(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
Reforms Facilitating Business Boost Investment in Saudi Arabia
Saturday, 18 November, 2017 – 12:00
Cars drive past the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
Riyadh – Shujah Baqmi
The investment climate in Saudi Arabia enjoys an advanced position among world economies. This climate resulted from the record-breaking number of reforms carried out by the kingdom, as part of its pursuit to enhance business climate for small and medium projects.
The report issued by the World Bank Doing Business 2018 confirmed this fact.
The report, released on Thursday, showed that the kingdom conducted six reforms – the highest number of reforms in the MENA in 2017.
The kingdom implemented 30 reforms since 2003, majorly focusing on starting a business (seven reforms), real-estate registration (five reforms) and getting credit (four reforms), showed the report. It added that now it takes 18 days to start a business in Riyadh compared to 81.5 days, 15 years ago.
The report revealed that procedures to start a business were facilitated through installing an e-system. As for real-estate registration, efficiency in administering lands has been enhanced through developing an e-portal.
Further, protection of minority investment was consolidated through increasing shareholders rights and their role in major decisions, setting conditions to increase transparency and organize disclosure. Also, the time required for importing and exporting has been shortened through reducing required documents for the customs.
Rita Ramalho, Acting Director of the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group, declared that the completed reforms during the last year are quite comprehensive and they cover six out of 10 fields linked to the business performance used to determine the countries’ position.
The kingdom’s performance is considered good in regards to protecting minority’s investors (10th rank worldwide), and it occupies rank 24 as to property registration and ranks 38 in granting licenses.
Nader Mohamed, Country Director of the GCC Countries in the MENA region of the World Bank, stated that the huge progress achieved by the kingdom in one year is a proof of the government commitment to reform investment climate.
Mohamed pointed out that the coordinated efforts among governmental parties send a strong indicator for investors interested in the kingdom – he noted that the World Bank is delighted with the foundation in which reforms were based, ensuring that the ambitious vision of the kingdom requires succession and continuity of economic reforms.
He described ongoing reforms that aim at reducing dependency on oil as significant, the thing that demands to transfer five percent of Aramco and supporting the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to become the biggest sovereign fund in the world.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TASNIM NEWS AGENCY OF IRAN)
France Adopting Biased Stance on Regional Crises: Iran
News ID: 1576462 Service: Politics
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi slammed French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for his recent anti-Tehran remarks and said the western European country has a “one-sided and biased” stance on crises facing the Middle East region.
Qassemi made the remarks on Thursday in response to comments made by Le Drian, who earlier in the day expressed concern about what he called Iran’s “hegemonic” intentions in the Middle East.
At a joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir during a trip to Saudi Arabia, Le Drian said, “I’m thinking specifically about Iran’s ballistic program.”
In reply, Qassemi said, “Unfortunately, it seems that France has a one-sided and biased view of the crises and humanitarian catastrophes in the Middle East.”
This view only exacerbates regional conflicts, “whether intentionally or unintentionally,” he added.
The Iranian spokesman also stressed the need for stability and security in the region and advised leaders of France and other nations to take a “realistic and responsible” stance on the conflicts.
Qassemi also pointed to arms sales by “trans-regional countries” to Middle Eastern governments, including those used in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military aggression against Yemen and said the western support has only led to “more instability and insecurity” in the region.
Yemen’s defenseless people have been under massive attacks by the coalition for more than two years but Riyadh has reached none of its objectives in Yemen so far.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out deadly airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in an attempt to restore power to fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.
Over 14,000 Yemenis, including thousands of women and children, have lost their lives in the deadly military campaign.
US Air Force official: Missile targeting Saudis was Iranian
Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital, says the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast.
Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.
“There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” Harrigian told journalists. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”
The Associated Press
Houthi Military Media Unit | Reuters
A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station on November 5, 2017, shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh’s King Khaled Airport on Saturday.
Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital and remnants of it bore “Iranian markings,” the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday, backing the kingdom’s earlier allegations.
The comments by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force’s Central Command in Qatar, further internationalizes the yearslong conflict in Yemen — the Arab world’s poorest country.
Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.
“There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” Harrigian told journalists at a news conference in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Air Show. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.
Saudi Arabia says it shot down the missile Nov. 4 near Riyadh’s international airport, the deepest yet to reach into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry later said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving “the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them.” It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch. French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the missile as “obviously” Iranian.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday that the July launch involved an Iranian Qiam-1, a liquid-fueled, short-range Scud missile variant. Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted Islamic State group militants in Syria over twin militant attacks in Tehran.
Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile U.S. officials believed it was, nor did he show any images of the debris. He also didn’t explain how Iran evaded the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, which intensified after the missile targeting Riyadh.
“How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time,” the lieutenant general said. “What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from.”
The Houthis have described using Burkan-2 or “Volcano” Scud variants in their recent attacks, including the one Nov. 4. Those finless missiles are reminiscent of the Qiam, wrote Jeremy Binnie of Jane’s Defense Weekly in a February analysis.
“The Burkan-2 is likely to heighten suspicions that Iran is helping Yemen’s rebel forces to develop their ballistic missile capabilities,” Binnie wrote.
Adding to that suspicion is the fact that Yemen’s missile forces previously never had experience in disassembling and rebuilding the weapons, said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy who previously worked in Yemen.
It is “not a stretch to believe that Tehran is supporting the Houthi missile program with technical advice and specialized components,” Knights wrote in an analysis Thursday. “After all, the Houthis have rapidly fielded three major new missile systems in less than two years while under wartime conditions and international blockade.”
The U.S. already is involved in the war in Yemen and has launched drone strikes targeting the local branch of al-Qaida, though it stopped offering targeting information under the Obama administration over concerns about civilian casualties. That prohibition continues today, though the Air Force continues to refuel warplanes in the Yemen theater and offers support in managing airspace over the country, Harrigian said. The Saudi-led coalition also uses American-made bombs and ordinance in its attacks.
Yemen long has had ballistic missiles, dating back to the 1970s when Yemen was split between the socialist South Yemen and North Yemen. After unification in 1990 and a later civil war, Yemen largely moved its ballistic missile stockpile to a mountain base in Sanaa, the capital. It also purchased more from North Korea.
When the Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014, their allied fighters also held control of the ballistic missiles. The Yemeni military was widely believed to possess around 300 Scud missiles at the time, though exact figures remain unknown.
The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015 on the side of Yemen’s internationally recognized government. It then attacked the ballistic missile base in April 2015, touching off massive explosions that killed several dozen people. Saudi Arabia implied at the time that the Scud arsenal in Yemen had been seriously degraded, if not entirely destroyed, as a result of the airstrikes.
It soon would become clear that wasn’t the case. In June 2015, the rebels fired their first ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia near the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait. In the time since, Yemen’s rebels have fired over 70 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ missile defense project.
For its part, Iran long has denied offering any arms to Yemen, though it has backed the Houthis and highlighted the high civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign of airstrikes.
But others in Iran have been coy about the ballistic missiles in Yemen. Mehdi Taeb, an influential hard-line cleric who is a brother to the intelligence chief of the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said in April that Iran tried three times to send missiles to Yemen. The Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees Iran’s missile program.
“We did it one time via an airplane, one time via a Navy boat and one time with a ship,” Taeb said in an online video.
The cleric said ultimately the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the transfers stopped over negotiations on the nuclear deal with world powers, without offering a specific time for the attempted shipments.
“They said come back because the Americans said, ‘If you send missiles to Yemen, we will end the negotiations,'” Taeb said.
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.
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 Arabia, Egypt, 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.
This image provided by an activist who requested to remain unnamed, shows people carrying a man who was injured in a raid on an sit-in, in Diraz, Bahrain, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Bahrain police raided a town where the sit-in has been going on for months in support of Sheikh Isa Qassim, a prominent Shia cleric, who had his citizenship stripped by the government.(AP Photo)
Five people were killed in Bahrain on Tuesday when police opened fire on a protest by supporters of a top cleric in a Shia village, the interior ministry said, in the latest unrest to hit the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.“Five deaths have been registered among the outlaws” in Diraz, near the capital of Manama, where the police opened fire to disperse the sit-in outside the home of cleric Isa Qassim, the ministry said in a Twitter message.
Witnesses had earlier told AFP that several civilians were wounded when police officers fired at demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.
“A total of 286 arrests were made, including fugitives that had escaped from Jau Prison,” the ministry said.
“Several terrorists and convicted felons were also apprehended with a large number of them hiding in the residence of Isa Qassim,” it added.
Qassim is considered the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s majority Shiite community.
A US State Department official said Washington was “concerned” by the reports of protesters killed and was following events in Bahrain very closely.
“We urge restraint on all sides in responding to Wednesday’s developments and call on all parties to contribute to a climate conducive for dialogue and reconciliation,” the official told AFP.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the deadly crackdown by Bahraini forces on protesters was the “first concrete result” of US President Donald Trump “cozying up to despots” in Saudi Arabia.
– ‘A blank cheque’ for repression
In a meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad in Saudi Arabia at the weekend, Trump made a clear break from previous US policy.
The US leader told the king on Sunday it was “a great honour to be with you” and said there “has been a little strain but there won’t be strain with this administration.”
The Britain-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Trump had “effectively (given) King Hamad a blank cheque to continue the repression of his people.”
It said the US had “blood on its hands” for supplying arms to Bahrain despite what it called an “intensified repressive campaign on civil society in Bahrain.”
An activist said one protester was killed. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said on Twitter Tuesday that the operation targeting Diraz was to “maintain security and public order.” (AP Photo)
The kingdom has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when local authorities backed by a Saudi military force crushed Shiite-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.
Earlier Tuesday, BIRD had announced one death as the police moved to disperse the long-running protest.
Amnesty International identified that protester as Mohamed Zayn al-Deen, 39, and said he had died of birdshot wounds to the head.
The human rights watchdog called for an independent investigation into the security forces’ use of “excessive force” against protesters it said were mostly peaceful.
– Stripped of citizenship –
Bahrain police arrested 50 “fugitives,” including prison escapees “convicted over terrorism” charges, the Nahrain interior ministry said earlier.
Several members of the security forces were injured, it added.
The Bahrain authorities have accused Qassim, sentenced Sunday to a suspended one-year jail term for illegal fundraising and money laundering, of serving “foreign interests” and promoting “sectarianism and violence.”
A court last year stripped him of his citizenship, sparking repeated sit-ins outside his residence in Diraz.
Bahraini authorities have also accused Iran of fomenting unrest in the kingdom, ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty. Tehran has denied any involvement.
The government’s clampdown on dissent has drawn harsh condemnation from international rights groups and governments.
Pictures posted on Twitter by opposition groups showed demonstrations that purportedly broke out in nearby Shiite villages protesting the crackdown in Diraz.
– Rights concerns –
The tiny Gulf state is a key regional ally of the United States and is home to its Fifth Fleet, but the administration of former president Barack Obama frequently scolded Manama over rights concerns.
Manama has imprisoned dozens of Shiites accused of taking part in demonstrations and stripped at least 316 Bahrainis of their nationality since 2012, according to Amnesty.
BIRD says Manama has escalated its repression since mid-2016.
An Iraqi Shiite cleric holds a picture of top Bahraini Shiite cleric Isa Qassim during a demonstration in front of the Bahraini consulate in Najaf on May 24, 2017 in solidarity with the Bahraini Shiite opposition and with the leading cleric. (AFP Photo)
A court last year ordered the dissolution of the kingdom’s main opposition group Al-Wefaq after authorities accused it of “harbouring terrorism.”
An 18-year-old Bahraini died in March, nearly two months after he was shot in the head fleeing a raid on Qassim’s house, Amnesty said.
Bahrain’s parliament in March voted unanimously to grant military courts the right to try civilians charged with any act of “terrorism.”
Rights activists fear Qassim could be among the first to face court-martial.
In September 2016, a group of escaped ISIS sex slaves finally revealed the true fate of Kayla Mueller — the 26-year-old American aid worker in Syria whom ISIS had reported dead more than a year ago. Her former fellow captives said Mueller had “refused to deny Jesus Christ despite being repeatedly raped and tortured.” In February 2015, ISIS claimed their captive had been killed during a Jordanian airstrike and sent photos of her dead body in a white burial shroud, apparently as a sign of respect. One former sex slave said that Mueller “put others before herself,” and once even refused a chance to escape with the other girls because she thought her American appearance would stand out and endanger the others.
An ISIS-related plot to butcher Christians with chainsaws in a Belgian shopping center was exposed in September after authorities interrogated a Muslim youth. The teen—and son of a man being described as a “radical imam”—was arrested for calling for the execution of Christians while walking down a street. Theo Francken, a Belgian official, said, “I already signed the order to remove the Imam from Belgian soil. But he appealed the decision, so I can only hope for a quick sentence. Clearly radicalism runs in the family.”
Speaking for the first time about the slaughter of the 86-year-old French priest Jacques Hamel, eyewitness Guy Coponet—who was himself stabbed several times, including in the neck, and was not expected to survive—revealed how the jihadi murderers also forced him to hold a camera and record them slitting the throat of the elderly priest: “They even checked the quality of the image and that I wasn’t trembling too much. I had to film the assassination of my friend Father Jacques!” He said the assailants planned on using the video as propaganda, “which would allow them to earn their fame as a ‘martyr’ of Allah.”
Meanwhile, Hungary became the first government in Europe to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe. Zoltan Balog, Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, said, “Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four… are Christians. In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.” This move came weeks after Prime Minister Victor Orban drew criticism in the EU by saying, “If we really want to help, we should help where the real problem is…. We should first help the Christian people before Islamic people.”
Around the same time—and despite the many instances of Muslim migrants raping, murdering, and terrorizing Europeans—Pope Francis urged Europeans to take in more Muslim refugees, including into their homes. He explained that the best way to combat terrorism is by warmly welcoming migrants and helping them integrate into the “European context.”
The rest of the bloody month of September’s worldwide Muslim persecution of Christians includes, but is not limited to, the following:
Violence, Prison, and Death for Christian “Blasphemers” and “Apostates”
Jordan: Nahed Hattar, a Christian writer and activist, was killed on September 25 outside of a courthouse in Amman. The 56-year-old man was earlier arrested for sharing a “blasphemous” cartoon about the prophet Muhammad. As he was walking into court to stand trial for “contempt of religion” and “inciting sectarian strife,” a man dressed in traditional Muslim garb shot him dead. The report adds: “Approximately 70 percent of Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa have blasphemy laws that make it illegal to criticize or dishonor religious symbols and teachings. In practice, many of these laws apply exclusively to Islam.”
Uganda: One Muslim convert to Christianity was killed and two others beaten in three separate incidents:
The blood-stained body of 32-year-old Enoch Shaban—a Muslim convert to Christianity and member of the Church of Uganda—was found hanging from a tree. A local resident of the village said he heard Shaban shouting for help after another man said, “We have warned you several times of being a disgrace to our religion, and you have not taken seriously our warnings.” The witness added: “Two weeks before meeting his death, he had mentioned several messages on his phone warning him to recant the Christian faith and return to Islam.” The slain apostate appeared to have been struck on the head with a metallic object. The morning before his death, Muslims were reportedly seen conspicuously loitering around his workshop, a mile away from the murder scene. Although Uganda is majority Christian, the area where Enoch was killed is predominantly Muslim.
On the same day Shaban was killed, Aisha Twanza, 25—another Muslim convert to Christianity in Uganda—was poisoned by Muslim family members who put insecticide in her food. After their conversion last January, Aisha and her husband were forced to flee their village because relatives threatened to kill them. On August 10, family members informed Aisha that her mother was dying; she rushed to the village only to find that it was a lie to lure her back. Questioned about her conversion to Christianity, she refused to deny her new faith. “They were very disappointed with me for deserting Islam.” Her family then served her food and allowed her to return home: “Reaching home, I started feeling stomach upset that continued….Soon the pain intensified, and my husband rushed me to Mbale hospital, then I was taken to Pallisa, where poisoning was discovered after several tests. I never expected my parents to do such a thing to me, but I thank God for saving me.”
A Muslim husband savagely beat his wife after she attended church. Neighbors found Fatuma Baluka, 21, unconscious and rushed her to a hospital: “When I arrived home [from church that day], my husband shouted at me as an ‘infidel,’ and then and there started hitting me with a metallic object. I fell down, only to find myself in a hospital bed.” She has since been abandoned by her husband and extended Muslim family.
Ethiopia: Six weeks after a Muslim man discovered that his wife and mother of his three children had converted to Christianity, he locked her in the house and beat her with sticks; during her ordeal, neighbors heard him shouting—including that she “should die for forsaking Islam.” Neighbors found her soaked in blood from a deep gash in her forehead and rushed her to the hospital.
Pakistan: A 16-year-old Christian youth was arrested and could be executed for the crime of “blasphemy.” He allegedly posted or liked a picture of the Kaaba, Islam’s sacred temple in Mecca, with a pig on top of it on Facebook. Infuriated Muslims who saw the image immediately reported it to authorities which led to his arrest. Authorities also removed the image in an effort to calm local Muslims and prevent them from rioting. The arrested youth’s family fled their home in fear of reprisals. Accusations of blasphemy against Pakistan’s minorities are common and often false. Religious hatred, personal score settling, and economic gain are just a few of the motives behind false accusations of blasphemy.
Malaysia: Three Muslims who sought to legally convert to Christianity were denied conversion by the court system due to the implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law, which maintains that anyone born into Islam—i.e., whose father was Muslim—must remain Muslim. According to a source discussing this report, those trying to convert are often sent to a “purification center,” where they are made to recite different Islamic creeds so they are again considered Muslim. “This purification center utilizes torture, beatings, and psychological attacks to terrify new believers into recanting their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Muslim Slaughter of Christians in Nigeria
The ongoing jihad on Christians by both Boko Haram, an Islamic jihad group, and allied Muslim herdsmen, left many dead in its wake:
At least eight Christians were randomly shot dead by militants on motorbikes as they were exiting Sunday church service. A couple of weeks earlier Boko Haram had said it would begin “booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those who we find from the citizens of the cross.”
Another senior priest was kidnapped after his car was ambushed by Muslim herdsmen; during the attack they violently beat and tried to kill two other clergy in the car, including by shooting one in the head. On the same day a Vincentian priest was kidnapped along with his brother. Discussing these and other attacks on Christian clergy in recent weeks and months, several fatal, the communications director of the local diocese said: “One begins to wonder if Catholic priests have become an endangered species.”
Boko Haram insurgents killed at least two people during raids on Christian villages. They tied up one man with a rope and slaughtered him in front of his wife and children. They also burned homes and set the market square of one village ablaze.
A group of Fulani Muslim tribesmen attacked a 60-year-old Christian farmer while he was working his land and hacked him to death with machetes. He is “the latest victim of attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nasarawa state who have burned church buildings and homes and destroyed crops in the past four years,” said the report.
According to a separate report, Muslim Fulani tribesmen also killed another Christian pastor; raided Ningon village—murdering two Christians as they slept in their homes, and seriously wounding a girl with gunshots; and raided the Christian village of Ungwar Mada, forcing their way into a married couple’s home and slaughtering them.
Dhimmitude: Muslim Contempt for and Abuse of Christians
Saudi Arabia: Officials arrested 27 Christians—including several women and children—for the crime of “conducting Christian prayers” and being “in possession of Bibles.” The group of Christians, most if not all of whom were Lebanese nationals, were celebrating a feast day for the Virgin Mary when authorities stormed their residence and arrested them. Authorities, the dreaded “religious police,” proceeded to strip them of their visas and deport them back to Lebanon. Ironically, this is a much better fate than that suffered by other Christians caught engaging in “acts of Christianity” in the Islamic kingdom. In 2012, 35 Christian Ethiopians were arrested and abused in prison for almost a year, simply for holding a private house prayer. One of them reported after being released: “They [Saudis] are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”
Iran: At least 25 Christians were arrested in Kerman for unknown reasons. Security forces broke into the Christians’ homes, searched them, seized various objects, and then took the Christians in. Officials did not reveal the reason for the arrest nor where the Christians were taken, leaving family and friends in distress.
In another incident, authorities raided a family garden party after they noticed it wasn’t closely observing conservative Islamic norms; without a warrant they arrested five men, former Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Then they searched the premises and confiscated several items, including three Bibles. The arrested men were taken to an unknown location, though later reports suggest they were sent to Evin prison, where Iran’s worst criminals are caged.
Uzbekistan: Eight Christians were arrested and fined for possessing Christian literature, which is illegal in the Muslim majority nation. One Baptist, Stanislav Kim, was sentenced to two years in a corrective labor camp for being caught with Christian literature a second time in one year. The Christian literature was ordered to be handed over to the state-backed Muslim Board.
Malaysia: After Ben-Hur, originally a novel, was readapted into a 2016 movie and hit the big screen, movie goers were left disappointed and confused, as authorities cut out all scenes that portrayed Christ or had anything to do with Christianity, making the movie unintelligible. “I felt cheated,” said one viewer: “The novel from which this movie is adapted is Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. It means Jesus is central to the plot. It was censored so much the storyline made no sense! How did Judah’s mother and sister get cured from leprosy? They just appeared at the end of the movie healed.” Such anti-Christian edits are consisted with the government’s ban on and confiscation of Bibles in the majority Muslim nation.
Egypt: After weeks of more frequent than usual attacks on the Christian minority in Minya, Upper Egypt, the government responded by appointing a Muslim cleric, Mahmoud Gomaa, to investigate the situation. Gomaa then appeared in a televised interview insisting that “Everything was good…. No one has been killed. No one has even been wounded. There’s no conflict. The problem is really with the journalists writing about it.” Bishop Makarios of Minya responded by saying, “I have nothing to do with Mahmoud Gomaa. We are at a breaking point. People can’t put up with any more of this.” He explained how in recent weeks Christians have indeed been killed—including a priest who was gunned down at the entrance of his church and a man who was stabbed to death by an angry mob—as well as numerous incidents of mob violence on Christians which left many injured and their properties looted and/or burned.
United States: In September, when Coptic Christians were suffering abuses “every two or three days” in Egypt, an Egyptian Muslim woman living in America made a video calling for more Muslim hostility against Egypt’s Christian minority, in the guise of an economic boycott. In a video, Ayat Oraby—a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer who has nearly 1.5 million followers on Facebook—called the Coptic Church a “bunch of gangsters,” a “total mafia” that “rules [Egypt] behind the curtains.” The Copts are reportedly “stockpiling weapons in churches” and “striving to create a Coptic statelet” in order to continue waging “a war against Islam.” That Oraby hates Copts simply because they are Christian came out clearly towards the end of her tirade, when she said: “They [Copts] must learn very well that the Crescent [Islam] must be above the Cross [Christianity.]” In fact, Copts pose no danger to Egypt’s Muslims — but they dare to want equal rights, when they should be content with second-class status.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the BBC that he still believed in a political solution to the conflict, and that Mr Assad was not in a “position of advantage or victory”, despite his forces’ recent advances.
“But if Bashar al-Assad continues to be obstinate and continues to drag his feet and continues to refuse to engage seriously, then obviously there will have to be a Plan B which will involve more stepped up military activity,” he said.
Can the opposition plan work? – BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet
This new plan is the Syrian opposition’s most comprehensive answer to that question: What happens if President Assad goes?
It’s meant to reassure the president’s foreign backers, like Russia and Iran, that there can be a stable transition which avoids the collapse of state institutions, and violent chaos that’s shattered neighbouring states like Iraq. That’s a concern shared in many capitals, and most of all Damascus.
But the demand for President Assad and his closest Syrian allies to step down has always been rejected in Damascus, and will be again. It’s never clear how much Moscow and Tehran are able and willing to change that. This plan is meant to test that.
But the Syrian army, backed by powerful outside support, is making gains on the ground, through force, or local deals which amount to surrender. If this plan doesn’t work it will be back to Plan B – more military support to all sides in a devastating war.
A volunteer emergency response worker from the Syria Civil Defence said he had reached the scene of the Aleppo attack on Tuesday shortly after a helicopter had dropped barrels containing what he said were four chlorine cylinders.
The Syria Civil Defence, an organisation that operates in rebel-held areas and is also known as the “White Helmets”, posted video on its Facebook page showing distressed children using oxygen masks to breathe.
Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use in weapons is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. If high concentrations of the chemical enter the lungs it can cause death.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Tuesday that a brief period of relief early this year for civilians caught up in the war in Syria had been replaced by an even more brutal resumption in fighting.
Its 12th report said the cessation of hostilities in February had allowed some towns to receive their first aid in years but it only lasted a few weeks.
The report says 600,000 Syrians now live under siege with up to 300,000 trapped in the city of Aleppo.
On Sunday, Syrian government forces were reported to have recaptured parts of Aleppo city which were lost to rebels last month, placing rebel-held districts in the city’s east once again under siege.
A monitoring group said government troops had recaptured two military academy sites in the Ramouseh district, in the south of the city, and severed a recently established rebel supply line.
Turkey will never allow the formation of an “artificial state” in northern Syria, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday, referring to the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters whose advance Ankara is now aiming to stop.
Turkey and its allies opened a new line of attack in northern Syria on Saturday, as Turkish tanks rolled across the border and Syrian fighters swept in from the west to take villages held by Islamic State and check the advance of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG.
Turkey launched its operation in Syria, called Euphrates Shield, on Aug.24 to drive out Islamic State and stop the YPG militia, fearing its growing control of northern Syria.
“We will never allow the formation of an artificial state in the north of Syria,” Yildirim said in a speech in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, where he announced an investment programed to rebuild parts of the largely Kurdish region that have been destroyed by security operations.
“We are there with Euphrates Shield, we are there to protect our border, to provide for our citizens safety of life and property, and to ensure Syria’s integrity.”
Turkey is fighting a three-decade-old Kurdish insurgency in the southeast and fears that the YPG’s advances will embolden militants at home. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
While the United States and Europe also regard the PKK as a terrorist group, Washington sees the YPG as a separate entity and as its most effective partner in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. That position has caused friction with Turkey, a NATO member and a partner in the fight against Islamic State.
Yildirim’s comments echoed those of President Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 gathering of world leaders in China, who told reporters following a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama: “It is our wish that a terror corridor not be formed across our southern border”.
Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkey’s allies should not be making a distinction between Islamic State and the YPG as both groups pose a threat to Turkey.
Separately, state-run Anadolu Agency said Turkish jets hit four Islamic State positions late on Saturday evening in Syria’s northwestern Aleppo province as part of the operation, citing security sources.
The warplanes hit three targets in the al-Kaldi area and another in the Wuguf region, Anadolu said, citing the sources.
(Writing by David Dolan, editing by Louise Heavens)