Middle East & Africa

Tunisia government appoints Ridha Gharsallaoui as national security advisor
Middle East & Africa

Tunisia government appoints Ridha Gharsallaoui as national security advisor

Just after five days after dismissing the government and freezing parliament, the president of Tunisia, Kais Saied, appointed and swore Ridha Gharsallaoui as his national security adviser to run the Ministry of the Interior. The two officials have spoken about imminent dangers to the North African country which came under increasing international and domestic pressure to form a new government.

Ridha Gharsallaoui is a top-ranking former police official. President Saied says that the state is not a puppet moved by strings, there are lobbies and corrupt individuals who have been pulling the strings from behind the curtains. The conditions at this historical moment forced me to take such exceptional measures.

Although, Tunisians are awaiting the appointment of a new prime minister and the announcement of a road map to find a way out of the crisis. Saied’s supporters have cast his intervention as a welcome reset for the 2011 revolution after years of economic stagnation under a political class that has often appeared more interested in its own narrow advantage than in national gain.

In this political turmoil, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he had urged Saied to take action that would return the country to the democratic path and also urged the restoration of parliament. He added that the intentions expressed to him were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution. 

Gharsallaoui, who has served in the state security apparatus since the 1990s, was brought on by Mr Saied to serve as a national security adviser in 2020. Before taking this position, he has served in the Presidential Guard and is said to be a specialist in information and counterterrorism. 

Earlier, Saied accused 460 businessmen of owing $4.9 billion to the state, citing the findings of a commission of inquiry into corruption under former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He strongly believes that this money must be returned to the Tunisian people. 

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Tunisian President pledges to address money laundering
Middle East & Africa

Tunisian President pledges to address money laundering

Recently appointed Tunisian President Kais Saied has pledged to address the burning issue in the country which circles money laundering and economic crisis. He accuses 460 businessmen and their associated companies of plundering 13.5 billion dinars of public money. It is approximately $4.8 billion.

In a video which was posted on Facebook through President’s official account, he says, 450 people have robbed this country according to a report by the National Fact-Finding Commission on Bribery and Corruption and it is all documented and identified. This theft amount is required to be returned to the state.

The President has created a force through which he contracted all the major traders and advised them to reduce prices of goods and warned them against hoarding. Another task force is dedicated to the management of Covid-19 restrictions and crises.

Amidst the political chaos in the country, the Foreign Minister of Tunisia, Othman Jerandi and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs discussed the president’s actions which were responsible to tackle the health and economic implications of Covid.

Mohsen Dali, the prosecution’s spokesman says that suspected illegal funding of the 2019 elections is focused on the foreign financing and acceptance of funds of unknown origin. Protestors in Tunisia were seen holding placards with slogans that read ‘coup d’etat’ outside the parliament building.

Looking at the past, Tunisia has had 9 governments in the last 10 years. Even their first prime minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, was caught in a financial scandal, and Saied forced his resignation before a vote of no confidence could be taken and put forward his candidate. That candidate was Hichem Mechichi, which now he is replacing. The move was seen as a way to break down the party system and install loyal technocrats able to steer the economy and government.

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Najib Mikati is named as the Lebanon’s next prime minister
Middle East & Africa

Najib Mikati is named as the Lebanon’s next prime minister

Najib Mikati is a billionaire businessman who was appointed as the new Prime Minister for Lebanon. His resignation came after the binding parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun. Mikati has run after receiving 72 votes, along with former ambassador Nawaf Salam receiving just one vote. Forty-two MPs voted blank, and three MPs did not vote at all.

This news came just after 11 days of resignation by Saad Hariri who was the previous prime minister. After nine months of political deadlock and dispute with President Aoun and his son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil, the entire issue escalated. Mikati said in a statement that with the cooperation of the president, they will form a government according to the French initiative. French President Emanuel Macron referred to a road map of economic and structural reforms while introducing to Lebanon.

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If there is a situation when Mikati succeeded to form a government then this would be his third stint as Lebanon’s prime minister. Although in 2005, he took a brief position as a prime minister in April and thereafter, headed a full-fledged government in 2011 for three years.

Since the economy of Lebanon continues to crumble with half the population living below the poverty line, their local currency lost more than 90 per cent of its value. The country has been without a full-fledged government for almost one year and is still struggling to reform its economy to unlock international aid. Mikati received votes from significant political parties of Lebanon and it also included support from Future Movement which was led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It was also noted that no matter how decent, powerful, and influential the prime minister, within the political system and the ruling elite, he will not be able to do anything in the country. Amidst this situation, Joanna Wronecka, who is a UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon wished Mikati success, speed, and support of all political parties in swiftly forming a government. He mentioned that there is no more time to lose.

30 killed, dozens wounded in Baghdad market bombing
Middle East & Africa

30 killed, dozens wounded in Baghdad market bombing

A roadside bomb attack targeted a Baghdad suburb, ended in killing 30 people and wounding dozens of others who were in the market. The attack took place last night in the Wahailat market in Sadr City. People were alerted and filled with fear as they heard a powerful explosion. The blast happened a day before the Eid al-Adha holiday, a prime time when the market was busy with people as everyone came out shopping for gifts and groceries.

It is shocking to see how piles of merchandise lay on the ground after the explosion now. Filled with terror shopkeepers approached the security forces and explained how the blast occurred. In a rush, they also salvaged what items they could. However, this is not the first time when this Islamic State is under the radar, previously as well, they have claimed similar attacks in the area. Rather this was the third time when a bomb hit a market in the densely populated neighbourhood in eastern Baghdad.

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Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi placed the commander of the federal police regiment responsible for the area of the marketplace under arrest, as the investigation was launched. Recently, in June itself more than 15 people were wounded when a bomb placed under a kiosk in another Sadr City market detonated. Similarly, in April, 4 people were killed in a car bomb attack in the same region.

Baghdad residents lit candles for the victims of a roadside bomb and grieve for the lost lives of their loved ones. It is brought to notice that in an anonymous message posted on the Telegram channel, the militant group said a suicide bomber named Abu Hamza al-Iraqi detonated his explosive belt in Sadr City, which ended the killing of more than 30 people in the region. 

Egypt’s El Sisi sets out a red line over Ethiopia’s Nile dam
Middle East & Africa

Egypt’s El Sisi sets out a red line over Ethiopia’s Nile dam

President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El Sisi called an agreement with Ethiopia to start the operation of its dam on the Nile. Alongside he assured that the Egyptians will not allow their country’s share of the river’s water to be affected. The President said that harming Egypt’s national security is a red line that cannot be crossed regardless of what anyone thinks. While addressing the crowd of 50,000 flag-waving supporters in Cairo, he ensured everyone by embracing the wisdom that peace does not allow harm to come to this nation’s interests in any manner.

Calls are being made by some in Egypt to reassess relations with Russia, long viewed as an ally of Cairo, amid accusations that Moscow failed to support Egypt’s position on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). At one point even the Security Council held the session with respect to the Blue Nile dam. It is of prime importance as the Nile River gives Egypt around 85 per cent of its annual water needs, 

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Foreign ministers of Egypt and Russia held series of meetings to show support for its position on the dam, which others review as an existential threat. At the meeting, Russia’s representative recognized the political and socioeconomic significance of the dam for Ethiopia which was more ‘balanced’ than Cairo would have preferred. 

On the other hand, Sudanis equally concerned about its water share and says that they need to completely co-ordinate with Egypt on the operation and filling of the dam to guard against flooding and ensure that its own power-generating dams on the Nile let it operate smoothly.

President Sisi who was elected seven years ago has reminded its citizens time and again that Egypt could resort to military action to resolve the decades-old dispute with Ethiopia. A diplomatic solution to the dispute is preferred but no one should assume to be beyond the reach of his military in this aspect.

UAE leading in various aspects making it most favorable country to stay
Middle East & Africa

UAE leading in various aspects making it most favorable country to stay

The United Arab Emirates is at the forefront when it comes to opportunities for women, gender equality, equal pay, development, and technologies. It has created a niche for itself which speaks of advancement and milestones that the young country has achieved. Recently data was issued by 3 of the major international references specialized in competitiveness showed that the UAE was included in the list of the top 20 countries in the world. The list was indicative in 8 sectors which included competitiveness related to tolerance and coexistence during 2020, which was the most challenging year for the world due to COVID-19.

People-centric:

When it comes to the state’s social responsibility towards citizens and residents, the UAE ranked among the top countries in the world. The figures of the UAE’s leadership in the competitiveness of tolerance and coexistence take its particularity from the fact that tolerance and coexistence is a national program that has been enabled during the past six years with the ambition that the UAE will be the global capital of tolerance. This program was initiated in 2015 and was aimed at combating discrimination and hatred It aims to enrich global tolerance and confront manifestations of discrimination and racism of whatever nature, ethnic, religious or cultural.

uae 1

Creating online presence:

UAE has been ranked first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and also stood 8th globally in the Online Service Index (OSI). This is a huge jump in its position from 17th in 2018. The survey prominently focused on the role of countries in serving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially by not leaving any stone unturned. Bringing various digital transformation programs in narrowing the gap between segments of society in various fields, the country also looks at government programs around the world in engaging customers in developing services, policies and programs for everyone’s benefit.

Women marching forward & marking names in the field of science:

Time and again the image of Emirati women have changed. Until the 2000s, the state held a monopoly on public discourse. However, we can now see that women’s visibility has in turn challenged the status quo. Recently, a 28-year-old Noura al-Matroushi was named the first female astronaut for the country’s ambitious space program. She is not the only one who is breaking barriers in this field, rather she has opened doors for many aspirants. According to the Emirates Ministry of State for Advanced Sciences, 80 per cent of women who applied are selected for the current Mars mission.

Safety Score:

Safety is one of the prime criteria for any citizen in the country. The factors that put UAE as the safest country after Iceland are war and peace, personal security, and natural disaster risk including the unique risk factors stemming from Covid-19.  Even during the tough times, UAE ranked first in the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses given per 100 people. Also, they have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, making it gender-neutral and promoting a healthy environment for all. UAE was also very prompt at imposing a pandemic that emerged last year. The oil-rich country even announced some curbs and plans to restrict public spaces to vaccinated people from August.

uae police 1

UAE ranks first regionally, ninth globally in economic competitiveness:

For the fifth consecutive year, the United Arab Emirates leads the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in the World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) 2021. This could be proved considering qualities, such as investment in innovation, digitalization, welfare benefits and leadership resulting in social cohesion have helped economies better weather the crisis, allowing them to rank higher in competitiveness.

Favourable for pension receivers:

As UAE has one of the highest youth ratios in the world, with 30 working-age individuals, they also have the best pension plans in the world. The Global Retirement Gap Index issued by the Swiss bank UBS Group revealed that the UAE is one of the best countries that do not require the use of personal savings to support and complete the individual pension. Since most of the people here start working from the young age of 20 years, thus, this qualifies them to continue to fund a good lifestyle in retirement years. The country also provides a pension which is nearly equivalent to income from work, depending on the duration of the contribution.

uae pension

Driving towards cashless economy:

UAE is likely to become the first cashless country in the Middle East, with 83 per cent of its population owning a debit card and four major e-wallet providers in operation. These cashless payments in the country allow for quick and easy transactions when international travel fully resumes, and the creation of digital paper trails could help to reduce tax fraud and money laundering.

uae cashless 1

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Jordan court hands 15-year terms to two former officials over alleged royal plot
Middle East & Africa

Jordan court hands 15-year terms to two former officials over alleged royal plot

A Jordanian court on Monday sentenced two former officials to 15 years in jail over a palace coup attempt that sparked a crisis in a kingdom seen as a regional oasis of stability. Bassem Awadallah, who is a former royal court chief and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, who is an ex-envoy to Saudi Arabia, had been convicted of conspiring to topple King Abdullah II in favour of his half-brother Prince Hamzah.

Awadallah holds Jordanian and American citizenships, and Hassan bin Zaid is a distant cousin of the king. Both men had pleaded not guilty, and an appeal is expected. But still, they were sentenced to 15 years in prison for undermining the country’s security and stability. The rift between King Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Hamzah became public in April when the government has said the king’s half-brother had plotted with others to undermine stability by fanning discontent in an effort to rise to power.

Although Prince Hamzah has denied wrongdoing and he wasn’t on trial as well. Talking about the protection, an official from the U.S. State Department official said that the embassy takes seriously allegations of abuse, but didn’t specifically address the claims about Awadallah. Also, the consular staff had visited Awadallah five times since his arrest. American interests in the Middle East rely on stability in Jordan, which borders Israel and the occupied West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. The kingdom collaborates on counterterrorism efforts with the U.S., which came out in strong support of the reigning monarch in April.

A political scientist, Sean Yom says, it is not good for any royal dynasty to see its ugly innards exposed. But the strategic takeaway is that with U.S. help, the Jordanians have been able to round up the troublemakers and set their house in order. Amidst the family rivalry, King Abdullah began a reform initiative charged with drafting new laws on elections and political parties. Though, the analysts are sceptical if it will produce any genuine change.

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Syrian President announces 50% salary hike for employees
Middle East & Africa

Syrian President announces 50% salary hike for employees

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday issued a decree announcing a 50 percent salary hike for thousands of civil servants and military members as the country is facing a major economic and financial crisis and inflation on essential goods.

Ahead of Assad’s decision, the Syrian government had increased the prices of bread and diesel fuel with the aim of tackling the ongoing financial crunch in the country. According to the state news agency SANA, Damascus almost doubled the prices for bread and tripled the fuel prices.

As per the decree issued by Assad’s office, the minimum monthly income has been increased to 71,515 Syrian pounds ($22) from 47,000 pounds. In a second decree, the Assad government announced a 40 percent increase in retirement pension to military and civilian pension holders.

The Syrian government had last announced a salary hike for federal officials in November 2019.

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Syrian crisis

According to media reports, the rise in fuel prices will facilitate a 26 percent surge in the prices of transportation within and across provinces. In addition, production costs in the agricultural and industrial sectors will also witness a significant rise.

Ten years of war have severely impacted the Syrian economy. According to the World Food Programme, more than 12 million Syrians (about 60 percent of the country’s population) are suffering from food insecurity, while nearly 80 percent of them are living in poverty.

A vast majority of Syrian families are struggling to fulfil their basic necessities including food and shelter due to reducing purchasing power. Several regions across Syria are witnessing shortages of basic goods such as fuel, medicines, bread and drinking water amid rising prices.

UN extends aid programme

Last week, the UN Security Council agreed on extending a cross-border aid operation to Syria from Turkey to ensure the continuity of UN aid access to millions of Syrians for the next 12 months. Furthermore, the United States and Russia entered a deal to ensure the continuous flow of humanitarian aid help to more than 3 million Syrians in need throughout the year.

“Millions of Syrians can breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that vital humanitarian aid will continue to flow into Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing after tomorrow,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Mission to the United Nations, said in a press release.

Morocco to kickstart domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines
Middle East & Africa

Morocco to kickstart domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines

In a major boost to Africa’s vaccination efforts, Morocco has partnered with China’s Sinopharm to produce COVID-19 vaccines in the country. The Arab nation is aiming to promote self-sufficiency in vaccine production as well as exporting to other countries across the continent during the pandemic.

Earlier this week, a ceremony took place at the Royal Palace of Fez under the presidency of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. The ceremony witnessed the signing of multiple deals between the Moroccan government, China’s Sinopharm and Moroccan pharmaceutical laboratory Sothema to produce vaccines in the country.

Reportedly, Sothema participated in phase III clinical trials of Sinopharm’s vaccine in Morocco.

According to a statement issued by the royal cabinet, the deal has been signed with the aim of “providing the kingdom with complete and integrated industrial and biotechnological capacities” to allow domestic manufacturing of vaccines in Morocco.

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“This project will allow us to produce the Covid vaccine, as well as other key vaccines, in our own country so that the kingdom can become self-sufficient and a leading biotechnology platform on the continent and in the world, within the fill and finish industry,” the statement said.

The ceremony was also attended by Moroccan prime minister Saaddedine El Othmani, royal adviser Fouad Ali El Himma, and foreign affairs minister Nasser Bourita among other leading officials of the kingdom.

With this development, Morocco will soon be producing about 5 million doses of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines every month, which will gradually increase over the period of time. The country is working on cutting the costs of transportation and logistics of the vaccines to reduce the overall costing.

The Moroccan government has also partnered with Sweden-based Recipharm to set up a plant in the country to domestically produce crucial vaccines. As per a deal signed by economic and finance minister Mohamed Benchaâboune, Recipharm CEO Marc Funk and representative of the consortium of Moroccan banks Othman Benjelloun, the overall investment of all projects is about $500 million.

With a population of 36 million, Morocco launched its nationwide vaccination campaign at the end of January. Since then, the kingdom has vaccinated over 10 million people against the COVID-19 disease. As of July 5, the country has administered more than 19.23 million doses of the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines to its people.

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia must share water sources, UN says
Middle East & Africa

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia must share water sources, UN says

Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind Egypt and Sudan in their bitter dispute with Ethiopia over a massive hydropower dam. It is  built by the Blue Nile via the Nile River’s main tributary. This dam has been the source of strategic long diplomatic standoff between Ethiopia and Egypt and Sudan. Though the project is critical to the development, but the governments in Cairo and Khartoum fear it could restrict their citizens’ water access. The draft calls on Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan “to resume negotiations at the joint invitation of the Chairperson of the African Union and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to finalise, within a period of six months, the text of a binding agreement on the filling and operation of dam.

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Ethiopia had previously announced it would proceed to the second stage of filling in July, with or without a deal. It argues that adding water to the reservoir, especially during the heavy rainfalls of July and August, is a natural part of the construction. However, UN called on the parties involved to recommit to talks, urging them to avoid any unilateral action.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres backs the role of the African Union in mediating between the countries. An official also mentioned that there has to be no unilateral action that would undermine any search for solutions. So, it’s important that people recommit themselves to engage in good faith in a genuine process. Ethiopia is of the opinion that building of this dam is essential for its economic growth, arguing that the vast majority of its population lacks electricity. The dam will generate more than 6,400 megawatts of electricity, a significant boost to the country’s current production of 4,000MW. Although Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, but Ethiopia insists on guidelines.

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