Lawyers for Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's former President, walk out of latest trial.
Lawyers for Mr Morsi walked out of the trial on Sunday, where the former Islamist President faces charges of espionage and conspiring to commit acts of terror. Several sources, including the BBC, note that the lawyers withdrew in protest at Mr Morsi and several other defendants being confined to a soundproofed glass cage. It is allegedly believed that Mr Morsi is in such circumstances to prevent him from shouting and disrupting the ongoing case. The cage allows the judge to control when the defendants, including Mr Morsi, are heard by the court. One moment when Mr Morsi was audible to the court he asked, "What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid because you have no public support?" Reuters reports.
Mr Morsi was removed from office in July 2013 by the military following weeks-long street protests against his rule. Since his removal, Egypt has been under the de facto rule of SCAF, Egypt's military & Field Marshall Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mr Morsi was part of, have faced a severe crackdown, as well as other organisations and activists seen as hostile to the current regime. The Brotherhood has been labelled a terrorist organisation and any form of support towards it has resulted in arrests.
In the latest trial, Mohammed Morsi is charged with conspiring with terrorist organisations. Prosecutors allege that he has worked with the Palestinian group and Gaza Strip rulers, Hamas, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon. He also faces charges of escaping from jail in 2011 and for insulting the judiciary. If found guilty for some of the charges, Mr Morsi could face the death penalty.
Abdullah al-Arian, assistant professor of history at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera, "There hasn't been any evidence whatsoever because these are deeply politicised times in Egypt, and politicised charges," Mr al-Arian added, "This case is not subject to the usual rigours of law enforcement, investigation, and evidence."The court said it would appoint a new defence team for Mr Morsi and the other defendants. The trial is adjourned until 23 February.
Published 21 February 2014.
Has Iraq signed an arms deal with Iran?
The Reuters news agency reports Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition to the tune of $195 million. Reuters claim to have seen documents which confirm the agreement was reached in November of last year, just weeks after Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, was in Washington to meet President Obama lobbying for extra weapons to fight suspected Al-Qaida linked militants. If such a deal exists, it would break a UN backed embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.
Iraq has been gripped by internal fighting within the country between Shiite and Sunni factions for nearly a decade. Mr al-Maliki who rose to power in 2006, claimed to crack down on insurgents which he called "organized armed groups who are acting outside the state and outside the law", but many within the country especially the Sunni minority allege that the dominant Shiite parties are simply pursuing a sectarian advantage. Mr al-Maliki has been criticised in some quarters for his reluctance to tackle Shiite militia.
A spokesman for the US State Department said, "Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747. We are seeking clarification on the matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran". Any deal between the two Shiite dominated countries would have repercussions.
In a further development, the BBC reports that Iraqi government has offered a reward of $17,200 (£10,300) for each foreign militant killed from al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a former affiliate.
Published 28 February 2014.
United Nations authorises sanctions regime for Yemen
A British drafted resolution was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in February paving the way to authorise sanctions on anyone in Yemen who tries to obstruct the country's political transition or commits human rights violations. The resolution does not state any specific persons.
Yemen, one of the poorest Arab nations and considered a US ally is attempting to end nearly three years of political tensions which began with mass protest against the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh back in 2012. Mr Saleh had been President of Yemen for 33 years before stepping down in 2012 in a negotiated exit. Reuters reports that Mr Saleh and his former Vice President Ali Salim Al-Beidh are prime candidates for the blacklist. The Security Council has expressed its concern of reports of possible interference by Mr Saleh and Mr Beidh in the past in the political transition.
US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said, "The council has made clear that we remain firmly committed to supporting Yemen as it implements subsequent steps in the transition process, including constitutional reform and national elections."
Ms Power added, "The council has made clear that we remain firmly committed to supporting Yemen as it implements subsequent steps in the transition process, including constitutional reform and national elections."
Reuters reports that the resolution leaves the imposition of asset freezes and travel bans on specific individuals to a newly created UN sanctions committee for Yemen, which will be made up of all 15 council members.
Published 7 March 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan attacks opposition over corruption allegations
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan went on the offensive and berated an Islamic cleric he believes is attempting to destabilise his government. Mr Erdogan is locked in a political battle with a US based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen who is a former ally, especially in the AK Party's first term.
The Prime Minister has been embarrassed by recordings allegedly showing power abuses by high ranking officials within the AK Party. Mr Erdogan remains steadfast that the recordings are fabricated and that those responsible ' will pay the price for betrayal'. Four further recordings have appeared on YouTube in the last week which the premier sees as a campaign to undermine his centre right party before local elections on 30 March and presidential polls later this year.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power in 2001 after he established the Justice and Development Party which won general elections in 2003. Formally a mayor of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, Mr Erdogan was imprisoned in 1999 for reciting a poem in 1997. Throughout Mr Erdogan's premiership he has attempted to reconcile with the Kurdish Workers Party by way of negotiations. He has led the country from economic ruin to one of Europe's fastest growing economies.
At an election campaign rally in the central Turkish city of Kirikkale, Mr Erdogan was in typical defiant mood stating, "We will make them [Gulen's movement] regret these coup undertakings … We will reveal their blackmail and threats one by one … Those who have betrayed this country will pay the price" in front of thousands of supporters. Ultimately, the Turkish people will be given the opportunity to decide if they have lost faith in Mr Erdogan and his party.
Published 14 March 2014.
Could the Gulf Corporation Council split over Saudi-Qatar rivalry?
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been at loggerheads over the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under the rule of Mohammed Morsi. Saudi Arabia along with the UAE and Bahrain all regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a 'terrorist organisation'. The latest disagreement between the nations comes after a rift between the Saudis and another GCC member, Oman.
Saudi Arabia in a joint statement with Bahrain and the UAE, has accused Qatar of breaching the organisation's security agreement and violating its principles of "unified destiny", according to official Saudi news agency. The trio of nations also accuse the Qataris of failing to keep promises to not interfere in internal matters of fellow GCC members, directly referring to the Qatar based Al Jazeera network. According to the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal, the crisis would continue "as long as Doha does not revise its policy".
The GCC was formed in 1981 to counter the perceived threat from Shia Iran. The aim after the Arab spring under a Saudi initiative was to transform the GCC into a closer union as several dictatorship in the Arab world collapsed under popular pressure. The normally quiet GCC member, Oman refused to sign up, instead preferring to maintain good relationships with Iran. The Kuwaitis also refused but due to constitutional restrictions. The GCC states which together hold approximately a third of the world's oil reserves, were able to avoid the "Arab Spring" in 2011, but the protests in several neighbouring nations had managed to cause a split between mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar which both took different sides in the turmoil.
Al Jazeera quotes an unnamed Kuwaiti official who says, "This is by far the biggest crisis we've encountered as a council." Whether this crisis leads to the breakup of the GCC remains to be seen.
Published 21 March 2014.
Can Barack Obama's Saudi visit stem deteriorating relationship?
President Obama heads to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the first time since May 2009 amid tensions between the United States and one of its closest allies in the Middle East. Relations between the oil rich Saudis and the US has been deteriorating for months and even this latest visit by Mr Obama may do little to narrow their differences.
Even before the latest trip, another disagreement was aired by the White House when it said it was "very disappointed" that the Saudi authorises refused to grant a visa to an American journalist working for the Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post. Saudi Arabia does not recognise the state of Israel and has constantly opposed US policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi Arabia refused to budge despite pleas from Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor.
A number of topics have made the latest trip difficult, including Saudi Arabia's support for the military in Egypt who deposed the democratically elected Islamist Mohammed Morsi. The Saudis also were dismayed when the US finally turned their backs on Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak. When the military conducted a deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in August, the US suspended a large part of its aid for the Egyptian military. Riyadh promised to help make up the shortfall. After a court decision in Egypt to sentence to death over 500 Brotherhood supported in Minya providence, the State Department described it as a "flagrant disregard of basic justice" further straining relations with Egypt and by extension the Saudis.
The ongoing conflict in Syria has been another source of disagreement between Riyadh and Washington. After Mr Obama called off military strikes against President Assad forces in the wake of chemical attacks by the regime in Syria, a move which the Saudis described as weak. The Saudis continue to arm the opposition in Syria something the US is opposed to do at present. The US reengagement with Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran had left Riyadh feeling betrayed, especially after it emerged that the two countries had been in secret negotiations for months previously. Whether President Obama's trip can mend the relations will determine much in the Middle East.
Published 28 March 2014.
UK Prime Minister orders review of Muslim Brotherhood
David Cameron the British Prime Minister has commissioned a review of the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in the UK, Downing Street says. The Brotherhood who has a large following across the Arab world, especially Egypt, is an Islamic movement which has in the recent past been designated as an "terrorist organisation" by Saudi Arabia, UAE and others.
Downing Street insists the review is not in response to pressure from Saudi Arabia or any other Arab nation but follows what the government describes as a succession of reports from its embassies in the region. It comes after the Times newspaper reported that senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders met in London to discuss their response to the deposing of the democratically elected former President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and the crackdown of the Brotherhood by the military. The review is to be led by British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins which has brought the feeling that the Saudis may have pressured the government to act. The Brotherhood is seen in many quarters as a direct rival to the Saudi version of Sunni Islam, something which is believed to have troubled the kingdom.
On Wednesday the Brotherhood hit back at the suggestion of any ban of its activities in the UK, saying it would take the British government to court if it were to attempt to ban it. In a statement the Muslim Brotherhood stated that it is a peaceful and lawful organisation that "does not engage in or promote acts of violence to achieve its aims" and it "intends to openly engage with the British government's review and will make representations to assist". However it also threatened the UK government with court action at "any improper attempt to restrict its activity".
The Brotherhood are also worried whether the process would be fair considering the involvement of Sir John Jenkins stating that, "It is important that the British government does not bend to pressure from foreign governments who are concerned about their own people's quest for democracy." It continued, "It is hard to see how Sir John Jenkins will be able to conduct an independent internal review and carry his brief as ambassador to a non-democratic regime that is openly in political opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood."
Much like any review the outcome will be hotly debated, especially if the government does indeed restrict the activities of the Brotherhood in the UK.
Published 4 April 2014.
Lebanese group Hezbollah claims to have helped Syria in ongoing conflict
Hassan Nazrallah the prominent leader of the Lebenese Shia movement, Hezbollah has suggested that his forces have aided the Assad regime in several key battles across the country. Hezbollah's forces have become increasing involved alongside Syrian regime forces in maintaining the status quo, with Nazrallah now claiming that the Assad administration is now no longer in any danger of being toppled.
Hezbollah which has several seats in the Lebenese Parliament has strong links to the dominant Shia country in the region, Iran. Nazrallah commented that, "I think we have passed the danger of division. They cannot overthrow the regime, but they can wage a war of attrition." With many sources demonstrating the Iranian regime is also helping Assad, Nazrallah comments highlight how the three have joined forces. Hezbollah's continued involvement in the Syrian conflict has had a destabilising effect in its native Lebanon with its Sunni population particularly uneasy. Many Sunni Lebanese support the uprising in Syria and the possible fall of President Assad, while others feel Hezbollah's involvement will drag Lebanon into the deadly conflict.
The Shia movement has in the recent past paid a heavy price for its involvement with several attacks within its strongholds in Lebanon being attacked by Sunni groups. Nazrallah however feels that the victory of the Syrian forces in Qalamun region adjacent to Lebanon, which Hezbollah played a key role in will help to decrease the chances of any further attacks.
With several Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar said to be funding the uprising in Syria through proxies and Hezbollah's recent admission of involvement in favour of the Assad regime, Syria has become a key battleground between Sunnis and Shias.
Published 11 April 2014.
Abu Ghraib prison closed by Iraqi officials
The once notorious prison in the west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, has been closed by the Iraqi government after what it described as security concerns. Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari announced that all remaining inmates in the prison would be transferred to as yet undisclosed prisons in the north and central provinces.
Abu Ghraib became a symbol of US abuses after the invasion of Iraq which toppled Saddam Hussein. Photographs surfaced in 2004 of US soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners, often posing with naked detainees. The actions of the soldiers led to worldwide outrage and condemnation. During the regime of Saddam Hussein, the prison was a hub for torture under the now executed dictator with an estimated 4,000 detainees dying there.
Iraq has been at the centre of a sectarian war since the invasion with an upsurge in violence in the past twelve months due mainly to widespread anger amongst the Sunni minority upset at mistreatment by the Shia government. During the ongoing violence, the now infamous prison was attacked in July 2013. Officials claimed that hundreds of inmates had escaped and members of the security personnel had been killed.
In an official online statement the government said, "The ministry of justice announced the complete closure of Baghdad central prison, previously Abu Ghraib, and the removal of the inmates in co-operation with the ministries of defence and justice". It is not clear whether the closure is temporary or permanent. Despite the closure the name Abu Ghraib will resonate with the torture and sufferings of its inmates under Saddam and more recently the abuses of US forces.
Published 18 April 2014.
A memory revisited through the eyes, ears & tears of our sister Fatimah at Abu Ghraib
Israeli settler groups take charge around al-Aqsa mosque
Powerful Israeli settler groups are set to take charge of projects, commissioned by the Israeli government, around Islam's holiest site in Jerusalem. The right wing Israeli settler groups have taken charge of two highly controversial projects which aims to develop areas around the al-Haram al Sharif which encompasses the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
The settler groups will aim to create a massive visitor centre, known as the Kedem complex, which would be within the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. The visitor centre would not reach the mosque but a second project also agreed could reach the wall of the al-Aqsa mosque. Yehudit Oppenheimer, director of Ir Amim, an Israeli group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem said the Kedem complex was the final nail Israel needed to secure its complete control over the area around al-Haram al-Sharif. Israeli authorises have already given one of the settler groups large areas of Silwan even though it is located within the occupied East Jerusalem, against international law.
Further to the news of al-Aqsa, Jordan's foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador in Amman to protest against violations by Israel at the al-Aqsa mosque. The violations include, infringing upon the sanctity of al-Aqsa mosque, arresting Palestinians, committing acts of aggression against worshipers and employees of the Awfaq (the body in charge of the Mosque) while protecting Jews who were illegally touring inside the mosque. Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Moshe Feiglin was freely carrying out tours in the presence of occupation forces, despite being legally barred from the site. The most senior Islamic cleric in Jerusalem said that on Sunday, Israeli police had hurled stun grenades into the al-Aqsa mosque to quell Palestinian protests, a charge the Israeli police deny. The demonstrators were there in an attempt to stop Israeli and foreign visitors from entering the holy site. The sovereignty of the site is at the heart of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, with Palestinians wanting to make East Jerusalem their capital while Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognized or shared internationally.
On Wednesday, Fatah and Hamas agreed to a landmark pact after a seven year rift between the two factions. The move was aimed at forming a unity government within five weeks. The agreement comes less than a week before the deadline of the US sponsored peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority on the 29 April. The Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu responded saying "Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn't done so." With Israel continuing to build illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, against international law and something that goes against its long term ally, the US official policy, it would seem Israel is the one who does not want peace.
Published 25 April 2014.
US Senator threatens to block US aid to Egyptian military.
The Democratic Senator of Vermont, Patrick Leahy, has threatened to stop funds to the military establishment of Egypt after the latest mass trial resulted in 683 death sentences. The sentences, which Mr Leahy describes as 'appalling abuse of the justice system' comes after the 529 death sentences handed out by the same judge in March of this year.
Senator Patrick Leahy who is also the chairmen of the Senate subcommittee which overseas foreign aid, said he would not approve addition funds for the military of Egypt, potentially blocking $650m of aid. Mr Leahy said, "I'm not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law." The Obama administration has been considering its options for months about the situation in Egypt, which is one of its most important allies in the Middle East. However, the Pentagon did deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt last week relaxing a partial suspension of aid following the ousting of the democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military.
On Monday, Judge Saeed Youssef sentenced 683 alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death including the supreme guide of the group, Mohamed Badie, while also confirming the death sentences of 37 of the 529 alleged supporters previously condemned. Mohamed Elmessiry of Amnesty International said of the trial they "lacked basic fair trial guarantees". Mr Elmessiry continued, "The case killed the credibility of the Egyptian judicial system." A lawyer for 25 of the defendants, Mohamed Abdel Waheb said the verdicts were handed down in a court session lasting less than five minutes. He had previously said that the single session of the trial lasted only four hours in which the judge refused to listen to any arguments from the defence. Egyptian law requires the death sentences to be confirmed by the presiding judge after a comment from the Grand Mufti whose opinion is sought. The guilty verdicts are still subject to appeal at the Court of Appeal.
In his damning statement to the Senate floor, Senator Leahy added "It's a flaunting [sic] of human rights by the Egyptian government. It's an appalling abuse of the justice system, which is fundamental to any democracy. Nobody, nobody, can justify this. It does not show democracy. It shows a dictatorship run amok. It is a total violation of human rights."
Published 2 May 2014.
Humanitarian agencies claim 50,000 children at 'deaths door' in Somalia
Charities including World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children and Care have united in the common cause of Somalia's deepening humanitarian crisis with the organisations claiming that 50,000 children are at deaths door with a further 2.9 million Somalis at risk of hunger. Falling rains, severe malnourishment, enduring conflict and poor sanitation are the main causes to the current situation. The charities have made an urgent appeal for £485 million in aid to balance the shortfall in humanitarian funding. Only 12% of the money Somalia needs this year has been received.
Women in Somalia are considered to have the second highest risk to maternal death in the world, while one in seven children is malnourished. In addition less than 1 in 4 people in the country have access to adequate sanitation faculties. To compound the problem polio has returned to the country with 193 cases recorded so far. The UN backed forces against al-Shabaab deployed in the south of country has led to another 1.1 million people being displaced.
Oxfam's regional campaigns and policy manager in the region, Ed Pomfret said, “These statistics would be arresting in almost any other situation in the world,” he continued, "The problem with Somalia is that it has been a crisis for over 20 years … people more or less roll their eyes and think: 'Pirates, terrorists, hunger and death, what can I do about that?' If we don't act now, we risk the current crisis becoming a catastrophe."
In the last such crisis in 2011, it is believed that a quarter of a million people died during the famine and food crisis. Children under the age of 5 account to half of those that perished, thereby making it the worst famine in the past 25 years.
Published 9 May 2014.
Palestinian lawyers accuse Israel of mistreatment
Several Palestinian lawyers have accused the Israeli government of various human rights violation including torture. The accusations come after a series of arrests of attorneys by Israel on charges of passing information between Hamas members inside Israeli prisoners and those that are free. The Palestinian Prisoner Society said the actions of the Israeli authorities were "dangerous" and "unprecedented". It continued "It's a scare tactic to instil fear into those who are working hard to provide the basic levels of protection for Palestinian detainees." The claims come on the back of the recent indictment of a 42 year old Palestinian-Israeli lawyer and further arrests of six others, five of which were in fact lawyers.
Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, hit back saying in a statement that the communications between prisoners and their lawyers was indenting to help carry out attacks within Israel itself. The head of the Palestinian Prisoner Society's legal department accused Israeli authorities of attempting to "re-draw the map that identifies the interaction between lawyers and detainees". Mr Jawad Bulos said "The evidence being used against the lawyers was collected during a private conversation between a detainee and a lawyer." He then went on to accuse Israel of illegally taping the conversation, "As lawyers we should ask: Is Israel secretly listening to and taping conversations, acts that are prohibited even by Israeli law?"
Other lawyers have been arrested in the recent past on similar charges. One such lawyer, Amjad al-Safadi who was eventually released but placed under house arrest with a $5700 bail with four guarantors, committed suicide after his release. Initially arrested on April 4 and put on house arrest on April 24, Mr al-Safadi took his life 5 days later. The Palestinian Prisoner Society claims this was because he was beaten throughout his detention. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel along with another Israeli group have demanded an investigation into al-Safadi's death and the interrogations he went through while in prison. Dr Zeev Weiner, a psychiatrist and volunteer with PHR-IL said: "The death of Amjad Safadi proximate to an Israel Security Agency (ISA) interrogation could be a harsh symptom of Israel's interrogation policy. It raises difficult questions regarding the use of torture in defiance of the law and on the culture of impunity for torturers in Israel."
Published 16 May 2014.
Youth's sentenced by Algerian court after Bouteflika demo
On Sunday two youths, one of which who is Tunisian, were given six month suspended sentences for protesting against the fourth term of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Mr Bouteflika won a highly controversial presidential election in April to extend his 15 year rule over the North African country.
The two youths who have consistently maintained their innocence, have been found guilty by an Algiers court of joining an "unarmed gathering" something that is being cracked down by many authoritarian leaders across the Arab world. The two youths would be released after a period of a month in custody. The prosecution had initially wanted both youths to serve one year prison sentences. The youths claim that they were only passing the area when they were caught up in the protest by the Barakat (“Enough”) movement, who were protesting the upcoming election which Bouteflika easily won.
Despite widespread condemnation at the Algerian authorities by several organisations such as Barakat, and concerns from Amnesty International about the lack of freedom of speech, Mr Bouteflika remains popular amongst many Algerians. Many credit him for helping to end the devastating civil war of the 1990s and for bringing in reforms after protest during the Arab Spring ending a 19 year state of emergency.
The lawyer for one of the youths, Mustapha Bouchach told the AFP, that “This kind of judicial case is a threat to liberty and human rights in Algeria.” Activists and rights groups have demanded the immediate release of the youths. Algeria is alleged to have one of the most brutal secret services which administer torture to opposition figures and those it accuses of terrorist activities. Despite this it continues to maintain strong relationship with the United States with the Secretary of State, John Kerry recently visiting the nation.
Published 23 May 2014.
Hamas and Fatah prepare for Palestinian unity government
Rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, have agreed on the makeup of an upcoming unity government, with Hamas which controls Gaza, holding its last cabinet meeting in Gaza City. The long awaited deal would bring about the end of a 7 year rift between the two factions, who fought a brief civil war in 2007, and is a significant step towards reconciliation.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, is expected to announce the makeup of the unity government at the end of the week. It is believed that the two factions have agreed on a list of independent technocratic ministers who would run the government for the next six months pending elections. A Fatah spokesman, Azzam al-Ahmed said "The viewpoints of the Hamas and Fatah movements will be presented to President (Abbas) to give his final decision on the government line-up." The two factions have agreed that the current Prime Minister, Rami Al-Hamdallah, would lead the new cabinet, with Hamdallah also believed to be given the post of interior minister. The posts of foreign affairs minister and finance minister will remain unchanged.
After a series of visits by Fatah officials to the Gaza strip, the two factions agreed to a deal on 23 April. Initially many sceptics pointed to previous attempts to unify the factions, namely in Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012, with little practical progress made. However the current situation seems to point to a different, more positive outcome, with Fatah newspapers appearing in Gaza and Hamas flags flying in some West Bank villages. The unity deal was received positively in both Gaza and the West Bank with rallies following the announcement.
The unity deal has been widely criticised by Israel with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Mahmoud Abbas of choosing unity with Hamas over peace with Israel. However with no tangible progress being made in peace talks and with Israel reneging on a previous deal resulting in prisoner releases, a unity government was agreed. With settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank continuing at pace, international recognition at the UN and other international bodies was sought by the Palestinian leadership. Despite the stalling of peace talks, Abbas and Israel say they seek more talks under the right conditions. Under the deal it is believed that Hamas has agreed that a negotiation towards a lasting peace was the right move. Many Middle Eastern commentators have suggested that a unity government was the only way forward for the Palestinian movement, with two factions, not practical in creating a peace treaty with Israel.
Published 30 May 2014.
Alleged members of Hindu groups arrested for murder of Muslim in India
Fears have heightened in India amongst its minority Muslim population after Indian police arrested 17 men believed to have links with fringe Hindu groups for the murder of a Muslim computer engineer. Concerns of renewed religious violence in the world's largest democracy increased within the minority groups in India after the landslide victory of the Hindu nationalist party, BJP.
The new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, began his political career in a Hindu nationalist public sector group and is accused by critics of not doing enough to prevent anti Muslim riots in Gujarat when he was chief minister there in 2002. According to official figures the riots led to 790 Muslim deaths along with 254 Hindu deaths. However some sources suggest up to 2000 Muslims may have died as a direct result of the riots. There were reported to have been instances of rape, burning of children and widespread looting. Some accuse that Narendra Modi initiated and condoned the violence along with the police and other government officials who directed a mob to Muslim owned property. During his election campaign Mr Modi steered clear of contentious religious issues, instead focusing on economic issues and hoping to kick start economic growth.
Police at the latest attack on the Muslim computer engineer said the men beat the 28 year old Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh simply because he was Muslim in the western city of Pune as he returned home from prayers at the local mosque. The BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said it was unfair to claim that his party was somehow responsible for the attack. Mr Kohli said, "To connect any act of hooliganism with the BJP is incorrect." The head of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella organisation for Muslim groups based in the capital New Delhi blamed the death on a sense within some hard line Hindu groups that they could act with impunity after the landslide victory of the BJP. "They must receive a strong warning from the government that this will not be tolerated," Mr. Khan said. If Mr. Modi's administration doesn't act forcefully, it "means dark days are ahead."
The suspects who are aged between 19 and 25 have been accused of murder by the police but have not been formally charged as of yet. The men still do not have legal representation. Two other men were injured in the attack. Indian Muslim's and other minority groups are watching carefully to see how Narendra Modi and his BJP government react to Monday's killing.
Published 06 June 2014.
United States resumes drone strikes in Pakistan
Two US drone strikes hit the North Wazaristan region of Pakistan, a tribal region believed to be a stronghold to factions opposed to US involvement in Afghanistan. The strikes mark a resumption of the drone program, which were suspended in December last year at the behest of the new Pakistani government who were trying to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
Local officials in the region said that three fighters of the factions had been killed in the first strike with no specific number given on the second strike. The numbers of drone strikes have increased greatly under the US administration of President Obama after he came to power in 2008. The US sees the drone program as an effective way to remove what it labels as terrorists and those that it fears may harm its soldiers stationed in nearby Afghanistan.
Opposition to the drone strikes is strong in Pakistan including in the current government of Nawaz Sherif and the PTI party of Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned politician, who see negotiations as the only way to stop the bloodshed. An independent research site Pakistan Body Count run by Dr. Zeeshan-ul-hassan a Fulbright scholar keeping track of all the drone attacks claims that 2179 civilians had been killed since the start of the program of which 12.4% were children or women. In a report released by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 children were killed by drones under the administration of President Obama in his first term. In 2012, UN High Commissioner for Human Right, Navi Pillay called for a new investigation in the drone program repeatedly referring to the attacks as 'indiscriminate' and said the attacks constitute human rights violations. Other opponents say the drone program actually creates a larger problem with families of those killed seeking retribution.
The return to the drone program comes in conjunction with the Pakistani Taliban's attempts to highjack a place at Karachi Airport. The group claim the attack came after a drone attack on their positions at the border with Afghanistan and as retribution for the killing of their leader in 2013. As negotiations stall and with the resumption of drone strikes, the civilians of North Wazaristan are sadly bearing the brunt at the lack of peace in the region.
Published 13 June 2014.
Amid ongoing dissent, Mauritanians head to the polls
The people of the Islamic state of Mauritania, a country in the north west of Africa will vote on Saturday to decide who will be their next president. The election has been marred by boycotts from many opposition groups who cite their concerns at a lack of fairness and transparency as their reason. The incumbent President Mohamed Ould Abdel Azil, therefore seems destined to complete an easy victory on June 21.
President Abdel Aziz does face four opponents including a prominent anti slavery activist, Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid and the only female candidate Lalla Mariem Bint Moulaye Idriss, but all opponents are expected to make little impact on the vote. Shaul Gabbay an expert on politics in the region at the University of Denver said, “Given that the current regime of Mauritania is practically a totalitarian regime forcefully attempting to persuade the rest of the world … that it is a democracy, it is clear that the current president, who holds all practical powers in the country, will win the elections." He continued, "The opposition is helpless and the boycott is the only possible way to voice their position."
Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960 has incurred several military coups and a number of failed ones. The current incumbent came to power in much the same way, overthrowing the previous president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi who was the country's first democratically elected president. The move received widespread condemnation including from the African Union and the EU. However Abdel Aziz then went on to win the 2009 elections with over 50% of the vote despite claims of fraud. He ran on a platform to fight "terrorism" with him ordering several raids against regional fighters. His presidency has not been without incident though, with him being shot by a soldier outside the capital Nouakchott after he apparently failed to stop at a checkpoint.
The President has accused his opponents of bring the country to its knees urging the population to defy the boycott and vote. In doing so he boasted his achievements in security and economic growth. However opposition parties maintain that there are serious concerns about how the election will be judged with many believing the results is already a formality. The issue of slavery which has essentially become part of the norm will be a hot topic especially with the candidacy of Abeid, a well know activist who is a descendent of slaves. He has claimed that he will "free the slaves and bring them with me to the presidential palace". The claim was immediately rebuked by the incumbent president’s campaign manager who said Mr Abeid was attempting to exploit slavery to win votes and also claimed there were no slaves in society. A spokesperson for Walk Free, a campaign group trying to bring awareness of slavery said that the emergence of slavery as a topic of discussion was a positive sign for Mauritania.
As Mauritanians prepare to vote on Saturday many experts in region expect that an election win for the president would result in an uneasy calm but would not secure Mr Aziz's legitimacy especially if there is a low turnout.
Published 20 June 2014.
Remember our fellow Muslims this coming Ramadan
While many in the Muslim world look forward to the month of Ramadan to start shortly, many Muslims from several communities around the world will not be free to celebrate the blessed month. Communities from such countries as Myanmar, Central African Republic, Angola, Syria and China are being restricted from living their religion in peace without the fear of torture or persecution. Many of our fellow brothers and sisters are forced to flee their home with little to no food in this blessed month.
In Myanmar, a group of Muslims known as the Rohingya live in fear for their safety in the predominately Buddhist south East Asian country. Isolated by extremists from the Buddhist majority, medical care and education is not provided for them with over 140,000 Muslims displaced with hundreds killed. Some are held in small communities cut off from the outside world with no medical ailments attended to, as no doctors are given the opportunity to attend to them.
Currently in CAR over 2000 Muslims have been killed by the Christian Anti-Balaka militias and many others displaced from Christian dominated areas due to religious violence. Mosques have been destroyed in the sectarian violence against the Muslim minority with one Christian looter Guy Richard telling the AP news agency that, "We didn't want the Muslims here and we don't want their mosque here anymore either''. Meanwhile in the fellow African country of Angola, Islam has been declared illegal and all Mosques have been forcibly closed down. Islam is known as a 'sect' by the Ministry of Culture, with many Muslim inhabitants who migrated to the country from other African countries and Lebanon facing growing hostility from the locals and the government.
In the Middle East the picture is equally bleak for Syrian Muslims as the civil war in the country rages on for the third year. Over six million Syrian Muslims are registered as refugees within Syrian and its neighbouring countries. On Monday the UN appealed for $27 million to help thousands of Palestinian refugees stuck within Syria. The money would be used to help the refugees buy food with the United Nations saying many will not have food to break their fast when the time comes. In Palestine itself, daily raids by the Israeli Defence Force in the West Bank and Gaza strip continue with constant breaches on the Al-Aqsa complex in Jerusalem by violent settlers and Zionist extremists.
As many of us prepare to celebrate Ramadan, remember those of our fellow brothers and sisters who go hungry, who are not able to break their fast with a meal, who are persecuted by non-Muslims, who are stuck in a war zone and who are not able to seek medical treatment. Remember them in your duas and do what you can to bring them relief.
Published 27 June 2014.
Israel on the offensive again in Gaza
Israeli jets and helicopters have begun an offensive in the Gaza strip after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead in the West Bank city of Hebron. The Israeli government blames Hamas for the murders despite providing no evidence for the claims. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas whom it blames would "pay a heavy price". Hamas which has its stronghold in Gaza condemned the killing while also proclaiming its innocence. Hamas has said that only Israel's version has been published.
The search for the missing teens has lead to seven Palestinians deaths and hundreds being arrested. The three teens were said to be hitchhiking from their schools in settlements in the West Bank. The settlements which are illegal under international law have been a source of much friction in Palestine, with settlers often causing problems for the neighbouring Palestinians. The Israeli police have done little to quell the violence caused by the settlers. The settlements have contributed to the current impasse in the peace process, with the continued expansion leaving any future Palestinian state hard to envisage. Gaza which is virtually land locked despite being beside the sea, is continually bombed by the Israeli Air Force who see any perceived indiscretion by the Palestinians as a green light to terrorise the Gaza population under the public guise that it is actually targeting military establishments in the Gaza strip belonging to Hamas. The last major offensive in the Gaza strip led to hundreds of deaths, with thousands perishing in the 2009 offensive codenamed Cast Lead by the Israeli Army. In 2012 a ceasefire was brokered by the Egyptians under the previous leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. However the current leadership is seen as more of an ally of the Israelis and would be more likely to allow the attacks to continue.
The slaying of the three Israeli teens has drawn international condemnation most notably from the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the US President Barack Obama. The subsequent murder of a Palestinian boy whose body was found burned beyond recognition after being dragged into a car allegedly by Israeli settlers as a perceived revenge attack has notably brought less condemnation by the international community. The media coverage afforded to the murder of the Palestinian boy has been significantly less than that of the Israelis in the west despite the seemingly brutal nature of the death. The initial abduction of the teen was captured on CCTV although the pictures are described as grainy. However local residents said that Israeli police had come and taken away the originals of the footage. Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian leader said he holds Israel responsible and called on them to find the killers. The initial response after the abduction of the Israeli teens where many Israeli MPs and commentators stoked up ill feeling towards Palestinians most likely played a part in the revenge attack with many extreme right wingers in Israeli chanting "death to Arabs" in demonstrations held.
As the Islamic month of Ramadan is about to enter its second week, the people of Gaza once again find themselves under daily attack from the IDF. The launching of rockets into southern Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the air strikes by Israeli has drawn the United Nations humans’ rights office to urge maximum restraint from both sides. However past experiences suggests Israel will not listen to what the UN says knowing that the US administration, despite its opposition to certain aspects of Israeli policy, will not do anything tangible to stop its primary ally killing indiscriminately as it has in the past. It is up to the Muslim world and those who are against oppression, to keep their thoughts on the people of Gaza and do what they can to help those suffering.
Published 4 July 2014.
Death toll continues to rise as Israel continues to pound Gaza
The military siege on Gaza continued, with estimates of over 80 dead as of Thursday with hundreds of injured treated at hospital located in the Hamas controlled territory. The Israeli leadership continues to maintain that civilians are not targeted despite the vast majority of those injured being civilians including children and women. A spokesperson for the Gazan health ministry said that no warnings were given to residents of the upcoming attacks with most of the dead being children. As yet there have been no reports of deaths on the Israeli side despite Hamas continued retaliation with the firing of missiles.
Tensions between Hamas and Israel have risen after the recent murders of 3 Israeli teens and the subsequent murder and burning of a Palestinian teen in the West Bank. Almost immediately the Israeli leadership pinned the blame on Hamas despite producing no proof for the allegations and despite Hamas continuing to deny any wrongdoing. The Isreali Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to destroy Hamas once and for all. Under pressure in Israel for an apparent leniency shown to Palestinians, especially by the Zionist right wing extremist within his cabinet, Netanyahu wants to show his strength. The breakup of a coalition between Netanyahu's Likud party and his former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Yisrael Beiteinu has added to the tensions.
Several harrowing reports have emerged in the last few days of children losing limbs in air strikes, or whole families being wiped out. The IDF has said that it had targeted over 322 sites in the last few days with facilities including rocket launchers, weapons stores; tunnels and command centre their aim. However residents of Gaza have experienced bombings of houses and cafes hence the high casualty count amongst civilians. The Palestinian health ministry said 17 people including five children and three women were killed in the strikes on a house and cafe in Khan Younis in one such incident. Netanyahu seemingly acknowledged the high civilian casualty list but claimed that the deaths were due to Hamas using Gazans as human shields, rather than the indiscriminate Israeli bombardment claimed by those in Gaza. The evidence against the Israeli government is compelling, yet the international community continues first to condemn Hamas before asking Israel to show restraint. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned the situation was "on a knife-edge" while condemning Hamas for the rockets fired into southern Israel. There have also been reports of Israeli civilians in Sderot bringing chairs to the hilltops overlooking Gaza and clapping as each air strike on the civilians of Gaza hit. The Egyptian leadership continues to close the border between itself and Gaza maintaining the blockade and helping Israel in its aims.
While Muslims around the world observe Ramadan looking forward to the calm of the night prayer, the residents of Gaza pray that they are not the next victims of Israeli airstrikes. We urge all Muslims around the world to make dua and support our brothers and sisters financially in Gaza and Palestine as a whole, to give them strength and for Allah to bring punishment upon the Zionist murderers.
Published 11 July 2014.
Israel's onslaught continues to kill innocent civilians
As the Israeli Defence Force continues to exact what it believes is a legitimate attack on Hamas personnel in the Gaza strip, the casualties continue to mount with latest figures stating 227 deaths with countless injuries. Despite the huge casualty list of which the United Nations estimates 75% being civilians and international condemnation of Israel's attack, there is a growing clamour within the Jewish state for ground forces to be mobilized and sent into the Gaza strip. A prominent advocate for this measure is Avigdor Lieberman the Israeli Foreign Minister who accuses Benjamin Netanyahu the Prime Minister of Israel of being too lenient.
While the world is intrigued by the ongoing assault on Gaza, the family of 16-year-old Palestinian Muhammed Abu Khdeir who was brutally murdered and burned alive have seen his murderers face some form of punishment. The three defendants, one adult and two minors were not named in the charge sheet instead being referred to as defendant 1 - 3. Interestingly it is claimed that two of those charged are on medication and suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and cannot control their "unwanted thoughts and behaviour". What justice is forthcoming for the family Mohammed Abu Khdeir is open to question but from court sheets it seems measures are being taken to lesson any potential punishment.
On Thursday a five hour ceasefire was largely observed by both parties, though mortar attacks were reported. The truce which was suggested by the UN as a way for the people of Gaza to stock up on supplies and seek medical attention, with gazan being confined to their homes due to the barrage of Israeli airstrike. It also allowed humanitarian supplies into the Hamas controlled region. Talks for a lasting ceasefire are underway with Egypt playing the role as intermediary. Earlier Hamas and Israel denied an agreement was reached and it is believed the next 24 hours will be crucial. A ceasefire brokered by Egypt earlier in the week was rejected by Hamas, with the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu claiming that Hamas had "shut the door on a diplomatic solution". However with Hamas not being part of any talks in reaching a deal and with ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair said to be key to the talks, the deal that was reached cannot be claimed to be legitimate with one of the main protagonists not privy to the negotiations. In the latest efforts by Egypt to conjure a lasting agreement, Hamas and Israel delegates engaged in the arms-lengths talks, setting out through intermediaries their principal terms for ending the military confrontation. It is believed that Israel wants any agreement to restore the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza. Although a full restoration of the Palestinian Authorities (PA) control is unlikely one solution would be to put it in charge of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Hamas is demanded it be reopened as part of a deal. Hamas has five main demands as part of any deal which are, an opening of all crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip; opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt for 24 hours, with an international guarantee it will not be closed; naval access in Gaza; permission for Gaza residents to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; the release of the prisoners freed in the Gilad Shalit swap and then rearrested; improved conditions for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. In return Hamas would guarantee no further missile strikes into Israel. It is difficult to gauge which demands Israel would be happy to agree to.
The Israeli President Shimon Peres issued an apology for the murder of four children on the Gaza beach by an Israeli Navy vessel. Witnesses at the scene described how children who survived the first attack were running away from the scene when a second strike hit. A group of children were on the beach at the time of the attack. With several humanitarian agencies attempted to help provide urgent supplies to the people of Gaza, it provides us all an opportunity to help our brothers and sisters who are under attack.
Published 18 July 2014.
Ramadan over, but charity to the poor should continue
As the Islamic month of Ramadan drew to a close at the beginning of the week, much of the world's Muslims celebrated with heavy hearts as others continue to suffer. In Gaza the death toll in the 3 week offensive by the Zionist entity continued to rise with latest estimates putting the death toll over 1300 many of them civilians. The Israeli forces have come under growing pressure and furious international condemnation after the attack on a UN school that killed 16 civilians who had taken shelter there after their homes had been attacked. The US President Barack Obama's press secretary said the attack on the school was “totally unacceptable” and “totally indefensible”. The US administrations condemnation however is somewhat mitigated when the US Pentagon approved addition weapons supplies for the Israeli forces on Wednesday. The UN school was hit by five Israeli shells during a night of relentless bombardment. United Nations officials described the killing of sleeping children as a disgrace to the world and accused Israel of a serious violation of international law. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the attack was "outrageous and unjustifiable" and demanded "accountability and justice". UN officials including Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA said they had repeatedly given details of the school and its refugee population to Israel. In the UK, David Cameron and Ed Miliband have been urged by senior MPs within their own parties to demand more forcefully that Israel stops its bombardment of Gaza. So far the British Prime Minister David Cameron has stood by the Israelis blaming Hamas for starting the conflict.
On Wednesday, at least 17 people were killed and over 160 injured when an Israeli strike hit a fruit and vegetable market neat Gaza City. Hundreds of civilians were shopping at the time and the attack came during a four hour truce called by the Israeli military. Hamas, which controls Gaza said the truce was meaningless. Israel for its part has called up thousands more reservists as it looks to continue its ground offensive maintaining that it will not end the conflict until it has destroyed all tunnels from Gaza to Israel. The Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu rejected all calls for a ceasefire pointing to polls from Israel suggested over 87% of the population were still in favour of further attacks. Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said she believed Israel was deliberately defying international law and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes. "This is why again and again I say we cannot allow impunity; we cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on." Hamas had also violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, sometimes from densely-populated areas, Pillay said. With significant differences in efforts to find a solution to the crisis, a ceasefire seems distant. Hamas stance that an ceasefire to end the violence and the blockade of Gaza to cease seen as too much by both the Israelis and the Egyptians. The involvement of Qatar and Turkey, which support Hamas, has driven a wedge between the US administration and the Israelis. Israel was attempted to mend an ugly spat between its cabinet and John Kerry the US Secretary of State. Israel accuses the Qatar based Al-Jazeera news station of supporting a terrorist organisation referring to Hamas.
While the conflict in Gaza was taking much of the world's attention, civilians in Syria continue to live in fear from the Assad regime. Many have taken refuge in neighbouring countries including Turkey. Supplies in such refugee camps continue to be stretched as thousands more civilians arrive each with their own horrific stories to tell. In the Central African Republic many Muslims celebrated Eid with much trepidation. The minority Muslim population has been under attack from Christian militia for over a year with many being restricted from practicing their religion. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appointed a Cameroonian general to lead a UN peacekeeping force in the region.
While Ramadan is over it does not bring an end to the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world, from Palestine, to Syria, to Central African Republic, to China and many other countries. Their needs for support continue, and as we have done during Ramadan we must continue to make dua for them and provide monetary support for them.
Published 1 August 2014.
Will the current ceasefire in Gaza, lead to a more permanent solution?
Talks continue at length in Cairo, Egypt between Palestinian factions and Israel in an attempt to extend the current calm with a more lasting settlement. The talks which are going into the third day are complicated by demands from both sides seen by the other as unworkable. Hamas, the Palestinian movement which controls Gaza, has a set of demands which despite seeming reasonable to most of the world are said to be difficult for Israel to comprehend. Even the Egyptian government who are mediating in the talks suggested to Hamas that some of the demands go too far. Hamas' main aim is for the 7 year blockade of Gaza to be lifted while also asking for 100 prisoners to be released from Israeli prisons. Israel remains hesitant to end the blockade fearing that such a move would empower Hamas both politically and militarily. Israel for its part wants Hamas and other factions such as Islamic Jihad to disarm, and for the Gaza Strip to be demilitarised. Hamas has already pointed out that such demands are 'inconceivable'. More ambitious requirements to extend the truce were also suggested by the movement including the prospect of an airport being built in Gaza and a possible seaport. Egypt has already shot these demands down.
With the current truce set to end early Friday morning the prospect remains that fighting will restart. Residents in Gaza have returned to their homes during the truce to find much of what they once called home destroyed. The fighting has cost the lives of some 1900 lives in Gaza with 64 Israeli soldiers also being killed. Ihab al-Ghussein, the deputy information minister of Hamas said: "We are not asking for miracles, just stopping the war, implementing past agreements, lifting the siege. We have to show support for our delegation and ask them to be firm about our demands. There will be no white flag."
Meanwhile in other developments, Palestinian officials are poised to join the International Criminal Court with the aim of putting Israel on the dock for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. With the United Nations already calling some of Israel's actions morally indefensible, especially in the bombing the UN schools used as shelter in Gaza, there is a possibility that Israel could be brought to account for its actions in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority will ask Hamas and Islamic Jihad to sign the required documents while talks in Cairo continue. There remains the possibility that the PA could use the threat of the ICC to gain further concessions from Israel. Amnesty International has urged the PA to join the ICC, while many other organisations working for better conditions for the Palestinians both in the West Bank and Gaza waiting anxiously hoping the PA goes through with the signings. Amnesty International said on Tuesday, "They must make good on their words and seize this chance to move towards accountability for countless victims of human rights violations by submitting a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC without further delay." The Israeli Foreign Ministry remained silent on the matter although some Israeli officials believe that any ICC investigation will ultimately backfire on the Palestinians. Hamas and other factions, while acknowledging that there is a possibility they may be brought to account as well, believe that the size of Israel's crimes far outweigh any possible crimes committed by themselves. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, remained under great pressure by western governments, not to go ahead with joining the ICC arguing that it would be an impediment to the peace process. However the peace process itself seems broken and unlikely to ever be agreed especially with such a right wing government in Israel.
In another part of the Middle East, namely Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has taken over the Christian town of Qaraqosh, seen by many Christian as a safe haven from Isis after it had taken over Mosul. The town was already struggling as water supplies and electricity had been cut off after Isis had taken Mosul. The US President Barack Obama is believed to be looking at a range of option including air strikes on Isis while also carrying out aid drops to those trapped. It seems unlikely that the Obama administration would send ground troops to the region, with US public opinion not likely to support any further escalation or involvement of its country in Iraq.
Published 8 August 2014.
Erdogan confirms Davutoglu as new PM of Turkey
The outgoing Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed the nomination of the current Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu as the new Prime Minister of Turkey after discussions within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Mr Davutoglu will also assume the position of chairmen of the ruling party. The current incumbent Mr Erdogan is leaving his position after he was elected as the new president of Turkey in a national vote earlier this month.
Ahmet Davutoglu who is 55, has long been assumed as the likely heir to Mr Erdogan when the current PM moved on. Their goals and policies are much aligned. In fact Mr Davutoglu was a special advisor for Prime Minister Erdogan during his early years. He was tasked with steering Turkey's foreign policy since 2009. However, the prime minister in waiting does not have the adulation of supporters that Mr Erdogan enjoys, and much of support amongst the population is largely due to Mr Erdogan immense popularity. Mr Erdogan is believed to have told his party supporters, "I believe our candidate for party leadership and prime minister will realise the ideal of a new Turkey and the AKP's targets for 2023". The Presidency is viewed as a largely ceremonial position, but Mr Erdogan intends to keep an iron grip on the running of the country by using seldom used powers.
Mr Davutoglu who assumes the position of Prime Minister on the 28th of this month has played a key role in Turkish politics. He was one of the leading diplomats for the Turkish government during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2008. Many attribute much of Turkeys rise to a regional power to Mr Davutoglu, who has also called for Turkey to play a leading role in world affairs. Under his brief as Foreign Minister he has tackled many issues in the Middle East including the Israel-Palestine conflict, the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya and the rise and ultimate fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Much like Mr Erdogan the incoming Prime Minister has been one of the leading critics in the region to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the continued occupation and the killings of civilians who attempted to break the blockade of Gaza on a flotilla. Mr Davutoglu has also helped Turkey build closer relationships with certain countries in the region. Mr Davutoglu along with Mr Erdogan also acknowledged that serious incidents occurred during the First World War leading to many innocent civilians, mainly Armenians being killed. He has called on more investigations and research to be undertaken but has rejected the notion of genocide by the Ottomans.
With the ongoing problems in the region and especially Turkey's continued opposition to the Israeli siege on Gaza, Mr Davutoglu has much to consider. His diplomatic skills have already led to several prominent deals with neighbours but his leadership is untested. However it seems unlikely that his premiership will differ much from his predecessor.
Published 22 August 2014.
Libya conflict linked to wider Middle East problems
After US allegations over the past few days that United Arab Emirates (UAE) warplanes based in Egypt bombed Tripoli the Libyan capital, the question has arisen of whether the current problems in Libya has been dragged into a wider Middle East conflict with consequences not just for the region and its population but the wider world.
The bombing by UAE warplanes have not helped matters and as expected have actually deepened the problems in the country. The strikes have added to already fierce disputes between Islamists and nationalists in the North African country. A new House of Representatives was supposed to replace an interim assembly in 2012 know as the General National Congress (GNC). However moderate Islamists fared worse in the new elections than the original elections and have deemed the current process illegitimate. Instead they claim the GNC based in Tripoli is the only legitimate body in the country. GNC members are particularly opposed to foreign intervention and the alleged attacks by UAE warplanes are seen as an act of aggression.
The Libya Dawn alliance, which backs the Islamists, has just wrested control of the facilities including the international airport in Tripoli, from the Zintan militia coalition, which supports the nationalists. Libya Dawn which is now believed to be in complete control of the capital, were the targets of the raids. The UAE denies any involvement while the Egyptians also claimed innocence. Since June, a collection of militias, air force units and army groups under a former officer have rather unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate pro-Islamists. Whoever did carry out the raids, Libya has always been a source of outside interference including by the UK, France, US and Qatar. These countries, in the main, were behind the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi during the civil war in 2011. Qatar has continued to support what it claims are moderate Islamist groups in Libya. This support has seemingly dragged other countries into the conflict. The struggle to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood as a political in Egypt has led its leaders seeing Islamists who may be linked to the Brotherhood in Libya as a threat. The current leadership in Egypt came into power after a bloody army coup deposing the legitimate President from power.
With fighters from the Islamists in the capital and beyond ultimately wanting to bring in Islamic law to the nation, the UN Security Council has moved to impose sanctions on militias and their political supporters. With the country in effect having two rival governments and parliaments in two different regions, the current Libyan ambassador to the United Nations warned that the country was on the brink of "full-blown civil war" if the chaos and divisions in the country continue. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday said the military intervention aimed at blocking the Islamist advance was unhelpful, when asked about the alleged involvement of the Egyptians and the UAE. There is a great need for outside interference to be limited so that casualties are kept to a minimum.
Published 29 August 2014.
Iranian diplomats asked to leave Sudan
The Sudanese government has given Iranian officials 72 hours to leave the country after closing its cultural centres, straining ties between the two countries which are normally close. The move comes after the government of Khartoum accused the Iranian officials of promoting Shia Islam in the majority Sunni African country. Khartoum has kept good relations with the Shia Iranian government for a number of years even allowing Iranian ships to make several port calls in Sudan.
Sudan which has been largely isolated by the United Nations and western sanctions in large part due to its conflict in Darfur, had been seeking allies in the region. This has kept it continuously trying to balance competing interests in the complex web of regional rivalries. Iran is believed to be a supplier of weapons to the Sudanese, while both governments are backers of Hamas, although the government of Khartoum denied Israeli accusations that it was a conduit for supplies to Iranian weapons into the Gaza Strip. In 2012, Sudan rejected an offer by the Iranians to set up air defences on its Red Sea coast after it was destroyed by air strikes blamed on the Israelis. The government of Sudan is believed to have turned down the offer largely to avoid upsetting the Sunni superpower of the region Saudi Arabia. However Sudan continued to receive delegations from Iran. A Sudanese source told AFP that the move may be in response from pressure from Riyadh, which has already put huge pressure on the economy of the African country by denying it access to the Saudi banking system. The rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran has in effect divided the Middle East into two camps with countries either allied to one or the other.
"Sudanese authorities summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires in Khartoum and informed him of the decision to close the three cultural centres and to give the diplomats who ran those 72 hours to leave the country," the AFP news agency quoting an unnamed official said on Tuesday. The Iranian cultural centre and its branches had exceeded their mandates and "become a threat to intellectual and social security," said a foreign ministry statement.
While the rivalries continue, Sudan’s first vice-president, Bakri Hassan Saleh, has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and other international institutions to intervene to find a solution to Sudan’s debt problems, as well as those of other African countries. Mr Saleh warned that any delay in ending the debt burden on Sudanese citizens is worse than justifying it, and that the cost to the poor is heavier than their ability to endure it.
Published 5 September 2014.
Hostilities in Kashmir temporarily halted as worst floods in 50 years hit
Officials from both Pakistan and India were making urgent preparations in an effort to reach thousands of people stranded in Kashmir as severe floods and landslides continue to wreck the area. So far estimates of 320 people dead are being given by officials with the number of casualties expected to rise as the rescue mission and eventual clean up begins.
Near a week of rain has been falling in the disputed region on the Indian controlled side of the disputed region. In the Pakistani side of the border more than 200 have died with several hundred homes completely destroyed and several thousand displaced. Officials say that several villages in the region have been submerged by what is described as the worst floods in the region for five decades. The disaster has brought about a slight calming of relations between the two nations which dispute the claims of each other to Kashmir. The two countries have fought three wars since the independence of both countries in 1947 from British rule. Despite the chilly relations between India and Pakistan, both countries have offered to help each other in relief efforts with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sending a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sherif offering Indian help in the Pakistani controlled portion of Kashmir. The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan has reciprocated saying the government was "ready to help in whatever way possible to mitigate the suffering of the people affected by the floods" in Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir. Despite the gestures it is extremely unlikely that either nation will accept the others offer to help considering the military sensitivities in the region. When Indian PM Modi took office earlier this year he invited his Pakistani counterpart Sherif to New Delhi. Hopes were raised that relations between the two countries could be mended. However since then, relations have again deteriorated.
More flooding is forecast in the coming days with Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority expecting the worst. The River Chenab and Indus are rising and if the rivers do burst their banks the disaster will get significantly worse. Indian officials on their side of the border have begun handing out blankets, medicine and food to many stranded civilians mainly on rooftops of buildings submerged by water. All schools, colleges and offices have been shut, and electricity and drinking water supplies have been limited. Both Prime Ministers flew over the devastated region on Sunday to survey the damage done by the worst floods in 50 years.
Published 12 September 2014.
Bangladesh court commutes Death Sentence of Leading Islamist Leader
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has commuted the death sentence handed down on a prominent Islamist Leader, whose conviction of crimes including rape and mass murder last year led to deadly protest in the Asian country. The crimes relate to incidents alleged to have taken place during the war for independence of Bangladesh in 1971 from Pakistan. However the judge has instead ordered that Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of the Islamist, Jamaat-e-Islami party must remain in prison "for the rest of his natural life". The judge did not give reasons for decision.
Mr Sayedee, one of the country's most well known preachers was sentenced to death in February 2013 by the special war crimes tribunal set up the government of current incumbent Sheikh Hasina. Mr Sayedee has maintained his innocence throughout the trial and subsequent sentences and continues to fight the ruling. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, many at the hands of Pakistani officers while a belief remains in the country that Islamists in the country formally known as East Pakistan also committed crimes. The Islamists in the country opposed the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan believing that a Muslim country should remain together despite differences in culture and language. On Wednesday protestors against the Islamist party took to the streets in Dhaka laying bare the huge divisions within the country caused by the war crimes tribunal. Activists demanded that the death sentence be reinstated on Mr Sayedee and other Islamist leaders. The war crimes tribunal has been bereft of real substance with many independent analysts claiming it is illegitimate and does not follow correct procedures. Human Rights Watch who continue to monitor the situation in the country point to the continued human rights abuses being committed by the government, the narrowing of political and civil society space, HMW also highlighted the shielding of abusive security forces from accountability. The organisation also highlighted that the country's continued ignoring of calls by it and other organisations to reform laws and procedures in what it describes as a flawed war crimes and mutiny trials. Detractors of Sheikh Hasina claim that she has used the war crimes tribunals as a mechanism to weaken the opposition and maintain her grip on the country, something she denies. Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest Islamic party allies itself with the main opposition group in the country, the Bangladesh National Party. Both parties refused to partake in national elections early this year, accusing the ruling government of corruption. The official results which occurred with less than 25% of the population taking part was not recognised by western governments with the US administration requested a fair re-run.
In addition news related to the war crimes tribunal, the opposition was calling for the government to withdraw a recent constitutional amendment that gives parliament the power to impeach Supreme Court judges. Some lawyers have argued the move would undermine judicial independence. The ruling party has said the amendment is necessary to prevent misconduct in the judiciary branch.
Published 19 September 2014.
Agreement in place for unity government to take control of Gaza
An agreement has been reached in Cairo between the two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, easing the passage to reconstruction in Gaza after the bombardment of the enclave by Israel. The agreement also brings about the easing of border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The deal reached by Fatah and Hamas will lead to a civil administration taking over control of Gaza immediately lead by President Mahmoud Abbas.
With the agreement seemingly in place, there is hope the long blockade of Gaza is coming to an end shortly with the Palestinian Authority to control of the key crossings of the Gaza Strip including the crucial Rafah crossing to Egypt, a key demand of the Egyptian President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Sources have also indicated that the security forces of the Palestinian Authority would also control the Philadelphia corridor, a key strip adjoining the border with Egypt. A recent report by the Palestinian Authority has suggested that the cost of reconstruction in Gaza following the 50 day aggression by Israel will cost £4.8 billion. Officials from the two rival factions had met on Wednesday to thrash out a deal hoping the move would strengthen their hand in talks with Israel scheduled to take place next month. The breakthrough in talks would formally bring about the end of 7 years of Hamas led rule in Gaza in which time they have fought three wars with Israel. Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip after winning legislative elections in 2007. “Fatah and Hamas have reached a comprehensive agreement for the unity government to return to the Gaza Strip,” said Jibril Rajoub, a senior official in Fatah.
Although the two sides had agreed a deal before the recent war between Hamas and Israel, plans to implement the technocratic government were beset by arguments between the factions. Hamas had formally stepped aside on 2 June; by Abbas claimed they were still running a parallel government as the de facto rulers of Gaza. Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of refusing to pay 45.00 Hamas officials. Another key point of contention was who would be allowed to declare war and manage any further conflicts. Ceasefire negotiations to end the last conflict stipulated that the Palestinian Authority would take control of Gaza.
On Friday, Mahmoud Abbas will speak at the UN general assembly and unveil a new diplomatic initiative in the hope to bring about the end of 47 years of occupation by successive Israeli governments of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian agreement was crucial in order to present a unified strategy during talks with Israeli negotiators due in October.
Published 26 September 2014.
Australia's Prime Minister has not asked for burqa ban to be reversed
Tony Abbott the Prime Minister of Australia and the Speaker office were at odds this week after the PM had seemingly asked that the Speaker "rethink the decision" while the Speakers office claim that no request had been forthcoming from the Prime Minister through official channels. The ban would mean that no facial coverings including the niqab would be allowed in Parliament buildings. “No request has been received by the PM or his office,” a spokesman for the Speaker said at midday on Friday. But at a press conference to announce Parliament approval for military action in Iraq against the Islamic State, Tony Abbott said, “I asked the Speaker to rethink the decision,” Abbott said. “My understanding was it was an interim decision, that it would be looked at again the light of security advice that will come in coming days and I am sure the matter will be fully resolved before the parliament comes back in a fortnight.”
Speaker Bronwyn Bishop of the House of Representatives and president of the Senate, Stephen Parry made an interim ruling on Thursday that people wearing facial coverings, such as the niqab, could watch proceedings only from glass-enclosed public galleries. The minister for communication in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull condemned the ban saying that by "demonising and alienating" the Muslim community of Australia was "doing the terrorists work". Mr Turnbull went on to claim he had only ever seen one person wearing the full facial covering in 10 years in the public gallery. The presiding officers had made the interim decision while they were waiting on security advice from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Intelligence and Security Organisation (Asio) “in light of the increased threat environment” they claimed. On Tuesday, Tony Abbott said that he supported the right for all Australians to wear what they wished although he said he thought the burqa was "confronting" and that he wished people chose not to wear it. Polls suggest strong support for the ban although the opposition leaders say the polls may not necessary reflect general public sentiment. Human rights freedom commissioner Tim Wilson said there was no grounds for segregating people “on the basis of what they wear in a public building”.Writing in The Australian, Wilson described the presiding officers’ ruling included fair and reasonable security measures requiring visitors to show identification to get escorted passes to go into secure areas of Parliament House.
The developments in Australia come three months after judges in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld a ban in France banning the burqa. Judges at the ECHR accepted the French governments reasons which were that it encourages people to "live together". The ban which was introduced back in 2010 under the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy, makes it illegal for anyone to wear facing coverings in the public domain. While the ban does cover such items as balaclavas, critics accuse it as targeting Muslim women. The case was brought forward to the ECHR by an unnamed French citizen of Pakistani origin, who was represented by six solicitors from Birmingham in the United Kingdom. They claimed that the banning of the full face veil was contrary to six article of the human rights convention. They argued it was "inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of speech and discriminatory". Her lawyer Tony Muman told the ECHR last November: "She's a patriot" adding that she had suffered "absolutely no pressure" from her family or relatives to cover herself. While she was prepared to uncover her face for identity checks, she insisted on the right to wear the full-face veil, Muman said.The European judges decided otherwise, declaring that the preservation of a certain idea of "living together" was the "legitimate aim" of the French authorities.
Published 3 October 2014.
Muslims in Rohingya beaten and arrested for not registering as Bengali immigrants
Muslims in Myanmar in the Muslim dominated region of Rohingya have been beaten and several arrested for failing to register themselves as Bengali immigrants. Witnesses described the scene of authorities raiding the villages of the Rohingya - defined by the UN as the world's most persecuted minority - to force them to admit they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. The move comes after the government publicly offered citizenship to the Muslim minority, in exchange for registering their identities as Bengali. Immigration officials, border guards and members of the illegal-alien task force in the northern tip of Rakhine, which is home to 90% of the south east Asian's countries 1.3 million Rohingya, claimed they were simply doing their normal duties such as updated family lists much like they have done in the past. However a key question had been added in the updated lists, asking each resident to specify their ethnicity. The government denies the existence of Rohingya in the country, saying those who claim the ethnicity are actually Bengalis.
"We are trapped," Khin Maung Win said, adding that authorities started setting up police checkpoints outside his village, Kyee Kan Pyin, in mid-September. These checkpoints are preventing people from leaving even to buy food in local markets, or take children to school. "If we don't have letters and paperwork showing we took part — that we are Bengali — we can't leave," he said. According to Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, this aims to promote the recognition of basic rights to the Rohingya; residents reported incidents of violence and abuse in at least 30 villages from June to late September. In many villages, highly influential leaders’ names were posted on community boards along with verbal warnings that they faced two years in prison if they failed to convince others to sign the relevant documentation. Some residents of the region have spoken of officials forcing them to sign the paperwork as gunpoint, or after being threatened of spending time in camps. Others have spoken of being beaten with clubs for refusing to comply.
Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist nation somewhat surprised the world when it announced the end of nearly half a century of military dictatorship with a move to democracy. President Thein Sein was elected with an aim to move the country in the path of true democracy. However Mr Sein a former army general has failed to stop Buddhist extremists from targeting the Rohingya, sometimes with machetes and bamboo clubs. The extremists claim the Rohingya pose a threat to the country's traditions. The government has largely stood by and watched the massacre occur. The people of Rohingya arrived generations ago from what was India at the time and is present day Bangladesh. Denied citizenship by Myanmar for failing to register as immigrants, the people of Rohingya are largely stateless, with neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh willing to legally recognise the people as their own. A general feeling has arisen among the people that the government of Myanmar is attempting to systematically erase them from the country's history. Almost all Rohingya were excluded from a U.N.-funded nationwide census earlier this year, the first in three decades, because they did not want to register as Bengalis. President Thein Sein is considering a "Rakhine Action Plan" that would make people who identify themselves as Rohingya not only ineligible for citizenship but candidates for detainment and possible deportation. Already living in what many would describe as apartheid like conditions in Myanmar the people of Rohingya need urgent help from Muslims around the world.
Published 10 October 2014.
Hamas leader calls on Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque
The Palestinian factions leader, Khaled Meshaal has urged Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque after Israeli authorities restricted access for Palestinians. He also accused Israel of trying to seize the site, which is considered holy by Muslims and Jews. The message was also relayed by other Muslim communities in the region including a pro-Morsi bloc in Egypt which called for a week of protests in Egypt starting Friday to support the occupied East Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque.
The pro-Morsi National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy said in a statement, "We strongly support international calls to support the Al-Aqsa. We're calling for a fresh week of revolutionary protest," the alliance added, to be held under the banner, "Make Al-Aqsa Victorious." In Doha, the Qatari capital, Khaled Meshaal issued a statement saying, “We call on all our people inside the country to hurry up to al-Aqsa to defend it. We call on the nation to be angry and to send a message of painful anger to the world that the Palestinian people, the Arab and Muslim nation, will not be silent at the Israeli crime.” When asked if his words could inflame the situation further so soon after the last Israeli incursion into Gaza which killed over 2000 people, “Nobody wants a war, but it’s our right to resist and preserve our rights. We are under occupation...We have been resisting for one hundred years and will continue. Al-Aqsa is worth us becoming martyrs for, and anyone who can carry a weapon in the region should go and defend it, as this is the true meaning of jihad.” Israel had earlier decided that only Muslims over the age of 50 would be allowed to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque complex. Many Palestinians had feared the Zionist entity would restrict all Muslims from entering. It follows months of encitement by extremist Jewish settlers in the occupied East Jerusalem, many supported by government officials and local rabbis, who would enter the Muslim site.
On October 8, the International Union for Muslim Scholars called for forming an Islamic-Arab alliance to counter "Zionist" violations against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and help the Palestinians obtain their rights.The union also called for organizing international activities with a view to supporting the Palestinian cause.Since the 1950s, Muslim and Christian religious sites in occupied Jerusalem's Old City have been administered by neighboring Jordan. On Thursday the Jordaninan Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh has vowed to take legal action against Israel for its repeated violations in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.. According to the statement issued by the Jordanians, talks with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon were held where the Jordanians complained to the UN chief about recent intrusions by Israeli police into the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, Israel's decision to ban the entry of Muslim worshippers under 50, and the assault of worshippers and mosque guards by Israeli police.He also reportedly denounced Israel's decision to allow extremist Jewish settlers to regularly enter the complex. Violence had broke out on Wednesday in Jerusalem after Israel closed the Al-Aqsa complex to Muslims to allow Jewish settlers to enter the premises to celebrate the week-long Jewish Sukkot holiday. It is yet to be seen if Israel continues to violate previous agreements with no accountability from the UN and other world organisations.
Published 17 October 2014.
Government of Myanmar and its policy to Muslims: Get Out
The government of the south East Asian nation of Myanmar formerly Burma has issued a policy leaving upto one million Muslims within it with a desperate choice to make. The people known as the Rohingya must prove that their family had live in the country for more than 60 years and therefore qualify as second class citizens or be placed in camps in preperation for deportation. The policy which has drawn criticism from human rights organisation is part of another wave of decrees and legislations which is making life for the much persecuted people of Rohingya unbearable. The fact that even if on the off chance that someone is able to produce documentation, proving their family had lived in the country for over 60 years and still be seen as second class, highlights the intense force and the lengths that the government of Myanmar is willing to go to rid its country of Muslims.
The policy which has brought much embarrassment for the Obama administration in the US after the US government considered Myanmar as a foreign policy success in Asia. The US government still continues to say, at least in public, that it is worried by renewed violence by Buddhist extremists who operate within the country largely with a free hand by the government of Myanmar. The state and treatment of the Rohingya could still derail the transition of Myanmar from military rule to some form of democratic rule. Estimates this week by Arakan project has suggested that approximately 14,500 people had attempted to sail to the beaches of Thailand with the ultimate goal of reaching Malaysia. The large numbers and the seemingly xenophobic nature of policies have led to Mr Obama having to speak out. In his most public statement to date about Myanmar, Mr Obama has asked the government of Mr Thein Sein to revise its anti-Rohingya policies and more specifically its resettlement plan. He said Myanmar must "support the civil and political rights of the Rohingya population".
The Rohingya have faced persecution for decades. They have been denied citizenship, evicted from their homes and their lands confiscated. In certain cases even the military has attacked them. After one such military attack in 1978 approximately 200,000 Rohingya fled the country for neighbouring Bangladesh. The latest flare up began in 2012 with rioting where hundreds of Rohingya were murdered and thousands more villages burned down by Buddhist extremists. Since then it is believed that approximately 100,000 have fled the country while a further 100,000 have been confined to camps in terrible conditions with no escape. As the states of the camps were revealed to outside world, international pressure on the government of Myanmar has increased to find a humane solution. Instead the government has continued its grotesque actions of ethnic cleansing and the world must now hold the government of Myanmar accountable possibly with sanctions.
Published 7 November 2014.
Muslims feel under siege in Kenya
Muslims in the relatively wealthy East African nation of Kenya have become increased concerned by recent events in the country. The issues stem both by what many believe are government tactics which are viewed with the Muslim community as discriminatory, as well as continuous attacks in the country by groups linked to al-Shabab.
Only last month an imam was forced to step down from his position by what many say are al-Shabab sympathisers despite another Muslim cleric, Sheikh Salim Bakar Mwarangi being murdered by two men on a motorbike. The attacks have brought about a split within the Muslim community between those who directly or indirectly support al-Shabab and those who oppose them. However both are openly critical of the Kenyan government and their handling of the population. Kenya's coastal region known for its tourist attractions is home to many Muslims. A flurry of bomb attacks in the region and the murder of Mwarangi have bought the spotlight further on the country. Many Muslim clerics have been murdered on both sides of the divide between those who support al-Shabab and those who oppose. Imam Mwarangi who was know in his country for his vociferous views and attacks on the government's approach to Muslims and was regarded as pro-Shabab, was killed by unknown gunman. Another Imam was shot after receiving death threats for weeks as recently as June this year.
Recent data confirmed by insiders suggest that Kenyans constitute the largest non-Somali contingent within al-Shabab. The economic, social and political marginalisation of Muslims in Keyna has provoked enormous resentment and frustration with the government. Politicians in the country have tended to band entire communities of Kenyan Muslims as supporters of different groups which have continually increased the problem while also alienating Muslims further. Heavy handed police tactics such as mass roundups of young men attending mosques have only served to reinforce the perception that exists within the country of prejudice against Muslims. In April of this year operations launched by the countries security forces appeared to only target Kenya's Somali population regardless of their age or any affiliation to any group, with Amnesty International pointed out several human right violations. The continuing mass arrest, profiling and extra judicial killings have seemingly exasperated the issue.
Muslims in the nation and throughout the world need to be treated as equals to non-Muslims without an inner fear or perception that they are being targeted. While Kenya continues to struggle with its tactics anger towards to the government grows. It has much work to do.
Published 14 November 2014.
Pakistani man wins right to sue US and UK government for alleged torture
The British High Court has dismissed the UK government’s attempts to prevent Yunus Rahmatullah from suing both the UK and US governments. The British government had made the claim that allowing Mr Rahmatullah to sue could damage the government’s relations with the US. The Pakistani citizen says he was tortured over a 10 year period by both British and American troops when he was captured in 2004 by British Special Forces in Iraq and handed over to their American counterparts. He was released without charge by the US in May of this year.
Mr Justice Leggatt ruled on Wednesday that the British courts would be failing their duty if they did not deal with the claims even if that involved the court finding evidence proving US officials acting unlawfully. Justice Leggatt said "If it is necessary to adjudicate on whether acts of US personnel were lawful … in order to decide whether the defendants violated the claimant’s legal rights, then the court can and must do so". He continued “For the court to refuse to decide a case involving a matter of legal right on the ground that vindicating the right would be harmful to state interests would seem to me to be an abdication of its constitutional function.” The ruling could potentially affect other claims by three Iraqi men of abuse by British soldiers at various detention centres throughout Iraq before they were handed over to US forces. One of the Iraqi men claimed that he had suffered extreme sexual abuse at the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Sapna Malik of law firm Leigh Day, which represents Rahmatullah, said: “It is now high time for the British government to abandon its attempts to evade judicial scrutiny of its conduct in operations involving the US in Iraq and Afghanistan so that justice may finally be served for what has passed and lessons learned for the future”.
The ruling on Wednesday comes soon after a recent appeal court ruling on a separate rendition case involving a Libyan politician and his wife. The couple claim that they were abducted and secretly rendered in the capital Tripoli in what was described as a joint MI6-CIA operation also in 2004. In detailed court statements the couple describe how they were tortured by Muanmar Gaddafi’s security forces when the former Libyan dictator was on friendlier terms with the western world. The court of appeal ruled last month, “There is a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these very grave allegations. The risk of displeasing our allies or offending other states … cannot justify our declining jurisdiction on grounds of act of state over what is a properly justiciable claim. In both cases the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office point to the doctrines of state immunity and "foreign act of state" should prevent the courts from hearing claims for compensation and thus declaring the British government responsible for the treatment. Government lawyers have indicated they plan to challenge the rulings in the Supreme Court. Howver only last year the Supreme Court described Mr Rahmatullah's treatment by UK and US forces as unlawful and as a possible war crime. The Supreme Court said, “The, presumably forcible, transfer of Mr Rahmatullah from Iraq to Afghanistan is, at least prima facie, a breach of article 49 [of the fourth Geneva Convention],”
With possible upcoming appeals and possible claims for compensation, the government has much to answer. We await developments.
Published 21 November 2014.
Interpal, the Muslim charity labelled a terrorist organisation
Interpal , otherwise known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund faces the same issues other Muslim charities face today, namely that their work, dedication to people in need is being undermined by false accusations and often being smeared and branded a terrorist organisation. Interpal which celebrated its 20th anniversary this week provides humanitarian aid, education, health and community development in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) publicly recognises Interpal as an indispensable partner. With its headquarters in London, offices in Birmingham and even field officers in the Gaza Strip the organisation provides a valuable service, one that is made more difficult with malicious accusations against it. Despite the accusations Interpal continues to have a large base of support including from various aid workers, distinguished academics and doctors who all describe the groups work as heroic. Over the last 18 years, Interpal has been fighting a battle against the media and other organisations, with possible questionable motives. Since 1996, many media organisations have accused Interpal of supporting Hamas leading to 3 separate Charity Commission enquires. In 2003 the United States has designated the charity as a terrorist organisation. The decision by the US government has had a severe effect on the organisation especially in relation to its banking facilities. Since 2008, Interpal has not had regular banking facilities, including credit card donations and a direct debit service. For a group whose outgoings were over £5m in 2012, this is a huge problem. Many observers have said it is a miracle the charity is still running.
Last autumn 38 MPs signed a motion recognising Interpal humanitarian work in Palestine. They pressed the government to apply pressure to the US government to rescind its damaging designation of the group. This has fallen on deaf ears. As with many Muslim charities, Interpal faces an extreme amount of pressure and scrutiny. David Cameron even allowed the Charity Commission extra power to tackle "extremism". But what has led to Interpal and other Muslim charities being scrutinised to this level? Many believe the problem leads back to 9/11. As part of the "War on Terror" many Muslim organisations were shut down with their assets seized. Like the famous case of the Holy Land Foundation who were the biggest Muslim charity based in the US. It was accused of providing finance to the military wing of Hamas. Critics point to a political motivation behind the arrests of its founding members. Months before the US government had come under intense pressure from Israel to pursue possible funding of Hamas. US government decisions led to the second Charity Commission investigation in 2003. Despite winning this case when the Charity Commission noted that US authorities failed to provide evidence to back up its claims, a continuous drip feed in the media of allegations has hurt the group. In 2005 Interpal won a libel case against the Board of Deputies of British Jews two years after it denounced Interpal a terrorist organisation on its website. It issued a retraction. Families of victims of suicide bombs in Israel filed a court case in the US in early 2006 against NatWest, Interpal’s bank at the time, for offering services to charity linked to Hamas.
Last year a US district judge threw out these cases involving NatWest and Interpal, saying there was no evidence that the group funds Hamas-supporting charities or that Natwest knowingly facilitated Interpal’s alleged provision of money to these charities. The Jerusalem Post was forced to apologise to Interpal in 2006 and NatWest for an article containing remarks that said the charity was connected to a terrorist organisation.
So why Interpal and other Muslim organisations continually are scrutinised like no other charities. Why are they especially targeted if they work in Palestine? Sometimes certain people can apply pressure to governments who would otherwise see no problem with these charities. We hope all government recognise the true work of Interpal and not base their views of baseless allegations.
Published 28 November 2014.
American troops in Iraq get immunity from prosecution
The US Ambassador to Iraq has gained a major victory for his country this week when US troops based in Iraq learned that they would never face prosecution for alleged crimes committed in Iraq. Ambassador Stuart Jones said that the new Iraqi Prime Minister has given the 'assurances that we need from the government' on privileges for the troops stationed there.
Immunity from prosecution was one of the major reasons for the US pullout from Iraq in 2011 and not President Obama claims that it was all part of his plan. What has become clear is the US government was only nudged on the road to a pullout after Iraq's former Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki refused to sanction the request from the US administration for immunity for its soldiers stationed there. Ambassador Jones has stated that this was a different time and that the soldiers who are now stationed have different roles to those who were present before. “We have the assurances that we need from the government of Iraq on privileges and immunities,” he said. “It’s in the basis of our formal written communications between our governments and also based on the strategic framework agreement that is the legal basis of our partnership.”
The House of Representatives was expected to vote shortly on a proposed $5bn expansion of US military operations in Iraq against ISIS. The bill is part of a much larger $585bn 'defense' bill in Iraq and Syria. President Obama authorised the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total number of US forces to 3,100, in addition to 5,000 people working for the US mission in Iraq. US trained Iraqi forces were unable to stop ISIS taking over large swathes of the country earlier this year including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. Many commanders fled and calls for further ammunitions went unaswered. The US and its allies began airstrikes against ISIS on 8 August. The US military now claims it is only assisting teams of Iraq soldiers in the aim to reclaim the country. However leading US politicians including Ambassador Jones have refused to confirm if any soldiers will fight on the ground against ISIS if needed.
The memories of such abuses as Abu Ghraib, and the case of a US solider that killed 16 Afghan civilians in cold blood are still fresh. In the case of the US soldier in Afghanistan, the soldier was tried in a military court as no immunity existed for him in Afghanistan. However the family of those killed received no financial help. It begs the question, what happens if a US soldier massacres 16 Iraqi civilians now?
Published 05 December 2014.
Palestine submits draft resolution to the UN
The Palestinian leadership has submitted a draft UN resolution that sets a 12 month deadline for further negotiations between itself and Israel in the aim of finding lasting peace. The resolution also calls for the Israeli withdrawal by the end of 2017 from all Palestinian territories obtained illegally after the war of 1967. The resolution which was submitted on Wednesday was watered down to a certain extent to avoid further diplomatic clashes with the United States who have the power to veto any deal in the UN Security Council.
The draft resolution was presented to the UN by Jordan who has been in discussions with the Palestinians over the resolution and its text. The Jordanian envoy Riyad Mansour indicated on Wednesday that he would not press for a quick vote, contrary to the Palestinians who had said earlier that they wanted a quick vote. It now seems pressure from Arab countries including from Jordan has brought about the change in approach. Arab countries close to the discussion were seeking to draw up a draft which was acceptable to the US but which brought about key demands such as the formation of a state in a timely manner and full Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupies. However the demand of a phased withdrawal from Palestinians territories by 2017 is likely to run into opposition to the US. The US claims that moves that force negotiations to a set deadline are counterproductive and would harden the Israeli right. Whether this is true is debatable. However US sponsored talks, which have been on-going for over 20 years, have brought no peace and has led to countless building of illegal settlements in the West Bank and many deaths. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry said “We don’t have any problem with them filing some resolution, providing it’s done in the spirit of working with people to see how we could proceed forward in a thoughtful way that solves the problem, doesn’t make it worse”.
The draft resolution which began circulation at the end of September had no chance of approval in its original form. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly that it was time to fast track Palestinian statehood after several years of stagnation and negotiations with US mediation. The draft resolution had an effect in jolting the international community who had become concerned the US led talks were going nowhere. France stepped in last month drawing up a resolution which may be more acceptable with help from Britain and Germany. The US administration which has an uneasy relationship with Israel was concerned that the moves would harden the Israeli right. However even they were annoyed by Israeli moves including several settlements being built on occupied land. With US politics seemingly connected heavily to its relationship with Israel the current US administration seems to have run into problems in dealing with the Israeli-Palestine issue. The US which holds the power to veto any resolution in the Security Council, risks angering key Arab partners in the region, including those which are helping the US led coalition to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State. With frustration in the stalled talks and this summer’s 50 day war in Gaza which led to over 2000 deaths many of which were innocent civilians, European lawmakers in Britain, France and Spain all calling for recognition of a Palestinian state. Further to this the European parliament is overwhelming backed recognition of a Palestinian state, the latest assembly in Europe to adopt a motion supporting the claims.
It seems the world has finally become frustrated to a certain extent with Israeli actions and stalling tactics along with US talks which seemed happy with the status qou. However, one must be sceptical with words. Action must be taken and until such time as a viable Palestinian state exists and full Israeli withdrawal has occurred scepticism will continue.
Published 19 December 2014.
Egypt and Qatar plan to meet in possible reconciliation
Officials from both the Egyptian and Qatari intelligence services have been meeting to arrange possible high level talks between the two leaders of the countries. The aim of the possible meeting would be to end a row between the two countries about the illegal ousting of Egypt's democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi and the Qatari's support for the Muslim Brotherhood cause in the country and the region as a whole. The summit is all part of efforts by Saudi Arabia, which is a fierce critic of the Brotherhood which it secretly fears, could be a possible rival to the rule of the House of Saud, to bring Qatar back into its fold.
Qatar which had previously backed the Morsi led government in Egypt and had provided emergency loans under his Muslim Brotherhood leadership has come under huge pressure by its Arab neighbours to drop its support for the Brotherhood. The pressure which has included the arrest of journalists from its own Al Jazeera network seems to have taken effect. The journalists that are still held in Egyptian jails are accused of supporting the Brotherhood and spreading lies. Many human rights organisation would point to the fact that the new Sisi regime in Egypt has many similarities to the old Mubarak regime which was overthrown by the people in 2011. Earlier this month the Qatari's pledged their "full support" for the current government of Egypt under the rule of former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “Talks are under way to organise a meeting between the Egyptian president and the emir of Qatar,” an Arab diplomatic source told AFP. “The talks took place in Cairo over the past two days between the head of Qatari intelligence and his Egyptian counterpart for arranging such a meeting in Riyadh.”
Qatar which had repeatedly denounced the overthrow of Morsi still provides shelter to some Brotherhood leaders who fled Egypt when Morsi was overthrown. Qatari support for the legitimate support of a democratically elected leader led to a crackdown and diplomatic spat ensued between Qatar and its neighbours, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. All three countries and Qatar itself are run by dictators and see any Islamist president in the region as a threat. While talks between the countries continue, investigation by the British government into Muslim Brotherhood activities in the region has been further delayed. The investigation which many believe was trigged by active pressure from such countries as Saudi Arabia has seemingly drawn a blank with the author of the report seemingly unable to find a link between Brotherhood members and terrorism. Saudi Arabia lists the Brotherhood as a "terrorist organisation". Interestingly the author of the paper Sir John Jenkins was the British ambassador to Riyadh which would seemingly make his position questionable. The results of the investigation are unlikely to be available soon. The findings in the investigation will be interesting to read and we all look forward to seeing what the consequences are.
Published 26 December 2014
Palestinian President signs up to International Criminal Court
On Wednesday the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome statute governing the International Criminal Court and thus set up the Palestinians and much of the Arab world who support the initiative on a collision course with the United States who strongly oppose the move. Israel has been condemning the move, knowing that its leaders and military personal could be prosecuted in the future. The move potentially opens the possibility for the Palestinians to pursue Israel for war crimes in the court based on its illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
The dramatic move by President Abbas, which is backed by many Arab countries and by permanent Security Council members, Russia and China, came about following a rejection by the United Nations Security Council of a Jordaninan backed resolution on behalf of the Palestinians calling for the end to the Israeli occupation by 2017 and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. The US condemned the move which it described as “deeply troubling” with State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke saying it was “an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people”. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that it was not the Israeli who should be concerned by the ICC but the Palestinians. He mentioned that Hamas which is in a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority was a terrorist organisation and was committing war crimes. In what seems a bluff and with some concern from the Israelis it suggests Netanyahu was not exactly honest in his assessment. The continued lobbying by the United States and Israel continues to give the impression of two countries who know that trouble awaits Israeli officials. The Palestinians were not able to obtain the required nine votes in the UN Security Council after Australia surprisingly vetoed. The chief Palestinian representative in Canberra warned the Australia risked its relationship with the Arab world after the vote, not that it concerned the conservative leader Tony Abbott. Australia now claims East Jerusalem should not be referred as occupied even though the international community at large says it is.
Despite the Israeli PM assertion that trouble awaited Hamas and the Palestinians more that Israel his actions before the vote seem to indicate a certain amount of worry. On the eve of the vote PM Netanyahu and John Kerry the US Secretary of State both called the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, to try persuading him to abstain. Britain who lack the courage to fight their corner and seem to chase the tail of the US leadership abstained along with Rwanda, Lithuania, South Korea and Nigeria. The Israeli PM later thanked the Nigerians and Rwandans. After the failure of the vote Palestinian and French officials indicated they would continue to find a text suitable to put to another vote. Despite the failure of the vote, there was minimal comfort for the Israelis with two Europeans countries, France and Luxembourg supporting the resolution. The votes mark a shift in European policy with many becoming frustrated by US led talks, biased as they are, and Israeli settlements on occupied territory. Samantha Power the US ambassador to the UN said “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.” Judging by US actions, they are actually happy with the status quo and support the annexation of Palestinian territories.
We look forward to seeing what moves occur next. But the vote again demonstrates the United States is not a fair adjudicator, the Europeans are getting frustrated by the Israelis and that Australia should be treated as a supporter of Israel and as such be treated as such. The Palestinians must move forward and bring a case to the ICC, even in the event that they are charged as well. The leaders must work for the people of Palestine who have suffered enough at the hands of Israel and its supporters.
Published 2 January 2015
Delay in Iraq war report 'immensely frustrating' says PM
The British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that the Chilcot report, which was commissioned to decipher any wrongdoing in the build up and subsequent war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, is largely finished but that the inquiry was committed to giving those who have been criticised within the report the opportunity to respond to accusations made.
The British PM has come into increased criticism which came to a head when two MPs at the House of Commons demanded to know why Downing Street was not forcing through the publication of the report. The Prime Minister said the author of the report Sir John Chilcot was actually in charge of any timescale for the publication of the report rather than the government. David Cameron said, “The report is largely finished but in every report like this there is a process where you have to write to the people criticised and give them a response … It is not within my power to grant the publication of this report.”
The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is largely blamed by large sections of population. He and his then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other government departments of that time are expected for come under heavy criticism. Under a process known as "Maxwellisation", they are all entitled to respond to any proposed criticism. There is a belief that the publication could be delayed further with elections in Britain soon. The election campaign has already begun and the government would encounter complaints from the Labour party who would claim that the publication of the report would be advantageous to other parties. The Labour Party was in government at the time of the Iraq war. However Ed Miliband the current Labour leader would probably highlight that he was against the war unlike David Cameron who supported the decision to go to war. Years of disputes have added to the delay with successive cabinet secretaries and discussions with Washington contributing. A settlement was agreed by Sir John Chilcot whereby summaries of more than a hundred conversations between the then US President George Bush and Tony Blair would be added.
With many innocent civilians killed by the subsequent war and bombing of Iraq which was opposed around the world and by the general population of Britain, the report is highly anticipated. However, even if the report does blame the Blair government and the US leadership for many civilians dying in Iraq, sadly no prosecutions are likely.
Published 9 January 2015
Turkish President Erdogan blasts Israeli PM Netanyahu
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for "daring" to attend the anti-terror solidarity march held in Paris. Mr Erdogan went on accusing Netanyahu of leading "state terrorism" against the Palestinians. The anti-terror solidarity march in Paris was in memory of 17 people killed in attacks in the French capital last week.
Under Erdogan rule Turkey's relations with Israel has steadily deteriorated, and came in the latest verbal attacks by the Turkish President who was for several years the Prime Minister. His latest comments came in a press conference in the Turkish capital Ankara with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The march in Paris was attended by several world leaders including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Abbas and Netanyahu. Netanyahu had attended ignoring a request by the French President Francois Hollande to not do so. Netanyahu had already annoyed many French citizens and politicians when he urged French Jews to leave France and move to Israel.
Mr Erdogan said he could "hardly understand how he (Netanyahu) dared to go" to Sunday's march and urged him to "give an account of the children, women you massacred." Mr Erdogan continued that Netanyahu had no right to be there after nearly 2,200 Palestinians most of which were civilians were killed by and Israeli onslaught on Gaza earlier this year. "How can you see this individual, who carries out state terrorism by massacring 2,500 people in Gaza, waving his hand?" said Erdogan. "He is waving his hand as if people are very enthusiastically waiting for him," added Erdogan, referring to the images of Netanyahu acknowledging supporters in Paris.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known for his outbursts at Netanyahu and other Isreali officials even declaring that Israel had now even "surpassed Hitler in barbarism". In 2009, Mr Erdogan angrily walked off the stage at the Wolrd Economic Forum after an exchange with the then Israeli President, Shimon Peres. "Turkey will continue to fight... against Israel's reckless actions that do not recognise law," the Turkish president said. It is refreshing to see some politicians with a certain amount of clout continuously taking on a state which has continually operated outside international law and with such complete disregard for human life especially when it is Palestinians.
Published 16 January 2015
Government of Yemen resigns
The President of the gulf state of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has quit amid a standoff with Shia rebels who now control the country's capital, Sana'a. For the past two days the under pressure leader has been confined to his home and resigned after rebels known as Houthis forced him to making concessions, in return for the rebels withdrawing from his house and the nearby presidential palace. However the fighters remained deployed throughout the day.
The Prime Minister, Khaled Bahah and the remaining government ministers had also handed in its resignation to Hadi on Thursday. The government led by Mr Bahah was only formed in November as a peace deal struck up by the United Nations after the Houthis had taken the capital then. The moves by the government and President could potentially push the country perilously close to another phase of deadly instability. The government is believed had quit after the President had succumbed to the rebels demands, and had therefore allowed them to a greater share of the power in Yemen. Houthi supporters in the Yemeni parliament said that the President's resignation would not be accepted, but there stance was under scrutiny, as it is difficult to see whether the national legislature could make such a move in an emergency session called for Friday. The current parliament had brought the end of four decades of autocratic rule under Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Since September last year, the Houthis, who follow a branch of Shia'ism know as Zaidism, which makes up approximately 30% of Yemen's total population, have made several demands in the hope to be closer to the political decision making process. The Prime Minister Bahah announced his resignation through his Facebook page, expressing the "very complication circumstances" in his office. He said he had resigned to "avoid being dragged into an abyss of unconstructive policies based on now law". US State Department figures stated they were monitoring the events unfolding.
Published 23 January 2015
Malaysian authorities officially say flight MH370 was an "accident"
Officials from the south East Asian country of Malaysia have confirmed what many already believed and have labelled the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 as an "accident" and say that there were no survivors. Officials however did also confirm that the search for the missing plane will continue. The plane disappeared on 8 March 2014 and no trace of the flight, which was bound for the Chinese capital Beijing, was ever found. The whereabouts of the plane is still unknown despite large searches taking place in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to be. The declaration should allow for relatives of the victims to now claim compensation.
Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that it was "with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that we officially declare Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident.'' The majority of those that are believed to have perished are Chinese, whose foreign ministry called for compensation to the victims' families. Other nationalities on the plane include 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indians, 4 French, 3 Americans, 2 each from New Zealand and Ukraine. Others were from Russia, Taiwan, Canada and the Netherlands. However the number of Chinese documented was 153. Despite Tuesdays announcements, officials said that they would continue to pursue "every credible lead" and the recovery of the missing aircraft remained a top priority. Despite the ruling many family members of those lost refused to accept the official position and pointed out that nothing have been found yet and without concrete evidence they would not lose hope. Others were disappointed that they had not been informed before the announcement was made. At present four vessels continue to search the sea floor in the Indian Ocean with specialised sonar technology where the plane is believed to have ended its flight. Analysis of satellite and aircraft performance data, MH370 is believed to be in the sea west of the Australian city of Perth.
Subsequent accidents involving Malaysian based planes have bought attention to the country, with the location of another flight which was found after it crashed into the sea. The AirAsia flight was subsequently found on the sea floor and analysis is currently taking place to determine the cause of the accident. While there is no connection, the fact that aircraft are going missing in the region is troubling and the cause of these accidents needs to be determined immediately.
We call on all Muslims to travel safely, make dua at the beginning of their travels.
Published 30 January 2015
Three Muslims murdered in North Carolina, USA in possible 'hate crime'
Just after 5pm on Tuesday local police received two phone calls in the small town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, reporting multiple gunshots and screams from a complex near the University of North Carolina. The victims who were pronounced dead shortly after, were a young married couple and the woman's sister. High achieving students of Arabian descent who regularly volunteered in the local community, murdered. A local middle aged white man was arrested and then subsequently charged with the three murders.
Local police were quick to pin the motive on a parking dispute, with many including members of the victims' families suggesting possible hate crimes against Muslims. Fear amongst Muslims spread across the world with many already fearing possible retribution in other countries from locals who are worried by Muslims expansion or the threat of terrorism and largely blame Muslims as a whole. It must be pointed out the majority of people are understanding, and do not see Muslims as a threat, but media across the world having portrayed any murder or mass murder by a group who may be Muslim as Muslims killing, rather than a group of possible outcasts killing innocent people. On Thursday, thousands attended the funeral of those murdered, where the father of one of the victims told the crowd they were victims of a hate crime and his pain was indescribable. The suspect who gave himself up was named as Craig Hicks. The victims, Shaddy Barakat, wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan, were described by locals as model students from well educated, successful families.
The police chief, Chris Blue, said, “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated, and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case.” Ripley Rand, the United States attorney for the region, said the shooting appeared to have been “an isolated incident” and “not part of a targeted campaign against Muslims.” Sarah, who grew up with all three and says she's experienced Islamophobia, articulated a view many shared: "You have to have a lot of hate in your heart to kill three people in cold blood, and over a parking spot, it's ridiculous to say this was just that". Mr Hicks' Facebook profile included a photo that read "Atheists for Equality". He also frequently posted quotes critical of religion. But Mr Hicks' wife Karen said the incident had nothing to do with religion and her husband treated everyone equally.
Whatever the reasons, the media in the west and the world as a whole has a major role. All murders and atrocities committed need to be reported carefully and with intelligence. Seemingly blaming Muslims as a whole for crimes committed by a few will only heighten tensions and lead to further crimes against Muslims.
Published 13 February 2015
Muslim man in Milan heckled as he walks around in Islamic attire
In what was essentially an experiment to demonstrate the rise in so called Islamaphobia in the western world, a 30 year old Muslim man of Egyptian origin donned what is described as traditional Islamic clothing with a Quran in his hand. Suffice to say the man was not treated as just another person, rather a threat.
Hamdy Mahisen attracted several stares while others insulted the student who lives locally in Milan, Italy. Mr Mahisen walked around the northern Italian city of Milan in the experiment demonstrating the level or suspicion and some would say hate for Muslims in many western nations, after the rise of Isis. People of all ages openly stare as Hamdy Mahisen goes about his daily duties. Italy security services have warned its citizens of possible Libyan fighter’s crossing over to Europe through Italy. As such it has fed into the rising levels of so called Islamaphobia and anti-immigrant sentiment to those who attempt to start a new life in Europe from Africa. On a high street, someone sneers “Taliban s***” while, even more disturbingly, a woman pushing a pram with a baby in it seems to turn around as he walks by her to shout: “Taliban!” Mr Mahisen who speaks Italian fluently and was dressed in a traditional long white cotton robe commonly worn by Muslim men – and not just imams – with a white cap. While attempting to walk through a piazza someone could be heard saying “s***, have you seen the Isis?” A man standing near Hamdy at a tramstop makes the remark: “Look, he has got the Koran. Think he’s got a gun under his tunic?”
The experiment which demonstrates the rising levels of suspicion and anti-Muslim feeling in the western world, not helped by the media which often makes any attack in the world about the person involved being Muslim and politicians who seemingly want continuous confirmation from Islamic leaders that more is being done, comes on the back of a Muslim councillor in Italy leaving the country after several death threats. Aicha Mesrar was the first Muslim councillor in Italy’s history, left the country with her children after resigning from her post as local councillor for the Democratic Party in Rovereto, in the northern Trentino province, saying she feared for her children’s lives. The threats against her have come in the form of anonymous letters. The police, who have provided special protection for councillor and her family for two years, are investigating where they may have come from. Mayor Andrea Miorandi, a political ally of Ms Mesrar, has also been threatened due to his backing for a Muslim cemetery and a mosque to be built in the city, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper. While the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment increases, it would be beneficial if the media actually attempted to help to reduce the tensions instead of often reporting the news in such a way as to stoke the fires. One can only hope.
Published 20 February 2015
A very new capital for Egypt
Plans for a purpose built capital in the desert have been unveiled by the Egyptian government costing £30bn. The plans for the still unnamed city revealed that it would be home to five million and would contain 660 hospitals, over 1000 mosques and churches and a theme park that is believed to be four times the size of Disneyland. The ambitious project is scheduled to be completed within seven years.
Cairo which has been the capital of Egypt since the year 969 where it was previously known as al-Qahera is home to nearly 20 million people at present. The new capital is to be built from scratch with the help of the Emirati businessman behind the Burj Khalifa. The unnamed city would be located east of Cairo, near the resort the Sharm el Sheikh. “Egypt has more wonders than any other country in the world, and provides more works that defy description,” said the bombastic housing minister, Mostafa Madbouly, as he unveiled the £30bn project in front of 30 visiting emirs, kings and presidents, and hundreds of would-be investors.
The new city if it were to be completed would be almost as big as Singapore and interestingly would have a park almost twice the size of New York's Central Park. In addition it is believed the city would be split into 21 residential districts, 663 hospitals and over 1 million homes which would be home to over five million people. If completed it would be the biggest purpose built capital in human history with cities such as Islamabad, Brasilia and Canberra all being able to fit into it. After the Arab spring and the deposal of the dictator President Mubarak, Egypt has been in political turmoil. The grand city is seen by many as a centre piece of current President Abdel Fattah al Sisi plans for a national revival. Sisi who came to power after he orchestrated an army coup to depose the democratically elected leader Mohammed Morsi who remains in prison. While the vast size of Egypt hides the fact that 96% of all Egyptians live on only 4% of Egyptian land, the plans do have their pitfalls. Many projects have been completed with similar hopes with the hope that new residents would fill the new cities. However these plans have not come to fruition.
In other news, Israel re-elected Binyamin Netanyahu as its Prime Minister on Wednesday. Netanyahu who was under severe pressure at home, was expected to lose to the Zionist party led by Isaac Herzog. However contrary to polls which suggested a close battle, Netanyahu came in as winner, winning 6 seats more in the Israeli parliament compared to his nearest challenger. He will now try to form what many believe will be the most right wing government is Israel's history. Netanyahu who reversed his earlier election promise of 2009, has now stated that there will never be a Palestinian state under his watch, and that settlement expansions will continue at pace. The news of Netanyahu's win was met with dismay by the Obama administration who have fallen out dramatically with him. It comes after Netanyahu decided to address Congress earlier in March to denounce any deal the Obama administration was trying to broker with Iran over its nuclear program.
The news while on the surface may sound troubling, Netanyahu's behaviour, pro settlement policy and blatant disregard for western opinion may work against him. Many European countries have turned on him, with many countries started to recognise a Palestinian state built on the 1967 borders.
Published 20 March 2015
Muslim cemetery plans submitted for the third time
Plans to build a Muslim cemetery in Catherine-de-barnes near Solihull have been submitted for a third time to the local council with a reduced number of slots. The new plans detail how the location would hold upto 3,333 slots. The two previous plans were rejected after planners said the development would blight greenbelt land. However Cemetery Development Services, the agent that is working on behalf of the applicant, has again stressed the need for a dedicated Muslim only cemetery in Solihull claiming that there is a shortage of burial spots for the faith.
Initial plans for the cemetery catered for 7,000 burial plots which was reduced with the second plans reduced to 4,000 plots. The new plans include plans for storage and toilet facilities and a garden, in addition to the 3,333 plots. Plans for parking spaces are also included. Coun Bob Sleigh (Con, Bickenhill), who has fought against the two previous applications, said: “This is simply not an appropriate place to site a cemetery. Planning permission was refused on substantial grounds last time and I will continue to oppose the scheme on the same grounds again.There were a lot of environmental concerns with sitting a cemetery on this land. This is just not the right position for this type of scheme.”
According to a report filed by Cemetery Development Services says the site will be operated by a charity called Thaqwa which provides ‘a low cost dignified burial at a freehold plot according to Islamic beliefs and culture’. The report adds: “After the departure of the soul, human being has been buried since beginning. Other methods of disposing of human remain are relatively new. Being the oldest Monotheists, Muslims have always maintained the ancient burial system.
In related news vandals have targeted a Muslim graveyard in Glasgow. One visitor who spotted the graffiti which is claimed to be by Britain First sprayed over the Muslim graveyard sign at Cathcart Cemetery on Tuesday. It comes after the Muslim community has spoken of their disgust after vandals carried out a sickening attack at a cemetery in Chadderton late last year.Police say yobs uprooted headstones, trampled on flowers and kicked over memorials in a ‘heinous and senseless’ crime in the Muslim section of Chadderton Cemetery.
Published 27 March 2015
Australian woman stands up valiantly for a Muslim woman harassed on train
An Australian woman was praised this week for defending a Muslim woman who was under a verbal attack on a train in from a fellow commuter simply for wearing the hijab. Stacey Eden claimed that an older woman in the same carriage started a foul mouthed tirade on the Muslim woman. The middle aged woman who was accused is believed to have accused the Muslim woman and her male accomplice of being ISIS supporters.
Ms Eden who resides in Sydney claimed the tirade began a full 10 minutes before she began filming. The video was later updated on Ms Eden's Facebook page. Footage from the alleged incident on Wednesday began as the unnamed passenger asked the woman, who was also sat with a pram on the opposite side of the train, "why do you wear it [a hijab] for a man that marries a six year-old girl?" Ms Eden responded: "She wears it for herself, OK? She wears it because she wants to be modest with her body, not because of people like you who are going to sit there and disrespect her." The woman continued despite her interjection, saying: “Your kids behead people in Syria. […] Read the newspapers, 148 people, Christians murdered in Kenya. They’re killing each other in Syria."
Ms Eden interrupted again at this point, telling her angrily: “Don’t sit there disrespecting someone that has nothing to do with it. Have some respect. If you've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything.” The video of the incident attracted several views on Facebook with many people sharing the video with others. Mariam Veiszadeh, of the Islamophobia Register Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald she was heartened by Ms Eden’s stand. “We hope that her actions inspire others to stand up against racial or religious vilification," she said.
The harassment of Muslims is something all Muslims need to be aware of and counteract with wisdom.
Published 17 April 2015
United Nations blames Israel for attacks on schools in Gaza
An enquiry by the United Nations has found the Israeli military responsible for the deaths of at least 44 Palestinians who were taking shelter in the UN facilities during the Gaza attacks. In total the report details seven attacks during last year’s offensive which killed over 2000 people. UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon said in a statement on Monday that he deplored the attacks that had killed 44 and injured at least 227 others in the UN sites.
Ban Ki-moon said "It is a matter of the utmost gravity that those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied." The independent board of inquiry also found that weaponry was found at three empty UN schools in Gaza and that in two cases Palestinian fighters "probably" fired at Israeli forces from schools. Ban also called that "unacceptable". The 2014 was the most serious to Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants were approximately 2,200 mostly civilians were killed according to official UN figures. Seventy two Israelis were killed of which 66 were soldiers. In one particular case it was found that a UN girl’s school was hit by 88 mortars round fired by Israeli forces where another girl’s school was hit by direct fire from Israeli soldiers with an anti-tank projectile. A third UN girl school was hit by an Israeli missile. At a fourth girls' school, the inquiry said, "No prior warning had been given by the government of Israel of the firing of 155 MM high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of the school". The UN Secretary General who visited Gaza in October last year said of the destruction as being "beyond description" and "much more serious" that what he had witness in the previous Israeli attacks in 2009.
Israeli diplomats had been exerting pressure on the United Nations to delay the publication of the report until Israel conducts its own report likely to be much more biased. The Israeli military had in September opened five criminal investigations into the Gaza war operations. Although the report from the UN has no legal status the inquiry findings comes at a time where Israel is under pressure on the international stage. It faces increasing isolation internationally over its policies and especially after the acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as a signatory to the International Criminal Court earlier this month. Despite the report a number of questions still remain. One such issue is the communications between the Israeli forces and the UN staff, in particular the case of a school in Beit Hanoun where UN staff are understood to have communicated to Israel their intention to remove civilians from the area when the attacks occurred on the school. Also unaddressed is why Israeli forces fired on designated protected locations outside of the principle of immediate self-defence when they were aware of concentrations of civilians sheltering there. Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, which runs Gaza’s UN schools said: “The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF.
“The board confirms the use by the IDF of weaponry such as 120 mm high explosive anti-tank projectiles and 155 MM high explosive projectiles on or in the surrounding area of UNRWA schools where civilians had taken refuge. In the incidents investigated at least 44 people were killed and 227 injured including women and children. In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from. If it were confirmed that militants did fire rockets from our schools we would condemn it, just as we robustly we condemned other violations of our neutrality.”
We look forward to further developments
Published 1 May 2015
Exiled Yemeni government asks UN for help
Yemen’s exiled government has asked the United Nations to deploy ground troops in its latest move to half the advance of the Houthi rebels. The letter which was sent to the UN provides legal cover to such nations like Saudi Arabia to deploy its own troops into the country. The Saudis have also proposed a five day truce in the fighting. Meanwhile aid workers in the country have warned that life saving assistance to the population will come to an abrupt end if a blockade on fuels imports is not lifted immediately. Clashes continue to rage on especially in the exiled Presidents home city of Aden.
The letter was seen by the Reuters news agency and was delivered to the United Nations by Yemens permanent mission to the UN. The letter urges the international community “to quickly intervene by land forces to save” the country, specifically in the cities of Taiz and Aden. The letter has also asked for a complete documentation of the abuses allegedly committed by the Houthi rebels and their allies. A five day ceasefire in the Yemeni war would allow aid workers to aid the millions of civilians in desperate need. The Saudi foreign minister said his country would immediately stop air strikes in the country and would provide the country with over $250 in assistance. The Houthis, who hail from the province of Sa’ada in the north, are members of the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam. They took over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, last autumn in a surprise offensive, and this year placed the president under house arrest.
The Saudis have shown so far a reluctance to intervene in the ongoing issues in Yemen by posting land troops. Instead they have decided to drop air supplies to loyalist fighters and a small number of Yeminis. Locals in the city of Aden have accused the Houthis and their allies of shelling civilian areas and terrorising the local population. Water and food as well as fuel shortages have been debilitating for civilians and hospitals, which lack electricity to operate their generators. A group of 22 humanitarian organisations operating in Yemen said on Wednesday that life-saving assistance would end within a week unless fuel could be imported into the blockaded country.
As Ramadhan approaches we must look to help our brothers and sisters in countries where they are unable to live in peace without constant incursions by foreign fighters, by providing to them food and shelter in this time of need.
Published 8 May 2015
Israel exonerates itself in Gaza beach deaths
In a move that was expected by much of the world the Israeli government has found no blame on itself for the murder of four young Gazan children playing on the beach killed by a missile attack. An internal investigation has found that the incident was a 'tragic accident' contradicting many independent journalists eye witness testimony. Posted late Thursday by the military spokesman, the Israeli government found no culpability upon itself. The spokesman noted that the strike was targeting a 'compound' which had been known as belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force. This contradicted many journalists reports who had either been at the scene or who had attended the scene immediately after the strike. They noted that all they saw was a small and dilapidated fisherman’s hut containing a few tools where the children had been playing hide-and-seek. Mohammad Ramiz Bakr, 11, Ahed Atef Bakr and Zakariya Ahed Bakr, both 10, and Ismail Mahmoud Bakr, nine, were killed when they were hit by explosive rounds. Three of them died as they sought to flee the beach after the first child was killed. Three other people were injured in the attack: Hamad Bakr, 13, was hit by shrapnel in his chest; his cousin Motasem, 11, injured in his head and legs, and Mohammad Abu Watfah, 21, who was hit by shrapnel in his stomach. The conclusion of the Israeli military investigation comes while the Israel is under a preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court to establish whether war crimes were committed during the Gaza war – both by Israel and Hamas. The finding will inevitably raise questions over the way in which Israel investigates incidents in which civilians were killed.
In November 2012, the US President Barack Obama visited the south East Asian country of Myanmar. He made several promises to the government who in turn relaxed certain rules. Obama also raised brief concerns about the plight of Rohingya Muslims who had been driven from their homes by Buddhist mobs. “There is no excuse for violence against innocent people,” Obama said. “And the Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do.” But he mentioned the Rohingya by name only once. Since then although their plight has continued to be in news stories not much has been done in the international community to combat the violence and aggression to the people. The Muslim country of Bangladesh who share a border with Myanmar have already stated that they cannot accommodate the Rohingya. The situation now asks the question "Will anyone help the Rohingya?" The images of hundreds of Rohingya migrants drifting at sea in fishing boats, as part of a failed attempt to leave for Malaysia. They have been denied citizenship and freedom of movement by the government of Myanmar. The death of democracy came in 1962 with a military coup upon which the Rohingya people had their hopes and dreams dashed. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, consigning most Rohingya to a stateless existence. The government argues they are from neighbouring Bangladesh not Myanmar, and that the Rohingya identity has been invented by migrants to gain citizenship. That despite the Rohingya being recognised as an ethnic group in what was Burma during its democratic period of 1948 to 1962.
In Britain a group of schools has banned its students from fasting during the month of Ramadan. The four schools all based in London are run by the Lion Academy Trust announced the ban in a controversial letter sent to parents. Barclay Primary School in Leyton said that pupils have "fainted" and "became ill" after fasting for 18 hours in previous years. The school added: "We are reliably informed that in Islamic Law, children are not required to fast during Ramadan, only being required to do so when they become adults." The other schools affected by the ban are Sybourn Primary School in Waltham Forest, Thomas Gamuel Primary School in Walthamstow, and Brook House Primary School in Tottenham.. The move has been slammed by the Muslim community, including the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), which said there are "sufficient and stringent rules within Islam" protecting those who are too young to fast. The group added: "MAB ascertains that the final choice of whether or not to fast should be the right of the parents, who should in turn encourage their children to fast without forcing them to do so."
With the month of Ramadan upon us shortly it is necessary that we remember those who have passed away this last year and to look at ways to help those brothers and sisters who are in need from us all. There are many ways to help, be it for medical supplies, clothes and money. We suggest Human Aid but all charities do some good work. Let’s all take this opportunity to help all our Muslim brothers and sisters
Published 12 June 2015