Global Voices – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 28 Feb 2021 05:42:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Google’s Plans for a Saudi-Based Cloud are So Dangerous: Riyadh may demand Private Customer Data Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:02:02 +0000 By Dahlia Kholaif | –

( Global Voices ) – Tech giant Google plans to establish a new Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia.

Access Now, a nongovernmental digital rights organization, has raised alarm and requested the immediate halting of the plan, referring to the country’s “appalling human rights record.”

The organization issued a statement on January 26, with the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), a public interest technology law clinic based at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.

The statement warned against the “dangerous” implications of Google’s plans to store Snapchat data on Saudi-based servers, which it said would “place millions of the Snapchat users’ personal information under the jurisdiction of a government with a longstanding record of surveillance.”

“Saudi Arabia and human rights safeguards, historically, do not mix,” said Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa policy manager at Access Now:

A new Google Cloud region in the kingdom is dangerous, and it is imperative that Google outlines, in no uncertain terms, how they plan to protect data and people’s rights from the prying eyes of the Saudi regime.

The government of Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record includes silencing activists, human and women’s rights defenders, and journalists and violating the basic rights of its citizens through extrajudicial killings, detention and torture, and the use of spyware to track and censor.

This troubling history, the statement says, “raises serious concerns about the possibility of facilitating and whitewashing future human rights abuses.”

Notably, Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, Inc., has been named as one of the anchor tenants for the new Saudi-based cloud services. Considering the application’s prevalence in the region with over 17 million users, the potential for government demands for content data or metadata — and the increased opportunity to control online discourse — are both of particular concern.

“This directly places millions of people at risk, the consequences of which could be deadly,” said Vivek Krishnamurthy, CIPPIC director.

Through open letters addressed to Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, and Snap Inc. Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel on Tuesday, January, 26, Access Now and CIPPIC asked both companies to address a a set of questions, including whether a due diligence has been conducted, including on potential human rights impacts, with respect to establishing the cloud region and hosting Snapchat data in Saudi Arabia; what applications or other clients use this centre to store their data, as well as what user data is being held or processed there and from which countries, and what security measures are in place to protect this data.

The letters also inquired about the legal standards which Google Cloud and Snap consider as necessary for secure and sustainable operations and how the kingdom meets those indicators, in addition to any existing understandings between the Saudi government and the companies on government access to data.

According to the statement, the companies have been asked to respond publicly by Tuesday, February 2.

Dahlia Kholaif: I’ve been telling stories of the Middle East for 14 years. I’m a staunch believer in the power of words, and despite all odds, a human-enthusiast. Please don’t hesitate to share your story.
@Dee_Kholaif is my social media handle

Via Global Voices


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Google Cloud Tech: “Google Data Center 360° Tour”

]]> 0
Saudi women’s activist Loujain al-Hathloul released and tweeting Mon, 22 Feb 2021 05:26:21 +0000 By Dahlia Kholaif | –

( Global Voices) – Loujain al-Hathloul, the prominent Saudi activist and campaigner who had been detained since 2018 for demanding an end to the male guardianship system and to the ban on women's driving, was released last week and posted her first tweet since on Wednesday.

Loujain, who was abducted from the United Arab Emirates in May 2018, tortured, denied access to family, and kept in solitary confinement for periods of her incarceration, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on December 28, 2020, by the kingdom’s notorious terrorism court. The six-year term, nearly half of which was suspended by the verdict, is down from the maximum jail term of up to 20 years which the public prosecutor demanded on December 17.

Local press citing the court's ruling said that the 31-year-old Loujain was found guilty of “committing acts criminalized under Article 43 of the Law on Combating Terrorism Crimes“, including engaging with foreign, hostile entities, and using the internet to serve and support an external agenda inside the kingdom, with the aim of harming public order.

Based on the ruling, Loujain's family predicted her release in March, as she had served the majority of her sentence in pre-trial detention.

Her release on February 10 was a development welcomed by politicians and sympathizers worldwide, with her family noting that Loujain remains restrained by a travel ban and limits on public appearances.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted:

CNN host Christiane Amanpour wrote:

The celebrated release of Loujain is one of several positive legal developments concerning activists and political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, with some being released and others having their sentences commuted.

This shift is attributed to the changes in the White House. The departure of Donald Trump's administration, which overlooked human rights violations in the region, encouraging authoritarian regimes, and its replacement with an administration perceived to be keen on pressing allies to respect human rights, could have accelerated overdue trials and reduce sentences.

The prominent activist's release also encouraged calls for the freeing of other detained prisoners of conscience who are still languishing in Saudi prisons.

ALQST, a human rights independent group that focuses on Saudi cases, wrote:

The conditional release of two human rights defenders, #Lujain_Hathloul and #Nouf_Abdulaziz.

However, other trials have not ended yet, and in a disturbing development, the Public Prosecution requested an appeal in the case of Nassima Al-Sada as an attempt to bring about a harsher ruling.

#ALQST calls for the unconditional release of all detainees

Adam Coogle, deputy director with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, tweeted:


Dahlia Kholaif: I’ve been telling stories of the Middle East for 14 years. I’m a staunch believer in the power of words, and despite all odds, a human-enthusiast. Please don’t hesitate to share your story.
@Dee_Kholaif is my social media handle.

Featured image mirrored from Ms. Hathloul’s sister’s Twitter feed.

Via Global Voices

Protests mount over Israeli medical apartheid toward Palestine during pandemic” Sat, 30 Jan 2021 05:03:57 +0000 Editors note: This post was written by Pam Bailey, founder and executive director of We Are Not Numbers, a platform that carries the voices of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, through empowering and mentoring young, local journalists.

( ) – Protests are growing as Israel becomes the country with the highest per-capita COVID-19 vaccination rate,while refusing to facilitate a supply of the lifesaving treatment for the Palestinian territories it controls.

A petition calls on the Israeli government to “assume its responsibility as an occupying power under international law and stop this blatant act of racial discrimination.”

United States Representative Marie Newman, a Democratic from the state of Illinois, tweeted:

The US activist group Codepink followed with an email to its followers, asking them to demand that their representatives “condemn Israeli medical apartheid.” And now, five human rights organizations have lodged a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court challenging the refusal of the minister of internal security to vaccinate Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Through January 11, 1,604 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories have died of COVID-19, with 441 in the Gaza Strip. According to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian parliament and head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, which is an NGO, the rate of infection is much higher in the occupied territories (35 percent) than in Israel (4.5 percent).

Yet, while not even one dose of any of the approved vaccines has made it to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has vaccinated its own population faster than any country in the world, with more than a quarter of its population receiving the vaccines so far.

“The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” said Amnesty International in a statement.

At least 25 members of the extended family of Asmaa Tayeh, operations manager for We Are Not Numbers, have tested positive for the virus, 15 have fallen ill and three have died.

“Ever since the reports of the virus surfaced in March 2020, we’ve been paranoid,” said Tayeh:

I was scared to death and ran to the market to fetch food so we could prepare to stay home for months. I’d yell at anyone who left the house. But since we didn’t know anyone who was infected, we started feeling a little safer. Then came November and December. More and more of our relatives were infected. On top of that was the fear that we wouldn’t get good medical care, since the Israeli occupation has crippled our health care system.

Another WANN member, Nour Yacoubi, was forced to delay her wedding when her future sister- and brother-in-law were hospitalized in the ICU with COVID-19 symptoms.

Meanwhile, WANN’s Gaza manager, Issam Adwan, fought to get his mother, who struggles with a heart condition, tested for the virus when she started showing coronavirus symptoms. Tests are in short supply, however, and she was initially refused the diagnostic. By the time she lost her taste and smell — a common virus symptom — and was granted the test, almost everyone in her family had been exposed, with many testing positive and several falling ill.

Dr. Ayman Elhalabi, Gaza’s general director of Medical Supportive Services – which is a division of the Health Ministry based in the West Bank -, confirms that COVID-19 testing is widely inaccessible, almost a year after the pandemic swept the world, due to shortages.

He explained:

The central laboratory of the Ministry of Health is the only place in the Strip that can perform the COVID-19 test. … The lab ran 200 to 300 tests a day in the beginning of this crisis, but now we’re doing between 2,000 and 3,000. Still, it’s not enough. So, we have to prioritize patients by the severity of their condition. Currently, I’d estimate we have enough test kits for 20 more days.

Test shortages are particularly critical since COVID-19 infections are surging after the emergence of a new variant of the virus. Between 10 percent to 60 percent more transmissible, the mutation has been detected in 50 countries so far.

According to Dr. Elhalabi:

Gaza’s hospitals are in serious crisis due to the increasing cases of COVID[-19]; it’s put a lot of pressure on our capacity to deliver other medical services. Many doctors and nurses are working overtime and they are being paid just 50 percent of their salaries. These are people who need to provide for their families.

Despite the crisis, few are hopeful that Gaza will get any of the newly approved vaccines anytime soon.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), in the West Bank, accused Israel of ignoring its responsibilities to ensure vaccines are available in occupied territory, and has struggled to obtain supplies elsewhere.

The PA has said it negotiated with British drug giant AstraZeneca to receive a first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses in March — far later than other countries and not likely to be sufficient. Most recently, it announced that it has arranged to obtain the Russian vaccine known as Sputnik V, with the first shipment expected to arrive next month. However, its resources are limited and it is unknown how much will be allocated for Gaza, since the PA is at odds with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with Sky News, Israeli health minister Yuli Edelstein said Palestinians “have to learn how to take care of themselves,” adding that Israel has been “helping our Palestinian neighbors from the very early stages of this crisis, including medical equipment, including medicine, including advice, including supplies.”

Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization’s mission to the Palestinians, told the British newspaper The Independent that it asked Israel to provide COVID-19 vaccines to at least cover Palestinian health workers. Nearly 8,000 Palestinian medics have reportedly been infected by the virus. According to The Independent’s report, the Israeli government declined, saying it must take care of its own population first.

In his Sky News interview, Minister Edelstein was quoted as saying:

I don’t think that there’s anyone in this country, whatever his or her views might be, that can imagine that I would be taking a vaccine from the Israeli citizen, and, with all the goodwill, give it to our neighbors.

“We’re hearing a lot of mixed news,” said Dr. Elhalabi. “Really, I think we are months away from receiving the vaccines. I call on the international and Arab communities to intervene before the situation gets out of control.”

As for Tayeh, she was not surprised. “The virus will get rid of a good number of Palestinians. This way, Israel won’t have to pay as much as it does in a war to kill us. Plus, we’ll be too distracted by sickness to fight back.”

Anas Mohammed Jnena conducted the interviews with the health workers.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Written byWe Are Not Numbers


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

VICE: “Israel Is Vaccinating ‘Everyone’ — Besides 5 Million Palestinians”

Will Biden Wind down the Syria War or keep it Bubbling? Tue, 15 Dec 2020 05:02:46 +0000 By Sylvain Keller | –

( ) – As the four-year term of US President Donald Trump nears its end, what will the new administration mean for Syria’s dragging war and its embattled population? Although Trump officially ordered a comprehensive US withdrawal of troops from Syria over the last four years, the civil war remains an important issue for the US administration, as exemplified by its anti-terrorist missions over the last few months.

It is likely that US President-elect Joe Biden would bring new considerations to the US’ position on the conflict without imposing significant changes on the ground.

In an interview last month with Defense One, Jim Jeffrey, former US defense adviser on Syria, ruled out a potential full “US withdrawal” from Syria, despite Trump’s orders, saying, “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” According to Jeffrey, US activity in Syria never diminished under the Trump administration and remains prominent despite recent calls for troops reduction on the ground.

In fact, US forces extended their scope, carrying out regular anti-terrorism missions from Iraqi bases alongside Washington-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Officially, the Pentagon only granted US presence for 200 soldiers on the ground. Nonetheless, according to a New York Times report in October 2019, US forces could currently reach 900 troops in Syria alone. Amid recent policies aimed at securing territory control and combatting terrorism, it is increasingly likely that US forces on the ground will be reinforced.

An example of such operations is last month’s destruction of an ISIS camp in the Badiyah desert by a US-led aircraft from the international coalition, while some additional US military vehicles were rolled into eastern Syria. In the first week of November, 14 operations were carried out targeting terrorist groups in the area, while recent reports from Operation Inherent Resolve illustrate the necessity of maintaining a regular presence on the battlefield to combat what they described as ISIS’ still-active pockets on the ground. Large scale fighting was also recently reported between ISIS forces and pro-regime fighters near Deir ez Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria.

Perhaps last month’s announcement by US Senator Lindsey Graham and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of an oil contract between the SDF and a US oil firm will add further backing for more US deployments to Syria. In addition to spearheading operations against terrorist threats to its regional interest and allies, the Syrian war’s relevance to the US administration stems from Washington’s pressing desire to scale down Russian territorial expansion in the region, since Moscow remains the Syrian regime’s key supporter. Hence, Washington continues to back Kurdish forces against direct military confrontations involving Russian mercenaries.

Biden has yet to put forward his future Middle East policy as a campaign argument, so his military policy in Syria remains unclear. But last month, the upcoming US president noted he would keep up to 2,000 US boots in troubled parts of the Middle East, focusing mainly on “special forces” and that these forces “should not meddle in the political dynamics of the countries where they operate.” More generally, Biden said he will shape foreign policy based on “American interests.”

Biden appears aligned with the Trump administration on sanctions in Syria. In some of his pre-campaign interviews, Biden said he does not plan to modify or repeal the Caesar Act, a set of sanctions on Syria recently approved by the US Congress, and will “keep the US sanctions on the Syrian regime and the entities that deal with it in place.” Nonetheless, Biden’s advisers recently raised the possibility of exceptions on humanitarian grounds to ensure aid to “Syrians in need.”

The main difference between Trump’s and Biden’s administration regarding Syria will probably reside with human rights. Kamala Harris, the US vice president-elect, rose against Trump’s decision in 2019 to withdraw from Syria, following Turkey’s operation Peace Spring. Anthony Blinken, the future secretary of state of Biden’s administration, also shares this view. In an article for the Brooking Institute last year, he described the US’ military policy in Syria as an “error of doing too little.” He notably warned: “If the retreat from Syria announced by Trump proceeds, we will likely see the return of the Islamic State as well.”

In an interview with CBS last May, Blinken said Obama’s administration, in which he served as deputy Secretary of State and former Deputy National Security Adviser, had “failed” the Syrians, and the US policy toward the war had since worsened, particularly by Washington abandoning its Kurdish allies. According to a transcript of the interview, he said: “We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people internally in Syria and, of course, externally as refugees,” adding that Biden’s administration will try to regain traction with a closer eye on the humanitarian angle.

The new US administration could pay much more attention to the situation in Kurdish controlled areas, compared with Trump’s “laissez-faire” policy toward Turkish forces in the area. Harris had also raised in favor of a US intervention in Syria, particularly following chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime in 2017.

Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Syria, even suggests that the Biden administration will provide the Kurdish community with an essential backing for the “recognition of a Kurdish state worldwide.” Sinam Mohammad, Syrian Democratic Forces’ political representative to the United States, recently told VOA

SDF hopes the Biden administration will bring more political support for us to be included in talks that will determine our future and that of Syria as a whole.

As such, Biden’s approach toward the Syrian conflict is expected to clash with Turkey, another key player in the Syrian war. While Biden’s administration is an SDF ally, Ankara’s current extensive policy has been against this Kurdish-Arab alliance in northern Syria which it considers a “terrorist group.” On the contrary, Trump had referred to the Kurds last year as “natural enemies.” Jim Jeffrey, the former US defense adviser on Syria, confirmed in his November interview with Defense One that no one in Washington had given any guarantee for the Kurds against Turkey, limiting such cooperation.

Following Biden’s election, diverse commentators predicted bumpy US-Turkey relationships over what they forecasted as US support for Kurdish territory enforcement in the region.

Within the humanitarian context, Biden’s administration also plans to implement current US refugee policy. While the outgoing administration had lowered the cap to 15,000 refugees for the fiscal year 2021, which is an all-time low, Biden promised to “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time.”

Written bySylvain Keller

Sylvain is currently working for the Security department of CMA CGM in Marseille. He was previously charged to carry out research missions for the French Foreign Minister on Syrian conflict and have been working for French Intelligence services. He wrote internal reports on terrorism financing and humanitarian situation in Syria. He is currently ending a Master Degree in the University of Sciences Po Toulouse.


Creative Commons 3.0


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Bloomberg Quick Take: “Turkey President Erdogan Gets Ready for a Rocky Four Years of Biden”

Will Tunisia, the only Success of the Arab Spring, be Ruined by a Police Protection Bill? Thu, 15 Oct 2020 04:01:41 +0000 By Rima Sghaier | –

( Global Voices ) – As the Tunisian parliament considers a controversial police protection bill, protests erupted in the city of Bardo to oppose it. On October 6 and 8, human rights groups and a youth-led citizen movement dubbed Hasebhom (translated as “hold them to account”) rallied outside the parliament building against the bill, which, if adopted, would grant security forces immunity from prosecution for their use of unnecessary lethal force.

The Tunisia parliament’s decision to hold a plenary session to discuss the bill —weeks before the 10th anniversary of the revolution that toppled the Ben Ali dictatorship— was met with criticism from human rights groups and activists who have been opposing the bill since it was first submitted to the parliament in 2015.

As activists mobilized against the bill, police targeted them on- and offline. These attacks on freedom of demonstration and speech are alarming and confirm the concerns of human rights organizations that serious rights violations and persisting gaps in legal protections of rights threaten Tunisia’s strides in protecting human rights since the revolution of 2011.

In the meantime, the parliament announced on October 8 that it will delay discussion on the bill, while activists remain determined to have it completely withdrawn.

A ‘threat’ to rights and freedoms

The latest version of the draft law No.25/2015 on the Prosecution of Abuses Against the Armed Forces presents a number of improvements compared to the initial version, submitted to parliament on April 13, 2015. For example, this earlier version envisaged criminal penalties against speech deemed “denigrating” toward the police.

Yet, changes introduced to this recent version have not appeased the concerns of human rights organizations.

On October 6, more than 20 civil society organizations signed a joint statement and launched a campaign dubbed “An Alarming Parliamentary Return,” urging the parliament to reject the police protection bill, along with other bills raising rights concerns, including a state of emergency draft law and draft amendments to the decree regulating broadcast media. According to the statement, the police protection bill “continues to pose a threat to the rights and freedoms of all citizens, despite the amendments that have been included.”

The proposed law violates Article 21 of the Tunisian constitution of 2014, which states that “all citizens are equal before the law without any discrimination.” Article 7 of the proposed law, which grants security forces immunity from prosecution for the use of excessive and lethal force against citizens in situations deemed “dangerous,” is contrary to Tunisia’s international human rights commitments — particularly with regard to respect of the right to life and the fight against impunity.

In a statement by Amnesty International, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Emna Guellali said:

Time and time again, Tunisian and international civil society organizations have fought against this bill, warning of the detrimental impact it would have on the rule of law. If adopted, this draft law would reinforce the culture of impunity and send an alarming message to the security forces that they have the green light to use force as they see fit without worrying about being held accountable.

Security forces unions cite the rising threat of terrorism in post-revolutionary Tunisia to pressure parliament to adopt the bill. Yet, there are numerous laws and decrees that regulate or protect security work and severely punish criminal acts that target security forces.

Protesters and activists targeted

During the October 6 protest, demonstrators raised signs and slogans against police brutality and impunity, while members of LGBT groups, Damj and Outcasts, were present to denounce police violence against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Footage and testimonies shared by citizen journalists and independent citizen media Nawaat showed police physically assaulting protesters. Four were detained in the Bardo police station for three hours and were denied access to lawyers — a blatant violation of their rights under Tunisia law. Some deputies who joined the demonstrators were also assaulted, including Yassine Ayari, who talked about the assault to a local radio program.

Global Voices spoke with one of the detained activists, Asrar Ben Jouira, a Hasebhom campaign coordinator and member of the Tunisian Human Rights League. Jouira said that she herself was subjected to and also witnessed verbal and physical assaults by police — both uniformed and undercover. She said that a police officer sexually harassed by touching her breasts and also harassed other female demonstrators, by touching their buttocks and verbally abusing them. She also reported that police officers used their personal mobile phones to film her and the other demonstrators, despite the presence of the technical police that used professional cameras.

When she heard that two activists were detained, she went to Bardo police station to check on them and to make sure they had lawyers. She was lured inside the police station by an officer who led her to believe she could check on the activists, but quickly closed the door and informed her that she would also be detained for “rioting,” explaining that her face had been spotted in a video filmed during the protest.

Another police officer showed her on his phone a post on the Hasebhom Facebook page that translates the draft law from legalese standard Arabic to the Tunisian dialect, telling her: “We know you wrote this.”

Asrar and the other detainees were only released after the intervention of a number of deputies.

Activists targeted for their online views

In a Facebook live stream organized on October 6, Al Bawsala and other civil society organizations to denounce draft laws that threaten human rights, Yosra Frawes of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) denounced police unions for their “illegal practices” such as “organizing coordinated harassment campaigns on social media against citizens and discriminatory speech based on gender identity.”

On October 7, Activist Myriam Bribri received a summons from police based on her social media posts critical of the draft law. A public prosecutor later charged her with “insulting others through social media.” She remains free as she awaits trial on December 14. Bribri was also subjected to attacks on social media. In a statement supporting the activist, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) said:

This summons comes after she was systematically harassed whether through her page on social media or threatening phone calls coming from personal and administrative phone numbers of police union members.

The abuse of power by police and security forces remains undoubtedly a serious problem in Tunisia, particular as it remains under a continuous state of emergency since November 2015, a period marked by criminal prosecutions for peaceful speech online and offline, attacks against journalists, arbitrary arrests by the police, and numerous cases of police brutality and torture.

As Hasebhom organized the second round of protests on October 8, the parliament ended its plenary session without discussing the bill, postponing its adoption to an undetermined date as was the case in 2017.

Activists celebrated this small win but are not taking a break from their persistent fight until the bill is withdrawn or rejected. While civil society continues the fight against the police protection bill, Tunisian authorities must respect the right to peaceful protest and avoid arbitrary detention even under this everlasting state of emergency.

Via Global Voices


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: ”
Tunisia: Protests erupt after man killed in kiosk demolition”

Can Turkey’s Feminists prevent withdrawal in name of “Family Values” from Treaty banning Violence against Women? Fri, 25 Sep 2020 04:01:12 +0000 By Arzu Geybullayeva | –

The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe treaty designed to prevent violence against women

( ) – A website called Anit Sayac (Turkish for “monument tracker”) indicates the number “276” on its home page at the time of writing this story. It represents the number of women who were murdered in domestic violence attacks in Turkey—just in 2020. The counter is updated every day. But it is the names of the victims, written just below it, that strike the site’s visitors.

Among them is 27-year-old Pinar Gultekin, whose murder by her partner in July sparked public outrage and protests. On the same day that Pinar’s body was found by the police, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced it would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty signed by member states of the Council of Europe to prevent violence and domestic abuse against women. In 2012, Turkey became the first country to ratify the treaty—with support from the now-ruling AKP. The treaty came into force in Turkey in 2014.

Nowadays, the party led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan perceives the Convention to be antithetical to “Turkish family values.” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chair of the AKP, said on a July 2 TV interview that it was “wrong” for Turkey to have ratified the convention. “There are two issues in this convention which we do not approve of,” he said. “First is the gender issue, and the other is the sexual orientation issue. There are also other issues but these two have been the concepts which have played into the hands of and create spaces for the LGBT and marginal elements to work within.”

The party’s position resonates with Turkey’s conservatives. Abdurrahman Dilipak, a popular Islamist columnist, described the convention in 2019 as “a devil with an angel’s face” and “a trap” set to destroy the traditional family.

Meanwhile, local women’s rights organisations who help with survivors domestic violence fear that Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention will be devastating to their work—as well as to the families seeking justice for loved ones who were victims of femicide.

Mor Cati, a leading Turkish NGO working to prevent and document domestic violence, argues that any government attempt of withdrawal from the treaty could face a legal challenge. “According to the Turkish constitution, international agreements on human rights are above internal laws,” said Mor Cati lawyer Meline Cilingir, on an interview with Middle East Eye. “If the parliament tries to overturn the convention, women’s rights organizations will try and take it to the constitutional court to request its cancellation,” she added.

Not everyone within the ruling party is in favour of withdrawal. The Women and Democracy Platform (Kadem), an organization co-founded by Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar in 2013, has publicly defended Turkey’s membership in the treaty. On a July 10 statement, Kadem said that “in a relationship where there is no love and respect and one party is tormented with violence, we cannot talk about ‘family’ anymore.”


Pinar Gultekin’s murder helped spark a movement in support for the convention, expressed online by the hashtag #istanbulconventionsaveslives.

“Her death was emblematic of longstanding forms of structural violence made possible by acts of omission and commission by the state and its policing functions,” said Asli Bali, faculty director of the UCLA School of Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights.

The overwhelming public outcry seems to have made an impression on the AKP—a decision that was meant to be announced in early August has been postponed.

No state has ever withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention but, like Turkey, others are considering to do so. Among them is Poland, where conservative politicians have described the Convention as “endangering” to the traditional family. In May 2020, the Hungarian legislature refused to ratify the Convention, objecting to its definition of gender as “socially constructed.” Like Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia are signatories to the Convention but haven’t ratified it.

In 2018, 440 pairs of high heels were placed on the façade of a building in Istanbul. The installation by Turkish artist Vahit Tuna was a memorial to 440 women murdered by their partners or family members in that year alone. As Turkey weighs its membership to the Convention, women ask: How many more pairs of shoes need to be displayed to convince the government that those human lives are at stake?


A regional analyst and a blogger, Arzu Geybullayeva holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey and a Master’s of Science degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her areas of interest include regional politics, conflict resolution, and new social media.


Featured photo: Screenshot from Anit Sayac home page.

Licensed as Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

In northern Syria, COVID-19 Threatens Escalation of an already Dramatic Humanitarian Crisis Fri, 31 Jul 2020 04:03:12 +0000

Residents of Idlib enduring the impossible even without COVID-19

By Mousa Mohamed | – Translated by Mariam Abuadas | –

( ) – The ongoing armed conflict in Syria has displaced over 1.6 million people who have fled mostly to the north of the country. The resulting catastrophic humanitarian crisis is now worsened by the impact of COVID-19 in the region.

Photo of the northern Syrian city of Idlib, shortly after a Russian missile strike destroyed a neighbourhood on March 14, 2019, resulting in the deaths of 10 civilians. The young man pictured told the photographer that he had just lost his family. Photo by Mousa Mohammed, used with permission.

In the Idlib region in northern Syria, residents already endure drastic conditions on a daily basis. Although Idlib has confirmed only one case of COVID-19 in July, many factors contribute to rising tensions, one of which is the continuing and deliberate violence inflicted on Idlib’s vital infrastructure by the Syrian-Russian military alliance which has completely destroyed its health sector.

According to Human Rights Watch, “northern Syria is not at all ready to face the ‘COVID-19′ pandemic.”

Hani al-Hariri, an activist from southern Syria now living in Idlib, told Global Voices that the situation could be catastrophic if COVID-19 reaches northern Syria, where displaced people barely have access to basic needs, including health care, water, and food, making social distancing and hygiene almost impossible to maintain.

Children pay the heaviest price of war

In Idlib, children often pay the heaviest price of war. The war has driven approximately 190,000 orphaned children to the streets to fend for themselves among the ruins of Idlib. In total, an estimated 290,000 children have been repeatedly displaced by violence in northern Syria alone.

Jamil al-Hassan, a Syrian activist and journalist from Idlib, has been conducting humanitarian work for years in rebel-held regions. He talked to Global Voices about some of his experiences. The names mentioned in his testimony have been changed to protect their identities:

    “Ahmad, Salah, and Abdullah are three children under the age of ten from Aleppo and Idlib, who lost their families in a war that began in 2011, almost 10 years ago. Left with no one to depend on except each other, their only refuge has been on one of Idlib’s sidewalks. I met them during one of my daily tours of the city, and shared a video on my Twitter account hoping to find a way to help them.”

Children sleeping in the streets has become a frequent sight. While all of Idlib’s residents face a critical situation, children living on the streets are particularly at risk when the coronavirus starts spreading as there is no way to protect them.

Extremely precarious living conditions for refugees

The humanitarian disaster in Idlib has been the result of a series of military campaigns led by countries supporting the government of Bashar al-Assad: Russia, Iran on one side, and Turkey on the other side, which shifted from initially backing the Free Syrian Army, an opposition force founded by Syrian military defectors, to becoming its own player in the conflict in August 2016.

Idlib is the last stronghold of rebels and jihadists trying to overthrow the Assad government that now controls almost 64 percent of Syria. It has been under the control of a number of rival opposition factions since 2015. The region is home to more than 4.5 million people, including nearly 1.6 million internally displaced refugees, mostly women and children, who have come from various provinces throughout Syria.

These repeated campaigns have caused unfathomable suffering to Syrians.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and nearly one million people forcibly displaced in Idlib, and surrounding areas, just between December 2019 and March 2020, due to indiscriminate aerial bombardment, ground shelling, arrests, torture, and pillaging, according to a report published on July 7, by the UN Syria Commission of Inquiry. The opening remarks of the report can be read in this tweet:

Between December 2019 and March 2020, displaced people took refuge in overcrowded camps along the Turkish border, north of Syria, for protection. In these inhospitable places, refugees have been exposed to sub-zero-degree temperatures in Celsius throughout winter, crowding together in tents and makeshift shelters in what UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lockock described as the “biggest human horror story of the 21st century.”

In a June 28 phone call with Global Voices, Hariri, who volunteers for an organization that brings together the people of Daraa, northern Syria, said that “tents do not protect from the heat of the summer or the cold of winter.”

He added that tents have caught fire as a result of high temperatures exceeding 40 degrees C, in addition to people cooking inside them. Winters have been no better, with tents catching fire as a result of shoes and clothes being burned inside them in desperate attempts to produce warmth in the sub-zero temperatures.

    “Living in these tragic conditions in the tents is disastrous, because they [are] uninhabitable, [and] they are considered a temporary emergency solution for those who lost their homes.”

Meanwhile, the nonprofit organization Save the Children revealed that more than 200,000 people, half of whom are children, have left the camps in northwest Syria to other locations or have returned to their destroyed homes. Prompted by the temporary cease-fire agreement that began on March 6, these families faced an impossible choice between confronting the virus or facing war.

These families face dire conditions due to the harsh economic situation embodied by a staggering rise in food prices. These include the inability to access essential services like electricity, water, or the internet. Nevertheless, they continue to survive day-to-day, while facing an uncertain future amid a proxy war taking place on Idlib territory at the expense of innocent civilians.

While the world dedicates tremendous resources to fighting the pandemic, the Assad regime, in cooperation with its allies, have dedicated their own resources to killing, displacing and starving the Syrian people. With nearly 4.5 million people in Idlib still suffering from the war, they now anticipate the fallout from another inevitable humanitarian catastrophe.

Written byMousa Mohamed – موسى محمد Translated byMariam Abuadas

Information warfare: COVID-19’s other battleground in the Middle East Sun, 14 Jun 2020 04:03:18 +0000 By Saoussen Ben Cheikh | –

The internet breeds and amplifies state-sponsored fake news and propaganda

( – COVID-19 has exacerbated existing political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa, a region already marred by decades of conflict. Now, unscrupulous politicians blame their political enemies or neighboring governments for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, sounded the alarm on the threat that mis- and disinformation poses to humanity:

“At the WHO, we’re not just battling the virus, we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theories that undermine our response,” he said, reiterating that false information can cause confusion and fear.

The MENA region is no stranger to conspiracy theories and disinformation practices. A 2019 Oxford University study revealed that the region is home to half of the top 12 countries identified as having a “high cyber troop activity” — including Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Those in positions of power use “information warfare” to frame narratives and control public opinion, and social media has become the main battlefield to employ influencers, trolls, bots, and commenter armies.

In Iran, Yemen and Syria, the so-called “axis of resistance” — whose legitimacy is often tied to virulent opposition to the West — leaders have seized on COVID-19 to reaffirm political positionality and channel hostile anti-Western ideologies.

Hezbollah, for example, has framed the coronavirus as a plot twist by their “enemies” — the West in general and the United States in particular. Hezbollah, a Shi’a political party based in Lebanon, and affiliated with Iran, is known for being a state within a state. It is considered a terrorist organization by most countries.

In March, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah affirmed:

The corona is a highly threatening enemy. We have to confront this invasive enemy. We should not surrender or despair or feel helpless. The response must be confrontation, resistance, and fighting. We will win this battle. It is only a matter of time.

The Iranian-led ‘axis of resistance’

In the battle for hearts and minds, the Iranian regime’s ideological army — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — has led a counternarrative about the pandemic, portraying the virus as a conspiracy orchestrated by the regime’s traditional enemies — the United States and Israel.

The propaganda includes claims that the virus is an “American biological invasion” and a “Zionist biological terrorist attack,” leading some of the regime’s defenders to call for a retaliatory response.

Since its founding in 1979, the IRGC has been the “ruling clergy’s principal mechanism for enforcing its theocracy at home and exporting its Shi’ite Islamist ideology abroad, “according to Foreign Policy.

It collaborates with its allies in Arab capitals where it holds considerable influence — Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. They share similar anti-Western, US and Israeli ideologies. The leaders of these nations often glorify fighting and martyrdom.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah, for example, regularly preaches martyrdom messages to his base. In an interview, he explains: “Our fighter blows himself smiling and happy because he knows he is going to another world. Death for us is not the end but the beginning of real life.”

Houthi: Iranian proxy voice in Yemen

Yemen continues to grapple with the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN, after plunging into a bloody proxy war in 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to remove Houthi leaders from power taken following a coup.

Houthis forces, backed by Iran, control the most-populated northern region, as well as the media. Houthi leaders have used the pandemic — described by some analysts as a “gift for the Houthis,” to attack rivals and deflect attention from the ongoing crisis. Houthi leaders also promote the Iranian regime’s conspiracy theory that the virus is an American plot.

Houthi Minister of Health Dr. Taha Al-Mutawakkil said in a public sermon aired on TV: “We must ask the whole world, we must ask all of humanity: Who and what is behind the coronavirus?” He concludes with a Houthi slogan: “Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse be upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”

As the virus sweeps through Yemen in recent weeks, activists report dozens of deaths. Houthis leadership has denied the scale of the outbreak and downplayed its severity. In a press conference, Mutawakkil said:

We should not do like the rest of the world who have terrorized the population. The recovery of the virus is very high, it is in Yemen of over 80 percent. The treatment of the coronavirus will come from Yemen.

Houthis often conform to an ideology rooted in victimization and showcase that all of Yemen’s problems are caused by external interventions that started in 2015 with the Saudi-led military campaign. As such, they often blame the Saudi-led intervention that absolves them responsibility for the current crisis.

Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, tweeted on March 16, that the Saudi-led coalition is to blame for any spread of coronavirus in Yemen.

In the territories occupied by the aggressor countries [Saudi led coalition] no precautionary or emergency or quarantine measures have been taken or anything. There would not be an epidemic sweeping the world called corona. We hold the American aggressor and its allies responsible for every case in Yemen, as it controls the airspace, the land and ports.

Houthis leaders have also exploited the virus to push their base into action and boost military recruitment. On a Houthi affiliated TV channel, a speaker recommended the public to join the battlefield and die as martyrs instead of dying confined at home from the coronavirus.

The Saudi-UAE axis: Blame it on Qatar and Iran

The Gulf Council Countries (GCC) was formed in 1981 in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war, by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. Their union, from its inception, was to defend themselves against an Iranian threat.

However, the GCC has been in crisis since 2017, when a bloc of countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, came into conflict with Qatar over allegations of links with Iranian’s “terrorist groups.” A full blockade has been imposed since June 2017 against Qatar.

The coronavirus has been politicized against this backdrop. A widespread narrative in all GCC countries supports the story that the virus was imported from either Iran, the regional epicenter of the crisis, or Iraq, via Shi’a citizens returning from a pilgrimage in Iran.

The Saudi daily newspaper, Al Jazeera, accused Iran of “adding to its bloody terrorism health terrorism” for not having been transparent and allowing the virus to spread.

Saudi Arabia held Iran “directly responsible” for the spread of COVID-19 and Bahrain accused it of “biological aggression” by not stamping passports of Bahrainis who traveled to Iran.

In a region ruled by Sunni royal families over a large Shi’a minority, scrutinized for its perceived proximity with Iran, this scapegoating is likely to fuel sectarianism and tension.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have launched social media campaigns to blame Qatar for the coronavirus using hashtags such as #Qatariscorona, claiming that Qatar manufactured the virus in China to jeopardize Saudi Vision 2030 and Dubai Expo 2020.

The internet has provided fertile ground for breeding and amplifying state-sponsored fake news and propaganda campaigns. In an era of social distancing and increased reliance on social media, allowing these narratives to spread unchallenged and unpunished undermines an effective pandemic response — and more widely — peace and democracy.

Written bySaoussen Ben Cheikh

Featured Image: The Gate of Yemen in the capital Sana’a. Photo by Jialiang Gao, licensed under CC BY BY-SA 2.5


How Middle East Governments are using Covid-19 as a Pretext to Crush Human Rights Fri, 29 May 2020 04:02:14 +0000 By Saoussen Ben Cheikh | –

( – In response to COVID-19, governments around the world have declared states of emergency, allowing them to take exceptional measures to contain the pandemic.

Liberal democracies from the United States, Canada to European countries, Malaysia and South Africa imposed emergency measures that restricted mobility under lockdowns. Likewise, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), authorities declared states of emergency and imposed exceptional measures such as curfews and home confinement.

In a region plagued by decades of instability and conflict, authorities have long used exceptional and temporary emergency orders to justify repression and curb human rights. Based on this precedent, a number of governments are now using the coronavirus crisis to further crackdown on human rights — particularly freedom of expression.

What is a state of emergency?

When faced with an imminent threat such as disease or natural disaster, states can legally declare a state of emergency that allows authorities to temporarily exercise exceptional powers. This may include the suspension of basic human rights and freedoms such as restriction of movement or banning public gatherings.

However, “governments must inform the population of its exact substantive, territorial and temporal scope and the related measures,” when activating these measures, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR):

Under international human rights law, there are limits to what a state of emergency grants governments. The OHCHR recommends that “all measures taken during emergency rules to be proportionate and limited to those strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. (…) The military should not conduct policing functions.”

Certain basic human rights cannot be suspended. These include “the right to life, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the prohibition of discrimination, and freedom of religion, as well as the right to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary detention and the right to judicial review of detention,” said Human Rights Watch on March 20, in response to Jordan’s declaration of a state of emergency.

MENA quick to declare emergency powers

In the MENA region, governments were quick to react and exercise full powers, even when there were only a few COVID-19 cases.

On March 5, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a 30-day state of emergency after coronavirus cases were reported in the city of Bethlehem. On March 13, Mauritania followed suit and declared a state of emergency after the first case in the country was reported.

On March 16, it was Sudan’s turn to declare a state of emergency, following the death of a COVID-19 patient. The next day, Jordan’s King Abdullah II issued a royal decree granting his prime minister sweeping powers, including the ability to “monitor the content of newspapers, ads, and any other method of communication prior to publication, and to censor and shut down any outlet without justification.”

In Morocco, on March 20, King Mohamed VI declared a state of emergency, allowing the government to “take all necessary measures to combat the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Governments were able to quickly adopt exceptional measures, imposing general lockdowns and curfews, banning gatherings, shutting down schools, businesses and courts by decrees without parliamentary or judicial oversight.

Temporary to permanent

While these measures may be justified to contain the spread of the virus, emergency powers carry an inherent risk of undermining the rule of law.

In MENA in particular, governments and authoritarian regimes have a record of abusing the state of emergency status to suspend democratic institutions and human rights over long periods.

For example, a number of governments in the region have previously exploited the “war on terror” to extend their powers, turning what was supposed to be a temporary state of emergency into a permanent one lasting for decades.

Algeria was under emergency rules for nearly 20 years following a brutal conflict with Islamist militants in the1990s. Peaceful protests were barred, political freedoms were repressed, the media was censored and arbitrary detentions were common. It was only lifted in the wake of the Arab spring in 2011.

Egypt was under a continuous state of emergency for three decades following the 1981 assassination of former President Anwar al-Saddat. Protesters demanded to lift the emergency status during the Arab Spring and finally succeeded in 2012. However, in January 2013, emergency law was reintroduced by the late President Mohamed Morsi — ousted in a military coup in 2013 — to curb renewed unrest.

Since then, Egypt has alternated between periods of non-emergency and emergency rule, regularly extended since 2017, when terrorist attacks on two churches occurred. These emergency measures resulted in systematic abuses of power used to restrict public gatherings, media freedom and detain people for any period of time and for virtually any reason.

Egypt remains at the bottom of most human rights indexes, ranking 166 in the World Press Freedom Index, for example.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015, following a terrorist attack against a bus carrying presidential guards. It has since been continuously extended, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in 2017 to declare it a violation of international law.

The temptation to abuse power

Across the MENA region, the military has played a key role in enforcing emergency COVID-19 measures and crackdowns on freedom of expression have increased.

In March 2020, authorities in Jordan, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen issued decrees banning print newspapers until further notice, despite a lack of correlation between newspapers and COVID-19.

Various governments also adopted broad cybercrime laws to criminalize disinformation and fake news. In April 2020, the Algerian government passed a law criminalizing “fake news” deemed harmful to “public order and state security.”

Countering disinformation has been used in the region as a rationale for criminalizing anyone who posts content that challenges the official state narrative. Morocco has detained and prosecuted at least a dozen people for “spreading rumors” or disseminating “fake news” about COVID-19 on social media.

Even as countries curb the spread of the virus, they are still enforcing states of emergency without giving an indication of a timeline to return to normal. Jordan and Tunisia continue to impose a nightly curfew, even though the coronavirus is “contained,” on the basis of concerns of a potential second wave.

In the Middle East, fighting terrorism used to be the umbrella under which states of emergency were justified and maintained. Now, COVID-19 serves as a new justification for sweeping powers.

Finding a balance between national security and fundamental rights is a grey area that leaves ample room for interpretation.

The temptation to abuse powers when citizens are most vulnerable and need protection is real. A strong system of checks and balances must protect fundamental rights during an emergency. Ultimately, “the test of every nation is how it treats its citizens in times of crisis,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.


Creative Commons License 3.0 Written bySaoussen Ben Cheikh


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Bloomberg Markets and Finance: “Coronavirus: Middle East Impact”