and almonds have also risen, while the prices of hazelnuts and apricots have stabilised during the season compared to last season

Asfour said the price of raisins rose from EGP 86 per kilogram last year to EGP 100 this year, and almonds rose to EGP 230 per kilogram instead of EGP 200 last year.

What is the state doing?

Members of the Egyptian Parliament unanimously stressed the importance of the government tightening its control over the markets to adjust prices and prevent monopolistic practices during the month of Ramadan. They raised a number of requests for briefings to Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal, demanding that the concerned ministers properly follow-up on the issue.

Member of the Nation’s Future Party parliamentary bloc Badawy El-Nawashy said, in press statements to privately-owned newspaper Al-Shorouk, that monitoring the situation of markets and the adequacy of goods in meeting the needs of citizens is important. He suggested that if necessary, the parliamentarian himself would visit the markets to ensure the readiness of the government and its procedures to monitor the markets.

He also said that there is coordination among lawmakers, government agencies, and regulatory bodies, which are closely related to the markets and commodities, such as the Consumer Protection Agency and supply centres, to prevent the monopolisation of goods and control of markets, and deal with those exploiting citizens with deterrent measures. Otherwise, parliamentarians can use their authority to hold individuals accountable, he said.

Regarding the briefing, parliament member Saeed Hassanein submitted an inquest to Abdel Aal to inquire about the government’s clear steps to ensure the needs of citizens during the month of Ramadan, saying that the procedures relevant to the tight control of markets should be clear and visible to all.

Hassanein said in his request that the availability of basic commodities in Ramadan and their accessibility to citizens, without increasing their prices, is an essential task of the government, and that parliament is required to implement a  supervisory role to ensure the completion of all these steps.

Moreover, member of parliament’s economic committee Abdel Hamid Mohamed stressed on the importance of the successive meeting of the government with members of parliament in the coming period in order to follow the efforts that should be made to control prices and monitor the markets.

Economic experts have previously suggested implementing a recent ministerial decision to oblige retailers and producers to write prices of products on their packages and that they should be commensurate to the prices originally bought at. as The measure is meant to solve the issue of various retailers pricing the same products differently in the same area.

For Ramadan 2018, Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Meselhy formulated a plan to provide all products to citizens throughout the holy month through establishing “Ahlan Ramadan” exhibitions in various governorates, so commercial chains and major producers can present their products at reasonable prices.

Regarding the availability of food commodities in other areas, the minister agreed with representatives of food production companies to not increase food prices by more than 15%. He further ordered sales to be at wholesale price and the increases of supply of commodities, meat products, and poultry throughout the holy month at their pre-Ramadan prices, as the Food Industries Holding Company will bear the difference in the cost of meat and poultry to ease the burden on citizens.

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Cost of tying the knot: How much do weddings cost globally? Tue, 22 May 2018 12:00:15 +0000 Average cost of British wedding has risen to £27,000

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We all saw the British royal wedding take place a few days ago. Prince Harry, the younger son of the late Princess Diana, has married Rachel Meghan Markle, a former American actress—now the Duchess of Sussex. Needless to say, the wedding was extravagant and luxurious, fit for the royal family, with heavy security placed around St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in the UK. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged their vows in front of 600 guests, including Queen Elizabeth II and more than 30 royals and celebrity faces. The royal wedding cost nearly $42.8m, according to CNBC. The bride’s dress, flowers, and a glass marquee for the reception all cost about $2.7m, or 73 times the cost of the average wedding in the UK.

While the royal wedding is deemed exaggeratedly expensive, it may not, after all, be the only costly wedding across the UK or elsewhere. British weddings are still rather expensive, even though more than half the married Brits say they regret spending so much on their weddings, according to The Independent.

“Nowadays, the average cost of a wedding has risen to £27,000, so it’s not hard to see why so many Brits are grumbling. The data collected by the free wedding planning website Hitched shows how ridiculously expensive nuptials are becoming, with the biggest elements on average being venue hire (£4,354), honeymoon (£3,630), and the food (£3,353),” The Independent said.

In the US, the amount of money spent on weddings is not that different. The average cost of a wedding day in 2016 reached $35,329, an increase of $2,688 compared to the 2015 average of $32,641, according to Fortune Magazine.

Noticeably, the most expensive element in these weddings is also the venue, costing the married couple an average of $16,107.

According to Global News, Canadians say that a realistic price of a wedding in Canada would be $8,937, which is a number very far from the actual number that Canadians said they spend on their weddings, which is estimated to be $30,717 in a 2015 poll.

While these exaggerated amounts are already deemed excessive, The Independent has reported that the average wedding in the UK will hit an all-time high in 2028, according to new research.

The previously mentioned costs are only likely to increase, according to, which analysed data from the past 80 years, showing that the average cost of a wedding will skyrocket to £32,064 in the next decade, compared to just £18,733 in 2006. This means that there will be a 60% increase in wedding ceremony expenses in a period of just 22 years.

“By 2028, the data predicts a 17% increase in the total cost of getting married to a huge £29,8389. This is almost £3,000 more than the average current UK salary of £27,5005 in 2017,” The Independent reported.

Spending on weddings also took a toll on married couples’ budgets in other regions across the world, as statistics show that the average cost of a wedding in Spain in 2016, including the average cost of the ceremony, dress, jewellery, photographer, and decorations, amounted to approximately €20,000, according to Statista.   

In Australia, statistics show the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was approximately AUD 41,520. On average, Australian weddings now cost AUD 90,126.

In Mexico, as of February 2016, the average wedding cost around MXN 172,000, with the venue also being the largest wedding expense, followed by the honeymoon, which came second as the most expensive element married couples spent money on.

The cost of weddings worldwide is a concern for many young couples who want to get married and celebrate their union, but it only seems to be increasing, making the first 24 hours with your spouse probably the most expensive. While good memories are worth making on such a special occasion to be remembered later in life, are they really worth spending savings on them and exhausting parents’ bank accounts for them?

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Could historic Arab struggle for Palestinian cause still has an impact? Sun, 20 May 2018 08:00:46 +0000 League of Arab Nations convened Thursday to discuss Israeli aggressions, condemns US embassy’s move

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In the past years within the Arab world, activists and intellectuals have been sceptical of their leaders’ willingness to take action against the Israeli occupation.

Analysts and op-ed writers often mention that the Palestinian cause is no longer of a priority for Arab countries in face of growing interests with the US, Israel’s strongest ally, and recently, Israel itself.

“Palestine is being lost and the Arabs going out of history. Israel is occupying the Arab will,” Lebanese journalist Talal Salman wrote in April, in a series of articles on the topic published in the Egyptian Al-Shorouk newspaper.

The region is bursting with conflicts, which added to Arabs division. It is overwhelmed with the Syrian civil war, amid political turmoil also in Libya and Yemen. Moreover, the Gulf countries are in dispute with Qatar. The scene is complicated with Saudi Arabia’s quest for influence against feared Iranian expansion.

The Palestinian cause, which has drawn solidarity from Arab neighbours over the past decades, almost no longer exist in that historic sense. Egypt, one of the oldest allies, has maintained diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.

Protests which used to take place in Cairo in solidarity with the Palestinian people during important events have been quite since the Great March of Return demonstrations.

On Thursday, the League of Arab Nations convened for an extra-ordinary session called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in light of weeks of increased Israeli aggression and internationally condemned killings of Palestinian protesters demanding their historic right to return to their land, a right recognised by the UN.

Nevertheless, both Israel and the US have been throwing away UN resolutions regarding the conflict. The US, which has repeatedly used its veto to block UN condemnations of its decisions and the practices of Israel, added fuel to the fire by moving its embassy to the disputed Jerusalem City, thus in the eyes of Arabs and the international community, taking a strong bias towards Israel.

The UN resolutions have clearly rejected any practices by Israel, seeking to alter the character and status of Jerusalem. Resolution 478 adopted in 1980 called on member states that have “established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” The resolution was voted for by 14 states, except for the US.

Yet, the league did not conclude with firm action to oppose the US embassy move, despite several statements condemning the move and stress upon East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

To understand where the criticism came from one must look at the history of Arab countries’ stances and their development over the course of decades. Previously, united Arab decisions pushed in favour of the Palestinian cause.

The first Arab summit kicked off in 1945 in Egypt, expressing concern over Jewish migration and deciding to boycott their manufactured goods.

1960s: Arab summit gives PLO legitimacy

In 1964, the Arab summit held in Alexandria recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a legal representative of the people and the cause.

The following summit in Morocco adopted the Arab Solidarity Charter, which called for unity in the Palestinian conflict.

Ten years later, the summit would accept the PLO as the only legal representative of Palestine, which would gradually acquire international recognition and in the UN.

1970s: Firm stances towards Egypt-Israel peace agreement

In 1979, after signing peace accords with Israel, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League and its headquarters moved from Cairo, expressing its rejection of the Camp David accords. Egypt would only be readmitted in 1989.

1980s: Arabs threaten to cut oil supplies over any Jerusalem embassy move

In 1980, during the Iraq-Iran war, the 11th Arab Summit was held in in Amman with the aim of joining Arab efforts. A few months earlier, Israel had announced Jerusalem as its capital, including East Jerusalem, which it occupied during the 1967 war, which the UN Security Council opposed through resolution 478.

It remained a quite a divisive summit, attended only by 15 Arab leaders.

“The absence of the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front—Syria, Algeria, Libya, South Yemen, and the PLO, joined this time by Lebanon—made any real discussion of the planned united Arab political strategy for confronting Israel all but meaningless,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

The gap between Egypt and Arab allies has been widening as former President Anwar Sadat signed Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978.

Nevertheless, the summit adopted a decision to boycott any state that would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Iraq threatened to cut oil supplies and freeze all economic agreements. Thirteen countries moved their embassies to Tel Aviv instead.

Could there still be an Arab action with an impact?

In the aftermath of Trump’s announcement, Hazem Hussanein, researcher at Cairo-based El-Badil Centre for Planning and Strategic Studies, tried to answer that question by analysing the tools that Arabs possess.

Economically, Hussanein supports boycotting or threats to do so, such as withdrawing investments from the US, banning them from using navigation paths such as the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, reducing oil production to drive up international prices and cutting financial ties with Israel. Most importantly, he calls for an economic backup of Palestine.

On the political level, Hussanein stresses on the importance of united positions among Arab countries. He points out to the reduction of diplomatic representation in the US and lobbying for an international coalition to face Trump, announcing the non-recognition of the state of Israel and banning its diplomats.

Arabs must also consider reducing the US military presence in their territories, establish a media rhetoric hostile to the US and Israel, the researcher added.

The League of Arab Nations has constantly reminded the world of the Palestinian conflict, demanded respect for the international law and UN resolutions. Despite a united position against the US President Trump’s decision to move the embassy, there has been insignificantArab impact on reversing it or on preventing Israeli abuse.

At the same time, each country is adopting a different strategy to the cause, with Egypt currently leading the reconciliation between Palestinian factions. The PA has considered the US no longer a party in the negotiations, but the question remains if whether it would receive Arab support.

In his statement before the Arab League, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Soukry said there were three urgent tasks to complete, including joining international efforts to stop Israel’s use of violence against peaceful protesters and launch investigations into previous assaults.

Secondly, to reiterate the non-recognition of the US embassy move to Jerusalem and maintain East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

However, the third action according to Shoukry is to revive peace negotiations.

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Once an ally, Iran becomes top target of Saudi-Israeli bloc Sun, 13 May 2018 11:00:39 +0000 European countries attempt to save Iran nuclear deal after US pulls out

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On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump declared he is pulling his country out of the nuclear deal with Iran in a move that was anticipated for several weeks.

Under the deal brokered in July 2015, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities and allow observers to monitor its commitment—which it largely did—in exchange for lifting sanctions. The parties of the agreement included the US, the UK, Russia, France, Germany, China, and the European Union.

One leader was not celebrating the breakthrough. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a “historic mistake.”

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump declared he is pulling his country out of the nuclear deal with Iran in a move that was anticipated for several weeks.

Trump called it a “horrible, one-sided deal.” The UK, Germany, and France rejected the US withdrawal and said they would remain committed. For his part, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, requested guarantees from the European countries that trade relations be preserved, or else threatened to end his country’s commitment and restart its enrichment programme.

For an Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the US position comes amid escalation against Iran on grounds of the Islamic republic’s growing regional interference. Saudi Arabia, which is also leading an alliance of Arab forces fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, has repeatedly accused Iran of being behind ballistic missile attacks on the kingdom.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt announced their boycotting of Qatar, citing terrorism funding and ties with Iran. The Arab League adopted a similar rhetoric that Iran is meddling with regional affairs and destabilising Arab countries, eventually aligning with Trump’s vision that the nuclear deal should be revised as it did not address other problems caused by Iran.

Iran’s presence in Syria has been a particular headache for the Saudis, which disliked the US desire to withdraw from Syria.

Once an ally of Saudi Arabia and a good friend of Israel, Iran has become the mutual threat bringing together the US-Israel force with the Saudi-led coalition. Iran’s relations in the Middle East have been shifting in line with regional changes, with its growing influence manifested through supporters in different countries.

Iranian influence in the Middle East

In 2014, Iranian MP Ali Reza Zakani, who is reportedly close to Supreme Leader Khamenei, made a statement in which he bragged that three Arab capitals were in the hands of Iran and belonged to the Islamic Iranian revolution, noting that the fourth was on its way to joining.

He was referring to Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad, noting, “the revolution of the Houthis in Yemen is an extension of the Khomeini revolution,” referring to the 1979 revolution led by Khamenei’s predecessor and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, according to media reports.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is Iran’s strongest foothold in the region. Founded in 1982 by a group of Shiite clerics, it was inspired by Khomeini, who led the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Iranian monarchy. The party’s quest has been to fight Israel and end its invasion of Lebanon.

Hezbollah has been a strategic arm of Iran and has been involved in the Syrian civil war through the National Defence Forces fighting against rebels and assisted by Iran.

In November, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri announced a controversial resignation, citing objections to Iran and Hezbollah policies in Lebanon and the region. The surprise move is believed to have been forced upon him by Saudi Arabia, which he was visiting the capital of. Al-Hariri revoked his resignation once he returned to Lebanon.

In Iraq, Iran played a significant role in fighting against the Islamic State group through the Popular Mobilisation Forces, also providing assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga. Iran has been backing the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran’s allies Russia, Turkey, and Qatar are also in conflict with the US, as well as European and Arab countries. As it stands, Saudi Arabia and Israel continue to lobby against Iran and gather their allies. Last week, Morocco cut diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing it of assisting the Polisario Front, a group seeking to establish the independence of Western Sahara, a region claimed and partially occupied by Morocco.

In an op-ed published on Saturday, the editor-in-chief of the privately-owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, Emad El-Din Hussein, said Arabs ought to sit and negotiate with Iran just as they did with the Israelis. According to him, Iran could take the initiative to cease support for the Houthis and stop interfering in Iraq and Lebanon, while leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE should announce they are willing to visit Iran and lend it Arab support.

On the other hand, Israel has been escalating tensions against Iran, mainly by attacking their targets in Syria, to which Iran’s response has been limited. Just ahead of Trump’s decision, Israeli PM Netanyahu said he had proof that Iran was lying about its nuclear programme. The US has warned Iran against any harm to Israel.

Amid a chaotic scene that is continuously and rapidly changing, Europe is trying to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran as the rest of Arab countries hold their breath in fear of another outbreak of violence that has shaken the region in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring.

Egypt-Iran relations

Marked by ideological and political differences, relations between Egypt and Iran vacillated between hostility and approval for decades, depending on who ruled each country and which regional interests were prioritised during the time period.

Egypt has long accused Iran of supporting its largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. During the 18-day revolution which toppled Mubarak, more public blame was directed at the Iran-backed groups Hamas and Hezbollah over supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and plotting to release Islamists, including the eventual president Mohamed Morsi.

Mubarak considered Iranian influence through Hezbollah and Hamas a growing threat, especially the latter, which took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, across the Egyptian border.


Egypt-Iran relations timeline

1939 – Princess Fawzia, daughter of Egyptian King Fouad, married Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who would later become the last shah of Iran

1952-1953Gamal Abdel Nasser led a revolution creating Egypt’s republican system, promoted Arab nationalism, and allied with the Soviet Union. Pahlavi’s monarchy was restored in Iran, backed by the UK and US

1960 – Diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran ruptured, amid a political and ideological conflict. Iran perceived pan-Arabism as a threat. The shah enjoyed good relations with Israel, with whom Egypt was at war

1962 – Yemen’s civil war: Egypt sent military forces to Yemen to support revolutionary republicans, supported by the Soviets. On the royalist side stood Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, and the UK

1970 – Egypt and Iran restored diplomatic relations, one month before Nasser’s death in September

1971 – Egypt’s then-president Anwar Al-Sadat met with the shah of Iran. Distance further shrunk due to a mutual desire to cooperate with the Soviet Union

1973 – Iran provided different types of aid to Egypt during its war against Israel

1979 – An Islamic revolution in Iran toppled the shah, and the new Iranian leadership declared hostility towards the West

Al-Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel and granted the overthrown shah asylum in Egypt

1980-1988 – Egypt supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war against Iran, intensifying Egypt-Iran conflicts

1981 – Al-Sadat was assassinated and Iran named a street after the perpetrator, Islamist militant Khaled Al-Islamboli, which Egypt would maintain as a main obstacle to restoring good relations

2008 – Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak met in Cairo with Iranian Parliament Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. A year earlier, Ali Larjani, at the time secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, visited Cairo

2011 – Iran appointed an ambassador to Egypt for the first time in 30 years, nearly two months after Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the 25 January 2011 revolution

2012 – Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi visited Iran to attend a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement

2013 – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to visit Egypt since 1979 for a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

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Al-Qaeda restores ideological dominance as IS threat diminishes Mon, 07 May 2018 09:00:13 +0000 As the Islamic State group (IS) suffers a downfall after its defeat in Syria and Iraq, a new challenge is rising: a revived Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, which has started to regain its previous status as the world’s top terrorist threat. While the world focused on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, as it dominated the headlines …

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As the Islamic State group (IS) suffers a downfall after its defeat in Syria and Iraq, a new challenge is rising: a revived Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, which has started to regain its previous status as the world’s top terrorist threat.

While the world focused on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, as it dominated the headlines and preoccupied national security officials for the past four years, Al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding. The group announced another affiliate dedicated to the “liberation” of Kashmir last summer, coupled with the resurrection of its presence in Afghanistan and the solidification of its influence in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, according to Bruce Hoffman, visiting senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who studies terrorism and insurgencies.

Hoffman indicates that although Al-Qaeda’s rebuilding and reorganisation predates the 2011 so-called Arab Spring, the security vacuum that followed allowed the movement to revive itself. As the masses longed for democracy and economic reform, Al-Qaeda discerned new and inviting opportunities.

The group faced a series of losses in the ranks of prominent figures in its organisational hierarchy, after the successive killings in 2011 and 2012 of Osama bin Laden; Anwar al-Awlaki, the group’s chief propagandist; and Abu Yahya al-Libi, its second-in-command. The string of deaths lent new weight to the optimists’ predictions that Al-Qaeda was a spent force.

However, it appears that Al-Qaeda was among the regional forces that benefited most from the turmoil that accompanied the Arab Spring. With the emergence of Ayman Al-Zawahiri as a powerful leader, forces loyal to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates now number in the tens of thousands, with a capacity to disrupt local and regional stability, as well as launch attacks against their declared enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Russia.

According to Hoffman, Al-Qaeda has knit together a global movement of more than two dozen franchises, with around 20,000 men under arms in Syria alone, and it has perhaps another 4,000 in Yemen and about 7,000 in Somalia.

Rising from the Arab Spring ashes

In the period from 2012-13, thousands of hardened Al-Qaeda fighters were freed from Egyptian prisons by Islamist then-president Mohamed Morsi. Those fighters acted as the movement’s kiss of life, when instability reigned and a handful of men well-versed in terrorism and subversion could plunge a country or a region into chaos. Whether in Libya, Turkey, Syria, or Yemen, their arrival was providential in terms of advancing Al-Qaeda’s interests or increasing its influence.

The ousting of Morsi afterwards was used as part of Al-Zawahiri’s propaganda to feed Al-Qaeda’s narrative to disbelieve Western promises about either the fruits of democracy or the sanctity of free and fair elections.

But Syria was the movement’s most prominent playground, as one of Al-Zawahiri’s first official acts after succeeding bin Laden as emir was to order a Syrian veteran of the Iraqi insurgency, named Abu Mohammad al-Julani, to return home and establish the Al-Qaeda franchise that would eventually become the Nusra Front.

At the start of the Syrian civil war, the Nusra Front was the product of a joint initiative with Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, which had rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). However, as Nusra grew in both strength and influence, tensions and disputes started to erupt between ISI and Al-Qaeda over control of the group.

Later on, in a bold power grab, ISI’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, announced the forcible amalgamation of Nusra with ISI in a new organisation to be called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), without Al-Zawahiri’s approval. Consequently, al-Julani refused to accede to the unilateral merger and appealed to Al-Zawahri. The quarrel intensified, and after Al-Zawahri’s attempts to mediate collapsed, he expelled ISIS from the Al-Qaeda network.

Since its emergence, ISIS—which later on rebranded itself as the Islamic State (IS)— become the world’s main attention-getter. While the world focused on IS, Al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding its strength, and fortifying its various branches.

Al-Qaeda’s new strategy was to protect its remaining senior leadership, through scattering them to Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, and Yemen, with only a hard-core remnant of top commanders remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Syria: The cornerstone of Al-Qaeda’s resurrection

The importance that the group attaches to Syria can be seen through the high inflows of top Al-Qaeda leaders sent to the country in the last seven years. Among them was Muhsin al-Fadhli, a bin Laden intimate who, until his death in a 2015 US airstrike, commanded the movement’s elite forward-based operational arm in that country, known as the Khorasan Group. Haydar Kirkan, a Turkish national and long-standing senior operative, was sent by bin Laden himself to Turkey in 2010 to lay the groundwork for the movement’s expansion into the Levant, before the Arab Spring created precisely that opportunity. Kirkan was also responsible for facilitating the movement of other senior Al-Qaeda personnel from Pakistan to Syria to escape the escalating drone strike campaign ordered by former US president Barack Obama. He was killed in 2016 in a US bombing raid.

Moreover, in 2016, Saif al-Adl, who is arguably the movement’s most battle-hardened commander arrived in Syria. Al-Adl is a former Egyptian Army commando whose terrorist pedigree, dating to the late 1970s, includes assassination plots against former Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat, the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 terrorist campaigns in Saudi Arabia and South Asia.

Later on, Hamza, bin Laden’s youngest son, reportedly appeared in Syria in 2017, adding more evidence to the fact that Syria has become the most popular venue to wage holy war since the seminal Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

According to Hoffman, Al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria is far more pernicious than that of IS. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the latest name adopted by Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, is now the largest rebel group in the country, having extended its control last year over all of Idlib Province along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Throughout the seven years of the Syrian civil war, Nusra and Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated brigades have essentially functioned as a coalition in the fight against the Syrian government, with FSA commanders often referring to fighters from Nusra as members of the FSA itself. In many cases, FSA offensives against Syrian government military bases or check points have begun with suicide or truck bombings carried out by Nusra militants. Nusra and FSA-affiliated brigades have established joint committees to divide weapons captured from the Syrian army in rebel offensives. FSA commanders often sell US and Gulf-supplied weapons to Nusra.

In a lengthy study analysing the Nusra Front’s strategy, Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) concluded that “JN (Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra) serves as a force multiplier for other rebel groups. JN leverages small units of highly skilled fighters to contribute an essential special forces-like capability to rebel military offensives. JN provides highly effective capabilities such as the deployment of suicide bombers to produce asymmetric effects against the regime.”

Filling the ISIS Vacuum

According to Hoffman brief, IS can no longer compete with Al-Qaeda in terms of influence, reach, manpower, or cohesion. In only two domains is IS currently stronger than its rival: the power of its brand and its presumed ability to mount spectacular terrorist strikes in Europe.

However, Hoffman believes that the latter is a product of Al-Zawahri’s strategic decision to prohibit external operations in the West so that Al-Qaeda’s rebuilding can continue without interference. The handful of exceptions to this policy—such as the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the 2017 Saint Petersburg Metro bombing in Russia—provide compelling evidence that Al-Qaeda’s external operations capabilities can easily be reanimated.   

Moreover, Al-Qaeda’s success in resurrecting its global network is the result of three strategic moves made by Al-Zawahri. The first was to strengthen the decentralised franchise approach that has facilitated the movement’s survival. Over the years, the leaders and deputies of Al-Qaeda’s far-flung franchises have been integrated into the movement’s deliberative and consultative processes. Today, Al-Qaeda is truly “glocal,” having effectively incorporated local grievances and concerns into a global narrative that forms the foundation of an all-encompassing grand strategy Hoffman explained in his policy brief.

The second major move was the order issued by Al-Zawahri in 2013 to avoid mass casualty operations, especially those that might kill Muslim civilians. Al-Qaeda has thus been able to present itself through social media, paradoxically, as “moderate extremists,” ostensibly more palatable than IS.

This development reflects Al-Zawahri’s third strategic decision, letting IS absorb all the blows from the coalition arrayed against it while Al-Qaeda unobtrusively rebuilds its military strength.

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Terrorism remains key threat in Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa Wed, 02 May 2018 12:00:45 +0000 Businesses, especially tourism-related, remain vulnerable to terrorism risk

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As in previous years, in 2017, the highest terrorism and political violence risk ratings continued to be clustered in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies’ report “African Militant Islamist Groups Again on the Rise”, violent and terrorist events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past year increased by 38% to account for 2,933 events compared to 2,117 in 2016.

The recent map and highlights released by the centre states that this is a continuation of the upward trend observed in 2017, after a brief decline in 2016.

However, the report indicates that there is not a single factor that can be pinpointed as the reason behind the surge in activity. Rather, it reflects increases associated with all major militant Islamist groups on the continent, including al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic State group (IS), and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Most of the reported attacks in Africa were conducted by al-Shabab. The group was linked to almost 58% of all reported violent events by militant Islamist groups in Africa (1,749 out of 2,933) in 2017. Al-Shabab was also responsible for the most bloodshed in Africa, as it was linked with the greatest number of reported fatalities (4,834 out of 10,535), amounting to 46% of the total fatalities across the continent.

Moreover, the overall reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist activity in Africa witnessed a 9% increase in 2017, ending the downward trend observed since 2015. Nevertheless, on the bright side, the 10,535 reported fatalities over the previous 12-month period still remain substantially lower than the peak of 18,728 reported fatalities in 2015.

Furthermore, according to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, the reported violent events linked to AQIM and its affiliates have significantly increased—from 79 in 2017 to 212 in 2018. That jump largely reflects the efforts of the coalition Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), which was formed in March 2017, and operates in the Maghreb and West Africa regions.

With regard to IS, the group remains most active in Egypt, with 305 out of the 426 reported events associated with IS in Africa taking place in Egypt over the last year. Similarly, 77% of all reported fatalities linked to IS in Africa were in Egypt during that timeframe (1,340 out of 1,734).

However, according to the “Terrorism & Political Violence Risk Map 2018” report issued by the Risk Advisory Group and Aon in April, the threat posed by IS has stopped increasing—but it has not yet receded.

According to the Risk Advisory and Aon data, IS members and sympathisers mounted terrorist attacks in 29 countries on five continents in 2017, the same number of countries as in 2016 and up from 19 countries in 2015.

However, the report forecast that the global reach of IS seems to have peaked, and following its loss of almost all of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, it appears likely that the number of countries where it is able to mount attacks, or inspire others to do so, will fall in 2018.

Yet, while their activity has increased, the major militant groups each continue to be geographically concentrated (ie, Somalia, Lake Chad Basin, and central Mali), which highlights the distinct local factors associated with each context as opposed to a single monolithic threat.

Egypt’s fight against militancy

Since 2013, state security forces, represented by both the military and the police, have been engaged in violent clashes with “Sinai Province”, known previously as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In 2014, the group declared its affiliation with the Islamic State group (IS) and has repeatedly launched deadly attacks on army and police checkpoints.

Over the course of the last five years, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched counterattacks against militants across the Sinai Peninsula, where the group is based, particularly in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and Al-Arish.

The armed forces launched three phases of Operation Martyr’s Right, which included mass military strikes, arrests, and creation of a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Sinai.

In November 2017, Al-Sisi vowed to restore stability by eradicating terrorism, tasking the military and police to do so within a period of three months. This had followed a massive first-of-its-kind terror attack on a mosque in the city of Al-Arish, killing at least 305 citizens.

Hence, the military launched the Sinai 2018 operation, where the military leadership and the Ministry of Interior were assigned the mission of full confrontation of terrorism and other criminal acts.

Terrorism takes its toll on business and tourism

According to the Terrorism & Political Violence Risk Map 2018 report, almost 8% of all terrorist incidents taking place globally in 2017 targeted businesses. Roughly 75% of these targeted oil and gas, mining, transport, construction, and critical infrastructure. The rest were directed at retail, media, finance and tourism businesses.

The tourism industry, in particular, is one of the most vulnerable sectors to security and terrorism threats. Any major attack can have an immediate and significant impact on leisure travel patterns and almost guarantees international publicity.

Moreover, the report indicates that even if the attacks were not directly targeted against the tourism sector, they still can have a substantial indirect impact on tourism revenue, especially in mass-casualty incidents targeting civilians.

Such factors make the sector a highly attractive target for some terrorist organisations. Consequently, the tourism industry takes adequate measures to assess, mitigate, and transfer the risk of losses arising

from attacks.

In 2017, there were at least 44 attacks worldwide that directly targeted public transport

in major cities as well as commercial sectors that are critical components of the tourism industry.

Furthermore, Risk Advisory and Aon Terrorism Tracker data indicates that more than 80% of all terrorism-related fatalities in Western countries in 2017 occurred in locations where tourists are likely to gather—including hotels, airports, public spaces, and entertainment venues.

Such events lead to lower traveller confidence and directly alter consumer behaviour.  The report cites the Barcelona mass casualty vehicle-impact attack at a busy promenade in August 2017, as an example of this effect.

According to Barcelona’s tourism authority, 20% of travellers with imminent plans to visit the city cancelled their trips following the attack. And still, a few months after the attack in Barcelona, the head of MGM Resorts said that cancellations at its Las Vegas properties “surged” in the days after a gunman opened fire on concertgoers in the city in October 2017.

In Egypt’s case, the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner has had a significant impact on the tourism industry, which is the cornerstone of the Egyptian economy, accounting for almost 11.4% of GDP, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council on Egypt.

Since the onset of the insurgency by the IS-affiliated group Sinai Province in the peninsula, the numbers of tourists visiting Egypt dropped dramatically to 9.3 million in 2015, compared to 14 million in 2010. This dropped again by almost 40% after the downing of the Russian aircraft.

The Risk Advisory and Aon report concludes that the companies in the tourism industry are, and will remain, highly susceptible to revenue fluctuations caused by terrorism. This is ultimately because the purpose of terrorism is to instil fear, and leisure travellers tend to be risk-averse, and are always free to seek alternative destinations or stay at home.

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End of Korean Peninsula tensions could ease Sawiris’ problems Sun, 29 Apr 2018 10:00:04 +0000 The Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom Telecom and Media Technology (OTMT) is the main reason behind the rise of mobile phone usage in hermetically sealed North Korea in recent years. OTMT secured a 75% stake in Koryolink, a joint venture with North Korea’s Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation in 2008. It is estimated that as many …

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The Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom Telecom and Media Technology (OTMT) is the main reason behind the rise of mobile phone usage in hermetically sealed North Korea in recent years.

OTMT secured a 75% stake in Koryolink, a joint venture with North Korea’s Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation in 2008. It is estimated that as many as 3 million North Koreans have signed up for Koryolink cell phone services.

Prior to Koryolink, many North Koreans did not have access to landlines, let alone mobile services, or any modern way to contact each other.

The devices have enabled North Koreans to communicate more easily with people in other parts of the country—a big change in a place where travel is highly restricted. They have been particularly helpful in the nascent market economy, with traders reportedly using information about incoming shipments of rice to set prices at stalls around the country.

“I believe I have extended a good service to the innocent people of North Korea who are deprived of seeing their parents who live miles away or cannot call their children when they come back from school,” Naguib Sawiris, executive chairperson of OTMT, said during an interview with CNBC in December 2017. He added that it is only a simple service that everybody should have and that it has nothing to do with politics.

Orascom is considered the largest foreign investor in North Korea. Other than Koryolink, OTMT also offered to fix up the Ryugyong Hotel. One of Pyongyang ’s landmarks, the famous pyramid-shaped hotel had been looming incomplete for years.

The building’s exterior was completed in 2011 with a $30m injection of funds from Orascom, and in 2012, the company said that it expects the partial completion of the Ryugyong’s 360,000 sqm of floor space, which would include apartments and offices along with hotel facilities, by the end of the year.

Sawiris told CNBC that his investments in North Korea registered at $250m, but that they have nothing to do with politics and that Egyptian businesses have a long history of relations with North Korea.

However, North Korea has reportedly prevented Orascom from repatriating its profits, as authorities refused to convert its earnings at the official exchange rate and wanted the company to use the black market rate, which would have put Orascom’s profits at about $30m compared to $658m, according to a 2016 report by Foreign Policy.

Moreover, OTMT’s troubles did not end there; the company deconsolidated its stake in the joint venture, losing control of the service in the process, despite having a majority stake. In addition to that, North Korean authorities started a competing operator company named Byol.

International sanctions played a major role in the company’s problems, as they limit its ability to impose control over the joint venture, convert earnings, and repatriate dividends.

In December 2017, Sawiris reaffirmed that he obeys all UN resolutions concerning North Korea, making sure that his company does not violate any sanctions on the country.

OTMT’s exemption request that was filed with the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea to avoid violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 2375, which since 10 January requires all companies to cease joint venture operations in North Korea, has not received any approvals to this day. Yet, the recent developments on the peninsula, and the hopes of denuclearisation could be the end of OTMT’s problems.

Sawiris was met with great respect by the authorities during his visit to the country in 2011, as the official Korean Central News Agency published a photo of Sawiris standing hand-in-hand with then-leader Kim Jong-il.

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Korean conflict: History of violence, failed reunification hoped to be changed by celebrated summit Sun, 29 Apr 2018 09:00:02 +0000 Trump expresses support for Korean peace

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Hopes and scepticism have been sparked by the historical summit gathering the leaders of North and South Korea.

The two signed a declaration on Friday after the leaders of the two countries pledged to work on the denuclearisation of the peninsula and ending the Korean war.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday: “Korean war to end. The US, and all of its great people should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea.”

In a grand ceremony on Thursday night, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, literally crossing over the border between the two countries into the Korean demilitarised zone.

“South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air, and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict,” a reported copy of the declaration said.

The two sides further agreed to first convene military talks between their generals in May.

The agreements had already been described by South Korean officials as necessary to move forward with inter-Korean relations.

The South Korean ambassador to Egypt said the situation had been tense for North Korea’s neighbours, as well as the US, which has been pushing for a commitment to denuclearisation from North Korea.

Concerns mostly stem from a history of failed agreements between North Korea and other parties on the possession of nuclear weapons, mainly the US, as the former has also long asserted it has the right to possess nuclear weapons.

Despite North Korea’s thus far claimed commitment to denuclearisation, the country already announced, a few months ago, that it has completed its nuclear programme.

Last year witnessed diplomatic escalation between North Korean leader Kim and Trump, accompanied by a war of words, which the international community warned could turn into a real war. Tweets by Trump were considered by North Korea “a declaration of war,” a charge the US denied.

The two leaders are expected to hold a meeting While no specific schedule or location has yet been announced, the highly anticipated summit, which would be the first between a US and North Korean leader, is expected to be held in May or June. On Saturday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his country has received no formal requests to host the meeting from either side.

Stalled political manoeuvres have marked the conflict over the years. Back in the 2000s, the US set pre-conditions for negotiations, while North Korea has also long sought guarantees in exchange for its compliance with international community demands, including the lifting of imposed sanctions.


  • 1945 – Second world war ends with surrender of Japan, leaving formerly annexed Korea divided. The 38th parallel is the line chosen by the US to demarcate the border between the north and the south
  • 15 August 1948 –The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is established, followed by the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
  • 25 June 1950 – North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union and China, invades South Korea. The UN authorises military support for South Korea, in which the US is the main participant. At least 2.5 million deaths were recorded
  • 27 July 1953 – The war ends though the signing of an armistice by US, UN, North Korean, and Chinese representatives, but not South Korea. A demilitarised zone is created; the pre-war border along the 38th parallel.
  • 1954 – A conference is held in Geneva, but no progress was made on a peace treaty
  • January 1958 – Citing protection against aggression from North Korea, Russia, and China, the US begins deployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea, breaching the armistice agreement. The US would continue to do so throughout the Cold War as North Korea starts seeking countermeasures, including pursuing nuclear development.
  • 21 January 1968 – Assassination attempt on South Korean president Park Chung-hee at his residence, known as the Blue House Raid, by North Korean commandos
  • 4 July 1972 – The Republic of Korea and DPRK sign a joint statement agreeing not to possess, produce, or use nuclear weapons and prohibiting uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing
  • 15 August 1974 – Another assassination attempt on Park Chung-hee is executed as he gave a speech, which resulted in the death of his wife. The suspect is identified as a Japanese national who was a North Korea sympathiser
  • 1991 – North and South Korea become members of the UN
  • June 2000 – First inter-Korean summit since the war is held in Pyongyang. North-South Joint Declaration is signed, aiming at working towards Korean reunification
  • 2003 – North Korea is no longer part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
  • 9 October 2006 – North Korea conducts first underground nuclear test. In the next two years, it agrees to shut down its main reactor, but prevents inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency
  • October 2007 – Second inter-Korean summit is held in Pyongyang
  • 25 May 2009 – North Korea implements second nuclear test along with a short-range missile test. The same year, the UN adopts Resolution 1874 imposing economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea
  • 6 January 2016 – North Korean government announces hydrogen bomb tests after reports of earthquake
  • February 2017 – China, the main trade partner of North Korea, halts coal imports from the latter

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Graphic facilitation revives ‘carving’ of ancient Egyptians Tue, 24 Apr 2018 12:30:58 +0000 Five graphic facilitators follow ancestors’ steps in unpopular type of business in Egypt

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“Ancient Egyptians started engraving on walls thousands of years ago to produce a visual brief about something; this is what we do,” said Maiy El-wakeel, a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Arts in Alexandria University. Five artists who all graduated from the same faculty knocked on the door of an unpopular business in the country called “graphic recording.” 

Graphic recording, or facilitation, is a very common profession in the world, used in various processes such as meetings, workshops, seminars, and conferences. Graphic recorders, usually artists, visually represent information communicated orally through creating visual summaries of conference speakers’ presentations and discussions with attendees.

In November 2015, El-Wakeel, Hany Mansy, Dina Elsayed Saleh, Alaa Ebied, and Nermeen A Elreheem launched a project named “Wasalet” for graphic facilitation. Only three of them participated in the Alexandria Media Forum, which was held from 15-17 April at the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, as graphic facilitators. They attended all sessions of the forum to “facilitate the process of delivering information given by speakers to attendees.”

“We work to connect people,” said El-wakeel, illustrating at a session on news verification and search engine tools. “Our main mission is to ‘record’ what we hear and see, then turn it into a clear brief,” adding that they “facilitate the process of delivering information to people,” adding that they produce an effective way of communication between speakers and attendees.”

During the three days of the forum, the three graphic facilitators worked for entire days, sometimes standing or sitting in a chair next to the speakers, to do their job.

“Graphic facilitation is very common across the world. We first learned about it when we were trained by the Value Web,” she said, adding, “the Value Web is an international network of artists, designers, facilitators, educators, researchers, technologists, writers, social activists, and entrepreneurs who work to use design and facilitation to tackle the most pressing challenges in our time.”

According to El-wekeel, 14 Egyptian participants joined the workshop that the network conducted for a week in Egypt in 2015 while it was organising a conference, noting that only five of them launched Wasalet. “The network was in need of Arab graphic recorders. When they did not find anyone, they decided to train some people to assist them in the conference they organised,” explained El-wekeel.

However, when the five young people started their own business, they faced difficulties in a field that does not recognise or understand what they are doing. “Most organisations we worked for were not Egyptian. We tried to communicate with local bodies, but we were unwelcomed, as they do not acknowledge the importance of what we do,” said El-wekeel.

However, they received great attention while working at the Alexandria Media Forum, as most speakers and participants were aware of what they do and took photos of boards full of creative symbols and caricatures. Meanwhile, the forum announced that they rewarded Wasalet’s members by issuing a handbook consisting of all their works during the sessions. That kind of appreciation, according to El-wakeel, is very supporting and encouraging to the path they chose three years ago. 

She noted that their project is self-funded, with almost no profits thus far. “The reason is that institutions still do not consider our work as a significant part of any conference, meeting, or workshop,” said El-wekeel.

Meanwhile, Hany Mansy, a jewellery designer, member of the project, and also El-wekeel’s husband, said that the job is not just for artists, but of course, having painting and illustration skills is a great advantage.

Talking about the circumstances of working in Egypt, he said, “unfortunately, conferences just happen in Egypt via the same traditional organising way and offer little chance for other creative assistances such as graphics facilitation,” noted Mansy. 

He added that they have to pay for the expenses of all materials they use, as they sometimes participate as volunteers for the chance to let people acknowledge what they do. “We have to focus on every word said at a conference and stand the whole day, as our work requires major physical and mental effort,” he said.

Furthermore, he added that sometimes they receive offers they do not feel comfortable with. “They bring us only for the purposes of innovation, but actually, we offer an important kind of work, which has to be respected,” Mansy said, adding, “we are not coming to amuse audiences. Organisers should treat graphic facilitators as they deal with speakers.”

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Fake news is ‘game’ powerful countries use to sway public opinion: Alexandria Media Forum speakers Tue, 24 Apr 2018 10:30:38 +0000 Censorship fuels fake news as it blocks credible media outlets, leading to more limits on freedom of speech, speakers at Alexandria Media Forum say

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Fact-checking has been always a cornerstone of every journalist in the world’s work, as their main role is to investigate information and data they gather, to provide society with accurate news, trying to curb the spread of fake news as much as possible. In the era of social media and the ease of creating and posting fake photos, videos, even in so-called trusted media, that mission is getting harder.

In order to counter fake news, Alexandria Media Forum launched its sixth edition from 15 to 17 April, titled Technology, Media, and Post-Truth, with a wide attendance of Egyptian and foreign speakers, as well as attendees from various Arab countries at the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology in Borg El-Arab, Alexandria.

Ahmed Esmat, founder and CEO of the forum.

“If you cannot publish the whole truth, at least reveal some of it,” said Ihab Zelaky, executive editor-in-chief at Al-Masry Al-Youm, who added, “journalism is a dangerous profession, which means that it can’t tell the whole truth under any circumstances.”

He noted, “[journalists] try so hard to tell what we could reveal of the truth without falsifying it. If journalists find themselves in a situation where they will fake the truth while covering sensitive issues, then it’s better not to write about these issues at all.”

Zelaky discussed in a panel on the first day of the forum the “fine line between fake news and censorship,” along with Anna Hedenmo, a Swedish journalist and television presenter. He discussed the consequences of media restrictions and censorship in Egypt in the past months that led to the blocking of more than 450 media websites, according to a recent report from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

“It’s an endless conflict between journalists and authorities. Sometimes regimes succeed in limiting freedom of speech and press, however journalists can find another medium,” noted Zelaky, adding, “censorship fuels fake news.”

Meanwhile, he explained, “censorship is definitely increasing fake news because it leads to blocking credible media outlets, which leads to the entrapment of real journalism as well as free access to information.”

Zelaky also said, “in countries where there is no press freedom, states usually justify their actions by citing political turmoil and what they define as ‘critical situations.’” Some of these situations, Zelaky explained, can be due to “wars on terrorism. However, no media outlet can work under such circumstances.” 

“Although we, journalists, believe that our role is to serve the public good,” Zelaky noted, “nothing is more important than our lives and safety.”

Ihab Zelaky, executive editor-in- chief at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Facing difficulties when working is not a new element in the profession, according to Zelaky, saying that journalists are often prevented from accessing information. Furthermore, the real problem is “the public is opposing, more and more, freedom of press and expression,” he explained.

“They don’t accept anything that is contrary to official statements on any issue,” he said.

On countering fake news, he said, “there are countries, regimes, or bodies around the world that take advantage of the fake news game, using it to sway public opinion amid floods of false information and illusions to keep eyes away from significant ongoing issues. Human minds, when things are just repeated, believe it without questioning whether they are true or not.”

Over three days, several speakers conducted sessions on the issues of fake news, media ethics, media in the age of algorithms, as well as fact-checking and news verification.

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief at the France 24 Observers said, “fact-checking helps to correct specific instances of fake news, and this serves the public good because people can be fooled by what is fake.”

The France 24 Observers is a collaborative site presented in four languages (French, English, Arabic, and Farsi) and a TV show on France 24 (with a weekly and monthly edition). It covers international current affairs by using eyewitness accounts, hence the name “observers.”

“The most important impact of our work is educating the public about the dangers of fake news,” Thomson noted, adding that it can be “impossible for journalists to investigate every piece of fake news quickly before it gets shared on social media.”

“However, we can give ordinary people some tools and tricks to be aware of fake news, so they can think before share anything,” he explained.

Anna Hedenmo, a Swedish journalist and television presenter.

Thomson pointed out that every news organisation has to build its own credibility with its readers and then maintain this credibility by not taking risks with the truth and never trying to manipulate the public.

“If media outlets are consistently accurate and give fact-based, deep reporting, then they will win audience trust,” he said. The most significant principle which Observers relies on, according to Thomson, is to verify everything before sharing or passing it on.

“The issue of fake news is getting worse because we are still in a period of transition moving from traditional media to social media, but I am optimistic for the future, that people will be able to use more tools to know if information is accurate or fake,” he noted.

Meanwhile, on the tools that have become more available than before, Ahmed El-Shamy, a veteran Egyptian journalist specialised in investigative journalism and new digital media tools, led two sessions on how to verify every photo and video shared on social media, or even on news websites, by using Google Earth, Google Maps, InVID, Dual Maps, SunCalc, and others. 

“Each journalist can evaluate exactly what they need. When they cannot reach a place or official information, they should rely on eyewitnesses and their own technological tools to confirm the information,” said El-Shamy.

Whilst such tools become extremely vital for each reporter, El-Shamy noted that news organisations should take into consideration the ongoing changes in digital media, and should train their journalists to use such tools and develop their methods of reporting.

“When a door closes, others open. Sometimes it’s better to search for information or data online, and verify it without calling sources that may refuse to give you accurate information,” he noted.

Ahmed El-Shamy, an Egyptian journalist specialised in investigative journalism

As journalists around the world have chosen a dangerous job, Hedenmo, the Swedish journalist, believes that such gatherings, such as media forums or conferences, are very useful, as a way to help and support struggling journalists around the world.

“I know it can be dangerous to tell the truth in some countries, which have low levels of freedom of speech,” she said, adding that journalists should stand in solidarity with each other.

Hedenmo also added that Alexandria Media Forum gave her “hope for the future of journalism,” expressing her pleasure at the wide participation of women.

On the other hand, she believes “fake news has always been around, but it has now gotten a name from US President Donald Trump.” She added that there are always lies in the news, especially in dictatorships and during warfare, but she said journalists should avoid mistruths in such situations.

“Maybe you can’t tell it all, but don’t ever lie,” she noted.

The Alexandria Media Forum had received 1,209 applications, but accepted only 200 participants from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. “This is the biggest number of participants we have ever had in the forum,” said Ahmed Esmat, founder and CEO of the forum.   

He added, “this is only a step to prevent fake news, and we believe that raising awareness will counter false information,” which he asserts has been “politically used to harm societies on economic and humanitarian terms.”

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The Blue Whale game: Attempt to end lives of confused teenagers Tue, 17 Apr 2018 11:00:10 +0000 Video games have become widespread in today’s world; they are popular among children, pre-teens, and adults. There are various types of these games that could be educational, extreme, or entertaining, all possible having a strong impact on people’s lives. Usually, people prefer games where they can kill zombies or drive cars at unruly speeds. In …

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Video games have become widespread in today’s world; they are popular among children, pre-teens, and adults. There are various types of these games that could be educational, extreme, or entertaining, all possible having a strong impact on people’s lives. Usually, people prefer games where they can kill zombies or drive cars at unruly speeds.

In several studies conducted to test what types of games young people prefer to play, violent video games never lost their superior power in the gaming industry. No doubt that there are a number of violent games that have strongly impacted the behaviours and attitudes of youth. Another negative aspect of video games is the fact that children are spending too much time playing them rather than physically playing outside.

Throughout the past few days, warnings of playing a deadly game application, The Blue Whale, also commonly known as The Blue Whale Challenge, were the focus of most media outlets and social media platforms, as there were several reported incidents of suicide to complete the challenges of the game.

Egypt has already witnessed two cases of suicide and one of attempted suicide in the past few days. The first case was Khaled El-Fakharani, the son of the former member of parliament Hamdi El-Fakharani, who was found to have hung himself in his bedroom closet, and followed by a 15-year-old girl in Alexandria who had attempted to commit suicide with a toxic substance, and was found with strange marks resembling a tattoo on her left leg. During a medical examination, she told the doctor that she was playing The Blue Whale game, and that a part of its challenges was to give herself a tattoo on her left leg and to consume an insecticide. The third case was a 24-year-old young man who had committed suicide by throwing himself in the Ismailia Canal to execute the instructions of the game.

Following reports on these cases, parents started to inspect their childrens’, particularly sons’, smartphones to check that the game application is not downloaded on their handsets. On social media, there were different posts urging parents to check all the types of video games played by their children, for their own safety and to make sure that they are not playing games that will have negative impacts on their personalities. Also, TV presenters dedicated long segments of their shows to host several professors to raise awareness about why people tend to play violent games more than any other type, such games’ risks, and how to prevent children from accessing them, incorporating parental advice.

The Egyptian Parliament submitted an urgent request to the minister of communication and information technology to take action against the recent spread of “dangerous electronic games.” Meanwhile, Egypt’s religious and governmental body Dar Al-Iftaa posted a video on YouTube and shared it on their official page, declaring The Blue Whale video game as forbidden in Islam and saying that it has many elements that classify it as religiously forbidden.

The Blue Whale game application was created by a Russian former psychology student named Philipp Budeikin, who aimed to target youth under 20 years of age, by ordering them to perform tasks selected by administrators over a period of 50 days. The Blue Whale game is also known by other names, such as A Silent House, A Sea of Whales, and Wake me up at 4:20 am.

Initially, the game requires its players to perform simple tasks and then, gradually, it asks them to induce self-harm. At the end of the period, users are instructed to kill themselves or a member of their families.

The game further asks players to wake up at dawn to listen to loud music or watch horror movies, and it also assigns them to perform other violent acts, such as to insult someone they know for no reason.

In 2017, Budeikin, then 21, was arrested on the accusation of inciting children to commit suicide. Since the creation of the game, many cases of suicide have been discovered across the world due to young people playing the game. When he was arrested, Budeikin defended himself, saying that he considers his victims “biological waste” and claiming that they were “happy to die.” He further said that he was “cleansing society.”

One an individual begins the challenge, they are not allowed to withdraw from the game. If a user attempts to do so, the officials in charge of the game threaten the person who is about to withdraw and take advantage of the information he they given them to try to use it as blackmail. The game’s creators may even threaten to kill the participants’ family members.

After the person signs up for the game, it asks him to engrave the code “F57” or the “blue whale” on their arm with a sharp tool, and then send an image to the administrator to make sure that the person has actually entered the game.

F57 refers to a group on social media, specifically on, a popular social media site in Russia and its surrounding countries. They promoted suicide ideas and published many sadistic and violent images. However, the group was later closed, according to the Daily Mail.

In the middle of the missions, the person has to talk to one of the game’s administrators to gain their confidence and turn into a “Blue Whale.” After gaining the administrators’ confidence, users are asked not to speak with anyone after that point and continue to cause themselves injuries while watching horror movies, until the 50th day, when they are instructed to commit suicide either by jumping out of a window or stabbing themselves with a blade.

Blue whales are known to be suicidal; they swim in groups or individually to the beach, remain there, and die if they are not aided by someone back into the water.

Psychiatrist Gamal Farwiz said that the game resembles the death of a blue whale when it becomes depressed and heads for a coast to commit suicide, hence this is the same thing the game is luring people to do; whenever they feel depressed, they would commit suicide.

“The game targets those who have depression, issues at home, or any psychological issues that can allow them to follow the game,” he said, adding that at the beginning of the game, there is a psychological test that can show to the game administrators whether the player can be easily manipulated or not, as this test determines whether a subscriber suffers from some form of mental illness or not.

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Globalisation: Pros, cons, impact on economic growth Tue, 17 Apr 2018 09:00:27 +0000 About 60% of all goods, services produced globally are shipped across country borders as result of economic globalisation

The post Globalisation: Pros, cons, impact on economic growth appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Living in an open, interdependent globe, the population of today’s world has seen globalisation in several aspects of their lives. In the field of medicine, we see medications that were available only in some countries but are becoming available in others thanks to globalisation. Some vaccines and antibiotics used across the globe to eliminate the spread of some diseases and fatal infections are developed in specific countries and can be seen used on a wide scale across the entire globe, for example.

Political and cultural globalisation are no exception, as the exchange of cultural ideas, meanings, and values around the world creates richness in the cultures of various countries of the world, although some critics would argue that globalisation harms the diversity of cultures, as dominating countries may affect the cultures of smaller ones. The arguments surrounding globalisation clearly show that it has some pros and cons, and certainly leaves an impact, whether positive or negative, especially on a very important aspect: economic growth across the globe.

Economic globalisation is the increasing economic interdependence of national economies across the world through a rapid increase in cross-border movement of goods, services, technology, and capital, according to Oxford University Press.

Exploring the impact of globalisation on economic growth and development, Our World in Data said that globalisation has certainly been a key driver of unprecedented economic growth, leading to a world with much less poverty.

The importance of foreign trade was rather modest until the beginning of the 19th century, as total global exports and imports never exceeded 10% of global output before year 1800. However, near 1820, the “first wave of globalisation” came into the picture, followed by the second wave, which continues until this very day. “About 60% of all goods and services produced in the world are shipped across country borders,” Our World in Data said. “Regarding extreme poverty, the available evidence shows that up until 1800, the vast majority of people around the world lived in extreme deprivation, with only a tiny elite enjoying higher standards of living. In the 19th century, we began making progress and the share of people living in extreme poverty started to slowly decline. This trend is shown in the chart below. As we can see today, two hundred years later, the share of people living in extreme poverty is less than 10%. This is an achievement that would have been unthinkable to our ancestors,” it added.

According to The Balance, globalisation greatly benefits world economies. Some of the benefits globalisation creates for economies include the increase in foreign direct investments (FDI), helping boost technology transfer, industrial restructuring, and the growth of global companies. Additionally, the increased competition resulting from globalisation helps push new technological development, especially with the growth in FDI, which eventually helps improve economic output.

“Globalisation of the financial sector has become the most rapidly developing and most influential aspect of economic globalisation. International finance came into being to serve the needs of international trade and investment activities. However, along with the development of economic globalisation, it has become more and more independent. Compared with commodity and labour markets, the financial market is the only one that has realised globalisation in the true sense of ‘globalisation’. Since the 1970s, cross-border flow of capital has been rapidly expanding. In 1980, the total volume of cross-border transactions of stocks and bonds of major developed countries was still less than 10% of their GDP. However, this figure had far surpassed 100% in 1995,” said a UN report on economic and social affairs, titled Economic Globalisation: Trends, Risks, and Risk Prevention.

Addressing the cons of globalisation and its potential negative impacts on economies, the report said that economic globalisation puts developing countries at risk of being constantly susceptible to trembling under unfavourable external factors. “Under open economic conditions, the conflict between the realisation of external economic equilibrium and that of internal economic equilibrium is a great constraint on the macroeconomic policies of developing countries, weakening their capacity of macroeconomic control and regulation,” the report said.

The risks of globalisation on the economy also include the interdependence-causing regional instabilities if local economic fluctuations affect a large number of countries that rely on them. Moreover, multinational or global companies may be seen as a threat to sovereignty, which could result in some world leaders becoming nationalistic or xenophobic. Globalisation may also cause greater inequality among nations, leading to possible conflict nationally and internationally.

Globalisation has certainly affected several aspects of the modern world. It has both its drawbacks and positive aspects. The one thing there is no argument about is that globalisation remains fairly unstoppable. Beneficial or not, globalisation will continue to inevitably change the world in both the short and long run.

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Palestinians to escalate calls for rights despite Israeli excessive force Wed, 11 Apr 2018 06:00:15 +0000 Demonstrators revive calls for right to return to lands from which forcibly displaced; Israel’s excessive violence condemned but unpunished

The post Palestinians to escalate calls for rights despite Israeli excessive force appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

A death toll exceeding 30 Palestinians and hundreds of others injured were the result of Israeli fire during a week of protests which reached a peak on Friday, amid anticipated fears of bloodshed and threats by Israel ahead of the Great Return March.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry on Friday, more than 2,500 people were wounded since last week in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including dozens of women and children.

On Saturday, hundreds also mourned Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, shot while filming the border protest between Gaza and Israel and reportedly wearing a press-identifying jacket.

Since the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on 6 December 2017, 64 Palestinians have been killed and more than 10,000 injured, according to the ministry.

Last week, the Palestinian Authority cabinet condemned Israeli violence against peaceful protesters on Friday 30 March, when at least 18 Palestinian citizens were killed and more than 1,450 injured on Land Day demonstrations which took place near the Gaza border.

“The massacre committed by the forces of occupation was premeditated, through a series of threats issued by [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and sending out snipers, artillery, and thousands of soldiers shooting at unarmed citizens, despite already being informed of the organisation of peaceful protests,” the cabinet stated.

Land Day, celebrated on 30 March, symbolises Palestinian resistance and annually commemorates events in 1976 when Israeli forces killed six unarmed citizens and wounded and arrested hundreds, in a day of general strikes and protests against Israel’s plan to confiscate Palestinian lands for settlement purposes.

The Palestinian cabinet demanded an international investigation and accountability for Israel, stating that the silence of international bodies fuels Israeli arrogance.

A UN statement said Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a “probe into the deadly clashes, following the first wave of protests last week.”

“This tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalising the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution that will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side peacefully and in security,” the statement said.

The UN Security Council held an emergency session simultaneously, where the deputy UN political affairs chief reported that Israeli forces used live ammunition on demonstrators despite them staying away from the border fence and not engaging in violence. He also voiced Israel’s claims that “militants tried to get through the fence in an attempt to plant explosives.”

For her part, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said on Saturday that “the use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation.”

Israel rejected such calls and renewed its threats ahead of renewed protests plans. Last Saturday, the US blocked a draft UNSC resolution to conduct investigations, presented by Kuwait.

The Great Return March

The Palestinian refugees issue is the chore of the cause, as put by the International Coordination Committee of the Great Return March (GRM) managed by Palestinian activist Zaher Birawi.

The committee, calling for weeks of protests, states that the march “will only end with the actual return of Palestinian refugees and the sit-in may last for weeks or months.”

The group defines the march as a movement by social and political factions who organise peaceful protests aiming to call for the right of refugees to return to their homes which they were forcibly displaced from under occupation in 1948.

According to UN General Assembly Resolution 194, “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

Tens of thousands were reported to be preparing for the second week of protests. At least 300,000 protesters were out during the first one.

One of the most remarkable scenes of the second protest was heavy smoke rising from Gaza, as demonstrators set fire to tyres on the border, taking advantage of the wind direction towards Israel.

Protests are scheduled to continue, especially amid planned demonstrations on Naqba Day on 14 May, the date Israel celebrates its establishment and promised by the US to be further coronated by opening its embassy in Jerusalem on that day.

Israel upholds aggression, faces condemnations

As the first protests erupted in March, Israel threatened with violence. Ofir Gendelman, spokesperson of the Israeli Prime Minister Office for the Arab media, posted to his Twitter account  a video of a Palestinian man being shot in the leg, with a caption reading: “This is the least anyone who attempts to cross the wall between Gaza and Israel would face,” using “march of chaos” as a hashtag.

The tweet echoed similar threats made by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who said in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on 28 March that the Israeli Defence Forces had deployed 100 sharpshooters at the Gaza border, saying they had permission to fire “if lives are in jeopardy.”

Israeli officials, including Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman, have repeatedly claimed that Hamas was risking people’s lives by encouraging them to take part in the protests, telling Palestinians not to participate and warning them against nearing the borders.

Following the violence of 30 March, regarding an inquiry into the killings, Lieberman told the media that there will not be one and that Israeli soldiers deserve “a medal”. He reportedly warned of a much harsher response to protests scheduled for 6 April.

France had called on Israel to show restraint, respect its duty to protect civilians, and highlighted Palestinians’ right to peaceful demonstrations.

Rights groups did not fail to note Israeli abuses and unjustified use of excessive violence.

A report by Human Rights Watch said senior Israeli officials who called for the use of live ammunition bear responsibility for the killings of at least 14 protestors and the injuries of a hundred others last week.

Although Israel had warned that it would stand the in face of any action threatening its border security, it presented no evidence that this has been the case or that firearms were used by demonstrators, HRW added.

For its part, Amnesty International called “on the Israeli authorities to put an immediate end to its heavy handed, and often lethal, suppression of Palestinian demonstrations,” in a statement on 31 March.

“The Israeli authorities are obligated to respect the right to peaceful protest and, even if violence may occur, only the minimum force necessary to address it can be used. Having consistently ignored the human rights of Palestinian refugees for 70 years, Israel must at least hear their demands and allow peaceful demonstrations and protests to take place.”

Arab reaction

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Israel’s use of excessive force against unarmed civilians demanding their “legitimate and fair rights,” pointing to the international community’s responsibility to help Palestinians secure their rights.

Egyptian social media users were also critical of some foreign media coverage of the events showing bias against the Palestinian protesters, especially American news outlets.

A number of Arab countries also voiced criticism of Israel, with some protests erupting in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

However, the timing of the events coincided with statements made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who, in a rare occasion, stated that Israel has the right to exist and have its own land.

Talal Salman, Lebanese journalist and founder of Al-Safir newspaper, has written a series of pieces in the Egyptian privately-owned Al-Shorouk newspaper on how Arabs drifted away from the Palestinian cause in order to get close to Washington.

In one of his recent pieces, published on 3 April, Salman said the “Israeli atrocities” during the Land Day protests barely made the headlines of Arab news as other priorities took over, condemning the weak reaction of Arab leaders and institutions.

Salman charged that Arab countries were completely normalising relations with Tel Aviv without realising that the Palestinian cause is at the heart of shaping the future of the region.

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‘Feseekh’ business stays on track as Egyptians continue to buy despite high prices Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:00:42 +0000 Egyptians on Sham Ennessim: We gather to enjoy eating salted fish with family, beloved ones

The post ‘Feseekh’ business stays on track as Egyptians continue to buy despite high prices appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

“It is the best shop to sell salted fish in Egypt,” answered a fruit seller sitting at the main gate to the ancient Bab Al-Louq market in the Abdeen district of Downtown, when asked about “Fasakhany el Harameen”, a very old shop named after the Two Holy Mosques, specialising in selling all kinds of slated fish, a traditional food Egyptians are used to eating with family and beloved ones to celebrate Sham Ennessim. 

People usually head to public parks and beaches to celebrate the event, by eating salted fish which is prepared in a special way
(Photo by Mahmoud Fekry)

The national holiday, which marks the beginning of spring, is a traditional event that dates back hundreds of years in Egypt, as people usually head to public parks and beaches to celebrate the event, by eating salted fish which is prepared in a special way. The fish varieties include feseekh, herring, and sardine, as children colour eggs on the day that always falls directly after Orthodox Christian Easter.   

Down a narrow passage is the small ‘Harameen’ shop, owned by Mohamed Sayed, an imam of a mosque. “I have inherited the profession of selling and preparing salted fish from my father,” Sayed told Daily News Egypt, adding that his father started their business in 1940, in the same place, and he has followed his path to this day.

“In the 1980s and before that, Bab Al-Louq market had been a destination for people from outside Cairo, who came to buy everything including salted fish from our shop. There were like thousands of buyers, but now the situation changed,” referring to rising rent, electricity, and water fees, as well as the prices of the fish itself. “We have to raise our prices too, we do not have another option,” said Sayed.

However, he said that people used to buying from him each year still come and buy the

The price of a kg of feseekh ranges from EGP 160-170, while the price of herring ranges from EGP 50-60
(Photo by Mahmoud Fekry)

same quantities. “People eat salted fish to enjoy the holiday with their family, so they do not mind paying extra once a year,” he said, also noting that prices depend on the neighbourhood. “I have a friend in Maadi that sells a kg of feseekh for EGP 200; here I sell it for EGP 170.”

The prices of feseekh and herring have increased over last year by nearly EGP 40, as prices of food spiked following the floating of the pound in November 2016. According to a February 2017 Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics report, fish and seafood prices increased by 40.3%.

The price of a kg of feseekh ranges from EGP 160-170, while the price of herring ranges from EGP 50-60. “Some people, after asking about prices before buying, they sometimes change their mind and buy less than they need,” Sayed said. He added that the economic situation makes people very stressed. “Look at faces of people in the streets; they are unhappy, worried, and depressed,” Sayed said. He recalled the holidays he used to have when he was child and said, “people were cheerful and enjoying their time. Now I rarely notice the same atmosphere.”

According to Sayed, what contributes to his family’s success in this business is that they are always developing their work. “I know well what my clients want to eat, so I prepare it for them as they wish. Some like the fish very salted and others only slightly, so with experience, I am more familiar with their preferences.”

The prices of feseekh and herring have increased over last year by nearly EGP 40
(Photo by Mahmoud Fekry)

Though the Ministry of Health always warns against eating feseekh, people continue to buy it from what they consider to be trusted places, to avoid botulism poisoning that can sometimes lead to death. 

Sayed said that the Ministry of Health’s warnings have a huge impact on the business: “sometimes people fear eating salted fish, but places that have a good reputation should not worry.” 

At Shaheen for Salted Fish and Caviar, a family-run shop in Downtown Cairo, which dates to nearly 100 years ago, Shady Shaheen, one of the people who run the business, said that the Ministry of Health’s instructions to avoid eating feseekh are actually a form of positive advertising, noting, “this enhances our work because our fish is properly prepared.” He added that business volume is solid this year, as people have confidence in his business.

“We trust this shop, so we come here every year,” said Ayman Hussien, a business owner, while he was waiting for his order to be prepared. Hussien said that the high prices do not discourage him from buying salted fish as a gift for his family and relatives. “Prices increased by nearly EGP 50. It’s okay, they are not very high,” noted Hussien.

Shaheen for Salted Fish and Caviar, a family-run shop in Downtown Cairo, which dates to nearly 100 years ago
(Photo by Mahmoud Fekry)

In contrast, Mona, a housewife who used to buy between 3 kg and 4 kg of feseekh every year for her mother and daughter, said she now buys just 2 kg because of the soaring prices. Meanwhile, another woman, Mervat, noted that she just buys the same 2 kg of herring each year, saying, “whether prices are high or not, I just buy 2 kg for my family.”

Hadyaa Abdel Aziz and her husband said they can no longer afford to buy the same quantity they used to purchase for their families and relatives. “Actually, [the quantity] becomes less and less due to high prices,” said Hadyaa, noting that she does not eat feseekh. “My husband and children like it very much.” Her Husband, Ashraf Emad, an official at the Ministry of Finance, commented on her words with a smile, saying that the holiday is a tradition that gathers people to have a good time: “we get together to enjoy eating salted fish.”

While people celebrate Sham Ennessim, Shaheen and his brothers have to work at their shop: “unfortunately we don’t celebrate like others, we have to work during the holiday.” 

‘Harameen’ shop, owned by Mohamed Sayed, an imam of a mosque
(Photo by Mahmoud Fekry)

Shaheen insisted that prices have not increased over last year, explaining that there was a shortage of fish in the past year so the prices were raised. He also noted that prices of feseekh start at EGP 120 to EGP 160, adding that last year, prices were between EGP 80 and EGP 160.

This generation of the Shaheens, including Shady and his brothers, resort to social media to enhance their relations with clients, receiving complaints and feedback. They set up a Facebook page after the name of their shop as well as a chat group on WhatsApp. They also seek to open a new restaurant to serve healthy ready-to-eat salted fish meals.

Shaheen, who studied at a Faculty of Commerce, grew up adoring his father’s profession. He said he wants his children to recognise it too: “I hope my kids and nephews would appreciate our work. I want them to hold university degrees along with [working for] our business.” He went on to say, laughing, “they have to eat salted fish too, it is a rule in the family.”

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New Uber, Careem law might limit number of drivers Tue, 03 Apr 2018 10:00:03 +0000 Parliament approves in principle law to regulate both companies 

The post New Uber, Careem law might limit number of drivers  appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

While the future of the Uber and Careem ride-hailing applications remains unclear for many Egyptians following a controversial court verdict, drivers of both services are unsatisfied with a new law that has been preliminarily approved by parliament to regulate their work in the future, after three years with no regulations for such services.

On the same day that the Administrative Court ruled on banning the operations of Uber and Careem in Egypt, the cabinet referred a draft law to parliament on regulating the work of private car owners with private companies.

A few days later, the Egyptian Parliament approved in principle a law on the regulation of transportation services which use information technology for passengers, such as Uber and Careem, as representatives of the two companies were in attendance.

Following the two contradictory decisions, confusion rose to the surface over whether the two companies will continue to operate or not.

The court said that it will halt the two companies’ activities for violating Egyptian law by using private cars for commercial use without a license and that it would delete their mobile applications.

However, Uber and Careem issued responses in statements, asserting that they will continue their services in Egypt and will appeal the court’s ruling that ordered them to suspend operations in the country. The two services have been working throughout the past year amid objections from Cairo white taxi drivers who strongly believe that the rise of such companies has had a detrimental effect on their work.

People received both services enthusiastically directly after their introduction to Egypt, due to longstanding struggles with fraud and exploitation at the hands of white taxis drivers

The court verdict came in favour of a lawsuit filed by a group of white taxies drivers in 2017 against the companies, accusing the services of violating the traffic law by using privately-owned vehicles for commercial purposes.

People received both services enthusiastically directly after their introduction to Egypt, due to longstanding struggles with fraud and exploitation at the hands of white taxis drivers. Uber and Careem, both mobile application-based taxi services, became the preferred transport choice for many Egyptian in the past several years for their usage of modern technology and the professional conduct of their drivers.

The government-drafted law aims at serving justice for drivers of white taxis, believing that Uber and Careem have enjoyed many privileges throughout the past period that impacted the work of normal taxis. Following the law’s preliminary approval, drivers expressed their outrage regarding some of its articles, which they believe will impose certain restrictions on their work.

In a televised interview, the representative of parliament’s transport and communication committee, Mohamed Zeineldin, said, “Uber and Careem have impacted the interests of the original craftspeople, as they are working without licenses or taxis, therefore, there should be legislation to create balanced justice.”

“Those companies have achieved extraordinary profits, and were working illegally, and the situation has changed and whoever wants to work in the Egyptian state should be subject to the laws of the country,” he also said, adding, “the state is currently regulating the conditions of these companies to preserve the rights of taxi drivers who have been affected by them.”

For the past three years, Uber and Careem drivers have been working freely without any regulations, sharing profits with companies. Police harassment was the only struggle that threatened their work during the past period.  Since there is no legal framework for the drivers, when traffic police can identify that a driver is working for Uber or Careem, they could be stopped and have their car and license withdrawn, on accusations of using a private vehicle for commercial purposes and will be required to pay a fine of EGP 3,000. Therefore, there were several calls for recognition.

The new law requires drivers working with Uber and Careem to place a logo on their cars and imposes a fine of EGP 5,000 in the case of any individual driving without an operating card. It further bans government employees from working for Uber or Careem in their free time.

Many of the drivers with both companies are individuals who occupy professional positions and use the applications to improve their living conditions. Therefore, they reject putting the companies’ logos on their private cars.

Since the launch of the services in Egypt, many governmental employees have joined it to improve their live conditions but will not be able to do so after the enforcement of the new law.

Also, there were a number of agents, working for both companies, whose work focused on promoting and organising Uber and Careem in Egypt through hiring drivers, convincing people to rent their cars to the companies, and, in many cases, were intermediaries between the two sides. A majority of agents who registered with Uber and Careem were initially car rental agencies.

However, the new law would upend the work of those agents, stipulating that drivers should deal directly with companies in future.

The articles of the law did not outrage only drivers, but also the applications’ users due to the presence of an article stipulating that both companies have to provide the personal information of users to authorities. Rana Qortam, policy manager at Uber, who attended discussions on the law, saw the article as an invasion of privacy.

“We have more than 4 million users and 150,000 drivers, and their data is a responsibility and we are committed to protecting them,” she also said, stressing that Uber needs a judicial order ordering the company to provide data and information to security authorities in order to disclose it.

In response to Qortam’s concerns, the head of parliament’s transportation and communication committee, Saeed Taaema, said that the issue is related to national security since the services are investing in Egypt.

Moreover, the law will impose costly operating fees, work permits, and taxes on the drivers and companies, which will lead to an increase in the services’ prices. The imposed payments of taxes and insurance are regarded as overpriced, as their maximum ranges between EGP 2,000 and EGP 3,000 in required fees, in addition to 25% in taxes. This will represent a burden on drivers, which will increase the cost of service for customer and could impact their usage.

The terms will impose a state of uncertainty over the drivers’ conditions, which will lead them to pay more money in the form of taxes and insurance to the government, impact their income received from the services, and transform them from private drivers to being treated as normal taxi drivers, a notion that many drivers have expressed displeasure at.

The drivers working for such companies have technically been working illegally for over three years so far, as they continue to await state recognition, which is expected to be granted after the bill’s enforcement.

Many passengers have decided to switch to Uber and Careem as an alternative to traditional Cairo white taxis. Taking a ride with a regular taxi driver can often be inconvenient, as many drivers turn away customers if their destination is far away, the route is busy, or even simply because it is inconvenient for them. Even though white taxis are required to have a metre, many drivers intentionally say it is broken, in an effort to extract a higher fare from customers. White taxis have long organised and protested against Uber and Careem, accusing them of unfair competition and operating illegally.

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How did more than 100 foreign diplomats get expelled over one month? Sun, 01 Apr 2018 10:00:40 +0000 Russia responds to expulsion of its diplomats in more than 20 countries over UK-led ex-spy Skripal poisoning allegations

The post How did more than 100 foreign diplomats get expelled over one month? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

At least 133 Russian diplomats in 22 countries were ordered to return to Moscow in March, amid a UK-led escalation against Russia over accusations of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, earlier this month.

On 14 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May gave 23 Russian diplomats in the UK a week to leave, identifying them as undeclared intelligence officers. She described the decision as “the single biggest expulsion over 30 years”—estimated at 40% of the Russian embassy’s staff—adding, “it is not the first time the Russian state acted against our country.”

With more sanctions sought against Russia, the move signalled a severe deterioration of relations between the two countries. The UK further pursued rallying its allies. In the past week, global action against Russia followed.

On Monday, the US announced the expulsion of 60 Russian representatives, with seven days to leave, and ordered that the consulate in Seattle be closed. More than 20 European countries, including France, Germany, and Italy, as well as Canada and Australia also expelled Russian diplomats. Austria abstained from implementing the move.

“Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation. Allies expressed solidarity with the UK, offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the UK’s questions,” the NATO said in a statement on 14 March.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that he has withdrawn “the accreditation of seven staff at the Russian Mission to NATO” and will “also deny the pending accreditation request for three others.”

In what international media has called “a tit-for-tat” action, Russia is expected to expel 60 US diplomats, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Friday. The decision is also to include closing down the US Consulate in Saint Petersburg.

Cold War-style, Russia’s foreign relations with NATO countries is seriously challenged, and would wait to see whether the UK would be able to mobilise for sanctions on Russia. The Chemical Weapons Convention enforced in 1977 prohibits their use, transfer, and development.

Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia

How it all started: Who is Skripal? 

Sergei Viktorovich Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer. In the 1990s, Skripal served in the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). Reports say he was recruited by the British intelligence service (MI6) for which he began working in 1995 and provided with classified information on the Russian state, including exposing a number of undercover agents.

Skripal was arrested in 2004, convicted by Russia in 2006, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for treason. Authorities said he began spying while stationed overseas and continued after he retired from the Russian military in 1999.

Skripal was freed in 2010 as part of a spy swap agreement with the United States. His release was pushed for by the UK as he later moved to Salisbury.

On 4 March, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench and taken to hospital. Yulia is reported to be in better condition while her father remains in critical condition.

Investigators believe the pair was poisoned by nerve agents on the front door of his house in Salisbury. Yulia had arrived from Russia to visit her father. The nerve agent used is believed to be of the Novichok group.

Why did the UK accuse Russia?

The Novichok nerve agent was developed by the Soviet Union between 1971 and 1993. Novichok causes the heart to slow and the airways to restrict, leading to death by asphyxiation. Nerve agents are typically inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

It was identified by May as the nerve agent used against the Skripals, thus arguing that it was highly likely Russia was behind the attack.

“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in an interview on BBC.

The case has similarities to the killing of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive tea in London in 2006.

Patricia Lewis, research director for international security at Chatham House, said Novichok agents could be identified because they have distinct chemical formulae. “There could be contaminants that would give away where it has come from,” she told The Independent, adding that high-resolution trace analysis could detect pollen and other clues.

The EU said it took the British accusations seriously, refraining from reaching an immediate conclusion and demanding that Russia comply with questions and demand to provide full disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.

Russia reaction

Moscow has handed notes of protest to the ambassadors and announced the expulsions of the same number of diplomats—on average, between one to four diplomats. They were given several days to leave the country, Russia Today reported on Friday.

Moscow denied the accusations and criticised the UK for the claims and demanded investigations to be conducted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

In a heated debate at the UN Security Council over the matter, Russian representative Vissaly Nebenzia even suggested the UK might have plotted the attack on Skripal to tarnish Russia, especially ahead of the 2018 World Cup. More importantly, he denied that his country had ever made or even researched the Novichok nerve agent.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “Russia has repeatedly addressed the British authorities through official channels with a proposal to establish cooperation in investigating the alleged poisoning of Russian citizens, as well as with requests to provide information on their condition and, of course, the circumstances of the incident” but received no response.

She also said they were denied contact with the Skripals despite them being Russian citizens. “We were forced to learn from the media the date and the time of the incident, the number of people involved in it, and the level of damage to their health,” she added.

Moscow is hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, condemning Johnson’s suggestion that the upcoming competition is comparable to the 1936 Olympic Games under Hitler.

“Mr Johnson,” said Zakharova, “Do you not find it shameful and, as you like to say, ‘emetic’ that so many British officials attended the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games? What were all those respectable British sporting functionaries and lords doing as Hitler’s guests? Tell your countrymen about this.”

A Tuesday report by the Washington Post highlighted reactions by Russian diplomats on Twitter saying the country is “very good at appearing unfazed” and “trolling.”

The Russian involvement in the matter is dismissed by some who do not believe the government would seek to murder Skripal after allowing his release, and that the Kremlin would avoid carrying out such an assassination ahead of a presidential election and other areas of tensions over Russia’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Ukraine as well as allegations of its interference with the 2016 US elections.

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Libya faces challenge of holding elections carrying hope of ending political turbulence Sun, 25 Mar 2018 09:00:31 +0000 Son of late leader Muammar Gaddafi announces presidential bid

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Since the uprising against Libya’s long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which ended in his capture and killing at the hands of angry rebels in 2011, the country has been in turmoil, divided between different powers and armed groups. Amid repeated attempts to reach political reconciliation, which would include the democratic election of a new president, one candidate is no other than the late leader’s son.

On 19 March, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s bid for Libya’s presidency was announced by his representative Aymen Bouras at a press conference held in Tunisia.

“We confirm this candidacy for the 2018 elections, if they take place as scheduled,” Bouras stated. He asserted that Gaddafi remains on Libyan soil and that he aspires to lead the reconstruction of the country, reported Tunisia-based Nessma TV. Bouras said Gaddafi, whose exact whereabouts are not revealed for security concerns, would soon address the public.

Reactions to the news are divided between support and controversy, further fuelled by another bid for the presidency: that of Aref Al-Nayed, former Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

This also comes at a time where doubts are emerging on the possibility of holding elections for which no specific dates have been set.

On Wednesday, Ghassan Salame, head of the United Nations mission to Libya, told the UN Security Council that holding elections before the end of the year is a “top priority.” Still, the UN envoy to Libya voiced concerns about the continuing presence of extremist groups such as the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

On the same day, Human Rights Watch said the current climate does not guarantee free and fair elections. “Restrictive laws have undermined freedom of speech and association in Libya, and armed groups have intimidated, harassed, threatened, physically attacked, and arbitrarily detained journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders,” the global rights group’s statement read.

Likewise, Salame said, “armed groups, including those formally integrated into the state structures, continue to operate outside of the law, perpetrating human rights abuses.  Bodies bearing signs of torture have turned up in many locations. Libyan men, women, and children are increasingly kidnapped for profit, even in the heart of the capital. Citizens are arbitrarily arrested by shadowy security forces. People are held and abused in unofficial, official, or quasi-official detention prisons.”

He also pointed to recent clashes in the southern city of Sabha, saying, “the ongoing jostling of national political and military players, and the growing presence of foreign mercenaries, seriously complicate the solution.”

Amid such calls for a better legal environment, parties on the ground remain in dispute. A sixth army unification meeting, sponsored by Cairo, has reportedly stirred tensions.

Libya is also facing dreadful economic challenges.

Gaddafi Jr

  • Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi is the second son of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi, born in Tripoli in 1972
  • He is known as his father’s “favourite heir”
  • He attained a PhD from the London School of Economics, which many suspected was paid for and plagiarised
  • He was perceived as a reformist and had an influential diplomatic presence abroad
  • In 2008, he publicly declared stepping aside from public politics
  • Captured by militias in 2011, he spent six years as a prisoner in Zintan and was released in June 2017 under an amnesty law
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him for accusations of crimes against humanity, which he denied and slammed the ICC over. His lawyer recently discredited the court’s legitimacy to act against his client
  • His comeback as a candidate is being presented as an effort to save the country, working with all local and international parties in favour of restoring Libya

Political division

To date, political power in Libya is divided between internationally-recognised and shadow governments. The UN is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accords (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.

A rival administration, known as the Tobruk interim government based in the eastern city of Bayda, enjoys the support of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (Skhirat agreement) recognises the GNA as Libya’s sole legitimate executive body. Yet, its authority remains challenged by the LNA, which is backed by Egypt and the UAE.

In July 2017, Al-Sarraj and Haftar agreed to a nationwide ceasefire, calling for an end to the use of armed force in Libya, except in the fight against terrorist groups, following talks hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. The event was a follow up to previous failed reconciliation attempts.

According to media reports, the UAE is seeking to expand its influence in Libya through Aref Nayed’s candidacy. An Islamic scholar who backed and engaged in the anti-Gaddafi wave in 2011, Nayed told Egypt’s Al-Youm Al-Sabea earlier this month that there has been no progress in political dialogues over the past months, which, in addition to violent clashes in the south, is propagating popular anger.

Nayed further stated that he opposes any sort of political isolation of figures of the former regime unless it is based upon court decisions with clear criminal charges. Nayed has faced criticism inside Libya for being backed by the UAE.

In a separate development, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into police custody Tuesday over allegations of receiving millions of euros from the Libyan government of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to finance his 2007 presidential campaign.

Military division

Cairo has been hosting a series of meetings to unify Libyan factions, especially the military. The most recent encounter took place last week with representatives of the LNA and GNA attending.

A statement issued at the end of that sixth meeting only said that the parties agreed to pursue negotiations to unite the army but had no clear conclusion.

While the US Embassy in Libya praised the meeting and its efforts, coinciding with UN efforts to unify political factions, other media reports suggested discontent in Libya with Cairo’s support for Haftar.

Media reports said brigades in western Libya threatened Al-Sarraj with advancing to Tripoli if such endorsement of Haftar persisted. Others were reportedly objecting that Haftar remains the top commander of a unified army.

Haftar has been engaged in a war in the south of Libya, where he had already consolidated control in the middle of 2017.

More recently, clashes broke out in the southwestern city of Sabha. According to The Libyan Observer, “Sabha has been, for days, hit by armed clashes after the attack of armed groups that targeted the Brigade 6 Infantry of the Defence Ministry following the brigade command’s rejection of joining Khalifa Haftar’s forces.”

The same website had also reported that at least 4,500 people fled the city following civilian casualties, including children.

It was also recently revealed that mercenaries from Africa were involved in the clashes, as Haftar gave them a deadline to leave the country, which ended a few days ago.

Mohamed Chtatou, professor of education science at a university in Rabat, Morocco, argued in an analysis published by Eurasia Review, “one thing is certain: if the Libyan politicians do not care about their country and its future and do all they can to get it back on its feet, the Arabs will not bother and the West will not care as long as Libya is not a security threat to the Europeans or the Americans.”

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Egypt’s election kicks off abroad with intended message to critics Mon, 19 Mar 2018 09:30:38 +0000 Hopes, calls for high turnout in internationally observed polling

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Images and video footage flooded the internet showing Egyptians abroad casting their votes in the presidential election. The vote began on Friday and the last day to cast ballots was Sunday. People also checked in on Facebook at several Egyptian embassies, carrying flags and posters supporting President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who is expected to win a second four-year term.

Ambassadors of Egypt abroad, local officials, and the media highlighted “high turnout,” amid concerns that the election would witness low participation.

“The number of people who showed up is not bad for the first day, also given that Friday is a working day,” one Egyptian woman named Reham wrote on Facebook, as she checked into the embassy in London.

Several others posted pictures. Pro-state television host Ahmed Moussa had urged Egyptians abroad during one of his episodes to share their pictures while voting on social media to encourage their fellow voters.

The Egyptian ambassador to Australia reportedly told local media that many people were participating in the election, especially youth, who rushed to complete necessary documentation needed in order to be registered in the voters’ database.

Media also reported that the highest turnout for the first day took place in Arab Gulf countries, namely Kuwait. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is yet to announce official figures. According to state-owned media, Egyptians are voting in 118 countries.

The election comes nine years after Egypt’s 2011 revolution that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak and five years after Al-Sisi led the ouster of the short-lived rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi amid large protests demanding he step down.

Over the past four years of Al-Sisi’s first term, he led a number of security and economic strategies aimed at rebuilding and reforming the country. However, there has been no meaningful political sphere despite the existence of dozens of political parties.

Presidential Candidate Moussa Mustafa Moussa

Egypt is struggling to face international claims of a sham election

The election was described by foreigners as “sham” and “farce”.  Critics said the current regime repressed possible rivals and opponents of Al-Sisi, referring to pressure faced by former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was deported from the UAE to his home country when he announced his bid for the presidency.

Furthermore, former military chief of staff Sami Anan was arrested, and remains in military custody, for declaring his intention to challenge Al-Sisi in the election. This is in addition to several civilian candidates withdrawing from the race.

In several instances, Egypt refuted the criticism. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Thursday saying that it considers the recent comments by German Commissioner for Human Rights Bärbel Kofler as unacceptable interference with the country’s affairs.

Kofler called on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the crackdown on independent media and civil society, and voiced concern over the arrests that preceded the election, stating that “opportunities for a transparent and free election are not fully exploited.” Earlier in March, the ministry strongly rejected remarks by the UN human rights chief, who spoke of “a climate of intimidation,” saying his claims are unfounded.

One slogan in an official media campaign called on Egyptians to vote to show the world that people are free to choose. State-supporting television hosts have spoken in the same direction. Egyptian authorities have been monitoring foreign reports as much as they have been watching the election.

Those calling for a boycott were categorised as either pro-Muslim Brotherhood or part of a conspiracy plan. On Friday, the NEC said it tracked no violations in the media’s coverage of the election, “with the exception of some Muslim Brotherhood channels telling people not to vote, but were challenged with even greater participation,” state media reported.

In 2014, the turnout for the election was 47.5%. This was a lower turnout than in the 2012 presidential election. Moreover, the NEC had to extend the election for an additional day and pumped messages through the media to push discouraged voters to go to ballot boxes.

On Wednesday, Al-Sisi addressed the public during his visit to the Ministry of Interior, saying that he would rather see millions going to the ballot boxes to say “no” than have one-third of voters cast their ballots for him, asserting once more the need for people to express their opinions.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi

No serious rival candidate

In 2014, Al-Sisi took that year’s election against his opponent Hamdeen Sabbahi in a landslide, winning 96.9% of the vote to the latter’s 3.1%. Two candidates was a low number of presidential contenders, especially in comparison to the 2012 election, which saw 13 candidates vie for the presidency in the first round of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.

In the current election, Mostafa Moussa Mostafa, a last-minute candidate who applied a few hours before the NEC closed its doors to presidential hopefuls’ applications, stands no chance in facing Al-Sisi.

The NEC officially allowed electoral campaigns to kick off on 24 February. Across Cairo’s Downtown and other districts, dozens of banners display support for Al-Sisi. Moussa was interviewed several times by pro-Sisi television hosts who repeatedly expressed to him they were unconvinced he could seriously compete against the sitting president.

In local newspapers, senior writers have barely mentioned him. Op-eds tackling the election mostly focused on slamming opponents to Al-Sisi and calls for boycott, or wrote about why Al-Sisi should be elected for a second term.

Moussa himself had been a strong advocate of Al-Sisi.

On the other hand, Al-Sisi has been inaugurating projects and appearing at national events broadcast on televisions nationwide, including a highly anticipated visit by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. During these events, the president shared his accomplishments, future vision, and his plans for the country.

Support for Al-Sisi

The regime fully mobilised for the support of Al-Sisi. Even the country’s religious institutions played a political role. Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, called on people to fulfil their “national and social duty.”

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning and one of the oldest higher education institutions on the globe, mobilised the entire Al-Tayeb family in his hometown in the governorate of Luxor. According to an article published by state-owned Al-Ahram in February, they organised a public conference hosted by Al-Tayeb’s brother and showed a photo of a banner supporting Al-Sisi in the family’s name.

Dozens of public rallies have been organised by supporters and hundreds working for Al-Sisi’s electoral campaign. The rhetoric used in these campaigns heavily relied on shedding light on the military-backed president, in light of a massive operation launched in North Sinai to fight terrorism.

“Egypt’s presidential election” was a trending hashtag on Twitter from Friday to Sunday, with users tweeting about both support for and opposition to Al-Sisi.

Many writers and experts in political affairs have recently highlighted the importance of political plurality for a healthy democratic system. Yet, they also voiced concerns regarding restrictions on the public sphere and bias towards Al-Sisi, whether in the media or other institutions. Equally, there were opinions supporting Al-Sisi and discussing his achievements.

The election inside Egypt will take place beginning on 26 March for three days.

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Coffee, one of Egypt’s oldest consumed beverages, strives to cope with inflation Mon, 19 Mar 2018 06:00:53 +0000 Coffee consumption has a long history in Egypt. It started with the brotherhood of Sufi Islamic mystics, who used it during prayers before it was culturally accepted. At first, religious scholars were divided between coffee supporters and opponents, the drink which came to Egypt from Yemen in the 16th century AD. In the early 18th …

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Coffee consumption has a long history in Egypt. It started with the brotherhood of Sufi Islamic mystics, who used it during prayers before it was culturally accepted. At first, religious scholars were divided between coffee supporters and opponents, the drink which came to Egypt from Yemen in the 16th century AD.

In the early 18th century, most religious scholars forbade drinking coffee. Consequently, the chief of police attacked coffee consumers and imprisoned some of them. The locals attacked some cafes, destroyed them, and attacked their visitors.

However, coffee traders ignored the religious edict to preserve their source of livelihood, which led some the era’s security forces to organise a crackdown on anyone who sold coffee or openly drank it, and that sparked several confrontations between traders and advocates of the prohibition, in which one person died.

In the end, the Ottomans were forced to appoint a new mufti in Egypt, who allowed coffee to be used to cajole the public into accepting it. This became evident in the period of Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha, who ruled Egypt from 1534-1536, with his ruling period known for coffee and coffeeshops.

The taboo surrounding coffee thus became a thing of the past, with coffee drinking since evolving into an important social practice for Egyptians, at all levels of society. In many cases, coffee house became a kind of literary circle or political club. 

According to Euromonitor International’s “Coffee in Egypt” report, one of the main challenges that face coffee’s retail growth was the rise in inflation rates, reaching an all-time high level of 33% following the November 2016 floatation of the pound and the adoption of an economic reform programme which included several other measures alongside the liberalisation of the exchange rate, such as the implementation of a value added tax (VAT) and the reduction of energy and fuel subsidies.

Nonetheless, coffee sales witnessed a double-digit increase in terms of value, despite the reduction in sales volume. Consumers switched to cheaper coffee brands to cope with their falling purchasing power, shifted completely to cheaper alternative beverages such as tea, or reduced their consumption on general.

2017 was the final year for instant coffee’s rise

According to the report, the strong year-over-year retail volume growth for instant coffee came to an end in 2017, as the category went through a modest decline, along with fresh coffee. The report indicated that such decline came as a result to the falling purchasing power of Egyptians, as many of them do not view coffee as an essential product, largely due to high inflation. However, regular instant coffee recorded a sharper decline than instant coffee mixes due to the latter’s continuing appeal to middle-income consumers.

On the other hand, fresh ground coffee and coffee pods posted positive retail volume growth due to price inelasticity, as it is an item usually consumed by members of upper-income households, who have been able to continue to afford high-priced coffee pods and pod coffee machines.

Positive growth for coffee forecasted in the near future

According to the report, coffee in Egypt is expected to go through positive retail volume growth over the near term  period (2018-2022), albeit slower than that of the review period. The report cites the limited growth as a result of several different factors, including rising prices amid tighter consumer budgets and some Egyptians switching to cheaper and healthier alternatives such as green tea. Indeed, in addition to the fact that despite the popularity of coffee as a drink, it is not considered as traditional a drink as tea, and so any trend that affects well-educated, mid- to upper-income consumers may have an impact on coffee.

The report concludes that it is forecasted that, over the longer term, as the government’s economic measures take effect, the coffee industry is expected to recover.

Volume of forecast retail sales of coffee by category from 2017-2022 (tonnes)

Value of forecast retail sales of coffee by category from 2017-2022 (in millions of EGP)

Percentage of growth in volume of forecast retail sales of coffee by category from 2017-2022

Percentage of value growth of forecast retail sales of coffee by category from 2017-2022

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Festival is gate to enhance relations between Egypt, African countries: Azza al-Husseiny Tue, 13 Mar 2018 11:30:37 +0000 Daily News Egypt say down with Azza al-Husseiny, Luxor African Film Festival executive director, to discuss the latest features of the festival. What will be the special features in this edition of the Luxor African Film Festival?  The mundane aspect of every film festival is the four main competitions: long narrative, long documentary, short narrative, …

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Daily News Egypt say down with Azza al-Husseiny, Luxor African Film Festival executive director, to discuss the latest features of the festival.

What will be the special features in this edition of the Luxor African Film Festival? 

The mundane aspect of every film festival is the four main competitions: long narrative, long documentary, short narrative, and the freedoms sections. This year, there will be a competition for films of Egyptian students, mainly graduation projects, which is being held for the first time. Also, we will host a forum which will include several figures from Africa. Under the title “Contemporary Visions for Africa’s Future,” it will discuss how cinema can be used as a tool to enhance relations between countries, which will include filmmakers, thinkers, and diplomates from eight African countries aside from Egypt. Also in attendance will be lecturers in cinema, anthropology, African literature, and comparative cultures.  The aim of the forum is to construct a theoretical framework to what is new in the African documentary filmmaking scene.

In the speeches and introductions by the festivals, it is always mentioned that the festival acts as diplomatic gate towards African countries. Can you tell us more about this? 

I am proud of this because this festival was a gate to enhancing relations between Egypt and other African countries. The festival itself started in the era when there were troubles, in 2010. However, the festival saw light in 2012. Egypt had very weak relations with Africa. We only had simple diplomatic representations, and maybe football was the only activity that connected us with the rest of the continent. The festival opened more horizons for meetings and dialogue, because it sends a message, which is: we are celebrating our African identity.

And automatically, this has reflected positively on the tourism sector, as Luxor is basically an open museum. This is also a great initiative for African youth, who might not have the chance to go on touristic trips to Luxor. And for us to have positive feedback and for some to consider the Luxor festival as one of the best festivals in Africa is a great achievement to us. Our achievements have been recognised abroad more than from the local audience.

Currently, there is an ongoing trend at festivals to support and fund the process of the scriptwriting and filmmaking? Is the Luxor festival planning to do something similar? 

We have a fund called Etesal which was founded during the second edition, and last year, we developed a new programme called Step to support the funding of long narrative films. Last year, Step faced setbacks to obtaining the necessary financial support. This year, different apparatuses from the government and civil society have decided to support the Luxor African Film Festival and the Etesal Fund, believing in the importance of supporting the production of films and the joint production between Egypt and other African countries. Hence the organisers of the festival and the fund were insistent to fulfil the promise of giving winners their deserved cash prizes.

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