Posts Tagged ‘the United Arab Emirates’

Erdogan stages Islamic summit to back Palestinians

May 18, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday hosts for the second time in half a year a summit of the main pan-Islamic bloc to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after the killing of dozens of Gaza protesters.

© POOL/AFP / by Fulya OZERKAN, Ezzedine SAID | OIC foreign ministers meet ahead of a summit of the main pan-Islamic bloc to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after the killing of dozens of Gaza protesters

Erdogan has reacted with unbridled fury to the killing by Israeli forces on Monday of 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border, accusing Israel of “genocide” and being run as an “apartheid state”.

He has also called a mass demonstration in Istanbul expected to rally hundreds of thousands from 1300 GMT ahead of the summit’s start at 1600 GMT.

Erdogan has already staged an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December last year to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We must give the toughest response … to the crime against humanity committed by Israel,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a meeting of OIC foreign ministers ahead of the summit.

Speaking in Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein slammed Israel’s reaction to the Gaza protests as “wholly disproportionate”, backing calls for an international investigation.

– ‘OIC disunity upsetting’ –

However, as in 2017, disputes between the OIC’s key players — notably between Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — may prevent the adoption of any measures going beyond harsh rhetoric.

Riyadh — which appears to have softened its stance on Israel as the influence of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has grown — and its allies fear alienating the United States with tough measures against Tel Aviv.

Saudi’s chief foreign policy preoccupation, shared with Israel, is ensuring US backing to contain Iran which both Riyadh and the Jewish state see as the main threat to regional peace.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia distrust Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complicating any effort to take concrete measures against Israel.

Cavusoglu also said some OIC member states’ failure to show enough support for the Palestinian cause “upsets us”.

– ‘Dragged into chaos’ –

After declaring his intention to hold the event only on Monday, Erdogan has managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice.

Jordanian King Abdullah II will be present although the Palestinians will be represented by prime minister Rami Hamdallah and not president Mahmud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear.

From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is expected as is Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir will be at the Istanbul summit. The Saudi level of representation is higher than at the November meeting.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will attend, state media said, and overcoming the enmity between Tehran and Riyadh will be crucial for the Turkish hosts.

As in the November 2017 meeting, a controversial guest will be Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Erdogan has long craved a role as a Muslim leader within the entire Islamic world, rarely holding back with tirades against Israel even though Ankara has diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

“If the silence on Israel’s tyranny continues, the world will rapidly be dragged into a chaos where banditry prevails,” Erdogan said Wednesday.

– ‘Curse the oppression’ –

Tensions with Israel and hosting such a meeting also does Erdogan no harm with his core supporters as Turkey heads to presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24.

In a diplomatic crisis threatening a 2016 deal that allowed the resumption of full ties, Turkey has ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave for an unspecified period of time over the killings.

Turkey had already withdrawn its Tel Aviv ambassador for consultations while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave, also for an unspecified period of time.

The rally expected just before the summit is set to take place at the Yenikapi meeting area favoured by Erdogan for election rallies and which has capacity for a million people.

Erdogan is himself expected to address the rally organised under the slogan “curse the oppression, support Jerusalem”.

by Fulya OZERKAN, Ezzedine SAID

Turkey Rallies Muslim World To Blocks Embassy Moves to Jerusalem — But Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on the Sidelines

May 18, 2018

The leaders of the Muslim world will assemble in Istanbul today to take action after the United States inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem and Israelis butchered at least 62 unarmed Palestinians and wounded 2,000 others in Gaza.

Turkey has led a campaign to bring together Muslim leaders in Istanbul as the term president of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Now they have an opportunity to display to the world their strong opposition to the U.S. move and their deep disgust in the killing of unarmed Palestinian protestors by Israeli soldiers.

Turkey has taken an active role to oppose this matter, thus drawing the wrath of the Zionists of the world. Ankara has called back its ambassadors in Washington and Tel Aviv for consultations and has sent the Israeli ambassador back home to consult his own people in Israel.

By İlnur Çevik
Daily Sabah

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again emerged as the leading statesman to rally for the defense of Jerusalem and the Palestinian people. In line with Turkey’s foreign policy principle of “defending the oppressed of the world” Ankara is now raising hell in defense of the Palestinian people. The president is not only rallying support among the Muslims but also among European leaders including the Pope.

It is sad that Israel has managed to inflict cracks among the Arabs regarding the Palestinian issue. The fact that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and countries like Bahrain have turned their backs on the Palestinians has been an eye opener. Yet even these countries have fallen into line when the issue is Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, because they are fully aware that the Arab nation will never forgive them if they become the part of a sellout on Jerusalem.

U.S. President Donald Trump has created more discord in the Middle East by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He has further complicated the existing mess in the Middle East and has deepened enmities and mistrust.

The task for Muslim countries is first to forge a united front and stand tall against the U.S. and Israel. Then we have to take practical decisions to counter the U.S.’s move and make sure that the world sees the carnage that the Americans have created. After that we need to attend to the plight of the 2,000 Palestinians who were wounded by the Israelis in Gaza.

Israeli authorities are not allowing the transfer of these people to other countries for urgent medical care. Israel has to be pushed to allow the wounded to be transferred to Turkey or any other country where they can receive decent medical attention.

It is sad that we are getting news that the Egyptians are also reluctant to intervene.

The Muslim world should effectively address this issue and, unlike the Arab League, show to all friends and foes that we will not abandon the Palestinian people and Jerusalem.

The Turkish people will also hold a massive rally in the Yenikapı district of Istanbul, with millions of people expected to join, and show to the world their solidarity with the Palestinian people and their anger regarding the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem.


OIC must ensure other countries don’t follow US suit and open embassies in Jerusalem: FM Çavuşoğlu


Muslim countries must together ensure that other nations don’t follow in the path of the United States and open embassies in Israel’s Jerusalem, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Friday, at the start of a summit to address the issue.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made the comment at an opening address of an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which Turkey called after Israeli forces killed dozens of protesters in Gaza. The protesters were demonstrating against the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem.

“In the final declaration, we will emphasize the status of the Palestine issue for our community, and that we will not allow changing the status of the historic city,” Çavuşoğlu said. “We must prevent other countries from following the U.S. example.”

Is balance of trust shifting from political to social? — Thoughts on government and public trust

February 13, 2018

This is an excerpt from a speech by Mr Peter Ho, former head of civil service and now senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic Futures, at a conference on public trust last week. The conference was organised by the Behavioural Sciences Institute of the Singapore Management University.

Public trust in government is one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy, credibility and sustainability of governments are built.

Today, it is not hard to see what happens when public trust is eroded. Renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama refers to public trust as the “currency” of governance, a means to account for transaction costs between government and the people. This is because it is a key social lubricant for information to flow, and it brings about more efficient information exchange.

Public trust helps to lower the transaction costs in any social, economic and political system, for instance, by improving compliance with rules and regulations. It is also necessary for the fair and effective functioning of the government in service delivery and the provision of infrastructure for the citizens.

Particularly in times of crisis, public trust empowers the government to act decisively. Bitter medicine is more easily swallowed when there is public trust. It helps to resolve tensions over emotionally charged issues such as resource sharing, distribution of benefits, and perceptions of free-riding.

But public trust – which is invariably hard-earned – can be quickly undermined. In recent years, many developed countries have seen the rise of anti-establishment populism, marked by a strong distrust of the elites. In the June 2016 referendum, ignoring advice of the establishment – including the political and business elites – the British people voted for Brexit. And at the end of the same year, Mr Donald Trump – a rank outsider – won the US presidential election by defeating establishment rivals both from within his party as well as from the Democratic camp.

Arguably, these results, and the success of fringe movements elsewhere, have been fuelled by people who have lost their trust in government and its institutions, who are deeply disenchanted by corruption, elitism, economic inequality – and by the inability of governments to deal with them. They no longer believe that the government will act on their behalf. This “radical uncertainty” is most pronounced among middle classes, and has led to a loss of belief in middle-class narratives, and to the rise of populism and xenophobia in many countries around the world.

An anti-Brexit protester in London last month. An emerging line of argument, says Mr Peter Ho, is that the Brexit vote is a harbinger of a global change in the nature of public trust, where instead of flowing up and down from people to government, it
An anti-Brexit protester in London last month. An emerging line of argument, says Mr Peter Ho, is that the Brexit vote is a harbinger of a global change in the nature of public trust, where instead of flowing up and down from people to government, it is now also flowing horizontally to other people, algorithms and bots. PHOTO: REUTERS



This decline in public trust contributes to another global trend: the emergence of a world where truth matters less, and people are more willing to offer diverse views with little substance and no evidence, and then taking no responsibility for expressing them.

This is accentuated by Internet anonymity, which allows people to disseminate irresponsible views to a wide audience – “fake news”. Such falsehoods can severely erode trust, and very quickly. Falsehoods, no matter how ridiculous, are often believed to be true if repeated often enough, or because of the confirmation bias.

You may recall that the Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as its 2016 word of the year, reflecting the highly charged political 12 months that saw Brexit and the election of Mr Trump. In the “post-truth” world, objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals and personal beliefs.

This could become a real problem not just because of an evident loss of public trust, but also because it could lead governments to only say what they feel are plausible and intuitively true without presenting any evidence. It could diminish the importance of evidence-based policymaking, and a general decline in the quality – and reliability – of governance, accentuating distrust in government.

In the latest 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the “global” level of public trust in government was 43 per cent. At this level, a state of “distrust” exists in the world. Of the 28 countries surveyed, the only ones that registered a score classified as “trust” by Edelman were in Asia: Singapore, India, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and China.

In a similar vein, only 14 per cent of respondents from 38 countries in a 2017 Pew Research Centre survey expressed “a lot” of trust in their governments to do what was right for their countries. Once again, in the Pew survey, it was the respondents in Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan African countries who responded more positively about trust in government, not in the Western liberal democracies.

A trend seems to be emerging.


Why has a country like Singapore fared better than many in terms of public trust? Some answers to this question can be found in the Sars crisis. On Feb 25, 2003, the Sars virus entered Singapore and then spread with frightening speed through the hospital system. It confounded our medical authorities in the beginning, as it did experts around the world, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). They did not know how the virus spread, and why it spread so aggressively. The fatality rate was shocking. By the time the Sars crisis was declared over in Singapore, 33 people had died out of the 238 who had been infected.

It was a very frightening time for Singaporeans. Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told the BBC in an interview in April 2003 that this was a “crisis of fear”. It was critical that the government managed the fear, otherwise the larger challenge of dealing with Sars would have been made even more difficult.

In this regard, the dissemination of trusted information proved to be vital. During the Sars outbreak, Singapore took a transparent approach. The Government laid bare the uncertainties and risks during Sars, even as other countries sought to reassure their citizens – without basis – that Sars was under control. Singaporean leaders told people not only what they knew, but also what they did not know. They avoided providing false assurances. In the BBC interview, then PM Goh explained: “I’m being realistic because we do not quite know how this will develop.”

This transmission of information – transparently, laying bare uncertainties, and acting with empathy – was built on an underlying foundation of trust, not just of the people in the Government, but also of the Government in the people. Singaporeans trusted the Government for its effectiveness and integrity. The Government trusted Singaporeans to deal with the uncertainty as the Sars outbreak unfolded. This two-way trust, between the Government and the people, formed a deep source of national resilience in Singapore during the Sars crisis.

Contrast this to what happened after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was declared an international health emergency by the WHO in August 2014. Several cases emerged in the United States, with the majority imported, and only two nurses contracting the disease in the US directly from an Ebola patient they were treating.

A few American states – New York, New Jersey and Illinois – imposed a mandatory quarantine on anyone returning to the US who had direct contact with Ebola patients in West Africa. But two doctors – who should have known better – violated their quarantines, creating havoc for the authorities in the subsequent contact-tracing efforts. A nurse who was quarantined even sued the Governor of New Jersey.

The reactions in the US stand in contrast to the trust that Singaporeans placed in the Government to stem the spread of Sars, despite a much larger slate of draconian measures on the table than just quarantine. These contrasting examples – Sars in Singapore and Ebola in the United States – together make an object lesson on the importance of public trust, and what happens when it does not exist.

But it also raises the question of whether the authorities in the US were contending with a situation of low public trust, compared to the high level of public trust demonstrated in Singapore in 2003 during the Sars crisis.

And lest we think that Singapore’s response was a paragon to be emulated, let us consider what might happen if Sars were to occur today, 15 years later in 2018, when the social media – and not necessarily the mainstream media – could emerge as the dominant platform for communication and diffusion of information.


It took less than half a century for Singapore to move out of the Third World and enter the First World. But in tandem, within less than two generations, societal demands have moved from the basic needs at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, such as food, shelter, water and security, rising towards the more complex psychic needs at the top of the hierarchy, such as self-esteem, self-actualisation and transcendence, which are needs that all governments find very difficult to service.

This represents a tectonic shift in Singapore society, and significantly, it is taking place at a time when technology is also changing and accelerating. With the complex interplay between societal changes and rapid technological advances, acceleration gives little time for government and society to adapt. It leads to consequences that can be very surprising, and to outcomes that are very disturbing.

Because of the confirmation bias that many of us are afflicted with, technology – the social media in particular – now enables people to retreat into online echo chambers that narrow down information and reinforce already-held beliefs. It becomes easy to ignore, or to simply shut our eyes to contrary views that are in conflict with our beliefs and outlooks. More information does not yield better decisions.

With social media today, falsehoods and fake news can quickly spread through networks, unchecked and with an unstoppable momentum. Indeed in 2016 – the year of Brexit and Mr Trump – the World Economic Forum identified online misinformation on a grand scale as one of the major risks to global society.

Former foreign minister George Yeo referred to the “disintermediation of hierarchies”. People are now gaining access to huge amounts of information, some of it consisting of Drums (distortion, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears) and magnified by online echo chambers, with the end result that our fears are verified, often baselessly.

Instead, suspicion of elites is growing, anger against the establishment is amplified, and the cycle of public distrust is magnified. The danger is that faith in government and its institutions may have already reached a critical tipping point in some countries.


The question is whether this is a global trend, and whether and how it will impact Singapore?

An emerging line of argument is that the Brexit vote and the election of Mr Trump are harbingers of a gigantic and global change in the nature of public trust. This line of argument relies on the hypothesis that instead of public trust flowing up and down a vertical street from the people to the government, to the politicians and the regulators, to the authorities and the experts, as it used to, it is now also beginning to flow horizontally, to other people, and even to programmes, algorithms and bots.

Today, we are already putting our faith in algorithms over humans in our daily lives, leaving them to decide what to read on our smartphones, what to buy, where to spend our money, where to travel and where to stay. Mr Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, even admits to consulting an AI robot aptly named Einstein who “sits” in at his senior-management meetings and advises on whether the human beings present have made faulty judgments.

Instead of public trust just being focused on the government, trust is being redistributed to many, enabled by technology – such as AI, big data and data analytics – and the social media. This is a trend of trust being distributed rather than being concentrated.

This trend, of distributed trust, helps us to understand why cryptocurrencies could be the future of money, and why blockchain technology, which is a distributed ledger system, could be used for everything from tracking the source of foods, to monitoring electronic health records, to selling our homes without the need for real estate agents.

If public trust is more distributed, what forms of government will emerge? I had earlier said that public trust has a “social” dimension because it also involves individuals’ trust in each other as citizens in the people sector.

Is it possible that in today’s world, technology is shifting the balance from the political to the social? Instead of public trust being reposed with the elites, experts and authorities in government, the argument being made is that trust today lies more with “the people” – families, friends, classmates, colleagues, even strangers who might share your same outlook. In other words, a transfer of trust is taking place, from institutions to individuals.

The #MeToo movement that started as a reaction to the outrageous sexual misconduct of one man in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein, quickly became a digital wildfire, spreading first across the United States, and then across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom where it cost ministers and politicians their jobs.

Perhaps such things are happening because there is a loss of trust in government to police the commons, so society steps in to generate ground-up and more emergent solutions to governance.

It is certainly an age in which individuals matter as much as institutions because people, empowered perhaps by better education, but certainly by the social media, are becoming social influencers. We are now scoring and rating everything from restaurants to Uber drivers, helping to shape, almost instantly, the rise and fall of all sorts of businesses, while also creating reputation trails where one mistake or misdemeanour could follow us for the rest of our lives.

Perhaps we might see a more network-centric, mutually verifying, distributed approach to dealing with fake news. But it is not clear that such things will be the result of government intervention. Indeed, the paradox is that any effort by the government to dispel things like fake news is predicated on the level of trust that the people have in the government in the first place.

Nevertheless, we should not overlook the fact that it can also work the other way. A trust-scoring system – more formally called the Social Credit System – is being developed in China to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens, and could determine everything from a citizen’s job to whether they can get on a train or a plane. It may well find acceptance in other parts of the world, despite its Orwellian overtones.

In this world, in which public trust is disintermediated by the social media, the traditional notion that public trust is only about government and its institutions, taken on faith, kept in the hands of a few and operating behind closed doors, is going to be challenged. It is arguably a world of radical transparency. WikiLeaks demonstrates that you can run, but you cannot hide.

Given the importance of public trust to governing well, governments obviously must build trust as a valuable resource and guard against developments that may reduce it.

Where there is malicious intent in spreading falsehoods to cause alarm or disrupt society, governments must stand prepared to dispel them quickly, and take firm and decisive action against those who start or perpetuate such falsehoods intentionally. It should not come as a surprise that the Government in Singapore has set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, aka fake news.

But it is also important that governments are better prepared to function in and adapt to an environment of greater contestation and scrutiny, in which the balance between public trust at the focal point of government and its institutions is shifting to the many – the people.

In such an environment, perhaps there is a need for more consultation and greater interaction between the public sector and the people sector. This will require government to become less hierarchical, not just more whole-of-government, but also more whole-of-nation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2018, with the headline ‘Is balance of trust shifting from political to social?’.

Egypt imposes hefty anti-trust fine on Qatar’s BeIN Sports, CEO

January 30, 2018


© AFP | A picture taken on December 19, 2015 shows a microphone labelled with the logo of BeIN Sports
CAIRO (AFP) – An Egyptian court imposed a $22 million fine Tuesday on Qatari-owned sports broadcaster BeIN Sports and its chief executive for violating anti-trust regulations.The broadcaster and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is also president of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, were fined 400 million Egyptian pounds by the Cairo Economic Court, the Egyptian Competition Authority said in a statement.

The decision came with ties between Egypt and Qatar deeply strained.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Egypt broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting extremists and being too close to Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.

The court said BeIN had violated competition rules through its package deal system, which forces viewers to pay for events they may not be interested in. The specific events were not mentioned in the ruling.

BeIN representatives in Doha could not be reached for comment.

Egypt’s anti-trust authority had in 2014 accused BeIN of violating rules by requiring viewers interested in football’s World Cup to subscribe for at least a year and purchase a specific satellite receiver. An agreement was eventually reached.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) in July suspended and fined the coach of Cairo club Al-Ahly, Hossam El Badry, after he boycotted a press conference over the presence of BeIN Sports.

Saudi Arabia is a ‘bully’ that risks destabilising Middle East, says Qatar — “This is a big country bullying a small country.”

November 30, 2017

The Independent
November 27, 2017

Exclusive: ‘This is a big country bullying a small country – we have seen it in Qatar and now we are seeing it repeated in Lebanon’

By Lizzie Dearden

Lebanon is just the latest target in a Saudi campaign of intimidation that risks destabilising the Middle East, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister has claimed.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who also serves as the nation’s foreign minister, accused Riyadh of “bullying” its neighbours and risking new conflict amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis.

The minister repeated allegations made by Lebanese politicians that Saad Hariri’s shock resignation as Prime Minister was forced during his time in Riyadh, where some claimed he was kept under “house arrest” before making the announcement.

“Lebanon is a fragile country, and pressuring the Prime Minister to resign and leave a vacuum in a country – which is very sensitive for everybody – is a counter-productive policy,” Mr al-Thani said at a round table discussion including The Independent, at a conference in London.

“This is a big country bullying a small country – we have seen it in Qatar and now we are seeing it repeated in Lebanon.

“Thanks to God and all the allies that contained the situation before it evolved and got worse … If it was not contained from the beginning we would have a horrific impact.”

Mr Hariri left Saudi Arabia following intervention by Egypt and France, returning to Lebanon last week and postponing his resignation at the request of President Michel Aoun while a “dialogue” takes place.

Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri says resignation on hold awaiting talks

Saudi leaders have denied holding Mr Hariri – a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen – against his will and forcing him to resign, while claiming its sanctions against Qatar are justified.

Mr al-Thani’s comments came amid the continuing Qatar diplomatic crisis, which saw countries led by Saudi Arabia sever relations in June and accuse the government of supporting terrorism and violating cooperation agreements.

The dispute has seen ambassadors withdrawn, diplomats evacuated, Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera banned and Qatar’s only land border, air and see routes blockaded in a move that sparked international alarm.

Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base houses the regional headquarters for US Central Command and RAF, hosting 11,000 members of coalition forces and 100 aircraft launching air strikes against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Mr al-Thani said that although emergency air corridors were open, planes were being forced to fly over Yemen and that military operations were being “put in jeopardy” by the blockade, which has closed the border used to import 90 per cent of supplies for Qatar.

He claimed a list of 13 demands issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies in exchange for lifting the restrictions were impossible to meet, and a “clear indication that they don’t want [the agreement] to be accepted.

“They don’t want to resolve this – they want our country in submission, which is the main reason they started the entire thing,” he added.

“This is just part of a pattern of impulsive leadership … They entered this conflict with no exit strategy.

“No one has identified a strategy; no one has any idea on the way forward with them.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries have suspended flights to and from Doha (AFP/Getty)

The Gulf Cooperation Council has temporarily collapsed under the strain of the crisis, with a scheduled meeting next month thrown into doubt.

The minister was also highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the continuing Yemen war, which has developed into a humanitarian catastrophe amid sieges and air strikes, and raised concern that its continued proxy conflict with Iran could worsen.

“We hope that there will not be any confrontation,” Mr al-Thani said. “Yemen needs to end, Iraq needs to be stabilised, we need to reach a just solution for the Syrian people, otherwise we are going to face a new generation of extremism.

“There are enough crises on the table – we hope that no more will be created.”

Mr al-Thani told the Westminster Counter-Terrorism Conference that the Middle East – “a region brimming with extremism” – could not afford more turbulence, as conflict continues in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Although the Middle East was once a region of peace and co-existence, it has unfortunately been transformed into a region of turbulence and totalitarianism, where extremism flourishes,” he said.

“What is the root cause of terrorism? Tyranny, totalitarianism, aggression and the absence of justice.”

He said 24 million children across the Middle East were being left vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups, authoritarianism and a lack of education and opportunity, adding: “We need to address this issue of regimes who are not respecting the rights of their people or the law.”

Saudi Arabia has accused Qatar of funding terrorist groups and sheltering extremists, allegations repeated by Donald Trump in June. Qatar refutes them, saying it prosecutes jihadis where they are found and has merely facilitated talks involving Hezbollah and Hamas upon international request.

“There is absolutely not any link between Qatar, terrorism and terrorist movements,” Mr al-Thani said.

“They see the West as enemies, they see us as enemies … Other countries are accusing any political opponents of being terrorists.

“Some countries are just using terrorism as justification for political matters against Qatar – they see this is the only way they can get sympathy…wwe learnt from the blockade that we have to present our case very clearly and not to ignore any accusation which can be used against us.”

The Deputy Prime Minister said Qatar would not retaliate by cutting of gas supplies to the United Arab Emirates or other Saudi allies, because it “would not use the same approach they have used against our people”.

He called for allies including the UK to be more engaged in the region, after Boris Johnson travelled to Qatar and Kuwait in a bid to ease tensions.

The Foreign Secretary later welcomed the Emir of Qatar’s “commitment to combat terrorism in all its manifestations”, including financing.

“The Emir also pledged to resolve the remaining differences with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain through dialogue, negotiation, and Kuwaiti mediation,” Mr Johnson said earlier this year.

“We hope that in turn Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain respond by taking steps towards lifting the embargo.

“The UK will continue to engage our partners in the region to help them reach a solution.”


Kuwait invites boycott-hit Qatar to Gulf summit

November 30, 2017


© AFP | Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (portrait) has been invited to a Gulf Cooperation Council summit next week

DUBAI (AFP) – Kuwait on Thursday invited Qatar to a summit of Gulf countries next week, state media said, the first such invitation in a months-long Saudi-led diplomatic boycott of Doha.Kuwait, which is not among Arab states boycotting Qatar, invited Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit on December 5 and 6, the state-run KUNA news agency said.

In June, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt abruptly cut all ties with Qatar over accusations Doha supported extremism and was close to Shiite Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.

Founded in 1981, the GCC is a political and economic union that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as Oman and Kuwait.

Kuwait and Oman have not taken part in the boycott of the tiny gas-rich emirate, and Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has acted as a mediator in the crisis.


Saudi vows new Islamic alliance ‘will wipe terrorists from the earth’

November 26, 2017


© AFP / by Anuj Chopra | A member of the Saudi Royal Guard stands on duty inside the hall where the first meeting of the defence ministers of the 41-member Saudi-led Muslim counter-terrorism alliance is taking place in the capital Riyadh on November 26, 2017


Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince vowed to “pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth” as officials from 40 Muslim countries gathered Sunday in the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance.

“In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries… with no coordination” among national authorities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Saudi defence minister, said in his keynote speech at the gathering in Riyadh.

“This ends today, with this alliance.”

The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which officially counts 41 countries and identifies as a “pan-Islamic unified front” against violent extremism.

The alliance was announced in 2015 under the auspices of Prince Mohammed, whose rapid ascent since his appointment as heir to the throne in June has shaken the political scene across the region.

The alliance groups largely, although not exclusively, Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries.

It excludes Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Shiite-dominated Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq, whose leaders have close ties to Tehran.

Sunday’s meeting coincides with an escalation in tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, particularly over wars in Syria and Yemen and the political structure of multi-confessional Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting armed groups across the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

The meeting also comes as several military coalitions, with backers including both Iran and key Saudi ally the United States, battle to push the Islamic State group from its last remaining bastions in Iraq and Syria.

The alliance meeting in Riyadh brings together Muslim or Muslim-majority nations including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Mauritania, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and Turkey.

Retired Pakistani general Raheel Sharif has been appointed commander-in-chief.

– ‘Distorted image of Islam’ –

The alliance aims to “mobilise and coordinate the use of resources, facilitate the exchange of information and help member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity,” Sharif said.

While the alliance officially includes Qatar, which is the target of a six-month boycott led by Saudi Arabia, organisers in Riyadh said no Qatari officials were present at the meeting.

Qatar’s flag was also absent.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain abruptly cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing the emirate of being too close to Iran and supporting Islamist extremism.

Qatar denies the allegations.

Egypt, which sent a military official and not its defence minister to the Sunday meeting, is reeling from a Friday attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people during prayer time.

While IS has not claimed responsibility, Egyptian authorities say the organisation is the main suspect as the mosque is associated with followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam, whom IS has branded heretics.

Prince Mohammed said Friday’s “painful event” was a reminder of the “danger of terrorism and extremism”.

“Beyond the killing of innocent people and the spread of hatred, terrorism and extremism distort the image of our religion,” he said.

Since his sudden appointment as crown prince, Prince Mohammed has moved to consolidate power, announcing crackdowns on both terrorism and corruption.

A corruption purge saw around 200 Saudi elites including princes, ministers and business tycoons arrested or sacked earlier this month.

by Anuj Chopra

Steven Mnuchin Presses Allies to Tighten Iran Sanctions

October 31, 2017

On a tour of Middle East, Treasury secretary sought to ratchet up pressure on Tehran, but didn’t call for penalties on those doing business in the country

DOHA—The Trump administration wants to work with Washington’s allies to ramp up sanctions on Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview Monday, but he stopped short of calling for special action against firms conducting business with Iran’s military corps, which the administration has targeted for added scrutiny.

In high-level meetings this past week in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Mr. Mnuchin tried to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and crack down on terror financing in the region.

The Trump administration’s threats to pull out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and an escalating U.S. sanctions regime against Tehran have rattled allies. Many fear Washington’s new Iran policy could encourage the Persian nation to pull out of the nuclear accord, entangling Western and Middle Eastern companies doing business with the country in a new round of punitive actions.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump vowed to end U.S. participation in the nuclear deal unless Congress and U.S. allies are able to deliver on new measures targeting Tehran’s expanding missile program, its support for regional militant groups and any future nuclear activities.

One question hanging over many companies and their governments is how aggressive the Treasury plans to be in penalizing firms that have ties to sanctioned Iranian entities, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Over the past decade, the IRGC has taken over swaths of the country’s economy, including oil, finance, telecoms and construction.

“Right now we are really focused on our allies working with us on sanctioning the activities that are outside” the nuclear deal, Mr. Mnuchin said in an interview after a weeklong trip through the Middle East. Asked if the U.S. was prepared to go after companies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere that have business ties to Iran, the secretary said, “It would premature for me to comment on that aspect.”

Still, the secretary signaled Washington’s stance could change.

“At least for now, we’re working with our European partners on the agreement and as it relates to items outside the deal, we have been and will be aggressively sanctioning those activities,” he said.

In a sign of the jitters over the administration’s Iran policy, Turkey’s markets were roiled last week following local media reports that the U.S. was planning to target Turkish banks with ties to the IRGC.

The Treasury Secretary on Friday dismissed those rumors as untrue, but the reaction shows how the threat of sanctions can work to Washington’s advantage.

In Israel, where the secretary met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several of his top finance and intelligence officials, Mr. Mnuchin said the U.S. would be taking aggressive actions against Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group heavily funded by Iran.

“Hezbollah poses a threat across the Middle East and beyond and we must jointly use our authorities to disrupt its financiers and financial networks,” he said in a speech hours before flying into Ben Gurion Airport outside Jerusalem.

Hezbollah is only one of several groups that Iran is supporting in opposition of U.S. strategic interests in the region. Analysts say the IRGC also supports and arms Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and militants in Iraq and Syria.

“Everywhere we go, we send the message that Iran is a top priority for us and we want them to join us in squeezing them,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury’s sanctions chief, who accompanied the secretary. For banks, firms and individuals, keeping ties to the sanctioned arms of the regime could expose them sanctions, she said.

In Doha, Mr. Mnuchin secured a commitment from Qatari officials to step up efforts to sanction entities financing terror in the country. The government agreed to substantially increase intelligence-sharing terrorist financiers in the region, he said, placing greater emphasis on charitable and money service sectors. While Qatar’s minister of finance, Ali Shareef Al Emadi, said the country promised to bolster its efforts against Islamic State and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, analysts say the real test will be the extent to which Qatar cracks down on the Sunni extremists operating within its borders.

Qatar is in the middle of a regional crisis, after Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and other Arab countries abruptly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in June and imposed an economic blockade, citing Doha’s ties to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged links to terror groups, which the country denies. That, say many analysts, is spurring Qatar to nurture ties with Iran, one of the few neighboring countries that has maintained commercial ties.

Some U.S. officials and analysts hope that the new Terror Finance Targeting Center, launched last week by Mr. Mnuchin in Riyadh, could provide a diplomatic bridge for Qatar to address some of its neighbors’ concerns.

It is unclear, however, whether Doha will staff the new center and cooperate on joint designations of Sunni extremists with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the six other Middle East nations that agreed to launch the facility.

Malaysia: PM confident Saudi Arabia understands Malaysia-Qatar ties

October 17, 2017

| October 16, 2017

Najib Razak says although Malaysia enjoys special relationship with Saudi Arabia, it has good cooperation with all countries.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

PUTRAJAYA: Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Qatar, specifically in the trade sector, is strong despite the Middle Eastern nation facing a crisis with other Gulf countries.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said this was so as relations between the two countries had been well established for the past 43 years.

He said Malaysia was known as a country that enjoyed good cooperation with all others, as well as with Muslim nations, as it practiced the principle of ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderation).

Najib said although Malaysia had a special relationship with Saudi Arabia, which cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani’s visit to Malaysia has not raised any problem.

Najib said he was confident the Saudi government understood Malaysia’s stand.

Image result for Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, in Malaysia, photos

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, speaks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, and Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V, after inspecting an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at parliament house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.

“We will continue to maintain the relationship (with Saudi Arabia) at its best, but this does not prevent us from having ties, especially economic relations, with Qatar,” he said in a press conference after meeting Sheikh Tamim Hamad at Seri Perdana here, today.

Also present were Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Minister with Special Functions in the Prime Minister’s Department Hishammuddin Hussein.

On June 5, five Gulf nations, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Yemen announced the decision to break ties with Qatar, on grounds that the country supported terrorism.

Asked whether the Emir of Qatar wanted Malaysia as mediator between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Najib said, “It may be beyond Malaysia’s capacity to become a mediator or offer itself as a mediator.

“But they (Qatar) know Malaysia is a country that they can rely on to play a positive part in the conflict’s resolution, in matters of principle.”

Najib said during the meeting, the two leaders also discussed cooperation on anti-terrorism and security.

He said the Emir of Qatar was serious about fighting terrorism, and hoped for continued cooperation with Malaysia to address the issue.

“The Rohingya issue was also discussed, in which Qatar is aware that Malaysia is at the forefront of helping the Rohingyas, as well as in the construction of a ‘field hospital’ at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“I also raised Qatar’s promise to contribute US$50 million (for the Rohingya) during the Deputy Prime Minister’s (Zahid Hamidi) visit to Qatar. The mechanism on how the donation can be channelled, will now be determined,” he said.

Qatar orders aid to private sector as boycott hurts economy

October 8, 2017

New investors in Qatar’s logistics zones will be completely exempt from paying rents for a year if they obtain building permits by certain deadlines. (AP)

DUBAI: Qatar’s government announced measures to help private sector businesses on Saturday after its economy was hurt by a boycott by other Arab states.

Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani decided to cut rents paid by companies in Qatar’s logistics zones in half during 2018 and 2019, official news agency QNA reported.
New investors in the zones will be completely exempt from paying rents for a year if they obtain building permits by certain deadlines. Qatar Development Bank, a state-founded body which lends to firms, will postpone receiving loan installments for up to six months to facilitate industrial sector projects.
Sheikh Abdullah also told all ministries and government departments to increase their procurement of local products to 100 percent from 30 percent, if the local products meet necessary specifications and the purchases obey tender rules.
Qatar’s economy expanded just 0.6 percent from a year earlier in the April-June quarter, its slowest growth since the 2009-2010 global financial crisis, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties on June 5.
The four states accuse Doha of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies. The boycott triggered a pull-out of deposits by Gulf states from Qatari banks, deepened a slump in real estate prices and caused a plunge of 18 percent in the stock market.