Italy: Bridge collapse near Genoa kills At Least 22

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA EUROPE)

 

Italy: Bridge collapse near Genoa kills several

Search for survivors under way after Morandi bridge breaks in Genoa, sending vehicles 100 metres to the ground.

Rescue workers are searching the rubble for survivors after an estimated 20 vehicles fell from the bridge [Vigili Del Fuoco via AP]
Rescue workers are searching the rubble for survivors after an estimated 20 vehicles fell from the bridge [Vigili Del Fuoco via AP]

A bridge has collapsed in Italy’s northwestern city of Genoa sending vehicles falling nearly 100 metres to the ground and killing at least 22 people, according to local authorities.

The death toll is expected to rise, Italian Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi said, after part of the Morandi Bridge on the A10 motorway caved in around midday local time (10:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

About 200 firefighters were deployed to the scene, the fire service said, with two survivors reportedly pulled from the rubble and flown to hospital by helicopter.

The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, although weather services in the region had issued a storm warning Tuesday morning.

Some 20 vehicles were on the viaduct when it collapsed, according to firefighters.

Television images showed the bridge in the mist with a huge chunk missing, with Italian media reporting that about 200 metres of the bridge had fallen away.

About 20 vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed, according to local media reports [Italian Firefighters Press Office handout via Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Emma Hayward, reporting from London, said part of the bridge had “dissapeared”.

“There were multiple vehicles on the bridge at the time of the collapse, plunging more than 100m below to a stream and some rail tracks,” Hayward said.

“The focus now is on trying to reach any survivors of this incident.”

‘An immense tragedy’

Police footage showed firemen working to clear debris around a crushed truck, while other fireman nearby scaled broken slabs of the collapsed bridge support.

Restructuring work on the 1.2km-long bridge, a major artery to the Italian Riviera and to France’s southern coast, was carried out in 2016.

The highway operator said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse, adding that the bridge was constantly monitored.

Tancredi Palmeri, an Italian journalist, told Al Jazeera from Milan that the collapse took place on a usually busy stretch of road.

“Genoa is a port city that is linked to the right to Milan and the other parts of Italy and to the left is linked to Italy’s border with France,” he said.

“The bridge is one of the main two gates to the city, everybody that has been to Genoa by car has passed by this highway bridge.”

As details emerged, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the incident was “an immense tragedy”, adding he was travelling to the scene of the collapse.

“I am following with the greatest apprehension what has happened in Genoa,” Toninelli wrote on Twitter.

The office of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was heading to Genoa in the evening and would remain there on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta, meanwhile, said the army was ready to offer manpower and vehicles to help with the rescue operations.

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered Italy his country’s help following the incident.

Italian media reports said about 200 metres of the bridge had fallen away [Italian police handout via AFP]

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

Tourist Mona el-Mazbouh complained about sexual harassment in profanity-laced video, with Egyptians responding in kind.

The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]
The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]

A Lebanese tourist who was arrested last month for posting a video on Facebook complaining about sexual harassment and conditions in Egypt, was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Cairo court on Saturday, her lawyer said.

Mona el-Mazbouh was arrested at Cairo airport at the end of her stay in Egypt after she published a 10-minute video on her Facebook page, laced with vulgarity and profanity against Egypt and Egyptians.

During her tirade, Mazbouh called Egypt a lowly, dirty country and Egyptian men pimps and women prostitutes.

Mazbouh, 24, complained of being sexually harassed by taxi drivers and young men in the street, as well as poor restaurant service during Ramadan, in addition to an incident in which money and other belongings were stolen.

Mazbouh said in the video that she had visited Egypt several times in the past four years.

A Cairo court found her guilty of deliberately spreading false rumours that would harm society, attacking religion and public indecency, judicial sources said.

An appeals court will now hear the case on July 29, according to Mazbouh’s lawyer, Emad Kamal.

“Of course, God willing, the verdict will change. With all due respect to the judiciary, this is a severe ruling. It is in the context of the law, but the court was applying the maximum penalty,” he said.

Kamal said a surgery Mazbouh underwent in 2006 to remove a blood clot from her brain has impaired her ability to control anger, a condition documented in a medical report he submitted to the court.

She also suffers from depression, Kamal added.

The video went viral, prompting many Egyptian women to take to social media with their own videos to express their anger at Mazbouh, while responding in kind against Lebanon and Lebanese women.

The day before she was arrested, Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians.

Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst crackdown in their history under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, accusing him of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

His supporters say such measures are needed to stabilise Egypt after years of turmoil that drove away foreign investors and amid an uprising concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

‘Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia warn Israel against Turkey’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HAARETZ NEWSPAPER AND AL JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY)

 

‘Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia warn Israel against Turkey’

Israeli daily Haaretz alleges the three Arab states have warned Israel of creeping Turkish influence in East Jerusalem.

The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was "extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem." [EPA-EFE]
The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was “extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.” [EPA-EFE]

Saudi ArabiaJordan and Palestine have warned Israel on separate occasions about Turkey’s creeping influence in East Jerusalem, according to a reportby Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was “extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem” which they said was “part of an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “claim ownership over the Jerusalem issue.”

Israeli sources claimed to have been aware of Turkey’s expanding influence and say they have been monitoring Ankara’s efforts for more than a year.

According to the report, Jordanian officials are said to have been upset with Israel‘s slow response which they described as “sleeping at the wheel”, especially since the signing of a 2016 reconciliation agreement which Israel is adamant to maintain.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority also expressed concern at Turkey’s drive to further its influence in East Jerusalem which comes in the form of donations to Islamic organisations in Arab neighbourhoods or through organised tours by Turkish Muslim groups with close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Israeli defence officials told the Israeli daily that the phenomenon had reached its peak in 2017 with hundreds of Turkish nationals establishing “a regular presence in and around the city” and increasingly clashing with police forces during Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

“They’re trying to buy real estate and strengthen their political standing,” an unnamed police source is quoted as saying.

“It’s also a source of concern for the PA, which doesn’t want to have another country claiming responsibility for East Jerusalem.”

Jordan’s concerns stem from the fact that Turkey’s efforts to widen its influence risk compromising the Hashemite Kingdom’s position as the custodian of Islam’s third holiest site.

Saudi Arabia for its part is worried that Erdogan’s ambitions in Jerusalem may help boost his image in the Arab and wider Muslim world which would, in effect, present him “as the only leader truly standing up to Israel and the Trump administration”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

New mobile apps are shaping Iran’s civil society

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA)

 

New mobile apps are shaping Iran’s civil society

Iranian rights activists are creating hi-tech solutions to promote civil liberties, despite frequent internet shutdowns.

by

 During recent protests, the Iranian government shut down messaging apps Telegram and Instagram [Vahid Salemi/AP]
During recent protests, the Iranian government shut down messaging apps Telegram and Instagram [Vahid Salemi/AP]

popular uprising took hold of Iran in the final week of 2017, with thousands taking to the streets to protest against the dire economic situation in the country.

Using smartphone apps such as Telegram and Instagram, demonstrators quickly spread their message, and within days, protests erupted in dozens of cities across Iran.

In the government crackdown that followed, more than 25 people were killed and hundreds arrested.

The spread of protests once again showed the power of technology and social media, highlighted by repeated efforts by the government to block access to the mobile apps used by the protesters.

After realising the potential of these apps, many in Iran – a country with about 48 million smartphones – are looking at ways to leverage technology in their pursuit of civil liberties.

One of the latest apps is Hafez, which translates as “to protect”. Named after the famous Persian poet whose words frequently targeted religious hypocrisy, the app offers users a collection of human rights-related information.

Foremost, it is a virtual rolodex of human rights lawyers in Iran, which allows users to access legal information regarding human rights.

However, Hafez is more than just a list of telephone numbers, Keyvan Rafiee, an Iranian human rights activist, told Al Jazeera.

“Users receive daily human rights news; [it] allows them to send news of human rights violations securely; [it] disseminates important legal information to users if they are arrested, and provides the contact information for attorneys who can assist,” said Rafiee, the founder of Human Rights Activists Iran (HRAI).

Rafiee, who has been arrested for his activism six times, said having a record of human rights violations is instrumental for protesters in Iran.

“Monitoring violations that take place on a daily basis can improve human rights conditions since independent organisations are not permitted to work in Iran,” Rafiee said.

Hafez is just one of several apps Iranians are using to promote civil liberties and human rights.

“The technology is a tool, not an end result,” said Firouzeh Mahmoudi, founder of United4Iran, an organisation focussed on promoting civil society.

“For us, the main question was how to engage with the vast majority of Iranians who do not go out on the street for every protest,” she said. “We saw this niche that was not being filled; building Iran’s civic tech sector.”

One of its most prominent projects is the Iran Prison Atlas, a compendium of judges, prisons and, most importantly, political prisoners currently held by the Iranian government.

The database has played an important role in creating an overview of the number of political prisoners in Iran and has been used by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a source in their evaluations of the human rights situation in the country.

“The atlas also helps when people get out of Iran,” Mahmoudi told Al Jazeera. “When they apply for asylum, our documentation is a good way to prove they are not making up the story, since we have a record of it.

“We share and compare lists with a large number of people we work with because what we don’t want to have is false positives,” she said.

READ MORE

Inside Iran’s ‘Silicon Valley’

“A lot of time, when people leave prison, they are quiet about it, and we don’t want a situation where the government says our information is not accurate’.”

Although technologies like Prison Atlas allow for more transparency, working on it also comes with inherent risk in a country that regularly cracks down on dissent or activism.

To ensure the safety of the people working on and using the applications, Mahmoudi says there is a certain degree of anonymity.

“It is very much a decentralised network of people, we use secure methods to communicate, and we have an extensive security protocol in order to guarantee the safety of the people involved,” Mahmoudi said.

But not all apps are at odds with the authorities’ goals, which has led to some surprising results.

“Governments are not a monolithic thing; rather they have many different sides, so sometimes they end up promoting one of our apps,” Mahmoudi said.

That’s because not all the apps are political; some promote sexual health or combat domestic violence, for example.

Mahmoudi said women’s rights in Iran are not well protected, especially in marriage. Therefore, two of the apps provide examples of language for marriage contracts to make it easier for women to retain their rights to a divorce and custody of their children.

“Our sexual health app also has information on sexually transmitted diseases, a menstruation calendar and information about contraceptives, which made it one of our more popular apps,” Mahmoudi said.

“The domestic violence app allows users to contact people within a trusted circle with the push of a button in case you’re in danger, and it outlines people’s rights when confronted with abuse,” she added.

As a result, women have approached Mahmoudi and her organisation to thank them, saying the information provided by the apps made them feel safer and helped them leave their husbands.

READ MORE

Meet the Iranian tycoon smashing gender stereotypes

Rafiee said the same thing happened with Hafez, the app that promotes human rights.

“We were surprised by the scope of the usage of the application; people from small villages to large cities around Iran, who reported various data, from corruption to bureaucratic mismanagement,” he said.

“Additionally, a number of attorneys reported that they have been contacted for legal consultation.”

However, reaching more people remains a challenge, mainly because the Iranian government regularly blocks internet access, especially during protests.

READ MORE

What unblocking Telegram app means to Iranians

During the most recent protests, the government shut down messaging apps such as Telegram and Instagram, preventing people from communicating with each other.

“Iranians are young, they’re technologically savvy, and they’re educated, so it’s really critical Iran stays online,” Mahmoudi said. “When the internet was shut down for a short time during the last uprising, it was an issue.”

According to Rafiee, the reason behind these blocks is more than just preventing protesters from organising. “Free and uncensored circulation of information opens the society to changes and accelerates the process of democratisation,” Rafiee said.

To get around these obstacles, Hafez uses built-in VPN technology, which allows the app to circumvent attempts by the government to block the app.

Rafiee’s organisation is also looking to circumvent government censorship. It recently launched Toosheh, an app that allows people who do not have internet access to receive information using satellite TV technology.

“We are hoping to become more technologically advanced in order to use such tools for the purpose of advancing awareness and human rights conditions in Iran,” Rafiee said.

Mahmoudi reiterated that these apps are just tools created to help achieve a bigger goal. “The most important thing we can do is build a culture of transparency, accountability and civic engagement,” she said.

“How human rights leaders, ethnic and religious minorities and those persecuted are treated is a litmus test for the human rights conditions in a country,” Mahmoudi added.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

 

IS DONALD TRUMP Psychologically Unstable And Unfit For Office?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE INTERCEPT’ NEWS AND AL-JAZEERA)

 

 

IS DONALD TRUMP psychologically unstable and unfit for office? Does the president of the United States have a dangerous mental illness of some shape or form?

Ask his fellow Republicans.

During the GOP primaries, Marco Rubio suggested he was a “lunatic,”Rand Paul dubbed him a “delusional narcissist,” and Ted Cruz denounced him as “utterly amoral” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” Mitt Romney opined, “His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader,” and Jeb Bush declared, “He needs therapy.”

In recent months, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has admitted she is “worried” about the president’s mental health, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has warned that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence” necessary for a successful presidency.

Ask the ghostwriter of his best-selling book, “The Art of the Deal.”

Tony Schwartz has called Trump a “sociopath” and has said “there is an excellent possibility” that the Trump presidency “will lead to the end of civilization.”

Ask the voters.

One in three Americans say they believe Trump’s mental health is “poor” while two out of three regularly question his temperament. Four in 10 voters in the swing state of Michigan — which helped deliver the White House to Trump — say they think the president is “mentally unstable” while a majority of them are worried that he has access to the nuclear codes.

Ask the experts.

In a new book published this week, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a group of 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts warn that “anyone as mentally unstable as this man should not be entrusted with the life-and-death-powers of the presidency.” Seemingly in defiance of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater rule,” which states “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement,” the various and very eminent contributors paint a picture of a president who has “proven himself unfit for duty.”

Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo — of the famous Stanford prison study — suggests the “unbalanced” Trump is a “specific personality type: an unbridled, or extreme, present hedonist” and “narcissist.” Psychiatrist Lance Dodes, a former Harvard Medical School professor, says Trump’s “sociopathic characteristics are undeniable” and his speech and behavior show signs of “significant mental derangement.” Clinical psychologist John Gartner, a 28-year veteran of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, argues that Trump is a “malignant narcissist” and “evinces the most destructive and dangerous collection of psychiatric symptoms possible for a leader.” For Gartner, the “catastrophe” of a Trump presidency “might have been avoided if we in the mental health community had told the public the truth, instead of allowing ourselves to be gagged by the Goldwater rule.”

“The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump” was conceived of and edited by Professor Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine, who writes of her profession’s moral and civic “duty to warn” the American public about the threat posed by their volatile, erratic, and thin-skinned president.

On the latest edition of my Al Jazeera English show, “UpFront,” I spoke to Lee about Trump’s mental state, the purpose of the book and the arguments put forth by her critics. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Mehdi Hasan: Why did you write this book and what is your main message?

Bandy Lee: We are a group of mental health experts who have come to a consensus conclusion about an issue that is of vital interest to the public  and that the public has a right to know: basically, that Mr. Trump in the office of the presidency is a danger to the public and the international community. We are not purporting to make a diagnosis. Assessing dangerousness is different from diagnosing someone for the purpose of treatment. I’m speaking on my own behalf and not representing the views of Yale University, Yale School of Medicine, or Yale Department of Psychiatry.

MH: According to a study by experts at the Duke University Medical Center, around one in four presidents have had some sort of mental illness while in office. So why is Trump so special?

BL: Mental illness itself does not involve an incapacity to carry out a duty. It’s really the specific symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, and the particular combination of … impulsive, recklessness, an inability to accept facts, rage reactions, an attraction to violence, a proneness to incite violence — all these things are signs of danger.

MH: Allen Frances, the famous psychiatry professor who wrote a manual on diagnosing mental disorders, has denounced your book, saying: “Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness. … Psychiatric name calling is a misguided way of countering Trump’s attack on democracy.” What’s your response to him?

BL: Actually, I don’t think we’re that much in disagreement. We are declaring dangerousness, which is different from making a diagnosis. I am of the camp that believes it is necessary to do a full interview and to [have] all the information, including any medical conditions, any other disorders, that could explain behavior before making a diagnosis. So, again, we are not purporting to make a diagnosis. The conjecture is that he shows signs of severe mental impairment. We are concerned enough that we are calling for an urgent assessment.

MH: A lot of presidents were narcissists, egomaniacs, incited violence, suffered from conditions such as depression. People didn’t question their fitness for office, did they?

BL: That is right. Very few conditions are dangerous. Very few conditions would make one unfit for duty. In this particular situation, we are declaring a danger to the public and to international security. I can tell you as an expert on violence that he has shown many signs of dangerousness. The most obvious ones might be verbal aggressiveness, history of sexual assault, incitement of violence at his rallies, attraction to violence and powerful weapons, [provoking] hostile nations, and, more recently, an endorsement of violence, during [the protests in] Charlottesville, and sparring with another nuclear power that has an unstable leader. All these things are signs of dangerousness.

MH: There’s been talk of setting up a commission of mental health experts to evaluate every future president and perhaps advise Congress on a president’s fitness for office. Should Donald Trump be removed from office based on his mental state? Should the 25th Amendment, which discusses how to remove a president if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” be invoked?

BL: Well, we’re merely recommending that procedures be put in place to evaluate every presidential candidate and every president, in the same manner that every military officer and every civilian service person is put through. That the commander-in-chief is not put to the same test is a glaring omission. Currently we are advocating the setting up of an expert panel to advise a commission and we’re recommending that the panel consist of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and neurologists.

MH: But you’re of the view that there is a case for removing Trump from office based on his mental state?

BL: There are many signs pointing in that direction and so we’re calling for an urgent evaluation.

MH: How worried should we be that Trump has access to the nuclear codes?

BL: Well, that is our critical concern: that his condition is actually probably far worse than people are detecting now; that [his] mental impairment goes deeper and is far more pervasive than people can understand when they are untrained in psychological matters. And that the worst is yet to come.

Top photo: Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on day two of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 30, 2014 in New Orleans.

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Saudi Arabia and Israel Agree on Al Jazeera

Peace and Freedom

There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 

may-saudi.jpgTheresa May has already suppressed a report so it wouldn’t upset the Saudis. And we wonder why we go to war with the Middle East AFP

When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall…

View original post 1,094 more words

Qatar Opens Its Doors to All, to the Dismay of Some—(Qatar Is It A Time Bomb Waiting To Explode?)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Migrants in a park at Doha Point in Doha, Qatar. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

DOHA, Qatar — Take a drive in Doha, leaving behind the mirrored skyscrapers and palm-fringed avenues of this gas-rich city, and the protagonists of myriad conflicts are in easy reach.

In one western district, near the campuses hosting branches of American universities, Taliban officials and their families can be found window-shopping in the cavernous malls or ordering takeout meals from a popular Afghan eatery.

A few miles away at a vast United States military base with 9,000 American personnel, warplanes take off on missions to bomb the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — and sometimes the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Officials from Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, work from a luxury villa near the British Embassy, and recently held a news conference in a ballroom at the pyramid-shape Sheraton hotel.

The Sheraton hotel in Doha. CreditKarim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And an elderly Egyptian cleric, a fugitive from Cairo, is a popular fixture on the city’s swank social scene, and was recently spotted at a wedding by an American diplomat who was attending the same celebration.

Continue reading the main story

This is the atmosphere of intrigue and opulence for which the capital of Qatar, a dust-blown backwater until a few decades ago, has become famous as the great freewheeling hub of the Middle East.

Against a backdrop of purring limousines and dhows moored in the bay, Doha has become home to an exotic array of fighters, financiers and ideologues, a neutral city with echoes of Vienna in the Cold War, or a Persian Gulf version of the fictional pirate bar in the “Star Wars” movies.

Yet that welcome-all attitude is precisely what has recently angered Qatar’s much larger neighbors and plunged the Middle East into one of its most dramatic diplomatic showdowns. For more than a month, four Arab countries have imposed a sweeping air, sea and land blockade against Qatarthat, in a nutshell, boils down to a demand that Doha abandon its adventurist foreign policy, and that it stop giving shelter to such a broad range of agents in its capital.

So far, the blockade is not working, and the crisis looks set to worsen. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson flew back to Washington on Thursday after days of apparently fruitless shuttle diplomacy in the region. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain have also intervened, without success.

The blockading nations — Saudi ArabiaEgypt, the United Arab Emiratesand Bahrain — insist that Qatar is using an open-door policy to destabilize its neighbors. They say that Doha, rather than the benign meeting ground described by Qataris, is a city where terrorism is bankrolled, not battled against.

Qatar’s self-identity as a center of refuge dates to the 19th century, when its desolate and semilawless territory offered sanctuary to outlaws, pirates and people fleeing persecution across the Arabian Peninsula.

“It’s always been this place where waifs and strays and unwanted people ended up,” said David Robert, the author of “Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State” and an assistant professor at King’s College in London. “There was no overarching power on the peninsula, so if you were wanted by a sheikh, you could escape to Qatar and nobody would bother you.”

In the 19th century, Qatar’s founding leader, Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, called it the “Kaaba of the dispossessed” — a reference to the revered black cube at the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and a figurative way of describing Qatar as a lodestar for those seeking refuge.

That national trait turned into a policy for Al Thani’s descendants, who since the mid-1990s have thrown open Qatar’s doors to dissidents and exiles of every stripe. Doha has welcomed Saddam Hussein’s family, one of Osama bin Laden’s sons, the iconoclastic Indian painter M. F. Husain and the Chechen warlord Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was assassinated in the city by Russian secret agents in 2004. (The agents were caught and later extradited to Russia.)

A QatarGas offshore drilling rig in the Persian Gulf. Qatar shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran.CreditUllstein Bild, via Getty Images

Qatar can afford to be generous. It shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran, yet has just 300,000 citizens, making it the richest country per capita. In recent decades, Doha has transformed into a gleaming metropolis of global ambition where luxury cars crowd the streets and world-renowned architects have traced its futuristic skyline. An army of imported laborers is building stadiums and subway lines for the 2022 World Cup.

But among fellow Arab states, Qatar’s image has been shaped by its contentious policy of come one, come all.

In Doha, wealthy Qataris and Western expatriates mingle with Syrian exiles, Sudanese commanders and Libyan Islamist’s, many of them funded by the Qatari state. The Qataris sometimes play peacemaker: Their diplomats brokered a peace deal in Lebanon in 2008 and negotiated the release of numerous hostages, including Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist being held in Syria, in 2014.

But critics say that, often as not, rather than acting as a neutral peacemaker, Qatar takes sides in conflicts — helping oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, or turning a blind eye to wealthy citizens who funnel cash to extremist Islamist groups in Syria.

And what infuriates the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians and Bahrainis most of all is that Doha has also provided shelter to Islamist dissidents from their own countries — and given them a voice on the Qatar-owned television station, Al Jazeera.

The Egyptian cleric seen at a wedding recently, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a prominent booster for the Muslim Brotherhood and once had an influential show on Al Jazeera, where he dispensed teachings on matters from suicide bombings to personal sexuality.

“We have the ‘children bomb,’ and these human bombs must continue until liberation,” he told his audience in 2002.

Even though Mr. Qaradawi is now 91 and stopped his TV show four years ago, his presence in Qatar is an irritant for Egypt, and his name is featured prominently on a list of 59 people that the blockading countries want deported from Qatar. They have also demanded the closing of Al Jazeera.

This and many of the demands from the blockading countries are seen as impossibly broad, leading to widespread pessimism that the standoff will end anytime soon.

“The Emiratis and the Saudis seem to have miscalculated their position,” said Mehran Kamrava, the author of “Qatar: Small State, Big Politics” and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. “They thought that if they went all-out with a blockade, the Qataris would balk. But they haven’t.”

Doha’s Taliban residents do not figure on the list of demands from the blockaders, but their presence does embody the wider debate around the merits of Qatar’s open-door approach.

Peace talks between the militants and Afghan officials, initiated by the United States in 2013, quickly collapsed. Yet a Taliban contingent stayed on, and Doha is now is home to about 100 Taliban officials and their relatives, who live comfortably at Qatari state expense, one Afghan official said.

There were further, unofficial talks in 2015 and 2016. But as the fight in Afghanistan grinds on, some experts question whether the supposed Taliban peace advocates might be quietly facilitating more war.

Michael Semple, a Taliban scholar at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said that until the blockade, Taliban leaders in Qatar were known to frequently travel by road from Qatar, through Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates, where they have investments, and to fund-raise there among the Afghan communities in the cities of Sharjah and Dubai.

“Clearly they are using their foothold in the gulf to try and fund-raise and legitimize,” he said. “If they haven’t broached the substantive issues around peace, and the other gains are modest, then you could argue that that Qatar initiative makes things worse.”

In recent years, Doha has been home to Khaled Mishal, who stepped down this year as leader of Hamas, and the country provided the group a site for talks with the former British prime minister and Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair, in 2015.

Although former Secretary of State John F. Kerry publicly criticized the Hamas presence, American officials privately say they would prefer Hamas was based in Doha rather than in a hostile capital like Tehran.

The promenade known locally as the Doha Corniche in Doha. CreditNaseem Zeitoon/Reuters

In keeping with its open-door approach, Doha was home to an Israeli trade office from 1996 to 2008. Although relations have soured, Qatar promises that Israel will be allowed to participate in the 2022 World Cup.

In the current crisis, Qatar is leveraging the wide range of ties its foreign policy has fostered. Food supplies and a few dozen soldiers from Turkey arrived in Doha after the embargo started on June 5. Turkish news reports say the military contingent could swell to 1,000 troops, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Doha in the coming days.

Late one night last weekend, revelers were spilling from a trendy hotel nightclub in Doha as two athletic Turkish men checked in. Entering the elevator with their bags, they declared themselves glad to be in Doha, and described themselves as working in the “defense sector,” then with a smile declined to say any more.

UAE: Al-Jazeera Has Gone Beyond Incitement to Hostility, Violence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

UAE: Al-Jazeera Has Gone Beyond Incitement to Hostility, Violence

UAE

Abu Dhabi- UAE has accused al-Jazeera TV station of spreading sectarianism and promoting violence and anti-Semitism in response to UN’s refusal to call on the Arab countries that have boycotted Doha to shut the channel.

UAE Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressing his country’s concerns that the Doha-based network promotes extremist ideologies.

The letter highlighted how al-Jazeera has promoted anti-Semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood Yusuf al-Qaradawi in which he praised Hitler, described the Holocaust as “divine punishment” and called on Allah to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people and kill them, down to the very last one.”

“While the protection of the right of freedom of expression is of fundamental importance, this protection is not absolute, and restrictions on the right are permitted under the international law to protect national security and public order,” said Gargash in his letter sent.

“Freedom of expression cannot be used to justify and shield the promotion of extremist narratives,” the letter notes.

The minister recalled UN Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005), a historic resolution that focused on messages that often precede acts of terrorism and called on states to prohibit and prevent incitement to commit terrorist acts.

The letter referred to the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism adopted by the special rapporteur and several regional and human rights bodies.

It recognized that states may restrict reporting that is intended to incite imminent violence, and there is a direct and immediate connection between the reporting and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

In this regard, the letter makes clear that al-Jazeera’s reporting has repeatedly crossed the threshold of incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination, and lists several examples of such content.

For instance, on February 18, 2008, following the re-publication of a blasphemous cartoon, al-Jazeera TV broadcast a speech by the spokesman of the Salah al-Din brigades in Gaza that called on Muslims to “burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and bomb them so that body parts go flying.”

Also included in the letter are numerous examples of the ongoing editorial support for terrorist groups and on-air promotion of sectarianism by the Qatari channel’s journalists.

The letter mentioned that, over the years, “the Qatari-owned and controlled al-Jazeera Arabic has provided a platform to Osama bin Laden (al-Qaeda), Abu Mohammed al-Jolani (al-Nusra), Khaled Mashal (Hamas), Mohammed Deif (Hamas), Anwar al-Awlaki (al-Qaeda), Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah), Ramadan Shallah (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), and Abdel Hakim Belhadj (Libyan ISIS Group), among others.

The letter explained that these interviews gave terrorist groups opportunities to threaten, recruit and incite, without challenge or restraint.

The minister reiterated that the UAE’s strong objections to al-Jazeera are not a matter of disagreement on its editorial standpoints but are a direct and necessary response to its persistent and dangerous incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination.

In light of the alarming examples quoted in the letter, these objections are legitimate, well founded and reasonable.

The letter concluded with an invitation to the High Commissioner to discuss additional cases of al-Jazeera’s promotion of extremist ideologies and ways to protect the right of freedom of expression in the face of such egregious abuses.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Exclusive: The secret documents that help explain the Qatar crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Exclusive: The secret documents that help explain the Qatar crisis

Story highlights

  • The Gulf countries have accused Qatar of not complying with the two agreements
  • A Qatari spokesman said in a statement that it was Saudi Arabia and the UAE who “have broken the spirit of the agreement”

(CNN) Qatar made a series of secret agreements with its Gulf neighbors in 2013 and 2014 barring support for opposition and hostile groups in those nations, as well as in Egypt and Yemen.

The existence of the agreements has been known, but both the content and the documents themselves were kept secret due to the sensitivity of the issues involved and the fact that they were agreed in private by heads of state. The agreements were exclusively obtained by CNN from a source from the region with access to the documents.
The Gulf countries have accused Qatar of not complying with the two agreements, which helps explain what sparked the worst diplomatic crisis in the Middle East in decades.
Abiding by the agreements was among six principles the Gulf nations set as requirements to mend relations with Qatar in a statement released last week.
In a statement to CNN, Qatar accused Saudi Arabia and UAE of breaking the spirit of the agreement and indulging in an “unprovoked attack on Qatar’s sovereignty.”
The first agreement — handwritten and dated November 23, 2013 — is signed by the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Qatar and the Emir of Kuwait. It lays out commitments to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf nations, including barring financial or political support to “deviant” groups, which is used to describe anti-government activist groups.
The agreement, referred to as the Riyadh agreement, specifically mentions not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf allies have repeatedly alleged Qatar supports, as well as not backing opposition groups in Yemen that could threaten neighboring countries.
In justifying their boycott launched last month, Qatar’s Gulf counterparts accuse Doha of financially supporting Hezbollah and other terror groups, in addition to backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
In the first agreement, the countries also vowed not to support “antagonistic media,” an apparent reference to Al Jazeera — the satellite news station based in Qatar and funded by its government — which other Gulf states accuse of trumpeting opposition groups in the region including Egypt and Bahrain.
A second agreement headlined “top secret” and dated November 16, 2014, adds the King of Bahrain, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Prime Minister of the UAE. It specifically mentions the signatories’ commitment to support Egypt’s stability, including preventing Al Jazeera from being used as a platform for groups or figures challenging the Egyptian government.
The second agreement specifically mentions Al Jazeera, and not other media outlets like the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya. After the agreement was signed, Al Jazeera had shut down a channel dedicated to Egypt coverage: Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr.
A supplemental document to the 2013 agreement signed by the countries’ foreign ministers discusses implementation of the agreement.
It includes provisions barring support of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as outside groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia that pose a threat to security and stability of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, a six-nation group that includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar.
The agreements do not single out Qatar, as the provisions included apply to all countries who signed it.
In response to CNN questions, a Qatari spokesman said in a statement that it was Saudi Arabia and the UAE who “have broken the spirit of the agreement.”
“A full reading of that text will show that the intent of the 2013/14 agreements was to ensure that sovereign GCC nations be able cooperate within a clear framework,” said Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of Qatar’s government communication office.
“Their demands — that Qatar close down Al Jazeera, force the breakup of families, and pay ‘compensation’ — are demands that bear no relation to the Riyadh agreements,” he added. “Further, at no point did Saudi Arabia or the UAE use the mechanisms in the Riyadh agreement to communicate their concerns to Qatar.”
Al Thani said that the current list of demands put to Qatar “represent an unwarranted and unprecedented attack on Qatar’s sovereignty, and it is for that reason that they have been rejected by Qatar and condemned by the international community.”
“This crisis was triggered by a hacking, fabricated statements, and a coordinated media campaign against Qatar,” he said. “From the beginning, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have attempted to conceal facts from the general public, including their own citizens, going so far as to block Al Jazeera and other media outlets within their borders.”
The documents hint at longstanding tensions between the countries in the GCC.
In March 2014, for instance, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar because they alleged Qatar was not implementing the first agreement’s pledge not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.
But the agreements also appear to be an attempt to improve relations. Citing “extensive deliberations in which they conducted a full revision of what taints the relations between the [Gulf Cooperation] Council states,” the first agreement states that the parties agreed to “abolish whatever muddies the relations.”
But the agreements also provide new insight to help explain why nine Middle Eastern countries, led by Saudi Arabia, cut ties with Qatar in June over its alleged support of terrorism.
Qatar has called the allegations leveled last month “unjustified” and “baseless.”
Four of the Arab States that boycotted Qatar submitted a list of 13 demands to end the diplomatic crisis, including shuttering Al Jazeera.
The list also included demands to cut ties to extremist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and ISIS, to halt the development of a Turkish military base in the country and to stop the practice of giving Qatari nationality to their citizens.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said last week that Qatar’s had responded negatively to the demands, saying Qatar’s response was “overall negative and lacked any substance.”
Qatari’s foreign minister argued some of the demands violated international law.
“If you are looking at the demands — there are accusations that Qatar is supporting terrorism — they are shutting free speech, shutting the media outlets, expelling people. … So there are a lot of demands which are against the international law,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week.
Trump administration officials are hoping they can help broker a resolution to the diplomatic crisis. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is making stops in Qatar and then Saudi Arabia this week as part of his trip through the region, where he was already meeting Monday with officials in Turkey — allied with Qatar in the dispute — and Kuwait, which is playing a mediator role.
R.C. Hammond, a State Department spokesman, said the purpose of Tillerson’s trip was “to explore the art of the possible of where a resolution can be found,” and the US was “looking for areas of common ground where a resolution can stand.”
“We’ve had one round of exchanges and dialogue and didn’t advance the ball,” Hammond told reporters. “We will work with Kuwait and see if we can hash out a different strategy. … This is a two-way street. There are no clean hands.”
President Donald Trump also spoke last week to the leaders of Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
When the Gulf countries first cut ties with Qatar, however, Trump appeared to support the Gulf countries cutting ties with Qatar, saying that Doha had to stop funding terrorism. Trump’s comments came following his visit to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president, and contradicted his secretary of state.
UPDATE: This story has been edited for clarity and to add the text of the supplemental agreement signed by countries’ foreign ministers.

Qatar says list of demands by Arab states not realistic

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Qatar says list of demands by Arab states not realistic

An aerial view of high-rise buildings emerging through fog covering the skyline of Doha, as the sun rises over the city, in Doha, Qatar, 15 February 2014Image copyright EPA
Image caption Qatar, which is rich in natural gas, is home to 2.7 million people

Qatar’s foreign minister has rejected a list of 13 conditions set by four Arab states for lifting sanctions, saying it is neither reasonable nor actionable.

Qatar is under strict sanctions from Saudi Arabia and its allies, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain. They accuse Qatar of backing terrorism.

Among other things, they have demanded the closure of Al Jazeera TV, which is funded by the Qatari government.

The UAE’s foreign minister has suggested they may cut ties completely.

But Anwar Gargash added that the countries were not seeking to overthrow the Qatari leadership, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Qatar has been under unprecedented diplomatic and economic sanctions for more than two weeks, with Iran and Turkey increasingly supplying it with food and other goods.

It denies accusations that it is funding terrorism and fostering regional instability.

The four countries also want Qatar to reduce its ties with Iran and close a Turkish military base, setting a deadline on Friday of 10 days.

What has Qatar’s government said?

The government is reviewing the demands, a spokesman has said.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, quoted by Al-Jazeera, said: “The US secretary of state recently called upon the blockading nations to produce a list of grievances that was ‘reasonable and actionable’.

“The British foreign secretary asked that the demands be ‘measured and realistic.’ This list does not satisfy that [sic] criteria.”

Media caption Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera: “We’re not partisan to any particular group or ideology or government”

He said the demands were proof that the sanctions had “nothing to do with combating terrorism… [but] limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy”.

Al Jazeera accused them of trying to silence freedom of expression, adding: “We assert our right to practise our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority.”

What effect are sanctions having?

Qatar’s main import routes – by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from container ships docked in the UAE – have been disrupted, and much of the surrounding airspace has been closed to its air traffic.

Map showing Qatar and other Gulf states

However, the small but wealthy country has so far avoided economic collapse by finding alternative routes.

Qatari citizens living in neighbouring countries or with family living there have been hit harder, Reuters news agency notes, because of ultimatums issued for them to leave.

What happens if the demands are not met?

The UAE’s foreign minister said there would be a “parting of ways” with Qatar if it failed to meet them.

“The alternative is not escalation,” he said. “The alternative is parting of ways. It’s very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping with one of the partners… actively promoting what is an extremist and terrorist agenda.”

He described Qatar as a “Trojan horse” within the group of Arab monarchies.

Where is the US in this?

Correspondents say there has been frustration in Washington over the time taken by the Saudis and others to formalise their demands.

Media caption The disruption could have an impact on Qatar if the dispute drags on

US President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Qatar, accusing it of being a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism.

However, the Arab states involved in the crisis are all close allies of the US, while the largest US base in the Middle East is in Qatar.


Do you live in Qatar? Have you been affected by the sanctions? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

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