Archive for March 16th, 2017

Jordan’s troubled relationship with its mosques

2017-02-13

Jordan appears to be tightening its grip on religious messages coming out of its mosques but it may be offering its preachers more sticks than carrots.

Jordanian chief justice Ahmad Hilayel resigned two days after delivering a Friday sermon during which he rebuked Gulf states for not stepping up their financial aid to Jordan.

“As an imam of this country and one of its scholars, I am addressing the Gulf’s leaders, kings, emirs, sheikhs and wise men,” he said in a sermon broadcast live on Jordanian state television January 20th from Amman’s King Hussein mosque.

“The (financial) situation has reached a tipping point (in Jor­dan)… so where is your help, where is your money and where are your riches?”

Hilayel said the Jordanian state could collapse if people were to take to the streets, warning that would lead to chaos and destruction as in Syria, Iraq and Libya. “Would you like to see such a scenario (happen in Jordan)?” he asked.

Many criticized Hilayel for embarrassing the government in front of its financial backers in the Gulf and some took issue with his use of the Friday sermon to deliver a political message. Musa al-Odwan, a retired army general and writer, told Al Jazeera that Hilayel had “no business talking politics” as he is a religious judge.

It is thought that Hilayel agreed to resign to save face rather than being fired.

Jordan’s Religious Affairs Ministry on January 10th said it had dismissed 15 mosque preachers and disciplined seven others for refusing to take part in nationwide memorial prayers for Jordanian troops killed in clashes with gunmen who had attacked a tourist site in Karak province.

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed the December 18th attack in which 11 members of the security forces and three civilians, including a Canadian tourist, were killed. The kingdom has been hit by number of ISIS attacks in the past year.

Observers said Jordan may be changing course from its policy of trying to contain hard-line preachers towards a more confrontational approach.

“In the past, the authorities opted for negotiation. Two years ago they released two leading jihadists, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini, in an attempt to co-opt their followers into their own war on Islamic State,” the Economist wrote in September 2016.

“More recently, though, they have gone for round-ups. Hundreds of cells have been broken up. And so far this year 1,100 Jordanians have been hauled before military courts on terrorism charges,” it added.

However, the government would still have to rely on cooperative preachers to do its bidding in reli­gious circles.

One preacher, Ali al-Halabi, issued a religious edict saying that Jordanians must not pray for the souls or attend the funerals of the “terrorists” killed by the army in Karak. Halabi insisted they would still be regarded as Muslims but added that the militants cannot have ordinary burials and the public must always be reminded of their “deviant creeds”.

The government has installed closed-circuit cameras in a number of mosques, although the vast majority of them are not electronically monitored. Local informants attending prayers are reportedly the most common way for the government to keep an eye on places of worship.

Local media reported that the government promised to award bonuses to state-appointed mosque preachers who are “distinguished in their work”. The proposal includes studying the preachers’ sermons as part of the evaluation process.

The Prime Ministry’s coordinator for human rights, Basil al- Tarawneh, said the Religious Affairs Ministry was carrying out recommendations from the Na­tional Center for Human Rights. The recommendations include familiarizing mosque preachers with matters of human rights and “combating extremist thought”, the offi­cial Petra news agency said.

A similar initiative is reportedly being coordinated with the Ministry of Social Development to make mosque preachers more aware of women’s rights.

However, in improvised areas such as Zarqa governorate, where the spread of radicalization is more likely, officials are warning that the housing accommodations for mosque imams are “not suitable for habitation”.

Many of the accommodations are damp and have no access to sunlight as they are built under the mosques, Youssef al-Shalabi, the head of the religious endowment department in Zarqa, said in late January.

Some of the residents are exposed to flooding from nearby mosque toilets, creating a smell that was making some preachers ill.

A government report released last October stated that many of the imams’ children have asthma and other illnesses due to poor housing conditions.

One imam told the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad that he lives with his wife and five children in a 90-sq.-metre residence.

Accommodation is not provided to all imams. Most cannot afford to live elsewhere as they are required to be in the mosque from early hours of the day until late at night due to the timing of prayers.

Such living conditions may put additional strain on the relationship between the state and the imams it employs.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81413.

Jordan alarmed by rising familicide

2017-02-13

In a span of six days in January, Jordan witnessed several gruesome crimes in which people were killed or injured by immediate family members, creating an unprecedented level of fear of what is known as familicide.

Jordanians followed closely the killings that struck families in various parts of the country. While some saw the attacks as signs of society’s decay, others were simply appalled by the nature of the crimes involving children.

A man in his 20s stabbed his wife and three daughters in Ram­tha, north of Jordan. The mother and two girls died; the third is in critical condition. Also in January, a man shot his brother in the head in Madaba, south-west of Amman and a father killed his 6-year-old daughter before committing suicide.

In other familicide incidents, a man in his 20s killed his sister, who was in her 40s, in front of a hospital in Amman. Police investigated the case of a 26-year-old woman found hanged in her house in Irbid, north of Amman, to establish whether it was a suicide or a death by a family member.

Depression is the main reason behind the incidents, human rights activist Rana Husseini said. “De­pression, in my opinion, is the leading cause in which a father in a moment of weakness goes on a killing spree ending the lives of his own family,” Husseini said.

“Of course, there are other reasons such as cases of schizophre­nia, which is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves and which might appear in a cer­tain age and a certain situation and sometimes it can go undetected,” she added.

Husseini, who has focused on social issues with a special emphasis on violence against women, recalled an incident in 1989 when a high school student killed his entire 11-member family and a friend due to the pressure his family placed on him.

“That crime is considered among the most horrific in Jordan. The 18-year-old boy killed his whole family because he could not face the pressure they placed on him when he failed his high school exams. The student was executed but authorities should have studied this case and dug deeper to see why it happened,” Husseini said.

Drug addiction is also often mentioned as a cause of familicide. A 20-year-old man who decapitated his mother in 2016 was high on a drug called “the joker,” which is a mix of tobacco and lethal substances such as rat poison.

Dr Momen Hadidi, director of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Jordan, said that addiction to drugs such as the joker could cause unpredictable actions.

“Due to the fact that some drug mixtures vary, the effect on a person varies from one to another, which might lead to murder or rape of your closest family members even if it was taken once,” he said.

“Those who take drugs become vulnerable and you cannot predict their actions. They become extremely dangerous and tend to hurt those who are around them, starting with their families.”

Whatever the reasons behind the crimes, they are unjustifiable for Gaby Daw, 49, a social worker.

“Recently, we have been reading more about tragic cases of famili­cide,” Daw said. “Usually there are no apparent signs to suggest that anyone is in danger or will commit such hideous crimes, leaving everyone shocked and in a state of disbelief.

“I believe that the current (socio-economic) situation plays a big role in turning a person into a monster whereby one cannot think reasonably anymore and turns to violence and suicide. Difficult financial conditions, economic crises, depression and mental disorders are all factors.

“I personally witnessed several cases in which a person tried to kill himself just because he was re­jected asylum in a foreign country. When you are desperate you will do anything to hurt yourself, but to hurt your family, your children, this I cannot understand,” Daw added.

A report by Assabeel news website stated that 12 people have committed suicide in Jordan since the start of 2017. In 2016, there were 117 suicides in Jordan compared to 113 in 2015.

Hussein Khazai, a professor of sociology at Jordan University, said weak family ties and poor faith in addition to drugs contribute to these acts in Jordan. “Authorities need to study each case separately and spread awareness about them in the society,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81412.

Jordan interior, foreign ministers unseated in reshuffle

Sunday 15 January 2017

Jordan’s interior minister lost his job Sunday after criticism following a deadly attack, in a government reshuffle that also saw long-serving foreign minister Nasser Judeh cast aside.

Ten people including a Canadian were shot dead at the popular Jordanian tourist destination of Karak on 18 December, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Following the attack, some 50 lawmakers called for a motion to censure interior minister Salama Hammad.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Hani Mulqi said in a statement from the royal palace that Hammad was being replaced by Ghaleb Zohbi, a lawyer who had previously held the same post.

The same statement announced that Judeh, who had served as foreign minister since 2009, was making way for Ayman Safadi, formerly an adviser to the king and deputy prime minister.

It did not say why the ministers were being replaced. It is the second reshuffle since 28 September.

Last month’s attack in Karak, home to one of the region’s biggest Crusader castles, killed seven policemen, two Jordanian civilians and a female Canadian tourist.

Four assailants were killed by the security forces after an hours-long siege of the castle, where the suspects had fled to after opening fire on police.

IS claimed responsibility on 20 December, saying four “soldiers of the caliphate” used machineguns and hand grenades in the attack.

Jordan is part of the US-led military coalition against IS and has carried out air strikes targeting the extremist group.

It also hosts coalition troops on its territory.

The kingdom was hit by four attacks last year, including a suicide attack in June that killed seven guards near the border with Syria that was also claimed by IS.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-interior-foreign-ministers-unseated-reshuffle-1787269023.

After rocky start, second day of Syria talks in Kazakhstan

January 24, 2017

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Syria pressed on with efforts Tuesday to shore up a shaky cease-fire between the Damascus government and its allies and rebel factions, as he shuttled between delegates from the two sides on the second day of peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Staffan de Mistura said there were reasons for “optimism” and promised an “outcome” for later in the day. The talks in Astana on Monday saw only a brief face-to-face meeting between the government and rebel representatives — their first since the Syrian war began in 2011 — that was quickly followed by harsh exchanges.

The U.N. envoy told reporters outside the venue in Astana’s Rixos Hotel on Tuesday that discussions were underway to finalize a declaration to ensure that the cease-fire “becomes more solid.” He did not elaborate.

“We are not far from a final declaration,” he said. “There has been a lot of work done on it. If the one we are seeing is going to take place, there is some optimism.” “There are very intense discussions because this is not about a paper but about a cessation of hostilities, and that means saving lives,” de Mistura added.

Syrian rebel spokesman Osama Abo Zayd said that despite encouraging signs, the opposition is “waiting for something more than statements.” The rebels have pinned their hopes on Russia and Turkey, which brokered the cease-fire that took effect on Dec.30. Iran, a Damascus government ally, has approved of the cease-fire and co-sponsored the Astana conference.

“The people of in the besieged areas (in Syria) … are waiting for action on the ground,” Abo Zayd said. The rebel delegation is seeking to extend the Russia- and Turkey-mediated cease-fire to all of Syria. Violence has subsided since the truce, but fighting continues around the capital, Damascus, where the government and rebels accuse each other of violating the cease-fire.

The government says it is targeting members of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria in rebel-held areas, a group that is not part of the cease-fire. The rebels say the cease-fire should only exempt the Islamic State group and not al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Along with the cease-fire, the United Nations has also been demanding access to rebel areas besieged by government forces areas around the country. Rebels have also besieged two villages in northern Syria.

Abo Zayd said the government’s policy of forcing the surrender of rebel-held areas needs to stop. “For this conference to be successful, we need a cease-fire and a halt to forced displacement,” he said.

In recent months, the government has signed a number of capitulation agreements with rebel groups, particularly around Damascus, whereby after intense fighting and a tight siege, the rebels agree to evacuate along with other government opponents to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Damascus sees these as “reconciliation” agreements, while the U.N. says residents and rebels are often not given a choice, which amounts to forced displacement.

Qatar pays Gaza electricity costs for three months

January 16, 2017

The Amir of Qatar, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, has ordered his government to pay the costs of Gaza’s electricity supply for three months, official sources announced on Sunday. Qatar’s Ambassador to Palestine told the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah that his country will pay $4 million per month as part of this agreement.

Mohamed Al-Emadi released a press statement to explain that the funds will be transferred to the PA “immediately” in order to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian in Gaza. He also noted that there are intensified contacts with the authority regarding current proposals to find a permanent solution for the crisis.

The ambassador explained that these decisions were made after a meeting between Amir Tamim and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh in Doha.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170116-qatar-pays-gaza-electricity-costs-for-three-months/.