In Focus – Daily News Egypt Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Tue, 18 Sep 2018 13:04:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Beast of poverty continues to grow Tue, 18 Sep 2018 07:30:46 +0000 4.6 million children in UK living in poverty, over 3.6 million college grads in US living in extremely difficult financial conditions

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Worldwide, poverty is the beast that cannot be killed. Strategies and visions try to tackle the issue of poverty, but only temporarily, because it keeps coming back again and again (sometimes even bigger and more vicious than before). Any change with the world economy quickly affects their life conditions, making the situation—in most cases—much worse.

A new study in the United Kingdom (UK)—developed by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC)—has found that more than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children are living below the breadline, according to The Guardian. “More than half of these people have been trapped in poverty for years, according to a new measure aimed at providing the most sophisticated analysis yet of material disadvantage in the UK. The measure seeks to forge a fresh political consensus between left and right over how to define and track poverty, with the aim of encouraging better-targeted poverty interventions, and making it easier to hold politicians to account. Especially, it finds poverty is prevalent in families with at least one disabled person, single-parent families, and households where no one works or who are dependent on income from irregular or zero-hours jobs,” The Guardian reported.

The SMC’s most significant innovation is to build core living costs, such as rent and childcare into its poverty measure. This recognises that even a relatively comfortable income is no guarantee that people can meet basic material needs if it is eaten up by unavoidable weekly outgoings, according to The Guardian.

All of this means that about 33% of children—an equivalent of 4.5 million—are in poverty, and there are predictions that the number will soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years.

In the United States of America (US), the situation is not much better. American President Donald Trump has stated in July that America’s war on poverty “is largely over and a success”. The US Census Bureau reported that about $12.3 of US households live in poverty in 2017, down from 12.7% in 2016, however, one class of Americans keeps getting poorer, according to Quartz, and they are those with at least a college degree. “In 2017, some 4.8% of those with degrees lived in poverty, up from 4.5% in 2016. That means that more than 360,000 college-educated people joined the ranks of the impoverished in 2017,” Quartz said. In 2013, only 4.4% of college grads were poor, amounting to just below 3 million people, but since them, an additional 680,000 of them have slipped under the poverty line.

In Africa, the situation is much worse. A new research by the Overseas Development Institute has found that at least 400 million people who will still be living on less than $1.90 a day by 2030, despite governments pledging to eliminate all extreme poverty, according to All Africa.

“Researchers have calculated that among the poorest countries there is a funding gap of $125bn each year for health, education, and social protection, which are crucial for reducing poverty. Although increased taxation could close this gap in most middle-income countries, low-income countries will need aid to fund these social sectors and eliminate extreme poverty. Economic growth will continue to lift millions out of poverty, but health, education, and particularly social protection are severely under-funded,” it reported.

Researchers also found that if all countries maximised their income from tax then low and middle-income countries could increase revenues by $2tn to $9.4tn a year. However, 99% of this increase would be generated by middle-income countries, leaving 48 of the poorest countries unable to fully fund their education, health, and social protection. Of these, 29 severely financially challenged countries would not be able to afford even half the costs, according to All Africa.

Recognising issues is a first step on the path to solving them, but not so much with poverty, as the world seems to be perfectly aware of the severity of that issue, yet not much change is seen. Governments will have to take serious unhesitant steps, in order for things to start changing soon.

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Syria holds first local elections since beginning of revolution Tue, 18 Sep 2018 07:00:00 +0000 Since 2011, the Syrian government’s once effective monopoly on the use of force has consistently diminished and, in the past years, has been completely dismantled

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Syria held local elections for the first time since 2011 on Sunday, in an attempt by the Syrian state to show strength and present a veneer of normalcy as President Bashar Al-Assad’s government re-extends control over large swaths of the country.

Since 2011, the Syrian government’s once effective monopoly on the use of force has consistently diminished and, in the past years, has been completely dismantled. This is due to different factors. The fragmentation of the country means that large areas are outside government control.

While the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is still present to a certain extent in the Kurdish territories, it is mainly the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekitya Demokrat, PYD) that controls the north-eastern region of Hassake and Kamishly, as well as the north-western area of Afrin. In IS-controlled territories in eastern Syria, there is no presence of governmental forces, and IS has the monopoly on the use of force. The northern province of Idlib and the southern area of Daraa and Sweida are controlled by opposition forces.

Syrians in government-controlled areas cast ballots for more than 40,000 candidates competing for 18,478 seats on local administrative councils.

State controlled news said there was “good turnout” at the 6,551 electoral stations, without specifying. Images from state media showed voters putting ballots into plastic boxes with ubiquitous pictures of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on the wall looking on.

According to observers, the results are almost sure to be rigged in favour of the ruling Ba’ath Party, which has dominated politics and security in the authoritarian state since the 1960s. Most of the candidates were either from the Ba’ath Party or tied to it.

Pro-government forces have most recently retaken control of the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta and the southwest corner bordering Jordan and Israel.

Nearly 12 million people out of a pre-war population of 22 million who have been either internally displaced or made refugees outside the country were unable to vote.

Syria regularly holds parliamentary elections but due to the uprising, the 2011 elections were postponed to 2012. The elections are always closely monitored and did not fulfil any criteria of free and fair elections. The majority of the seats were reserved for Ba’th party candidates, with a smaller number of formally independent candidates running.

Constitutional reforms in 2012 slightly changed the system and references to the Ba’th party as the leading party in the country were eliminated. State authorities allowed for the participation of an opposition which was only formally independent and very close to the regime.

During the war, previous persecution of dissidents by the secret services has been complemented with a relentless military campaign. Most of the political opposition members are now outside the country, in prison or have been killed, rendering any future elections even more flawed.

Every seven years, the president is elected in a referendum. In 2014, for the first time, more than one candidate ran for president. Before the single candidate would win more than 97% of the vote. In 2014, Bashar Al-Assad achieved only 88.7%.

Over the past years, the situation in Syria has constantly deteriorated in political and socioeconomic terms. The fragmentation of the country and its near inaccessibility to foreign organizations and journalists make it difficult to gather solid information. Even for Syrians, it has become increasingly difficult to understand the living conditions all over the country.

The Syrian regime has been crushing hopes for democratisation in its territories; the rule of the Islamic State (IS) precludes any democratic options in territory under its control; and in Kurdish and rebel-held areas, military actors dominate political ones. Authoritarian tendencies have become more pronounced all over Syria. Thus, democratic actors have largely been exiled, killed or compelled to address social or humanitarian tasks.

In the beginning of 2014, the United Nations stopped counting the casualties of the war in Syria, however, an estimated half a million people have died so far. Over half of the population has been displaced, with over 6 million people internally displaced (IDPs) and more than 4.6 million registered as refugees, mostly the neighbouring countries.

In 2015, the UNDP estimated that 80% of the population lived in poverty and that life expectancy had been reduced by 20 years since 2011. Of the projected $4.38bn needed for humanitarian assistance in 2016, only $2.13bn could be funded.

The Syrian government’s military victories in Aleppo and the surroundings areas of Damascus in the end of 2016 could only be achieved through a combination of Russian airstrikes, the participation of Iranian military advisers, and a massive deployment of foreign militias, mainly the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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BDS awakening leave Israel’s music scene in distress Sun, 16 Sep 2018 09:00:26 +0000 Over 140 artists signed letter threatening to boycott Eurovision 2019 if hosted in Israel, citing violations of Palestinian human right

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Amid successive US moves biasedly sustaining Israel—the recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and moving its embassy there – helping it bypass accountability for crimes committed under occupation and increasing pressure on Palestinians, some continue to challenge support to Israel despite criticism in the Arab world that the cause has taken a backseat.

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which identifies itself as a “movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law,” is one of those activists’ groups. It recently led a campaign successfully impacting artists across the globe to boycott Israel.

In a letter published on 9 September by The Guardian, over 140 artists signed a letter threatening to boycott the popular Eurovision song contest of 2019 if hosted in Israel, citing “grave, decades-old violations of Palestinian human right.

The letter specifically referred to the Israeli military’s killing of at least 62 unarmed Palestinian protesters during the Great March of Return demonstrations and called on the European Broadcasting Union to move the concert to “another country with a better human rights record.”

Israeli authorities have pressured the BDS supporters by denying them entry or asking them to leave, including Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir.

Aside from formalities, the BDS movement has already launched its campaign to boycott Eurovision regardless of whether it is hosted in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, arguing it is part of Israel’s strategy to whitewash and distract attention away from its war crimes against Palestinians.

“Israel effectively declared itself an apartheid state by adopting the Jewish Nation-State Law. Palestinian citizens are now constitutionally denied equal rights. Holding Eurovision 2019 in Israel whitewashes apartheid,” the BDS claims.

In another move, at least 19 artists withdrew from Israel’s Meteor Festival held on 6, 7, and 8 September in Israel.

On 24 August, the Meteor team issued a statement accusing the BDS of “insanely” politicising their event. “The location of the festival is non-controversial. A private land chosen specifically as we have intended, from the start, to create as inclusive a setting as possible,” it read.

For its part, the BDS posted the following on its Facebook page on 12 September: “We thank the musicians, DJs, and producers from around the world who withdrew. Artists are increasingly refusing to allow Israel to use art to cover up its grave violations of Palestinian human rights.”

BDS pushes for one cultural boycott after the other

The recent wave of artists’ boycott included top artists, most notably American singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey. The move stood more clearly as a boycott from previous performance cancellations in Israel.

Some of the world’s top artists cancelling performances in Israel or denying news that they would go were often celebrated by the BDS and supporters despite that solidarity with Palestine was not always cited by the celebrities as reasons. But the movement has been keen on addressing artists whenever such news appeared.

Stanley Cohen, lawyer and anti-Zionist activist, explained the point in a 2016 interview with Al-Jazeera: “Once someone signs a contract, they then too often have the excuse that they cannot step out because of financial injuries to family or friends. You don’t want to wait until the ink has dried.”

In May, news that Columbian singer from Lebanese origins Shakira were confirmed to be false by American events promoter Live Nation. Still, the singer faced pressure from the BDS and online campaign urging her not to go.

In October 2016, Beyoncé’s representatives cancelled two concerts scheduled to take place in Israel. Two years earlier, they had also denied she was going there following announcements by the Israeli media.

While no boycotting reasons were clearly stated in both instances, it is largely believed that the singer’s refrainment could have been pressured by the BDS movement. The movement listed it among it 2016 achievements despite admitting it may have not been related to responding to appeals.

Back in 2012, soul legend Stevie Wonders pulled out of a concert raising money for the Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, the BBC reported, quoting his statement: “I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere. Given the current and very delicate situation in the Middle East, and with a heart that has always cried out for world unity, I will not be performing.”

Not only music, but sports too was another cultural tool of making a statement. In June, Argentina’s national football team cancelled a World Cup friendly match with Israel supposed to be held in Jerusalem, describing the move as the “right thing to do.”

“There is nothing ‘friendly’ about military occupation and apartheid,” the BDS movement had said while calling on the team to cancel.

BDS acts to Israel’s distress

Those different forms of boycotting, some of which a result of the BDS campaigns, came to Israel’s distress, sparking internal criticism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Argentina’s president following the team’s cancellation but was Mauricio Macri reportedly told him that “there was nothing that I could do,” Israel’s Army Radio reported.

Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted said it was “too bad” Argentina’s footballers did not “withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters. We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters,” he tweeted, and on one instance suggested football star Lionel Messi needed that warm-up game when the latter missed a World Cup penalty.

“The Day the Music Died: Will BDS Bring Tel Aviv’s Club Scene to a Standstill?” read a Haaretz’s headline on 7 September. “We may be reaching the day when the boycott movement bursts the escapist bubble of Israel’s nightlife,” it said.

The article criticised Del Rey and others’ decisions arguing that Israeli nightlife scene has “no room for politics,” and that British or American artists who cancelled are leftist “people who see cooperation with Israel as collaboration with Trump and Britain’s Conservative government.”

Generally, Israeli media reactions have been largely based on pointing which artists who opted for a boycott have previously been to Tel Aviv before, including Shakira and other DJs, or often emphasising the fact that many did not cite “politically motivated reasons”.

But with the pressure holding still, the BDS has impacted the Palestinian-Israeli debate using culture and corporate social responsibility. A StopBDS online website has stated that The BDS movement is rapidly spreading on campuses and communities, representing a looming threat to Israel and its supporters.

According to former Israeli deputy national security advisor Chuck Freilicha in a February article published in the Times of Israel, Israel is using the wrong approach in facing the BDS and failing to understand that Israel itself is the source of its bad image.

“Fifty years of efforts have failed to convince the international community of the merits of the settlement policy, which it considers counterproductive, first and foremost, to Israel’s own interest in maintaining its Jewish and democratic character and in achieving peace,” he wrote.

“No matter how much Israel invests in the battle against the BDS and delegitimization, it will not be able to change the international image that Israel has come to bear the primary responsibility for the diplomatic impasse,” he added.

According to BDS, its campaigns were a key factor behind a 46% drop in foreign direct investment into Israel in 2014 compared to 2013, in statistics provided by a UN report. The World Bank also attributed a 24% drop in Palestinian imports from Israel to boycott. Reports by the Israeli government and the Rand Corporation have predicted that the BDS could cost the Israeli economy billions of dollars.

Major European companies VeoliaOrange, and CRH have exited the Israeli market after high profile campaigns over their complicity with Israeli violations. Veolia sold its businesses in Israel and ended its role in infrastructure projects for illegal Israeli settlements after boycott campaigners persuaded local councils to drop Veolia from public contracts worth at least $20bn, the BDS stated.

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Hamas-Israel long-term truce uncertain amid Abbas opposition, Gaza protests Sun, 09 Sep 2018 12:00:18 +0000 Internal Palestinian reconciliation stands in way of negotiations with Israel

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The future of a possible long-term truce between Israel and Hamas looks uncertain. A brokered deal would involve easing the blockade on Gaza and prisoners’ swap.

But disagreements between Fatah and Hamas are standing in the way.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose anti-US stance escalated after US President Donald Trump’s internationally-rejected recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the US embassy move, is rejecting any agreement that would deal with the strip separately from the rest of Palestine and insisting that Hamas handles Gaza to the PA, unrecognising its authority to sign any deals.

According to media reports, a delegation of Egyptian intelligence officers last week in Ramallah of was prompted the Egyptians to hold off, in order to resume talks on internal reconciliation first upon being communicated the PA’s rejection of a Hamas-Israel ceasefire.

On Friday, Israeli media reported that Abbas even threatened to sever all ties with Israel if it reaches a long-term truce agreement with Hamas that bypasses the PA and Abbas’s Fatah party.

Following weeks of violence in Gaza near the Israeli borders, a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt and the UN was eventually implemented last month. In mid-August, Reuters reported that Egypt was putting the “final touches” to a one-year agreement that was planned to be announced, only if Fatah helped.

Hamas officials say they want to advance a proposal that would put end to the difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza, but accused Abbas of coordinating with Israeli intelligence to thwart such an agreement.

More rounds of talks in Cairo are expected for delegations of Palestinian factions.

Stalled reconciliation process standing in way of progressing negotiations with Israel

For months, a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas brokered by Egypt and announced in October 2017 has been stalled, as both parties hold to their conditions.

Submitting Gaza to the PA’s control remains one of the main obstacles. Despite that the PA Cabinet convened in Gaza for the first time in October, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy was bombed in Gaza in March. Although he survived, the PA blamed Hamas.

Hamas had accepted a new reconciliation plan proposed by Egypt, with specific phases and a timeline and includes the lifting of all PA penalties on Gaza and the full payment of salaries and budgets in the strip, the commitment by Hamas not to interfere in the work of the national reconciliation government, as well as cooperation with it; the provision of fuel without taxes for the operation of the electric power plant under the supervision of the government; and the start of consultations in a month time to form a national unity government.

On the other hand, Abbas continued threats to withhold money sent to Gaza and maintaining Hamas disarmament as a crucial condition for the reconciliation process.

Last week, PA official Yehia Rabah summarised Fatah’s point of view to the local Al-Watan newspaper as following: there are no need for more discussion on reconciliation, but rather implementation of what was already agreed upon by Hamas instead of the group “delusional” pursuits, whether by agreeing to a ceasefire under Israeli conditions or falling in the trap of the “dead” deal of the century.

Situation not calming down with Israel

The details of an anticipated ceasefire plan remain undisclosed fully, but outlines published by different media suggested that it would include lifting sanctions on Gaza, facilitating entry of goods and working towards infrastructure reconstruction.

A prisoner swap in exchange of securing the release of Israeli civilians and soldiers’ remain held by the Palestinian organisation is also on the table.

The terms are essentially identical to those established after the 2014 war in Gaza and are similar to those agreed upon after the 2012 military campaign in the Strip, Haaretz reported in mid-August.

On the ground, signs of eased tensions with Israel are rarely visible whether in Gaza or other parts of the West Bank.

Hamas leading member Mahmoud Al-Zahar said negotiations with Israel did not lead to any practical results on the ground and that Palestinian protests will not back off until the Israeli blockade ends, SAMA reported on Friday, accusing Abbas of hindering Egyptian mediation efforts.

Protests demanding the right of return have been ongoing since March. At least one Palestinian was killed and over 200 injured on Friday in protests near the Israeli border, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

“Protesters rolled burning tires and hurled stones toward the Israeli soldiers and the border fence, witnesses said. The Israeli military said that some threw firebombs and a grenade. No Israelis were hurt,” Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, two Palestinians were wounded from rubber-coated metal rounds fired by Israeli soldiers who raided early Saturday the northern West Bank city of Nablus to arrest activists, according to Palestinian security forces, WAFA reported on Saturday.

Also on Friday, WAFA reported that Jewish settlers attempted to raid the village of Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, which is facing an imminent threat of demolition by Israeli authorities, before they were confronted by Palestinian protesters, local sources told WAFA.

As the situation is lingering, pessimism has started to take over. This also comes as the US position is stirring tensions in light of its recent decision to cut off contributions to the UNRWA. The aid agency the thought to raise funds through and urged contributors to come to its rescue.

Trump further stated that there will be no aids to Palestinians unless they make a deal. “I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders. We were—the United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money,” Trump said during the call on Thursday, adding, “and I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal.  If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying,” he reportedly told a conference room on Thursday.

In an interview published Friday by the Jewish News Syndicate, Trump’s senior Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said Hamas was an obstacle to the peace process and criticised the PA abstinence from speaking to the Americans.

“I certainly hope that President Abbas chooses to engage with the peace plan, and I hope he decides to lead his people to a better and brighter future, which is what this plan could bring the people,” Greenblatt stated.

He added that working with the Trump administration is President Abbas’s “best opportunity to possibly achieve many of the goals that he has set out for himself and his people” and that without engaging on the peace plan, the Palestinian people will “fall further and further behind.”

“Moreover, the continued condemnation of the peace plan is going to yield no solution whatsoever to the Palestinian people. So our hope is that, yes, he will realize when he sees the plan that he should become a partner for peace,” he said in the interview.

The so-called “deal of the century” proposed by the US was rejected by Palestine, while Egypt and Jordan maintained positions on the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem a capital of an independent Palestinian state as essential conditions.

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UNRWA seeks compensating significant budget gap as largest contributor US pulls out Sun, 02 Sep 2018 09:00:09 +0000 US move comes amid others pressuring Palestinians to settle for deal with Israel

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is an agency providing relief and humanitarian assistance supporting at least 5 million Palestinian refugees.

On 8 December 1949, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 302 on the assistance of Palestinian refugees. It mandated continued assistance for the relief of the Palestine refugees deemed as “necessary to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability.”

Before that in 1948, the body was named the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR).  On 19 November of that year, the General Assembly adopted resolution 212 considered that a sum of approximately $29.5m would be required to provide relief for 500,000 refugees for a period of nine months from 1 December 1948 to 31 August 1949. It added a sum of $2.5m for operational expenses.

Funds depended on voluntary government contributions, which the resolution urged to make whether from UN state members or non-members and calls were also made upon relief organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other UN agencies, to contribute with supplies, specialised personnel and services.

In May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel sparking the Arab-Israeli War and a Palestinian exodus and the displacement of at least 700,000. The more the violent developments in the region, the more the UN sought to increase relief budget.

With the foundation of the UNRWA in 1949, the UNGA’s resolution 302 established that $33.7m for direct relief and work programmes for the period 1 January to 31 December 1950 and another $21.2m would be required from 1 January to 30 June 1951. By 1952, the UN was talking about a $118m budget for the UNRWA’s work.

According to the agency, another 300,000 people including 120,000 Palestinian refugees, were made homeless or left their homes. Since then, the UNRWA’s mandate has constantly been renewed and its humanitarian mission expanded.

The UNRWA continues to be mainly funded by voluntary contributions of UN member states and is assisted by a regular budget from the UN. Its assistance to refugees includes programmes for education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure, and emergency assistance during armed conflicts.

As a civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, the UNRWA launched an emergency appeal to be able to assist some 439,000 Palestinian refugees in the country distributed between with over 120,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries, almost 254,000 internally displaced, and an estimated 56,600 are trapped in hard-to-reach or inaccessible locations.

The UNRWA required $409m, saying earlier this year that it made the call amid a “financial crisis exacerbated by the US decision to cut back its funding,” which provided 60%t of the total emergency funding in Syria.

“The lack of funding seems to be generating a lot of fear, anger and resentment. Unfortunately, it is yet another addition to a long list of historical grievances and creates a fertile ground for radical and extremists’ groups to recruit, operate and flourish,” said Mohammed Abdi Adar, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Syria.

US-initiated crisis

For over a decade, the US has been the largest contributing country to the UNRWA’s budget, including—until 2015—some $75m annually for projects in Gaza and the West Bank. US donations reached more than $364m in 2017.

On Friday, the Donald Trump administration decided to cut contributions to the UNRWA, saying it made a $60m contribution in January 2018.

“The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” the US Department of State said in a statement, citing “failure to mobilise adequate and appropriate burden sharing.”

The statement added that the US will seek other means to commit to assisting Palestinian children wherever they live.

Repeatedly asked about the US intention to cut funds to the UNRWA and the impact of such a decision in past months press briefings, spokesperson Heather Nauert often highlighted how much the US had ben bearing the burden.

In one of the encounters with the press in July, Nauert was asked about UNRWA schools, which may not be open as scheduled and “hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands of kids not being able to go to school, and clinics not opened and so on, because of the withheld American funds.”

She responded that aside from the $60 million pledged to UNRWA, there were concerns about the structure and the funding streams that go into UNRWA. “In terms of what is happening with the beginning of the school year, I’m afraid I’ve just – it’s not something I’ve been extremely focused on,” Nauert stated.

As a result of US cutting contributions by at least $300m, the UNRWA said there was a budget deficit of $446m and that after fundraising the deficit remained at $217m by June, which was risky for its sustainability of the second semester.

The US had announced its intentions towards the UNRWA funding back in January, sparking a wave of humanitarian concerns. More than half of the 2 million people in the Gaza Strip, where the unemployment rate is 46%, are dependent on support from UNRWA and other humanitarian agencies, Reuters reported on 17 January.

In July, dozens of UNRWA employees protested in the Gaza Strip against layoff decisions.

“Several employees fainted when they heard they had lost their jobs. One worker poured gasoline over his body and tried to set himself on fire before he was stopped by his co-workers,” The Jerusalem Post reported back then.

The US move comes amid other historically unprecedented decisions with regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including the internationally denounced December announcement to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Other means of pressure on Palestinians in favour of Israel were revealed by a so-called ‘deal of the century’ to end the conflict, orchestrated by Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner.

UN reaction

UN Chief Antonio Guterres expressed on Friday regret over the US decision, calling for the support of other countries to help with UNRWA’s financial gap so that it is able to continue vital assistance to refugees.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the secretary-general said the UNRWA “has led a rapid, innovative and tireless effort to overcome the unexpected financial crisis UNRWA has faced this year. It has expanded the donor base, raised considerable new funding, and explored new avenues of support.”

Since the US gave its hint in January, the UNRWA exerted efforts to find funding alternatives. It launched “Syria emergency appeal” citing priorities of provision of cash, food and relief items and maintaining access to basic services including education; health; water, sanitation, and hygiene.

It also launched in January a fundraising campaign titled “Dignity is priceless” aimed at keeping schools open.

We are launching this campaign because UNRWA stands with you as witnesses to your historic plight. I wish to confirm to all Palestine refugees that UNRWA schools, proud schools like the one we are standing in, will remain open. Health care, and other services will be provided. It is a huge challenge, but it is absolutely imperative,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl had stated.

Following the US’ dramatic fund reduction, the UNRWA said that at stake was access to basic education for 525,000 boys and girls at over 700 UNRWA schools; emergency food and cash assistance to 1.7 million to extremely vulnerable Palestine refugees; access to primary health care for 3 million refugees, including pre-natal care; dignity and human security for 5.3 million refugees who endured 70 years of injustice and uncertainty.

Eleven countries rushed to deliver their funds early to the UNRWA in January. Germany reportedly pledged on Friday to increase its contribution, urging other states to work toward a sustainable finance basis for the organisation.

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Plug-ins, hybrids growing, solar-powered, new future: Electric cars Tue, 28 Aug 2018 10:30:41 +0000 Norway leading country in Europe in terms of electric car sales

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Electric cars are no more than just a thing of sci-fi movies or part of a modernisation era that seems far too developed to be witnessed during our time, while we are still alive and kicking. Electric cars are already roaming the streets of Europe, America, and Asia, and it will soon be common to see them in African and Middle Eastern countries. The global drive towards electric vehicles, which are clearly more environment friendly and less costly on the long-term, is only increasing at very rapid rates.

The Guardian has reported that there are now more than 1m electric cars in Europe after sales soared by more than 40% during the first half of this year, according to new figures.

“Europe hit the milestone nearly a year after China, which has a much larger car market, but ahead of the US, which is expected to reach the landmark later this year driven by the appetite for Tesla’s latest model. Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, a 42% increase on the same period a year before. With growth speeding up, the cumulative total is expected to hit 1.35m by the end of the year, according to industry analysts EV-Volumes,” The Guardian reported.

In Europe, Norway is the country leading electric car sales with 36,500 sales and a share of 37% new registrations. However, Germany is expected to overtake Norway by the end of this year with the rapid growth in the German sales of electric cars.

The Netherlands and Denmark also have stable and good growth rates, which makes them strong competitors.

Solar-powered electric cars are expected to be introduced to the global car market—specifically, the European market—in early 2019 by a start-up company based in Munich, hoping to bring the new kind of electric cars to the light. “Sono Motors” is currently in the final development phase of the solar charging system for its first car, according to UK Express. The car is expected to let its driver recharge it as he drives. The vehicle would have solar cells integrated into the bodywork, allowing it to gain power while driving.

In Africa, some countries are already preparing for electric cars. According to Daily Nation, the new award-winning 2018 Zoe electric cars are likely to be seen on Kenyan roads next year, as about 80% of the vehicles to be available in the Kenyan market are already pre-owned, which means that an increase of hybrid and plug-in electric cars is likely to be seen every year, expensive as they might be.

More countries in the Middle East and Africa are seeking the less expensive versions of electric cars. That includes the smaller cars with batteries of a lighter weight, and this might lead to a growth in the purchasing and use of these smaller electric vehicles.

“The Middle East and Africa are significantly investing in the small electric vehicle market. Latin America along with the Middle East and Africa regions are expected to witness a significant growth in terms of the adoption of small electric vehicles,” Global News Wire said.

Whether the vehicle relies on solar power, is plugged-in to be charged, or is a hybrid that comes with both a gasoline tank and a battery, electric cars seem to be the new future of vehicles, slowly making their way into global markets, with less pollution, more efficient power consumption, and less costs on the long-term, albeit expensive at first. The growing electric car sales will only become more interesting to witness and will perhaps one day make gasoline-fuelled cars a thing of the past.

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Rohingya crisis: One year on, still no justice Tue, 28 Aug 2018 10:00:01 +0000 Amnesty International says world community has failed to act to save civilians

The post Rohingya crisis: One year on, still no justice appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

It has been one year since Myanmar security forces swept through hundreds of Rohingya villages, killing, raping, and hauling people to detention sites where they were tortured.

On Monday, UN investigators issued a report asserting that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent”.

The investigators accused the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted for “orchestrating the gravest crimes under law.”

Last August, soldiers burned Rohingya homes, shops, and mosques and forced more than 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh—the offensive amounted to ethnic cleansing. The latest episode in a history of state-sponsored persecution against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, that amounts to apartheid, according to human rights organisations.

One year on, Rohingya survivors who remained in Myanmar are at risk of starvation. The military have repeatedly denied access to their rice fields, stolen livestock, and torched several local markets.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people are still in limbo in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Until their tormentors in Myanmar’s security forces are brought to justice, Rohingya refugees cannot safely return home, Amnesty International said in a statement on Sunday.

World leaders’ failure to act has allowed the perpetrators to remain at large for a year after their murderous campaign against the Rohingya prompted an exodus of epic proportions, amnesty added.

The Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination and persecution in Myanmar. Successive governments have denied that the Rohingya are an ethnic group from Myanmar and instead asserted that they are migrants from Bangladesh who settled in the country “illegally”.

They have been effectively deprived of their right to a nationality, as a result of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices, most significantly the 1982 Citizenship Law and its application. Their lack of citizenship has had a cascade of negative impacts on the Rohingya. It has allowed the authorities to severely restrict their freedom of movement, effectively segregating them from the rest of society.

Access to healthcare, education, and work opportunities has also been severely limited. This discriminatory and dehumanising regime became particularly pronounced—and enforced rigidly by the Myanmar military and civilian authorities—in the aftermath of violence in 2012 between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, the latter of whom were at times supported by the security forces.

Amnesty International has concluded that this regime, which targets the Rohingya as a racial group and which is implemented by the state through a range of laws, policies, and practices, amounts to the crime against humanity of apartheid. In addition to the daily persecution the Rohingya endure, there is a long history of violent expulsions by the Myanmar security forces. In 1978, up to 200,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Myanmar during and after a major military crackdown on “illegal immigration” codenamed “Operation Nagamin” (Dragon King). In 1991 and 1992, an estimated 250,000 Rohingya fled after another campaign of violence by the Myanmar security forces. In both cases, most Rohingya were repatriated from Bangladesh in subsequent years in a manner that raised serious questions as to whether the process was voluntary.

Neither repatriation process led to improvements in the lives of the Rohingya; on the contrary, the repatriations were followed by the further erosion of Rohingya rights and dignity. More recently, starting in October 2016, tens of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine State after the Myanmar security forces targeted Rohingya women, men, children, and entire villages following attacks on police posts by the then-unknown Rohingya armed group ARSA. The military’s subsequent “clearance operations” were marked by widespread and systematic human rights violations, including unlawful killings, rape and other forms of torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions.

At the time, Amnesty International and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that these crimes may have amounted to crimes against humanity. The Myanmar military and a national commission separately launched investigations into the allegations.

Both rejected OHCHR’s findings and issued whitewash reports that found almost no wrongdoing. For the many crimes committed against the Rohingya, the security forces benefited from near total impunity. Meanwhile, the international community stayed largely silent, with many privately expressing fears that strong condemnation and action might undermine the country’s recent transition to a quasi-civilian government after decades of military rule and isolationism, Amnesty added.

In response, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and health partners said they have helped save thousands of lives, and prevented and rapidly curtailed deadly disease outbreaks among the nearly one million Rohingya refugees, who despite these efforts remain vulnerable even today with their evolving health needs, and severe funding crunch threatening continuity of life saving health services in their camps.

“Unprecedented efforts have been made in the last year and in the most challenging conditions. Deadly diseases such as cholera have been prevented, and measles and diphtheria curtailed rapidly with quick roll-out and scale-up of health services and mass vaccination campaigns. It is remarkable that not only has the mortality rate among the Rohingyas remained lower than expected in an emergency of such a scale, it has also reduced significantly in the last six months”, said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia, commending the Government of Bangladesh and health partners’ work on the ground.

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The actress and the preacher: victims tasting their own medicine Sun, 26 Aug 2018 08:00:04 +0000 Rhetoric on women covering emerges in face of public figures personal choices to do otherwise

The post The actress and the preacher: victims tasting their own medicine appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

In the first week of August, Egyptian retired actress Hala Shiha declared her comeback after taking off her veil. Shortly before that in July, Islamic preacher Moez Massoud announced his marriage to an actress.

Both public figures, nearly in their forties, faced a wave of social controversy which highlighted religious and cultural interpretation complexes. They said they had expected uneasy reactions. Other people were supportive of their freedom to decide and choose.

Shiha and Massoud were topics which gained as much importance as the country’s economic policies; their actions becoming subjects of discussions by talk show hosts and newspaper writers, sheikhs and other public figures.

Coming under fire for making personal choices, Shiha and Massoud sort of fell into their own traps as both were also actively involved in promoting certain messages in the name of Islam on women dressing, the weapon that has now been used against them by critics.

Public controversy

A writer for the Jordan-based Al-Bawaba website wrote on 9 August that news about Shiha resuming her acting career after 12 years of retreat caused “a huge shock for the Arab audience,” pointing out that she had been wearing the Niqab and following an “extremely religious routine.” Shock was apparently the result of her previous display of commitment to religious conservatism.

On social media, criticism was harsher. Hala Shiha as a hashtag on social media has been trending for days since she made her announcement.  In her defence, many said she was free to make personal choices.

Moreover, videos on YouTube emerged, focusing on Shiha’s mother being a “seduction scenes” actress, or claiming Shiha had a serious leg injury as “punishment from God” for giving up her Niqab.

In a phone interview with the 10’ O Clock Show” with TV host Wael Al-Ibrashy, Shiha said her decision wasn’t affected by such reactions. She reiterated her love for art and said that she respected different opinions but not rumours or insults.

She also had to face attempts to link her to the outlaw Muslim Brotherhood group when Khadiga Khairat Al-Shater, daughter of detained Muslim Bortherhood leader called on her, as a friend, to reconsider herself as come back to Islam, in a post on Facebook. The actress responded by asserting they were only acquaintances not friends

Despite denying that she belonged to any sort of groups, Shiha was actively promoting the veil and Niqab, giving religious lessons and participating in such discussions on social media.

Ironically, Shiha was defending herself the other way around a few months ago. In October 2017, she issued a statement against critics of women wearing the Niqab in Egypt accusing them of racism and praising how she her religion has been respected in Canada where she lived. Earlier that year, she also responded to critics on her photo covering her face to the extent that she had to remove it.

As a preacher who called on women to cover themselves, Massoud wasn’t spared criticism when he married unveiled actress Sherry Adel, sparking negative opinions from women, especially as he tried to justify his choice of an unveiled woman using religious pretexts.

Sara Osama, whose profile picture on Facebook is with the veil, commented by stating that while veiled women are trying to support each other, taking it off is now being somehow justified.

“Fear God, fear him. You are saying what you don’t know to push away criticism. I swear in God’s name that you are only going to lose in life and afterlife. It is the fault of those who treated you as a representative of Muslim preachers,” commented another user named Rehab Kamal.

In a Facebook post published on 16 July, Massoud responded to criticism by arguing that he never promoted judging women’s religious faith by what they wear, which some saw as a lie.

“You did say that any man who accepts that his sister goes out of the house displaying her beauty is a cuckold. This is something I have personally witnessed and lived with its consequences because of the people who blindly follow you… So you judged me and others like me with obscene language… I am glad you are getting a taste of your own medicine,” commented Youcef Badawi on Massoud’s post.

Hala Shiha

Shiha as a woman and the endless gender-biased rhetoric in the name of religion and culture

A largely observed pattern of criticism addressed to Shiha on social media relied on blaming her “unreligious” act.

“Come back to your senses and don’t act childishly. Your body and hair that you are celebrating, defying God, will be decomposed in sand and you will be naked in front of him,” commented a Facebook user by the name of Mohamed Soliman on a recent picture Shiha posted of herself carrying her dog.

The actress was told she was committing a sin and going to hell because covering herself was an order from God. In most merciful comments, people sent her prayers to return to God.

“Fear God. Don’t throw away 14 years of God’s obedience. We pity you for the society you returned to is a sinful one. I dare you that these people listen to calls for prayers or pronounce the word ‘Allah’, commented Mohamed Abu Hamed.

Things took a more extreme pattern when one Islamic preacher claimed that Shiha’s husband complained to him and cried because of her behaviour.

In other instances, the religious rhetoric was used by women. To one extent, one who goes by the name of Heba Hamed Abu Shama commented that Shiha wasn’t attractive enough to have to cover herself. “I am not veiled but I still lost my admiration for you,” she added.

On the other hand, many who defended Shiha did so by relying on an anti-Islamist speech rather than refusing to judge a woman for her looks or supporting women rights in freedom of choice.

Hala Shiha

For example, well-known politician Osama Ghazaly Harb focused in an article published on 21 August on state-owned Al-Ahram website on what supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood group said about her and argued that the promotion of veil and Niqab was a tool for the group to expand its thoughts and control women.

In the same newspaper on the same day, political researcher and writer Amr Abdul Samea said Shiha was dragged into a “Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist, Daesh environment.” He argued that “only God judges people” and that “a veiled women could go to hell while an uncovered woman could go to heaven.” The idea in his article was that Shiha chose to leave the extremists’ camp.

Massoud, preaching and the religious discourse

Mainly, Massoud’s critics stemmed from the fact that his wife was unveiled in addition to being an actress, a career socially looked down upon especially for women.

Massoud who made a career out of preaching Islamic teachings, including calling for women to cover themselves was regarded as a contradicting person who chose to drop such beliefs when it came to his personal choice.

The incident was also unusual regarding the relation between sheikhs or preachers and actresses, and more an importantly an opportunity for many questions about preachers.

In an article for Al-Ahram website on 18 July, writer Ola Al-Saadani argued that Massoud usually used a less aggressive tone with regards to women’s veil in order not to lose his young audience. Yet, she pointed out to the dilemma he would continue to face vis-à-vis his social image depending on which roles and in which clothing his actress wife would take.

For years, Egypt accumulated a problem in religious discourse by opening media channels to preachers spreading Islamic teachings regardless of their knowledge or accreditation. Thus, the audiences were always subject to preachers who had been either too conservative or holding extremist views – such as Salafists who considered Copts blasphemers or others who had pretended to be more moderate to attract more fans – issuing frivolous fatwas such as smoking does not ruin one’s fast. 

While President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has repeatedly called for the renewal of religious discourse, no particular mechanism has been set, including which ideas needed re-evaluation, except the obvious extremist ideas promoting terrorist attacks.

What has been done so far was more control of mosques and allowed preachers.

In another article on Al-Ahram published on 12 July, writer Wafaa Mahmoud saw the Massoud incident as an example of how society was unable to develop through more knowledge and awareness given the lack of proper guidance by the intellectual and cultural elites who have not been given public spaces to do so.

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Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, another round for stagnant situation Sun, 19 Aug 2018 11:00:59 +0000 Meanwhile, efforts continue to overcome fragile ceasefire with Israel

The post Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, another round for stagnant situation appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Efforts to establish a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel are ongoing as Egypt continues to mediate talks between the two parties, in addition to proceeding with reconciliation between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

According to a Reuters report on Monday citing Israel’s Channel Ten News, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Egypt in May to discuss a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The two leaders discussed the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, rehabilitation of its infrastructure and terms for a ceasefire, the report said.

The situation on the border has been tense and violent since protests demanding the right to return erupted in March. Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinian protesters and wounded more than a thousand. They opened fire at protesters used burning tires and fire kites.

In July, Egypt and the UN brokered a ceasefire, but violence renewed in the past week, Israel launched a series of heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, using the usual excuse of Hamas rockets fired into Israel.

In July, the Israeli government decided to close Gaza’s sole commercial crossing, preventing all exports from and imports to the territory, with the exception, at Israel’s discretion, of food and medicine.

Still pursuing a longstanding ceasefire, the UN warned Israel from dangerous humanitarian consequences resulting from banning fuel entry to Gaza.

The well-being of 2 million people, half of whom are children, is at stake. It is unacceptable that Palestinians in Gaza are repeatedly deprived of the most basic elements of a dignified life,” Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Palestine said in a statement on 8 August.

A UN delegation composed of aides of UN’s Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov completed a short three-hour visit to Gaza Strip during which they met with Hamas leaders, media reported last Sunday.

Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the delegation discussed with the Hamas leadership cementing the agreement to allow the resumption of talks on the proposal previously presented and the movement’s vision of the expected truce.

In July, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received Mladenov in Cairo, where he reiterated Egypt’s wish for de-escalation in Palestine and warned of the danger of the current status quo without reaching a fair peace process on the basis of a two-state solution. Shoukry also criticised what Egypt saw as threatening practices to the Palestinian people’s historical and legal rights, including Israel’s new Jewish nation law.

In parallel, Egypt is pursuing efforts to install a final reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the signing of an agreement on 12 October 2017. Delegations on both sides have been coming back and forth about the details of the agreement, regularly meeting in Cairo, but still accusing each other of sabotaging the process.

Experts say internal reconciliation has become a must for the Palestinian people, in order to be able to face pressure such as by the US recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and attempting to push forward a deal, which would deny historical rights of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian reconciliation still stalled

As a Hamas delegation arrived on Tuesday to Cairo for talks, it was reported that a recent step forward may not have been completed.

The main dispute between the two sides is over power control divided between a Fatah-led West Bank and Hamas-governed Gaza. Hamas is calling for a new election, but the PA is requesting control over the strip first. Hamas also wants sanctions imposed on its government lifted, while the PA President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his wish for a Hamas disarmament.

On 19 July, Hamas announced said it agreed to a proposed reconciliation bid by Egypt, which contained about 10 articles and specific time frames.

According to a copy of the agreement published in the media, it included easing sanctions on the strip, including the Rafah border with Egypt. Recently, Egypt has opened the border for longer periods than ever, since it has been closed over militant-related violence in North Sinai.

At the same time, Fatah delayed its response without a clear conclusion amid reports that it had informed Egypt of some “observations.”

In a statement on 5 August, Hamas accused Fatah of being “irresponsible” and engaging in a “war of words, which aims at foiling the national, Egyptian, regional, and UN efforts to achieve the national unity and alleviate the Palestinians’ suffering in Gaza.” 

On 13 August, media reports said Hamas was presented another paper, from which lifting sanctions were omitted, demanding to stick to the principles of the 2011 Cairo Agreement. For its part, Fatah said the ball was in Hamas’ court.

Will Hamas, Israel reach a longstanding ceasefire?

On 12 August, The Jerusalem Post reported that multiple members from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said no ceasefire agreement was reached with Hamas.

Netanyahu on Sunday warned Hamas that Israel will continue to operate against the terrorism stemming from the Gaza Strip, apparently confirming that no official ceasefire agreement had been reached with the terrorist group, Israeli media reported.

The Times of Israel quoted Netanyahu as stating: “We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza. It entails an exchange of blows; it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear—a complete ceasefire. We will not suffice with less than this.”

At the same time, Hamas, condemning Israeli aggression on Gaza, stated that no one can guarantee that a new flare-up of fighting between the two would no erupt again.

“On the contrary, the possibility of an all-out conflict has raised, as the heightened tension between the two sides is increasing after every round of Israeli aggression on Gaza,” Hamas said in a statement on Monday.

The statement argued that despite mediation efforts by the UN and Egypt to ease tensions, neither side was pressured to “avert a full-fledged conflict,” and that “neither side could force the other to meet its demands,” which suggests violence could take place at any moment.

Yet, many experts agree that neither side wants to go to war. In a recent commentary, Newsweek columnist Marc Schulman argued that Hamas has lost the chance to gain the sympathy of the world, whose attention has shifted to Syria. Moreover, it would not win a war against Israel. On the other hand, “Israel could reconquer the Gaza area in a matter of days,” but would lose the PA and the Egyptians support on administrating that area.

For weeks, the US spoke about the deal’s part focusing on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip with Gulf countries money, sending White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner’s to a tour in the Middle East Tour to discuss details with Arab leaders.

No more progress was made in that area as Palestinians supported by Arab countries rejected any deal that would compromise historical rights and the status of Jerusalem. After that, Kushner and other US officials including Ambassador to the UN Niki Haley accused Hamas of inciting terror against Israel, blaming the group for failure of any peace process.


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Do legal concerns hamper Egypt’s government IPO programme? Sun, 19 Aug 2018 10:00:55 +0000 Heads of government companies' reservations were solved by reorganising programme in May, state official says

The post Do legal concerns hamper Egypt’s government IPO programme? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Since the government first revealed its plan for offering state-run companies on the stock market in July 2015, many changes occurred in the plan and changes in the officials responsible for the IPO programme, while the local market still awaits this step.

The story began when the government announced its desire to offer three companies on the stock market, before it became a key part of the country’s economic reform programme orchestrated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some changes were made to the programme’s goals, including the development of government companies, improving their performance, easing the financial burden on the state, and reducing its role in the national economy.

The past three years were full of confusion, lack of vision, and the unwillingness of officials to get involved in a programme that previously proved its legal complications, to the extent that officials may go to prison for unexpected reasons.

A senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the difficulties encountered in the government’s IPO programme, saying that the fear of legal consequences hindered the launch of the programme until former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail issued a decision in May to reorganise the provisions of the programme to activate the Egyptian stock market and expand the ownership base.

Offering state assets is always questionable in Egypt and attacked by media and judicial authorities. Several verdicts were issued ordering return of state-run companies that had already been sold following the political turmoil in 2011. Some of these verdicts were impossible to apply because such companies are even sold several times or offered on the stock market, where they were traded every day for several years.

The official said that the management boards of some companies set for offering refused to approve certain procedures to avoid legal accountability, while some heads of these companies were close to the age of retirement and preferred not to make a decision on the issue, instead leaving it to the successor.

Word spread about the government IPO programme started on 7 July 2015 when former Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman, quoted by Daily News Egypt, said that the government will offer three of its companies before the end of that year to activate the stock market, and that move has not been accomplished so far.

It took Salman six months to announce that Misr Insurance will be the first state-run company to be offered on the stock market. After several months, Salman left the government. The programme remained in shadows for almost a year until the end of 2016, when it became part of the IMF-aided economic reform programme. Then, former Minister of Investment Dalia Khorshid named three companies to be offered: Alexandria Mineral Oils Company (AMOC), Sidi Kerir Petrochemicals Company (SIDPEC), and Engineering for the Petroleum and Process Industries (ENPPI). Khorshid added that the offering rates will range between 20% and 30%, which did not happen so far.

In February 2017, Khorshid left her position, and her successor, Sahar Nasr, failed to make any progress on the issue until the end of the year when the file was transferred from the Ministry of Investment to the Ministry of Finance. Several months later, the Ministry of Finance announced a road map including the number of companies to be offered and a timetable for the offering, with the expected revenue and offering ratios, giving an optimistic impression that something different will happen.


The first phase of the road map was revealed on 18 March, including selling minority stakes of 23 companies in different sectors, some of which were already listed on the stock market, and others were closed within 30 months, with an expected revenue of EGP 80bn.

However, two months later, there was no progress and the cabinet intervened to solve the case, which became more confusing.

Former Prime Minister Ismail issued a decision to form a committee of six ministers to develop a comprehensive IPO programme of the state-owned companies, set a new timetable for its implementation, and followed up on the whole process.

The committee was also authorised to choose the state-owned companies that will be offered on the stock market or whose ownership base will be expanded. The committee can also recall the concerned ministers or legal representatives of the relevant bodies to discuss issues related to the offering process. It also can appoint experienced advisors to help in supervising the offering process. The committee shall have a technical secretariat headed by the minister of finance, and he will be responsible for forming it.

It means that the programme became the responsibility of the whole government, not a certain ministry. The decision also addressed the valuation of companies, the most sensitive aspect in the programme.

The decision allowed the minister of finance to form one or more committees to approve the valuation studies of the state-owned companies, headed by one of the vice-presidents of the State Council, and with the membership of representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Central Auditing Organisation, the Administrative Control Authority, the Central Bank of Egypt, the Egyptian Society of Accountants and Auditors, the equity holders of targeted companies, and the holding companies of the targeted companies.

The ministerial committee consists of ministers of investment and international cooperation; petroleum and mineral wealth; trade and industry; finance; planning, follow-up and administrative reform; and public business sector, as well as the head of the secretariat of the cabinet’s legislative affairs.

Finance Minister Mohamed Moeit
Finance Minister Mohamed Moeit

The official added that one of the targeted companies in the government IPO programme faced a problem, as its management board refused to approve offering procedures, prompting the president to intervene and solve the problem.

Meanwhile, Egypt announced its latest ministerial reshuffle, in which newly appointed prime minister and acting minister of housing, Moustafa Madbouly and Finance Minister Mohamed Moeit were tasked with the activation and acceleration of the IPO programme.

The new government adopted a new approach in offering government companies through selling shares of companies already listed on the stock market that belong to the Ministry of Public  Sector Affairs. Hence, the new minister of public sector affairs, Hesham Tawfik, became an important partner in the IPO programme.

“We were tasked with speeding up the implementation of the government IPO programme to maintain state credibility in front of foreign investors,” said the official.

Moeit denied that the government is hesitating about offering state-run companies on the stock market, especially those that will be offered for the first time.

The minister told DNE that the government adopts well-studied steps in offering the state-owned companies to ensure the success of the programme.

He pointed out that “the government does not give precedence to certain companies over others, and we are fully aware of financial, legal, procedural, and executive requirements for offering the suitable companies,” adding, “we have the required expertise for the IPO process and know the legal procedures to be followed in such cases.”.

He noted that the ministry has many perceptions of the government IPO programme and communicates with investment banks, investors, and legal offices.

Mohamed Abu Pasha, vice president of the research department at EFG-Hermes

Other reasons behind programme’s delay

Among the companies that were targeted in the government IPO programme, Enppi and Banque du Caire were included in the first phase of the programme. The two companies have already been listed on the stock market, but the actual offering was postponed several times and nothing happened on the ground so far. They are also expected to be delayed to the next year at least, after the government preferred to start offering shares of the companies already listed on the stock market.

The government contracted with HSBC and EFG-Hermes as financial advisers, and Baker McKenzie as legal adviser to Banque du Caire in April last year, while CI Capital, Jeffrey Matthews, and Emirates NBD were chosen as financial advisers and Baker McKenzie as legal adviser to Enppi in July of the same year.

Sources close to the IPO of Enppi said that the company’s contributions to its 10s of subsidiaries and associates slowed the offering process, because the inventory and evaluation of all these contributions require a long time to determine the total value of the company.

Mohamed Abu Pasha, vice president of the research department at EFG-Hermes, said that the recent ministerial reshuffle delayed the offering because the new ministers needed some time to study the programme, while a number of the targeted companies were not ready for the offering process, and some of needed between four and six months for restructuring.

He added that the public sector companies that are not listed on the stock market will need more than six months to prepare and restructure them; therefore, the government programme started with the companies that are actually listed on the stock market, such as Eastern Company.

Abu Pasha praised the government IPO programme, describing it as a positive move since it does not aim to sell the companies, but attract new investments to finance their expansion plans, similar to Eastern European countries, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.

Mohamed Gabr, legal partner at Al Tamimi & Company for legal consultancy

Perfect timing

Mohamed Gabr, legal partner at Al Tamimi & Company for legal consultancy, said that the current conditions in Egypt are not conducive to the government IPO programme in light of the absence of large offerings by the private sector companies, noting that the stock market has witnessed only two offerings this year so far.

He added that the government companies should be offered during the boom periods of the capital markets. He pointed out that the laws regulating the IPO process set special standards for the evaluation process, dealing with government assets, and negotiation procedures, whether through the competent minister or the affiliated committee that supervises the IPO process.

Gabr said that the success of the IPO programme relies on the attractive valuation to ensure selling the shares more than once and thus increasing their values after the IPO, adding that the private sector has greater flexibility in the valuation process compared to government companies.

He demanded that the government’s valuation of its listed companies should be logical and technically disciplined to ensure the success of future offerings.

Hatem El Hady, managing director of FINCORP for financial consultancy, said the government IPO programme is characterised by high transparency, as the cabinet has announced the names of the targeted companies.

He added that they faced some problems in the evaluation process of the previous government IPOs that led to a number of crises, such as Omar Effendi and other companies that returned to the state upon judicial rulings, because the evaluations were conducted by certain advisory offices.

Hatem El Hady, managing director of FINCORP for financial consultancy

El Hady said there should be no legal concerns about the IPO process, as long as there are accurate regulatory procedures determining the responsibilities of each member in the process. He stated that the heads of government companies have nothing to do with the valuation process, as long as they followed the right procedures to choose the financial advisers of the offering.

He pointed out that the government aims through this programme to find a radical solution to the problems of state-run companies, noting that the government chose large companies in the banking and petrochemical sectors.

Regarding the offering of listed companies instead of new government companies, El Hady said that it depends on several considerations—mainly that listed companies are already valued on the stock market and their offering procedures will not take a long time.

He pointed out that one of the IPO programme’s goals is changing the targeted government companies’ management boards, which will improve their performance.

Searching for a start

Sherif Samy, former head of the Financial Supervisory Authority, said the most important challenge facing the government is to implement the programme on schedule, because the frequent postponement of the programme affects its credibility, especially, since the file was transferred between several governments.

Samy called for objective valuation of government companies, so that both the government and investors can make profits.

Sherif Samy, former head of the Financial Supervisory Authority

He pointed out that the offering programme is not the responsibility of one individual, but a ministerial committee that includes the prime minister and the president, which fortifies the programme from any prosecutions.

In 2013, the state was working on protecting government contracts from prosecutions that can harm investors and senior officials. Former President Adly Mansour had issued a decree prohibiting appeals against state contracts; however the decree has since then been appealed.

The government decided to launch the IPO programme next month through offering a stake in one of the five public business sector companies that are already listed on the stock market.

In October, the government will offer stakes from Heliopolis Company for Housing and Development, as well as the Eastern Company. In November, more shares will be offered from Alexandria Mineral Oils Company (AMOC) and Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Company (ALCN). In December, a stake will be offered from Sidi Kerir Petrochemical Company (SIDPEC).

Mohamed Abu El Gheit, managing director of Pioneers Holding Company for Financial Investment, said that the five targeted companies represent different sectors, such as petrochemicals, housing, shipping and fertilisers, noting that these are vital and strategic sectors that can attract investors, especially if they were offered at a reasonable price.

Noha al-Ghazali, managing director of Pharos Holding for Financial Investments

He added that the success of the programme relies on taking into account the time period separating the offerings in a way that facilitates the implementation of the rest of the programme.

Noha al-Ghazali, managing director of Pharos Holding for Financial Investments, said that the selection of the five companies relied on the fact that they were already listed on the stock market, unlike the other companies in the programme that need to be listed and prepared for offering.

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Foreign interference in country’s politics: more than human rights criticism Sat, 11 Aug 2018 13:17:37 +0000 Saudi Arabia escalated tensions with Canada over comment on detained activists

The post Foreign interference in country’s politics: more than human rights criticism appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

On 5 August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak and announced freezing all trade and investment relations with Canada. In an official statement, the Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry said it refuted unfounded claims by its Canadian counterpart and embassy on violating the rights of detained activists and demanding their immediate release.

The Saudi ministry said “so-called activists” were arrested based on prosecution orders according to accusations they face and that they have been guaranteed rights during investigations and trial. It then accused Canada of interfering in the kingdom’s internal affairs, in violation of protocol—an assault of judicial authority and against the principle of sovereignty.

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry tweeted on 3 August, retweeted by the embassy.

Amid intensification, Saudi FM Adel Al-Jubair stated that the matter was “not about human rights,” but about “national security,” as he warned of further punitive measures and closed doors for mediation. A media campaign was launched in which the kingdom said thousands of Canadians lived safely there.

In an unprecedented escalation, the Saudi government ordered thousands of its students in Canada to relocate to other countries. Canada did not back off in response, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would not hesitate to defend human rights anywhere in the world.

Backed by Arab countries, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran and Qatar last year over claims of foreign interference in its affairs, an accusation often used in response to criticism of human rights in Arab countries, which have become more sensitive to what they describe as foreign agendas, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Foreign interference in other countries’ affairs has been historically evident in war in the Middle East and the rest of the world; besides criticism of human rights, history has witnessed other forms of such interference in countries’ politics to serve a nation’s interests.

Two of the world’s superpowers are having diplomatic tensions over a similar matter. Accusations against Russia of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election have been subject to investigations by US authorities for over a year now.

Canada is the third to join Saudi Arabia’s list of countries reprimanded over so-called interference, but the kingdom itself has faced similar accusations in cases far more serious than commenting on human rights violations.

Arab countries including Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and the Palestinian Authority, along with the Arab League, have backed Saudi Arabia’s stance against Canada, while Qatar has not.

Saudi Arabia interfered, interferes

Arab countries including Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and the Palestinian Authority, along with the Arab League, have backed Saudi Arabia’s stance against Canada, while Qatar has not.

This is because a Saudi-led boycott of Qatar was initiated in 2017 over disputes, which included relations with Iran, as the Saudis accused both countries of meddling with its internal affairs. Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE made up the quartet with the kingdom against Qatar, a move backed by the Arab League.

Bahrain for example accused Iran of instructing terrorist acts on its soil, including a fire in its main pipeline in November 2017. Egypt, for its part, has led a fierce campaign blaming Qatar for harbouring members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and hostility to its current regime by Al-Jazeera network.

Moreover, in May, the Saudi government suspended contracts and business dealings with German firms, nearly six months after it had summoned mutual ambassadors to protest comments on the Lebanon crisis, although German FM Sigmar Gabriel had not directly pointed fingers at Saudi Arabia.

The crisis drew severe criticism over the kingdom’s own interference in Lebanese affairs, after PM Saad Al-Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh, with reports of him having been under house arrest amid Saudi pressure to blame Iranian interference and influence in Lebanon.

But most controversial is Saudi’s war in Yemen, where it has military intervened since 2015 to influence the outcome of the Yemeni civil war in favour of the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently called for an independent investigation into a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Yemen that killed dozens of children on Thursday.

Egypt disputes pro-Islamist countries, gags foreign civil society

Egypt’s tensions with Qatar and Turkey are mainly over their support of the Brotherhood, whose representative former president of the country, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in 2013 as the 30 June revolts erupted.

After that, when Al-Sisi came to power, Egypt often engaged in a war of words with both countries and criticised Western countries, which called the events a military coup d’etat.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders are three of Egypt’s top enemy rights monitor groups. Their websites have been blocked in the country and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly slammed their reports on various issues related to human rights, including police torture, enforced disappearances, and political crackdowns.

Egypt has been particularly intolerant of such foreign reports, viewing them as unacceptable interference in its local affairs. Pro-government media campaigns revolved around telling people that those reports were foreign agendas, which would not be imposed.

In the latest presidential election, the Egyptian government had a similar reaction, rejecting all criticism of oppression against Al-Sisi’s rivals.

According to Al-Ahram, the Egyptian embassy in Berlin issued a statement expressing its complete rejection of recent comments by the German Human Rights Commissioner concerning the presidential election in Egypt and human rights situation in the country.

“The Egyptian embassy stresses its rejection of any unacceptable interference in Egypt’s internal affairs, which is based on a non-objective assessment to realities in the country,” it said in a March statement.

The issue started after the 2011 revolution, when a mass gag on foreign civil society organisations working in Egypt was launched resulting in the trial, expulsion, and closure of dozens of NGOs and workers. To date, some Egyptian civil society workers face charges of illicitly collaborating with and obtaining funds from foreign NGOs to advance their so-called agendas.

US-Russia history of interventions

As the affair of Russian meddling in US elections erupted, dozens of reports emerged on the US history of intervening in other countries’ politics.

“Bags of cash delivered to a Rome hotel for favoured Italian candidates. Scandalous stories leaked to foreign newspapers to swing an election in Nicaragua. Millions of pamphlets, posters, and stickers printed to defeat an incumbent in Serbia. The long arm of Vladimir Putin? No, just a small sample of the United States’ history of intervention in foreign elections,” The New York Times said in a February report.

Meanwhile, the report added that the CIA helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s. It plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Experts speaking to the New York Times frequently defended the process.

A 2016 study by scholar Dov Levin showed that the US attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000 only. According to the Centre for Research on Globalisation, Levin’s study showed that the US continued such patterns even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, including elections in Israel, former Czechoslovakia, and even Russia in 1996, and since 2000, the US has attempted to sway elections in Ukraine, Kenya, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, among others.

Russia has reportedly intervened 36 times between 1946 and 2000. In the 2014 Ukrainian presidential election, it was reported that alleged Russian hackers had almost destroyed the national electoral process and forged the final results.

In 2017, the UK Electoral Commission launched investigations into possible Russian meddling with the Brexit poll.

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Are workers at risk of being completely replaced by machines? Tue, 07 Aug 2018 11:00:41 +0000 Over six million workers fear being replaced by more efficient robots with little pay

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Technology is doing us all a big favour by making our lives and worlds easier. Social media allows us to communicate with friends and family as if they were a few blocks away.

Smart TVs, mobile phones, and even household electric appliances are all giving us something to brag about.

This era sure is the era of technology.

However, there is always a dark side to every good story.

Developed machines are helpful, but slowly taking over everything, even our jobs. Some say it is too early to worry about this, others expect to be losing their jobs soon. The question is open for an answer at this point: are workers really at risk of being completely replaced by machines and losing their jobs to robots?

In Britain there seem to be fears that the answer to the question above is yes. “Over six million workers are worried that their jobs could be replaced by machines over the next decade, according to a report urging trade unions and the government to provide more support for those at risk,” The Guardian reported.

The Bank of England has previously warned that nearly 15m jobs in the UK could be under threat, and some companies are already beginning to shed jobs in favour of automation, including the online retailer ‘Shop Direct,’ which earlier this year warned that about 2,000 jobs were at risk.

In a poll conducted involving 1,000 people across the UK, it was found that more than 37%—which is nearly 10 million workers—are worried that changes may happen at their jobs for the worse over the next decade, and only few people said they believe there was effort made by the government or trade unions to prepare for the arrival of new workplace modernized technologies.

In terms of the help workers susceptible to losing their jobs receive, a report issued in April of this year by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that the most vulnerable individuals are one in seven workers on average across the 32 countries studied, and were less likely to be receiving help than those whose jobs were more secure.

“Low-skilled people and youth were among those most at risk, according to the report, with the jobs at highest risk tending to be in low-skill sectors such as food preparation, cleaning and labouring. Workers in fully automatable jobs were more than three times less likely to have participated in on-the-job training, over a 12-month period, than workers in non-automatable jobs. Those most at risk were also less likely to participate in formal education or distance learning. The OECD also said 14% of jobs in developed countries were highly automatable, while a further 32% of jobs were likely to experience significant changes to the way they were carried out,” The Guardian said.

In China, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly making its way to service sectors, including waiting tables. In a restaurant in Shanghai, a little robotic waiter wheels up to the guest’s table, raises its glass lid to reveal a steaming plate of local Chinese meals, and announces in a mechanical tone “Enjoy your meal”, according to

CNBC reported in 2017 that by 2030, about 800 million workers across the world could be replaced at work by robots. “For some industries, an increase in automation won’t mean a decline in employment, but rather a shift in the tasks needed to be done. For example, any job that involves managing people, applying expertise and social interaction will still be necessary, human performance in those areas can’t be matched by a machine. However, jobs involving mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting and back-office transaction processing can easily be wiped out by automation.” CNBC said.

Interestingly, according to Forbes, humans are already no longer the dominant species on earth, as an answer to the question: Will robots replace human as the dominant species on Earth in the far future? In 2014, the number of mobile electronic devices surpassed the number of people. If you include computers that are not mobile, the number of internet-connected devices will reach 34 billion by 2020,” Forbes said.

This gives us an idea on how much robots may be taking over the jobs of people, though some jobs would most certainly require human brain and skills. The Guardian said that automation was most likely to affect jobs in the manufacturing industry and agriculture. However, a large number of other service sectors such as postal and courier services, in addition to land transport and food services may be very vulnerable to being taken over by machines, AI, and advanced robots.

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Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador for urging to release activists Tue, 07 Aug 2018 10:00:08 +0000 Saudi authorities arrested internationally recognised women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and Eastern Province activist Nassima Al-Sadah

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The Saudi Arabian government decided on Sunday to give the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own envoy to Canada after the embassy urged Saudi officials to release arrested civil rights activists.

Saudi Arabia also suspended new trade and investment with Canada. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between states,” the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.

Earlier, the Canadian foreign ministry and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh expressed concerns over the arrests of human rights activists, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi, in a new wave of detentions. They called on Saudi authorities to “immediately release” the detainees.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland

The Saudi foreign ministry voiced anger over the Canadian statement.

“Using the phrase (immediately release) in the Canadian statement is very unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states,” the Saudi ministry said on Twitter.

On 1 August, Saudi authorities arrested internationally recognised women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and Eastern Province activist Nassima Al-Sadah. They are the latest victims of an unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement that began on 15 May 2018 and has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen activists.

Since May, a number of leading women’s rights activists and campaigners in Saudi Arabia, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, Iman Al-Nafjan, and Aziza Al-Yousef, have been detained for peaceful human rights work. Human rights groups say that many have been detained without charge and may face trial before the counter-terror court and up to 20 years in prison for their activism.

While Badawi, a recipient of the United States’ 2012 International Women of Courage Award, is best known for challenging Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system, Al-Sadah, from the coastal city of Qatif, has also long campaigned both for abolishing the guardianship system and lifting the driving ban.

“The arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“After the recent arbitrary arrests of businesspeople, women’s rights activists, and reformist clerics, Saudi Arabia’s allies and partners should question what ‘reform’ really means in a country where the rule of law is disdainfully ignored,” she added.

Similarly, Amnesty International has urged the international community to speak up for detained human rights defenders. “The international community must push Saudi Arabian authorities to end this draconian crackdown and targeted repression of human rights defenders in the country”, said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

“Instead of pursuing human rights reform, the government of Saudi Arabia has chosen to lash out with punitive measures in the face of criticism. States with significant influence in Saudi Arabia—such as the USA, UK, and France—have now remained silent for far too long,” Hadid added.

“The world cannot continue to look the other way as this relentless persecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia continues. It is now time for other governments to join Canada in increasing the pressure on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, and end the crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir˜(

Saudi women’s rights activists have not only petitioned successive government authorities to reform discriminatory laws and policies, but also sought to change societal attitudes. While the government has recently introduced limited reforms, including allowing women to enter some professions previously closed to them, as well as lifting the driving ban, the male guardianship system—the main impediment to the realisation of women’s rights, according to activists—remains largely intact.

Under this system, women must obtain permission from a male guardian—a father, brother, husband, or even son—to travel abroad, obtain a passport, enrol in higher education, get a life-saving abortion, be released from a prison or shelter, or marry.

Saudi authorities accused several of those detained of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties” under thin legal pretences. Government-aligned media outlets have carried out an alarming campaign against them, branding them “traitors”.

The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that nine of those detained will be referred for trial to the Specialised Criminal Court, originally established to try detainees held in connection with terrorism offences. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

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Global conflicts, crises major turn of events Sun, 05 Aug 2018 11:00:09 +0000 Syria, US trade war, Brexit top issues in recent weeks

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Armed conflicts and diplomatic crises engaging the world’s continents have witnessed varied developments in recent weeks. Between war-torn countries in the Middle East, diplomatic tensions in the west, and a number of unresolved issues with the east, the below is an overview of how major global events turned out in recent weeks.

Golan Heights disturbance nears end

UN peacekeepers returned Thursday to the frontier between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights for the first time in four years.

The peacekeeping mission was halted in 2014 after at least 43 peacekeepers were abducted from there by Al-Qaeda affiliated militant groups including Jabhat Al-Nusra, and then released. At the time, those groups had claimed control over the border crossing between Syria and Israel.

Russian military police are also being deployed in the area, media reports recently said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman voiced relief at the situation, saying the Syrian regime has restored power in the country. Last week, the Syrian regime forces raised the flag in Quneitra in Golan.

This came as Israel launched an airstrike earlier this week, killing Islamic State (IS) militants who reportedly tried to cross inside its controlled part of the Golan Heights.

Mainly aiming at keeping Iranian backers off Golan and countering Iran’s influence from growing in Syria, Israel has been on high alert as Russian-assisted forces of Bashar Al-Assad advanced over IS and other militant groups in the south.

Officially taking a neutral position in the Syrian war, Israel still launched hundreds of airstrikes on the Syrian-held part of the Golan Heights and other parts in Syria targeting Iranian bases and Hezbollah.

The Syrian civil war has now extended beyond seven years. The Golan Heights, largely occupied by Israel since 1967, borders Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Israeli annexation of Golan is not internationally recognised, but Israel is seeking US recognition of its sovereignty, also pushed for by some congressmen.

On 16 July, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a rare summit in Helsinki, after which the US president came under heavy criticism for refusing to blame Russia for meddling with the election.

US-Russia: possible cooperation or continued tensions?

Russia sought US help in rebuilding Syria, suggesting a plan concerning government-held areas of the country, Reuters reported on Friday.

Despite different views on the situation in Syria, how final peace agreements should proceed, and the Iranian influence, Trump had previously expressed willingness to cooperate with Russia in solving the humanitarian crisis.

Tensions between the two countries are still boiling, mainly over Russian interference with the US presidential election and the ongoing investigation.

On 16 July, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a rare summit in Helsinki, after which the US president came under heavy criticism for refusing to blame Russia for meddling with the election.

But the US intelligence maintained such accusations against Russia and the Kremlin, while US senators are pursuing a new legislation as a punitive measure, including restrictions on debt transactions, energy and oil projects, and Russian uranium imports.

Moreover, on Friday, the US Treasury sanctioned a Russian bank for financial transactions related to North Korea’s weapons programmes, The Financial Times reported.

In March, the US expelled over 60 Russian diplomats following a UK-led move across Europe over accusations against Russia of poisoning a former spy and his daughter using a nerve agent gas.

Although Trump hailed his meeting with Putin as “deeply productive” and said Putin was ready to help him face North Korea’s nuclear threat, CNN reported after the meeting that “the two leaders emerged from their meetings on Monday with little to show with regard to advancing solutions on major global issues.”

A second summit between the two presidents scheduled to take place in Washington this fall was postponed to 2019, as national security adviser John Bolton, in a statement, cited special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as the reason for the delay.

Anti-brexit campaigners demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament with placards and EU flags as MPs return following the Easter break in London.
(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Brexit: time is pressing

Last week, the European Union (EU) rejected a deal proposed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, known as the customs plan, under which the UK intends to collect EU tariffs on goods entering the country.

This comes amid negotiations between both sides supposed to reach an agreement plan by October of this year. The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

Additionally, May is facing internal disputes over what the Brexit plan should look like and other demands to repeat the referendum. Earlier in July, foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a strong “Leave” advocate, quit and stated that the prime minister was leading the UK into a “semi-Brexit” with the “status of a colony.” David Davis, another British minister leading UK negotiations with the EU resigned citing similar reasons.

This week, May held informal talks with French President Emmanuel Macron over her plan. According to The Independent, May tried to earn the support of German and Dutch leaders as well, to face a united EU bloc led by Michel Barnier.

In July 2016, the UK held a public referendum on whether to remain in or leave the EU, which resulted in a majority vote in favour of the exit. Key things that have yet to be agreed are how the two sides will trade with each other in years to come—and how to avoid new border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which is a member of the EU, according to the BBC.

The UK is also yet to negotiate how people’s movement will be organised, including mobility between the UK and the EU, British citizens living in EU countries, or vice-versa.

US President Donald Trump

Trump’s trade war

China announced on Friday that it would place tariffs on $60bn of American goods following threats by the Trump administration to double tariffs on Chinese imports earlier this week.

Meanwhile, a trade truce has been called for with Europe by Trump, seeking to negotiate tariff reductions with Europe, but cooperation against what he sees as unfair Chinese trade practises.

Since Trump enforced a new tariff policy at the beginning of this year on several countries like China, Canada, Mexico, and EU countries, including steel and aluminium imports, retaliatory tariffs imposed on the US have mounted this so-called trade war, especially with China.

Relations between China and the US have been tense over the Trump administration’s efforts to address a $376bn trade imbalance between the nations. President Trump has threatened to apply tariffs on all $505bn in Chinese goods entering the US if the two are unable to reach a settlement. Washington has already applied tariffs on $34bn worth of Chinese imports, with another set of duties on $16bn in goods scheduled in the days ahead, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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Top 10 best-selling cigarette brands in Egypt Thu, 02 Aug 2018 12:30:11 +0000 Cleopatra (soft pack) tops list with total sales of 120m cigarettes daily, while Cleopatra Box (hard pack) sell 60m cigarettes daily

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Locally made cigarette brands dominated the Egyptian market, selling about 191m cigarettes daily, compared to 92m cigarettes from foreign brands.

Daily News Egypt obtained a list of the best-selling cigarette brands in Egypt, in which Cleopatra Queen (soft pack) and Cleopatra King Size topped the list with 120m cigarettes daily. The two types are sold for EGP 16 and EGP 15.50 per pack, respectively, after the last price hike of EGP 0.75 following the implementation of the comprehensive health insurance law.

Cleopatra Box (hard pack) Gold, Red, and Blue came second with total sales of 60m cigarettes daily. They are sold for EGP 17 per pack. Egypt’s Eastern Company produces all types of Cleopatra.

Meanwhile, L&M Blue and Red, owned by Philip Morris, ranked third, with total sales of 45m cigarettes daily. They are currently sold for EGP 29 per pack.

British American Tobacco (BAT)’s Pall Mall was the fourth best-selling cigarette brand in Egypt, with total sales of 15m cigarettes daily. It is currently sold for EGP 24 per pack, followed by Marlboro Red and Gold, produced by Phillip Morris, with total daily sales of 12m cigarettes and priced at EGP 37 per pack.

Cleopatra Super seized the sixth rank, selling 11m cigarettes daily, priced at EGP 18 per pack, followed by Phillip Morris’ Merit with sales of 10m cigarettes daily, priced at EGP 40 per pack.

In the eighth rank came Winston, produced by Japan Tobacco International, which sold 5m cigarettes daily, at EGP 27 per pack. Viceroy produced jointly by the Eastern Company and BAT, ranked ninth with total sales of 3m cigarettes daily, priced at EGP 24 per pack. Rothmans, produced by BAT, came in the 10th place with total sales of 2m cigarettes daily, priced at EGP 27 per pack.

Egypt produces about 278m cigarettes daily, excluding weekends and official holidays, through the state-run Eastern Company, which monopolises the production of cigarettes in Egypt.

The Eastern Company accounts for 71-72% of the cigarette market in Egypt, producing most of the cigarette brands in the lower segment and some of the brands in the middle segment.

The company’s middle segment brands are produced in partnership with foreign companies, such as Pall Mall, which is produced jointly with BAT.

The Eastern Company sells about 62bn cigarettes annually, while its nearest competitor, Phillip Morris, sells about 19bn cigarettes.

Despite significant price hikes and taxes imposed in the past years, cigarette sales continue to grow, reaching 87.5bn cigarettes annually.

Cigarette companies seek to maintain their market shares in Egypt, which is the world’s eighth largest cigarette market, according to BAT.

The Eastern Company’s profits jumped by 161% in the first half of last fiscal year to reach EGP 2.3bn, compared to EGP 890m in the same period of the prior fiscal year. This increase in profits came in favour of the government plan to sell a stake of the Eastern Company on the stock market this year, as part of a larger plan to expand the ownership of a number of state-run companies.

The government intends to offer 4.5% of the Eastern Company, a subsidiary of Chemical Industries Holding Company, on the stock market, bringing the offered share to 49.5%, while the government holds the controlling stake of 50.5%.

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JTI considers launching new product in Egyptian market before end of 2018 Thu, 02 Aug 2018 12:00:43 +0000 7% company’s market share in 2017 with a total of 1bn cigarettes

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Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is considering launching a new product in the Egyptian market this year in coordination with the Eastern Company.

Khaled Ismail, the head of the external relations sector within the company, said that JTI’s new manufacturing agreement with the Eastern Company allows adding new types.

He added that the company has an ambitious plan to increase its types and products in the Egyptian market; however, launching a new product requires a marketing plan to ensure that the target sales are reached.

Moreover, Ismail explained that the effect of the recent increases on prices of cigarettes cannot be determined at the moment. A wait of at least three months is necessary, in order to measure the consumption rates. Also, he pointed out that the company aims to increase its sales and market share in 2018 after adding the new product Camel, while the growth of Winston continues.

He said that the company’s market share in the category of foreign cigarettes was over 7% throughout 2017.

The government has applied the health insurance law on the companies by increasing the price of a pack by 75 piasters. Additionally, the minister of finance has issued a decision to price the products, stipulating that the price of Winston would be EGP 27 and Camel EGP 34.

Ismail added that JTI was the fastest growing cigarette company in 2017, achieving a growth rate of 233%, and over 1bn cigarettes were sold.

He explained that Winston is topping the sales of the company in Egypt. It is the most sold product in the world amongst the companies’ products.

“Even though the product was launched less than four years ago, its sales surpassed the sales of other products that have been in the Egyptian market for years,” he said, adding,

He also said that the Egyptian market is characterised by strong competition, which eventually benefits consumers.

Several companies have launched new products over the past period, at pricing points that have not existed before in the Egyptian market, which gave consumers the option to choose from many types and price segments.

He added that the state has benefited from increasing the revenues from the annual taxes on cigarettes.

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British American Tobacco plans to increase market share to 10% Thu, 02 Aug 2018 11:30:44 +0000 Egyptian cigarette market is world's eighth largest market

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British American Tobacco Egypt (BAT) plans to increase its market share in Egypt from 8% to 10%. Stephen Harvey, general manager of BAT Egypt, said that his company aims to reach its target market share soon after its last success in increasing it from 5% to 8%.

He pointed out consumers’ reaction to the price hikes determines the size of consumption in each segment, especially as high prices often force consumers to buy lower-priced products.

Harvey added that BAT does not aim to add new products in Egypt currently. There are five products manufactured locally by the Eastern Company, including Kent, Lucky Strike, Vesseroy, Pall Mall, and Rothman, while only one product of the company, Dunhill, is imported.

He added that the company’s current capacity in Egypt reached 8bn cigarettes annually and they are looking forward to increasing it to 10bn cigarettes. Also, BAT seeks to develop Rothman and Viceroy products in the coming period, while Kent and Dunhill can be developed later.

The company offered a wide variety of products in different price segments, which increases its competitiveness with other products in the Egyptian market, Harvey said, and noted that the Egyptian market is characterised by open cigarette pricing, which ensures competition among different products.
Additionally, Harvey said that the recent spread of the e-cigarette in Egypt was limited and did not affect the sales of the company’s products.

He noted that BAT actually manufactures e-cigarettes worldwide, but currently they do not plan to sell it in the Egyptian market as local consumers still prefer regular cigarettes.

“We have a strong presence in the Egyptian market for years. It is the best time for introducing new technologies in the market after the recent developments witnessed in the country in terms of economy, investments, and high growth rates,” Harvey said, adding, “I think we have a market share of 8-8.5% in Egypt, and we are working to strengthen our presence in the market through boosting cooperation with the Eastern Company, with which we currently have a strong relationship.”

Moreover, he said that the partnership between the two companies extends for 16 years, including manufacturing and partnership agreements, and it recently resulted in the production of Pall Mall.

Additionally, BAT has a plan to invest £30m over the next 12 months in Egypt, whereby the company plans to focus on marketing the Pall Mall brand in the coming period, as well as developing other products. It will also establish a new head office in New Cairo.

Harvey asserted that the recent price hikes had a little effect on the demand because people do not merely stop smoking, but they usually reduce their daily consumption, or turns to cheaper products, noting that their products fit all price segments.

He explained that his company witnessed a decline in its expensive products’ sales during the last two years in Egypt because of the rapid price increases caused by taxes, prompting consumers to buy cheaper brands.

In regard with the current taxation—based on three segments—Harvey described it as a fair system for social justice and gives the consumer multiple options. However, it increased the gap between the middle and low cigarettes segments. He warned that consumers’ tendency to lower cigarette segments due to tax-driven price hikes in the past two years, can end in turning to illegal products, which can cause a significant loss for government and private companies.

Harvey added that this price hike pushed the smuggling rate by 100% within the last six months, and the only solution is introducing international products at reasonable prices.

“We can say that the economic reform started to bear fruit and the worst stage is over. We have experienced a difficult time since the flotation in November 2016, but the situation is improving now. The political administration is willing to complete what it started,” Harvey said.

The tobacco industry has a promising future largely due to the economic reforms and studies conducted by government agencies on the feasibility of tobacco cultivation in Egypt, which will reduce the country’s dependence on imported raw materials, Harvey added.

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121% growth in tobacco tax revenue over last five years Thu, 02 Aug 2018 11:00:42 +0000 Cigarette companies demand expansion of tax segments, but government ignores it

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Cigarette sales is one of the largest tax sources for Egypt, and the government targets to achieve about EGP 58bn of tax revenues during the current fiscal year (FY).

The government has frequently increased taxes on cigarettes, during the past period, to finance different development programmes, most recently the comprehensive health insurance programme, which will be implemented during the current FY.

Cigarette products in Egypt are divided into three price segments. The first segment includes products up to EGP 18, with taxes of EGP 3.5, EGP 0.75, and 50% of the final selling price to consumer.

The second segment ranges between EGP 18 and EGP 30, with taxes of EGP 5.5, EGP 0.75, and 50% of the final selling price to consumer.

The third segment includes products priced over EGP 30, with taxes of EGP 6.5, EGP 0.75, and 50% of the final selling price to consumer.

The most prominent products in the first segment are Cleopatra Queen (Soft pack), Cleopatra King, Cleopatra Box, Target, and Mondial, while the second segment includes L&M, Rothman, Lucky Strike, Next, Pall Mall, Viceroy, Cleopatra Black Label, and Time. The third segment’s products are Marlboro, Dunhill, Merit, and Camel.

Tobacco tax revenue increased over the last five years by 121% to reach EGP 58.5bn in the current FY, compared to EGP 26.4bn for FY 2014/2015, representing 7.5% of total taxes, amounting to EGP 770bn, and 18.2% of total value-added taxes (VAT), amounting to EGP 320bn during the current FY.

The cigarette tax rate according to the financial statement of the 2018/2019 budget reached about 59.5% of the total tax table, amounting to EGP 98.4bn.

Mohamed Osman Haroun, chairperson of the Eastern Company, said that the three pricing segments of cigarette products allow different companies to compete in the presence of different prices.

He added that the recent ministerial decision on cigarette prices contributed to balancing financial burdens between the three segments resulting from the imposition of taxes and fees.

Foreign cigarette companies seek to modify the three segments to serve their interests, and each one has different proposals to reduce taxes on cigarette products.

Stephen Harvey, general manager of British American Tobacco Egypt, agreed with the stabilisation of cigarette prices so that consumers can have a variety of choices in all segments. He previously demanded increasing the limits of these segments to absorb the tax increases in the current FY, but the Ministry of Finance imposed the 75 piasters tax for the Comprehensive Health Insurance Law without any expansions in the segments.

The expansion of the three segments will allow moving a number of cigarette products from higher tax segments to lower ones, which will also reduce the final price for consumers.

Meanwhile, Japan Tobacco International called for maintaining the three-segment system and expanding each one of them.

There have been earlier demands to merge the cigarette tax segments into one or two segments, which could reduce pricing competition and benefit consumers of products with higher price segments, as they would pay the same taxes imposed on consumers of lower cigarette segments.

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Eastern Company negotiates with foreign tobacco companies to add new products to middle price segment Thu, 02 Aug 2018 10:30:11 +0000 Company produced 62m cigarettes in last FY with a market share of 72%, says Haroun

The post Eastern Company negotiates with foreign tobacco companies to add new products to middle price segment appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Eastern Company is negotiating with a number of foreign tobacco companies located in the market to add new products in the middle price segment through partnerships.

The first consumption segment is priced with a maximum of EGP 18 per pack, middle segment between EGP 18 and EGP 30, then the third segment priced at over EGP 30.

Chairperson, and CEO of Eastern Company, Mohamed Haroun, said that the company has signed a partnership with Al-Mansour Holding Company for Financial Investments to produce West through targeting production of 3mcigarettes per day.

He added that the company has produced a total of 62bn cigarettes during the previous fiscal year (FY), an increase of 1bn cigarettes on the budget estimates with a market share of 72%.

Haroun explained that the total number of produced cigarettes in 2017/2018 reached EGP 83bn, likely to increase this year to 87bn with a growth of 0.5%.

Chairperson, and CEO of Eastern Company, Mohamed Haroun

Additionally, he pointed out that the company contracted earlier on five new production lines from Europe at a cost of €8m, which includes new machines and overhauling others. Two of those lines have been received. He said that the company is seeking in the coming period to develop Mondial and Black Label to produce 4m Mondial cigarettes this year, up from 1.5bn last year.

The company is considering the use of a new mechanism in production to lower costs, where the new study is expected to be completed within three months. He pointed out the difficulty of producing electronic cigarettes now, in light of their declining market share, along with the counterfeit products that affect their investment feasibility, Haroun added.

Moreover, he also said that the company produces 1.3m cigars per year and plans to maintain the same quantity, especially after the new price hikes that reached 10%. Also, the company produced a type of cigar known as Brontē at a cost of EGP 500 for 10 cigars, and the company produced only 40 packs.

Notably, the company received written requests from UAE companies to enter the Egyptian market to manufacture their products in the market.

He noted that the company is currently considering the size of the company’s production capacity to determine the possibility of UAE companies’ entry into Egypt, whereby he pointed out that 85% of the company’s exports are in Mu’assel (tobacco used in smoking shisha), especially Salloum—most popular brand—against 15% for Cleopatra.

Haroun said that the recent decision to increase the price of cigarettes by EGP 0.75 per pack was due to the issuance of the new Comprehensive Health Insurance Law on 11 January with a six-month grace period.

Also, he noted that the company’s profits in the first 11 months of FY 2017/2018 reached EGP 4bn, which will reach EGP 4.25bn by the end of the FY, against EGP 3bn in the FY before.

He pointed out that the tax law, according to the latest amendments, imposes a flat tax of EGP 3.5 on the first segment of cigarettes and EGP 5.5 on the second, along with a tax of EGP 6.5 on packs more than EGP 30, which comes in addition to the 75 piasters as a health insurance tax, and 1 piaster for students.

Minister of Finance Mohamed Moeit had issued a ministerial decree No. 288 for the year 2018 of prices of cigarettes after imposing the new insurance law, setting the price of Marlboro, Kent, and Davidoff at EGP 37, up from EGP 35. The price of Merit and Dunhil reached EGP 40 and Camel tagged at EGP 34.

LM and Lucky Strike are now selling at EGP 29, Rothman, Gauloises, and Winston at EGP 27, while Next and BS were priced at EGP 25 per pack.

Moreover, Pall Mall and Viceroy were priced at EGP 24, Cleopatra Black Label and Time Golden West at EGP 22, while Super and Target, as well as Black Box, Red, and Gold Cleopatra, were set at EGP 17.

The decision included the prices of Cleopatra King at EGP 15.5, Queen at EGP 16, and Mondial Red, Blue, and Lite, as well as Boston and Belmont, to EGP 16.5.

According to Haroun, the existence of three segments of cigarettes products enables all companies to compete in the presence of differently priced products. He said that the recent ministerial decision on cigarette prices contributed to solving the price distortions between the various segments and creating a balance in financial burdens resulting from the imposition of taxes and fees.

He explained that a period of three months is needed to measure the impact of price hikes on cigarettes, as some clients could reduce their intake or downgrade to a lower price segment.

Achieving sales revenues of the company helps in the promotion of some products in the event of stagnation in markets through commodity or financial incentives, he added, pointing out that the success of companies is usually measured by one of two things: to increase market share or collect large cash from traders.

Moreover, he said that they target exports to $10m in the coming years, up from $4.7m at the end of the last FY.

He explained that the company is coordinating with the Chemical Industries Holding Company to exploit untapped areas in Manstrali, Dahab Island, Faisal, and Salloum, along with completing licenses procedures. Adding that it is difficult to implement residential or administrative projects on land with industrial licenses. Therefore, it is necessary to change the activity first and then determine the mechanism of exploitation by selling, leasing or partnership.

The company is stable with no need to borrow, he noted. Adding that the company is working to create a balance between costs and revenues to maintain profitability rates in view of the high cost of production. He added that the company will be affected by the high prices of Mu’assel due to the presence of unlicensed plants to sell counterfeited products.

The decrease in the company’s production of fruit-flavoured mix represents a weak point for the company, hence they consider partnering with companies that produce flavours to export to Arab and Gulf countries, he explained, adding that the market share of Mu’assel amounts to 20%, with plans to reach 30%.

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Nestlé invests EGP 1 bn in local market during past six years: chairperson, CEO for North East Africa region Wed, 01 Aug 2018 10:30:42 +0000 Company's exports reached $50m on an annual basis, says El Hout

The post Nestlé invests EGP 1 bn in local market during past six years: chairperson, CEO for North East Africa region appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Chairperson and CEO – Nestlé North East Africa Region, Moataz El Hout, said that the company has invested EGP 1bn in the local market in manufacturing and distribution facilities, as well as skill development, during the past six years, adding, “we have been investing in the Egyptian market for almost 150 years since the introduction of Nestlé’s first baby food product “Farine Lactee” in Alexandria in 1870, We have strong roots in the country where we have long been an integral part of the local community.”

Nestlé has 3,000 employees, 67% of which are less than 35 years old, in addition to offering about 1500 jobs through our agents and partners in nine business units and three factories, El Hout said.

Daily News Egypt sat down for an exclusive interview with El Hout, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:

Do you have any expansion plans regarding your factories in Egypt?

Currently, we have three factories run by the capacity of 3,000 permanent employees, in addition to offering about 1,500 jobs through our agents and partners, and we are committed to induce more investment opportunities in the market to support the country’s direction towards a more flourished and solid economy.

What about company’s five-year strategy in Egypt?

In the course of the coming five years, we aim to work more towards improving the amount of exports through the development and addition of new production lines in all our factories. In addition, Nestlé Egypt’s exports reached $50m on an annual basis, as we export products to different countries in the region including Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Sudan, and the Gulf, in addition to markets overseas, such as the USA and Canada.

Our plans are to reach out to more markets especially North and East Africa, in order for us to support the bigger plan of the Egyptian government to increase exports, and hence contributing more to the national GDP.

We started 2017 with a strong investment through the acquisition of Caravan Marketing Company SAE, a leading Egyptian instant coffee company and owner of the Bonjorno brand. Nestlé is committed to grow its operations and to continue investments in Egypt as a strategic market in the region.

What are main products that mainly contribute to annual sales?

Nestlé has around nine business segments in Egypt; coffee, dairy, confectionery, culinary, health science, pet food, cereals, nutrition, and water. We firmly believe that there are enough opportunities in the segments that we have today to help us take the business forward and serve the consumers. Our objective is to be the nutrition, health, and wellness company of choice. We have categories of products that are distinguished for being diverse, as they target all groups and hence contribute to the company’s sales.

These products include Nescafe, Bonjorno, dairies, including Nido, as well as Nesquik. Confectionery products, including Kit Kat, Dolceca Wafer, our new born healthy snack “Fitness Toasties” and other culinary products, including Maggie Cubes, and the various cooking mixes, baby food products to help infants who cannot get breastfeeding, and cereal products for children aged six months and above “Cerelac”. Water products include Nestlé Pure Life and Baraka. There are also ice cream products of various ranges, and there are food products that are complementary to patients and special cases and pet food Purina.

What about R&D activities?

In Nestlé, our purpose is to enhance quality of life and contributing to a healthier future through three pillars which are individuals and families, community, and the planet. With regard to the individuals and families, the company has allocated a large part of its research capacity and development studies to provide food products with higher nutritional value. We have 39 food research centres around the world.

The journey of food products within Nestlé goes through a scientific and research cycle to reach the hands of the consumer.

The company primarily targets the health of individuals through food research conducted by 500 of scientists, engineers, and nutritionists. The real results of research and studies have contributed tremendously to improving the quality of our products, offering higher nutritional values.

Currently, the company focuses on fortifying products with vitamins and nutrients and reducing sugar, salt and sodium to provide a range of healthy choices for individuals and families.

Chairperson and CEO – Nestlé North East Africa Region, Moataz El Hout (Photo Handout to DNE)

How do you assess investment climate in Egypt? What about problems that face your company?

We definitely see the merit and the necessity of the recent reforms implemented by the government, the very promising reform strategy within Egypt’s Vision 2030, we are very optimistic regarding the development and improvement in the investment environment in Egypt through an effective set of legislation, such as the New Investment Law, industrial licensing, and the food safety law. Such reforms aim at an overall improvement in the food and beverages industry.

Overall, Nestlé has a strong faith in the Egyptian market and its ability to overcome challenges. As a group, we have experience in markets that have undergone currency flotation similar to the one that Egypt has implemented; Russia and Turkey are good examples. The currency flotation is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity for growth and expansion and our last year acquisition proves that.

Although 60% of Nestlé’s products are locally produced, the vast majority of raw materials used in production are imported from abroad.

We appreciate the efforts exerted by the government to stabilize the value of the Egyptian pound; nevertheless, to overcome this challenge, all sectors concerned should work on the existence of local alternatives to raw materials, which will compensate for the price of the final product provided to the consumer.

How many job opportunities do you offer youth?

Nestlé is seeking globally to help more young people out of school and into work through “Nestlé needs YOUTH” initiative. This initiative includes employability skills, including entrepreneurships and apprenticeships—a key success factor in bridging the gap between school and the workplace.

Local efforts include programmes and “readiness for work activities.” Over the past six years, Nestlé Egypt has provided career knowledge and skill enhancement to about 10,000 university students. So far this year, we reached about 2,000 students across universities in Egypt through the programmes and readiness for work activities. 120 students from public and private universities across Egypt, international universities, Don Bosco Institute will be graduated from our Summer Internship Programme in August. Including technical institutes like Don Bosco is one of Nestlé’s proud expansion initiatives this year, as it believes that the technical sector is a key driver of the economy and industrial field.

Fifteen strong performers currently have the opportunity to be part of “Students on Projects,” who continue to work with their assigned departments on a defined project alongside their studies. This initiative will continue to grow, as Nestlé Egypt enhances its readiness for work programmes to prepare students and develop their skills for the workplace. Our aim is to expand across Egypt and reach universities and institutions across the entire country, to support the transition from education to work.

How many CSR projects do you implement? What about future projects in this regard?

As a company, Nestlé truly believes that the only way the company will be successful in the long term is through creating value, for both the shareholders and for society. This has become more than just a company culture and is now a principle of how we do businesses.

Our impact on society mainly focuses on enabling healthier and happier lives for individuals and families and consequently assisting in the development of thriving and resilient communities based on using the planet’s natural resources in the most efficient way, we held various partnerships with entities, which facilitate creating an impact in communities.

These partnerships include projects with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Ministry of Education and the National Council for Women.

One of the main initiatives is “Nestlé for Healthier Kids” which focuses on enhancing the quality of children’s lives with near-term focus on children from three to twelve years of age, through the awareness and services that will help parents raise healthier children.

Currently, the company is interested in investing more in the empowerment of women and developing and activating respective roles in society. Nestlé Egypt is proud of its strong image of women, representing 30% of the company’s board of directors, 30% of the total managers, and 34% of the total number of employees.

We are not only considerate regarding women competing in the workforce for job opportunities; we are increasingly considerate about people with special abilities to be offered a fair job opportunity to be considered an integral part of society. This aligns with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement of this year as “Year of the differently abled” emphasizing the role of all society’s sectors in supporting more integration and inclusion of this segment into the community and work force.

The company has also localized production inputs to rely more on local suppliers, more than imports from abroad, and to support the local market.

Notably, the company also pays meticulous attention to technical education, apprenticeships, and training programmes. We care about the surrounding environment, as the company safely disposes waste products through heat treatment in cement factories, which makes us one of the first food industry companies in Egypt to dispose of waste in this creative and safe way, and thus preserve the environment for future generations.

Would you please tell me more about global Nestlé, its sales, revenues, operation markets?

Nestlé is the leading food and beverage company in the world. We have more than 2,000 brands ranging from global icons to local favourites, and we are present in almost 150 countries around the world.

Nestlé sales recorded about CHF 89.8bn in 2017, it has about 323,000 employees in over 150 countries and 418 factories in 86 countries, while there are 1bn Nestlé products are sold everyday.

Our aims can be summarized in helping 50 million children live healthier lives, improving 30m livelihoods in communities directly connected to our business activities, and striving for zero environmental impact in our operations.

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Switzerland to announce important development projects, helping implement Egypt’s reform agenda Wed, 01 Aug 2018 08:00:25 +0000 Particular focus for coming period on Upper Egypt, says ambassador

The post Switzerland to announce important development projects, helping implement Egypt’s reform agenda appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

The Ambassador of Switzerland to Egypt Paul Garnier, said that next period will witness an announcement of a variety of important development projects, which Switzerland is working on to help contribute to Egypt’s reform agenda, as set out in the country’s 2030 vision.

The ambassador told Daily News Egypt that a particular focus for the coming period is on Upper Egypt, one of the regions that has been most impacted by the country’s recent economic challenges.

Garnier affirmed that his country enjoys long-standing and multifaceted bilateral relations with Egypt, adding that the partnership between both countries extends into a very wide variety of fields including politics, economic and development cooperation, culture, media, education, and even sports.

“There are a lot of Swiss state entities in Egypt and the embassy recently integrated them all under its umbrella. These are the embassy’s Diplomatic and Consular Divisions, the embassy’s International Cooperation Office (OIC), and the Cairo office of Pro-Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council,” noted the ambassador.

The Swiss embassy also works closely with other Swiss entities in Egypt including the Swiss-Egyptian Business Association (SEBA), the Swiss Archaeological Institute, the Swiss Club in Cairo, and the Swiss Club in Alexandria, said the ambassador.

The embassy’s International Cooperation Office is currently in the process of implementing its 2017-2020 cooperation strategy for Egypt, signed in Cairo in December 2017 between Switzerland’s State Secretary of Economic Affairs Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch and Egypt’s Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr, mentioned Garnier.

Additionally, the Swiss ambassador said that his embassy is also very active on the cultural front in Egypt, mentioning, “earlier this year we produced a phone application called Swiss Trail that uses GPS systems to showcase 20 Swiss-influenced landmarks across Cairo, including historical hotels, villas, gardens, and buildings once built or run by Swiss citizens in Egypt,” adding, “we also organised this year, in cooperation with Egyptian football academy AIMZ, two days of a football tournament in Cairo, in which more than 200 teenage girls participated,” noting that his country is looking forward to organising more events during the second half of the year that will contribute to boosting development and culture.

The Ambassador of Switzerland to Egypt Paul Garnier

Trade volume amounted to CHF 493m about $496.107m in five months of 2018

Meanwhile, DNE, exclusively got a document from the embassy clarifying that total trade volume between Switzerland and Egypt for 2017 amounted to CHF 1.23bn equivalent to $1.20756bn, a slight decrease compared to 2016, where the trade volume was 1.32 billion Swiss francs about $1.32832bn.

Document noted that 2017’s trade volume remains higher than 2015 where it was CHF 967.8m or about $973.899m.

For the first five months of 2018, the total trade volume amounted to CHF 493m about $496.107m, mentioned the statement, noting, “as in the previous year, Egypt remains the biggest export market for Switzerland in Africa.”

Swiss companies working in Egypt are availing around 13,000 job opportunities

Moreover, the document noted that Swiss companies working in Egypt are availing around 13,000 job opportunities, adding that Swiss companies in Egypt work in a broad range of sectors including logistics, construction, electrical equipment, hotels and hospitality, pharmaceuticals, and food production. Some of the many Swiss companies working in Egypt include ABB, Bühler Group, Credit Suisse, Egy-Swiss, Givaudan, Hero, LagargeHolcim, Mövenpick, MSC, Nestlé, Novartis, Panalpina, Philip Morris, Roche, Schindler, SGS, Soudanco (representing Lindt and Emmi), Swiss International Airlines, and Syngenta, among others.

The document said that the embassy works closely with the Swiss Egyptian Business Association (SEBA), which is a non-governmental organisation established in June, 2004.

The SEBA has been established and founded by a number of Swiss Egyptian businesspersons under the auspices of the embassy of Switzerland in Egypt, noted the document, clarifying that the SEBA’s mission is to enhance and strengthen industrial and commercial relations between the two countries towards development and economic growth.

Moreover, the SEBA’s goals are done by supporting and disclosing new business and market opportunities for industries trade and services in Egypt, and ensuring sustainable economic relations between Egypt and Switzerland, taking into consideration the social, political, and cultural aspects of the two countries.

2017-2020 Cooperation Strategy, Switzerland continues to support Egypt’s comprehensive reform

The document mentioned that Switzerland and Egypt look back on 40 years of successful bilateral development cooperation, adding that in response to the popular calls for reforms, Switzerland launched a holistic programme in 2011.

The programme supported democratic processes and human rights, economic development, employment, migration and protection, with a budget of CHF 83m about $83.5231m, noted the document adding that six years later still Switzerland remains committed to accompanying all Egyptians in their efforts to build the future of their country.

“With the new 2017-2020 Cooperation Strategy, Switzerland continues to support Egypt’s comprehensive reform agenda as set out in the 2030 Egypt Vision,” mentioned the document, noting that the Cooperation Strategy is being implemented by the Swiss embassy’s Office for International Cooperation, building on earlier achievements relating to the overall goal of supporting Egypt’s transition in its political, economic, and social dimensions towards an inclusive, resilient and accountable state and society.

The budget for the projects of the embassy’s Office for International Cooperation increased to CHF 86m about $86.5420m for the period of 2017-2020.

The work of the embassy of Switzerland’s Office for International Cooperation focuses on three domains, which are Democratic Processes and Human Rights, Inclusive Sustainable Economic Growth, and Employment and Protection and Migration, said the document.

The first domain’s priority is to enhance capacities of state institutions and civil society to collaborate. This is for example the case with the Swiss support to the government’s strategy to reduce the population growth rate and raise awareness on issues related to family planning. Through this domain, Switzerland shares its expertise in building networks and convening dialogue, in order to encourage citizens’ participation in decision making processes.

The second domain’s priority is to improve access to sustainable basic infrastructure services and inclusive urban development, increase resilience of the economy generating more and better jobs through a more competitive private sector, as well as avail more inclusive financial services and an improved business environment.

The document noted that this year, the embassy of Switzerland and Egypt’s Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities launched “Hayenna” (Our District) project, which aims to help local government units in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena to sustainably manage their land and new urban development initiatives.

Hayenna project implementation duration is six years and with a budget of $11.8m, the project will boost related local revenues and increase quality of living of the communities. Moreover, $8.1m is financed by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and $3.6m by the Egyptian government. The main project partners are the Ministry of Housing’s General Organisation for Physical Planning and UN-Habitat.

The third domain’s priority is to mitigate the risks of irregular migration by enhancing protection services and strengthening the self-reliance of vulnerable groups. This is achieved by strengthening protection of vulnerable migrants through better access to basic protection services, such as psychosocial support, and legal aid. It is also achieved through boosting improved self-reliance and socio-economic resilience of vulnerable groups, by providing better access to livelihood opportunities, including income generating activities and microfinance.

For example, this domain finalized a two-year project in December 2017 that was helping Egyptian returnees from Libya to boost their entrepreneurship and job orientation. The project helped 1,322 people in total in Fayoum, Minya, and Dakahlia to create their own ventures and become economically self-reliant.

Outstanding, historical bilateral relationship 

There are almost 1,800 Swiss citizens living in Egypt. They work in a wide variety of fields—from food production to art, business, and engineering.

The first Swiss official delegation came for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Then, the first Swiss trade legation in Egypt was established in 1909. In 1919 followed the first chamber of commerce. In addition, the first chancellery opened in 1945, and the embassy opened in 1957.

Switzerland played a role in a historic step that helped Egypt establish sovereignty and gain full independence. Eighty years ago, on 8 May 1937, the Montreux Convention Regarding the Abolition of the Capitulations in Egypt was concluded. By providing a neutral platform, Switzerland offered a conducive atmosphere to multilateral talks that placed foreigners in Egypt under the Egyptian legal system.

Throughout the past 40 years, Switzerland and Egypt developed their cooperation in the domain of economic cooperation and development. At the political level, as a neutral country, Switzerland represented the interests of Italy in Egypt in 1940, those of France and Great Britain in 1956, and those of Iran following the revolution in 1979. Switzerland also hosted an arbitrary tribunal between Egypt and Israel in 1988.

Today, Switzerland watches with interest Egypt’s engagement in foreign policy, as a promoter of peace and stability in the region and in the multilateral arena—United Nations Security Council 2015-2017, League of Arab States, African Union, and Chairmanship of the G-77 since the beginning of the year—regarding issues in the Middle East and Africa.

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Facebook stuck in moral, privacy dilemmas Tue, 31 Jul 2018 09:00:23 +0000 Website has been criticised for ruling out topics from “hate speech” category resulting in less neutrality

The post Facebook stuck in moral, privacy dilemmas appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Facebook has been in a long struggle to eliminate the concerns over privacy issues and the safety measures taken to protect the privacy of its users, as well as ensure the spread of confirmed news while curbing the spread of “fake news”, especially after the accusations directed against Facebook’s administration as a result of its role in the election of Donald Trump and spreading fake news on the platform to support him throughout the journey of the US election. Facebook has responded to this by publishing on the website, “We know people want to see accurate information on Facebook—and so do we.”

The statement continued, “False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. It’s not a new phenomenon, and all of us—tech companies, media companies, newsrooms, teachers—have a responsibility to do our part in addressing it. At Facebook, we’re working to fight the spread of false news in three main areas. They include disrupting economic incentives, building new products to curb the spread of false new, and helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.”

Facebook has received some of the other accusations it faced with denial in some cases and apologies in others. It has sought to enhance the website’s regulations and privacy to avoid the increasing criticism in all aspects, however.

One of the other recent dilemmas Facebook found itself stuck in is “hate speech”. A UK investigation has showed that Facebook does not seem to include Holocaust denial in its hate speech standards. “Facebook, which studies have found to be the most common platform for spreading fake news, said it had only received 1,704 complaints regarding the issue of the Holocaust denial. Of those, about 362 had been deleted or geoblocked in German,” DW reported.

An investigation by UK newspaper The Times found that despite reporting posts that promote the idea that the murder of 17 million people was a hoax, they were not taken down by Facebook’s censors, according to DW.

“Cartoons that depict Jewish people as hook-nosed cockroaches, links to a website selling ‘holohoax’ books banned by mainstream retailers, and fan pages for a convicted Holocaust deniers are also accessible,” The Times said.

As for the privacy issues on Facebook, which have resulted in a decreasing number of Facebook users over the past period, specifically in the European region, Facebook commented saying that Europe’s strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the one to blame for fewer people using the social network in the region; however, EU lawmakers disagree, according to Bloomberg.

“The new law came into force on 25 May and forced companies that hold data on EU citizens to obtain ‘unambiguous’ consent to collect personal information. Facebook knows a lot about what people are interested in, and makes that audience easily available to advertisers. That’s fuelled rapid revenue growth, billions of dollars in profit, and a surging stock price in recent years. More than $100bn of those market gains were wiped out Thursday after Facebook reported sales and user growth numbers that disappointed Wall Street. The company lost about 1 million European monthly active users in the second quarter, leaving it with 376 million. Daily users fell more. Chief Financial Officer David Wehner blamed the decline on the GDPR roll out,” said Bloomberg.

These are only some of the issues Facebook seems to be facing this period. On Thursday, Facebook Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune took a hit of more than $15bn, as the social media company suffered the biggest one-day wipe-out in US stock market history a day after executives forecast years of lower profit margins, according to Reuters. Shares closed down almost 19% at $176.26, wiping more than $120bn off the company’s value, or nearly four times the entire market capitalisation of Twitter.

The company is still optimistic about the future, however, saying that over the next several years, it would anticipate that its operating margins will trend towards the mid-30s on a percentage basis.

Facebook is not alone when it comes to these issues. Other social media platforms were always questioned in terms of privacy, the control they exert over the data of users, and other issues. As improvements are taking place, the internet can only wait to see what one of the largest social networks has to offer next to save face and continue strongly as one of the largest, most popular websites in the world.

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Al-Sisi marks education, health as Egypt’s challenges in 2019 Mon, 30 Jul 2018 16:58:25 +0000 President Al-Sisi called on Egyptians to support him in implementing new health system

The post Al-Sisi marks education, health as Egypt’s challenges in 2019 appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced the year of 2019 as year of education’s advancement during his closing speech at the sixth National Youth Conference, that took place for two days at Cairo University.

During this year, the state is supposed to launch a national project to develop the new Egyptian education system, which was previously introduced by the Minister of Education Tarek Shawky.

Al-Sisi said that 20% will be allocated for scholarship inside Egypt and abroad for the “cadres of education” for about 10 years, a quality authority will be created to supervise technical education, and training centres will be created to advance teachers of technical education, which must align with international standards.

The president assigned the prime minister to coordinate with all the concerned authorities in the state to link the research plans and projects in the Egyptian universities with the needs of the state and the society, whereby students of Egyptian universities can be able to find solutions to the problems of the state.

Al-Sisi also prepared a comprehensive plan for the return of sports and cultural activities at universities, allowing school students to practice sports and culture in cultural centres. He also recommended establishing “nurseries for creativity and innovation” supervised by the Supreme Council of Universities, in order to provide the necessary support for creative youth in all fields.

Since 2016, the president started to dedicate a topic of development for a whole year to be implemented. For instance, year 2018 has been dedicated for persons with special needs, in which many initiatives were created and new laws issued granting new rights to them.

The sixth conference showed a big concern over the future of education in Egypt through focusing on how the state could address educational issues and announcing new plans for education in Egypt. The main attendees of the conference were university students, along with education experts and others.

The president also highlighted that the development of education is followed by the improvement of the health sector in Egypt.

New medical system

As for the new medical system, the president emphasised on the necessity of societal contributions through funds and supporting the state’s performance and agenda.

The improvement of the therapeutic system in Egypt requires huge sums, Al-Sisi said while speaking about the finances of the new system, adding that its full implementation requires the solidarity of all the institutions of society, including the Tahya Misr Fund and “zakat” charity fund, which mainly rely on donations of citizens and investors.

The president complained that the state debts increased to EGP 542bn, which he views as a huge amount, affecting the implementation of development plans.

A number of 9,000 patients out of 12,000 are scheduled to undergo operations within the waiting lists initiative at a cost of EGP 1 bn.

“The issue is about EGP 1bn; the Ministry of Health started a part and left others, so we have to all stand together; thus, we can solve any issue,” Al-Sisi said.

The president called on people to support the system to continue its goals by saying, “if they asked me to choose between eating or treating people, I would treat them, of course; when we stand together with one hand, we can solve any problem.”

The president called on people to support the system to continue its goals by saying, “if they asked me to choose between eating or treating people, I would treat them, of course; when we stand together with one hand, we can solve any problem.”

He noted that the new medical system will be implemented within 15 years and its total budget will cost EGP 600bn, wishing that Egypt could afford this huge sum.

The comprehensive new health insurance system aims at eliminating waiting lists for critical surgeries, hepatitis virus C treatment, and providing sufficient quantities of vaccines, medicines, and baby formula, as well as reducing population growth. The state has already started the implementation of elimination of waiting lists.

He further urged that any developmental system, either health insurance, investments, or improvement of the education system, will never succeed without security and stability, noting that the absence of these elements destroys everything.

He presented an example that the US, the UK, and France have not been exposed in their contemporary history to any threat of instability, which could have impacted the implementation of their development plans and progress.

He warned against critics of the new system as a mean for citizens to not lose confidence in the system, and he directed a message to media figures and intellectuals, saying, “if you keep on criticising the existing group and performance, you will worsen the matter and will lead citizens to lose confidence in the system that is not even implemented yet. Make a push for success and put your hands with us so that we can continue, and I am with you.”

On the side-lines of the conference that aimed to address education and health in Egypt, Al-Sisi spoke about several issues, including the 30 June revolution, economic and administrative reforms, and the implementation of major national projects, as well as regional issues such as the Palestinian cause and the situations in Syria and Libya.

Two children are fine, divorce rates are high

“We want to regulate births and not prevent them. Each family should give a chance for itself at least three or four years between each child; two children per family are enough,” the president suggested, while speaking about the challenges of population growth.

Al-Sisi asserted that the state is making great efforts in the file of population growth, and we need a long time to feel a result, but with the help of people, explaining that the increase in population has been an issue in Egypt since the era of former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak, and so forth, however, the state has refused to take legal action to limit the increase in population, whether through imposing fines or depriving citizens of privileges granted by the state.

“We never tried to impose laws to control population growth, but two are enough,” Al-Sisi continued.

In July, Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said that the country’s population reached 96.3 million in early 2018.

In addition to this, the president complained that divorce rates are increasing, saying that couples seem happy to prepare weddings and then in two months get divorced.

“We talked about women before, and we need a young man or girl to look deeply into the issue,” he said.

He also suggested to the Social Solidarity Ministry Ghada Wally establishing centres to provide pre-marriage awareness for youth to limit the divorce rate.

Wally responded that the ministry conducted an inventory on family counselling and couples’ preparation programmes, based on international experiences, and assigned the Social Research Centre, psychologists, and sociology experts to develop an integrated programme in cooperation with the National Council for Women.

Austerity is a duty on everyone

During the “Ask the President” session, Al-Sisi was questioned as to why the austerity measures are not applied to government officials. He answered that the parliament is the best model for austerity among governmental authorities and that austerity is a duty on everyone, not the government only.

Al-Sisi jokingly commented that people want only the government to apply austerity, while people were consuming high quantities of food in the holy month of the Ramadan, which led them to throw away the leftovers. He also said that the state is offering job opportunities to Egyptians living abroad, and they reject it because salaries of ministries are lesser than what they receive abroad.

“The Egyptian parliament was one of the initiators of the austerity project. It was keen to cancel all paper transactions and rely more on electronic transactions for saving paper and ink that were costing very large sums. The council has not appointed any new officer since January 2016,” Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal said during the session when Al-Sisi requested him to speak about the parliament’s austerity plan.

He added, “the number of employees in the parliament has decreased from 3,200 to 2,800 employees, and early retirement is expected, and already 200 employees will retire early in the coming period. This is a typical example of austerity.”

Abdel Aal said that the parliament initiated reducing the pensions of ministers from 80% to 25%, noting that when he was visiting one of the European countries, the head of the parliament there told him that his country wishes to do as Egypt in reducing the salaries and pensions of ministers.

Parliament members do not receive more than EGP 5,000 in accordance with the law, in addition to the attendance allowance, which gives EGP 180 per session, according to Abdel Aal.

“The state tries as much as possible to reduce its spending,” Al-Sisi asserted.

Self-sufficiency of gas, train station advancement

Al-Sisi declared that Egypt will achieve self-sufficiency of gas by 2020, in response to why the state raised the price of gas in houses.

The president explained that the decision to raise prices came to achieve social justice, saying that a person who consumes two LPG cylinders per month pays EGP 100, and the state pays EGP 250 as subsidies, while in the case of household natural gas, even with the recent price increases, it costs less than EGP 100 per month, hence the amount of money retrieved as a result of the increase to connect 350,000 households to the natural gas grid.

“There are areas where we cannot enter gas, because it is not a safe place, and we only enter gas for certain areas,” he noted.

As for train stations, Al-Sisi said if the railways are developed only, the government will raise the prices of train tickets and that the state is working on a plan to develop them according to international standards.

“The minister of transportation asked me two months ago to raise the price of train tickets, but I told him I will not raise the prices of trains until after the completion of the development, maintenance of stations and lines, and the arrival of new tractors,” Al-Sisi said.

The post Al-Sisi marks education, health as Egypt’s challenges in 2019 appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? Sun, 29 Jul 2018 12:00:51 +0000 Earlier plan seems to no longer stand, push for Palestinian reconciliation, Israel consolidates power… and steps in?

The post ‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

As Palestinian leaders of different affiliations have been voicing rejection of an unannounced hoped-for US-led deal to end the chronic Middle East conflict, the so-called “deal of the century” stumbled over obstacles and one of its most promoted aspects could be off the table.

For weeks, the US spoke about the deal’s part focusing on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip with money from Gulf countries, sending White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner on a tour in the Middle East to discuss details with Arab leaders.

“The deal of the century is not a new American project. The same project has been put forward since the beginning of the Arab-Zionist conflict with different names and propositions. The new part in this is the support of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar for this plot and serious deal, the Zionist movement, and the bringing of Gulf-Zionist normalised relations to light after decades of secrecy. But in any case, the Palestinian people will never allow this deal, which will destroy its project and national entity,” argues Mohamed Abu Samra, a Palestinian intellectual who heads Al-Quds Centre for Studies, Media, and Publishing.

The situation in Hamas-controlled Gaza has been going from bad to worse, whether on the humanitarian or security levels, suffering some of its deadliest violence and Israeli bombardment in the past weeks. Egypt worked with the UN to broker a ceasefire between the two on 20 July.

But on Friday, violence renewed between Palestinian protesters and Israeli defence at the Gaza border zone, leaving at least three dead, in addition to over another hundred killed and thousands wounded since the Great Return protests in March.

Following the recent incidents, Kushner said he may be abandoning the Gaza plan because “no foreign investors are willing to pour money into Gaza during a Hamas-driven conflict,” The New York Timed reported on 22 July. “Provocations will not be rewarded with aid,” he added, according to the report.

On Friday night, however, Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has his own initiative in the making for the solution in Gaza.

According to reports quoting Channel 10 News, a plan including rebuilding Gaza infrastructure, empowering the Palestinian Authority over the strip, and reaching a long-term ceasefire is being discussed with Egypt and the UN.

The dispute between the PA and Hamas over who controls Gaza is a key point of focus of reconciliation talks in Cairo sponsored by Egypt.

Riyad Mansour Palestinian diplomat

Latest US views

On 23 July, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Presidential Advisor Jason Greenblatt joined Kushner in an article for CNN. They accused Hamas, labelled as a terrorist group, of inciting violence against Israel and using civilians as human shields.

From their point of view, they stated that no peace process could be built if Hamas and its actions were not viewed as hindering future steps, praising the increase in the number of nations in the UN blaming Hamas for the violence.

The article also tried to pass another idea as a fact and basis of any agreement, which is the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “No one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that is the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved,” the article read.

Earlier on 19 July, the three US officials, excluding Haley, wrote for The Washington Post, insisting on blaming Hamas for its “continuing and needlessly prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

While the US is sensitive to failures of mentioning Hamas’ crimes and easily accuses other parties of being one-sided, it fails itself to mention violations by Israel and has used its veto power in the UN to prevent passing resolutions condemning occupation forces from using excessive violence.

The US is also strongly holding to the idea that Israel’s existence is a “permanent reality.” According to that Washington Post article, “almost all in the Middle East have come to accept this fact, and many have even embraced it.”

Palestinian reconciliation strongly pushed for

Unsuccessful reconciliation attempts between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah represented in the PA led by President Mahmoud Abbas seem to no longer be an option for parties concerned with restoring stability to the region, particularly Gaza, such as Egypt.

The Egyptians have been directly involved in negotiations between the two sides for years, but even a new deal announced in October 2017 faced obstacles. However, Egypt continues to pursue such efforts in addition to playing a role to ease tensions between Hamas and Israel, now joined by UN efforts.

Hamas’ refusal to give up control over Gaza to the PA has been one of the major setbacks of reconciliation. Despite that the PA cabinet convened in Gaza for the first time in October, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy was bombed in Gaza in March. Although he survived, the PA blamed Hamas.

Earlier last week, Hamas accepted a new reconciliation paper by Egypt, and more rounds of talks are expected to take place in Cairo in the coming period.

According to different media, the new plan has specific phases and a timeline, and it includes the lifting of all PA penalties on Gaza and the full payment of salaries and budgets in the strip, the commitment by Hamas not to interfere in the work of the national reconciliation government and to cooperate with it, the provision of fuel without taxes for the operation of the electric power plant under the supervision of the government, and the start of consultations in a month’s time to form a national unity government.

Israel consolidates power, upholds violation

On Friday, Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem via the Moroccan Gate, and they heavily fired sound bombs at Palestinian worshipers following prayers, Maan News Agency reported, in addition to detaining a couple of Palestinian youth.

In the past weeks, Israeli forces continued different attacks on Palestinian villages and houses as well. On Friday, Maan also reported that dozens of Palestinians protested not only the deal of the century, but also Israel’s move to destroy the village of Kan Al-Ahmar to expand their settlement.

Moreover, Israel passed a controversial law stipulating that only Jews have the right to self-determination. The law further encourages Jewish settlement expansion and downgrades the status of the Arabic language.

The law triggered international and internal criticism by Arabs and Israelis alike, including ministers, citing violation of principle of equality of different groups. The law is likely to be challenged before court, Haaretz reported.

The EU has denounced the legislation as complicating a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, joining Israeli-Arab political leaders, Israeli opposition politicians, and liberal Jewish groups in the US in flagging up concern, with some saying the law amounted to “apartheid”, The Guardian reported on 19 July.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution also stated that issuing the law was another episode in a series of violations and attacks against the Palestinian people, starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and lasting up until the recent US decision to transfer its embassy to the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Palestine will remain Arab and it is a genuine right for its Arab people, with their different religions and sects,” the statement said, according to state media.

In Egyptian state-owned media Al-Ahram, Makram Mohamed Ahmed described the move as a “shameless forgery of history,” which considers lands solely owned by Israel and thus blocks the possibility of a Palestinian state.

The post ‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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State of emergency in Turkey has ended, but violations still cited Tue, 24 Jul 2018 11:30:38 +0000 Human rights organisations say that ending state of emergency is first step which is necessary in a long line of measures that new government must undertake

The post State of emergency in Turkey has ended, but violations still cited appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

The Turkish government announced last week that the two-year state of emergency, which was declared after the failed coup to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has ended. Nevertheless, human rights organisations still demand more repressive measures to be reversed.

When a failed coup attempt took place on 15 July 2016, the Turkish government claimed supporters within the military of exiled Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen were behind it. President Erdogan labelled the Gulen movement a terrorist organisation and declared a three-month state of emergency, in order to actively prosecute its members. The state of emergency allowed the government to rule by decree. It, in turn, used the decrees as a means to establish new rules in all of the country’s state institutions. The resulting wave of firings and arrests prompted opposition members to deem the state of emergency a “civil coup and a witch hunt against critics,” calling for its immediate lifting, but to no avail.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The state of emergency was extended seven times in all. “However, if it is to be anything more than a cosmetic exercise, it needs to be accompanied by urgent measures. The state of emergency has been used to consolidate draconian governmental powers, silence critical voices, and strip away basic rights,” Amnesty International said.

In the last two years, evidence of the escalating human rights violations have been cited, ranging from arbitrary detentions to abusive prosecutions, from shutting down of media outlets to permanent closure of civil society organisations. Many of the measures issued under the state of emergency will remain in force even if the state of emergency was lifted.

Amnesty International said in a report that during the state of emergency, more than 130,000 workers from all areas of the public sector have been dismissed, 129,400 of them through lists announced with executive decrees, without individualised justifications or the possibility for them to mount an effective challenge to their dismissals. Only 3,799 of these dismissal decisions were revoked through subsequent executive decrees, the watchdog added.

“The powers to dismiss any judge, to ban any assembly by restricting peoples’ movement, and to arrest people over and over again for the same offense in this draft law are evidence that the state of emergency will continue in all but name,” Williamson said, adding, “the state of emergency may have ended, but so has the rule of law.”

Thirty-two decrees were issued during the state of emergency, and official statistics claim that some 160,000 people were arrested as a result. Of these, more than 70,000 people were jailed—among them journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians. Investigations were initiated against 155,000 people accused of being “members of a terrorist organisation.” The state of emergency also extended the length of time that a person could be detained to 30 days. That remained the case until the end of 2016. It was not until early last year, when the European Council warned Turkey of its concerns, that the length of detention was reduced to 14 days.

According to statistics made available by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice, over 150,000 people are estimated to be taken into police custody during the state of emergency.

The maximum pre-charge detention period for certain crimes relating to, for example, “terrorism,” national and state security, and constitutional order was increased in July 2016 from four to 30 days, later reduced to 14 days in January 2017.

The watchdog also added that an ad hoc State of Emergency Appeals Commission was established by executive decree in January 2017 in response to domestic and international pressure over the lack of an appeals procedure to seek redress against dismissals. The commission began taking applications on 17 July 2017 and as of 22 June 2018 had received 108,905. These include applications from media and civil society organisations that had been closed down by decree. The commission had issued 19,500 decisions by June 2018 and accepted the appeals in only 1,300 of them, representing less than 7% of the decisions issued by that date.

In addition to this, a new law tabled at the parliament on 16 July 2018, if passed, would allow for the arbitrary dismissals to continue for three years from its adoption.

“The end of Turkey’s state of emergency should have been a good sign for human rights, but the draft law makes clear that the government’s plan is to end it in name only,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe, and Central Asia director at the Human Rights Watch, adding, “the government should scrap this law and fully restore human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.”

According to statistics provided by the Turkish government found in the latest European Union country report published in April 2018, over 78,000 people have been detained under anti-terrorism laws, more than 24,000 of whom remained in pre-trial detention in January 2018.

The post State of emergency in Turkey has ended, but violations still cited appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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Women in danger: spy cameras spreading, women demand action Tue, 24 Jul 2018 10:30:07 +0000 Thousands of Korean women have recently gathered in Seoul to protest against ‘spy cam explicit videos’

The post Women in danger: spy cameras spreading, women demand action appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

An outrageous trend has recently spread across the internet, flooding adult websites with thousands and thousands of videos and photos of women, taken in intimate settings by hidden cameras, set up by owners of public places or male citizens who intentionally take these videos without the women knowing. This kind of content has always existed on the internet; however, the noticeable increase in the number of videos, photos, and the number of women getting harmed by their spread has significantly increased, leading to protests and demands by women who were subject to these violations to stop the spread of this content and have action taken against individuals responsible for such outrageous actions.

The phenomenon is specifically prevailing in Asia, as illicit filming seems to be quickly growing. “Thousands of South Korean women have gathered in Seoul to demand stronger government action to fight the spread of intimate photos and video taken by hidden cameras, which they say has women living in constant anxiety and distress. It was one of the country’s largest female-only protest ever. Demonstrators called for stronger investigations and punishments against male offenders who photograph or film women without their knowledge and post the material online,” BBC News reported.

South Korea has struggled over the years to deal with perpetrators who use tiny cameras or smartphones to film under women’s clothing to see their genitals or underwear. The footage is heavily circulated on illicit pornography websites that have millions of users before police managed to shut down one of these websites back in 2016. An unknown number of similar sites are still running, according to CBS News.

South Korea is one of the few countries to take action, albeit little, against such sexual offences. Under the South Korean law, creating intimate sexual images without consent is punishable by a prison term of up to five years or a fine of up to 10m won ($8,900). Distributing such images for the purpose of profit is punishable by up to seven years in prison or a 30m won ($27,000) fine.

Since 2004, the South Korean government has required smartphones to make large shutter sounds when pictures and videos are taken in order to prevent such crimes, however, the issue remains as specific applications enable users to silence the shutter sound. “Moreover, there is an abundance of miniaturised cameras that can be hidden inside bags, shoes, toilets, or small holes drilled into bathroom walls and doors,” CBS News added.

In China, the case is not much different, as a recent incident was reported on local media about a man who ran an illegal backpackers’ inn in Southwest China detained for spying on female guest as they took a shower. The main was given a nine-day detention after he confessed to spying on young women and was given a ¥500 fine ($75) for operating the guest house without police approval, according to South China Morning Post.

In a similar incident in Hong Kong, recordings of girls changing at an elite secondary school were stored on a shared Google drive folder called “vids for life”, a Chinese court heard, according to South China Morning Post. The convicts were two 16-year old boys who pleaded not guilty before the judges.

“Prosecutors alleged the boys installed hidden GoPro and iPad cameras in two classrooms and two changing rooms, in an offence that spanned six months from September 2016 to 23 March last year. The case involved more than 40 videos and photos. Inside were three subfolders, with videos of schoolgirls changing for sports lessons stored under the names “pool” and “change”, while upskirt footage taken in classrooms was stored in a folder called “under”. Another Google drive was later discovered when teachers gained access to a telegram chat group, in which the members discussed which girls to target.  That drive also contained videos, as well as images named after specific girls. They included a set of videos filmed by cameras placed at the front and back of a classroom that recorded schoolgirls changing for a sports lesson, South China Morning Post reported.

Recently in Wisconsin, USA, a voyeur who attempted filming women’s skirts was injured when the spy camera hidden in his shoe exploded. The 32 year-old man suffered burns on his foot when the camera’s battery exploded before he was able to capture any video, according to The Independent. The man was released after he went to the police station since no illicit videos were taken.

It is noteworthy that upskirting was made a felony offence in Wisconsin in 2015.

Women worldwide are constantly subject to such offences. Unless legal action is taken against the men who committee these actions, the “trend” of spying will only continue to prevail, and women will continue to fight against such shameful acts that harm their rights as equal citizens.

The post Women in danger: spy cameras spreading, women demand action appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? Sun, 22 Jul 2018 11:00:12 +0000 Palestinians continue to face Israeli violations, humanitarian deterioration despite deal’s caring rhetoric

The post ‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

The “deal of the century”, a proposed peace plan between Palestine and Israel led by the Donald Trump administration, remains disputed among Palestinians and Arabs.

But talks around the deal, especially concerning assistance to the Gaza Strip, according to leaked reports, came as a reminder of the deep humanitarian crisis in the besieged strip, which has already been a concern for years.

The internationally deplored situation is further worsened by the constant crackdown across Palestine by Israeli occupation forces. Israel intensified movement restrictions on the strip by closing the Karam Abu Salem crossing, the only channel for entry of goods to Gaza.

The Hamas movement issued a statement on the matter criticising what it called regional and international silence on the siege imposed on Gaza for more than 12 years, adding that such a stance only encouraged the Israeli occupation to continue violating human rights.

A heavy exchange of fire between the strip and Israel followed last week as Egypt interfered to broker a ceasefire. Israeli air raids on Gaza were considered the largest since the 2014 war.

Disaster on verge of Gaza escalation

On 9 July, Israel imposed new restrictions on goods going into Gaza, tightening them further on Monday, to prohibit all goods except medical and food supplies. Fishing along the Gaza coast was also limited to just three nautical miles offshore.

According to media outlets, no fuel will now be allowed to enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday. Israel imposed the measures in response to the flying of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza towards Israel.

“We are steps away from a disastrous deterioration, with potential broad impacts not only on Palestinians in Gaza, but the region,” said UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick in a statement on Tuesday.

The Palestinian group forming the “burning kite unit” has threatened to escalate against Israel if such measures are not lifted by Friday, media reported. Likewise, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly said that the Israeli military was prepared to defeat any enemy during a Tuesday visit to a military exercise in southern Israel simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip.

“Everyone with the ability to improve the situation must take a step back, prevent further escalation, and reduce the suffering of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza,” Goldrick warned.

It has been a decade of difficulty and siege since the Palestinian division in 2007, during which Hamas took control of Gaza.

The humanitarian situation has reached an unprecedented level of deterioration. The Palestinians have been forced to live in poverty, hunger, disease, siege, and rampant unemployment. More destruction is about to come with a new Zionist war on Gaza,” stated Mohamed Abu Samra, a Palestinian intellectual who heads Al-Quds Centre for Studies, Media, and Publishing.

In a Monday column for Arab News, Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, touched upon how the Gaza deadlock will leave no winners on either side.

“The overall policy on Gaza—of all parties, from Israel to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and the international community—is a long and painful exercise in the collective banging of heads against a brick wall,” Doyle argued, adding that the recent re-escalation with Israel should remind Palestinians of the importance of internal reconciliation.

Gaza in proposed deal

Although the US is a key cause adding to the suffering of the people in Gaza, since it slashed its UNRWA funding by half in January and after vetoing an Arab draft resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israel’s excessive use of force against the Great March of Return protesters, the US is now proposing a new Gaza project, which it says should bring necessary funding to the millions of lives it jeopardised.

According to the UN, the humanitarian funding appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory, 70% of which targets Gaza, is only 23% funded. Moreover, $4.5m is urgently needed for emergency fuel, which runs out in early August.

A major part of the suggested solution by Israel, according to what has been leaked about the US-led deal, involves Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on the borders with Gaza, where a port in Al-Arish city is to serve as an alternative for Gaza’s port, explains Abou Samra, and that would make Israelis more comfortable.

Moreover, he pointed to media reports on the US seeking to raise $500bn from Gulf countries for developmental projects to improve the economic situation in Gaza, but to be implemented in Sinai, not Gaza. These projects include the establishment of a power plant to address electricity shortages in the strip to be built in Sinai.

Abou Samra highlighted how the Israeli-US plan depends on a tripartite exchange of lands: Egypt would give up about 770 sqm for the Palestinians to resettle, the West Bank would give up about 12% of its land to Israel in exchange for that same portion to be extended to Gaza, and finally Israel is to give Egypt equivalent land in the south-western Naqab in Wadi Firan.

All of this, however, remains rejected by Egypt for the parts that concern it, and many Palestinians who view it as a pressure tool to end the Palestinian cause demanding historic rights to return to their lands and their right to an independent state according to the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Palestinian dailies said that thousands of Palestinians participated in a rally in the northern West Bank city of Nablus to voice their rejection of US President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, dubbed the “deal of the century”, and support for President Mahmoud Abbas, WAFA Palestine news agency reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Israeli violations continue

Israeli drones carried out airstrikes hitting two sites in the northern besieged Gaza Strip on Monday afternoon, in addition to targeting another group of incendiary kite-flyers Palestinians in Beit Hanoun town, but no injuries were reported, according to Maan News.

Israel’s recent airstrike on Gaza killed at least two teenagers.

Israeli forces Wednesday conducted multiple predawn raids across the West Bank, detaining a total of 29 Palestinians, WAFA said.

One day earlier, the Israeli military authorities seized 120 dunums of Palestinian land in the southern West Bank town of Al-Khader, Ahmad Salah, a local activist, was quoted as saying by WAFA, adding that the army left notices on the targeted land informing its owners that they have 45 days to object to the military order seizing their land.

On Monday, WAFA reported that Israeli settlers destroyed on Monday crops in the southern West Bank town of Al-Khader, south of Bethlehem, after they ran over them with their vehicle, according to the landowner.

Palestinians are also still suffering from wounds of May protests, which left over a hundred protesters dead and thousands injured. A young Palestinian man identified as 20-year-old Sari Daoud Shoubaki, who was shot and seriously injured by Israeli gunfire, during protests on 14 May at the borders with Israel, died on Tuesday of his wounds, according to the Ministry of Health.

Earlier in July, the Israeli army destroyed a pool in Jordan Valley, which residents gathered water from for drinking. Moreover, on Thursday, Israeli forces raided a village in the area destroying 400 meters of water pipelines.

The post ‘Deal of the century’: troubled or dead? appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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New disputed decree to restrain future of musical concerts, festivals in Egypt Sat, 21 Jul 2018 10:00:41 +0000 ‘Gesture destroys musical activity inside Egypt,’ says researcher, lawyer

The post New disputed decree to restrain future of musical concerts, festivals in Egypt appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

Egypt’s new government has abruptly approved a controversial decree that may restrain the future of organising concerts and festivals inside the country, adding more restrictions and burdens on musicians and emerging bands.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and acting housing minister on Thursday 12 July ordered the prevention of organising and holding concerts and festivals before upholding a permit from a committee formed of eight ministries.

The committee, headed by Minister of Culture Inas Abdel Dayem, includes representatives of ministries of interior, foreign affairs, culture, tourism, antiquities, local development, finance, and youth and sports.

It also involves heads of arts and cultural syndicates, a representative of the cabinet, and a number of experts in distinct fields of culture and arts.

The decree, which was published in the official gazette, identifies the concerts and festivals as “all cultural and artistic (events or gatherings), whether they are local or international, which are held by state-run or non-governmental bodies with an aim at boosting creativity and maintaining the Egyptian identity.”    

According to Article 5 of the decree, if a body organises a festival, it has to have the required permits to run its business. Moreover, its capital has to exceed EGP 500,000 with an Egyptian owner.

Meanwhile, Article 6 demands the bodies to represent its requests during June every year with all required documents and details, including the name of the organisation holding the concerts or festivals, the kinds of the activities and their aims, sources of funding, and a detailed budget of the concert. It also requires information and data of the audiences, whether they are Egyptians or foreigners.

“This is a very dangerous decision, which completely violates the Egyptian Constitution and law, especially Article 76, which regulates the freedom of creativity inside the country,” Mahmoud Othman, a researcher and lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, told Daily News Egypt.

According to Article 76 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution, “Freedom of cultural and artistic activities is granted, as the state is committed to developing the arts and culture and support artists as well as protecting their activities.”

Moreover, the culture minister has the right, under the decision, to reject issuing a permit to any concert or festival which does not “aim at boosting creativity, maintaining the Egyptian identity, enhancing sustainable economic and social development, or promoting cultural exchange between Egypt and other countries across the world.”

Othman, who is preparing a research paper on the new gesture, said that it has some legal issues and missed clarifying some significant points.

“The gesture does not identify the period of the timetables the organisers should be committed to until getting their permits,” Othman said, adding, “Additionally, it does not mention, in the case of rejection, what will happen next? Will there be a chance to appeal the refusal and which entity the organisers should resort to?”

The renowned film critic and writer Tarek El Shennawi also expressed his concern about the gesture, which he described as “exaggerated.”

“The state is becoming more cautious about individual activities, which leads to imposing more limitations on performing and practising artistic or cultural activities,” El Shennawi told Daily News Egypt.

El Shennawi stressed that “it has to be a space of freedom and creativity, whereby the state should not be concerned that much about individual activities.”

However, El Shennawi does not mind setting rules for the process of organising festivals inside the country, but he considered a committee of eight ministries is more than required. “Indeed, there are some organisers who hold festivals only for profit without any cultural motives, but it does not need this number of ministries and officials.”

The gesture has not identified the kind of concerts which will need a permit and whether it will further include the small ones, which are held inside nightclubs or private cultural centres.

Commenting on this, El Shennawi said he believes the decree targets large concerts, not the small ones which are held in private artistic centres.

However, Othman said that not clarifying this point is another “missing point in the gesture,” adding, “it harms musicians and emerging bands who already suffer from troubles while working inside the country, as well as burden them with other bureaucratic measures instead of supporting them.”

In recent years, Egypt’s cultural scene has witnessed significant restrictions, as some concerts were cancelled, stopped, or prevented from performing again.

In September last year, outrage sparked over raising rainbow flags during a concert of the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. Dozens of audiences accused of holding flags were arrested on charges of inciting “debauchery” and “promoting homosexuality.”

Afterwards, the Musicians’ Syndicate decided to prevent the Lebanese band from singing inside the country—the decision many critics considered another procedure by the state to limit the freedom of expression and practising cultural activities that are different from the state’s perspective.

Earlier in 2016, police forces stopped a heavy metal concert of popular Brazilian band Sepultura in Sheikh Zayed after storming their place and suspending the performance despite holding the required permissions.

Musicians are already facing difficulties inside Egypt, Othman said, “instead of issuing such gesture, which violates the freedom of expression and thought, the government should have sat down with musicians to solve their problems and ease performing concerts,” adding, “the gesture really destroys the musical activity inside Egypt.”

Meanwhile, another issue about the decision, according to Othman, is setting an annual timetable for festivals, which just permits holding a one-kind festival for one time in each governate.

“This means that Cairo, for example, will witness the jazz festival for one time, while it can be held in other cities,” said Othman, adding, “which they are not ready to host such huge festivals because of lacking required facilities.”

Othman moved on to say that the gesture stated that just organisations and companies are willing to take permits to hold concerts or festivals, which dashes hopes of “young individual musicians or emerging ambitious bands in getting their chance.” 

Additionally, Othman further pointed to the “gravity” of Article 6 of the decree, which requires submitting information and data on audiences of concerts or festivals, whether they are Egyptian or foreigners. “It is an unusual move, which raises privacy concerns.”

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Best countries to start business in: US, Switzerland, Japan on list Tue, 17 Jul 2018 10:30:22 +0000 Connectedness to rest of world, availability of a skilled, educated workforce, developed infrastructure, a well-developed legal framework, easy access to capital are all important factors in country to start a business in

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Starting a business can be a big issue for investors and entrepreneurs who may have a wide array of choices that may be very confusing, but also have many things to consider when they start their activity. Whether online or brick and mortar, there are things to look out for to ensure that the business to be started will not be destined to fail. Certain countries are easier than others for start-ups to get off the ground.

There have been many surveys conducted over the past period to determine the factors necessary in a country to start a business. The US News and World Report recently ranked the best countries for entrepreneurs based on several factors. These included connectedness to the rest of the world, availability of a skilled and educated workforce, developed infrastructure, a well-developed legal framework, and easy access to capital.

Five countries, according to the report, were ranked as the best in terms of starting a business. Talks were held with entrepreneurs in each of these five countries to uncover the benefits that a business gets from them, the BBC reported.

Germany was on the list, being the world’s fourth largest economy and the largest in Europe. The country has a well-educated workforce, in addition to policies that are rather start-up friendly. Germany has many cities that are deemed important economic hubs, such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, and Hamburg.

Japan is also on the list, and to many, the country is on the verge of a major cultural shift. Additionally, the Japanese economy’s core is Tokyo, the city that makes it easier for foreigners to make professional connections and provides many global opportunities for people to be involved and connected to one another. English is spreading in Tokyo to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games, which eventually works out for the best of the businesses and start-ups in the city.

The United States of America is also one of the best five countries for starting business. “While many recent successful tech start-ups are headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley, New York City, and other US metros harbour their fair share of start-ups. Because the US has a fairly uniform culture and a large market, scaling nationwide is easy here,” said Wen-Wen Lam, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based travel management platform NexTravel, according to BBC.

Business in the United Kingdom is easy in terms of getting financing. The UK managed to attract over £4bn in investments, which is the largest amount of venture capital of all European countries; however, the high costs of housing in London can be a struggle for business owners and potential employees.

Even though Switzerland has a lack of natural resources, it invests greatly in research and development to make sure its economy grows, which has resulted in creating a better environment for businesses. The country has a rather friendly regulatory environment and business-friendly tax rates, in addition to a distinct location in Europe.

Online business specifically requires a certain environment, and according to World First’s list of the best countries to start an online business in, Denmark, Singapore, US, Switzerland, and South Korea are the top countries.

Denmark has a small population of six million people. It has a strong market economy. Some of the largest companies there are Lego, Zendesk, Trustpilot, and Siteimprove.

Singapore has low business taxes and a favourable location in the heart of Asia. It has become a favourite base for companies looking for a gateway to Asian markets, including China.

As for South Korea, the country has high-speed internet connectivity. This country’s infrastructure is unparalleled. “South Korea is the world leader in broadband and boasts the fastest average internet connection speed of any country in the world. Additionally, about 92% of its population are internet users,” World First reported.

For the decision to start a business, there is a lot to consider, but looking at the indexes of the best countries for start-ups and businesses, things may be made a lot easier for business owners, and more doors are yet to be opened. 

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Investigation must be conducted for possible war crimes in Yemen: rights groups Tue, 17 Jul 2018 10:00:45 +0000 Human rights groups have called for an extensive investigation for possible war crimes in Yemen, accusing the US-allied United Arab Emirates (UAE) of engaging in “systemic enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment amounting to war crimes.” Amnesty International said that “justice remains elusive a year after a network of secret prisons was first exposed …

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Human rights groups have called for an extensive investigation for possible war crimes in Yemen, accusing the US-allied United Arab Emirates (UAE) of engaging in “systemic enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment amounting to war crimes.”

Amnesty International said that “justice remains elusive a year after a network of secret prisons was first exposed in southern Yemen.” In a new report published last week, it detailed how scores of men have allegedly been subjected to forced disappearance after being arbitrarily arrested and detained by the UAE and Yemeni forces operating outside the command of their own government. Many have been tortured, with some feared to have died in custody, the group anticipates.

“The families of these detainees find themselves in an endless nightmare, where their loved ones have been forcibly disappeared by the UAE-backed forces. When they demand to know where their loved ones are held, or if they are even still alive, their requests are met with silence or intimidation,” said Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at Amnesty International.

Scores of detainees have been released in recent weeks, including a few of the disappeared. But this comes after extended periods of being held without charges, in some cases up to two years, highlighting the need for holding perpetrators to account and ensuring remedy for the victims.

Amnesty International investigated the cases of 51 men detained by these forces between March 2016 and May 2018 in the Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramawt, and Shabwa governorates. Most of the cases involved forced disappearance, and 19 of these men remain missing. The organisation interviewed 75 people, including former detainees, relatives of those still missing, activists, and government officials.

Families of the detainees told Amnesty International about their desperate search for information. Mothers, wives, and sisters of those forcibly disappeared have been holding protests for nearly two years now, making the rounds between government and prosecution offices, security departments, prisons, coalition bases, and various entities handling human rights complaints.

“Ultimately, these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes. Both the Yemeni and UAE governments should take immediate steps to end them and provide answers to the families whose husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons are missing,” said Hassan.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia announced forming the Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen after the Ansar Allah group, known as the Houthis, which is backed by Iran, seized control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September 2014.

“The UAE’s counter-terrorism partners, including the USA, must also take a stand against allegations of torture, including by investigating the role of the US personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen, and by refusing to use information that was likely obtained through torture or other ill-treatment,” Hassan.

More than 1 million people have been infected with cholera since April 2017, the UN official noted, adding that diphtheria was on the rise for the first time since 1982.

On top of the public health crisis, more than 22 million people need food assistance, including 8.4 million who are on the verge of severe hunger, according to UN figures.

More than 15,000 people have been killed and thousands more have been injured since 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive against the Houthis and their allies, aimed at supporting the internationally-recognised government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Human rights groups have accused both sides of atrocities, including targeting combatants in civilian areas.

On 5 December 2017, rebel fighters from the Houthi militia blew up the residence of and killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the centre of Sanaa.

Saleh was a former ally of the Houthis, but turned against the rebel group in favour of the Saudi coalition. On 2 December 2017, he formally broke his alliance with the Houthis, leading his troops to lose ground in violent guerrilla fighting with his former allies. He publicly voiced his support for the Saudi-led coalition two days before his assassination.

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