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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Ed Webb

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Albanian Prime Minister: Trump Is the 'Shame of Our Civilization' | Foreign Policy - 1 views

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    Siobhan started blogging in Media & Politics of MENA at Dickinson and hasn't looked back. Blog well and you could end up interviewing the PM of Albania.
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Chinese drones: Cheap, lethal and flying in the Middle East | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • China’s new hit product: the CH-4 Caihong, or "Rainbow", drone.
  • The Middle East is no stranger to drones flown by the US, which have killed thousands of people over the last decade.

    But more nations are entering the game thanks to a new player in the market: Chinese manufacturers offering cheap hardware with a no-questions-asked sales policy.

    China has been aggressively marketing the CH-4, which bears a striking resemblance to the US MQ-9 Reaper and has similar capabilities.

  • Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are now believed to operate variants of Chinese armed drones
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  • China has not signed the international Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT, meaning it has fewer restrictions on the sale of drone technology
  • “Countries with less-than-ideal human rights records tend to use their weapons in less-than-ideal human rights manners, whether it’s a drone or a water cannon."
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE are believed to have used the drones in their war in Yemen. While there are not verified reports of drone attacks, evidence of their use includes satellite photographs, as well as images of a drone resembling a CH-4 shot down by Houthi fighters.

    Saudi Arabia has been condemned by a host of bodies including the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Parliament for apparent indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Yemen.

  • while drones offer safety for operators, leaked reports from the US drone programme suggest that up to 90 percent of those killed in drone strikes may be unintended targets, or "collateral damage". 
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Israel's war on the Arabic language - AJE News - 1 views

  • A survey, publicised at a conference at Tel Aviv University in December, found that while 17 percent of Jewish citizens claimed to understand Arabic, that figure fell to just 1 percent when they were asked to read a book
  • those with a working knowledge of Arabic were mostly elderly Jewish immigrants born in Arab countries - a generation rapidly dying off
  • half of Israeli Jews with a western heritage wanted Arabic scrapped as an official language, while the figure rose even higher - to 60 percent - among Jews whose families originated from Arab countries
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  • Israel's Jewish schools barely teach Arabic, he observed, and students choosing it do so chiefly as a qualification for entering Israeli military intelligence.
  • When the head of Israel Railways was questioned in 2012 on why station stops were announced in Hebrew and English only, he replied that adding Arabic would "make the train ride noisy".
  • According to a survey, one in four Palestinian citizens struggle to read Hebrew. Farah, of Mossawa, noted that even when public bodies such as the transport ministry included Arabic, it was often so poorly translated from Hebrew that the information was unintelligible.
  • In February it was revealed that Tel Aviv University had barred Palestinian staff in its tuition department from speaking Arabic to students. The policy was reversed after threats of legal action.
  • Jewish and Palestinian parents in Jaffa staged a protest, accusing the Tel Aviv municipality of breaking promises to include Arabic signs and respect Muslim and Christian holidays at the city's first public bilingual school
  • Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, said the 2002 ruling had been a high point for recognition of Arabic in Israel, with the more liberal court of the time stating that it was vital to the dignity of the Palestinian minority that Arabic be used in public spaces in mixed cities. "In recent years Adalah has been very cautious about bringing more such cases to the courts," she told Al Jazeera.

    "Given the shift to the right in the intervening years, we are worried that the advances made in language rights then might be reversed by the current court."

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Tourism blooms in Israel's Arava desert - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • “I think that the agricultural potential here has exhausted itself,” Weinstein tells Al-Monitor. “Agriculture here is incredible, but there are limits on water and demand, so anyone who wants to continue living here will have to learn to create some other quality industry. I think that tourism here will be fine. I won’t make millions, but if I can support myself at least partially from these bungalows, that would be excellent. I can still do that when I am older.” He says that anyone in the region who is not a farmer still bears a certain stigma, but people are starting to change their attitudes. “We all have some work to do on the way this is perceived. There are farmers who came down to the Arava to get away from people. Now, suddenly they have to play host.”
  • New facilities that have opened in the region over the past few years include a bee farm, an alligator farm, an antelope farm, and other attractions that combine agriculture with tourism and the untamed wilderness.
  • ''This is the only strip of land left in the country with fresh air and wide-open virgin spaces. And it’s in a part of the country that is not disputed politically and has no demographic issues,”
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    The real story here is the changing economics of desert agriculture. Arguably, no-one should have been growing peppers in such an arid environment, although the technologies developed to do so have been impressive. It's still a great place to grow dates, though.
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Why more Israelis are shying away from interaction with Palestinians - Al-Monitor: the ... - 1 views

  • The Peace Index for March 2016, published by the Israel Democracy Institute, shows that a sizable majority of the Jewish public rejects the distinction between global terrorism, nurtured by radical Islam, and Palestinian terrorism, nurtured by the desire to shake off the Israeli occupation. Of those polled, 64% said they agree with the idea espoused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that global terrorism and Palestinian terrorism are one and the same.
  • Israelis are in no rush to change the status quo
  • Some 78% think Israel should not take into consideration international demands to refrain from “targeted killings” (as the Israel Defense Forces calls the killing of wanted Palestinians), demolitions of family homes of Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis and other questionable means used by the Israeli defense establishment in the fight against terrorism.
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  • the younger a person's age, the greater his or her resistance to a diplomatic process to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Those younger than 34 tend, more than older adults, to rule out compromise on core issues
  • “The problem is that they are busy chasing an electorate that is running to the right.”
  • The belief in Israeli society that there is no Palestinian partner for peace has taken hold and refuses to let go.
  • On the Israeli side, there is no entity like the one established by the Palestine Liberation Organization to maintain interaction with Israeli society. Abbas appointed his close associate Mohammed al-Madani to head this committee. In a conversation with Al-Monitor in fluent Hebrew, the deputy head of the committee, Elias Zananiri, said that he has no beef with the Israeli public running away from contact with the Palestinians.

    “Of course I’m frustrated with our lack of success in breaching the walls of Israeli fear and loathing, but I’m not completely surprised,” said Zananiri. “What do you expect of Jewish citizens whose leader questions the basic democratic rights of Israel’s Arab citizens?”

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    Ugh - don't read the comments
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Sisi Is Too Scared of His Own Police to Care That Italy Recalled Its Ambassador | Forei... - 0 views

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    I broadly agree with Siobhan's account of the dynamics here.
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    I broadly agree with Siobhan's account of the dynamics here.
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Egyptian satellite stops broadcasting Hezbollah-controlled TV station | Reuters - 0 views

  • Egyptian satellite company NileSat has stopped broadcasting Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese television channel Al Manar, an official said on Wednesday, a move the Iranian-backed group condemned as part of a campaign by Gulf Arab states against it.
  • On Friday, the Saudi-owned television news channel Al Arabiya shut its offices in Lebanon. On the same day, protesters attacked the Beirut office of Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat in response to a cartoon published by the paper criticizing the Lebanese state.
  • Saudi Arabia has lavished aid on Egypt since its military overthrew an Islamist government in 2013, and while ties have been strained over the past year, Cairo has broadly followed Riyadh's lead on regional politics.

    NileSat stopped broadcasting Al Manar to subscribers late on Tuesday, although the channel can be received in Lebanon through other broadcast media.

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  • "The usual terms (of the company) prohibit the use of satellite media to broadcast programs which call for violence or racism or incite sectarianism."
  • "NileSat is trading in flimsy excuses and its claims of inciting discord do not fool anyone."
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Obama administration steps into Western Sahara minefield - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the... - 0 views

  • Congress is in effect siding with Morocco, which claims historic sovereignty over its southern half and has proposed an autonomy plan. Native Sahrawi activists, backed by neighboring Algeria, want a referendum on independence as promised by the United Nations a quarter century ago.
  • Thrust into the debate, the State Department has opted to thread the needle by focusing its efforts on democracy-building. In a letter explaining its approach to the congressional mandate, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield made clear that the $1 million grant “does not reflect a change” in the Obama administration’s policy of supporting a “peaceful, sustainable and mutually agreed solution to the conflict.”

    "This program will address the legitimate needs of the people of the Western Sahara,” Frifield wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the top Sahrawi advocate in Congress. “It will seek to strengthen civil society organizations and local representative bodies to bolster the ability of citizens to play an active role in making decisions that affect their lives.”

  • Mouloud Said, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s US envoy, said Moroccan lobbyists have been trying to legitimize Rabat’s administration of the region ever since the 2004 trade deal with the United States excluded the Western Sahara. With the new program, he said, they’re one step closer to that goal.

    “This sort of program is very welcome once we find a solution to the conflict. But this is not the right moment,” Said told Al-Monitor in a phone interview. “It’s not a good idea because the real Sahrawi civil society is not going to be a part of it. They understand that this is a game by Moroccans to try to legitimize their occupation by getting the US involved through what appears to be an innocent and genuine program — which is everything but genuine or innocent.”

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  • While it could help strengthen Western Sahara groups, he said there’s also a risk that it could end up legitimizing unrepresentative, pro-government organizations on the ground.
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Monsters of Our Own Imaginings | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Terrorist attacks have occurred in Europe, America, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and many other places, and no level of surveillance, police presence, border controls, drone strikes, targeted killings, or enhanced interrogation is going to prevent every one of them. Even if we could provide absolutely air-tight protection around one type of target, others targets would remain exposed
  • the belief that we could eliminate the danger entirely is no more realistic than thinking better health care will grant you eternal life. For this reason, condemning politicians for failing to prevent every single attack is counterproductive — and possibly dangerous — because it encourages leaders to go overboard in the pursuit of perfect security and to waste time and money that could be better spent on other things. Even worse, the fear of being blamed for “not doing enough” will lead some leaders to take steps that make the problem worse — like bombing distant countries — merely to look and sound tough and resolute.
  • there is no magic key to stopping terrorism because the motivations for it are so varied. Sometimes it stems from anger and opposition to foreign occupation or perceived foreign interference — as with the Tamil Tigers, Irish Republican Army, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or Hamas.

    In other cases, it arises from opposition to a corrupt and despised ruling elite. Or it could be both: Osama bin Laden was equally angry at “crusader” nations for interfering in the Muslim world and at the Arab governments he believed were in cahoots with them. In the West, homegrown terrorists such as Anders Breivik or Timothy McVeigh are driven to mass murder by misguided anger at political systems they (falsely) believe are betraying their nation’s core values. Sometimes terrorism arises from perverted religious beliefs; at other times the motivating ideology is wholly secular. Because so many different grievances can lead individuals or groups to employ terrorist methods, there is no single policy response that could make the problem disappear forever.

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  • Compared with other risks to human life and well-being, contemporary international terrorism remains a minor problem
  • The Islamic State wouldn’t have to use terrorism if it were strong enough to advance its cause through normal means or if its message were attractive enough to command the loyalty of more than a miniscule fraction of the world’s population (or the world’s Muslims, for that matter). Because it lacks abundant resources and its message is toxic to most people, the Islamic State has to rely on suicide attacks, beheadings, and violent videos to try to scare us into doing something stupid. The Islamic State cannot conquer Europe and impose its weird version of Islam on the more than 500 million people who live there; the most it can hope for is to get European countries to do self-destructive things to themselves in response. Similarly, neither al Qaeda, the Islamic State, nor other extremists could destroy the U.S. economy, undermine the U.S. military, or weaken American resolve directly; but they did achieve some of their goals when they provoked us into invading Iraq and when they convinced two presidents to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the bottomless pit in Afghanistan.
  • the same toxic blend of media and politics that brought us Donald Trump’s candidacy makes it nearly impossible to have a rational assessment of terrorism
  • Newspapers, radio, cable news channels, and assorted websites all live for events like this, and they know that hyping the danger will keep people reading, listening, and watching. The Islamic State and its partners really couldn’t ask for a better ally, because overheated media coverage makes weak groups seem more powerful than they really are and helps convince the public they are at greater risk than is in fact the case. As long as media coverage continues to provide the Islamic State et al. with such free and effective publicity, why should these groups ever abandon such tactics?
  • The Islamic State killed 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday, but more than half a billion people in Europe were just fine on that day. So when the British government raised the “threat level” and told its citizens to avoid “all but essential travel” to Belgium following Tuesday’s attacks, it is demonstrating a decidedly non-Churchillian panic. Needless to say, that is precisely what groups like the Islamic State want to provoke.
  • Terrorism is not really the problem; the problem is how we respond to it
  • At the moment, the challenge of contemporary terrorism seems to be bringing out not the best in the West — but the worst. Instead of resolution and grit, we get bluster and hyperbole. Instead of measured threat assessments, patient and careful strategizing, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be achieved, we get symbolic gestures, the abandonment of our own principles, and political posturing.
  • how would a grown-up like Marshall or Dwight D. Eisenhower respond to this danger? No doubt they’d see it as a serious problem, but anyone who had witnessed the carnage of a world war would not be cowed by intermittent acts of extremist violence, no matter how shocking they are to our sensibilities. They’d use the bully pulpit to shame the fearmongers on Fox and CNN, and they’d never miss an opportunity to remind us that the danger is not, in fact, that great and that we should not, and cannot, live our lives in fear of every shadow and in thrall to monsters of our own imaginings. They would encourage us to live our daily lives as we always have, confident that our societies possess a strength and resilience that will easily outlast the weak and timorous groups that are trying to disrupt us. And then, this summer, they’d take a European vacation.
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