Books and Documents

World Press (31 Oct 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Gender Equality Still a Far Cry

New Age Islam Edit Bureau


30 October 2017


Palestinian reconciliation ... anew!

By Hussein Shobokshi

Complicity in the sexual abuse of women is built in to the heart of our politics

Suzanne Moore

Stop letting powerful men silence victims with confidentiality agreements

By Brad Hoylman

Little value of human Life

The Daily Star Net

"Khamarbari"— destruction of a heritage site

By Adnan Morshed

Prolonging the Rohingya crisis will work to China's disadvantage

By Ruby Amatulla

Egypt’s capital expenditure is in the wrong place

By Mohammed Nosseir

How Israel exports its oppression to America

By Ramzy Baroud

What is behind Iran's war on the BBC?

By Massoumeh Torfeh

Syria: Should Astana negotiations be expanded?

By Christian Chesnot

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau

URL: http://newageislam.com/world-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/gender-equality-still-a-far-cry/d/113078



Gender equality still a far cry

By Hala Al-Qahtani Al-Watan

SURFING on the waves in the shores of oceans is not an art that can be done by anyone, but it’s a skill and passion that requires hard work and continuous training to learn how to stand up on surfboard with balance before thinking about riding the waves. Repeated attempts will make a person a professional surfer.

We know that an official would not be able to achieve his department’s objectives by just placing the vision slogan on the walls of his office. We have seen that the slogan will be something and the reality on the ground will be something else.

We do not deny that in the last few years most ministries in the Kingdom have changed their policies and programs to improve their performance but some of them announced the results of those changes before achieving their goals.

No ministry can achieve its objectives without focusing on the size and strength of its human resources, without knowing their strengths and weaknesses and without making use of their wasted energies through reforms. Measures should be taken to improve the condition of employees through financial incentives and providing them with peace of mind to perform their tasks efficiently with creativity.

No official should expect excellent performance of employees by placing the vision’s banner in every corner of the company. It is also inappropriate for a minister to inaugurate a program or project that was already inaugurated by a former minister. For example, we know very well that former health minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah launched the first phase of the Health Service Center (937) in 2013. About seven months ago, the new health minister inaugurated the same center after it was shifted to a new building.

During the publicity campaign, the media should have mentioned that the ministry has developed an existing service center instead of giving the impression that it was altogether a new project initiated by the new minister. The media should have explained the new facilities and services offered by the center to win public satisfaction. This is essential to remove doubts about new projects.

Last week, we read the news of justice minister inaugurating commercial courts. We know such courts existed in the Kingdom for decades. I wish the ministry of justice had clarified the aspects of modernization it introduced on commercial courts to prevent sending a wrong message to society and the world that such courts were launched for the first time in the country.

Ministries and government departments have been competing with one another in appointing women to leadership positions without considering whether their specializations and professional experience matched the ministry's nature of work. There is no explanation for this wrong trend except giving prominence to women having social weight. The ministries and departments believed that the placement of these women would enhance their reputation and they did not specify the responsibilities of these women leaders. Some departments have justified appointment of women as part of efforts to realize Vision 2030. But most of these women are inexperienced like surfers who do not know how to venture into shallow waters.

For the last two years Saudi Arabia has been working to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015. The goals are as follows: 1. No poverty 2. Zero hunger 3. Good health and well-being 4. Quality education 5. Gender equality 6. Clean water and sanitation 7. Affordable and clean energy 8. Decent work and economic growth 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure 10. Reduced inequalities 11. Sustainable cities and communities 12. Responsible consumption and production 13. Climate action 14. Life below water 15. Life on land 16. Peace, justice and strong institutions and 17. Partnerships for the goals.

The SDGs include gender equality in jobs, salaries and other civil rights. Saudi Arabia agreed to realize this objective and it has been working in this direction. If the ministries had understood these goals well, they would have appointed highly qualified and experienced women in such leadership positions.

Riding the wave requires professionalism, courage and quick thinking and action. Not just placing the vision slogan on office walls. We know that many officials who have decorated their offices with vision slogan have refused to recognize that female employees have the same right to training and salary like their male counterparts.

Some of these officials also refuse to accept that women’s work in a mixed atmosphere represents lack of decency and that begging in the street is better for them than working with men to earn a decent living. Those officials who have such thoughts would drown in an inch of water even if they pretend professionalism.



Palestinian reconciliation ... anew!

By Hussein Shobokshi

Finally, the Palestinians reconcile with Fatah and Hamas agreeing to unite. I do not know how many times have they joined forces but the important aspect is they are reconciling. Egypt had put all its political weight and pressed the parties to reach a settlement. Now everyone has his hand on his heart for fear of failure of this agreement as many of the earlier agreements on rapprochement has failed. The situation of Palestinian inter-factional conflict is a sad picture of the most important and noblest issue in the Arab world.

Instead of talking about salvation from occupation, the talk was about trying to find a solution between the fighting Palestinian forces. I do not know anyone who would appreciate and imagine the extent of pain and suffering of the Palestinians, who are bearing the great injustices of the Israeli occupation. But it is also necessary to recall here the political folly committed by the Palestinian leadership and the high cost the Palestinians have paid.

The foolishness and mistakes began since the sin of Black September and the attempted coup against the regime in Jordan, followed by the biggest folly in Lebanon, which was the cause of the outbreak of civil war, and then belonging to the Assad regime (the criminal regime that killed Palestinians more than Israel camp wars in Lebanon).

However, the Palestinian leadership did not dare to condemn this, and only denounced the massacre of Sabra and Shatila and accused Israel and the Lebanese battalions. After this black history of the Assad regime and its allies, the follies of political Palestinian continued with Hamas joining Hezbollah and Iran.

Hamas continued its political follies to cooperate with the coup regime in Qatar, by becoming a tool for it, and antagonizing the Egyptian government, which historically has provided the Palestinians support. Egyptian soldiers have been wounded and martyred over the years in Palestine battles more than Qatar’s population itself. Hamas has not only resorted to political hooliganism, but has dealt explicitly with terrorist factions to kill Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai and to smuggle arms. Over the past years, some Palestinian factions have been tools in the hands of crazy rulers and regimes such as Muammar Qaddafi, Bashar Al-Assad and Saddam Hussein.

Some factions have been employed to carry out the dirtiest of operations. This has harmed the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people. Today it is seen in their promotion to the Palestinian people that Qatar and Assad and Hassan Nasrallah and Iran are allies, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are its enemies, and this act is not innocent. It is clear today the biggest enemy of the Palestinian cause is the Palestinian political foolishness that has cost the noblest issue dear.

As described before, no one can imagine the magnitude of the suffering and the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people under a brutal, unjust and bloody occupation. But there is moral and humanitarian responsibility for the Palestinian politicians to bear and recognize that they have become a contributor in a clear tragedy of the Palestinian people. It is no longer believable when they blame others. Perhaps, this latest reconciliation between the Palestinian factions is a last chance, for if the Palestinian politicians do not fully understand their interests and priorities, no one else would.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on October 29, 2017.

Hussein Shobokshi is a Businessman and prominent columnist. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, he was chosen as one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa. His twitter handle is @husseinshoboksh.



Complicity in the sexual abuse of women is built in to the heart of our politics

By Suzanne Moore

30 October 2017

In an enormous effort to enter the modern age, Westminster and much of the sycophantic media that buoys it up appears to have progressed to the 1970s. While the rest of us are discussing rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in every workplace following the Weinstein “revelations”, in the parallel world of politics there is talk of “sex pests”, “high jinks” and the pathetic nature of women who cannot bat away clumsy passes.

The way that senior Tories and the provisional wing of the Mens’ Rights Movement that is called the Today programme deals with all this, precisely reveals the structural nature of the problem. Michael Gove thought he could go on BBC Radio 4 and make a joke about Weinstein who, let’s not forget, has been accused of rape. Then this morning, the Today programme has Anne Robinson talking of the “fragility of the women who are unable to deal with the treachery of the workplace”.

Actually what is emerging is the incredible tenacity of many female politicians and staff who have worked in an environment in which when a woman stands up to speak, men make gestures about breasts. This has long been considered “just the way it is”. I was astonished even in 2005 to bump into David Davis, currently doing a turn as Britain’s top cheeky diplomat, walking around Tory party conference with women wearing T-shirts with “It’s DD for me” emblazoned across their chests. Hilarious?

When I first went to Westminster, I was told, as many female journalists were, to wear a short skirt, stand in the central lobby and catch the eye of male MPs if I wanted to get “a story”. I didn’t, nor did I understand the culture of lunching.

The archaic ways of the Palace of Westminster are well-known. Many become so institutionalised, including the embedded lobby journalists, that they are not questioned. So researchers, staff, assistants are all subject to harassment by men whose “wives don’t understand them” or with whom they don’t live most of the time. Contrary to Robinson’s position, this is not just about the “fragility” of women. Young men too are harassed by men.

The resigned air – that there will always be ambitious young people and those in power over them, rather like the film industry – is not enough of a response. Theresa May’s attempt to establish an independent mediation service following calls from John Mann and Sarah Champion is necessary. But there is already legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace, though it is incredibly hard to deal with when coming from your boss in a small office. Fears of not working again are real. But this is crunch time. More action is needed.

Indeed, the prime minister may have to sack some of her own ministers. By referring wrongdoing to the Cabinet Office, Labour has accused her of washing her hands of the affair. Surely Stephen Crabb, who sent explicit text messages to a 19-year-old who came for a interview, and the dildo collector Mark Garnier, who asked his secretary to buy sex toys, will have to go. Of course, allegations will emerge about Labour MPs too and the Liberal Democrats have their baggage that was never dealt with properly. Think of the allegations against Lord Rennard.

The lists currently circulating, the Benny Hill language in which harassment is described as “handsy with women at parties”, none of this is exactly a revelation to anyone who has been near Westminster and its bars. Indeed the opposite is true. It has been so acceptable, so much part of this environment, that this information is known and used by party whips to keep these harassers in line.

Katie Perrior, once May’s head of communications, said that this information was kept away from the prime minister but used to enforce party discipline. In other words, information about the abuse of women is used for the benefit of the party: “You will vote in a certain way or we will tell your wife what you’ve been up to.” Complicity with such abuse of power is built into this system.

For a long, long time certain men have taken such complicity for granted. But something is changing. Women are speaking out. These men are not sex “pests”, they are elected representatives exploiting their positions of power. If disrespect for women is tolerated at the heart of government, it will be tolerated everywhere. Who wants to live in such a place?

• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist



Stop letting powerful men silence victims with confidentiality agreements

By Brad Hoylman

30 October 2017

Each day seemingly brings new revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s three decades of alleged sexual assaults, harassment and sleazy come-ons. As the victims continue to stream forward, we’re left wondering: how did he get away with it for so long?

One thing seems clear. Ultimately, if not for the bravery of his victims coming forward, Weinstein, who has denied allegations made against him, would have continued.

At least eight of the dozens of women he allegedly harassed not only had to endure the terror, confusion and humiliation as a consequence of Weinstein’s misconduct, but also were convinced to sign agreements drafted to protect Weinstein’s reputation by keeping them quiet. In consideration, they received hush money, but in the process they signed away important legal protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Silence is acquired. But at what cost? Silence begets more silence, giving predators the license to prey on new victims with little or no consequence. At the same time, accusers who speak up are ousted through settlements, often leaving their unknowing colleagues behind to become victims themselves.

This vicious cycle must stop.

When it comes to sexual assault and harassment, there should be no such thing as an open secret. Confidentiality agreements can play a legitimate role in business, protecting intellectual property, strategy and finances, but they should never be used to cover up illegal behavior like we’re seeing alleged in the Weinstein case. Moreover, employees should never be forced to sign away their rights. After all, what’s the point of strong labor laws if employees can’t take advantage of them?

Weinstein is certainly not the first powerful executive to prey on his employees. Nor is he the first to silence employees who threaten to reveal his incriminating and abusive behavior. As we’ve seen most recently with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, non-disclosure agreements serve to institutionalize labor abuses at workplaces and allow employers to sweep allegations of wrongdoing under the rug.

For Weinstein and Fox News, both located in my senate district, settlement payouts seem to have been the cost of doing business.

In response, I’m introducing legislation in New York to ensure alleged predators like Weinstein, Ailes and O’Reilly can no longer negotiate the silence of their victims. Under my legislation, which I carry with Queens assemblywoman Nily Rozic, contracts that conceal abuse or waive an employee’s legal rights or remedies relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment would be deemed “unconscionable, void and unenforceable”.

As long as we allow the Harvey Weinsteins of the world to pay off victims in exchange for silence, we leave all employees vulnerable. Eliminating shady confidentiality clauses would help ensure fair labor standards, prevent workplace hazards and misconduct, and protect employee rights.

Settlement agreements with confidentiality clauses are another example of the power imbalance that fuels sexual harassment in the workplace. They serve predators and facilitators – and no one else.

In a system that too often vilifies victims and harbors powerful abusers at the expense of the safety and rights of employees, New York must declare once and for all that we won’t accept “open secrets” as the norm in any industry.

Senator Brad Hoylman is a Democrat representing Manhattan in the New York state senate



Little value of human Life

The Daily Star Net

October 31, 2017

In what is sadly, no longer a surprising incident, Aziza, a student of class V, was allegedly set on fire over the allegation of stealing a mobile phone in Khainput village, Shibpur upazila, Narsingdi, on Friday night. She died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) on Saturday morning. Aziza Begum was set on fire allegedly by her aunt for ostensibly "stealing a mobile phone".

The killers of Aziza have been rightly condemned by a parliamentary body that suggested that the government ensure exemplary punishment for them. The promptness in acknowledgement and condemnation of the incident is admirable. However, acknowledgement and condemnation are no longer doing enough to change the situation. In line with the parliamentary body's suggestion, we would also like to insist on an exemplary punishment for Aziza's killers. However, it is not only Aziza that has suffered this fate. The Daily Star reported an arrest of two people on October 27, at Char Shafipur Haat of Barisal's Muladi for torturing a boy accusing him of, again, "stealing a mobile phone".  Heinous incidents such as this should have no place in society.

Violence against children has become rampant in Bangladesh. Aziza's death is a testament to how little society has come to value life.  In addition to strengthening rules and laws, we must also ask ourselves what values are we promoting in society that assigns such little value to human life? It is unacceptable that a society where things are valued more than people is perpetuated. We hope that Aziza's killers are duly punished and simultaneously zero tolerance of abuse of children, the most vulnerable in society, is practised. In turn, ethical codes that allow us to assign appropriate value to human life should be instilled in our moral compass.



"Khamarbari"— destruction of a heritage site

By Adnan Morshed

October 31, 2017

Imagine yourself in the year 1905. Governor General Lord Curzon has just implemented the Partition of Bengal. Curzon Hall and the Supreme Court were yet to be built.

East Bengal was predominantly rural, mostly a collection of villages. Not much was going on in this part of Bengal. The areas around present day Farmgate, Indira Road and Agargaon were predominantly vast tracts of paddy fields with almost no buildings. This was the northern fringe of the city.

In that rural landscape, a two storied red brick colonial building was built, to house scientific agricultural research. This building later became known as "Khamarbari". The building was not as spectacular as Curzon Hall or the Supreme Court. Yet, the building's historic significance lay in heralding not only the beginning of institutionalised scientific research on agriculture, but also a culture of research in general in East Bengal. Lest we forget, the establishment of the University of Dhaka was still 15 years away (it was established in 1921).

Khamarbari is the site of many agricultural innovations. Among many other innovations, the paddy "Najirshail" was invented here. The building's architectural features include characteristic colonial red brick, verandas that serve as transitional spaces between the indoor and the outdoor, oblong multi-bay plan, and many other details derived from both Mughal and European architectural sources.

Recently, the Public Works Department (PWD) has claimed that the building was unsafe and its structural integrity compromised. Without any expert consultation, the PWD unilaterally decided that the building should face the wrecker's ball. Despite a massive public outcry and protest from heritage advocacy groups, design professionals, environmentalist and civil society members, the demolition crews started to take down the building brick by brick.

This is outrageous and unacceptable. A nation that is not sensitive to its heritage is a nation suffering from cultural poverty. Culturally rich cities around the world are preserving their cultural patrimony with utmost care. A building may not be architecturally spectacular but it may present rich histories of a nation's evolution. Any sensible community will preserve heritage buildings as a way to showcase the people's progress.

Examples abound. Consider New York City's High Line Project. The High Line presents a fascinating story. It was an elevated freight train track, built in the late 1920s in Manhattan, New York City. The elevated track allowed freight trains to bring goods from the port to the warehouses in downtown Manhattan. In the 1980s, the nature of storing goods in the city changed. The train track was soon abandoned. In the early 2000s, the city decided to knock it down as it was deemed unsafe and a hindrance to new development. But the local community, led by two enlightened activists, organised an all-out campaign to preserve this industrial relic, even though it was not a spectacular piece infrastructure or architecture.

A design competition was organised and New Yorkers soon witnessed the birth of a beautiful, elevated urban park. Today, the High Line Project is one of the most visited sites in New York city.

In Bangladesh we have failed on multiple heritage frontiers. We failed to identify what is important culturally, socially and aesthetically. When it comes to heritage preservation in this country, we live in an absurdly bureaucratised world of mindless list-making. If a building is on the list, the building lives. If it is not, it dies. What are the criteria for making that list in the first place? Who make that list and based on what?

We need a sea change in how we deal with our cultural history. A body of historic preservation experts, comprising members from various disciplines, should research, deliberate, and present a reasoned policy to the public forum as to why certain buildings deserve to be preserved for the present and the future.

We, the civil society, strongly condemn the barbaric destruction of Khamarbari which, not only pioneered scientific agricultural research during the Bengal Partition but also offered an architectural gateway, Farmgate, to a vast experimental agricultural zone in the city.

The destruction of Khamarbari is no less a cultural suicide. When will we ever learn from history?

Adnan Morshed, PhD, is an architect, architectural historian, and urbanist, and currently serving as Chairperson of the Department of Architecture at BRAC University. He is the author of Impossible Heights: Skyscrapers, Flight, and the Master Builder (2015) and Oculus: A Decade of Insights in Bangladeshi Affairs (2012). He can be reached at amorshed@bracu.ac.bd.

Md Samiur Rahman Bhuiyan and Tasmia Kamal Proma who teach at the Department of Architecture, BRAC University contributed in this article.



Prolonging the Rohingya crisis will work to China's disadvantage

By Ruby Amatulla

October 31, 2017

The Rohingya crisis, if not resolved soon, may haunt the entire Southeast Asian region. And China is a critical player in all this. It is in China's best interest as well as that of the region to bring about a sustainable conflict resolution without losing any time.

Once the ARSA resistance gains momentum and links up with international terrorist networks there would be a real threat of radicalisation in this region. The difficult terrain of mountains and forests is most suitable to sustain long-term guerilla warfare both against Myanmar and China, and that would be extremely costly to endure. Prominent military generals have conceded that there is no military solution to neutralising radicalised groups. The deep-rooted issues that give rise to them must be addressed.

If the past is any reference, ignoring the causes of radicalisation has fuelled the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. Since 9/11, instead of addressing the grievances and injustices, the Western powers undertook a military strategy called the War on Terror to quell rebellion. The strategy has failed even after spending hundreds of billions of dollars for over a decade. Terrorism has increased many folds since then.

Tunisia has proved that a conflict resolution is the most powerful deterrent against radicalisation and violence. As the previously conflicting groups came together to establish a functioning democracy, a polarised and confrontational society became more pluralistic and tolerant. The case of neighbouring Nepal is an example of that constructive process and so is El Salvador in the 1990s. The Balkans have a similar story.

China is the biggest stakeholder in this turmoil. A radicalised region is going to be a major roadblock for China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as to maintain the gas-oil pipelines carrying 80 percent of China's imports that come from the Middle East and Africa.

For a peaceful, stable region nothing short of a comprehensive approach is going to work. That means Myanmar should take Rohingyas back, giving them full citizenship status, respecting their rights and dignity under the supervision of the international community. Rohingyas need to be rehabilitated, their homes rebuilt and their lives restored.

A few isolated terrorist attacks were used as an excuse to commit crimes against humanity and unleash a campaign of ethnic cleansing on the entire Rohingya population. Satellite imageries have confirmed that many areas of Rakhine were burned to ashes. Countless Rohingyas have lost everything they had. The horrible tales of torture and persecution, family members being killed in front of their very eyes and babies thrown into fire in front of mothers, have been echoed from one end of the vast refugee camps to the other.

This crisis indeed is going to be a stain on the leadership of China and other countries for a long time to come. Even a drop of conscience should compel Chinese policymakers to act responsibly for about one million refugees—according to the most recent UN assessment—are living in dire and desperate conditions in Bangladesh, a poor country itself.

Looking back, when Rakhine residents including Rohingyas revealed the damages they faced due to the Chinese gas-oil pipeline project (from Rakhine to Yunnan province of China), had China given the local residents fair compensation for the expropriated lands for China's pipeline project, things might have turned out differently. The compensations for Rakhine residents would have been only a tiny fraction of the enormous benefit China would receive every year by bringing in gas and oil through Rakhine instead of through the distant Strait of Malacca and the risky South China Sea.

A stable and developed Rakhine would have been conducive to China's expressed greater vision of the regional developments in which China would remain an indispensable and dominant player. The possibility of a win-win state of affairs was nipped in the bud. Now, a costly quagmire in the form of a mega humanitarian crisis has emerged.

How costly can it become? China does not need to go far to look for an answer. The story of Vietnam is good enough. More than half a century ago, if America had spent USD 500 million to help build the infrastructure of Vietnam (then an American ally) after the World War II devastation, and addressed the economic crisis the Vietnamese were facing, as was suggested by an expert and American official posted then in Vietnam and as Ho Chi Minh himself was eager to work with America at that time, the entire Vietnam war could have been avoided. Instead, the American leadership abandoned the path of helping others who needed it most—the path advocated both by President Woodrow Wilson in the 1920s and Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1940s to help build a peaceful and progressive world—and embarked on a path of prejudice, cynicism and military confrontation. The vigorous persuasion of the vested interests, the military industrial complex, and the neoconservatives using fear-mongering has helped derail the decision-making process of the superpower. The consequence: a futile war that took about 55,000 American lives, killed over one million people in the region, and cost American taxpayers 2,000 times (USD 1 trillion in 2011 valuation) that of the meagre USD 500 million that was to be given to help Vietnam. The trust and political capital that this sum of money could have earned at that time would have brought about new heights of America's position in the world and a paradigm shift in our time. A golden opportunity was squandered in the early 1950s, which, if used, could have brought the Cold War to an end much sooner. Moreover, it could have achieved many of the foreign policy goals at the fraction of the price the US paid later.

This is the price for deviating from principles, for ignoring the sufferings of a people, and for having the arrogance to think that military power is going to fix everything. China and Myanmar today have a lot to learn from America's blunder.

Ruby Amatulla is Executive Director of the US-based Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress, and the Bangladesh-based Women for Good Governance.



Egypt’s capital expenditure is in the wrong place

By Mohammed Nosseir

31 October 2017

Egypt’s decision to build a new administrative capital has been condemned not only by citizens who are emotionally attached to the historical capital, Cairo, but also by urban development experts. Building the new city (planned to be approximately twice the size of Cairo) will not only devour a significant part of the national budget, it is also an expression of the government’s vision and the way it is using the budget to replace historic buildings (the parliament, cabinet office, mosques, churches, etc.) with new premises distinguished only by their size.

Boosting the Egyptian people’s morale is the justification often offered by the government for projects that fail to measure up to initial expectations. The question is, should the government be working on raising the morale of a nation where over a quarter of the population is living below the poverty line, or should it reallocate its budget to the critical needs of Egyptians, such as health care and education?

Whether a nation is wealthy or poor is of little importance when it comes to being mature concerning investment and expenditure policies. A developing nation that is by default overwhelmed by plenty of challenges should give much thought to its return on investment before undertaking any project, prioritizing its expenditures based on its citizens’ real and immediate needs. We should have raised the question of whether developing a new luxury city for a tiny wealthy minority is essential, or whether it would be better to allocate the money to meeting some of the needs of the deprived majority of Egyptians.

As Egypt builds a new administrative capital, 45 kilometers from downtown Cairo, most advanced nations have been working on offering public services online to reduce the number of their government employees. Egypt’s seven million government employees (roughly a third of the national workforce) are known for their low productivity and modest earnings. Do we expect them to move to the new luxury administrative city, or does the government intend to further expand the ranks of its employees by hiring more?

In Egypt, we tend to focus on the cherry on top of the cake without truly considering the quality of the cake itself, convinced that the cherry alone will attract enough customers. The inauguration of a luxury hotel in the new administrative capital while the city is still under construction is an example of this tendency. Our nation is blessed with hundreds of kilometers of seafront and a river over 1,000km long; if we want to build a luxury hotel, it should obviously be where tourists and businessmen will be eager to stay — on the banks of the Nile or on one of our many beachfronts.

Evidently, developing nations are not destined to remain so for decades — if they make the correct choices. We are working to run away from the fabulous historic city of Cairo by building a new isolated city in the desert, based on a single proposition: “size matters.” Egypt has a serious overpopulation challenge that needs to be addressed by substantially reducing the number of births, not by building new cities. We tend to run away from our challenges by creating something new (and less attractive), ignoring our invaluable assets.

Egypt is blessed with countless resources; before constructing a new isolated city, the government needs to think of how to maximize the use of these resources. Constantly thinking of developing something new while ignoring our historical venues is clear proof of shortsightedness. The Egyptian government should set an example by its investment choices, ensure the transparency of public projects and engage its citizens constructively in all its forthcoming ventures and plans.

Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir



Call time on the charade of Israeli ‘democracy’

By Chris Doyle

31 October 2017

Despite all its extraordinary efforts, the current Israeli coalition has yet to kill off talk of a two-state solution, a Palestinian state and peace deals. Even President Donald Trump still refers to this, as of course do pesky irritating European leaders.

So far, the message has not sunk in internationally, even after the transfer of 600,000 Israeli civilians into more than 150 illegal settlements or the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem. Belief was not killed off by the segmentation of the Occupied Territories into Gaza, East Jerusalem, Areas A, B, C, H1, H2, and the seam zone. The massive wall that severs the overwhelming majority of the settlements from the rest of the West Bank and effectively annexes them was still not enough to wake up the international community from its slumber.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that the Trump administration offers a gigantic opportunity to push hopes for peace even more into the realm of fantasy politics. His latest anti-peace torpedoes focus on occupied Jerusalem and settlements.

But Netanyahu has also now backed a three-pronged assault on Jerusalem, somehow finding a little bit more space in the peace process coffin to bang a few more massive nails.

First, Netanyahu publicly endorses the Greater Jerusalem annexation bill. This would entail the annexation to Jerusalem of 19 Israeli settlements with 150,000 settlers, who would then be allowed to vote in Jerusalem elections. These would be in addition to those already built in east Jerusalem.

Why does this matter? Consider first that Israel has not done this since 1967 when it annexed 70 sq km to Jerusalem. In five decades since every Prime Minister bar none built and expanded settlements, but none dared to do this, not even Ariel Sharon.

These are not just random settlements. They include the city settlements of Ma’ale Adummim, Beitar Illit and Giva’at Ze’ev. In fact, it is in effect three major settlement blocs as it includes the settlement authorities.

Many of the settlements are not even contiguous with the Green Line let alone the illegally expanded borders of the city. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be happy as his settlement at Nokdim will be annexed even though it lies well inside the West Bank, south-east of Bethlehem.

Attaching these blocs to Jerusalem would not be annexation to Israel itself but the difference is minimal. It is annexation in all but name.

The second prong of this assault is perhaps even more insidious, involving ethnic gerrymandering. Three Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, Kufr Aqab, Anata and Shuafat refugee camp, would no longer be considered part of Jerusalem, the municipality no longer providing services. This was already barely happening in any event as even though all the residents pay Jerusalem taxes, because they live on the other wide of the wall for the most part they do not benefit from Jerusalem services such as garbage collection.

Already, life in these communities is akin to a dead zone. Kafr Aqab has not received a single building permit since 2001. Shuafat refugee camp, the only one inside Jerusalem, is a lawless zone, unpoliced by Israeli forces and outside the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction. In fact, criminals and drug dealers from PA areas flee there for refuge.

It could mean over 120,000 Palestinians would be disenfranchised, having their voting rights forcibly taken from them. They cannot vote in any national election. They would have no resources and practically no economic life.

The law’s author was clear about the racist intent. In the words of the Knesset Member Yoav Katz from Netanyahu’s Likud party, the aim is “to strengthen Jerusalem by adding thousands of Jewish residents to the city and simultaneously weakening the Arab hold on the capital.” It is demographic re-engineering of the city carried out physically with settlements and by planning, essentially redrawing the boundaries for the supposed benefit of Jews over Arabs.

The third nail is an amendment to the Jerusalem Basic Law. It would change the law so there would need to be a special majority of 80 out of 120 in the Knesset to transfer any part of Jerusalem to a foreign entity.

This latest assault on hopes for peace has been put on hold, but not canceled. The Israeli government says it has to “coordinate” with the US. Pressure from Washington appears to have brought this about. The European Union has said little in public but private pressure was mounted. Yet this may only be a brief lull, not least as Israel may yet proceed imminently with some of the changes, even if diluted.

We need to call time on this charade. Israel’s claims to be a democracy, always weak, would be shredded by the attempt to give more votes to one ethnicity, the “Jews,” and take them away from another, the “Arabs.”

This Israeli government does not want peace, does not want a Palestinian state and will not share this land. The international community needs to adapt to this reality.

• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech



How Israel exports its oppression to America

By Ramzy Baroud

31 October 2017

Israel’s footprints are becoming more apparent in the US security apparatus, which does not bode well for ordinary Americans.

US Senate Bill S.720 should have been a wake-up call. The legislation drafted by the Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), would punish any individual or company that boycotts Israel with a fine of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in jail. Although political boycott has been sanctioned by the US Supreme Court, the Congress wants to make a boycott of Israel the exception, even it means the subversion of US democracy.

Nevertheless, protests are muted. Hundreds of elected representatives have endorsed the Bill, but the mainstream US media has not taken them. Criticizing Israel is taboo in the US, where the Congress is beholden to lobby pressures and kickbacks, and where the media’s script on the illegal Israeli military occupation of Palestine is even less critical than Israel’s own media.

However, the infiltration of the US government is not new. It is only becoming more emboldened, because there are too few critical voices capable of creating a semblance of balance or a serious debate.

For years, ordinary US citizens were far removed from the discussion on Israel and Palestine. The subject felt alien, marred by Hollywood propaganda, religious misconception and the lack of any understanding of history. But in recent years Israel has become an integral part of American life, even if most people do not spot the Israeli influence. 

“In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel seized on its decades-long experience as an occupying force to brand itself as a world leader in counter-terrorism,” Alice Speri wrote in the Intercept. This has earned Israeli security firms billions of dollars, exploiting American fear of terrorism while presenting Israel as a successful model for fighting it.

Groups such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs are involved in turning US police forces into militarized units similar to the Israeli police.

As an occupying power, Israel has blurred the lines between the police and the army. In areas such as occupied East Jerusalem, both behave in a similar way. They shoot to kill on the slightest provocation or suspicion, sometimes for no reason at all.

In the past two decades, hundreds of US federal agents and thousands of police officers have received training in Israel or through seminars and workshops organized on Israel’s behalf. Alex Vitale, an author and a Brooklyn College professor of sociology, said: “A lot of the policing that folks are observing and being talked to about on these trips is policing that happens in a non-democratic context.”

This “non-democratic context” involves the humiliation and often outright murder of Palestinians. Instead of pressuring Israel to end its occupation, the US government is bringing Israeli “expertise” to its own cities. Indeed, many US police officers look more like an occupying force than one sworn to protect the public.

Israel is exporting its occupation tactics to the US, with Israeli military contractors opening subsidiaries across the country, promoting their surveillance technologies, walls, border monitoring equipment and violent tactics.

An Israeli-owned defense company, Elta North America, was paid $500,000 to produce a prototype for the wall that President Donald Trump wants to build along the US-Mexico border.

It was one of his main pledges during the election campaign, and Israel was the first to support it.

“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. His support of Trump angered Mexico and many Americans, but Netanyahu knew only too well that there was money to be made in the years ahead.

Indeed, US border security is already a major source of revenue for Israeli companies. For example, Elbit Systems was awarded a $145 million contract by the Obama administration to provide surveillance equipment and build towers along the Arizona/Sonora US-Mexico border.

Elbit was also a subcontractor to Boeing in 2006 for the Department of Homeland Security’s initiative to secure US land borders.

Magal Security Systems, the Israeli company that has helped the Israeli military to tighten the siege on Gaza, is also involved in the burgeoning US security industry, and was one of the first companies to pitch building Trump’s wall.

Israel’s oppression is now the model through which the US plans to police its cities, monitor its borders and define its relationship with its neighbors. But the fact is that Israeli walls are not meant for defense, but rather to annex Palestinian and Arab land, while feeding its own national phobia of threats all around.

While the imprudent and violent US response to the 9/11 attacks has contributed to American fears of the rest of the world, Trump’s isolationist policies pave the perfect ground for further Israeli infiltration of American government and society.

The evidence of all of this can now be found in US cities, along its borders and in the surveillance systems that have the potential to monitor every US citizen.

• Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London). Twitter: @RamzyBaroud



What is behind Iran's war on the BBC?

By Massoumeh Torfeh

On October 25, the BBC sent an official complaint to the United Nations over the persecution which the staff of its Persian service face in Iran. A criminal investigation has been launched against 152 former and current BBC staff for "conspiracy against national security". In August, a court ordered the freezing of assets of the 152 individuals and their families.

The Iranian authorities have harassed, insulted and intimidated staff of the BBC Persian service for almost 40 years, often accused of being spies for the British government.

This sustained campaign has no justification whatsoever in the present day but its roots could be traced in the role that the BBC used to play as a propaganda tool during World War II and the early days of the Cold War.

Documents of the British Foreign Office reveal how in December 1940 when BBC's Persian radio first came on air they were part of the British strategy to counter Nazi propaganda. The broadcasts in Persian included texts written by the British intelligence directly targeting the then shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, who was suspected of supporting Adolf Hitler's expansionist plans in Asia. The broadcasts which are said to have led to the downfall of Reza Shah criticised his "dictatorial" methods and advocated republicanism.

"His Majesty's Government now agreed that the BBC might begin to give various broadcasts in Persian which had been prepared beforehand, starting with talks on Constitutional Government and increasing in strength and colour until all Reza Shah's mismanagement, greed and cruelty were displayed to the public gaze," one document stated.

Moreover, in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the diplomatic crisis over the nationalisation of Iranian oil came to a head, BBC Persian broadcasts were used to discredit the popular prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadeq. In March 1951, when the nationalisation was carried out, he was portrayed as "a misguided and often purblind patriot whose distinct demagogy, his single-minded obstinacy and his total lack of construction ideas" had caused the crisis.

Those episodes had a lasting impact on the collective memory of Iranians towards the BBC Persian. But two points should be noted here: First, that the Islamic Republic has no affinity with either Reza Shah or Dr Mossadeq. Second, in the decades following the Mossadeq affair, the BBC gradually changed and by the time the popular uprising against Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi started in 1978, it was looking to cover events in the country objectively.

Today, the conspiracy theorists in Iran, led by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, still regard the BBC as an instrument of British political machinations

"The lie-broadcasting BBC channel funded by English intelligence services is aiming to interfere in Iran's internal affairs and this requires vigilance of the revolutionary forces," said the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) when BBC Persian TV went on air.

However, the authorities have conveniently forgotten that it was the BBC Persian broadcasts during the two years prior to the Iranian revolution of 1979 that first aired their demands from the shah's regime.

They have forgotten how they benefitted from BBC's independent reporting when despite mounting pressure from both Iran and the UK governments not to air an interview with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the BBC decided to go ahead with it.

For that reason, the shah called the BBC his "number one enemy" in the final months of 1978, demanding the Foreign Office to close the section down.

Archive documents have revealed that the complaints were transmitted by Sir Anthony Parsons, the then UK Ambassador in Iran, who argued that the broadcasts had enraged the shah "an important British friend in the region".

The BBC remained adamant that its reporting on the revolution must continue. Several prominent supporters of the shah presiding in the UK bombarded the BBC with complaints.

The Persian service became a highly debated topic in the Foreign Office with many agreeing with Parsons that the service should be closed and others including the then Foreign Secretary, David Owen, saying the BBC should be allowed to operate independently. The latter argued that the long-term interests of Britain lay in allowing the BBC to be independent and trusted as a world broadcaster.

Since the Iranian revolution, the BBC has had difficulty sustaining an office in Iran and keeping its Iranian staff out of harm's way. It has complained of harassment to the authorities on several occasions but without any result.

Since the protests of 2009, which the BBC covered extensively, harassment against its staff has increased exponentially.

The complaint the network filed with the UN details "multiple ongoing infringements of the BBC Persian staff's right to freedom of opinion, movement and expression". It also states that measures being imposed on its staff and their families potentially "engage a wide range of rights under general international law and international human rights".

It documents several cases of harassment of its staff such as how the sister of a journalist was held in Evin prison for 17 days and forced to plead with the journalist via Skype to stop working for the BBC or spy on colleagues. There's also evidence of how elderly parents of the journalists have been interrogated and questioned at night. The most common form of harassment involves the confiscation of passports on arrival, call for interrogation and then accusations and inflammatory fabricated stories in the hardline press.

It is clear that the staff of the BBC Persian are being punished for exposing inconvenient truths in Iran, where the repressive regime continues to stifle freedom of expression. Journalism is not a crime and the authorities in Iran should not use journalists as pawns to settle political scores against Britain.

Dr Massoumeh Torfeh is a Research Associate at LSE, specialising in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.



Syria: Should Astana negotiations be expanded?

By Christian Chesnot

30 October 2017

The defeat of the self-proclaimed Caliphate of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is almost achieved. It's only a matter of weeks for the pseudo-state before it disappears from the scene, most likely before the beginning of 2018. In Syria, a new diplomatic-military dispensation is being set up, the one succeeding that which emerged in 2011.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura summed up the current situation when he said: “ISIS has been routed in the desert (...) Terrorism is on the defensive, even if it cannot be defeated by military means only (... ) The de-escalation agreements are sometimes seriously questioned, but they have achieved results.”

New power equation

Let us take a look at the situation on the ground. The last battle in the east will soon leave the Syrian Democratic Forces (dominated by Kurds and supported by the United States and France) come face to face with Bashar Al-Assad's troops (backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah). Opposition by moderate rebel forces has almost completely disappeared from the map, apart from a few regions in the suburbs of Damascus and in the south. Only the region of Idlib will remain in the hands of the jihadists, some of whom are affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Thus, the stage is set for great diplomatic maneuvering to commence, with two meetings scheduled in the upcoming weeks: the Astana meeting (October 30-31) and the inter-Syrian talks in Geneva (28 November). Earlier, France had tried to return to the game by proposing the creation of a contact group, including the P5 plus regional countries. In fact, Emmanuel Macron tried to unsuccessfully sell this idea to Donald Trump on the occasion of the UN General Assembly. The French idea fell as the US refused to include Iran into the process.

In fact, the UN process in Geneva (led by Staffan de Mistura) could not really take off today, nor build any momentum. In the new military configuration described above, there appears to be no conceivable reason for the situation to change any time soon. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad appears less inclined today than in the past to make any concessions or enter into any process of political compromise with the opposition.

Absent from Astana

Only the process of Astana currently remains on the table, which strictly speaking does not have a political framework. However, it is the only one to have produced results on the ground with the establishment of four de-escalation zones. Therefore, is it not the time to think of expanding the number of participants, which for the moment are reduced to Russia, Iran and Turkey?

The names of several countries — including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and China — have been suggested to take part in the Astana talks. Apparently, Turkey has opposed the suggestion. In any case, the real discussion on the future of Syria is taking place in the capital of Kazakhstan and not in Geneva. It is difficult to imagine that the fate of Syria now solely remains in the hands of Moscow, Tehran and Ankara.

The reconstruction of a country whets the appetite of international powers. China and Egypt have declared their readiness to participate in the effort to turn the page on the civil war. Although Europe outwardly seems unenthused by the ongoing diplomatic discussions, the mood is likely to change soon. In fact, several EU countries have already started sending diplomats and security agents back to Damascus.

Diminishing US role

Where is the United States in all of this? At this point, no one has a clear idea of its policy particularly after the eradication of ISIS from Syrian territory. Will the US withdraw and ditch the Kurds, just as it left moderate Syrian rebels in the lurch? Will it maintain its military presence on the ground to see how the situation evolves? Both scenarios are possible.

For Syrian Kurds, it would be better not to make the same mistake as their Iraqi cousins by waving the red rag of independence. By maintaining links and contacts with the regime, they can hope to find a modus vivendi with Damascus, wherein they may accept some form of autonomy for the ‘Kurdish state’ within the borders of Syria. In short, 2018 may prove to be a decisive year for Syria where one can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.


URL: http://newageislam.com/world-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/gender-equality-still-a-far-cry/d/113078


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