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Archive for July, 2012

University Brawls Tarnish Jordan’s Education Sector

Written by Abdullah Omar
Monday, July 23, 2012

Earlier this month, dozens of students used guns, knives and Molotov cocktail during a brawl in Muta university in Karak. The incident highlighted how fragile security is in a country that prides itself as a safe heaven in a region bubbling with uncertainty.

Thousands of students from the Gulf and other areas are currently studying in Jordan, which has a long tradition of excellent universities. Officials fear that if the fighting continues, the Gulf countries will stop sending students, an important source of revenue for the financially-strapped kingdom.

At least 20 people were injured during the melee in the southern city of Kerak when dozens of students from two East Bank (Native Jordanian) tribes, the al-Bararsheh and the Hamaydeh fought after one student accused another of stealing his cell phone.

A deputy dean was stabbed in the back and a number of buildings were reduced to ashes before security forces intervened to contain the situation, said eyewitnesses.

“An argument developed into a fist fight. Within minutes several people from both tribes were at each other throats,” Ali Abdul Rahman Jabari, an engineering student told The Media Line.

He said the situation spiraled out of control after one student began bleeding after being stabbed in the back. Students from both tribes called for reinforcements from relatives living in nearby villages.

The university this week suspended 17 students who took part in the fighting. University officials say they are concerned that the incident could have a negative impact on the country’s reputation as a regional hub for higher education.

The fight is the latest episode in a series of brawls on both private and public universities campuses. Most of the fights begin over issues such as insulting a girl’s honor, or allegations of theft.

At the University of Jordan, the kingdom’s largest university, there have been several tribal related fights.

Abdul Rahman Shasheer, a member of the student council said tensions over internal elections or insults to girls have sparked fighting.

“Most fights develop between students coming from small villages who are very conservative and others from the city with a more open minded approach,” he told The Media Line. “They start as a confrontation between two people and develop into mass brawls.”

Officials, psychologists and social activists are struggling to come up with an explanation.

They blame blind allegiance to tribes, deteriorating living standards, and political repression. There are also clashes between modern and conservative approaches to the relations between men and women.

Psychologist Hussein Khuzay believes the absence of the rule of law in Jordan and widespread nepotism and favoritism have created a crisis of confidence between the public and the government.

“People no longer believe that official channels can protect people’s rights,” he said.

“Favoritism is now deeply rooted in universities and other public institutions, which leads to putting incompetent people in sensitive posts.”

Khuzay says the rising number of brawls clearly shows authorities are unable to control the students on campuses.

Students from the University of Jordan say there is no discipline in the university and no consequences for fighting.

They say most students who have been involved in clashes have not been punished or had their punishment suspended after interference from influential figures in the security apparatus, the royal court or the parliament.

“We have in our universities students who do not deserve to be in here, but were allowed in because they have ties with influential figures universities but are granted seats due to their links to influential figures.,” Fakher Daas, the coordination of the national committee for students rights told The Media Line. “Most fights are initiated by these groups.”

Meanwhile, Mohammad Khatib, the spokesman of the public security department blamed the universities for not being able to stop students from carrying weapons.

“It is not the responsibility of the police to prevent students from carrying weapons inside universities,” he said. “The police can not enter these sacred sites.”

Khatib said the government is concerned that such fights could spill over to nearby towns and cities.

Students from the oil-rich Gulf often pay full tuition, and universities are called “the oil of Jordan.” In Muta, officials from the Saudi embassy said at least 700 Saudi students applied to be transferred following the surge in level of violence.

Officials from the Ministry of Higher Education expressed concern that a bad reputation will encourage new students to apply to other countries and not to come to Jordan.

The kingdom generates hundreds of millions of dollars by providing education to foreign nationals, but the rising violence could push students to look elsewhere, says economic expert Hussam Ayesh.

“University violence will dent Jordan’s reputation as a safe heaven for students and this well translate into heavy financial losses to a major contributor to the national economy,” he said.

He also believes that the brawls among educated young Jordanians could discourage foreign investors from opening projects in Jordan, particularly in areas hit by violence.

Source: The Media Line.

World backs Syrian opposition

Thursday 15 September 2011

ISTANBUL: Syrian opposition activists meeting in Istanbul announced on Thursday the members of Syrian National Council to provide an alternative to President Bashar Assad’s government as a brutal crackdown continued in their homeland.

Addressing a news conference at the end of four days of talks, Basma Kadmani, a Syrian exile living in France, said the council aimed to help topple Assad’s dictatorship within six months and form an interim government thereafter.

“The political vision of the council will give a push to the escalation of the revolutionary work we are seeing,” she said.

“This group, based on previous initiatives, and on what the street is demanding, is calling for the downfall of the regime with all of its limbs.” While condemning the Syrian government’s repressive response to pro-democracy protests, the international community has bemoaned the lack of a unified opposition that it could talk to.

By finalizing names of its members, drawn from Syria’s various political, religious and ethnic groups, the council hopes to fill that gap. “The next step will be international recognition, and the council will act in accordance with the wishes of the Syrian people,” Adip Shishakly, a member of a prominent Syrian political family, said at the end of the Istanbul meeting.

While not ruling out foreign military intervention in Syrian as more protesters call for international protection, Kadmani said the focus for now was on stepping up diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad.

Some 140 people were chosen as council members, of whom 40 percent were based outside Syria, but more could be appointed later.

A list of 72 members was circulated but the names of those inside Syria were mostly withheld to protect them from reprisals by Assad’s security forces.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for “coherent” new international action over the deadly crackdown.

“When he has not been keeping his promises, enough is enough and the international community should really take coherent measures and speak in one voice,” the UN secretary general told a press conference.

Members of the European Parliament called Thursday for the immediate departure of Assad who they said had lost all legitimacy.

In a resolution adopted in Strasbourg, Parliament called on Assad and his regime to “relinquish power immediately.” “The Syrian regime is calling its legitimacy into question by choosing a path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promises on broad reforms,” the resolution said.

Source: Arab News.

Shut Israel Embassy, Jordanians demand

Thursday 15 September 2011

AMMAN: About 2,000 Jordanians demonstrated outside the Kaluti Mosque in Rabia neighborhood here Thursday night urging the closure of the Israeli Embassy and the abrogation of the peace treaty with Israel.

The security authorities cordoned off the area and set up metal barricades outside the mosque to prevent protesters from proceeding to the Israeli mission which was earlier evacuated of its staff by the Israeli government.

Participants, mainly belonging to the Islamic-led opposition, trade unions and Pan-Arab groups, chanted slogans and raised placards urging the government to cancel the peace pact Jordan signed with the Zionist state in 1994.

Activists earlier called on Facebook for a demonstration of one million participants, but the call apparently failed possibly because of unprecedented security measures taken by the authorities.

One of the slogans during the protest was: “The Qur’an is our constitution and Jihad is our path.”

Another slogan was: “No to the alternative homeland and we are going to burn Israel.”

The slogan referred to suggestions by extremist Israeli politicians for the setting up of a homeland for Palestinians in Jordan instead of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“The grudge against Israel is rapidly building up in the country because of its crimes in Palestine and elsewhere,” said Hamzeh Mansour, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front, the country’s main opposition party.

“The Jordanian people are against the establishment of normal ties with this enemy,” he told Arab News.

Responding to Israel’s decision to evacuate the embassy in Amman, Mansour said: “The Zionist enemy is feeling further isolation as a result of the Arab Spring.”

“It also feels that its existence is no longer safe and stable, particularly after what happened in Cairo last week,” he added.

Thursday’s rally found inspiration from a demonstration in Cairo that ended last Friday when the Israeli diplomatic mission was stormed and the staff was evacuated by commandos.

Source: Arab News.

Opposition launches 140-member National Council

By Duraid Al Baik
September 16, 2011

United front will work with people within the country and with international community to stop the killings.

Dubai: Syrian opposition figures marked the start of the seventh month of the people’s uprising against the rule of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime by forming a 140-member Syrian National Council. The group includes 70 exiled opposition figures and 70 from inside the country, according to Paris-based Dr Basma Kodmani, secretary of the council.

She said the council will act as a united front against the brutality of the regime and will work with people inside Syria and with the international community to stop the killings. The council consists of various political groups with different ideological backgrounds. It has a majority of secular representatives in addition to Islamists and leftists. Sources close to the steering committee of the council told Gulf News that hectic efforts were invested for the formation of the group. “Meetings were held in Turkey, Egypt, Belgium and in the UK to come up with a unified front capable of representing Syrians inside the country and abroad. The council would hopefully be a turning point in the struggle against the regime which has killed more than 3,500 people and injured 20,000 in its full-scale war against civilians,” Dr Ammar Qurabi, head of the Council for Change in Syria, told Gulf News.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Syrian opposition members were meeting in Paris with French officials on Thursday and Friday.

Source: Gulf News.

Australia to offer new gender choice on passports

SYDNEY (BNO NEWS) — The Australian government will now offer a third choice besides male and female when citizens identify their gender on passport forms in an effort to remove gender discrimination, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported on Thursday.

Under new rules unveiled this week, those who do not identify themselves as male or female will be able to list their gender on passports as X. Meanwhile, transgender people will be able to pick whether they are male or female.

Under the old rules, passport applicants could change their status only after a sex-change operation. Now, gender reassignment surgery will no longer be a prerequisite to get a passport identifying them the way they wish. However, applicants will still need to present a statement from a doctor supporting their preferred gender.

According to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, the reform was in line with the government’s efforts to remove discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Transgender advocates said the new rules will save transsexual Australians from needless embarrassment and delays.

The Australian Coalition for Equality said people would now be able to travel overseas without being stopped by officials because their passport doesn’t match their public identity. “From that point of view, it’s a huge step forward,” spokeswoman Martine Delaney said, as reported by the AAP.

Delaney welcomed the announcement, saying the changes would give “greater recognition” to transgender and intersex Australians. “The flow-on effects acknowledge these people are human beings with rights,” she said.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Indonesia gov’t to monitor Dutch compensation for 1947 massacre

JAKARTA (BNO NEWS) — The Indonesian government will monitor developments around a Dutch court ruling on the 1947 Rawagede massacre, a presidential spokesman said on Thursday.

A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that the Netherlands was responsible for the massacre carried out by its colonial troops in the town of Rawagede, east of Jakarta, on December 9, 1947. It said the victims’ families should be compensated, although it is not known how much they will be paid.

Teuku Faizasyah, the president’s special aide on international affairs, declined to comment on what the government would do next to follow up on the ruling, the Jakarta Globe reported. He only said the government hoped the ruling could meet the people’s sense of justice.

In 2008, the widows of eight victims and one survivor from Rawagede filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state to demand compensation for the massacre. The Netherlands has admitted the executions in the past but had insisted that no claim could be lodged due to the expiry of the statute of limitations of five years in Dutch law.

Dutch authorities say that 150 were killed, while a victims’ association claims that 431 people lost their lives.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Cambodia and Thailand agree to remove troops from disputed border

PHNOM PENH (BNO NEWS) — Thailand and Cambodia on Thursday agreed to remove their troops from a disputed area on their common border, officials said on Friday.

The prime ministers of both countries agreed to “redeploy troops” away from the disputed area near the temple, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said. He added that the redeployment of troops would require observers from Indonesia, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, according to the Bangkok Post.

In July, a ruling by the Hague-based International Court of Justice asked both nations to withdraw military personnel from around the Preah Vihear temple complex, but neither side has pulled out yet. Last month, Cambodia withdrew approximately 1,500 troops from an area located 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of the Preah Vihear Temple as the two neighboring countries’ military tension eased.

Both Cambodia and Thailand claim the 4.6 square kilometer (1.7 square miles) area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple on their shared border, which has never been formally established. However, the military tension has eased since the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory in July’s general election.

Tensions first escalated between the two countries in July 2008 following the build-up of military forces near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple. The United Nations Security Council urged both sides to establish a permanent ceasefire after at least 10 people were killed.

Clashes resumed earlier this year as both nations claim the lands surrounding the ancient Hindu Temple, which has been damaged due to the conflict. The Preah Vihear temple dates back to the 11th century and is located on the Cambodian side of the border.

Both prime ministers held talks on Thursday during Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s one-day official visit to Phnom Penh. According to Yingluck, the meeting went smoothly and was the opening of “a new chapter” in relations between Thailand and Cambodia, the Bangkok Post reported.

She also said that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had promised to find ways for the early release of two Thai activists jailed in a Cambodian prison. Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, from the Thailand Patriot Network, were detained for illegal entry and spying charges.

A Cambodian court on February 1 ruled that Veera and his secretary Ratree were guilty of espionage, illegal entry, and trespassing in a military zone. Veera was sentenced to eight years in jail and a 1.8 million riel ($450) fine, while Ratree was handed a six-year jail term and a 1.2 million riel ($300) fine.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Astronomers spot Star Wars-like planet with two suns

WASHINGTON (BNO NEWS) — Astronomers have identified the first circumbinary planet, a planet orbiting two stars, similar to the one seen in the 30-year-old Star Wars film.

The planet, which has been dubbed Kepler-16b, is located some 200 light-years from Earth and has been described as cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life. The planet was detected during NASA’s Kepler mission and its discovery is significant as it demonstrates the diversity of planets within the galaxy.

The existence of circumbinary planets had been previously hinted by earlier researches, but the detection now confirms such planets. Kepler detected the planet by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it.

According to astronomers, Kepler-16b is an inhospitable, cold world about the size of Saturn and thought to be made up of about half rock and half gas.

The parent stars are smaller than our sun. One is 69 percent the mass of the sun and the other only 20 percent. The research also showed that Kepler-16b orbits around both stars every 229 days, similar to Venus’ 225-day orbit, but lies outside the system’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on the surface, because the stars are cooler than our sun.

A research team led by Laurance Doyle of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, used data from the Kepler space telescope, which measures dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, to search for transiting planets. Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet.

“This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life,” Kepler principal investigator William Borucki said. “Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now.”

From our vantage point on Earth, scientists detected a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other and the new planet in the Kepler-16 system. When the smaller star partially blocks the larger star, a primary eclipse occurs, and a secondary eclipse occurs when the smaller star is occulted, or completely blocked, by the larger star.

However, astronomers said a third body could exist since observations showed that the brightness of the system dipped even when the stars were not eclipsing one another.

The additional dimming in brightness events, called the tertiary and quaternary eclipses, reappeared at irregular intervals of time, indicating the stars were in different positions in their orbit each time the third body passed. This showed the third body was circling, not just one, but both stars, in a wide circumbinary orbit.

In addition, another good indicator of the mass of the third body was the gravitational tug on the stars, measured by changes in their eclipse times. Only a very slight gravitational pull was detected, one that only could be caused by a small mass.

“Most of what we know about the sizes of stars comes from such eclipsing binary systems, and most of what we know about the size of planets comes from transits,” said Doyle, who also is the lead author and a Kepler participating scientist. “Kepler-16 combines the best of both worlds, with stellar eclipses and planetary transits in one system.”

In the Star Wars saga, the fictional planet called Tatooine shows a world with a double sunset. Contrary to Kepler-16b, the fictional planet is habitable, and is even the home planet of the saga’s main characters Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) and Luke Skywalker.

“Working in film, we often are tasked with creating something never before seen,” said visual effects supervisor John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., in San Francisco.

“However, more often than not, scientific discoveries prove to be more spectacular than anything we dare imagine. There is no doubt these discoveries influence and inspire storytellers. Their very existence serves as cause to dream bigger and open our minds to new possibilities beyond what we think we ‘know.'”

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Al-Jazeera, you’re not alone


Broadcasters battle it out to be top in covering Mideast news; Prince Alwaleed, Sky lead list of new satellite TV news contenders in region.

A new Middle East conflict is on its way –and this time it’s not being brought to you by the region’s satellite television news channels but it’s a battle among the broadcasters themselves as the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya come under assault from a host of new contenders.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, whose $20 billion fortune makes him the 26th wealthiest man in the world, said on Tuesday that he would launch his 24-hour news channel “Alarab” sometime next year, with Bloomberg News providing financial news programming. A few days earlier, Sky News Arabia, a joint venture between Britain’s BSkyB and Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp, confirmed plans to begin their all-news network next spring.

While Alarab and Sky News Arabia are the most serious new contenders, there are others are also readying to enter the market with channels wholly or partly dedicated to news.

“There’s no doubt it’s a crowded marketplace and what we’ll be looking for is ways in which the channels become distinctive within the marketplace,” said Rob Beynon, chief executive of DMA Media, a international media company that helps launch news channels around the world, including the Middle East.

“There are a lot of different ways to do that – greater or less concentration of business news, aiming for a younger audience, which the Alwaleed channel has said it will do. You could aim at a more internationally focused audience, which is something that Sky News Arabia can do,” Beynon told The Media Line.

Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, pioneered the idea of a pan-Arab news channel when it took to the airwaves in 1993. It was followed by Al-Arabiya in 2003, which is controlled by the Saudi-backed MBC Group. Since then, the two have enjoyed a near duopoly on the eyes of news junkies around the region and have enjoyed the surge of interest in Middle East news generated by the Arab Spring.

In addition to the Alwaleed and Sky channels, Al-Mayadeen satellite media network plans a new Beirut-based satellite channel early next year, aiming to cover the “reality” of economic and social issues in the Arab world. Saudi businessman Ali Hassan Al-Nagoor said in April that he will begin a satellite channel called Tala that will air cultural, social and sports programs in addition to talk shows.

In Egypt, 16 channels have obtained licenses to broadcast to the country’s 85 million people and via satellite to the Arab world. Among them is Naguib Sawiris, scion of a telecommunications and construction empire, who is sponsoring two new channels that will complement his holdings in the news and public affairs channel OTV and his shares in various local newspapers.

Even Israel is entering the game: The country’s regulators this week granted a license to Hala TV group, which includes Arab and Jewish partners, to operate an Arabic-language cable and satellite channel, which is scheduled to hit the airwaves in January.

The number of free to air (FTA) satellite TV channels in the Arab World increased by 10.5% between April 2010 and April 2011 to 538 , according to a June report by the Amman, Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group research. Two-thirds are privately owned, with the rest under government control.

A YouGov Siraj poll conducted last March found that 52% of some 11,500 people surveyed said they watched Al-Jazeera on a “regular” basis, trailed by Al-Arabiya with 47%. Local news channels drew a combined 25% while the Arabic versions of the BBC and CNBC were viewed regularly by 21% and 10%, respectively.

The BBC and CNN in English each garnered 23%. The bad news for the new contenders is that is that only 9% said they don’t watch news channels, which doesn’t leave much new audience to tap. The good news for them is that the Arabic-language broadcasters all scored lower for trustworthiness than they did for audience, indicating that there may be opportunities to take market share.

While Facebook and other social media channels got the most attention during the Arab Spring protests, Jon Alterman, Middle East program director at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said far more people got their news from and were influenced by satellite television.

“Pan-Arab media demonstrated that it fills many of the same roles that independent media do in other authoritarian countries, providing a counter-narrative to those of ruling regimes,” he wrote in the latest issue of The Washington Quarterly.

Internet access isn’t nearly that wide and many homes don’t have a computer. But many poor households invest in a dish antenna, said Ramesh Srinivasan, who teaches and researches social media issues at the University of California in Los Angeles. A recent study funded by the US Agency for International Development, found that more than 70% of Egyptians have access to satellite television in their homes.

“I stayed in shacks made of garbage with satellite dishes on their roofs,” Srinivasan told The Media Line, recalling a research visit to Cairo last spring. “These satellite dishes were picking up channels and networks not tightly controlled by the state.”

The Arab Spring has acted as an impetus for the new channels, providing a continuous and compelling news story and in some countries, most notably Egypt, ushering in a new era of media freedom. “Alarab will focus editorially on the important shifts taking place across the Arab world with an emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of press,” a statement from Prince Alwaleed said this week, explaining his new venture.

But an all-news channel is an expensive proposition demanding huge investments in people and equipment, DMA’s Beynon said. When the US government launched Al-Hurra in 2004, its first-year budget was $60 million, which doubled in subsequent years. Backers can expect several years of losses and an audience that waxes and wanes depending on the flow of news.

“You have to be very distinctive in your marketplace to make money. People will watch news channels when there’s a big story and often there can be days, weeks or months when there isn’t one and you have to get in there and develop the brand,” Beynon said.

Moreover, the market may be less accommodating to news broadcasters than they had hoped.

Last week Egypt’s military rulers froze new licenses for private satellite TV stations and are taking steps against broadcasters that they say are inciting violence. The offices of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian unit Mubasher Misr, launched following the revolution, were raided by authorities last Sunday, resulting in a technical engineer arrest and confiscated equipment.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.

Turkish PM visits Tunisia


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Tunis on Wednesday (September 14th), accompanied by a large delegation of government officials and business leaders, TAP reported. Erdogan’s two-day visit includes meetings with Interim Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi, President Fouad Mebazaa and political party representatives. Erdogan’s North African tour began in Egypt. The next stop is Libya.

Source: Magharebia.

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