Archive for the ‘ Levant News ’ Category

Jordan’s old guard thwart reform drive

30/06/2011

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

(Reuters) – Under a Bedouin tent in the dusty desert city of Maan, Western-educated King Abdullah pledges $20 million (12.5 million pounds) to build a hospital nearby to cheers from tribal chiefs who form the ruling Hashemite family’s power base.

Shouts of “Long live his Majesty,” ring out at the ceremony, one of an increasing number of royal visits to tribal areas where demands for state jobs and services have been piled on a king, torn between the desires of traditional Jordanians and addressing calls for reform inspired by the Arab uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

Abdullah, who has ruled since 1999, has opted for timid steps towards democracy in response to regional turmoil, constrained by a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political privileges and economic benefits.

Palace insiders say that more than ever during his reign, the monarch has been frustrated by the efforts of an old guard — entrenched in the state bureaucracy and intelligence apparatus — to block reforms.

They say the old guard have stepped up demands for favors and patronage since the protests began this year, threatening the finances of Abdullah’s resource-poor kingdom.

“Every time the king expresses pro-reform leanings they raise the ante and ask for unreasonable demands that only add to the already strained budget and aggravate the political scene. They put spikes in the wheel,” said Jawad Anani, a former royal court chief and prominent economist.

Jordan witnessed weeks of protests earlier this year calling for an end to corruption and wider political freedoms. In recent weeks hundreds of youths have also taken to the streets in the country’s tribal south demanding jobs and decrying what they term as inequality in favor of a more prosperous capital.

Critics dismiss the argument that the monarch is a reformist shackled by conservatives around him, seeing it as an excuse for a lack of progress towards greater democracy since Abdullah succeeded his late father, King Hussein, in 1999.

“Democracy has retreated to a degree that the regime, from the monarchy to the government to the security apparatus, treats Jordan as if it was a farm or a corporation they own to ensure the regime’s longevity,” said Musa al-Hadeed, a retired general in the Jordanian army and a leading advocate of a reduction in the executive powers of the monarchy.

OPPORTUNITY OF “ARAB SPRING”

Abdullah’s supporters insist an old guard who effectively run the country through the security forces stand in the way of deeper reform, seeing sweeping changes in the Arab world and Jordan’s moves towards a merit-driven economy as a threat to their decades-old grip on power.

Abdullah, in contrast to autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, has long complained about his frustration over the pace of reform and saw the Arab uprisings across the region as a chance to finally surmount resistance, palace insiders say.

“The Arab spring gave me, in a way, the opportunity that I’ve been looking for the past 11 years,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post on June 16.

Earlier this month Abdullah said that he was committed to pushing ahead with democratic reforms, but a vague promise he would devolve some of his executive powers to parliament failed to address wider political demands from Islamists — the country’s largest political force — and other groups.

In a country where the monarchy is a guarantor of stability among feuding tribes who seek his protection and acts as a balance between the country’s majority Palestinian and East Bank native Jordanians, no one wants to topple the king.
Jordan has largely avoided much of the turmoil that has swept through the Arab world this year and saw nothing on the scale of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or neighboring Syria. The demands of street demonstrators were limited to calls for an end to absolutism and corruption.

Politicians say Abdullah’s room for maneuver is limited and that the powerful mukhabarat (intelligence service) have even disregarded his calls to curb their involvement in politics.

They say security officials meddle in university appointments, harass and expel student activists, and play a role in revoking citizenship for Jordanians of Palestinian origin despite reprimands from the king.

QUEEN TARGETED

Even the monarch’s immediate family has not been spared the attacks of some ex-military members of the old guard who have criticized his high profile Palestinian wife Queen Rania. Irked by her high international profile, advocacy of women’s rights and image among westerners as the savvy face of Arab feminism, they say she is too vocal and interferes in politics.

“He is handcuffed and they have raised the ceiling of extortion to get more from him,” said one former official.

More significantly, the old guard continue to play on the long-standing fears of their East Bank and tribal allies that rapid political change would allow the country’s Palestinian majority to dominate Jordan’s national identity.

They have been accused of being behind the counter-mobilization of loyalist demonstrations across the kingdom to overshadow small opposition rallies.

This has not only helped fragment popular pressure for reform in recent months and undermined the monarch’s efforts to move faster, but also helped divert the reform discourse towards ethnic polarization, analysts and politicians say.

“Some agencies within the state have accentuated the fears of East Bankers and linked their demands for political reforms with losing their political gains,” said Mohammad Abu Ruman, a researcher at Jordan’s University Center for Strategic Studies.

But old guard figures argue the regime’s stability depends on thwarting any calls to empower Palestinians in Jordan under the guise of a democratic agenda.

“There are suspicious demands for reforms coming from some people that will not serve the interests of the Jordanian people and we oppose it,” said Nayef al-Qadi, a prominent conservative politician, tribal leader and former minister.

“Any reform that leads to the permanent settlement (of Palestinians) in Jordan would be a coup d’etat attempt that we will never allow,” Qadi added. “Anything that allows Jordan to become a victim of resolving the Palestinian problem at Jordan’s expense we would not accept.”

The kingdom’s powerful traditional political elite representing East Bank tribal groups have forced the monarch to lean more and more to their side.

Their biggest victory was to frustrate efforts for a more representative electoral law that was publicly backed by Abdullah as a key democratic reform
The law would have had to address the long-standing grievances of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, including their under-representation and discrimination by the state.

A proposed new electoral law charted by a government-appointed panel will ensure the East Bank power structure and status quo remains unchallenged.

The state already extracts more taxes from Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who remain pillars of the business community but feel increasingly abandoned by the state.

In contrast native Jordanians who depend on state jobs and are the backbone of the security forces and state bureaucracy have become the focus of government’s largesse.

A cabinet headed by conservative ex-security chief Marouf al-Bahkhit has raised civil servant salaries and created more jobs in an already bloated civil service that eats into the country’s $8.98 billion budget, threatening to sink Jordan into greater debt.

Some analysts say this will further polarize the country, as a government that is seen as serving East Bankers further alienates the country’s large population of Palestinian origin.

So far pliant and shunning politics, their continued exclusion from any future discourse on Jordan’s future bodes ill for the country’s long term stability, they say.

Source: Jordan Property.
Link: http://www.jo-property.com/aDetails.aspx?aid=1099&iid=31.

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Freedom Flotilla Ready to Sail Despite Threats and Sabotage

By Bego Astigarraga

ATHENS, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS) – As the 10 ships of the Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human make their final preparations to set sail for the Gaza Strip, purported acts of sabotage have been added to threats from Israel.

The flotilla, which will attempt to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza for the second year in a row, includes two cargo vessels carrying more than 5,000 tons of humanitarian aid, such as construction materials and medical and educational supplies.

One of the two participating French boats, the Dignity/Karama, is already in international waters, having set out from a port in Corsica on Jun. 25 to meet up with the rest of the convoy.

After the international coalition that is organizing the flotilla gave a news briefing Monday Jun. 27 in Athens to journalists from around the world to announce its plans to depart on Thursday or Friday, the passenger boat Juliano belonging to the Ship to Gaza movement was sabotaged in the southeast Greek port of Piraeus.

Divers cut the propeller shaft and destroyed the prop house, Ship to Gaza said, adding that its own divers had documented the sabotage on camera and that an initial inspection had been carried out with a view to repairing the damage before the planned departure date. “It’s one thing for a foreign power to press the Greek government to delay our voyage with red tape. It is quite another thing for enemy agents to operate on Greek territory,” said Ship to Gaza Sweden spokesman Mattias Gardell.

“It is high time for the international community to put their foot down and say: Enough!” he said in a statement issued by the group.

The Juliano, which is jointly owned by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, is named after Israeli actor and director Juliano Meir Khamis of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, who was murdered Apr. 4 in that West Bank city.

Israel started tightening its stranglehold on the Gaza Strip after the radical Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, and imposed a full blockade in subsequent years, especially after the Operation Cast Lead military offensive launched in late 2008.

Israel argues the blockade is necessary for security reasons, while human rights groups counter that the siege amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million mostly civilian residents and that it is illegal under international law.

The Free Gaza Movement, which is organizing the second flotilla, said Monday that Israel’s threats will not stand in the way of the humanitarian convoy.

“We will not be frightened by Israel, and we are going to continue. Our friends from all around the world are with us, and we are all going to Gaza,” said one of the flotilla organizers, Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born activist and musician from Sweden.

Greece is under pressure from Israel to keep the boats from setting sail, at a time of great vulnerability for the southern European country due to the spiraling economic and political crisis.

Vangelis Pissias, an organizer with the Greek delegation, urged the Greek government in a statement not to “become complicit in Israel’s illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure.”

“Israel’s best efforts to stop our boats at port, including pressure on governments, threats against insurance and communications companies, intimidation of human rights defenders, frivolous lawsuits and other underhanded tactics, have thus far failed,” the Free Gaza Movement said in a communiqué.

On Monday, the Israeli security cabinet ordered the navy to stop the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that forces would be ordered to do so “with minimal confrontation, as far as possible, with those on board the ships.”

Israeli public radio reported that the government had reached an agreement with Egypt to allow the flotilla to unload its cargo of humanitarian aid at the port of El Arish, to later be taken by land to Gaza after undergoing security checks.

Senior Israeli officials claim to have received information that there are “extremists” participating in the flotilla who intend to “shed the blood of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers” using chemical substances, when Israeli troops attempt to board the ships.

They also say that despite earlier reports, the ships will be carrying members of the Turkish Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH), which organized last year’s flotilla, and members of Hamas – both of which Israel considers terrorist organizations.

The Israeli government’s statements came the day after Foreign Ministry officials informed the cabinet that there was no information about members of “terrorist groups” planning to take part in the flotilla.

Israel used similar arguments before and after the May 31, 2010 assault launched by IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara, the first freedom flotilla’s flagship, in international waters as it headed towards Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the military operation, and over 50 of the civilians on board were injured.

A representative of the relatives of the victims killed on the Mavi Marmara, which this year pulled out of the flotilla for “technical reasons,” will travel in the Spanish boat Gernika along with 45 Spanish activists, political representatives and journalists.

“Gernika will carry the spirit of our murdered companions,” Manual Tapial, coordinator of the Rumbo a Gaza initiative in Spain, told IPS. “It’s a show of solidarity with those who aren’t able to travel this year.”

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Trinidad Jiménez urged the Israeli authorities to act with “prudence and restraint” towards the second flotilla.

The flotilla will carry 50 journalists from around the world – including this reporter – who were warned Sunday by Israel that they would face a 10-year ban on re-entering that country, although later the government backtracked on the threat.

The countries where participating activists are from include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A boat carrying participants from several Arab nations may also join from Jordan in the next few days.

Some 500 activists and civil society personalities are ready to sail. But there are worries that the Israeli forces will assault the boats using tear gas, water cannons, taser guns, stink and sound bombs and attack dogs.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56274.

Jordan, US to perform joint military drill

2011-06-25

AMMONNEWS- Units and formations from the Jordan Armed Forces will conduct this month a joint military drill with the US side, the Jordan Armed Forces Moral Guidance Directorate said.

The drill will be attended by units from the land, maritime and air forces in line with Royal directives to upgrade capabilities of the armed forces and within the annual training plan of the armed forces.

Activities of the drill will also include seminar and courses in a number of fields.

Invitations were extended to 20 Arab and foreign countries to attend part of the drill as observers.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=12561.

Arab-Israeli imam faces deportation from Britain

2011-06-29

British Home Secretary says unaware how Sheikh Raed Saleh – who was due to speak at House of Commons alongside three Labor MPs – entered UK.

LONDON – Arab-Israeli Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh faced deportation from Britain on Wednesday after being arrested for entering the country despite a government ban.

Home Secretary Theresa May said arrangements had begun to remove Saleh, the leader of the northern wing of Israel’s Islamic Movement, and an investigation had been launched into how he managed to enter the country.

But Saleh’s lawyers said he had no idea he was subject to an exclusion order and vowed to “strongly challenge” attempts to deport him.

Saleh was arrested in London at about 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Tuesday after returning from a public event in the central English city of Leicester, one of several he was attending during a week-long visit, his lawyers said.

He had been due to speak at an event at the House of Commons organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Wednesday evening, alongside three opposition Labor lawmakers.

“I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him,” May said in a statement.

“A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter.”

The Home Office could not confirm when or why Saleh was placed on an exclusion list, although press reports said it happened a week ago.

One of Saleh’s British lawyers, Tayab Ali, said his client had been arrested under a deportation order, which was issued “because the secretary of state considers the deportation to be conducive to the public good”.

He said Saleh had had no idea that he was barred when he flew in to London Heathrow at the weekend.

“He traveled to the UK using his valid Israeli passport through perfectly normal means. He came to the United Kingdom to attend a number of lectures and give a couple of talks in a perfectly normal and lawful way,” Ali said.

“We are instructed to strongly challenge the deportation order,” he added, on the basis that the original exclusion order had no merit, and because the deportation interferes with Saleh’s right to freedom of expression.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement, blamed “the Zionist lobby in Britain” for pushing police into arresting him.

The detention was also denounced as political by another of Saleh’s British lawyers, Farooq Bajwa, who has been instructed to pursue defamation proceedings against two British newspapers who accused his client of anti-Semitism.

Bajwa said: “He feels that this is a campaign by the Israeli government and people sympathetic to them to exclude him even though he’s not a violent person.”

Saleh has had multiple run-ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.

In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained on a number of other occasions, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.

He was also held after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in a botched operation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance due to its perceived links with Hamas, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.

PSC director Sarah Colborne defended inviting Saleh to their event Wednesday, admitting that he had faced “horrific allegations of anti-Semitism” in the past but had “completely refuted” them.

Israel’s Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made of the Palestinians who remained after the 1948 establishment of Israel, and their descendants.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46999.

Arab activists buy $800,000 boat for Gaza flotilla

2011-06-29

Boat is expected to join aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on Palestinian territory.

AMMAN- Arab activists have purchased a boat to join a Gaza-bound aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on the Palestinian territory, a leading Jordanian unionist said on Wednesday.

“Arab contributors have bought in Greece a 560,000-euro ($805,000) boat that can take up to 200 passengers to join the aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip,” Wael Saqqa, former head of the Jordan engineers’ union, said.

“The boat has been registered under the name of Nur company, established for the purpose of purchasing the boat,” said Saqqa, adding 35 Jordanian activists would join the flotilla.

The vessel was expected to set sail for Gaza on Thursday, along with other ships.

“But it might be delayed because there is a general strike in Greek ports,” Saqqa said, adding the boat would carry medical aid and construction material.

Israel has repeatedly said it is determined to stop the 10-boat flotilla — recalling a similar attempt to reach Gaza in May last year that ended in violence when Israeli troops stormed the lead vessel, killing nine Turks.

Nearly 300 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain are set to join the flotilla, among them a good number of middle-aged as well as elderly Americans and Europeans.

They are to be joined by 35 journalists from around the world, according to organizers.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46996.

UNESCO endorses Jordan-Arab proposal over Jerusalem’s Bab Al Magharbeh

AMMAN (JT) – UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Monday voted in favor of a Jordanian and Arab decision on the city of Jerusalem and Bab Al Magharbeh.

The decision was made during the 35th session of UNESCO’s executive board, which was held yesterday in Paris with the participation of a Jordanian delegation, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

In yesterday’s decision, UNESCO voiced its “deep” concern over Israel’s continued excavations at the old Jerusalem’s gate and the area surrounding it, in addition to Israel’s failure to provide the World Heritage Center with information on these excavation works, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mohammad Kayed.

Under the decision, UNESCO also called on Israel to stop its works in the Old City immediately and requested that the World Heritage Center detail in its periodic reports to the World Heritage Committee all obstacles placed by the Israeli side and its justifications for not providing the center with the required information in this regard.

Bab Al Magharbeh, or Moroccans Gate, was listed, as part of East Jerusalem, upon a Jordanian request on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1981 and the list of endangered world heritage sites in 1982.

Kayed said the unified stance by participating Arab states in yesterday’s session facilitated adopting the Arab proposal, noting that the Jordanian delegates have cooperated with their Arab counterparts tand other peers to reach an accepted formula for the decision, according to Petra.

He voiced regrets over the failure of reaching an agreement with some concerned parties due to the Israeli “intransigence” on some of the articles included in the decision regarding its unilateral measures on the land, which led the committee to adopt the resolution by voting instead of making the decision unanimously.

The spokesperson noted that the Arab decision has succeeded in extending UNESCO’s monitoring mechanisms to include all Jerusalem after it was limited to Bab Al Magharbeh, which leads to Al Aqsa Mosque.

Kayed said the decision was worded with a “a new level of rhetoric” in tackling the Bab Al Magharbeh issue in a way that addresses some of the major Jordanian concerns, noting that UNESCO also expressed its regrets for Israel’s plans to excavate the gate and build a bridge next to it before the committee’s meetings.

In May, the Israeli occupation’s municipal authorities in Jerusalem started with advanced steps to demolish the upper bridge that connects Bab Al Magharba, the gate that leads to Al Aqsa Mosque.

Jordan has rejected the move and came up with alternative plans that entail the renovation of the old bridge. UNESCO accepted the Jordanian blueprints.

Furthermore, the agency renewed yesterday its support for Jordan’s plan to renovate the bridge and thanked the Kingdom for its cooperation to safeguard the site as part of its role in safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, where the Kingdom has jurisdiction.

Kayed said the Jordanian decision entails expanding its authority to monitor the gate and demands Israel to stop its archaeological excavations in Bab Al Magharbeh bridge, Petra reported.

28 June 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.
Link: http://www.jordantimes.com/index.php?news=38927.

Africa first aid convoy heads for Gaza

Sun Jun 26, 2011

Amid much anticipation and after almost a year of planning and coordination, Africa’s first overland aid convoy to Gaza is ready to embark on this historic journey.

The convoy comprises a dozen vehicles carrying much needed aid, including medical supplies, basic essentials, milk powder, generators and materials to build 10 houses. All of the vehicles will also be donated to the Gaza municipality. Organizers believe, emanating from the southern tip of Africa, the convoy bears particular significance.

The Africa to Gaza road convoy will cover over 10-thousand kilometers, passing through 8 African countries and stopping in communities along the way to distribute aid as well. But their biggest obstacle yet does not appear to be the second-grade African road network; Egyptian authorities have already said they will not allow the convoy onto Egyptian thoroughfares. But the organizers say they will not back down.

The organizers of the convoy say the aim is not only to take aid to Gaza, but also to raise awareness across Africa about the plight of those in the Gaza Strip. The convoy is expected to reach Gaza by the end of July.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/186376.html.

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