Euro-Med redux? (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

As part of its progress towards a more integrated regional organisation, and in reaction to events and opportunities, European Union (EU) policy towards the Mediterranean has evolved through several phases, from the Barcelona Process in 1995 to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004 and the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008.

The ENP goal was to create “a ring of well-governed states” to the south and east of an enlarged EU, including the countries of the “Eastern Partnership” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and the countries on the south and east of the Mediterranean.

But strong challenges to the ENP have resulted in calls for its revision, if not replacement with a new approach. Now the new EU leadership has tackled this issue. But what are the views of the Arab countries that are members of the Euro-Med order?

Over the last year or so, momentum has been gathering for a review of the ENP. There are three main reasons for this. First, there have been very substantial changes in the Mediterranean landscape, including upheavals, changing governments, civil wars and new European concerns such as waves of migration and returning jihadis.

A policy that sought to bring together Eastern European countries with those of the south and east of the Mediterranean has become severely challenged as two very different sets of changes have taken place: conflict over Ukraine and state failures and problems of democratic transition after the Arab Spring.

Second, there has been a growing critique of, and also perhaps a frustration with, the Euro-Med track record since the launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995. The transformational objectives or hopes placed on the ENP may have been responsible.

As one analyst, Stefan Lehne, says, “The European Neighbourhood Policy was conceived as the European Union’s alternative to traditional geopolitics. Through long-term, in-depth engagement, including financial support, trade agreements and arrangements for easier travel, the ENP would promote structural reforms in the EU’s partner countries.

“The policy was meant to help those partners become democratic states governed by the rule of law with prosperous economies that would share in the benefits of the EU’s internal market. Ten years after the launch of this policy, it is clear that this plan has not worked.”

Third, the new team taking over the management of the EU secretariat (President Jean-Claude Junker and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini) was determined to tackle the ENP as one of its top ten priorities, under the title of “stocktaking and way forward.”

The criticism of the ENP is extensive and multidimensional. Another analyst, Michael Leigh, has written: “In fact, there is hardly any other external policy of the EU with a larger gap between its stated objectives and the actual outcome.”

There are many shortcomings, among them that the geographic scope of the ENP does not encompass a number of countries that influence the neighbourhood (e.g. Russia, Iraq, Iran and Sudan), which raises questions on the geographic logic of the policy.

Moreover, the long-term goals remain unclear, except for aspiring to a peaceful, well-governed hinterland, and the model of perspective EU membership is not useful in the case of countries that will never become members.

Other criticisms include the fact that EU incentives are insufficient to impose on other countries the EU’s agenda or to counter the influence of other actors, and EU countries do not follow the ENP political conditionality in their bilateral relations with the concerned countries.

There is also an avalanche of confusing terminology and concepts, such as Black Sea Synergy, Eastern Partnership, Barcelona Process, Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and Union for the Mediterranean.

Some years ago, former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi said, “Europe has not implemented policies in the Mediterranean committed to a decade ago … There is no European initiative and countries are divided. Europe is effectively absent from all foreign policy scenarios.”

After the 1995 Barcelona Process, he added that the Euro-Mediterranean policy had stalled and that there has been division and jealousy. “What happened in Iraq, in Syria, the permanent tension between Palestine and Israel … all this should be addressed with strong, united policies. This is not happening … when there are great problems and high levels of tension, the ball is in the American court.”

DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE: In order to meet such challenges, ten ideas have been presented in European debates on redesigning the ENP:

– A new and urgent analysis of the European security environment as a whole is required, and new policy responses should be developed accordingly. The concept of a “neighbourhood” is too confined as dialogue is also needed with the “neighbours of the neighbours,” addressing a larger area to include the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

– Planning should be on the basis of different values, not shared values. But rather than dropping the human rights approach, it should be sharpened to make it more effective through innovative cooperation with all actors, including governments, civil society, youth and social media.

– There is a need for more and better coordination with the US. The opposite view was also presented – that US disengagement requires a more active and independent EU role.

– Capacity to address transnational phenomena such as migration flows, terrorism and organised crime should be increased.

5. The concept of “more for more” should be changed in order “to accept that there are situations, such as the risk of state failure, when both the interests of the partner country and the EU’s interests demand more engagement regardless of the level of reform.”

– There is a need to work more closely with the intelligence, military, security and border management services of member states. There is also a need to mobilise all policy instruments like trade, financial and development assistance.

– The requirement to undertake fundamental political and economic reforms to achieve “deep and comprehensive free trade agreements” (DCFTAs) should be reined in. In a situation where states are collapsing, huge numbers of refugees are moving across borders, unorganised migration is a concern and youth are being recruited to join terrorist organisations a different set of instruments is needed.

– The ENP branding should be dropped in favour of a “differentiated approach” or “targeted policies” with dedicated strategies for each country or group of countries.

– There is a need to work more with regional organisations, take more regional initiatives and strengthen capacity to work on crisis management and humanitarian assistance.

– The EU management structure should be changed, bringing the ENP under the wing of the high representative (it is now shared between her and the European commissioner for enlargement and the ENP). Another idea is to appoint a new commissioner for non-EU European countries.

Arab critics of these proposals see them as deficient in five key ways. First, they are Eurocentric approaches, since Mediterranean initiatives, designed mainly by EU institutions and members, seem to be more focused on EU policy towards other regions than reflecting a jointly conceptualised and implemented framework.

The concepts, terminology, review processes and critiques used are all Eurocentric. Second, the calls for involving the US, Turkey, Israel, the GCC and “other interested states” in redesigning the ENP do not clarify the process or criteria for identifying the non-EU parties that should be consulted or involved.

Third, countries like Morocco and Tunisia, for understandable reasons, are interested in going their own way rather than being hindered by instability in other parts of the region. Fourth, there is no emphasis on problem-solving or a European role for addressing problems in the Mediterranean, particularly the Palestinian issue, when there is the assumption that closer cooperation can be forged with Israel, irrespective of its policies.

Fifth, there are questions to be answered that may be different from the ones addressed in a Eurocentric review. What should the Arab region be seeking from the northern Mediterranean (both EU and non-EU) at this time?

What kind of understanding should be sought in the light of difficulties faced in the post-Arab Spring era, with transition processes facing setbacks? Where should the ENP be directed on issues like support for democracy, human rights and civil-society groups?

How should the ENP reflect shifts in European thinking on Israel, as in the cases of Sweden and France? What kind of EU action is needed in the face of growing threats from nonstate actors (like Islamic State, AQIM, AQAP, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram)?

How should the role of the Gulf be viewed in contrast to that of the EU and US at a time of such uncertain politics and a likely declining future for the volume of both Gulf and EU resources in the coming decade?

What position should the Arab states take in response to increased restrictions in Europe over south-to-north migration? How should the ENP deal with the rise of xenophobia, negative images of Islam and the advance of extreme right-wing groups in Europe, as well as the negative perceptions of the West in the Arab world?

AN ARAB POINT OF VIEW: Earlier this year, the EU issued a “green paper” to solicit ideas for redesigning the future ENP. Two meetings were held with Arab countries in Barcelona and Beirut. Civil society organisations were invited to present their views by the end of last June.

Despite efforts to present a coordinated point of view, Arab inputs appeared to be late, lacked creativity and generally accepted that the ENP should be shaped by the dominant EU side rather than through a process of dialogue and consensus.

The Arab partners fell into three different groups: countries that want to push back against the EU bid to promote democracy, human rights and the role of civil society; those that want to forge ahead with closer relations with the EU (mostly North Africans), irrespective of the complex problems of the “Arabs of the East”; and countries that play it by ear and are ready to go with the flow.

It has been proposed that the Arab League form a committee of the wise to review the ENP and present a new set of strategic ideas. Arab think tanks and prominent persons should also be invited to debate the objectives and mechanisms for building peace and prosperity around the Mediterranean.

And in the future, there should be a sharper focus on joint projects that promote education, health and peace. None of these ideas were heeded, and the routine intergovernmental processes have continued, losing opportunities and repeating old songs.


The writer is director of Development Works International and a board member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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Does new economic bill threaten Tunisia's revolution? (Al Jazeera)

September 2, 2015

By Eric Reidy  

Proposed legislation could grant amnesty to many who benefitted from the previous regime, critics say.

Tunis – Since its introduction in July, a controversial economic reconciliation bill put forward by Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi has become a flashpoint for economic anxieties and fears that the country is backsliding on its democratic progress.

Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to boost Tunisia’s struggling economy and move the country forward after four long years of transition. But detractors call it an abrogation of the transitional justice process and an amnesty for corrupt officials and businesspeople with ties to the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was deposed after the 2010-2011 uprising in Tunisia.

“This law is an economic necessity [because] Tunisia is going through an economic crisis,” Mongi Harbaoui, a member of parliament from Essebsi’s political party, Nidaa Tounes, told Al Jazeera.

But Samia Abbou, a member of parliament from the opposition Congress for the Republic Party (CRP), disagreed: “Transitional justice would have led to a democratic transition. This could lead to the return of dictatorship.”


RELATED: Tunisia’s economy ‘waiting for a miracle’


Tunisia is the only country to have successfully established democratic institutions in the years following protests in the so-called Arab Spring.

The idea for the economic reconciliation bill is not new. Turning the page on the past and focusing on the future was a major theme in Essebsi’s presidential campaign last fall, and his victory in the first free and fair presidential election in Tunisia’s history raised concerns among human rights defenders about a backsliding on transitional justice.

Since his election, Essebsi, who held high-ranking government positions under both of Tunisia’s post-independence dictators, often spoke of his intention to initiate reconciliation for economic crimes, according to Rim el-Gantri, head of office for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in Tunisia.

Tunisia adopted a transitional justice law in 2013, and an article in the country’s new constitution, which took effect in January 2014, commits the state to implementing the process.

The law established a Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC) tasked with investigating political, social, and economic crimes committed from the time of Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956 through the 2010-2011 revolution. The TDC began receiving cases in December 2014, and the first private hearings were held last June. Preparations are currently under way for public hearings. The TDC has four to five years to complete its work.

According to the process established by the TDC, a file can be submitted for investigation either by a victim, a perpetrator, or the state. The TDC will then investigate the file to determine if there was wrongdoing. In the case of wrongdoing, the file would be submitted to an arbitration committee to mediate a settlement of reparations for the victim and potentially refer the perpetrator for criminal proceedings in a special legal chamber, according to Mohamed Ayadi, head of the reparations committee in the TDC.

The economic reconciliation bill proposed by the presidency, however, calls for “an amnesty … in favour of civil servants, public officials and the like, regarding acts related to financial corruption and embezzlement of public funds, as long as such acts did not seek to achieve personal gain”, according to an English translation of the bill provided to Al Jazeera by the ICTJ.

If a former official or businessperson goes through the process proposed by the economic reconciliation bill, “the TDC can’t touch that person”, Ayadi said. “The law blocks the work of the commission… [It] threatens the whole transitional justice process.”

Ayadi resigned from the TDC on August 25, after speaking with Al Jazeera, stating that the current climate inside the commission – and in Tunisia generally – is not suitable for transitional justice. The TDC has faced controversy and setbacks since it began its work.

Instead of going through the TDC, the economic reconciliation bill proposes a process by which a former official or businessperson could come forward to an alternative commission consisting of four members appointed by the government and two members of the TDC. The official or businessperson would submit an application for reconciliation containing a statement of facts regarding the sum of money gained through corrupt activities and how it was obtained.

The committee would then investigate the validity of the statement and determine the total value the official or businessperson would need to pay back, including an additional five percent tax on the sum for every year since it was obtained. After repaying the sum, the official or businessperson would be able to return to their position in the government or resume their economic activities.

Decisions of the committee would be based on a simple majority vote, with the head of the committee acting as the deciding vote in the case of a tie. The commission would complete its work within eight months of the law passing, according to the text of the bill.

The idea of the bill is to expedite the transitional justice process for economic crimes and inject much-needed cash into the Tunisian economy, according to Lotfi Dammak, a legal adviser to the presidency. “We simply can’t wait four years to finally reach reconciliation,” he told Al Jazeera. “We can make reconciliations at first [for economic crimes] without interfering with human rights violations because they will remain the responsibility of the TDC.”

“A lot of people who are known to be part of the old regime will now be given amnesty and authority,” political analyst Youssef Cherif told Al Jazeera. “Many see this as a way to pardon people who spent their lives stealing … from the country’s riches.”

There is concern that when former officials and businesspeople resume their activities in the government and national economy, they will continue their old practises. “When you are corrupted, when you are stealing money from your state, when amnestied, [then] you will not think about the public interest,” Gantri said.


RELATED: Southern Tunisians protest economic marginalisation


Critics also say that the law fails to fully reveal the truth about how economic corruption functioned under the previous regime, nor does it attempt to reform that system, which, in the long run, will actually damage Tunisia’s economy.

“By passing this law we are sending a negative message to international investors that Tunisia’s economy is not ruled by laws of transparency,” Mouheb Ben Garoui, executive director of the Tunisian transparency organisation I-WATCH, told Al Jazeera.

According to Dammak, the criticism is unfounded. “Truth-telling is present, holding people accountable is present, and heading to reconciliation faster is only intended to improve the economic atmosphere and to restore trust,” he said.

Despite the assurances from the presidency, many in Tunisian civil society view this bill as the latest in a series of moves by the government to curtail some of the gains of the Tunisian uprising. The other moves include the adoption of an “anti-terrorism” law, which was criticised by human rights organisations, and the declaration of a state of emergency following an attack on a tourist hotel in the seaside town of Sousse in June.

“This is another setback to the establishment of a democratic state in Tunisia,” Cherif said. “What we are having now is an exploitation of the fight against terror and the economic crisis to decrease the amount of liberty we have gained since 2011.”

The economic reconciliation bill is currently slated for debate in Tunisia’s parliament, where it will have to pass to go into effect. The four parties in Tunisia’s government have a strong majority in the parliament, so it will be difficult to mount an effective opposition to the bill, according to Abbou, the opposition MP.

Garoui is hoping that the bill will undergo significant revisions while it is being debated to end the atmosphere of polarisation its introduction has caused. “If this … law passes, which I think could be the case, it should pass in an atmosphere of consensus,” he said.

Follow Eric Reidy on Twitter: @eric_reidy

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MAAYAN JAFFE: Misrepresenting Azerbaijan (The Washington Times)

September 2, 2015

By Maayan Jaffe  

Over the last several years, the Republic of Azerbaijan, widely acknowledged and praised for its commitment and pursuit of religious tolerance, has become a target of harsh criticism by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIF). Apparently, somewhat confused about its mandate, the commission issues statements about political issues, which have nothing to with religion and religious freedom, refers to places within Azerbaijan by Armenian names revealing, inadvertently perhaps, its sources of information. Also, in its criticism of the country it follows the lines used frequently by the Iranian mullahs. Sadly, this reflects both the apparent personal bias and the lack of expertise and first-hand knowledge by the commission’s staff.

As a result, the commission’s statements echo what it hears from the Armenian side and a handful NGO’s in Azerbaijan with some of the same sources used by the Iranian state propaganda to criticize Azerbaijan for being too secular. In fact, putting Azerbaijan in Tier 2 lacks discernment and foresight. Tier 2 puts Azerbaijan in the company of known totalitarian and unstable regimes like those the Communist and atheist Cuba (despite new efforts) and Afghanistan, which is officially an Islamic Emirate.

The ranking comes largely because of new “restrictive amendments” the Azerbaijani parliament adopted in 2013 to prevent the spread of extremism and of foreign missionary activity. The commission says these amendments limit religious freedoms and are being used to justify some of the fines, police raids and other action Azeri police and officials have had to exercise against extremist religious groups.

Here is an example of what the report cited as the government’s control of religion:

• Muslim headscarves are banned from schools. Actually, this is not a ban but a uniform applies universally to all public schools, a policy similar to that in France.

• State permission is required to produce, import, export or distribute religious materials.

• Azerbaijan has closed numerous houses of worship – mostly mosques – it suspects are espousing or taking part in extremist messaging or activities.

What the commission does not seem to recognize is that these restrictions are essential for ensuring democracy – as well as the safety and security of the Azeri people. Azerbaijan, located in the Caucasus region, is surrounded by rogue states that are fundamental threats to world freedoms and stability: Russia, with its unstable and explosive North Caucasus to the north, Iran to the south, and Armenia to the southwest and west. It is one of the only remaining Muslim-majority countries that has not been overtaken by extremist ideologies, as Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya, and many others have.

In Azerbaijan, women are still empowered and minorities, such as the Jews, enjoy safe and free lives. This is not despite the restricting radicalism, but because of the government’s efforts.

Part of USCIF’s report is a series of recommendations, including that the U.S. government should prioritize religious freedom and related human rights in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is far from perfect and must do much more to become a full-fledged democracy. However, if Azerbaijan deserves some of the human rights criticism directed at the country- and there is plenty of critics doing that on daily basis – condemning Azerbaijan on religious grounds is truly misplaced and, as history shows, is counterproductive.

Furthermore, USCIF recommendations encourage public scrutiny of Azerbaijan’s religious freedom record in international fora, and encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to increase radio, Internet and other broadcasting – particularly in the Azeri language – on Azerbaijan’s human rights and religious freedom record, and freedom of religion or belief as an element of U.S. foreign policy.

Before this administration scrutinizes or reproaches another country, it should take a long hard look at itself.

In 2007, when America called for democratic elections to be held in the Gaza Strip, Hamas took over the region. Now, the Gaza Strip is a crime-laden, terrorist enclave. In 2012, the United States supported the opposition in Egypt and encouraged the overthrow of the reliable Hosni Mubarak. The country was taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, instantly quelling the breathless celebrations of Egyptian democracy and is now run by a regime much more restrictive than Mr. Mubarak’s. In Iraq, America removed Sadam Hussein, leaving the country void of a leader. Imminently upon the withdrawal of American troops, the murderous Islamic State took hold of much of the country. And, in Lybia, the United States supported the overthrow of the largely contained dictator Moammar Gadhafi, just to see the country to plunge into instability, violence and become a major to regional security, all while watching the American ambassador die in an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

U.S. press freedom has profoundly eroded. In 2013, a year highlighted by attacks on whistleblowers and digital journalists and revelations about mass surveillance, Reporters without Borders dropped the U.S. freedom of press rating 13 spots, to No. 46.

Hate crimes in the United States are also on the rise, including the recent religiously motivated stabbing of a Florida rabbi and the spring 2014 shooting by a white supremacist at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., which resulted in the death of three people.

Azerbaijan could certainly explore opportunities for growth and new routes to allow for increased freedom of religion, but the United States must allow the country to manage extremist tendencies the best way it can. And, of course, neither America’s venerable institutions, not its sincere commitment to human rights and religious freedom should be used to justify what is clearly a bias against a U.S. regional ally. And if Tier 2 is obviously too low for Azerbaijan, given the world’s problems today, nothing in Azerbaijan explains why it is a top target of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s criticism.

Maayan Jaffe is a former editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times and a regularly contributing writer to JNS.org.

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'Tunisia Has Real Need of Partnership and Assistance in Matters of Security' – Malinowski (allAfrica.com)

Tunisia has a real need of partnership and assistance in matters of boosting security said, Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski.

During a meeting with the press held in the U.S. embassy in Tunis, with attendance of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne W.Patterson, he said that his country pledged to provide its assistance to Tunisia to energise security, notably in matters of the intelligence system, equipment and training.

“We are in Tunisia to reassert Washington’s commitment to support Tunisia and express its solidarity,” he underlined.

Tunisia also needs support in the economic field, particularly in matters of development and empowering local people of the south and the interior, he said.

“We will continue to support Tunisia as we have always done” said, in turn, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne W.Patterson, reminding that her country provided to Tunisia, since the Revolution, 700 million dollars.

Besides, Patterson said that Tunisia “needs more than ever” U.S. assistance given “the serious drop” of economic growth and regression of the private sector generated by the latest terrorist attacks, notably that of Bardo and Sousse.

“Tunisia is now facing several threats which have already had significant consequences on the Tunisian economy, especially on tourism,” she regretted.

She added, “we will support Tunisia to overcome this difficult situation because we want that the democratic process achieve success ».

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Youths from MENA share experiences in dealing with issues facing their communities (The Jordan Times)

By Laila Azzeh – Sep 01,2015 – Last updated at Sep 01,2015

AMMAN — Oussama Ferchichi’s passion for civil change is influencing his brother to stay clean from drug use.

After being part of the Mosharaka (participation) initiative, the 22-year-old Tunisian has become equipped with the necessary tools to advocate for human and civil rights.

“Humans as individuals are what concern me and not ideologies…the training I received in Mosharaka allowed me to work on themes that I think present the main concerns in my country,” the psychology student told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of the Regional Youth Forum Mosharaka: Let’s Work Together, on Tuesday.

With the initiative focusing on young people in marginalised and underprivileged communities in five countries — Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco — around 150 young people between the ages of 20 and 30 have been trained to tackle issues of concern to their respective regions.

Youth from Tunisia, for example, chose municipal elections, drug abuse and people with disabilities as the main causes to tackle.

“Drug addiction and occasional abuse of drugs are considered a phenomenon in parts of Tunisia. The law is helping them get clean as they have to carry an ID after being released from prison that shows they used to be addicts,” Ferchichi said.

On the other hand, he noted that people with disabilities still face social stigmas that prevents their advancement, while young people are reluctant to practise their democratic right to vote.

“When I see my brother talking to his friends about what I do and how he is convinced with our projects, I realise that what I am doing is reaping tangible benefits,” noted Ferchichi.

“I know how addicts feel and I learned from my own experience how to deal with them without being judgmental,” he added.

In Jordan, Mosharaka engaged young people from east Amman and Madaba, who chose to work on illiteracy and sexual harassment, said Nadjet Bouda, of Canadian organisation Equitas, who noted that the forum is the last phase of Mosharaka.

The three-day forum brings together around 35 participants — youth leaders, civil society and representatives of funding organisations — to share “innovative strategies and good practices to promote youth leadership and participation in the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy” in the Middle East and North Africa, according to organisers.

Participants are highlighting benefits brought about by their projects, which they developed over the past three years, and offering their recommendations for better outcomes.

The forum is organised by Equitas in cooperation with the Amman-based Arab Network for Civic Education and partner organisations in the participating countries, with the support of the EU, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

According to Equitas Executive Director Ian Hamilton, what makes Mosharaka a unique initiative is the participatory and human-rights approach it is based on.

“Youths should feel connected to their communities and be able to develop solutions to some of their challenges… if they feel excluded or that their ideas are not taken seriously, they will connect with other groups’ ideologies,” he told The Jordan Times.

The initiative is also concerned with young people’s overall economic situation; therefore, they receive training in skills useful for them to seek employment, according to Hamilton.

During the opening ceremony, government coordinator on human rights Basel Tarawneh highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts to change people’s mindsets towards human rights and laws enacted in this regard, such as the Access to Information Law.

Founded in Canada in 1967, Equitas — International Centre for Human Rights Education is a nonprofit organisation that works for the advancement of equality, social justice and respect for human dignity in Canada and around the world through human rights education programmes.

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