Iran: West's Double-Standard Policies Preventing Fight against Terrorism, ISIL (FARS News Agency (Iran))


TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the double-standard policies of the West, especially the US, for the spread of Takfiri terrorism in the region.

“Putting aside the double-standard policies which prevent fight against the ISIL and terrorism in the region can render help to the anti-ISIL campaign,” Zarif said, addressing a press conference in Tunisia on Tuesday.

The Iranian foreign minister described Iran as a pioneer in the fight against the ISIL, and said, “We do not stand on the way of those countries that are willing to take part in the anti-ISIL coalition, but such a fight needs political will.”

Zarif reiterated that it is not possible to fight the ISIL in a country and help the same terrorist group in another country, blaming the US-led coalition for practicing a double-standard policy on ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The Iranian foreign reiterated that the problems of the Muslim and Arab worlds can be resolved through dialogue, moderation and political means, and said foreign states should stop their interference and meddling and opt for negotiation.

In relevant remarks on Monday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani lashed out at the US and other western states for their biased policies towards terrorism, human rights and other important issues in different world countries.

Speaking in a meeting with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Tehran, the top Iranian lawmaker further slammed certain western governments for adopting double standards in dealing with important issues such as fighting terrorism, narcotics, human rights and foreign occupation, saying those who created Takfiri terrorism and provided arms and weapons to terror groups should now take responsibility for their wrong policies.

Also in June, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham blasted Washington for its dual-track approach to terrorism.

“The growing and complicated scourge of terrorism is rooted in applying double standards and a political approach to this evil and inhumane phenomenon,” Afkham said.

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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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Judges tell Italy to respect migrants’ human rights (euronews)

Judges in Strasbourg have said Italy violated the human rights of three undocumented Tunisian migrants who fled the unrest of the Arab Spring four years ago.

The three men — Saber Khlaifia, Fakhreddine Tabal and Mohamed Sfar — left their home country in 2011 amid the turmoil of anti-government protests.

The European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU body, said they had been kept in inhumane and “appalling” conditions on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Judges ruled that European governments should provide adequate reception facilities and assess asylum cases individually.

The three men had been repatriated on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Tunisia.

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International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances – Snapshot On a Widespread Practice [press release] (allAfrica.com)

On 30 August each year, the international community observes the International day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, established by the United Nations in December 2010.

Last year, this day represented the chance for the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to “urge Governments to support relatives of the disappeared by removing all obstacles hindering their search for loved ones, including through the opening of all archives, especially military files.”

Today, reiterating this call to all Arab States, Alkarama presents numerous cases of enforced disappearances that it recently documented, such as in Egypt, where over 1,000 people are believed to have been abducted since the beginning of 2015; in conflict-ridden countries such as Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where both the government and armed groups use the practice of enforced disappearance as a tool to spread terror within the populations; and in countries thought to be more “progressive”, such as in the United Arab Emirates, where we are currently witnessing a troubling pattern of enforced disappearance practiced by State security actors in the form of prolonged incommunicado detention in secret places.

North Africa: focus on Algeria, Libya and Tunisia

Algeria still carries the marks of the “dark years”; in the 1990s, thousands of people were subject to enforced disappearances, with total impunity and no chance for their families to see those crimes recognised by the Algerian authorities.

One emblematic case is that of the Bourefis family, who, faced with the Algerian authorities’ refusal to shed light on the fate of their relatives, addressed the UN Human Rights Committee (HRCtee) which, in 2014, urged the Algerian government to investigate the cases of Tahar and Bachir Bourefis and insisted on its obligation to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of such abuses as well as to provide adequate compensation to the family, so as to ensure the non-repetition of such violations in the future.

In response, the Algerian authorities took retaliatory measures against the family, summoning them to the Court to question them on the reasons of their appeals to the HRCtee, with the aim to further intimidating them.

In Libya, the practice of enforced disappearances has left the families of the victims in total ignorance about the circumstances of their relatives’ death.

Such is the case of the family of a young air force pilot, who disappeared following his arrest without warrant by internal security agents in 1989, and for whom the family only received a vague death certificate devoid of detail. Enforced disappearance in Libya, however, is not a practice of the past.

To the contrary, and especially due to the prevailing political and security situation, this practice has become systematic. In fact, the army and the militias are responsible for numerous abductions and subsequent enforced disappearance in the country. On 20 October 2014, a young Deputy Prosecutor was abducted in front of the Arab Medical University in the Belaon neighbourhood of Benghazi by the “Battalion 21”, a militia aligned with the Libyan Army.

Unlike in Algeria and Libya where the practice of enforced disappearances is endemic because of the impunity that prevails, in Tunisia this practice is closer to that of incommunicado detention, which becomes systematic for terrorism suspects. Except for one case of disappearance documented by Alkarama in early 2010 that remains unresolved to this day, victims are generally either abducted at night, without an arrest warrant, and secretly detained for several days during which they are subject to torture.

Among such cases are that of a young man accused of terrorist links and that of a 20-year-old woman suspected to have managed two Facebook accounts linked to a terrorist movement, allegations that she firmly denies. Both victims are still detained in horrendous conditions and without having been examined by a doctor despite the fact that the judge was witness to the clear marks of torture on their respective bodies.

Nile Region: focus on Egypt

The Arab country in which the situation is most concerning is Egypt, which has become the scene of a grave escalation of enforced disappearances, to the extent that this practice is now considered widespread and systematic, which amounts to a crime against humanity according to Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

According to Alkarama’s estimations, more than 1,000 individuals have been abducted across the country since the beginning of 2015 and, if some individuals have reappeared since, many remain disappeared to date while others have been arbitrarily killed without any investigations launched into their deaths.

Alkarama has documented numerous cases of enforced disappearances, including that of a 16-year-old child along with six other men, of students and of a former Member of Parliament, illustrating that this practice affects all fringes of the population.

In fact, the Security Forces act in total impunity, and judicial bodies, such as the public prosecution, are not always made aware of the arrests they conduct. Moreover, many individuals who secretly detained inside Security Forces camps or police stations have been subjected to all kind of tortures, such as this young charity worker arrested by the Homeland Security on 22 September 2014 and secretly detained and tortured for 119 days.

Alkarama also documented cases where individuals had only reappeared after confessing under torture to crimes that they could not have committed since they were detained when these crimes occurred, such as the case of six men who were then sentenced to death by a military court before being executed on 17 May 2015.

Mashreq Region: focus on Iraq and Syria

In Iraq and Syria, enforced disappearances are used by both the government and armed groups with the aim of spreading terror within the populations, of silencing any critical voice of their respective governments, or in retaliation against the civilians for acts of war committed by opposing parties.

In Iraq, while the fate of thousands of people missing for years remains unknown to date – especially those handed over to the Iraqi authorities by the U.S. forces during the occupation, such as Wissam Al Hashimi who disappeared in 2005 – further mass arrests and secret detentions have been carried out under the pretext of the “fight against terrorism”.

Such is the case of 12 Iraqi citizens who disappeared on 21 April 2014 following their abduction from their homes in Baghdad during a night raid of the SWAT forces; or the case of two brothers also abducted from their homes by the security forces respectively on 11 August 2014 and 3 May 2015.

Today, their parents fear that they may be held in the secret detention centre of the old Al Muthanna airport in Western Baghdad. Pro-government militias also play a role in thousands of enforced disappearances, with the government authorities guaranteeing their total impunity as the abuses committed are never investigated and hence brought to justice, especially since the creation, in June 2014, of a State-sponsored umbrella organisation. This organisation, composed of about 40 militias and led by former Minister of Transport and commander of the Badr Brigades, Hadi al-Amiri, the “People’s Mobilisation” or “al-Hashd al-Shaabi” militia is strongly supported by the government in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).

In Syria, enforced disappearances have become widespread and systematic since the beginning of the conflict, with most victims being arrested at military checkpoints or during mass arrest campaigns carried out by different branches of State security.

Arrests take place without any judicial warrant and can involve political activists, human rights defenders, members of humanitarian organisations or even ordinary citizens, who are then secretly detained and tortured, such as this 21-year-old student who disappeared on 14 March 2014 following his arrest by the Military Intelligence after he refused to serve in the army.

Although the student was last seen in early February 2015 by a former co-detainee in Damascus’ Military Intelligence Branch 215 notorious for its practice of torture, the authorities keep on refusing to provide any information about his fate.

Several armed groups also use the practice of enforced disappearances in order to further their aims, such as IS, which abducted a Syrian Kurdish activist in November 2013; the al-Nusra Front, which abducted a Syrian Kurd on 23 July 2013 seemingly in retaliation for the capture of this town by the Kurdish forces, just days before; or the Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) operating in the north of the country, which abducted a Palestinian father born in Syria, on 27 October 2013.

In both countries the current climate of terror makes it difficult for the families of the victims to denounce the cases of enforced disappearances and, even when they do, they always have to face the absolute denial of the authorities.

Gulf Region: focus on UAE and Yemen

In the United Arab Emirates, we are witnessing a troubling pattern of enforced disappearance practiced by State security actors in the form of prolonged incommunicado detention in secret places. During these months of secret detention, detainees are at serious risk of torture used with the aim of extracting false confessions.

The measure mostly targets political or human rights activists or anyone criticising the Emir or other State authorities in order to punish critics and send a message to activists both Emirati and foreigners. Indeed, it is also becoming increasingly common against citizens of countries with whom the UAE have political disagreements.

Among prominent cases that illustrate this pattern feature two Qatari nationals who were arrested by UAE immigration officials when they entered the country from Saudi Arabia on 27 June 2014 for allegedly criticising the UAE authorities.

The men were detained incommunicado for over than eight months without being allowed to let their families know about their fates. Furthermore, on 2 October 2014, a Turkish academic and businessman was abducted by the security forces at Dubai’s Airport. He was detained incommunicado for 135 days, before being freed without any charges pressed against him.

Another case is that of a Libyan-Canadian businessman who disappeared for 130 days following his arrest by Emirati Security Service officers on 28 August 2014 while he was on vacation with his family in Dubai. During his incommunicado detention, he was severely tortured for 130 days.

He is still detained without trial at Abu Dhabi’s Wathba Prison. The most recent case is that of prominent Emirati economist, academic and advocate for political reforms, Dr. Naser Bin Ghaith who disappeared following his arrest by State security forces on 18 August 2015.

In Yemen, the practice of enforced disappearance became systematic in the early 1970s as a tool used by the security forces of North Yemen against their opponents. On 17 April 2014, 33 years after his arrest and subsequent disappearance, 66-year-old Ahmed Al Masraba, a member of the Arab Socialist Baath Party opposed to the government of North Yemen, was finally allowed to receive a short visit from his son.

Although the officer in charge then promised to release him by transferring him to a psychiatric hospital, Al Masraba is still detained incommunicado. He was arrested in 1981 during the civil war opposing Marxist guerrillas to the government of northern Yemen. This practice continued until 1990, when Yemen was re-unified.

Today, the practice of enforced disappearance is used by all forces fighting in Yemen, from those close to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to those of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to the Houthi insurgency, Al Qaeda and other armed groups. In particular, Alkarama has documented dozens of cases committed by both State and non State actors such as the Houthis and affiliated forces.

For example, in 2012, when the Houthis controlled the governorate of Saada, the group arrested several students and teachers – including the chairman of the teacher’s syndicate, who refused to accepted the group’s slogans – and used schools as detention centres.

After obtaining control of the capital in 2014, the Houthis abducted a tribal elder, Sheikh Mohamed Abdullah Ghalib, who had been a vocal critic of the expansion of the Houthis in Yemen. He was also taken to an unknown place and is disappeared since.

“Enforced disappearance is one of the most serious human rights violations: placed outside the protection of the law, disappeared persons see all their fundamental rights violated,” says Inès Osman, Coordinator of the Legal Department at Alkarama. “The crime of disappearance also inflicts severe suffering on entire families, who will never be able to turn the page until they learn what happened to their relative.”

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Republican praise for Al-Sisi (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

During their presidential primary debates earlier this month, a number of high-profile US Republican hopefuls teamed up to heap praise on Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The key American conservative media also spoke highly of Al-Sisi, lauding his role in standing up to Islamist terrorism, pressuring Muslim clerics to modernise religious discourse, and calling for “a religious revolution”.

As part of his response to a question on how he would deal with the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group, US Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a debate on Fox News on 6 August sharply criticised US President Barack Obama by heaping praise on Al-Sisi.

Cruz blasted Obama “for not demonstrating the same courage that Egypt’s President Al-Sisi — a Muslim — did when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.” Cruz described Obama as an “apologist” who was doing his best to justify Islamist terrorism, while Al-Sisi was a “tough, terror-fighting commander” who should be both befriended and emulated.

“Why don’t we see the president of the United States demonstrating that same courage as Al-Sisi, just to speak the truth about the face of evil we’re facing right now,” Cruz asked.

Mike Huckabee, another potential Republican presidential contender, also said in an interview with NewsMax TV “thank God for president Al-Sisi in Egypt.” Huckabee praised Al-Sisi for his role in fighting Islamist terrorists and for his calls for Al-Azhar to cleanse Islam of militant jihadist ideology.

Huckabee and other conservative figures said “Al-Sisi’s speech in Al-Azhar University last January could be as historically resonant as US human rights activist Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.”

Some, like conservative commentator George Will, went so far as to suggest that “Al-Sisi may deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Jeb Bush, another Republican candidate and brother of former US president George W. Bush, also joined forces, wondering “why the White House has told Al-Sisi you are not on our team as jihadism spreads like wildfire through the Middle East.” Bush told the US news channel CNN that “Al-Sisi gave an incredible speech about Muslim extremism, saying it’s the responsibility of the Arab world to step up to fight this.”

Another conservative, Republican Louie Gohmert, said “I hope one day that our top leaders in this country will have the courage of President Al-Sisi of Egypt and they will reflect, as Al-Sisi has, the will of the people of their country.”

The increasing popularity of Al-Sisi in America’s conservative circles, however, has not gone down well with the US liberal media, especially such TV and newspaper behemoths as CNN, the Washington Post and Newsweek, which have led a hostile campaign against Al-Sisi, describing him as Egypt’s “new dictator or strongman,” or a “military coup leader”.

On 6 August, Newsweek ran a story with the sensational headline “in Republican debate, Cruz praises the Egyptian dictator Al-Sisi.” In two articles entitled “the GOP’s new favourite Arab leader” and “Republican debate highlights GOP obsession with Egypt’s Al-Sisi,” the two liberal media outlets joined forces to attack Al-Sisi.

Egyptian political analysts who follow the American presidential debates said they were not surprised by Al-Sisi becoming a contentious issue. Hassan Abu Taleb, an Al-Ahram political analyst, said he was “not surprised by the American liberal media’s anti-Al-Sisi rhetoric.”

“This media, coupled with the Obama administration and other similar organisations like Human Rights Watch and American think tanks like the Carnegie Institute, have been for years promoting an extremist liberal agenda that has led to the Middle East languishing in chaos and terrorism,” Abu Taleb said.

“These liberal circles have a very simplistic view of political conditions in the Middle East. They believe that organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood are moderate and should be integrated in the political process as part of what they call ‘inclusive democracy’ and that this would put an end to terrorism.”

“The result of this view, which has been espoused by the Obama administration and was evident during his speech in Cairo in June 2009, has been a ‘destructive democracy’ that has allowed extremists and terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to ride the wave of the Arab Spring, turning it into a religious revolution.”

“The problem with these American liberal fanatics is that they have not been able so far to see the catastrophic results of their views or of Obama’s pro-Brotherhood doctrine, and they still insist on portraying people like Al-Sisi as a military dictator who usurped power from a democratically elected president,” Abu Taleb said.

In its commentary, CNN insisted that Al-Sisi had “ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president in a coup,” crushed political dissent, let foreign journalists languish in jail, and jabbed at the US by greeting Russian President Vladimir Putin as a hero. And while Jeb Bush in a TV interview described Al-Sisi’s speech at Al-Azhar as “an incredible speech about Muslim extremism,” the Washington Post insisted that Al-Sisi’s speech was “standard stuff”.

According to the CNN report, “Al-Sisi’s remarks in Al-Azhar University were not that unusual and a number of Arab leaders have previously given similar speeches to limited effect.”

Daniel Pipes, a US political analyst, disagrees with CNN, countering that “Al-Sisi’s call for religious revolution in his speech was unprecedented, not to mention that it was delivered in a highly symbolic venue — Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, one of the most vaunted seats of learning in the Muslim world.”

In his speech before Al-Azhar clerics on 1 January, Al-Sisi warned that Islam was “being torn and destroyed by extremism.” He said it was “inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, killing and destruction for the entire world,” asking “does this mean that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven billion people — so that they themselves may live?”

Gamal Zahran, a political science professor at Suez Canal University, said that “the popularity of President Al-Sisi in some American political circles clearly shows that there is a large sector of the American elite that has begun to see the truth about what is happening in Egypt and that the US liberal media’s coverage of events in the Middle East has always been misleading.”

“This media, especially CNN and the New York Times, has proved itself to be flawed and biased since the Arab uprisings in 2011, and we see now that many circles in America have become highly sceptical of this media,” Zahran said, adding that “different sectors of the political elite in America and even in Western Europe have decided to change their views since Egypt led its revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.”

“These sectors now realise that the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings were stolen by the Islamists and that Obama’s ‘inclusive democracy’ has paved the way for these Islamists, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, and that the secularist backlash against these Islamists was necessary to stem the tide of extremism and put the Arab Spring back on track,” he said.

A US diplomat also warned in an interview with the WorldViews Website this month of “the dangers of Morsi-style majoritarianism,” referring to the ways in which Islamist dictators like Egypt’s ousted former president Mohamed Morsi or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erodgan can win elections not to establish democracy but to build religious totalitarianism.

Zahran, however, believes that “the persistent anti-Al-Sisi rhetoric in America’s liberal circles will continue to keep Al-Sisi’s relations with the Obama administration out in the cold,” adding that “I do not think there will be any improvement in these relations despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Egypt and growing talk about an expected visit by Al-Sisi to America next September.”

He warned that “the election in 2016 of another liberal Democratic president like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden will not help improve Egypt’s relations with America because these adopt the same Obama doctrine that still sees Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as moderates.”

At the same time, Zahran warned that “the conservative praise for Al-Sisi could be deceptive.” He said it was important not to forget that “former US president George W. Bush, a Republican, was the first to hold talks with Muslim Brotherhood leaders as an alternative to [Egypt’s former president] Hosni Mubarak,” recalling that “the Bush administration received them as independent MPs who believed in democracy.”

“The Republicans might see Al-Sisi as a major force against Islamist terrorism, but they hold the same liberal view that Al-Sisi has stifled freedoms and cracked down on political opponents,” Zahran said.

Zahran and Abu Taleb both think the best way to deal with American misconceptions could be gradually to phase out Egypt’s strategic relationship with Washington. “I think President Al-Sisi is moving in this direction, although he is keen not to cut all ties with Washington. He is giving the US the message that it is no longer reliable,” said Abu Taleb.

Zahran was particularly happy that Al-Sisi had been able to neutralise Egypt’s dependence on American weaponry by forging stronger military cooperation with countries like Russia, China and France. “Al-Sisi’s visit, with other Arab leaders, to Moscow this week is very important in telling Washington that we have become fed up with Obama’s hollow jargon about democracy and its lack of will to fight IS. It is a way of saying we cannot trust the US,” Zahran said.

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Action for Culture (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))



photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby

When on 9 November 2014, Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (the Cultural Resource) announced suspending its activities in Egypt, the news spread like wildfire. Many questions were raised about the decision and its timing. Given that the Cultural Resource was no small part of Egypt’s cultural scene, such a commotion and raised eyebrows could only be expected.

To the regular audience, the Mawred was recognised through the Hayy Festival and CirCairo as well as the regional Spring Festival, alongside numerous musical and art activities, many of which take place at the El-Genaina theatre in

Al Azhar Park, Cairo, as well as other locations. For Egyptian artists and cultural players, the Mawred was an important platform nurturing creativity through grants, workshops and seminars.

It was a means for local and regional artists to perform and develop their talents, and an important knowledge source for wannabe cultural managers. The Mawred’s inclusive cultural philosophy also embraced underprivileged communities, giving them the artistic tools for development, of which the most palpable example is the Al Darb Al Ahmar Arts School teaching the circus arts to children and young people from economically deprived areas. All the Mawred’s programmes use the fundamental denomination of art/culture as a tool for reaching out, nurturing and developing civil society. The benefits of the Cultural Resource make up too long a list and any description of the values they brought to Egyptian society would need a lot of ink to print.

The history of the Cultural Resource goes back to 2003, when a small group of cultural activists came up with the idea of establishing a non-governmental and non-profit Arab cultural organisation. The group was registered as a non-profit organisation in Belgium and began operating throughout the Arab region. Its regional office in Cairo was under the directorship of Basma El-Husseiny, a woman whose biography points up her involvement with the independent culture scene.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, El-Husseiny was active in independent theatre. Her experiments led her to work in community theatres across many popular districts: Boulaq Al-Dakrour and Bab Al-Shareya in Cairo and Qeit Bey in Alexandria, where she worked on the folk tales told by the locals. El-Husseiny later found employment with the British Council, moving onto the Ford Foundation where she worked as a consultant for art-related funding. It was finally with

Al Mawred Al Thaqafy, first in Egypt but soon after across the region, that El-Husseiny combined her passion for civil society and community welfare with the skills and expertise she had accumulated. Naturally, under her directorship, the Mawred excelled in Egypt, extending its field of activity to make a strong impact on the regional scene. El-Husseiny announced she would step down from the Mawred’s directorship shortly before the institution closed in Egypt, but as a board member she remained in close contact with its activities while working on many new and fascinating projects.

To better understand El-Husseiny’s incessant dynamism and dedication to civil society through culture, however, one might need to go back to that memorable day in 2014 when the Cultural Resource announced suspending its activities in Egypt:

“We suspended activities in an atmosphere of uncertainty, at a time when many people felt threatened. In fact, we felt that continuing to work in Egypt might put all the staff in danger,” El-Husseiny explains, referring to the Law on Associations presented by the Ministry of Social Solidarity to Egyptian NGOs in mid-2014, when the ministry gave 10 November as a deadline for the associations and foundations to register under the new, more restrictive regulations or be subject to investigation and possible prosecution.

Shortly, as briefed by Human Rights Watch Online (Beirut), the draft law aimed to regulate nongovernmental organisations by giving the government and security agencies veto power over all activities of associations in Egypt.

The law “would empower the government and security agencies to dissolve existing groups, pending a court order, or refuse to license new groups if it decided their activities could ‘threaten national unity.’It would allow officials to inspect the premises of any association suspected of engaging in the work of a nongovernmental organization. It would impose crippling restrictions on foreign funding of Egyptian nongovernmental groups and their capacity to communicate or cooperate with groups abroad. It would impose sentences of at least one year in prison and a fine of at least EGP100,000 (US$13,985) for infractions,” the brief reads. Moreover, according to the International Centre for Non-for-Profit Law, the “denial of registration [under the new law] are overly vague, inviting the exercise of excessive government discretion” and includes “vague grounds for dissolution, thereby inviting subjective and arbitrary decision-making on dissolution decisions.”

El-Husseiny explains that “this whole situation was particularly blown up in the media and we felt we had a responsibility to protect our staff. We didn’t stop our activities in Egypt, we only suspended them until we could figure out what might be done”. She adds that, in an ideal situation, such a law should not challenge the activities of any NGO so long as it does not call for violence or engage in corruption.

MAWRED’S OLD-NEW CHAPTER: With the Culture Resource closing its doors in Egypt for the time being, the management now moved principally to Lebanon, where the Beirut office is now in charge of managing regional programmes, though one programme also moved to Tunisia. Many of the Mawred’s activities – production awards, cultural management training, workshops, etc. – continue to take place at the regional level. The Spring Festival will continue to take place under the Cultural Resource, regionally. As for the activities held by El-Genaina theatre – the Hayy and CirCairo festivals and the Al Darb Al Ahmar Arts School – they are now disconnected from the Cultural

Resource. Those activities have now been placed under the umbrella of a newly established the El-Genaina limited liability company, headed by Ashraf Kenawy, the former director of El-Genaina Theatre. The final break was announced in a Mawred press release last May in which the Culture Resource “wished the El-Genainacompanyall success in this new stage and hoped it will yet become profitablecompany working in arts and culture that can sustain itself by developing an entrepreneurial business model.”

But the move to Beirut took several months and required much red tape. It wasn’t until July 2015 that the Culture Resource announced the launch of its Beirut office. “Beirut is a central city, well-connected with the region, with a good media environment. There is no reason why we should not be there if Cairo is not feasible at this moment,” El-Husseiny explains.

It certainly hasn’t stopped the Mawred from pursuing its dynamic regional agenda. One remarkable project is the Masters Degree in Cultural Policy and Cultural Management, whose first students will start studying at Casablanca’s UniversityofHassanII this September. “This is one of the most important projects fully developed by the Cultural Resource. Following many studies conducted since 2013, we concluded that an MA programme should be instated and looked at four countries for its implementation: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon. Further studies resulted in choosing theHassanII University.”

A trilateral memorandum of understanding was signed by the Culture Resource, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Morocco’s Hassan II University and the Cultural Policy Department of Hildesheim University in Germany. Hassan II University provides the basic academic staff for ongoing courses, in addition to courses given by the visiting professors, whether from Hildesheim University or elsewhere in Europe and Arab region. A handful of topics are taught by non-academics, practitioners in the cultural sector.

But El-Husseiny stresses the fact that this is not the only culture-related MA in the Arab region. She points to other programmes, which are however limited to cultural tourism or cultural heritage and museums: “In Morocco there are programmes in heritage and museums, in Lebanon we find programmes on cultural mediation. In Egypt, there is the Masters in Cultural Heritage Managementat the French University of Egypt, under Professor Fekri Hassan. Helwan University has also recently launched a Cultural Heritage Management programme. Cairo University offers a Cultural Development Diploma, but the latter is not an MA and does not qualify the holder for further academic study.”

The programme at Hassan II University will welcome a total of 15 students: five from Morocco and 10 from other Arab countries. Regionally selected students are offered a partial scholarship which supports their flight, tuition fees and part of their living expenses. The two-year MA culminates in a certificate accredited across many Arab and European academic institutions, allowing students to proceed with a PhD.

Though El-Husseiny no longer holds the director’s responsibilities at the Cultural Resource, naturally she remains aware of its many activities. “Now I am only on the Mawred’s board and as such I’m probably a bit more distanced. I can tell you however that the Mawred continues its work on cultural policies. The full report on the cultural situation in the region is expected to be released this year. Imkan, a new cultural leadership training programme, was successfully completed very recently,” El-Husseiny says, also mentioning a new initiative called Tazamon (In-Sync) spaning three cities – Tunis, Beirut and Amman – that supports the work of young Arab artists. Tazamon will be linked with the Spring Festival organised by the Culture Resource in its upcoming, 2016 edition, which will take place in the three aforementioned cities.

One initiative that seems particularly interesting is Tunisia’s Balad El-Fann, a pioneering cultural management training programme that brings together people who work in the Ministry of Culture (mostly the cultural houses across Tunisia) and the country’s independent cultural sector’s players. Executed with full support from the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, Balad El-Fann involves workshops in six different regions in Tunisia, which result in the participants working on projects that rely on cooperation on both sides of the line dividing governmental and independent cultural players. The best projects receive a grant $10,000 for their implementation.

Involved in some of those workshops, El-Husseiny reveals many challenges that have cropped up in the process.

“There is a great difference in skills between the two sectors. Though exceptions do exist, generally speaking, we find that governmental employees do not depend on an internet environment, email or social media, they are not aware of what a proposal or a cultural plan is. People in the independent sector have huge problems as well, but at least they have knowledge of some basic things; they know how to ask for the things they need, they operate with clear checklists. The governmental players are rather used to following instructions coming from supervisors and are rarely aware of the bigger picture and their role in the whole cultural process. I expect that the same situation exists in Egypt as well, if you leave out top government personnel and look at the desks of employees of lower ranks.”

El-Husseiny gives an example of any state-run theatre festival in Egypt. Normally hundreds of employees are involved, most of them unaware of the bigger picture. She says the development of a successful cultural sector and successful work in culture depends on understanding the whole project. “Many government employees might not have major responsibilities, they might not have much authority, but they must know what is happening in the project, what generates their small tasks and what their role leads to.”

El-Husseiny concludes that the government structure in several countries in the Arab world somehow discourages this

“general understanding” phenomenon. On the other hand, while she understands all the reasons behind the distance that independent players tend to keep from state institutions, she agrees that they should put their distrust aside and try to infiltrate state institutions. “Culture does not belong to state employees, it belongs to society. The Ministry of Culture with all its buildings and resources should be ‘our resources’ somehow. It’s not easy but at least we should push for it and then hold them accountable.”

NEW GROUND: No longer managing the Cultural Resource, El-Husseiny remains very passionate about its activities, and participates in many of them. Recently however her work in civil society took her to another fascinating initiative: Action for Hope. The programme’s pilot year was launched in early 2013, under the Cultural Resource’s umbrella.

“Action for Hope is very different to anything the Mawred has ever done before. The initiative’s main aim is to work with – and I underline: work with – communities in crisis, to strengthen them, using art as its main medium,” she explains, recalling that the pilot year touched on communities in Lebanon as well as Egypt’s Al Dowair Village in Assiut, Istabl Antar and Ezbet Khairallah, densely populated and underprivileged slum area in the southern part of Cairo.

“This was followed by a transition period in 2014, in which the program was gradually turning into an independent organisation with a separate administrative and organizational structure,” we read on Action for Hope’s Facebook page. Finally, earlier this year, Action for Hope was registered – in Belgium and Lebanon – as an association with El-Husseiny as its director, with a board and members from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. On 18 August 2015, Action for Hope released a statement that read, “Action for Hope announces its official independence from Culture Resource. The independence is a culmination of two years of field work with communities suffering from difficult social and economic conditions.” Operations are covered through individual donations and help so far is provided mainly by the Goethe Institute and the British Council.

“We are lucky that Action for Hope attracts a lot of attention as we work a lot with poor and underprivileged people, or with communities that suffer from war. On the other hand, this being a benign initiative, no one can claim that we support any kind of violence or anything like that. Also, we work with art and support the communities through artistic tools,” El-Husseiny explains.

This year and the next, Action for Hope will focus on Syrian refugees. Apart from the palpable need for help, Syria also strikes El-Husseiny on the personal level. She recalls visits to the country with her father and then alone, and the many relations she developed with people there. When the crisis started and Syria made the headlines, El-Husseiny felt that this was the time to step in. Together with a group of people, she visited Syrian refugee camps in Kilis, Turkey and the nearby camps inside the Syrian border. There she noticed that, despite being isolated from the world, and subject to the Turkish government’s strict security measures, the camps had many of their needs provided in an adequate and humane manner.

“Still, people in the camps were very sad; they felt forgotten by the whole world. In fact, this feeling has developed into the nation-wide dogma. Today many Syrians feel that the world doesn’t want them, or that the world would actually like it if they all disappeared. We saw this in Turkey, and it was my personal connection and feelings towards Syrians – not to forget the size of the tragedy – that moved me towards further infiltration of the Syrian refugee communities. There are so many tragedies around the world but this one is so close to us. Angelina Jolie seems to be doing more for the Syrian refugees than we. I felt this was the priority now.”

El-Husseiny directed her efforts to two Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon. She decided to launch a music school that will provide permanent teachers and a curriculum; with locations in Qaavillage in northernLebanon and the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, the schools will operate in rented rooms for 11 days a month, providing a total of 30 hours of teaching monthly. She explains that the model is partly inspired by Egypt’s Al Darb Al Ahmar Arts School, which aims to provide underprivileged communities with tools to help them develop and become professionals in art-related domains.

“Most of the kids we teach in Lebanon do not go to schools or have dropped out of them; usually they work. Hence, the music school has to attract them in the afternoons and not full time. We brought many instructors from Europe but mostly highly qualified Syrian teachers. They give a few days of lessons which are then followed by the local Syrian teachers,” El-Husseiny explains that this pilot will function for five months before its first evaluation.

El-Husseiny goes on to explain that the school aims first at the development of singing and percussion skills, then ear training and solfege. Since most children do not read and write, lessons depend on the memorisation.

“Syrians love to sing. We find many good voices among them. Percussions are not as strong as among Egyptian children for instance but we’re working on its development. Maybe next year we will introduce ney or some other easy instrument. The point is to develop people who will eventually be able to use their skills in the market and make a living.” Since many of the children have to work alongside their parents, often in farming, the development of an artistic skill will give them better – and easier – tools to support their families. “They can become darbuka players, singers in local occasions, etc. This is easier money.”

As she looks at all these accomplishments and initiatives, El-Husseiny is particularly passionate about Action of Hope. Its establishment included even personal sacrifices on her part. “I was at a point when I had to choose between pursuing a PhD programme in Germany, something that I would really have loved to do, or setting up Action for Hope as an organisation and devoting my time to it. The PhD was very tempting, but I also knew that this was the time I should focus on Action for Hope. Time is passing and even if all that we achieve is a drop in the ocean, if we do not focus on Syrian refugees in Lebanon now, we are going to lose at least 500 very talented kids in a year. So the choice was worth it,” she concludes, adding that she is already looking at Jordan as another potential location for Action for Hope, where they would work under the UNICEF.

El-Husseiny hopes the day will come when she will be able to resume her work back in Egypt (and Sudan for that matter). “It all depends on the whole atmosphere in the country. Egypt is very challenging on many levels. It is also quite dangerous for initiatives such as Action for Hope. In many slum areas – including Ezbet Khairallah – almost everybody carries some kind of weapon, from knives to guns.” She says a legal backbone and full support from the authorities would be essential for Action for Hope to operate in Egypt. “We cannot put people involved in the project at risk, have them hurt or thrown behind bars.”

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Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Sahara (allAfrica.com)

Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris

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