Recent history (19th-21st Century)
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What a royal funeral in the UAE says about the nation's future direction

Post by kmaherali »

An honor guard carries the body of UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan during his burial ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)In a smooth transition of power over the weekend, the United Arab Emirates' Supreme Council of rulers selected the nation's third president.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known as MBZ, took the reins on Saturday after his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa passed away a day earlier. The former crown prince of Abu Dhabi had been running the day-to-day affairs of the country during his brother's prolonged illness.

Sheikh Mohammed takes leadership of an evolving country. That evolution has been gradual and smooth, and was also spelled out by the government in recent policy positions.

Late last year, as part of the 50th anniversary of its founding, the UAE announced its direction for the next half-century. Foreign policy, it said, would be guided primarily by its economic interests and good neighborliness. It subsequently identified the countries that it sees as its future economic partners, singling out Israel, Turkey, India, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Indonesia, Kenya and Ethiopia as partners for trade and investment.

What could however shed more light on the nation's future direction and partnerships is the list of delegates that flew in to offer condolences.

Here's a list of noteworthy attendees, and why they matter:

United States
The US counts the UAE as one of its main allies in the Middle East, and has sought to mend fences with it amid tension stemming from what the UAE sees as the Biden administration's lackluster response to threats the UAE faces. The administration was represented by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Iran sent its foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the highest-level visit by a high-ranking Iranian official to the country in years. Relations between the two countries have been tense of late, but the UAE has reached out to the Islamic Republic and has sought to distance itself from the notion that it and Tehran are enemies.

Israel, represented by President Isaac Herzog, is the only state on the UAE's list that hasn't been a traditional trade partner. That's because relations were only normalized in 2020. But the UAE has been keen on catching up with the years of lost opportunity, signing a number of economic pacts with the country since normalization. The two nations signed a free trade agreement last month, and the UAE plans to invest $10 billion in Israel.
What one meeting in Israel says about a changing world order

The nation of over one billion has been singled out among the main economic partners of the UAE for the next fifty years. The two countries signed a major trade agreement this year, aiming to raise bilateral exchange to $100 billion in five years as the first trade agreement the South Asian economic power signed with a major trade partner in over a decade, according to local media reports. India was represented by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.

Ankara and Abu Dhabi only recently turned the page on a decade-long rift over diverging positions on the region's politics. In November, the UAE launched a $10 billion fund to support investments in Turkey as leaders of the two nations exchanged visits. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE on Tuesday.

Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani offered condolences in his first visit to the UAE since a Saudi-led boycott of the country began in 2017. The boycott, of which the UAE was part, ended early last year.

United Kingdom
The UK is a traditional trade partner of the UAE, but one the Gulf nation seeks to significantly expand ties with. Last year, it announced a £10 billion ($13.8 billion) investment partnership with the UK, and said it could invest a further $1.4 billion. The UK was represented by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. ... index.html
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Israeli Government Loses Parliament Majority, Raising Prospect of Election

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Increasing tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians have put pressure on the government, leading to the possibility of a fifth election in three years.

CAIRO — A second lawmaker quit Israel’s governing coalition on Thursday, giving the opposition a narrow two-seat majority in Parliament and raising the possibility of a fifth election in three years.

Although the move will not necessarily bring down the current government, a fractious coalition of parties with clashing agendas, the loss of its majority underscores its instability and the risk that any divisive issue could topple it.

The government has come under intense pressure with the recent escalation of tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians — including clashes at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, terrorist attacks in Israel and a heavy military response in the occupied West Bank.

The lawmaker who resigned from the coalition on Thursday, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, a member of Israel’s Palestinian minority from the left-wing Meretz party, said she disagreed with the government’s treatment of the Arab community in Israel, specifically citing recent police interventions at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the police assault on mourners at the funeral of a Palestinian journalist last week.

Last month, a right-wing member of the coalition quit. That lawmaker, Idit Silman, said the government no longer reflected her right-wing and religious values.

The government coalition, the most diverse in Israel’s history, coalesced a year ago over one issue: a shared desire to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to break a political deadlock that had forced Israel into four elections in a row.

But the ideological incompatibility of the coalition’s eight constituent parties — an alliance of right-wing, left-wing, secular, religious and Arab groups — left it fragile from the start.

The defections could offer a political lifeline to Mr. Netanyahu, who now leads the opposition in Parliament.

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Cloud Wars: Mideast Rivalries Rise Along a New Front

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As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, the U.A.E. is leading the effort to squeeze more rain out of the clouds, and other countries are rushing to keep up.

Artificial lakes like this one in Dubai are helping fuel an insatiable demand for water in the United Arab Emirates.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iranian officials have worried for years that other nations have been depriving them of one of their vital water sources. But it was not an upstream dam that they were worrying about, or an aquifer being bled dry.

In 2018, amid a searing drought and rising temperatures, some senior officials concluded that someone was stealing their water from the clouds.

“Both Israel and another country are working to make Iranian clouds not rain,” Brig. Gen. Gholam Reza Jalali, a senior official in the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, said in a 2018 speech.

The unnamed country was the United Arab Emirates, which had begun an ambitious cloud-seeding program, injecting chemicals into clouds to try to force precipitation. Iran’s suspicions are not surprising, given its tense relations with most Persian Gulf nations, but the real purpose of these efforts is not to steal water, but simply to make it rain on parched lands.

As the Middle East and North Africa dry up, countries in the region have embarked on a race to develop the chemicals and techniques that they hope will enable them to squeeze rain drops out of clouds that would otherwise float fruitlessly overhead.

With 12 of the 19 regional countries averaging less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, a decline of 20 percent over the past 30 years, their governments are desperate for any increment of fresh water, and cloud seeding is seen by many as a quick way to tackle the problem.

The tawny mountain range that rises above Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates is where summer updrafts often create clouds that make excellent candidates for seeding.

A ground crew for the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology equipping an aircraft with the hygroscopic flares that release seeding material into the clouds.

And as wealthy countries like the emirates pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, other nations are joining the race, trying to ensure that they do not miss out on their fair share of rainfall before others drain the heavens dry — despite serious questions about whether the technique generates enough rainfall to be worth the effort and expense.

Morocco and Ethiopia have cloud-seeding programs, as does Iran. Saudi Arabia just started a large-scale program, and a half-dozen other Middle Eastern and North African countries are considering it.

China has the most ambitious program worldwide, with the aim of either stimulating rain or halting hail across half the country. It is trying to force clouds to rain over the Yangtze River, which is running dry in some spots.

While cloud seeding has been around for 75 years, experts say the science has yet to be proven. And they are especially dismissive of worries about one country draining clouds dry at the expense of others downwind.

The life span of a cloud, in particular the type of cumulus clouds most likely to produce rain, is rarely more than a couple of hours, atmospheric scientists say. Occasionally, clouds can last longer, but rarely long enough to reach another country, even in the Persian Gulf, where seven countries are jammed close together.

The “Surreal” water attraction at the Dubai Expo 2020 featuring a 360-degree, 14-meter-high wall of cascading water.

Dubai’s Miracle Garden claims to be the largest in the world, with more than 150 million water-sipping flowers.

But several Middle Eastern countries have brushed aside the experts’ doubts and are pushing ahead with plans to wring any moisture they can from otherwise stingy clouds.

Today, the unquestioned regional leader is the United Arab Emirates. As early as the 1990s, the country’s ruling family recognized that maintaining a plentiful supply of water would be as important as the nation’s huge oil and gas reserves in sustaining its status as the financial and business capital of the Persian Gulf.

While there had been enough water to sustain the tiny country’s population in 1960, when there were fewer than 100,000 people, by 2020 the population had ballooned to nearly 10 million. And the demand for water soared, as well. United Arab Emirates residents now use roughly 147 gallons per person a day, compared with the world average of 47 gallons, according to a 2021 research paper funded by the emirates.

Currently, that demand is being met by desalination plants. Each facility, however, costs $1 billion or more to build and requires prodigious amounts of energy to run, especially when compared with cloud seeding, said Abdulla Al Mandous, the director of the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology in the emirates and the leader of its cloud-seeding program.

After 20 years of research and experimentation, the center runs its cloud-seeding program with near military protocols. Nine pilots rotate on standby, ready to bolt into the sky as soon as meteorologists focusing on the country’s mountainous regions spot a promising weather formation — ideally, the types of clouds that can build to heights of as much as 40,000 feet.

The desert outside Dhaid, United Arab Emirates. Desertification is a growing problem in the Middle East, which is trending ever hotter and drier.

A staff member at the Emirates’ National Center of Meteorology and Seismology monitoring current and historical radar data on cloud movements in the region.

They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.

“We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.

And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.

Pilots with the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology are on 24-hour alert to bolt into the sky should a cloud ripe for seeding appear.

Releasing experimental nanomaterial in a cloud-seeding demonstration in the Emirates. The technology has never been proved to work, though proponents say new techniques are reaping better results.

That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.

“The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.

Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.

A roadside produce vendor selling mostly imported fruits and vegetables along the side of a road in the Emirates, where water-intensive crops are not widely grown.

There had been enough water to sustain the U.A.E.’s population in 1960, when there were fewer than 100,000 people. By 2020, the population had ballooned to nearly 10 million, and the demand for water soared.

Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.

While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.

Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.

“You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.

The Netherlands’ exhibition on sustainable water vapor harvesting and agriculture at the Dubai Expo 2020.

Even as officials in the emirates scramble to seed clouds to make rain, water is used freely at events like Brazil’s pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020.

“It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.

Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.

Hygroscopic flares burning during a demonstration on Hatta Mountain.

Salah Hamadi, 63, at his small farm in the deserts of Sharjah. Mr. Hamadi helps to monitor a weather station there for the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology.

Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.

In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.

And where would those extra clouds come from?

“Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”

Emirates officials are not relying entirely on cloud seeding for future water supplies. They are hoping that the Raffish Dam’s reservoir, in addition to providing recreational activities, will help recharge ground water stores. ... 778d3e6de3
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Protests Intensify in Iran Over Woman Who Died in Custody

Post by kmaherali »

Unrest has spread to dozens of cities, with at least seven people killed, according to witnesses, rights groups and video posted on social media.

Protesters in Tehran on Thursday. Unrest erupted last weekend after Mahsa Amini died in police custody following an arrest under the law on head scarves.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Antigovernment protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody are intensifying, and dozens of cities are embroiled in unrest that has been met with a crackdown by the authorities, according to witnesses, videos posted on social media and human rights groups.

The protests appear to be one of the largest displays of defiance of the Islamic Republic’s rule in years and come as President Ebrahim Raisi is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. They erupted last weekend after the woman, Mahsa Amini, died following her arrest by Tehran’s morality police on an accusation of violating the law on head scarves.

At least seven protesters had been killed as of Wednesday, according to human rights groups. Protesters have been calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, chanting things like “Mullahs get lost,” “We don’t want an Islamic republic,” and “Death to the supreme leader.” Women have also burned hijabs in protest against the law, which requires all women above the age of puberty to wear a head covering and loose clothing.

A picture of Mahsa Amini provided to Iran Wire by her family. The authorities have said she died of heart failure; her family say she had been in good health.
Credit...Iran Wire

Mr. Raisi’s government has unleashed a massive deployment of security forces, including riot police officers and the plainclothes Basij militia, to crack down on the protesters. Internet and cell service has been disrupted in neighborhoods where there were protests. Access to Instagram, which has been widely used by the protesters, was also restricted on Wednesday.

“For security reasons, the relevant authorities may impose certain restrictions on internet speed,” Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, Issa Zarepour, said in a statement.

The videos posted online and the scale of the response from the authorities are difficult to independently verify, but video and photographs sent by witnesses known to The New York Times were broadly in line with the images being posted widely online, showing protesters, many of them women, facing off against the police, and fires on the streets of Tehran.

The police shoved protesters to the ground, beating them with batons and firing shots and tear gas in their direction, according to witnesses and some of those videos.

Ms. Amini’s death has garnered international attention and turned her into a symbol of Iran’s restrictive and violent treatment of women and its repressive policing of the opposition.

The Iranian authorities say that Ms. Amini died from a heart attack, and have denied accusations that she suffered blows to the head while being taken to a detention facility. Her family, which has not responded to requests for comment from The New York Times, has told news outlets that she was healthy at the time of the arrest.

The protests that have swept the country are one of the most daring displays of defiance of the government’s religious and social restrictions in years, according to analysts and rights experts.

“The anger on the streets is palpable,” said Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director at the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based nonprofit organization, adding that the protests were a “culmination of the past five years where all facets of society — laborers, teachers, retirees, university students and average people everywhere — have been trying to call for an end to the crisis of impunity in Iran despite violent state repression.”

The demonstrations have largely been spontaneous and leaderless, she said, and had probably been inflamed by the photos and videos circulating across social media showing extraordinary scenes across the country, including women risking arrest by symbolically removing and burning their hijabs in public. Many have rallied on social media with hashtags in Persian referring to the death of Ms. Amini.

A police motorcycle burned during a protest in Tehran on Monday, in a photo from the state media.Credit...West Asia News Agency, via Reuters

In the city of Kerman, in the southeast, one video showed a woman cutting her hair while sitting on a utility box in front of a roaring crowd. In the south, in the city of Shiraz, another showed an older woman shouting at a security officer, “If you think you are a man, come and kill me.” And one showed university students gathering on campuses in Tehran chanting “Killings after killings, to hell with morality police!”

“These are all acts that are punishable by law,” Ms. Ramsey said in a phone interview, referring to the videos. “They’re showing a serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in their chants and the amount of people that are in the streets,” she added.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Tehran late Tuesday, setting fire to tires, and shouting “Death to the dictator,” and “Life, liberty and women,” according to a witness.

Tehran’s governor, Mohsen Mansouri, said on Wednesday that foreign agents had hijacked the demonstrations and were fueling violence in the streets.

Witnesses said it was clear that the protests were getting broad support from people with a long litany of grievances after struggling under oppressive rules and economic hardship.

Some Iranian protesters lashed back at security forces, chasing them down the street with rocks. In Isfahan and Tehran, protesters set fire to police cars and motorcycles and in Kerman they encircled a police officer and beat and kicked him to the ground, videos showed.

At least seven people have been killed in cities in Kurdistan, Ms. Amini’s home province in the northwest of the country, according to Hengaw, a human rights group, which posted names and photos of victims online.

They were killed by “direct fire by Iranian security forces,” the group said in a statement posted to its website. At least 450 people had been injured and at least 500 were arrested in protests in cities across the Kurdish province, the group said.

The Iranian media reported that Mr. Raisi, who was scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, told Ms. Amini’s family on Sunday that he had ordered an investigation into her death.

“Your daughter is like my own daughter, and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones,” he said.

The protests were not addressed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who gave a speech at an event on Wednesday commemorating veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. In an effort to curb the backlash, a representative of the supreme leader visited Ms. Amini’s family home, according to the state media.

“All institutions will take action to defend the rights that were violated,” the adviser, Abdolreza Pourzahabi, said in the state media. “As I promised to the family of Ms. Amini, I will also follow up the issue of her death until the final result.”

Iranian law requires all women above the age of puberty to wear a head covering and loose clothing.Credit...Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Tuesday, the United Nations acting high commissioner for human rights, Nada Al-Nashif, condemned the “violent response” of the security forces to the protests and called for an independent investigation.

“The authorities must stop targeting, harassing, and detaining women who do not abide by the hijab rules,” Ms. Al-Nashif said in a statement.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, who met Mr. Raisi on Tuesday, told BBC’s Persian news service that the “the credibility of Iran is now at stake regarding the fact that they have to address this issue.”

The unrest comes at a challenging moment for Ayatollah Khamenei, who recently canceled all meetings and public appearances because of illness, according to four people familiar with his health condition.

Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East program at Chatham House, a British research institute, said there was little hope that the protests would bring real change on such a foundational issue as long as the supreme leader, who is 83, was still alive.

“At the end of his life, he’s looking to preserve his legacy and keep the system intact,” she said. “His worldview, shared by those around him, is predicated on the idea that compromise opens the door to further compromise and demonstrates weakness rather than strength.”

Ms. Vakil said to expect a “coordinated coercive response” from the authorities in the coming days or weeks, one likely to include a further internet slowdown, violence, and more detentions of protesters.

“They might close the doors, but people will again, find a way to push open windows,” Ms. Vakil said. “And that’s what we keep seeing these continued patterns of protests — because they’re not able to, or not willing to, address popular anger and economic frustration.” ... 778d3e6de3
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‘They Have Nothing to Lose’: Why Young Iranians Are Rising Up Once Again

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Amid growing repression, a sickly economy and bleak prospects, the death of one young woman was all it took.

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By Vivian Yee and Farnaz Fassihi
Published Sept. 24, 2022
Updated Sept. 25, 2022, 3:50 a.m. ET

The 22-year-old woman emerged from the Tehran subway, her dark hair covered with a black head scarf and the lines of her body obscured by loose clothing, when the capital city’s Guidance Patrol spotted her. They were members of Iran’s notorious morality police, enforcers of the conservative Islamic dress and behavior rules that have governed daily life for Iranians since the 1979 revolution, and newly energized under a hard-line president who took office last year.

By their standards, Mahsa Amini was improperly dressed, which could mean something as simple as a wisp of hair protruding from her head scarf. They put her in a van and drove her away to a detention center, where she was to undergo re-education. Three days later, on Sept. 16, she was dead.

Now, over eight days of rage, exhilaration and street battles, the most significant outpouring of anger with the ruling system in more than a decade, her name is everywhere. Iranian protesters in dozens of cities have chanted “women, life and freedom” and “death to the dictator,” rejecting the Iranian Republic’s theocratic rule by targeting one of its most fundamental and divisive symbols — the ailing supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In several of the videos of the uprising that have torn across social media, women rip off their head scarves and burn them in street bonfires, including in deeply religious cities such as Qum and Mashhad. In one, a young woman atop a utility cabinet cuts off her hair in front of a crowd of roaring demonstrators. In another, young women dare to dance bareheaded in front of the riot police.

“Death to the dictator,” protesters at Tehran University chanted on Saturday. “Death to the head scarf! Until when must we tolerate such humiliation?”

Protesters in the streets of Tehran on Wednesday.Credit...Associated Press

Previous protests — over fraudulent elections in 2009, economic mismanagement in 2017 and fuel price hikes in 2019 — have been ruthlessly suppressed by Iran’s security forces, and this time may be no different. Yet, for the first time since the founding of the Iranian Republic, the current uprising has united rich Iranians descending from high-rise apartments in northern Tehran with struggling bazaar vendors in its working-class south, and Kurds, Turks and other ethnic minorities with members of the Fars majority.

The sheer diversity of the protesters reflects the breadth of Iranians’ grievances, analysts say, from a sickly economy and in-your-face corruption, to political repression and social restrictions — frustrations Iran’s government has repeatedly tried, and failed, to quash.

“The anger isn’t over just Mahsa’s death, but that she should have never been arrested in the first place,” said Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer who has campaigned for Iranian women’s rights for two decades.

“Because they have nothing to lose,” she added, “they are standing up and saying, ‘Enough of this. I am willing to die to have a life worth living.’”

Information about the protests remains partial at best. Internet access continues to be disrupted or fully blocked, especially on widely used messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram, making it difficult for Iranians to communicate with one another or to share updates on the unrest with the outside world.

But witnesses say the demonstrations, which spread to at least 80 cities on Saturday, are the most forceful, vitriolic and emboldened they can remember, far more intense than the previous tremors of unrest. Desperate to damage the powers-that-be before the inevitable crackdown, videos circulating on social media and shared with The New York Times show, protesters have set fire to security vehicles and assaulted members of Iran’s widely feared paramilitary forces, in some cases killing them.

A fire burning during a protest in Tehran on Monday.Credit...Wana News Agency/Via Reuters

The information that has leaked out, after many hours’ delay, also suggests an escalating crackdown. The authorities have moved to crush the demonstrations with violence, including live fire and tear gas. Dozens of people have died. The Committee to Protect Journalists said on Saturday that at least 17 journalists had been detained, including one of the first to report on Ms. Amini’s hospitalization, and arrests of activists are also mounting.

With Iran’s economy at a nadir and Ayatollah Khamenei in ill health, the government is likely to dig in rather than show any signs of weakness, analysts said. But violence will only buy time, they say, not long-term peace.

The regime’s top leaders have “always said, ‘We’re not going to make concessions, because if we make one small concession, we’ll have to make bigger concessions,’” said Mohamed Ali Kadivar, an Iranian-born sociologist at Boston College who studies protest movements in Iran and elsewhere. “Maybe they’ll push people off the street, but because people want change, repression is not going to stop this. Even with a crackdown, then they would just go home for a while and come back.”

Avenues for pushback have dwindled in recent years, leaving Iranians with only protest as a means of demanding change. Just how much their political freedoms had shrunk became clear last year, when the country’s leadership disqualified virtually all candidates except the supreme leader’s preferred one, the ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, from the presidential election. In the process, they degraded what had once been a forum for Iranians to debate political issues and choose their representatives, even if the candidates were always preselected from within the governing apparatus.

Mr. Raisi opposed returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States that had put limits on Iranian nuclear development in exchange for lifting sanctions and economic openness. His election, combined with the worsening economy, left Iranians who craved better opportunities, more social freedoms and closer ties with the rest of the world in despair.

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday.Credit...Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

“The reason the younger generation is taking this kind of risk is because they feel they have nothing to lose, they have no hope for the future,” said Ali Vaez, Iran director for the International Crisis Group, noting that protests were now a regular feature in Iran.

By continually blocking reforms, the country’s leadership has “created a situation where people no longer believe that the system is reformable,” he added. “I think people would be willing to tolerate a milder version of the Islamic Republic, but they’ve just entrenched their positions and have created this situation. It’s turned Iran into a tinderbox.”

The head scarf, known as the hijab, is an especially inflammatory issue: The law requiring women to wear loose robes and cover their hair in public has been a pillar of the ruling theocracy and a lightning rod for reform-minded Iranians for decades, drawing one of the first protests against the ayatollahs after the 1979 revolution from women who did not want to be forced to cover up.

During the tenure of Mr. Raisi’s predecessor, the reformist Hassan Rouhani, the ‌‌morality police had been discouraged from enforcing Iran’s often draconian laws against women, particularly the requirement that they wear the hijab in public in the proper fashion, entirely covering their hair. That led to young women showing more hair, even in devoutly conservative cities such as Qum. Unmarried men and women were allowed to mingle in public in some places, while contemporary Western music thumped in Western-style cafes in upscale northern Tehran.

But the country’s conservative leadership saw the slippage in standards as a threat to the republic’s theocratic foundations. Mr. Raisi called in July for the conservative dress laws to be implemented “in full,” saying that “the enemies of Iran and Islam” were targeting the “religious foundations and values of the society,” the official news agency IRNA reported.

Over the summer, Iran’s morality police, which patrols public areas for infringements of Islamic rules, stepped up enforcement of hijab standards, and three coffee shops in central Qum were closed down for having bareheaded customers. In a video that was widely shared on Iranian social media in July, a mother threw herself in front of a van taking away her daughter for violating hijab rules and screamed, “My daughter is sick, I beg you not to take her.”

The backlash to Ms. Amini’s death has been so strong that religiously conservative Iranians have spoken up alongside liberal ones. On social media, women who wear the hijab by choice have started solidarity campaigns questioning the harsh enforcement of the laws, and a prominent religious leader has said the morality police were only driving young women away from religion. Even tightly controlled state media outlets have acknowledged the issue, broadcasting at least three debates that featured reformist voices — a rarity.

During a protest in Erbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, women holding posters of Mahsa Amini on Saturday.Credit...Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The authorities have denied using violence on Ms. Amini. They claimed that she suffered from an underlying health condition, which her family has disputed, and that she had a heart attack in custody. But to many Iranians, photos of her lying on a hospital bed, her face bloodied, told a different story.

While Mr. Raisi has promised an investigation in a small nod to the fury, Iran’s response to the protests has been to give no quarter. It is the same as in previous uprisings: bullets, tear gas, arrests and blood.

In 2009, millions of urban, educated Iranians flooded the streets of cities across the country, furious at what they believed was election rigging by their leaders to guarantee a hard-line president and thwart reforms. The elite Revolutionary Guards and the Basij paramilitary forces opened fire, killing dozens and arresting far more, and eventually the “Green Movement” was stamped out.

As 2017 turned to 2018, protesters in dozens of cities demonstrated against high inflation and a weak economy. Again, they were met with force. In 2019, the government abruptly hiked gasoline prices, sparking weeklong protests by Iranians fed up with ever-thinning wallets, corruption and repression. The authorities killed at least 300 in the crackdown that followed, according to Amnesty International, and slowed the protests’ momentum by blocking or disrupting the internet.

The internet outages have now returned. To help Iranians access the internet, the Biden administration on Friday authorized technology companies to offer secure platforms and services inside Iran without risk of violating United States sanctions that normally prevent doing business with Iran. It also greenlit the export of private satellite internet equipment, such as the Starlink service offered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to Iran.

But Iranians may face odds that are too great.

“At some stage, I think it’ll become impossible for them to control these movements,” Mr. Vaez said of the governing authorities. “But as of now, the system is bound to bring down its iron fist and try to nip this movement in the bud.” ... 778d3e6de3
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How Two Teenagers Became the New Faces of Iran’s Protests

Post by kmaherali »

The 16-year-old girls were killed by the Iranian security services in a crackdown on the protests that have rocked the country for the past month.


By Farnaz Fassihi
Oct. 13, 2022
As unrest erupted across Iran calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s rule last month, with young women in big cities and small towns tossing their headscarves onto bonfires to chants of “Women, Life, Freedom,” two teenage girls left their homes to join the protesters.

It was the last time their relatives would see them alive. One family searched frantically for their daughter for 10 days, posting desperate appeals for information on social media; the other found out the fate of their daughter within hours of her disappearance.

But the grim result was the same. The missing teenagers had been killed by the security forces, their families and human rights groups said. One girl’s skull was smashed, and the other girl’s head was cracked by baton blows. Their bodies were handed back to their families bruised and disfigured. They were both just 16.

The two teenagers — Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh — have become the new faces of the protests that have convulsed the country for the past month, the largest and most sustained bout of civil unrest to grip Iran since 2009. Their images appear on posters secretly plastered on walls in cities across Iran and on banners carried by protesters, their names a rallying cry for the fury being directed against the rulers of the Islamic Republic.

Women and girls have been conspicuous on the front lines of the protests, which erupted almost a month ago, as have young people, with even high school students taking part, braving repeated crackdowns by the security services.

Nika Shahkarami at a protest in Tehran last month, in an image taken from a video that her family has confirmed as authentic to several Iranian journalists.
Credit...via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The crackdowns have taken a deadly toll: Iran’s Committee to Protect Children’s Rights says 28 children and adolescents have been killed and that many have been detained. The United Nations’ children agency, UNICEF, said this week it was “extremely concerned” by the reports.

The families of the two teenagers and human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights, say the two girls were killed by security forces after taking part in different protests in late September, Nika in Tehran, and Sarina in the city of Karaj, outside the capital. The security forces smashed Nika’s skull, broke her teeth and dislocated her cheekbone, her mother has said in interviews; Sarina’s head was fractured after she was hit repeatedly with a baton until she bled to death.

The government has said that the two teenagers committed suicide by jumping from rooftops. Family members have repeated that official narrative on state TV, but relatives say those appearances were coerced, and that they have been threatened and even jailed to deter them from saying what really happened to Nika and Sarina.

In life, Nika and Sarina were happy teenagers who sang and danced, giggled with friends, roamed shopping malls, and posed for selfies, according to videos they shared. In death, their faces have come to symbolize a national uprising to topple the Islamic Republic that has thousands of young people on its front lines, and a young woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, who died in the custody of the morality police last month, as its inspirational spark.

The authorities have tried to crush them with violence and throttle them by disrupting the internet and blocking popular social media platforms such as Instagram.

A still image taken from a video showing Iranian students chanting slogans as they protest at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, on Monday.Credit...via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It hasn’t worked. Protests have spread from streets to university campuses and to high schools. High school girls across Iran have stripped off their hijabs, ripped up pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and booed and chased away a guest speaker from the feared Basij militia, videos posted on social media show.

Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, said last week that the average age of detained protesters was 15. Yousef Nouri, the minister of education, said on Tuesday that high school students who had been arrested had been sent to “psychiatric centers to undergo education and behavioral reform.”

Ms. Amini, whose death on Sept. 16 in the custody of the morality police sparked the protests, had been arrested on charges of not properly observing the hijab law, which mandates a head covering for women. Her family has rejected the government’s claim that she died from a heart attack, and said she suffered a head injury after being beaten by the police.

Four days after Ms. Amini’s death, Nika dashed out the door of her home in Tehran to join the protesters massing on the streets. She stood defiantly on top of a garbage can, her black hair tied in a pony tail, and waved a hijab she had set ablaze as a crowd of young people around her chanted “death to the dictator,” according to a video that her family has confirmed as authentic to Iranian journalists.

Nika lived with her aunt and worked part-time at a cafe training as a barista. She dreamed of going abroad after high school and loved to sing. A video from a school ceremony shows her standing onstage and holding a microphone, giggling. She then sings a well known Iranian song, with the lyrics: “One heart says go, go, and another heart says don’t go, don’t go. My heart cannot endure, what to do without you?”

Nika, in an undated family photograph posted on social media.

Nika disappeared the night of Sept. 20 from a central Tehran boulevard where security forces clashed with protesters. Her mother said in a video message published by Radio Farda that Nika’s last phone call was shortly before midnight and that she could hear protesters and security forces shouting in the background.

The family searched for her in detention centers but without success. Her aunt, Atash Shakarami, with whom she lived, posted Nika’s photograph on her Instagram page seeking help finding her. Ten days later, her family received a call from the authorities: they could collect her body from a morgue in downtown Tehran.

Nassrin Shakarami, Nika’s mother, reached by phone in Tehran on Wednesday, said she wanted to publicize her daughter’s story and was living under “difficult conditions.” Nika’s aunt and uncle were both detained for days to pressure the family into silence, and the aunt was forced to repeat the official cause of death on state TV, Ms. Shakarami said.

“They are threatening me. I have said the things I needed to say to explain what happened,” said Ms. Shakarami, referring to the message published by Radio Farda in which she said the security forces had killed her daughter and were pressuring her to call it a suicide.

Her conversation with The New York Times was abruptly disrupted, and a recorded message from the state telecommunications company said her phone number had been disconnected.

Ms. Shakarami said in her video message that security forces had seized Nika’s body as the family was arranging a funeral service and had buried her without the family’s knowledge or presence. After a public backlash, state television aired video of a young woman they claimed was Nika entering a building from which they said she jumped. Her mother says the woman in the video was not her daughter.

Iranian police at a protest in Tehran last month.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two days after Nika disappeared, Sarina Esmailzadeh joined protests in Karaj, a satellite city west of Tehran, along with some classmates, according to rights groups and two Iranian journalists, Fereshteh Ghazi from Radio Farda and Farzad Seifikaran from Radio Zamaneh, who both interviewed relatives.

Sarina studied at a high school in Karaj for the gifted and talented, and she chronicled on YouTube the daily life and musings of a typical teenager; trying on makeup for the first time, making pizza and singing pop songs in the back of the car

“We need joy and fun, we need good spirit, good vibes and good energy,” Sarina said in one video. “But in order to have all of these, you need to have freedom.”

At the protest, security forces grabbed Sarina and struck her head with a baton over and over, according to Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights. She was taken to the hospital, but there was little the doctors in the emergency room could do. She had already bled to death.

Sarina’s mother, who is being treated for a brain tumor, received a phone call from the authorities around midnight to go to the hospital and identify her daughter’s body, according to the two journalists who interviewed the family and a report on Sarina by Iran Human Rights. Sarina’s father died when she was a child and she lived with her mother and older brother. At the hospital they were not allowed to see Sarina.

A still image taken from a video posted on social media earlier this month showed Iranian women protesting in the city of Rasht.
Credit...via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the funeral the next day security forces brought Sarina’s body, wrapped in a customary white cloth, and allowed the mother a short glimpse at her face before they buried her. But it was long enough to notice that one side of her forehead had been smashed.

Sarina’s mother, looking disoriented, appeared twice on state television, including on Tuesday, where she repeated the official line that Sarina had jumped from a building. Iran’s state TV has a history of broadcasting coerced interviews of political dissidents and families of people who have been killed.

Ms. Ghazi, who has been in contact with Sarina’s relatives, said the security forces had threatened that if Sarina’s mother did not confirm the official account, they would harm her son, her only other child.

The grim aftermath of Sarina’s death could not have been at greater contrast with the youthful exuberance of her life. “What’s a better feeling than being free and careless?” Sarina said in a video after finishing an exam and buying herself a bottled iced coffee as a treat. “It’s finished, it feels so great, Goodbye.” ... 778d3e6de3
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Saudi Halloween: Once-Banned Holiday Now Haunted by Masked Monsters

Post by kmaherali »

Only a few years ago, a Halloween party meant arrest. Now, a government-sponsored “horror weekend” means sold-out costume shops and scary clowns. “Saudi is changing,” said a young man going as a wizard.


Bathed in an eerie light, Yaser al-Hazzazi paused to adjust the bloodstained gauze wrapped around his head and face. His cousin Yahya leaned in to help, untangling a loose end that dangled over his relative’s white robe — splotched with a bloody handprint — before the pair strolled into a crowd of people decked out in devil horns and bunny ears.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, the two 21-year-old men had never celebrated Halloween, which was variously viewed as a suspiciously pagan foreign holiday — or as sinful, unnecessary and weird — in the conservative Islamic kingdom. As recently as 2018, the police raided a Halloween party and arrested people, sending costumed women clamoring to cover up and escape.

But this year, parts of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, looked like creatures from a haunted house had escaped and taken over the city. Monsters, witches, bank robbers and even sultry French maids were everywhere, leaning out of car windows and lounging in cafes.

The scene was a stark — and a slightly spine-chilling — sign of the changes that have torn through Saudi Arabia since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now heir to the throne and prime minister, began rising to power in 2015 and started doing away with social restrictions one by one.

And the cousins, along with thousands of other 20-somethings in Riyadh who had rushed to get to the city’s costume shops before they sold out, were thrilled by the chance to frighten each other.

“If we go back to the way we were, this wasn’t part of our customs and traditions,” Yahya al-Hazzazi said, as spooky music played over loudspeakers at Boulevard Riyadh City, a sprawling complex of shops, arcades and restaurants that opened in 2019 as part of the government’s push to provide entertainment. “We love to discover new things.”

Yahya al-Hazzazi helping his cousin Yaser with his mummy costume.

Public Halloween celebrations began in the Saudi capital for the first time last year.

This being Saudi Arabia, where strategic ambiguity reigns as social changes sweep across the country, the government-sponsored event was not, strictly speaking, a Halloween festival.

Instead, it was promoted as a “horror weekend,” conveniently coinciding with the weekend before Halloween.

Like many of those swarming the entertainment complex on Thursday night — jamming the surrounding neighborhood into gridlock and making any search for parking in vain — the al-Hazzazi cousins wanted costumes that would attract attention.

They threw together their makeshift mummy outfits using medical gauze they bought at a pharmacy and improvised fake blood using Vimto, a sugary red drink consumed during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

As they headed inside, red lights set a mysterious mood and decorative cobwebs festooned the bushes. Men, women and children clogged a look-alike Times Square, posing for photographs in front of a Dior logo and scarfing down fries at McDonald’s.

In another part of the city, a line of wannabe ghouls and goblins stretched down the block outside a party store selling so many Halloween costumes that employees could barely restock them fast enough. House music thumped from the shop’s entrance, guarded by a bouncer in a black suit.

Costumed men, women and children on Thursday night clogged Boulevard Riyadh City, a sprawling complex of shops, arcades and restaurants.

“Saudi is changing,” said Abdulaziz Khaled, 23, a finance student awaiting his turn in line. Switching seamlessly midsentence between Arabic and English, Mr. Khaled said he planned to dress up as a wizard this year.

Waiting beside him, Reema al-Jaber, also 23, and sporting caramel-blond bangs, wanted to go as a white-winged angel for a gathering at a friend’s house. “But I could be a black angel,” she fretted. “We have to see what they have in stock!”

Like most Saudis, Ms. al-Jaber had never celebrated Halloween growing up, though she’d seen it in movies. Sorcery and witchcraft were forbidden — with some accused practitioners prosecuted and beheaded by the state — and celebrating non-Islamic holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Halloween was taboo.

But forbidden foreign festivals were the least of it.

The Saudi Arabia of Ms. al-Jaber’s childhood was one where women were barred from driving, required to wear floor-length robes called abayas in public and accosted by the religious police shouting at them to cover their hair and face.

Myriad life decisions required the approval of a male guardian, and gender segregation was enforced in offices, cafes and many other spaces. Playing music in public was effectively prohibited.

People shopping for Halloween costumes at a party store in Riyadh.

As recently as 2018, the police raided a Halloween party and arrested people, sending costumed women clamoring to cover up and escape.

In 2016, Prince Mohammed announced an economic diversification plan that called for turning the kingdom into an investment powerhouse and global business hub. The religious police lost their authority to make arrests — rendering them mostly toothless advice-givers — and women were allowed to drive. Many of the shackles of the male guardianship system were undone, although others remain.

Prince Mohammed, 37, also started a push to develop entertainment options as a new economic sector beyond oil. Many of the 58 percent of Saudis under 30 say they were starving for entertainment before the changes.

Movie theaters opened for the first time in decades, and a series of government-sponsored festivities took over the kingdom. The largest of them is the continuing “Riyadh Season,” a monthslong extravaganza that will culminate in DJ Khaled and Bruno Mars performing at a rave in the desert.

The changes have left some Saudis giddy and others angry or reeling, with the country nearly unrecognizable to outsiders and citizens alike.

The easing of some social restrictions has also been accompanied by a notable increase in political repression, with a crackdown on domestic dissent that has landed hundreds of writers, activists and Snapchat influencers in prison alongside billionaires, religious clerics and royal family members.

On social media, the government has deployed a mixture of manipulation and control, resulting in an increasingly unified narrative venerating the crown prince and his “Vision 2030” plan.

In private, some Saudis complain that the entertainment push feels like a distraction from economic challenges, like high youth unemployment, and political ones, like the lack of freedom of speech. The chaotic, carnival-like atmosphere that is allowed to briefly erupt on occasions like Saudi National Day and now Halloween is quickly bottled up again.

Until recently, celebrating non-Islamic holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Halloween was taboo.

But any excuse to let loose is welcomed by many young people.

“We’re seeing what the government is doing here, which is great, and it’s really helping the people,” said Raad al-Kamel, 25, a store manager at Party Experts, where Halloween is the busiest time of year.

“Maybe people just want to drop life and just party and forget everything?” he said, wearing a tiny red demon on his shoulder. “At least for a moment, until they come back to real life.”

This weekend’s public Halloween celebrations, the second year they have been held, appeared to attract more adults than children. In Party Experts, children’s costumes were relegated to a small section in the back.

In the front, young men perused a wall of rubber masks, elaborate and terrifying. The costume choices for women were overwhelming. There was a Vixen Pirate Wench and a Classic School Girl, a Playtime bunny and a Tuxedo Madame Bunny, a Sophisticated Maid and a Pretty and Proper French Maid, a Kitty Witch and a Sultry Sea Witch and a Spellbinding Witch, and the perplexing Darling Robin Hood.

At midnight — when the last customers trickle out and the store closes — the music keeps going as the shop is transformed into a mini rave for employees to enjoy after a long day on their feet, Mr. al-Kamel said.

The government-sponsored event was promoted as a “horror weekend,” conveniently coinciding with the weekend before Halloween.

In private, some Saudis complain that their country’s new entertainment push feels like a distraction from economic challenges, like high youth unemployment.

Some of the revelers at Riyadh Boulevard City seemed to have only a vague idea of what Halloween was, and had come simply to enjoy the atmosphere.

Abdulaziz al-Otaibi, 24, had orchestrated matching outfits with two friends, draping themselves in shiny white fabric from head to toe, with purple-rimmed sunglasses.

He seemed unsure when asked what he thought about Halloween — “You mean these activities?” he said.

Regardless, he was having a grand time with his friends, hamming it up for pictures.

“I was born in this life and I didn’t expect it to change, ever,” he said. “But it changed, and it’s a good thing.”

The changes have left some Saudis giddy and others angry or reeling, with the country nearly unrecognizable to outsiders and citizens alike. ... 778d3e6de3
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The Israel We Knew Is Gone

Post by kmaherali »

By Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

Imagine you woke up after the 2024 U.S. presidential election and found that Donald Trump had been re-elected and chose Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, Michael Flynn for defense secretary, Steve Bannon for commerce secretary, evangelical leader James Dobson for education secretary, Proud Boys former leader Enrique Tarrio for homeland security head and Marjorie Taylor Greene for the White House spokeswoman.

“Impossible,” you would say. Well, think again.

As I’ve noted before, Israeli political trends are often a harbinger of wider trends in Western democracies — Off Broadway to our Broadway. I hoped that the national unity government that came to power in Israel in June 2021 might also be a harbinger of more bipartisanship here. Alas, that government has now collapsed and is being replaced by the most far-far-right coalition in Israel’s history. Lord save us if this is a harbinger of what’s coming our way.

The coalition that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is the Israeli equivalent of the nightmare U.S. cabinet I imagined above. Only it is real — a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics. As it is virtually impossible for Netanyahu to build a majority coalition without the support of these extremists, some of them are almost certain to be cabinet ministers in the next Israeli government.

As that previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil synagogues in America and across the globe: “Do I support this Israel or not support it?” It will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses. It will challenge Arab allies of Israel in the Abraham Accords, who just wanted to trade with Israel and never signed up for defending a government there that is anti-Israeli Arab. It will stress those U.S. diplomats who have reflexively defended Israel as a Jewish democracy that shares America’s values, and it will send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing from any reporter asking if America should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to such a religious-extremist-inspired government.

Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted; have vowed to take political control over judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state; want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

We are talking about people like Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by an Israeli court in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization. Netanyahu personally forged an alliance between Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party and Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, which turned them (shockingly for many Israelis) into the third-largest party in the country — giving Netanyahu the allies Likud needed to win a parliamentary majority in this week’s election.

Smotrich is known for, among other things, suggesting that Israeli Jewish mothers should be separated from Arab mothers in the maternity wards of Israeli hospitals. He has long advocated outright Israeli annexation of the West Bank and argued that there is “no such thing as Jewish terrorism” when it comes to settlers retaliating on their own against Palestinian violence.

Netanyahu has increasingly sought over the years to leverage the energy of this illiberal Israeli constituency to win office, not unlike how Trump uses white nationalism, but Netanyahu never actually brought this radical element — like Ben-Gvir, who claims to have moderated because he has told his supporters to chant, “Death to terrorists,” instead of, “Death to Arabs” — into his ruling faction or cabinet. As more of Netanyahu’s allies in Likud split with him over his alleged criminal behavior and lying, however, Bibi had to reach further and further out of the mainstream of Israeli politics to get enough votes to rule and pass a law to abort his own trial and possible jail time.

Netanyahu had fertile political soil to work with, the Yediot Ahronot Israeli newspaper columnist Nahum Barnea explained to me. There has been a dramatic upsurge in violence — stabbings, shootings, gang warfare and organized crime — by Israeli Arabs against other Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Arab gangs and organized crime against Israeli Jews, particularly in mixed communities. The result is that, “like in America, ‘policing’ has become a huge issue in Israel in recent years,” said Barnea — and even though this upsurge started when Netanyahu was previously prime minister, he and his anti-Arab allies blamed it all on the Arabs and the national unity Israeli government.

One election billboard summed up Netanyahu’s campaign. It was, as Haaretz reporter Amos Harel reported, a “gloomy-looking one with the caption: ‘That’s it. We’ve had enough.’ It depicts outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his coalition partner, Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List.”

Abbas is the rather amazing Israeli Arab religious party leader who recognizes the State of Israel and the searing importance of the Holocaust, and who was part of the now-fallen unity government.

As Harel put it: “The ‘had enough’ message seems to have sunk in among supporters of Likud, Religious Zionism and the ultra-Orthodox parties. It’s likely that the message also helped Netanyahu win Tuesday’s election.” Among the critical factors, Harel wrote, was “hatred of Arabs and the desire to keep them out of positions of power.”

But Netanyahu was also aided by the fact that while the right and the far right were highly energized by both growing fears of and distrust of Arabs — whether Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinians in the West Bank — their centrist and center-left opponents had no coherent or inspiring countermessage.

As Barnea put it to me: “Israel is not divided down the middle,” with 50 percent being pro-Netanyahu and the other 50 percent with a unified message and strategy opposing him. “No, Israel is divided between the 50 percent who are pro-Netanyahu and the 50 percent who are pro-blocking Netanyahu. But that is all they can agree on,” Barnea said. And it showed in this election. And it wasn’t enough.

Why is all of this so dangerous? Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University Jewish philosopher, captured it well: For decades members of the Israeli right, a vast majority of whom were “security hawks,” have believed that the Palestinians have never and will never accept a Jewish state next to them and therefore Israel needed to take whatever military means were necessary to protect itself from them.

But Israeli hawkishness toward the Palestinians, explained Halbertal, “is now morphing into something new — a kind of general ultranationalism” that not only rejects any notion of a Palestinian state but also views every Israeli Arab — who make up about 21 percent of Israel’s population, nearly 20 percent of its doctors, about 25 percent of its nurses and almost half its pharmacists — as a potential terrorist.

“What we are seeing is a shift in the hawkish right from a political identity built on focusing on the ‘enemy outside’ — the Palestinians — to the ‘enemy inside’ — Israeli Arabs,” Halbertal said.

Netanyahu’s coalition has also attacked the vital independent institutions that underpin Israel’s democracy and are responsible for, among other things, protecting minority rights. That is, the lower court system, the media and, most of all, the Supreme Court, which Netanyahu and his allies want brought under the political control of the right, “precisely so they will not protect minority rights” with the vigor and scope that they have, Halbertal said.

At the same time, not only is this election a struggle about the future of Israel, he said, but also “about the future of Judaism in Israel. The Torah stands for the equality of all people and the notion that we are all created in God’s image. Israelis of all people need to respect minority rights because we, as Jews, know what it is to be a minority” — with and without rights. “This is a deep Jewish ethos,” Halbertal added, “and it is now being challenged from within Israel itself. But, when you have these visceral security threats in the street every day, it becomes much easier for these ugly ideologies to anchor themselves.”

This is going to have a profound effect on U.S.-Israel relations. But don’t take my word for it. On Oct. 1, Axios published a story quoting what sources said Senator Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, told Netanyahu during a trip to Israel in September. In the words of one source, the senator warned that if Netanyahu formed a government after the Nov. 1 elections that included right-wing extremists, it could “seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington.”

That is now about to happen.

I have reported from Israel for this newspaper for nearly 40 years, often traveling around with my dear friend Nahum Barnea, one of the most respected, sober, balanced, careful journalists in the country. To hear him say to me minutes ago on the phone that “we have a different kind of Israel now” tells me we are truly entering a dark tunnel. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by swamidada »

New capital's lavish mosque angers Egyptians facing poverty
Imogen James - BBC News
Tue, April 4, 2023 at 9:20 AM CDT
The new Grand Mosque in Egypt's New Administrative City
Egypt's new Grand Mosque covers more than 19,000 sq m and is capable of hosting 107,000 worshippers
Egypt has opened a record-breaking mosque in its new administrative capital city - but has been widely criticized for the costs involved.
The government has been building a new city in the desert, to try to move people away from heavily-congested Cairo.

But the unveiling of the new centre and mosque was criticized on social media.

It comes at a time when Egypt has been fighting soaring prices, with inflation running at just over 30% in March.

The New Administrative Capital of Egypt has been purpose-built 45km (28 miles) east of Cairo.

Its new Islamic Cultural Centre also includes the Grand Mosque, which covers more than 19,000 sq m and is capable of hosting 107,000 worshippers.

The mosque cost 800 million Egyptian pounds ($25.9m; £20.7m) to build and is the second-biggest mosque in the Africa.

State media celebrated the mosque for breaking three world records - including the highest pulpit in the world, standing at 16.6m (54.5ft) and handcrafted from the finest types of wood.

The second and third were for the main chandelier of the mosque, which is the heaviest in the world at 24,300kg (53,572lb), and the largest, with a diameter of 22m (72.2ft) and comprising four levels.

The opening event was attended by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, with state media describing it as showing Egypt's "grandiosity".

But on social media there was severe criticism.

new capital
The New Administrative Capital of Egypt is 45km (28 miles) east of Cairo
Egypt is facing a deepening economic crisis. Its currency has lost half of its value against the dollar over the past year, causing inflation to reach its highest level in five years.

The country has also been selling state assets to Gulf investors to help plug a widening budget deficit.

Many people went to Twitter and Facebook to criticize lavish spending on religious places at this critical time, as millions of Egyptians struggle every day to put food on their table.

One Facebook user posted: "Overspending, insanity and waste of money. The tallest pulpit, the heaviest chandelier and people can't find anything to eat. Sell this chandelier and pulpit and the whole mosque if this will help solve the problem."

A third raised concerns about overspending on mega projects, writing: "Well, what should we do with people who can't find what to eat or young men who can't get married? It does not matter. We have the largest mosque, heaviest chandelier, and the biggest foreign debt that we will continue to pay till Doomsday."

President Sisi - who led the military's overthrow of his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013 following protests against his rule - thanked participants, workers and singers at the event, which was also attended by the prime minister.

His official spokesperson used social media to post pictures of him enjoying the celebrations, an event the local media described as launching the era of the "new republic". ... 43377.html
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