Contains selective news articles I select

April 29, 2018

SAO PAULO (AP) — Lebanese expatriates began voting Sunday in the first parliamentary elections held by the tiny Arab country in nine years The current legislature has extended its term several times, citing security threats linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon’s political system distributes power among the country’s different religious communities, and the main parties are led by political dynasties that fought one another during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Sunday’s vote in 33 countries comes two days after thousands of Lebanese voted in six Arab countries. The vote marks the first time that Lebanese are allowed to vote abroad. Millions of Lebanese live abroad, but Lebanon’s state-run news agency says the number of registered voters is 82,970. The voting inside Lebanon will be held next Sunday.

Australia has the largest number of registered voters, with about 12,000, followed by Canada with 11,438 and the United States with about 10,000. In Brazil, home to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Lebanese descent, many were casting their ballots in Latin America’s most populous nation.

“Today’s voting is very important because for the first time we will have a voice in Lebanese affairs,” said Leila Smidi a 30-year-old mother of four who has been living in Brazil for 11 years. She spoke shortly after casting her ballot at Lebanon’s consulate in Sao Paulo.

About 1,500 Lebanese expats in Brazil are expected to vote. Lebanese immigrants and their descendants today form a community estimated at about 7 million – larger than Lebanon’s population of about 4.5 million. Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Brazil in the late 19th century, fleeing the Turkish-Ottoman empire that ruled much of the Middle East.

Accomplished merchants, many settled in Sao Paulo — Brazil’s biggest city — and earned a living as traveling salesmen selling textiles and clothes and opening new markets. Eventually they opened their own textile and clothing shops and factories.

Today, many of their descendants are prominent in the arts, politics, business, communications and medicine. The best known Brazilian politicians of Arab descent are President Michel Temer, Paulo Maluf, who twice served as mayor of Sao Paulo and once as governor of Sao Paulo state, and former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s business capital, and one of its leading businessmen is Paulo Antonio Skaf, president of the powerful Sao Paulo State Federation of Industries and the son of Lebanese immigrants.

Among Brazil’s brightest literary stars is Milton Hatoum, the Lebanese-descended author of the acclaimed novel “The Tree of Seventh Heaven.” Also a descendent of Lebanese immigrants, film director and commentator Arnaldo Jabor offers his strong opinions on just about everything daily on the Globo radio and TV network.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

Lebanon’s 128-member parliament is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then. The main competition will be between two coalitions, one that is led by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the other by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally who holds Saudi citizenship and is a critic of Tehran.

Despite the rivalry between Hariri’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, both are part of the national unity government and will most likely be represented in the Cabinet formed after next week’s vote.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

Advertisements

Mohammad Ersan

June 17, 2018

Ambiguity surrounds the financial mechanisms adopted by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at a June 11 summit in Mecca to help Jordan navigate through a crippling economic crisis. The kingdom’s debt has risen to record highs this year, totaling 96% of the gross domestic product, or $39 billion, while the unemployment rate rose to 18.5%.

The five-year, $2.5 billion package includes a deposit at the Central Bank of Jordan along with guarantees from the World Bank for Jordan to borrow funds and finance development projects. Jordanian authorities have not, however, made public the amount of the deposit, the terms of the guarantees or the share of the package allocated to development projects.

The offer of aid follows on the heels of protests that began May 30 opposing the government’s economic austerity policies and a draft income tax law. The demonstrators called for changes to the government’s economic approach and a halt to borrowing from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The protests ended June 6, after Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki’s government resigned, and Mulki’s designated successor, Omar al-Razzaz, promised to withdraw the income tax legislation.

Given the timing of the Mecca summit, political analysts have been speculating why Saudi Arabia, which chose not to provide aid to Jordan in 2017, has decided to resume financial support to Amman at this particular time.

Bassam Badarin, a political analyst and director of Al-Quds al-Arabi in Amman, told Al-Monitor that the resumption of Gulf aid to Jordan is linked to concerns over possible instability. “Saudi [Arabia has] concerns about Jordan’s peaceful protests spilling over into Gulf countries, as happened with the Tunisian revolution, which later turned into the Arab Spring in 2011,” Badarin said.

In 2012, during the Arab Spring, the Gulf Cooperation Council provided financial support to Jordan that included a $5 billion package over five years to bolster the economy’s performance. Additional funding was not forthcoming after the expiration of that package in 2017, a decision that unidentified Jordanian officials say was punishment for Jordan taking positions inconsistent with those of Saudi Arabia on regional matters. The Saudis did not issue an official statement on why it cut the flow of aid to the kingdom.

Amer al-Sabaileh, a strategic analyst and director of the Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute, told Al-Monitor, “Saudi Arabia is dealing with Jordan differently than it deals with Egypt, which has received a larger amount of aid. This is because of the estrangement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia driven by several issues, namely the Jerusalem issue and the Hashemites’ guardianship over the city’s holy sites, Jordan’s failure to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and Amman’s position on the blockade against Qatar, as Jordan only downgraded its diplomatic representation in 2017 [by withdrawing its ambassador in Doha].”

Jerusalem is a top priority for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite family, as the kingdom has administered all Muslim and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with Washington and Riyadh’s muted reaction to the US Embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have led many in Palestine and Jordan to view Riyadh as placing Palestine, and the issue of Jerusalem in particular, on the back burner.

Sabaileh added, “[The aid] comes against the backdrop of Jordanian popular protests in order to help Jordan through its economic crisis, as [the Gulf] considers the kingdom a friendly country and not an enemy. At the same time, it is obvious that Jordan is no ally of the Saudis, given the minimal efforts made in this regard and the underwhelming amount of the aid.”

During a Jan. 31 meeting with students of the Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II School for International Studies, King Abdullah II had said that the financial situation and economic pressure on Jordan persists because of its political positions, especially on Jerusalem, the idea being that a change in Amman’s stance could lead to offers to help ease the country’s economic problems.

Sabaileh ruled out the possibility of the Gulf aid being linked to Jordan ultimately accepting the so-called deal of the century for Israeli-Palestinian peace supposedly being finalized by Donald Trump’s administration. He reasoned, “Jordan is granting Palestinian refugees Jordanian nationality. Pressuring Jordan to either accept or reject [the deal] will not change a thing [in terms of aid].”

The more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan constitute the highest percentage, 40%, of those registered in the five areas of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to the kingdom’s Department of Palestinian Affairs. Jordan has reservations about Trump’s forthcoming peace plan based on fears that it might revoke the Palestinians’ right of return or pressure Amman into accepting a confederation with the West Bank excluding Jerusalem — that is, Jordan becoming an alternative country for Palestinians at the kingdom’s expense. Such a proposal would be met with great anger by indigenous Jordanians.

Labib Kamhawi, a political affairs expert and writer for the London-based Al-Rai Al-Youm, takes a different position on the resumption of Gulf assistance. “Some Arab countries felt bad about their financial blockade of Jordan in terms of causing instability there, and thus in the region as a whole, which could adversely affect future plans contained in the so-called deal of the century, which requires a high degree of stability in both Palestine and Jordan,” he told Al-Monitor. Kamhawi was referring to Jordan’s traditional backers — including Saudi Arabia, the United States and the UAE — reducing aid allowances to the kingdom in recent years, including US threats to cut aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Jerusalem move at the United Nations.

He said, “Stability is a prerequisite for the success of the so-called deal of the century, since so far it is only a set of ideas going back and forth between parties.”

Zaki Bani Irsheid, deputy general controller of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, also ruled out any link between Gulf aid and Jordan’s acceptance of a peace plan. He told Al-Monitor that the aid was, however, linked to the popular protests in the country. “All solutions, disputes, grants, aid and internal and external borrowing are mere temporary efforts to ease the pressure of the present crises without considering what the future might hold for Jordan,” Irsheid noted.

Khalid al-Zubaidi, a Jordanian writer and economist, told Al-Monitor that he does not believe the Gulf aid package will boost the economy, because it is rather “insignificant.” He called the distribution of aid between deposits and guarantees “vague.”

Zubaidi said, “The amount offered is modest compared to Jordan’s $11 billion budget, and the Gulf support was expected to be even greater, so the Mecca summit’s gesture was more one of moral support than financial.”

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/06/jordan-saudi-arabia-aid-deal-of-the-century.html.

April 30, 2018

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The Japanese foreign minister has presided over a rare meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials to push ahead with an agro-industrial park intended to enhance cross-border trade and cooperation.

Taro Kono, the Japanese minister, acknowledged late Sunday that it “has not been easy for the four parties to get together under current circumstances.” Israel and Jordan only recently patched up relations after a months-long diplomatic crisis. Officials from Israel and the Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank meet only intermittently because of ongoing deadlock in peace efforts.

Sunday’s meeting focused on the Japan-backed Jericho Agro-Industrial Park in the West Bank, near an Israeli-controlled border with Jordan. Twelve companies operate at the park, launched more than a decade ago. Kono says he hopes more will join, including Japanese firms.

July 16, 2018

PARIS (AP) — The members of France’s victorious World Cup team returned home from Russia to triumphant arcs of water heralding their airplane’s arrival and a red carpet welcome Monday, and that was before the formal homage that awaited them in Paris.

Goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team from the Air France plane to the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Airport personnel and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, a former champion fencer, were the first to tell them “merci” on behalf of a grateful nation that was sorely in need of a boost.

“Eternal Happiness” read Monday’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hope the euphoria will last for months — even years. The team expected to take a victory lap down the grand Champs-Elysees, the grand Paris avenue where hundreds of thousands thronged after France’s 4-2 victory Sunday over Croatia to capture the trophy.

For a third day in a row, the avenue was transformed into a boulevard of pride and happiness following a Bastille Day parade of French military might Saturday that, in hindsight, was a preview for the elation of France’s World Cup win.

The team’s appearance on the Champs-Elysees will be followed by a reception at the presidential palace. Hundreds of guests, including people from soccer clubs connected to the French players, were invited. A club in the poor suburb where 19-year-old star Kylian Mbappe grew up is among them.

France has been short of reasons to feel proud, and now is the moment. Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honor the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honor national team coach Didier Deschamps.

The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second victory in soccer’s World Cup. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s standout goalie and team captain.

Celebrations were spread across the nation, and among the still-dazed French players themselves. “We are linked for life now with this Cup,” defender Raphael Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron exulted on the field in Moscow and in the locker room, hugging players as they received their medals even as the skies poured rain. Macron clearly hoped the World Cup glow would rub off on him, raising him up in the eyes of a nation where his economic reforms have drawn fierce protests.

It was the players, though, who captured the French imagination. The mostly youthful, diverse team represents a generation with which traditionalists have yet to come to terms. Flessel, the sports minister, told Europe-1 radio that the World Cup victory allows France’s youth — like those in the poor suburbs where many of the players grew up — “to dare to believe in their dreams.”

Joy over the win brightened the Monday morning commute in Paris, where young people in cars sang and shouted. In the eastern Paris neighborhood of Belleville, Vincent Simon said, “Both teams deserved to win. France won, and that’s good for the country. That will do us good for some months.”

The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news. “It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster — the French national symbol — and a shirt with Mbappe’s No. 10 number.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said at Sunday’s festivities, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale … Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

Still, celebrations in France typically end up with a spate of violence by troublemakers, and Sunday was no exception. Broken shop windows, pillage and other destruction lined a section of the Champs-Elysees, the postgame site for revelers. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to end the violence.

French media reported that authorities detained 90 people for questioning in the Paris region and some 290 around France.

Chris den Hond in Paris contributed.

July 17, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of Russian pilgrims have walked in a procession marking the 100th anniversary of the execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family. Russia’s last czar, his wife and five children were executed by Bolshevik soldiers in the city of Yekaterinburg 18 months after Nicholas abdicated in the February 1917 revolution. They had been moved from detention in St. Petersburg and then in Siberia as the Russian Civil War raged.

The procession started out late Monday from the Church on the Blood, which was built on the site of the execution, and ended Tuesday at the site where the bodies were dumped 21 kilometers (13 miles) away.

The procession was led by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has canonized the czar and his family as martyrs. Kirill then led a religious service Tuesday where the bodies were dumped.

Nicholas ruled Russia from 1894 until his ouster in March 1917. The remains of Nicholas and his family were reburied in St. Petersburg in 1998.

July 16, 2018

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accepted amendments to a customs bill put forward by Brexit hardliners who oppose her plan for a “common rule book” with the European Union after the country leaves the bloc.

Even with those unwanted concessions, the government only barely won a Monday night vote, gaining 305 votes in favor and 302 against. The bill would prevent Britain from collecting tariffs on behalf of EU nations unless the EU does the same for the UK

The government avoided what would have been an embarrassing defeat, but the razor-thin margin reveals the fragility of May’s support as she tries to find a way to move the complex Brexit process forward.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government accepted the amendments because it sees them as consistent with the prime minister’s plan as set out in a formal white paper last week. However, critics said May had caved in to pressure from Brexit supporters who want a complete break with Europe. They said the changes would greatly limit May’s ability to move forward with the plan that prompted two hardliners in her Cabinet to resign in protest last week — and fresh resignations of lesser figures Monday.

The amendments seek to limit the government’s ability to set up the customs arrangements May has advocated, which would keep close ties to Europe. They were proposed by the European Research Group, the research arm of May’s Conservative Party which is headed by lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Another Conservative Party legislator, Anna Soubry, who opposes the “hard” Brexit that would see Britain leave the EU without a trade deal in place, said the government’s acceptance of the four amendments mean that Rees-Mogg is now effectively “running Britain.”

May also came under fire Monday from a former Cabinet minister who called for a new Brexit referendum, an idea immediately rejected by the prime minister’s team. Former Education Secretary Justine Greening, also a Conservative, said the U.K. Parliament was “gridlocked” over the divisive issue. She said she and other senior Tory lawmakers favor a new vote.

Greening said she would campaign to keep Britain in the EU, if a new referendum were held. The day’s developments heaped additional pressure on the beleaguered May, whose party is deeply split and does not enjoy majority control in Parliament.

Her recent white paper outlining plans for a common rule book with the EU over trade in goods has infuriated those who favor a complete break even if it risks causing an economic shock. May defended her plan as she opened the Farnborough International Airshow. She said it would safeguard vital jobs in the aviation industry and keep Britain’s tradition as a nation in the forefront of the aviation industry.

The issue is sensitive because Airbus signaled in June that it would have to consider its long-term plans for Britain if there is no Brexit deal. May said the plan outlined in the white paper honors the wishes of British voters — who in June 2016 backed Brexit with 52 percent of the vote — while protecting industry and national security.

May’s authority has been weakened with the resignations of major figures Boris Johnson and David Davis and a series of lesser officials who disagree with her Brexit plan. The skirmishes are expected to continue Tuesday when a different trade bill is debated. There is also a move for Parliament to begin its summer recess several days early in a bid to curtail the chaos of recent weeks.

July 17, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — The European Union and Japan are signing a widespread trade deal Tuesday that will eliminate nearly all tariffs, seemingly defying the worries about trade tensions set off by President Donald Trump’s policies.

The signing in Tokyo for the deal, largely reached late last year, is ceremonial. It was delayed from earlier this month because Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled going to Brussels over a disaster in southwestern Japan, caused by extremely heavy rainfall. More than 200 people died from flooding and landslides.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who arrived Monday, will also attend a gala dinner at the prime minister’s official residence. Both sides are heralding the deal, which covers a third of the global economy and more than 600 million people.

Prices of European wine and pork will fall for Japanese consumers. Japanese machinery parts, tea and fish will get cheaper for Europe. The deal eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods to the EU, but remaining at around 94 percent for European imports into Japan for now and rising to 99 percent over the years. The difference is due to exceptions such as rice, a product that’s culturally and politically sensitive and has been protected for decades in Japan.

The major step toward liberalizing trade was discussed in talks since 2013 but is striking in the timing of the signing, as China and the U.S. are embroiled in trade conflicts. The U.S. is proposing 10 percent tariffs on a $200 billion list of Chinese goods. That follows an earlier move by Washington to impose 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods. Beijing has responded by imposing identical penalties on a similar amount of American imports.

Besides the latest deal with the EU, Japan is working on other trade agreements, including a far-reaching trans-Pacific deal. The partnership includes Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and other nations, although the U.S. has withdrawn.

Japan praised the deal with the EU as coming from Abe’s “Abenomics” policies, designed to wrest the economy out of stagnation despite a shrinking population and cautious spending. Japan’s growth continues to be heavily dependent on exports.

By strengthening ties with the EU, Japan hopes to vitalize mutual direct investment, fight other global trends toward protectionism and enhance the stature of Japanese brands, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The EU said the trade liberalization will lead to the region’s export growth in chemicals, clothing, cosmetics and beer to Japan, leading to job security for Europe. Japanese will get cheaper cheese, such as Parmesan, gouda and cheddar, as well as chocolate and biscuits.

Japanese consumers have historically coveted European products, and a drop in prices is likely to boost spending.

Tag Cloud