Coronavirus Worsens Yemen’s Long Tale of Woe

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Abdul Mohammed is a humanitarian worker for Oxfam Yemen

Credit: United Nations

SANA’A, Yemen, Mar 26 2020 (IPS) – In every room in Yemen’s Al-Saba’een hospital, patients in critical condition waited on chairs, and still others laid on the bare ground. I saw women and girls sharing beds in pairs, and children laying close together being treated.


This is Sana’a, Yemen’s best-supplied and capital city, on what has become an ordinary day. Coronavirus hasn’t arrived in Yemen yet.

As I watch the destruction that the novel coronavirus is wreaking on wealthy and peaceful countries with developed health systems, I fear for Yemen. If cholera, diphtheria, and malnutrition can overwhelm our war-stricken health system, I can only imagine the devastation that this fast-spreading, uncurable virus could unleash.

The impact of COVID-19 would mirror the impact of the war to date: no one would be safe, but the most vulnerable would bear a disproportionate share of the burden.

Credit: UNOCHA

The world is now getting a glimpse of the reality we have faced in Yemen for the past five years since war here escalated: life-threatening illness, deepening economic pressure, fewer and worse options for parents and caregivers, and a dizzyingly constant change in routine.

Millions now live in overcrowded shelters, without safe water, proper nutrition or proper health care. The basic steps others are taking to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are virtually impossible here. Should it take hold, the results would be unthinkable.

Public health crises don’t just threaten the well-being of the afflicted; their impacts ripple widely across families and societies. I think about Ahmed, a young man from Ibb, who lost his father to cholera, and then was suddenly thrust into the role of sole provider and caregiver for his entire family.

“I am not ready for this,” he shared in desperation. Feeling ill-equipped but required to take on extraordinary responsibilities – and with little time for grief or sentiment – is one that most Yemenis can identify with.

As we mark five years since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened and escalated the war in our country, we find ourselves defenseless against even basic maladies like diphtheria and cholera. These stone-age pathogens are held at bay in most societies by taking basic public health measures, drinking safe water, and eating nutritious food.

But parties to this on-going fighting since 2015 – have damaged or destroyed more than half of Yemen’s hospitals and other health facilities through bombing and shelling. The fighting has destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure in an already water-poor country, leaving more than two-thirds of the country with only unsafe water to drink.

As a result, Yemen now has the unenviable distinction of having experienced the world’s worst diphtheria outbreak in 30 years and the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.

Even when it comes to critical patients who can be saved, this protracting war shown no mercy. Tens of thousands of Yemenis with life-threatening but manageable conditions have sought medical treatment abroad.

But the Saudi-led coalition, which has controlled Yemeni airspace on behalf of Yemen’s recognized government, has shut down commercial air traffic in and out of Sana’a. Only this year did the government and coalition consent to allow a long-promised medical air bridge to Cairo. 24 patients have been transported thus far. Tens of thousands have died waiting.

Credit: United Nations

Millions of Yemenis have already been forced from their homes, some of them multiple times to escape violence or pursue scarce opportunities for work. But even basic sanitation and health care in camps for displaced people are often unavailable.

Even with a massive aid response, as the conflict continues, we are fighting a rising tide. It goes without saying that in these cramped quarters, where social distancing is a fanciful notion and suppressed immunity the norm, a single infection would lead to countless deaths. The coronavirus epidemic would write new stories of suffering in Yemen’s already long tale of woe.

The conflict in Yemen must end before it claims any more lives. Yemen’s military and political leaders have shown too often these past five years that they are not willing to make even small compromises for the sake of their country and its people.

And the international community, so far, has failed to muster the resolve to demand the ceasefire and political settlement that can bring the life-saving peace that Yemen’s people demand.

With coronavirus knocking on Yemen’s door, we need humanitarian aid to restore our health systems, tackle the diseases currently ravaging our people, and prevent a new catastrophe. We cannot afford to wait for the next crisis to hits.

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What’s Needed for Real Changes for Women in Lebanese Politics?

Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics

International Women’s Day, March 8 2020
 
The year 2020 began with a shock report, Mind the 100 Year Gap, from the World Economic Forum which projected that gender equity would take at least 100 years to realise. Women and girls play a crucial role in society. However, they bear the brunt of patriarchy, their needs often unmet by traditional humanitarian responses and their health and education needs not prioritised. In the run-up to International Women’s Day with its theme, “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights” IPS is publishing a series of features, opinion and editorials from experts and affiliated journalists around the world on women.

Lebanese women in politics. Credit: Eliane Eid

KESERWAN, Lebanon, Mar 2 2020 (IPS) – Women were at the forefront of Lebanon’s 2019 ‘October Revolution’. Beyond the iconic images of their participation, it seems that by women linking equity in politics to the broader issues of mismanagement of corruption paid off – although activists say there is a long road ahead.


In May 2018 saw the election of six Lebanese women to parliament from 86 female candidates. Following the October 2019 uprising, that started to change the equation within the political system and under the continued pressure of the civil society, a new cabinet was formed. It included six female ministers out of 20.

From a general perspective, this seems like a win for achieving gender equality, considering that 30% of the actual cabinet is female. Lebanon, a democratic republic in the Middle East, is deemed to have acknowledged the role of women and started to include them in the political field.

However, from a Lebanese perspective, questions arise whether this achievement is a veneer to please the streets and Western donors in a crumbling country?

Rouba El Helou-Sensenig, coordinator of the gender, communications and global mobility studies at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, is not convinced this change is enough.

“Even though the Lebanese government signed international agreements related to advancing women’s rights and their participation in political life, I believe that the Lebanese government is not serious about reaching gender equality,” she says.

“What has been achieved so far is the result of a combination of pressure from civil society and international bodies,” she added, citing a list of reasons why women’s rights within the country are flawed.
“Today, the Lebanese people, whether they are with or against gender equality, are aware that Lebanese women do not have the right to give their citizenship to their children; that the religious courts do not rule in favour of a mother most of the time.”

She says the Kafala system promotes more injustices in Lebanese society and “family friendly-policies should be drafted and implemented” as a matter of urgency.

El Helou-Sensenig explained to IPS that Lebanon still has a labour code with a long list of articles which prohibit women from working in certain fields. Gender-based violence and sexual harassment are still not appropriately criminalised.

Two young women rest in the morning of a new day during the October 2019 Revolution, Lebanon. Credit: Blanche Eid

Historically, Lebanese women waited until 1953 to vote and run for elections – and their fundamental rights undermined until Lebanon signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997.

Most of the women in parliament have been elected based on their political affiliations or even traditional ones. Lebanese society has rarely seen any organic approach to promote female candidates in any election.

This year the World Economic Forum (WEF), in its 2020 report Mind the 100 Year Gap, noted that gender parity would not be attained for 99.5 years – meaning that none of the current generations will witness it. WEF’s even more sobering analysis puts the gap in the Middle East, and North Africa is 140 years. This is a challenge to NGOs and institutions fighting gender discrimination.

Once such a global advocate for gender equality and health and rights of girls and women, Women Deliver is working with five civil society organisations (CSOs) to breach the gender inequity gap in Lebanon. Its Humanitarian Advocates Program, along with the CSOs, is working toward meeting the needs of the women and children who make up 80% of the country’s more than 1 million registered refugees.

In the broader society equality will take time, but many countries still lack fundamental human rights, including Lebanon.

In February Notre Dame University held a seminar on women pursuing peace and justice and being politically active. During the seminar, Cedar Mansour, dean of the faculty of law and political science, explained that for Lebanon to make changes, women need to be more involved in policymaking and participation.

“In order to make a real difference, the change should start in the institutions. Equality should be paramount, inherited discrimination that is infesting our laws should be revolted against,” Mansour said.

By making laws and creating opportunities for women to become more involved, only then, Lebanon will have a chance to stay in the race.

Many factors stand in the way of achieving these goals, the seminar heard.

Lea Baroudi, the founding member and director of March, Lebanon, told IPS has personal experience of many of these challenges and what it takes to be successful.

“What made me continue is what I saw I was capable of doing. I had this belief that I can change. There are two struggles that affect us as women: the patriarchal attitude and the older generation mentality. The attitude of ‘you cannot do it’,” she said.

“But, to succeed, you have to fail many times, and that’s what kept me going”.

Baroudi explained that no matter what a woman will do, she will always be questioned and evaluated every step of the way. She always has to be number one in every field; otherwise, she is considered weak and powerless.

“As long as we cannot change the laws, we have a problem” she adds. Lebanon needs a shift in the understanding of gender equality and its implementation. Many factors play an essential role in shaping this culture, especially patriarchal power rooted in the Lebanese mindset.

In 2016, Lebanon created the first ministry of women’s affairs; this initiative was supposed to be a step forward to achieve political empowerment and gender equality. In the case of Lebanon, the minister of women’s affairs was a man. The idea of creating this ministry was to promote political empowerment, but a female figure in Lebanese politics is known to be more of a mediator than an action taker.

Four months have passed since the revolution started – women have taken a critical role in keeping this uprising safe and its agenda in the spotlight.

One of the current demands is to have an early election with more women involved.

Lebanon might witness a new era of female leaders, but the key issue is whether create a safe environment for Lebanese women by changing policies or they would fall in the trap of being the winning ticket for political parties.

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US Mideast Peace Plan: from a Paper Pharaoh & a Fake Moses

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 3 2020 (IPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was slapped corruption charges last week while he was hobnobbing with US President Donald Trump in Washington. Bibi has, apparently, done his homework in psychology. He knew the quickest way to get around Trump was to flatter him.


Addicted to praise, Trump is incapable of understanding that there is a great deal of deception if someone praises him too much. In a June 16, 2017 article, USA Today opinion columnist Windsor Mann wrote, “Flattery is Trump’s cocaine — he’s addicted to it — and, like cocaine, it’s not always genuine.”

Rarely does he get sincere praises from honest people. So, Trump often self-praises himself.

On Tuesday, when Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, Bibi was superlative in his praises. As the drama unfolded in a White House room full of sycophants ready with applauses to ego massage praise-addict Trump and insincere Netanyahu, it became obvious that the peace plan was not worth the paper it was written on.

It also became clear that Trump did not have a thorough knowledge of the Middle East, for he failed to identify a typo in the text on the teleprompter. He read al-Aqsa as al-Aqua.

Many believe that the timing of the announcement was aimed at bolstering the political base of both Trump and Netanyahu – Trump embroiled in an impeachment battle was trying to appease pro-Israeli evangelical Christian voters, a key component of his support base, while Netanyahu used the occasion to go one-up over his political rival Benny Gantz in Israel’s election battle of the right-wings.

When Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, and Netanyahu, an indicted suspect in a corruption case — a paper pharaoh and fake Moses – make a plan, it will be far from being value-based.

No wonder, the peace plan they unveiled promotes anything but peace and is an agenda to legalise Israel’s illegal land grab on the West Bank. No wonder peace analysts are unanimous in condemning the Trump plan as ‘dead on arrival’. (DOA)

It is one-sided and a travesty of justice in breach of the hallowed legal principle Audi alteram partem —which requires that the other side also be listened to. There was no Palestinian side in this ex-parte ruling that Trump’s pro-Israeli son-in-law Jared Kushner was instrumental in drafting.

If there is one US president who cares no two hoots about the Palestinians, it is Trump. He stopped aid to Palestine and his country’s annual US$ 360 million contribution to the United Nations Relief Work Agency which cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu could not find a single Palestinian to endorse the plan made by Zionists for Zionists to continue their crimes in Palestine. Pro-American Arab states, however, have welcomed the peace effort but avoided extending support for the content of the plan.

Key regional powers Turkey and Iran, meanwhile, have given an outright thumbs-down to Trump’s plan, which declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thus ignoring the Palestinians’ aspiration of making East Jerusalem their future capital. The Palestinians are condescendingly told they can have their capital anywhere east of Jerusalem.

Rejecting the Trump plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem and “all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”

The Palestinians have dismissed the plan as Balfour 2.0, whereby one country (the United States) is trying to hand over chunks of another’s country (Palestine) to a third country (Israel) just as Britain in 1917, through an atrocious colonial act of injustice, allowed the Zionist movement to set up a homeland in Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan that unfairly divided historic Palestine, giving the Jews who were a little more than 30 percent of Palestine’s population, 55 percent of the land. Most of them were European migrants who came to Palestine following the 1917 Balfour declaration. The indigenous Palestinians who were about 67 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land.

The Trump plan will leave the Palestinians with a mere 15 percent of historic Palestine. In other words, 85 percent of Palestine will come under Israel’s sovereignty while the balance to be declared as the State of Palestine will be bits and pieces of territory – or Bantustans connected by tunnels and roads guarded by the Israeli military.

Trump’s plan was unofficially conveyed to Arab leaders more than two years ago. This came after the Trump administration on December 6, 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

At the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain in June last year, the plan was partially unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Kushner. The Palestinians boycotted the event where they were promised billions in development aid if they accepted the plan.

To promote the plan, Kushner partnered Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. On December 3, 2017, a New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque, was offered as the Palestinian capital.

When news leaked out that the Saudis were backing Trump’s plan and had no qualms over al-Aqsa– Islam’s third holiest site –being placed under Israeli sovereignty, the Saudi royals became jittery, fearful of the reaction on the Arab streets.

King Salman invited Abbas to Saudi Arabia again and assured his support for the Palestinians’ stand. Abbas’ Saudi visits indicated that the Saudi establishment is divided over the Palestinian issue. Once the old king becomes history, the kingdom is likely to endorse Trump’s plan.

In December 2017, after Trump misused the US veto to quash yet another United Nations mechanism to bring peace to Palestine, the world community overwhelmingly passed a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem.

They did so, defying Trump’s threat to developing nations that they would face an aid cut if they voted for the Jerusalem resolution. Just as the then US president George W. Bush’s 2003 Middle East peace roadmap, Trump’s plan, touted as the deal of the century, is bound to collapse, because it is not founded on justice. It is the fraud of the century.

It ignores international law, numerous UN resolutions, principles of justice, and norms of decency. Sri Lanka, as a true friend of Palestine, should not endorse Trump’s plan which promotes chaos and conflict instead of peace.

*Ameen Izzadeen is Editor International and Deputy Editor, Sri Lanka Sunday Times

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US Mideast Peace Plan: Israelis Offered the Cheese & Palestinians the Holes

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: Palestine Campaign.Org

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2020 (IPS) – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has described the much-ballyhooed US Middle East peace plan as “more like Swiss cheese– with the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”.


“There are many ways to end the occupation, but the only legitimate options are those based on equality and human rights for all,” said the Jerusalem-based B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

“This is why the current plan which legitimizes, entrenches and even expands the scope of Israel’s human rights abuses, perpetuated now for over 52 years, is utterly unacceptable”, it said.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, based in Johannesburg, drew a parallel between Israel and apartheid South Africa of a bygone era.

“We concur with our Israeli comrades, and we painfully recall how Apartheid South Africa tried to impose its own plan during the 1980s where white people would own South Africa and the indigenous Black South Africans needed to be happy with small enclaves called Bantustans.”

“We rejected this then in Apartheid South Africa, and we, today, join those in rejecting it in Palestine-Israel,” said BDS in a statement released here.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor Jadaliyya, an ezine focusing on the Middle East and produced by the Arab Studies Institute (ASI), told IPS the Trump Plan is not a peace initiative, that seeks to lay the basis for meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the core issues of the conflict.

Rather, it seeks to unilaterally implement a permanent status reality that is tantamount to the extreme reaches of the Israeli political spectrum, with the imprimatur of US recognition and legitimacy, he said.

Any analyst with even a passing acquaintance of this conflict can immediately recognize that it cannot possibly serve as a basis of negotiations, let alone a negotiated settlement, because it prejudges virtually every Palestinian right, claim, and interest, Rabbani argued.

“This is deliberate — the references to negotiations are no more than a diplomatic fig leaf to enable Israeli to proceed unilaterally with acts of territorial annexation, the liquidation of the refugee question, the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel to Palestinian jurisdiction (thus removing there status as Israeli citizens), and the like,” he added.

Credit: PalestineUN.Org

Ramzy Baroud, a syndicated columnist, editor of The Palestine Chronicle and a senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs in Istanbul, told IPS the Deal of the Century is a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for more than a decade.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, he pointed out, but an egregious act of bullying.

However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of “peace-making,” where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Tel Aviv accountable to its violations of previously signed treaties and international law, he noted.

“In truth, the Deal of the Century is not a ‘peace plan’, nor was it ever intended to be, despite what its chief architect and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been claiming”.

As expected, said Baroud, Trump has handed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everything that he and Israel ever wanted.

He also pointed out that the Middle East Plan does not demand the uprooting of a single illegal Jewish settlement and recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital.

“It speaks of a conditioned and disfigured Palestinian state that can only be achieved based on vague conditions, rejects the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and doesn’t mention the word ‘occupation’ even once”, said Baroud, author of the newly-released book These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

According to Cable News Network (CNN), the Trump administration unveiled its much-anticipated Middle East plan, which it’s touting as a “realistic two-state solution.

But Palestinians definitely don’t see it that way. The plan caters to nearly every major Israeli demand, including the annexation of its settlements in the contested West Bank region, said CNN.

“A future Palestinian state, meanwhile, would get a capital in eastern Jerusalem, physically separated from the rest of the city. The plan doesn’t lay out what would happen to Palestinian refugees displaced by ongoing conflict”.

In a brutally frank comment, Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, was quoted as saying: “The message to the Palestinians, boiled down to its essence, is: You’ve lost, get over it.”

Rabbani said the peace plan is also not a framework for a two-state settlement.

“The potential Palestinian entity presented in the initiative, assuming it comes to pass, does not have any – I repeat, any – of the attributes of statehood as commonly understood.”

He said its objective is not the establishment of a Palestinian state but rather the permanent expansion of the Israeli state into occupied territory, less those areas heavily populated by Palestinians that Israel does not intend to annex.

The Palestinian entity, or rather the patchwork of Palestinian-populated regions within Israel according to this plan, are held together by some 15 bridges and tunnels, he noted.

“The purpose here is not Palestinian statehood, but rather achieving Israel’s long-term objective of maximum territory with minimum Arabs – an objective additionally furthered by the proposed transfer of Palestinian population centers within Israel to the jurisdiction of this entity”.

The broader purpose of this initiative, he argued, is to utilize the weakness, fragmentation, and polarisation of the Palestinians, and the Arab world more generally, to ram through a unilateral settlement of this conflict while the opportunity presents itself.

A second objective is to facilitate the formalisation of Israeli-Arab normalisation, though given the contours of this plan that is unlikely to be achieved.

In a word, the formalisation of Palestinian capitulation to not only Israel but a particularly extremist Israeli agenda, he declared.

More broadly, said Rabbani, it seeks to replace international law and the international consensus with the principle that might makes right and thus the law of the jungle in which power is the sole principle for the resolution of international disputes.

From the Trump administration’s perspective this therefore has much broader application than only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he declared.

Baroud said the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ has confirmed what many have argued for years: a just and peaceful future in Palestine and Israel cannot be achieved with Washington at the helm.

“So obviously only Israel benefits from the plan, as the Zionist discourse, predicated on maximum territorial gains with minimal Palestinian presence, has finally prevailed.”

He said every Israeli request has been met, to the last one. Meanwhile, Palestinians get nothing, aside from the promise of chasing another mirage of a Palestinian state that has no territorial continuity and no true sovereignty.

Not only will Trump’s plan fail to resolve the conflict, he argued, it will exasperate it as well; it will divide the region into blocs, with some Arabs normalization with Israel and others refusing to do so, especially while Palestinians continue to live in perpetual suffering.

As for the economic component of Trump’s plan, history has proven that there can be no economic prosperity under military occupation. Netanyahu and others before him tried such dubious methods, of ‘economic peace’ and such, and all have miserably failed.

“Time and again, the UN has made it clear that it follows a different political trajectory than that followed by Washington, and that all US decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights, are null and void; only international law matters, and none of Trump’s actions in recent years have succeeded in significantly altering international consensus on the rights of Palestinians”.

As for the status of and Palestinian rights in their occupied city, said Baroud, East Jerusalem, renaming a few neighborhoods – Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – as al-Quds, or East Jerusalem is an old Israeli plan that failed in the past.

The late Yasser Arafat rejected it, and neither Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian official would dare compromise on the historic and legal Palestinian rights in the city.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Arab Region’s Largest Youth Gathering Focuses on New Tech

Conferences, Economy & Trade, Featured, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa, Population, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Population

At the Global Youth Forum in Egypt thousands of youth attend a session on Artificial Intelligence and to hear Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

SHARM-EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Dec 18 2019 (IPS) – On late Monday morning, a motley group of more than a thousand youth gathered in a hall in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to listen to Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Yahya Elghobashy, a computer science engineering student from Cairo, sat excitedly in the audience. A few meters away from him, also in the audience, was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — the President of Egypt.


As Sophia and a panel of scientists on the stage spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI), El-Sisi was seen listening attentively and taking notes while the young crowd around him squealed and took photos.

“It was very exciting that I was going to see and hear the world’s best humanoid robot and that the president himself was there,” Elghobashy revealed, a big smile on his face.

Since 2017, Egyptian president El-Sisi has been seen here at the World Youth Forum each year. The event is now the Arab world’s largest youth gathering, focusing on peace, culture and development.

The 3-day forum, which ended yesterday, Dec.17, drew nearly 8,000 people including 64 speakers and several hundred youth leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There was also a large contingent of government officials and ministers in attendance, which has been happening under the direct patronage of the president. The core theme of the event is “Egypt: where civilisations meet” – an effort to highlight the cultural diversity of the country to the world.

Technology and innovation in the spotlight

But the dominating subject of discussions at the forum this year was technology and innovation. Of the 20 sessions, half were centred around technology and artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, industrial innovation and blockchain technologies and applications.

On Monday, Dec. 16, at the session on AI, youths were seen loudly cheering as Sophia the robot spoke. Designed by Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, Sophia described herself as a robot who is here to assist in the fields of research, education, and entertainment, and help promote public discussion about AI.  At the session, a panel of youth experts also talked passionately about ethics and the future of robotics. “You can build robots that are energy-efficient and also run on renewable energy,” said the humanoid robot to the cheering young crowd.

“This is very progressive that we are discussing advanced technology like AI here. As an engineering student, I think it especially encourages us to talk about what is most relevant to our life, our country and our future,” Elghobashy told IPS.

At a press conference later, El-Sisi assured people that the government was indeed paying attention to the developments at World Youth Forum and planned to bring cutting-edge technologies to the country’s youth for a better future.

“We will be launching a series of new universities teaching all relevant digital age sciences. We will also seek partnerships with international institutions to guarantee a high level of quality education,” El-Sisi said.

New technologies, risks and challenges

Besides the excitement of ground-breaking technologies, the forum also threw light on the risks and challenges of new technologies such as  blockchain – a decentralised, distributed ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. Cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is a perfect example of blockchain technology.

Challenges faced by various countries regarding blockchain due to the lack of national legislation in countries other than China and the United States was also a prominent talking point. This includes possible threats like blockchain being misused by terrorist organisations to sell oil, purchase weapons, and exchange digital currencies.

The missing technologies

Samia Khamis is a student of international relations in Amman, Jordan who traveled to the forum for the first time. “I came via Cairo, which is only an hour away from Jordan, but the moment I stepped out of the airport I could feel that the air pollution level is much higher than my country,” she told IPS.

Cairo is one of the world’s most polluted cities.  According to NUMBEO – an air quality data monitor, residents of Cairo breathe in polluted air, with levels reaching as high as 85 percent.

According to Khamis, Egypt needs to develop technologies that could clear its sky which is “dark” because of pollution. “It is good that we are brining so many technologies on display here, but we need technologies that can make our environment better and our air clearer,” she said.

The forum’s closing ceremony took place on Tuesday night.

 

Achieving the Possible: “Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East”

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011), was responsible for safeguards and security policy, the Director General’s annual report on the Application of Safeguards in the Middle East and for the IAEA Forum on the Experience of NWFZs relevant for the Middle East.

Credit: United Nations

VIENNA, Nov 20 2019 (IPS) – A historic conference on the Middle East opened at the United Nations in New York on 18th November and will continue until 22nd November. The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction is presided over by Ambassador Sima Bahous of Jordan.


This matter has been before the international community since 1974 and remains controversial and unresolved to this day. On the one side, the Arab States of the region of the Middle East and Iran have called for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the dismantlement of Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapon programme.

On the other side, Israel supported by the EU member States, Canada and the US, maintain that regional peace and security is a pre-condition for any negotiations on such a zone and that concerns about nuclear programmes in certain Arab States also need to be resolved first.

Thus, this matter has simmered for decades, plagued the proceedings and outcomes of the review conferences of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the annual General Conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the First Committee and the United Nations General Assembly.

Now finally, pursuant to a decision by the General Assembly in December 2018, this conference is going ahead albeit without the participation of Israel and the United States.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones

The original concept of establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) was conceived with a view to preventing the emergence of new nuclear-weapon possessor States.

Efforts to ensure the absence of nuclear weapons in other populated parts of the world have led to five regional denuclearization agreements—the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco covering Latin America, the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga covering the South Pacific, the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok covering Southeast Asia, the 1996 Pelindaba Treaty covering Africa, and the 2006 Central Asian NWFZ treaty, all are in force—thus the entire southern hemisphere below the Equator is covered by NWFZ treaties.

In addition, in 1992 Mongolia declared itself to be a nuclear-weapon-free space that was approved by the Great Hural in 2000 and endorsed by UNGA in 2002.

Also, certain uninhabited areas of the globe have been formally denuclearized. They include Antarctica under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty; outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1979 Moon Agreement; and the seabed, the ocean floor, and the subsoil thereof under the 1971 Seabed Treaty.

General Assembly resolution 3472 B (1975) defines a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone as

    • any zone recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which any group of States, in the free exercises of their sovereignty, has established by virtue of a treaty or convention whereby:
    a) The statute of total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject, including the procedure for the delimitation of the zone, is defined;
    b) An international system of verification and control is established to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from that statute.

NWFZs ban the production, testing and stationing of nuclear weapons, permit peaceful uses, include verification provisions and in some cases an institutional set up; and require security assurances from nuclear-weapon States.

Article VII of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) affirmed the right of States to establish NWFZs in their respective territories and the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) expressed the conviction that regional denuclearization measures enhance global and regional peace and security.

The NPTREC adopted a Resolution on establishing a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as well as delivery systems in the region of the Middle East. The 2000 NPTRevConf reiterated the importance of the 1995 Resolution, and the 2010 RevConf mandated that a conference be held on such a zone by 2012; and the 2015 RevConf came to an inglorious end over disagreements on the Middle East zone.

Earlier in 2000, the IAEA General Conference adopted a Resolution for the IAEA Director General to convene a Forum on Experience of NWFZs Relevant for the Middle East. On joining the IAEA in 2002, the Director General assigned me the task to make the arrangements for holding this Forum – during the course of the summers of 2002-2004, I was able to get agreement on the Agenda but the Forum itself was convened only in November 2011.

Representatives from all five zones and Mongolia attended and made presentations at the IAEA Forum; however, under the-then Director General the Agency acceded to pressure from certain sources to ensure that the Forum was a one-off event and that there would not be any follow-up activities.

In terms of new NWFZs, the Middle East remains an old unfulfilled aspiration. First jointly proposed by Egypt and Iran in 1974 through a General Assembly resolution, the concept was broadened in 1990 through the Mubarak Initiative to cover all weapons of mass destruction.

There is as yet no general agreement on the contours and details of a WMD-free zone (WMDFZ), however keeping to basics it is possible to identify practical measures and elements – as is endeavoured in the draft treaty text prepared by The METO Project.

Middle East

Traditionally, Egypt has taken the lead in promoting efforts for the implementation of the 1995 NPTREC Resolution on the Middle East in the NPT review process, as well as at the IAEA General Conference and at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the establishment of a NWFZ in the region of the Middle East.

Last year, UNGA First Committee adopted by voting (103 yes :3 no : 71 abstentions) decision (A/C.1/73/L.22/Rev.1) co-sponsored by Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt,* Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and State of Palestine on Convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The UNGA decision A/73/546, adopted on 22 December 2018 by a vote of 88 to 4 with 75 abstentions, called on the UN Secretary General to:

    • convene a conference for the duration of one week to be held no later than 2019 dealing with the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
    • the conference shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 NPTREC resolution;
    • all decisions emanating from the conference shall be taken by consensus by the States of the region;
    • all States of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, the other two nuclear-weapon States and the relevant international organisations (IAEA, OPCW, BTWC ISU) to participate;
    • the Secretary-General to convene annual sessions of the conference for a duration of one week at United Nations Headquarters until the conference concludes the elaboration a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region ; .

Accordingly, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu and the Department for Disarmament Affairs made the preparations to hold the conference on 18-22 November 2019.

The main areas of contention between the Arab States and Israel can be summarized as follows: that there still continues to be a long-standing and fundamental difference of views between Israel, on the one hand, and other States of the Middle East region, on the other hand, with regard to the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the region of the Middle East (MENWFZ/WMDFZ).

Israel takes the view that MENWFZ/WMDFZ and related regional security issues, cannot be addressed in isolation from the regional peace process and that these issues should be addressed in the framework of a regional security and arms control dialogue that could be resumed in the context of a multilateral peace process.

These should help reduce tensions, and lead to security and stability in the Middle East, through development of mutual recognition, peaceful and good neighbourly relations and abandonment of threats and use of force by states as well as non-State actors as means to settlement of disputes.

Following the establishment of full and lasting peaceful relations and reconciliation among all nations of the region, such a process could lead to the adoption of confidence-building measures, discussion of arms control issues, and eventually pave the way to regional negotiations of a mutually and effectively verifiable regime that will establish the Middle East as a zone free of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles.

Israel also holds the position that any modalities, obligations or provisions should be solely addressed by the states concerned through direct negotiation.

The other States of the region maintain that there is no automatic sequence which links the establishment of the zone, the application of IAEA comprehensive safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, to the prior conclusion of a peace settlement, and that the former would contribute to the latter.

The Arab States maintain that all of them have acceded to the NPT, while Israel continues to defy the international community by refusing to become a party to the Treaty or to place its installations under the Agency’s comprehensive safeguards system, thus exposing the region to nuclear risks and threatening peace.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region; especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.

Most Arab States of the region of the Middle East consider that:

    • the 2018 UNGA decision A/73/546 on convening a conference on the zone was a breakthrough;
    • the new initiative through the UNGA is directed at all States of the region of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the1995 NPTREC Resolution are invited and no States of the region shall be excluded;
    • while the UNGA route was not ideal, it was resorted to as there was no realistic alternative due to the prevailing situation regionally and globally; and
    • the initiative shall be fully inclusive, involve direct dialogue, be based on arrangements freely arrived at, there will be no singling out of any State of the region; however, if any State of the region does not attend, this cannot prevent other States of the region to attend the conference slated for November this year.

Regarding the question of how to deal with the Middle East issue at the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the following points are relevant:

    (a) the NPT review process remains the primary focus and the UNGA initiative is not an alternative to the NPT process but should be regarded as parallel and complementary;
    (b) it can alleviate pressure on the 2020 review conference;
    (c) there is no intention to hold the review conference hostage to the Middle East issue and the NPT States of the region want the review conference to be successful;
    (d) the UNGA conference shall be open to all States and now it is important to start engagement and preparations on the modalities and procedural aspects;
    (e) the assertion is incorrect that Israel was not consulted in advance on the 2018 resolution at UNGA, in fact it was consulted in advance of the decision;
    (f) the decision garnered more than 100 affirmative votes at UNGA, which was a clear majority;
    (g) the 2019 NPT PrepCom should take factual note of the UNGA decision to convene the conference in November;
    (h) the Middle East zone issue remains within the NPT process and the 2020 review conference would have to reaffirm and recognize this;
    (i) the November conference provides an opportunity to all States to meet and discuss zone matters, express views, all decisions shall be by consensus, it is an opportunity for direct consultations among the States of the region of the Middle East, and it is up to the States of the region to decide whether to sign/ratify a future MEWMDFZ treaty;
    (j) the Middle East zone now can be considered as the fourth pillar of the NPT;
    (k) it is regrettable that some States (Israel and the United States) had urged the IAEA (and other relevant international organizations) not to attend the November conference;
    (l) the NPT States of the region believe in collective not selective security and this calls for the universalization of the NPT and the cessation of granting privileges to States not party to the Treaty (Israel);
    (m) regarding the three co-sponsors (Russia, UK, USA) of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference Resolution calling for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction: the UK has voiced support for the vision of a MEWMDFZ and is attending the November conference; the Russian Federation endorsed the convening of the conference also is attending the November conference which it regards as easing pressure at the 2020 review conference; while the US has indicated support for the goal of a Middle East free of WMD based on direct dialogue and consensus but has condemned the General Assembly decision of 2018 to convene the November conference as “illegitimate” and is boycotting the conference; and
    (n) Israel too has decided not to attend the November conference.

The METO Project

The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) Project for a zone free of WMD in the Middle East represents a civil society initiative on “Achieving the Possible” was launched and sustained by Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement and has attracted support from experts from States of the region of the Middle East as well as from other countries. The METO project has developed the elements of a text of a MEWMDFZ treaty that has been shared with the States of the Middle East region and is designed to serve as a catalyst for them to jump start discussions on such a treaty.

Ii is hoped that the States attending the current conference can draw motivation, ideas and elements from the draft treaty text prepared by the METO Project as they discuss the possible elements and provisions of a future treaty that can garner the support of the States of the region.

Some may find shortcomings or omissions in the draft text but States of the region and other concerned parties are invited to further develop, enhance and enrich the elements presented in the draft text.

This effort needs to be joined not by sceptics nor naysayers but by optimists and those who are serious about promoting the cause of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and of its transformation into a region of peace, justice and security.

Conclusion

The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction now underway at the United Nations in New York provides a belated but important opportunity to address regional security, non-proliferation and disarmament matters in the region of the Middle East.

It sets into place an annual process focusing on discussing matters pertaining to eliminating the threats, dangers and risks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the region; achieving universal adherence in the region to the NPT through the verified elimination of Israel’s nuclear weapon programme, and also securing universal adherence in the region to and compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that prohibit biological and chemical weapons, and signature and/or ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that prohibits all types of nuclear explosive tests.

Bringing peace and security to the region of the Middle East should be accorded the highest priority by the States of the region as well as by all other States.

The views expressed are the writer’s personal observations.

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