Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Monday, August 21, 2017

Will South Africa push back Israel’s charm offensive in Africa?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the ECOWAS summit in Liberia in June, part of a charm offensive in Africa. (via Facebook)

Ali Abunimah-18 August 2017

South Africa will boycott an Africa-Israel summit planned for the Togolese capital Lomé in October.
Pretoria’s ambassador in Beirut reportedly said that the summit was aimed at normalizing relations between African countries and what he termed an “occupation state.”

He also pledged support for efforts to urge other African states to do the same.

If South Africa follows through, it may indicate that it is ready to exert more diplomatic muscle to counter Israel’s influence.

Togo is inviting the governments of all 54 African states to the summit, but Palestinians, Morocco and South Africa are working to oppose it, Israeli sources told The Times of Israel.

In June, Morocco’s King Muhammad VI boycotted a summit in Liberia of the West African regional grouping ECOWAS because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited.

Netanyahu has described Togo’s willingness to host the upcoming summit as “the best testimony to the success of our policy, of Israel’s presence in Africa.”

Supporting Africa’s “most brutal regimes”

Israel has a long and sordid history of involvement on the continent. Once maintaining ties with several dozen countries, its relations with African states cooled significantly after the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars.

But Israel maintained extremely close ties with apartheid South Africa. Tel Aviv was the white supremacist regime’s main weapons supplier when Pretoria was under a tightening international embargo.

Israel now markets itself to African countries as a purveyor of development technologies such as drip-irrigation – assistance it withdrew from Senegal in revenge for that country’s December vote for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

But Israel has continued to fuel violence and atrocities in Africa by supplying arms used in conflicts in South Sudan and Burundi and sending weapons to Rwanda before the 1994 genocide – a role Israel has sought to cover up.

According to the New African magazine, most trade between Israel and Africa has been “in the defense and military sector, exporting Israeli arms, experts and techniques to some of Africa’s most brutal regimes.”

Summit host Togo is reportedly one country where Israel provides military training.

But now in addition to military exports, the New African reports, many Israeli firms are “looking to Africa as a business playground.”

Israel also sees better relations with African states as a way of reducing the huge majorities that usually vote to condemn its violations of international law at the UN.

Secret deal

Netanyahu’s charm offensive in Africa has included some memorable moments. In a barely coherent speech during the Israeli leader’s visit to Uganda last year, President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly referred to Israel as “Palestine” and the Star of David as the “Star of Joseph.”

Museveni also referred to the fact that early Zionists had considered Uganda, instead of Palestine, as a target for their colonization. “Fortunately, the Jewish leaders rejected that nonsense,” the president said. “Those Jewish leaders were very, very clever, otherwise we would be fighting you now.”

But instead of fighting, Museveni and Netanyahu have reportedly made secret deals in which Uganda takes in African refugees and migrants expelled by Israel in exchange for favorable terms on arms deals.

The cynicism of Israel’s wooing of African states is highlighted by the unchecked racism, incitement and abuses against African migrants and refugees, led by Netanyahu and senior members of his government.

South Africa stepping up?

While there’s no doubt that there is strong and broad popular support for the Palestinian cause in South Africa, there are indications that the country’s ruling African National Congress is getting more determined about giving this solidarity real effect through the country’s policies.

Official South African policy still supports a two-state solution.

Last month, the ANC’s policy conference adopted a resolution urging the government to sharply downgrade Pretoria’s diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.

And this month, the South African parliament rejected an audience with counterparts from Israel’s Knesset that had been proposed by the Israeli ambassador. The move by South African lawmakers has drawn strong supportfrom local grassroots groups and Palestinian parties.

Veteran South African freedom fighter and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils is also warning lawmakers that Israel lobby groups are trying to undermine their stance by inviting them to events with the Israeli officials under the umbrella of Jewish community organizations.

The ANC’s parliamentary caucus said the refusal to meet the Israeli delegation stems from “disquiet” about the Knesset’s recent law retrospectively “legalizing” settler grabs of Palestinian land.

It adds that: “The continuous killings of Palestinians by the Israeli security forces, administrative detentions, deportations and many other human rights violations also form part of the reasons why the ANC cannot allow itself to be co-opted into this charm offensive by Israel through this parliamentary visit.”

The question is how hard South Africa will push and how successful it will be in convincing other African states not to be co-opted either.
Palestinian cause not a Muslim-only problem, activists tell Malaysia

P1010155-940x580  The forum panelists. Photo by Lee Lian Kong.

By  | 
WHILE lauding Malaysia for its record of strong support for the Palestinian cause,  foreign activists are calling upon Malaysia to lose the ‘Muslim-only’ problem label on its advocacy efforts and re-frame it as one that affects humanity as a whole.

Speaking at a forum held in Kuala Lumpur last week, European Palestinian (EuroPal) Forum chairman, Zaher Birawi said Malaysia can do more in its aid to Palestine, from its geopolitical relations to how it puts forth the Palestinian narrative at home.

“We need to reach out to all sectors regardless of their religion,” Birawi told the “Advancing the Palestinian Cause: Advocacy and Activism in the Malaysian Context” forum.

Efforts at home, through civil society and its education system, tend to label the struggle for Palestinian independence from Israel’s illegal occupation as a problem limited to Muslims, according to Birawi.

Malaysia is a long-time Palestine ally and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Last year, it was one of the 4 countries in the United Nations’ Security Council to put forth a resolution demanding an end to “all settlement activities” in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, which was later adopted following a surprise abstention by the United States.

While Birawi lauds this, the British-Palestinian journalist said more can be done on the geopolitical front by Malaysia, especially through its diplomatic relations with other Muslim countries. For example, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be playing a more active role among the Organisation of Islamic Cooperations – a coalition of 56 countries in the Muslim world – to mobilise support for the Palestinian courts in international forums.

“Malaysia can do a lot more,” Birawi said, urging locals to lobby the Malaysian government on this.

Apart from reducing the cause to one based on religion only, another panelist, Muslim Imran who chairs the Palestinian Cultural Organization Malaysia (PCOM), argued that there are areas where Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGO) can improve its advocacy.

Muslim Imran called for a more cohesive approach from Malaysian NGOs. Photo by Lee Lian Kong

Imran called for these NGOs to cover all bases and reach as big an audience as possible..
“We don’t want 100 NGOs in one country that do the same function and role. No, we want them to complement each other,” Imran said.

While pro-Palestine support is commonplace in Malaysian society, its campaigns to show support have sometimes missed the mark, in terms of efficacy and accuracy.

In 2014, several Malaysian Muslim organisations held a month-long ban on buying products from companies which they deemed were in support of a Zionist regime, such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola, although many of them were later found to be unverified claims.

10 sailors missing after USS John S. McCain collides with oil tanker

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen damaged after a collision, off Johor, Malaysia, in this handout picture dated Mon., Aug. 21, 2017.
Last Updated Aug 21, 2017 2:35 AM EDT

The USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, was involved in a collision early Monday with a oil tanker east of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca resulting in damage to its port side aft (left rear), according to the U.S. Navy.
Search and rescue efforts are underway, U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet says. Officials say 10 sailors are missing and five are injured. They say that four of the injured were medically evacuated by a Republic of Singapore Navy Puma helicopter to a hospital in Singapore for non-life threatening injuries. The fifth injured sailor did not require further medical attention, according to officials.
The Singaporean Navy is sending assets to assist and the USS America is en route to help. The collision was reported at 6:24 a.m. local time, the U.S. Navy says.

uss john s. mccain damage
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen damaged after a collision in Singapore waters on Mon., August 21, 2017.

"In addition to tug boats out of Singapore, the Republic of Singapore Navy ship RSS Gallant, RSN helicopters and Police Coast Guard vessel Basking Shark are currently in the area to render assistance," the Navy's statement read.
USS John S. McCain is sailing under her own power and is heading to port, the Navy added.

map USS John S. McCain collision
A map shows the location where the Alnic MC vessel came to a halt after a collision with the USS John S. McCain on Mon., Aug. 21, 2017.

Senator John McCain sent the following message on Twitter in response: "Cindy & I are keeping America's sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight."

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Julian Cadman, seven, confirmed as among 13 killed in Barcelona attack

Family pays tribute to ‘energetic, funny and cheeky’ boy and thanks those who helped search for him after Thursday’s attack
 Julian Cadman. In the immediate aftermath of the attack it was unclear what had happened to him. Photograph: Supplied

-Sunday 20 August 2017 
The family of a seven-year-old boy missing since last week’s Barcelona terror attack confirmed on Sunday that he had died and paid tribute to the “energetic, funny and cheeky” schoolboy who always brought “a smile to our faces”.
Julian Cadman, who had dual British-Australian nationality, had been missing since the attack on Thursday. His family confirmed on Sunday that he was among the 13 people killed in Barcelona.
“Julian was a much loved and adored member of our family. As he was enjoying the sights of Barcelona with his mother, Julian was sadly taken from us,” they said in a statement issued through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia.
“He was so energetic, funny and cheeky, always bringing a smile to our faces. We are so blessed to have had him in our lives and will remember his smiles and hold his memory dear to our hearts.
“We would like to thank all those who helped us in searching for Julian. Your kindness was incredible during a difficult time.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack it was unclear what had happened to Julian. On Friday Theresa May, the UK prime minister, said the British government was “urgently looking into reports of a child believed missing, who is a British dual national”.
Reports emerged that he had been separated from his mother, who was badly injured. It is understood that she is in a serious condition in hospital. Family members shared pictures of Julian in an attempt to locate him, while his father and grandmother travelled to Spain from Australia.
The boy’s father, Andrew Cadman, landed on Saturday afternoon to comfort his seriously injured wife, Jumarie, known as Jom. It is understood she was in the area to attend a family wedding when she and her son were struck by the terrorist’s van which killed 13 people and left more than 100 injured.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary said: “I send my sincerest sympathies to the family of Julian Cadman and all those who loved him. His death is a tragedy. The FCO, our Australian colleagues and the Spanish authorities continue to do all we can to support his family at this deeply distressing time.”
Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian prime minister, had earlier described the family’s ordeal as tragic.
As well as confirming Julian’s death, Catalan police said they had confirmed the identities of a Belgian and Italian victim, but did not name them. At least 14 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, with those affected hailing from all over the world. 
Twelve of the 14 people killed in the two attacks have been named. DNA tests are being carried out on the remaining two bodies. Once the identities are confirmed, police will inform the courts, then the families and finally the public. Of the injured, 53 are still in hospital, 13 of them in a critical condition.
Citizens of 34 countries were caught up in the atrocities, including England, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Australia, Canada, the United States, France and China. 
Authorities have identified victims of the attack in Barcelona as British-Australian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Spanish-Argentine, Canadian, Belgian and American. The victim of the second assault in Cambrils has been identified as a Spanish woman.

Respected Wildlife Campaigner Shot Dead in Tanzania

Respected Wildlife Campaigner Shot Dead in Tanzania
Respected Wildlife Campaigner Shot Dead in Tanzania

By Julia Proctor,-Aug 20, 2017

The anti-poaching conservationist Wayne Lotter, aged just 51, was tragically murdered in events that took place on Wednesday in Dar as Salaam, Tanzania.

The activist was shot dead in a taxi travelling back from the airport to his hotel, which was apparently stopped by another vehicle. Two men are then believed to have emerged from the second vehicle, opening Wayne Lotter's taxi door before shooting him where he sat.
Wayne Lotter was a well loved and respected member of the conservationist community, dedicating his entire life to anti-poaching movements. Of his achievements, it can be said that co-founding and directing the PAMS Foundation, an organization that strives to protect elephants and giraffes, was by far one of his greatest. 
Further achievements of Lotter included raising funds for Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (TNTSCIU). In recent years this institute has played a significant part in the arrest of illegal poachers and traffickers all around Africa.
The most prominent case tackled by the TNTSCIU to date, remains the 2015 arrest of the 'Queen of Ivory', Yang Feng Glan. The Chinese woman in question was accused of managing and operating an ivory smuggling ring worth $2.6 million. Only through the adequate funding and resources, partly funded by Lotter, was this investigation and arrest made possible. 
In his many years of campaigning, Lotter received numerous death threats as result of his quest to preserve African wildlife. Fellow conservationists have declared that Lotter's death is an unfortunate representation of the dangers activist's face in everyday life. Lotter's death in particular demonstrates the dangers of speaking out against well armed and organised crime groups that control the poaching and trafficking industry.
A census that was published only last year revealed that the African elephant population decreased by an astonishing 30% from 2007 to 2014. Tanzania was called the epicentre of this disaster; a whopping 60% of the Tanzanian elephant population declared as perished.

These shocking figures were the motivations behind Wayne Lotter's strive to end illegal activity surrounding poaching and trafficking ivory. His remarkable work in this area will forever remain his legacy.
Over the past few days Lotter has been remembered fondly by his fellow peers.
Dr Jane Goodall, leading primatologist and close colleague, shared her thoughts on Wednesday's incident. She states that Lotter's work ''made a big difference in the fight to save Tanzania's elephants from the illegal ivory trade''. Later adding that Lotter was a ''hero to many'', who worked to no end in fighting corruption.
Azzedine Downes, CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has also expressed his grievances. He says; ''Wayne was one of Africa’s leading and most committed conservationists. He had over two decades worth of experience in wildlife management and conservation, and can be credited as the driving force behind ending the unscrupulous slaughter of Tanzania’s elephants''.
Lotter's brutal murder has resulted in him leaving behind his entire family; his own parents, wife, and two daughters surviving him. An investigation has been launched by the Tanzanian police into Lotter's death.
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German Car Companies Are Driving the Country Off a Cliff

"Made in Germany" used to mean reliability. Now it means collusion.
German Car Companies Are Driving the Country Off a Cliff
The proximate cause of Germany’s recently enhanced international clout has been the presidency of Donald Trump, but its ultimate foundation is the country’s economic strength — and, more specifically, the strength of German car companies. Germany’s unemployment rate has fallen from 7.4 percent to 3.8 percent since 2010, and its middle-class household incomes have seen marked increases in that period, in large part because Daimler, BMW, and Volkswagen, which also comprises the Audi and Porsche brands, have posted record results.

The country’s post-war identity has largely been defined by these auto manufacturers, which together symbolize the promise of excellence conveyed by the label “Made in Germany.” But the engineering and moral reliability of the German auto industry — and by extension the solidity of the entire German economy — is now being called into question. Both at home and abroad, consumers are now asking whether they can still trust German-made products. For Germany this amounts to an existential crisis.

When VW — the Federal Republic’s largest company, whose 2014 turnover of 200 billion euros equaled two-thirds of the federal budget — was revealed in September 2015 to have systematically manipulated the diesel emissions of 11.5 million of its cars, it unleashed a tsunami of anxiety. In the United States, VW has already paid a high price for its criminal dealings; court settlements and fines stand at over $21 billion. But the VW scandal has proven to be only the tip of an iceberg.

On July 22, a cover story in the investigative weekly magazine Der Spiegelclaimed that VW, BMW, Daimler, Audi, and Porsche had formed “one of the largest cartels of German industrial history.” Dating back to 2006, the “Big Five” had maintained more than 60 working groups that held over 1,000 meetings to exchange information, exert pressure on suppliers, and agree technical specifications for key components used in current and future models. They also seem to have been consistently collaborating on diesel emissions in ways that, according to Der Spiegel, suggest an intention to break existing environmental law.

In response to stricter limits on carbon dioxide due to concerns about climate change, German manufacturers pushed the development of a carbon dioxide-efficient diesel technology that happens to also produce increased levels of noxious nitrous oxides. The latter can be removed from exhaust fumes through the injection of a urea solution, so long as manufacturers are prepared to equip vehicles with sufficiently large urea tanks. But to save costs and space — and to appease sales departments, which vigorously opposed the installation of larger tanks that would have prevented the installation of powerful stereo speakers and precluded carrying golf equipment in the trunk — the Big Five agreed to fit many models with tanks that were too small to keep the exhaust within legal limits.

The Spiegel article was especially damaging because the auto industry’s cozy mutual accommodation stood in such contrast to its reputation for rigorously pursuing quality and competition — a reputation that not only helped sales, but helped shape post-war German national identity. Indeed, the Federal Republic’s national identity has been decisively shaped by the automobile.

It was in the immediate post-war period that Volkswagen, which had been founded by the Third Reich government to pursue a wholly unrealistic plan to mass-motorize Nazi Germany, turned from failed propaganda project into a leading firm. In the legendary Beetle, VW produced Germany’s equivalent to the Model T, which played the leading role in West Germany’s transformation into a car society. Beyond fulfilling the dream of individual car ownership, the Beetle became the widely revered icon of the Federal Republic’s much-vaunted “economic miracle”; its durability and robustness stood in pronounced contrast to the country’s instability in the first half of the 20th century and thus turned it into an ideal projection surface for hopes that the postwar order with its appealing affluence was here to stay. Quality, the Beetle suggested to postwar Germans, created stability and prosperity.

At the same time, the small car became an export success, helping revitalize the “made in Germany” label internationally and consolidating Germany’s reputation as a purveyor of quality products. Today, German car companies continue to leverage their reputation for quality and reliability to expand sales in new markets. In China, sales by Volkswagen group quadrupled from 1 million to 4 million between 2008 and 2016, allowing it to lay claim to the title of world’s largest auto manufacturer; meanwhile, sales by Daimler-Benz tripled from 160,000 to 488,000 between 2010 and 2016. After the difficulties of the immediate post-reunification years, the recent performance of the German car industry could be read as a sign that the country was resuming its march to prosperity through quality engineering.
But now Germans are learning that their leading industry may have always been focused on prosperity by any means necessary.
But now Germans are learning that their leading industry may have always been focused on prosperity by any means necessary.

It will be up to the courts and the European Union competition commissioner to assess the extent to which German car manufacturers breached the law during their decade-long collusion. Yet, behind this most recent scandal lurks a fundamental issue. In light of international trends toward stricter environmental regulations, it is surprising that so many German auto manufacturers put their faith almost exclusively in an old technology — diesel — to respond to the hybrids and electrical cars Japanese, American, and Chinese competitors regard as more promising. Of course, lacking access to the recorded minutes of strategic meetings we cannot know the ultimate reason for this preference.

But we do see in the German car sector the flip side of its reputation for reliability: a commitment to the tried-and-tested that appears to extend to a willingness to break the law. “What does all of this say about the state of nation?” asks a worried Der Spiegel. “A cartel that choses the wrong path and defends it prevents innovation and cannot win.” The very emblem of postwar stability — the German car — is beginning to lose cultural currency at home, as well as abroad. What this forebodes for the sector’s economic future is still unclear.

The Americans have Trump and the British have Brexit; and both threaten the political and economic order that favors Germany as an export nation. Meanwhile, Germany has dirty diesel. “Big parts of the motor industry have gambled away unbelievable trust,” Merkel said in the opening speech for her reelection campaign last weekend. Car companies, she demanded, have to clean up their act, and fast.
She was not merely worried about a disgruntled electorate and an eroding international customer base. If Merkel is to defend economic and political liberalism on the international stage, she cannot do so as the representative of a country whose most prominent industry is a synonym for self-serving dishonesty.

Photo credit: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

'Extremely dissatisfied' China blames India for border scuffle

Reuters Staff-AUGUST 21, 2017

BEIJING (Reuters) - China laid the blame at India's door on Monday for an altercation along their border in the western Himalayas involving soldiers from both of the Asian giants.

Both countries' troops have been embroiled in an eight-week-long standoff on the Doklam plateau in another part of the remote Himalayan region near their disputed frontier.

Last week, a source in New Delhi, who had been briefed on the military situation on the border, said soldiers foiled a bid by a group of Chinese troops to enter Indian territory in Ladakh, near Pangong lake.

Some of the Chinese soldiers carried iron rods and stones, and troops on both sides suffered minor injuries in the melee, the source said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that last Tuesday, Chinese border forces were carrying out "normal" patrols on the Chinese side of the actual line of control in the Pangong lake are.

"During this time they were obstructed by Indian border forces and the Indian side took fierce actions, colliding with the Chinese personnel and having contact with their bodies, injuring the Chinese border personnel," Hua told a daily news briefing.

What India did went against the two countries' consensus to keep the peace on the border and it endangered the situation there, she added.

"China is extremely dissatisfied with this" and had lodged solemn representations, Hua said.
India's Foreign Ministry has confirmed the incident in Ladakh took place but has not given any details.

Indian media have shown footage taken on a mobile phone purportedly of the scuffle, originally posted by a retired army officer, with stone throwing and shoving by soldiers of both countries.

The heighten tension on both ends of the border come ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of nations in the Chinese city of Xiamen in early September, with leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa due to attend.

China has repeatedly asked India to unilaterally withdraw from the Doklam area, or face the prospect of an escalation. Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than its crushing defeat in a brief border war in 1962.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Doug Busvine in NEW DELHI; Editing by Robert Birsel

Why does Emmanuel Macron’s presidential approval rating keep falling?

At home and abroad, the name Emmanuel Macron elicits vastly different reactions.
In many countries, the 39-year-old French president remains a symbol of youthful dynamism, a darling of social democrats shocked by Brexit and the ascent of Donald Trump. But in France, the man whose landslide victory in May marked the end of Europe’s populist surge is falling out of favor — and fast.

In view of the sky-high expectations for Macron, his initial slide in the polls was to be expected, political analysts say. After little more than three months in office, however, he faces a full-fledged nose-dive in public opinion. According to the latest YouGov poll, published at the beginning of August, just 36 percent of the French now approve of their president, roughly the same as the percentage of Americans who approve of President Trump. On May 7, 66 percent of French voters supported Macron.

That steep decline — especially given the relief that followed Macron’s trouncing of the far-right Marine Le Pen — has baffled political operatives and pollsters here. And although poll numbers fluctuate, the latest figures also have many wondering about the viability of the president’s newly established political party and his ambitious economic proposals.

In an interview, Antoni Minniti, a research director at YouGov France, attributed the unusual drop-off to a “convergence of elements” after Macron’s first 100 days in office. Among the frequently cited factors his team noticed, he said, were reactions to the president’s perceived lack of respect for the French military and the relative inexperience and lack of discipline shown by his party’s parliamentary deputies.

French military chief Gen. Pierre de Villiers said, July 19, in light of defense budget cuts, he is "no longer able to guarantee the robust defense force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people." (Reuters)

Others say the decline can be explained in part by France’s system of government, in which the president enjoys far broader powers than many of his Western peers — including the power to dissolve Parliament. As a result, he receives all the credit or all the blame whenever either is due.

“It’s a pitfall of the presidential system,” said Sudhir Hazareesingh, an expert on French politics at the University of Oxford. Hazareesingh also noted the damage done by lawmakers in Macron’s party, whom he described as “a complete set of novices.”

“They haven’t got used to parliamentary procedure,” he said, “and the group really isn’t as cohesive as might be hoped.”

Established last year, the party — République En Marche, or Republic on the Move — is a new force in French politics. While Macron made headlines for creating a diverse coalition of deputies — with as many women as men, and from a wide range of professional backgrounds — the brief summer session before Parliament’s August recess was marked by infighting and a degree of administrative chaos.

For many, though, it’s Macron’s personality that has done the most to alienate ordinary citizens.
In three months in power, the new head of state has been reluctant to grant interviews, preferring to deliver lengthy orations in the halls of Versailles, France’s historic seat of absolute monarchy, and such regal optics have not played well with the media or the public. Macron is more unpopular at the three-month point of his first term than any of his immediate predecessors — François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac — were at the same point, according to Ifop, the Paris-based polling firm.
Of late, any attempt by Macron to act as the “Jupiter of the Elysee,” as he has been dubbed, has run into fierce opposition. A vague proposal to make his wife, Brigitte, an “official” first lady — a title that would have come with a separate taxpayer-funded budget — was abandoned after an online petition garnered more than 300,000 signatures. Brigitte Macron told Elle Magazine in her first public interview that she would serve only in an informal capacity.

Macron’s treatment of the military has also helped cement his emerging image as an aloof, kinglike figure.

After his inauguration, the new president quickly set his sights on military expenditures, a not-unexpected move given his promises to slash government spending as a way to keep France in line with European Union budgetary guidelines. Although he pledged to increase military spending by next year, he plans to go ahead with previously announced cuts of almost $1 billion to the 2017 defense budget.

That amount represents a small fraction of the French military’s total annual budget of $37 billion. But against the backdrop of France’s efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad, Macron’s decision was seen by military officials as a betrayal. In mid-July, the country’s top-ranking general, Pierre de Villiers, resigned in protest.

“The French army is in a very difficult state because of the budget cuts that have characterized the last 25 years,” said Vincent Desportes, a retired French general, in an interview. “Fundamentally, we need support. Macron said he would provide that support, but the first thing he did was to walk back on his word.”

Separately from the budget arguments, conservatives and other supporters of the military objected to what they saw as the undiplomatic way Macron conveyed and defended his decisions to the armed forces. The young president — who has never served in the military — dismissed the protests of his troops, telling them in a widely discussed public speech last month, “I am your boss” and insisting that he needed “no pressure and no commentary.”

The speech was poorly received by military families, Desportes said, adding, “He knows nothing.”
Hazareesingh, though, sees Macron’s lack of transparency as perhaps his biggest public relations problem.

“He’s adopted a very clear strategy of not talking to the press,” he said, noting that Macron has so far preferred to appear in the spotlight only alongside other world leaders or pop stars.

That can’t last, Hazareesingh said. “He’s concentrated on foreign policy and Europe — he wanted to establish his authority, and it’s worked. But if you keep doing that for too long, people will start to think you’re only interested in the glamorous things and not in the everyday problems people have.”

The politics of Hajj quotas: 'What would Allah say to this?'

Critics argue that the Saudi authorities need to make their Hajj quota system more transparent to ensure it is fairer

The Clock Tower and Grand Mosque in Mecca in September 2016 (AFP)-How do Saudi authorities decide who can attend Hajj each year? (AFP)
How do Saudi authorities decide who can attend Hajj each year? (AFP)
A Bangladeshi family at dawn at the plain of Arafat, outside Mecca, in 2000 (AFP)-The stampede at Mina in 2015 left more than 2,000 pilgrims dead (AFP)

Areeb Ullah's pictureAreeb Ullah-Sunday 20 August 2017

Ismail Mahmud left his home in Minya, Egypt and headed for a neighbourhood cafe to write his will. He was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness two years ago and knew his time in this world was short. He had one final wish: to complete the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, but obtaining a visa to do so has come at a high price.
I put myself down for a visa to work at the Hajj as a cleaner just so I can get into the country. It was the only way
- Ismail Mahmud, pilgrim
"My sons were not happy when I sold these fields, but we had no choice," said Mahmud, a 59-year-old primary school teacher. "The economic conditions in Egypt have become very difficult and they refused to give me a visa, even with a note from my doctor. It was the only way to pay for my dream to do the Hajj."

Mahmud refused to wait and see whether his name would be picked out of a government-run lottery, entitling him to attend. Instead, he went one step further.

"Everyone said getting picked by the government was impossible unless you paid high officials, but I just couldn't afford it," he said. "So I put myself down for a visa to work at the Hajj as a cleaner just so I can get into the country. It was the only way."

The problem with Hajj quotas

Like thousands of Egyptians, Mahmud has waited years to go to the Hajj. His situation is not uncommon, with millions of Muslims worldwide turning to private travel agents or other means via the black market.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and one which all Muslims are obligated to complete at least once, meaning that visas are hotly contested.

Those who undertake the five-day pilgrimage are absolved of all their past sins, meaning many look to attend during their old age.

How do Saudi authorities decide who can attend Hajj each year? (AFP)How do Saudi authorities decide who can attend Hajj each year? (AFP)

Saudi Arabia sets the quotas, based on the population of Muslims in each country, which in turn - through governments or private travel companies - allocate places for their citizens.

The long wait times, which can be up to 10 years or longer in some countries, lengthened after Riyadh cut the overall quota of visas by 20 percent in 2009 to accommodate expansion work in the grand mosques in Mecca and Medina. It has now reversed the decision, so an additional million pilgrims can now attend the pilgrimage, which this year begins on 30 August.

The rise in numbers comes after the Gulf kingdom suffered a decline in oil prices as well as the lowest number of pilgrims in a decade in 2016. It will boost the economies in Mecca and Medina.
The lottery of obtaining a visa

The governments in most Muslim-majority countries allocate the largest chunk of their places via a random lottery and give the rest to private travel agents. In the UK and elsewhere, tickets are sold via private travel agents on a first-come, first served basis, depending on eligibility.

The biggest problems come in countries such as Indonesia, which is usually awarded the largest number of visas - it  has a Muslim population of 260 million.

Indonesia is given the highest quota of Hajj visas by the Saudis (AFP)

Like many countries with inflated waiting times, it celebrated the addition of an extra 10,000 places on top of the 220,000 already allocated by praising the Saudi authorities.

Indonesia uses a lottery system to allocate the majority of its places: each applicant pays $2,000 to be considered - the average monthly wage is around $1,200 - and is then put on a waiting list. Even so, locals still face a wait of up to 39 years, meaning some pilgrims die before they win a place.

Other countries take tough measures to be fair and reduce waiting times. Jordan only has 7,000 places to fill this year. Its rules include automatically accepting prospective pilgrims who were born in 1945 or before and demanding that potential pilgrims swear on the Quran that they have never previously attended the Hajj.

The year-of-birth rule is adjusted annually to give elderly applicants a better chance of winning a place, meaning that next year those born on or before 1946 will be eligible to attend. Exceptions are granted to male guardians, such as a son or husband, who are accompanying a female pilgrim.

Bouthaina Naser, 40, a housewife from the north of Jordan, has tried numerous times to obtain a visa, without success. She began thinking about the Hajj after being diagnosed with cancer five years ago and every year since has applied for a visa.

Frustrated at the Jordanian restrictions, she was forced to turn to the black market to achieve her "dream of doing the Hajj".

"I tried three times to buy Hajj visas from the black market and through people who knew someone selling them from the Saudi embassy," she told MEE. "The Jordanians should allow people to attend if they have the financial ability to go and assess it on a case-by-case basis."

Claims of corruption

Critics accuse the Saudi authorities of politicising the Hajj and helping create a global black economy in visas, with the allocation process in some countries being described as rife with corruption and unfair to poorer pilgrims.

Pakistan, which receives the third-highest quota, was recently rocked by a corruption scandal after prospective pilgrims accused officials of giving a portion to private companies in exchange for bribes.
A Bangladeshi family at dawn at the plain of Arafat, outside Mecca, in 2000 (AFP)

In Bangladesh, the high court has demanded an investigation into how the government managed this year's allocation after some travel agents delayed submitting visa applications in the hope of receiving cheaper rates on accommodation in Mecca and Medina. It has left some Bangladeshis who won on the lottery still uncertain as to whether they will be attending.

Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi academic based at the London School of Economics, told Middle East Eye that the al-Saud clan had created a "black economy around the world which is centred on the Hajj".

"The lack of transparency in Saudi Arabia, especially with the quota system, has helped create a black market and trade in visas," she said.

"There is a black market in visas where Saudi embassy employees from around the world sell visas illegally and give them to their friends. They have a certain interest in getting certain people in and excluding others or putting them on a waiting list for the rest of their lives."

Hajj: An arena for political fighting

Riyadh justifies the quota it sets as a means to ensure the safety of all pilgrims. The Hajj has been hit by numerous incidents over the years, which have resulted in the deaths of pilgrims, usually through overcrowding.

The most recent incident, a stampede in 2015, left at least 2,000 people dead, although the final death toll has been disputed.

Some observers have characterised the quota system as a means for Riyadh to influence Muslims around the world. Rasheed said that the Saudis have historically used the Hajj "as a political tool" after it took control of the two holy sites in the early 1920s.

The stampede at Mina in 2015 left more than 2,000 pilgrims dead (AFP)

"Access to the Hajj and performing the ritual is dependent on the will of the Saudi regime," she said. "The main reason is so it is able to control Muslim countries because the Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, and every Muslim is under the obligation to do it if they can.

"If a Muslim is anti-Saudi or voices criticism of Saudi then they are banned from coming. We saw this happen with Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda [a political party] in Tunisia, when he tried to do the Umrah [attend Mecca outside Hajj] from London, the Iranians last year, and the Qataris this year."

Iranian pilgrims were told by their government not to attend the Hajj in 2016, the first time it has done so, after pre-existing tensions worsened between Tehran and Riyadh. Diplomatic relations hit an all-time low after more than 450 Iranian pilgrims were killed during the 2015 disaster.

Mehdi Beyad, a PhD candidate at SOAS in London who focuses on the geopolitics of Iran, told MEE that Tehran had politicised this incident and had historically used the Hajj as a "marker for broader political conflicts".
Just as you cannot divorce Saudi politics from its approach towards Hajj, the same goes for Iran
- Mehdi Beyad, academic
"Just as you cannot divorce Saudi politics from its approach towards Hajj, the same goes for Iran, for instance with the 1987 incident where Shia pilgrims were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces," said Beyad.

At least 400 people were killed by Saudi riot police after Iranian pilgrims chanted "Death to America! Death to the Soviet Union! Death to Israel!" next to the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Beyad said: "This incident is seen as a rallying cry for Iranians and Shias more widely, and the competing narratives over it illustrate the broader way in which Hajj has become an arena where states battle for legitimacy and try to connect their identities to it.

"Beyond stated security concerns, by appearing to take a stand over Hajj different states can project themselves as protectors of their professed communities, call into question the capabilities and legitimacy of others, and use Hajj as a marker for broader political conflicts."

For Mahmud, the politics behind the award of a visa has left him frustrated and resentful.

"Each year the Hajj keeps getting more expensive, and I don't know how long I will have," he said.

"These restrictions are making hard-working people like me and others lie to complete my God-given right to visit the Masjid al-Haram and the Prophet's mosque.

"What would Allah say to this?"

Escape from Aleppo

Wheels had to be cut off the cages to fit them into a commercial aircraft. Finding the right tool to do this in the middle of the night in Istanbul was another challenge.

by Eric S. Margolis writes from Amman, Jordan-
( August 20, 2017, Amman, Sri Lanka Guardian ) I haven’t seen many miracles in my decades of travel around the globe, particularly not in the strife-torn Mideast.
But last week I participated in a real miracle in Jordan as the splendid Four Paws International group staged a daring rescue of 13 wild animals trapped in the wartime hellhole of Aleppo, Syria. It appeared to be a mission impossible.
Syria has been torn apart for the past six years by a bloody civil war that has killed over 400,000 people and reduced many parts of this beautiful country to ruins. Half the population has become refugees. The ancient northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, was laid waste.
Just outside Aleppo lies a wrecked 40-acre amusement park cum zoo that once held hundreds of imprisoned wild animals to entertain children. The animals were abandoned in their cages in the midst of constant gunfire and shelling. Many were killed; the rest were left to starve to death or die of thirst. Some starving Syrians shared their meager rations with the animals.
No one else cared about these abandoned creatures that included five lions, two tigers, two Asian black bears, two hyenas and two Husky dogs.
But the Vienna-based Four Paws Charity did, and so did I. Four Paws had rescued a majestic lion named Simba and a charming honey-colored bear named Lula from Iraq’s abandoned Mosul zoo. Both had been starving. I agreed to sponsor much of the rescue operation in Aleppo.
I spent a morning in the New Hope Refuge outside Amman, Jordan, presided over by Jordan’s Princess Alia, the king’s sister. Over lunch, she showed remarkable compassion and understanding for wild animals.
Previously, Four Paws, led by its veterinarian, Dr. Amir Khalil, had rescued numerous starving or sick animals from the ghastly zoo in Gaza, Palestine.
Last week, a security team engaged by Four Paws International finally entered war-ravaged Aleppo which is besieged by feuding jihadist bands supported by competing outside powers that include al-Qaida and even Israel. Throw in Kurds, Turks, the Syrian government, Iranians, Hezbollah and the US for a total madhouse – and a very dangerous one.
Risking their lives, the security team managed to get around the jihadists and then into the Aleppo zoo. Over two trips, the thirteen remaining animals were coaxed into cages, then lifted onto flatbed trucks. Then the convoy headed for the Turkish border. This was the second attempt. A previous one had been held at the border, then forced to turn back.
The daring rescue team had to negotiate with the bands of trigger-happy jihadists surrounding them. A team of well-armed ‘security consultants’ came in to guard the convoy escaping from Aleppo. There was talk that the Israeli army might come to aid the animals, or a Turkish-backed militia. In any event, the little mercy convoy finally got to the Turkish border under the cover of darkness.
But the gate leading into Turkey was locked. Four Paws, with the help of Turkish volunteers, managed to talk the guards into opening it – yet another small miracle.
The animals were then driven for over 24 hours to an animal sanctuary near Bursa, south of Istanbul. There, one of the tigers, an imposing male that I named Sultan, went into cardiac arrest. Another wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Frank Goeritz, got into his cage and managed to bring him back to life, warning his aides ‘leave the gate open in case he wakes up.’ Sultan was saved.
Wheels had to be cut off the cages to fit them into a commercial aircraft. Finding the right tool to do this in the middle of the night in Istanbul was another challenge.
After long delays, the mercy flight finally got to Amman where we met them at 5:30 am. Four Paws director Heli Dungler was waiting with us. Thanks to the patronage of Princess Alia we got the animals through border controls and then onto flat-bed trucks for a two hour journey north to the al-Ma’wa animal refuge near the ancient Roman city of Jerash. Drivers on the road could not believe their eyes as our convoy of big predators rolled by.
After a labor of Hercules, the heavy cages were unloaded from the trucks and the 13 new residents were gently introduced into their new enclosures. The animals were of course confused, exhausted and testy, but we were thrilled that our wards were finally safe in their new homes.
We humans were also exhausted, but elated. I had slept no more than a few hours for days and was groggy from jet lag and fatigue. But Four Paws had achieved the impossible and shone a beacon of humanity into the boiling darkness of Syria’s civil war.
As a final sign of good karma, lioness Dana gave birth to a feisty little girl who begins her life in a far better place.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017