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The Rafah Border Crossing is a painful path for Gaza’s Palestinians – Middle East Monitor

The young Ayman Adly graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy in Gaza’s Al Azhar University in 2009. Due to the high level of unemployment resulting from the Israeli-led siege and repeated military offensives launched against the coastal enclave by Israel, he could not find any work.

“I went online and followed dozens of social media accounts and pages specialising in getting job seekers connected with employers abroad,” he told me. “It didn’t take long for me to be shortlisted for an interview. The company asked if I could work in the UAE and I said yes. That’s when the difficulties began.”

His next obstacle was the Rafah Border Crossing, the only outlet to the world for most Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since 2007. To use the crossing, he needed a passport, so he duly completed all of the documentation required and submitted his application. It took two months for the passport to be issued by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

“The passport was issued in 2009 and expired in 2014,” he said. “The second was issued after two weeks in 2015 and expired in 2020.” He applied immediately for a third and got it within a week. Adly has thus had three passports, none of which has been used to travel.

“With my first passport in my hand, I went to the Rafah Crossing, and after spending about 20 hours in a very crowded immigration hall on the Egyptian side, an official called my name, give me back my passport and told me that my name was on the blacklist and I was forbidden from entering Egypt or passing through it.”

READ: Palestinian factions give Gaza border ultimatum to Israel

In that short sentence, the Egyptian official killed Adly’s hopes of getting to his new job in the UAE. He will keep trying, he told me, but he will need a lot of patience.

According to the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza, there are more than 27,000 people registered as needing to travel through the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian authorities allow only 350 people to get through the public hall and about 100 through the VIP hall daily when the crossing is open (there are frequent closures). Those needing to travel need months to get through Rafah.

“The number of people who want to travel is rising all the time,” explained Iyad Al-Bozom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. “We have asked the Egyptians to increase the daily quota of people allowed through.” The request has obviously fallen on deaf ears.

Five years ago, the Egyptian army established Ya Hala Company for Tourism and Travel. It organises VIP travel for Gaza’s Palestinians who can afford to pay. In the beginning, it worked behind the scenes. Following the 2018 Great March of Return protests and the understandings reached between Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza, the crossing opened regularly and this company started to work openly.


The Rafah border crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, 19 August 2021

It struck deals with Gaza-based travel companies which started to promote its services. The Egyptian authorities built a special immigration hall for its customers.

Hatem, who refused to give his second name, is an agent for a Gaza-based travel and tourism company. “We register between 100 and 150 VIP passengers a day,” he said. “We carry out security checks on each one for $100. If the person is not blacklisted, they will pay between $400 and $5,000 for passage through the Egyptian side of the crossing and a taxi to Cairo.”

READ: Israel still banning computers from entering Gaza

Such VIPs are exempt from further security checks and taxis take them from the crossing directly to Cairo. They do not stop at any of the military checkpoints and their luggage is not inspected. The journey to Cairo takes only six hours; seven or eight at most. “All the money we charge goes to Egyptian companies, most likely run by the army,” Hatem pointed out. “We only get some commission.”

People like Ayman Adly, however, don’t have enough money to pay so much to get through Rafah as a VIP. He and those like him can wait years to travel.

Those who do reach the Egyptian immigration hall can expect lengthy waits; Adly’s 20 hours is not uncommon. Many are interrogated by Egypt’s National Security Services asking about their political affiliations as well as their political and religious activities.

Sameer Abu Jazar has just returned to Gaza from Qatar. He described his journey from Cairo to Gaza as “the road to hell”. All non-VIP travellers have to endure the hot sun for 12 hours at Al-Faradan Checkpoint near the Suez Canal.

Rafah Crossing, path of pain for Gaza passengers

Palestinians wait to cross the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, 19 August 2021

“The Egyptian security forces inspect Palestinians’ luggage and confiscate almost all electronic devices, including laptops and mobiles,” explained Abu Jazar. “They only leave one mobile per traveller and sometimes do not leave any laptop. They confiscate perfume and many other things. Sometimes, they confiscate food.”

He waited with hundreds of others from 6am until 10pm out in the open air. There is no shelter and few facilities. “There’s no toilet. If you need one you have to move away, find somewhere a little secluded and do what you have to do there.”

The journey from Cairo to Rafah can take up to three days due to the regular checkpoints and repeated luggage inspections. “The Egyptian officials show no respect, not even for patients or the elderly,” said Abu Jazar.

That’s what awaits the Palestinians who wish to travel from Gaza through the Rafah Border Crossing. It is a painful path, but one they must endure if they hope to get a flight that will take them to their place of study, treatment or new employment.

“If I had any alternative way to return to Gaza,” concluded Abu Jazar, “I would have taken it. Anything has to be better than the hellish way that the Egyptians treat us. Anything.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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What can the Taliban offer the women of Afghanistan? – Middle East Monitor

The hashtag #womensrights has been trending on social media ever since the Taliban swept dramatically into the Afghan capital Kabul in what was an almost bloodless takeover. Aside from anything else, the transition of power was much smoother than that in Washington earlier this year, when the Trump-Biden handover saw five people killed and hundreds more injured after rioters stormed the Capitol building and laid siege to terrified US congressmen and women.

However, perhaps the biggest headline to come out of Kabul, apart from the Taliban’s stunning military victory, was announced during the extraordinary press conference which followed. Known to most journalists only as a voice on the other end of a phone call, we finally got to see the face of spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. The Taliban’s man spoke about women’s rights, pledging that they would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.

Not surprisingly, few in the Western media were convinced by his words and have spent every day since trying to undermine them. This was not the narrative they wanted or expected, and so they set out to find various commentators who would toe the anti-Taliban line. Some of the “experts” in TV studios morphed from talking authoritatively about Covid-19 and the pandemic to opining about what this Taliban victory means for women in Afghanistan. The analysis has been shallow and of poor quality.

Women’s rights, they chorused, are doomed under the Taliban. Almost as one, they predicted the return of forced marriage, rape and sex slaves with girls losing out on education and auctioned off into a life of servitude at the age of 12. A few appeared to conflate the atrocious actions of Daesh terrorists with the Afghan Taliban movement, perhaps deliberately in some cases; but hey, why let the facts spoil a lurid story and their own distorted version of events unfolding in Afghanistan?

If such commentators knew that the sexual degradation of women by Daesh is grossly offensive to the puritanical values of the Taliban, they didn’t say so. I have no doubt that any remaining Daesh elements in Afghanistan will be removed swiftly.

While it would be churlish not to acknowledge the promotion of some Afghan women since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, for most outside the main towns and cities their lives have not changed dramatically over the past twenty years. Life has still been tough; for many it’s been downright miserable.

Yes, there are a few female MPs, some impressive Afghan women running NGOs and charities, and others are senior clinicians, doctors, journalists and lecturers. Overall, though, these are a tiny minority; part of a largely privileged elite who are very articulate in front of the cameras.

They have predicted an educational disaster, with girls’ schools closing under the Taliban, despite repeated assurances by the movement that it is a woman’s right to be educated. The decision of many of these women, including the feminists amongst them, to side with the US occupation is, I feel, a blow to feminism. During these violent twenty years, countless Afghan men have been tortured, disappeared and killed. All of them were the sons, fathers and husbands of distraught women who will not forgive or forget the actions of the occupying forces.

So in response to all the crocodile tears we’ve had from governments across Europe and North America about what can be done to help Afghan women, I’ll say this: offer those who want to leave seats on the aircraft departing from Kabul along with those who worked for the occupation. And let those who want to help rebuild their country stay.

It is a common assumption that if you are a woman in Afghanistan then you are against the Taliban by default; that only men support the movement. This is not only an overly simplistic viewpoint, but also very wrong. There are indeed women who are happy that the Taliban has overthrown the corrupt government imposed on their country by the West. Many of us here might not understand that, but our opinions and views are really no longer relevant, if they ever were.

READ: The Taliban won legitimacy through armed struggle, now it must earn it through diplomacy

Ever since America withdrew its support from the Taliban in 1996 a slick demonisation process got underway fuelled by Islamophobia. By the time Washington’s spin doctors had finished their Machiavellian work the Taliban were being depicted routinely as primitive savages, misogynists and paedophiles.

The net effect was to turn Afghan women into victims who needed to be rescued by men with white saviour complexes. The demonisation continued in the run up to 9/11. Western feminists like myself were targeted in particular. I fell for the toxic narrative hook, line and sinker. Little wonder that my journalist colleagues were writing my obituary after news got out that I’d been captured by the Taliban while on an assignment. The fact is that I didn’t expect to survive my detention in September 2001, but I did. Only when I was released on humanitarian grounds and given time to reflect on my experience did I realise that the movement had been portrayed falsely in the West as a bunch of brutal, evil monsters.

Back in London I tried to raise this with quite a few feminists and colleagues, but my overtures were rejected. Genuinely kind women as they are, many are still in denial that they have been fed anti-Taliban propaganda which they have lapped up. They know that if they admit they were duped into believing a pack of lies then it also means that they’ve been giving unqualified support to the testosterone-fuelled US and NATO allies along with drone attacks against civilians and torture in support of a corrupt government in Kabul.

Displaced Afghan families flee northern provinces due to fighting between Taliban and Afghan security in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 10 August 2021 [Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency]

Only time will tell if the Taliban leaders keep their word and allow women to be educated to degree level and beyond, and then find suitable employment. If they don’t, they’ll never be forgiven by the women who have opted to stay and work for their country’s future. A lot of this depends on whether or not the Taliban will be allowed by its Western detractors to govern in the first place. We have seen how sanctions and demonisation made it almost impossible for Hamas to run the government in occupied Palestine after winning a free and fair election in 2006. Calls for anti-Taliban sanctions have already been heard this week; the movement has its work cut out to prove the naysayers wrong. We may never know if the Taliban can govern efficiently and fairly, simply because the West won’t allow it to try.

As we have seen, a major thrust of opposition to the movement revolves around women’s rights and status, as if everything has been on an upward trajectory under successive governments propped up by the US and its allies. So what is the reality about the hard won “liberties and freedoms” bestowed on Afghan women by, most recently, Ashraf Ghani’s government? Will he be able to reflect with pride on what he has done in his UAE bolthole where, it is reported, he has fled with hundreds of millions of dollars? Sadly, there has been more spin doctoring and whitewashing of the facts.

According to the Central Statistics Organisation, 84 per cent of Afghan women are illiterate and only two per cent of women have access to higher education. When Western politicians try to justify the 20-year occupation and war by citing the great advancements made by Afghan women, especially in education, they’re not being entirely truthful.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), around 3,000 Afghan citizens attempt suicide every year. This figure is thought to be an underestimate as many families don’t want to admit that such an issue exists; it is a taboo, one of many in the conservative country.

Globally, there are more male than female suicides, but that is not the case in Afghanistan, where a staggering 80 per cent of suicide attempts are made by women. The Herat province accounts for more than half of all cases nationwide. The statistics make grim reading and reveal some very unhappy girls and women.

READ: America and its allies helped the Taliban on the road to victory

As Afghanistan became more unstable last year it is thought that around ten million children missed out on regular school attendance, with 3.7 million deprived of an education altogether. This is the reality on the ground which can be verified easily should any journalist wish to fact check the anti-Taliban rhetoric.

After twenty years of alleged nation building and boasts about schools re-opening, the literacy programmes have largely failed. Educational success is still apparently the preserve of the select few. There’s absolutely no excuse for this. If a rogue like Zimbabwe’s late Robert Mugabe — another figure reviled by the West — could preside over enormous investment in education which saw women achieve the highest literacy rates in Africa, why has Afghanistan under occupation been unable to do something similar? Within two decades of Mugabe coming to power, 89 per cent of the adult population of Zimbabwe was literate, according to the World Bank. That was a success story. Afghanistan’s literacy programme has been an unmitigated disaster in comparison.

Indeed, the only success stories credited to the US and its NATO allies is that a tiny number of privileged Afghans seized the opportunities presented by the West to enrich themselves. Not for nothing is the government presided over by Ashraf Ghani decried as one of the most corrupt in the world. Until last weekend he was protected by Western firepower and neoliberals who pushed the myth of fantastic improvements in women’s rights and girls’ education in Afghanistan.

The neoliberal narrative skips over violence against women, including murder, assault and gang rape, all of them crimes projected onto the Taliban by their critics. Many assaults are swept under the carpet by family members, conveniently so for this “onwards and upwards” narrative. In the rural areas of Afghanistan there are very few services available to women seeking to escape domestic violence, with the result that anti-women violence doesn’t really make the headlines.

How many of us know about the shocking case of Lal Bibi, for example? The 17-year-old girl was beaten, tortured and burned by her father-in-law and husband. Even when police arrested the two men, local warlords secured their release and allowed them to flee to a Taliban-controlled area. The movement now has the opportunity to provide justice for Lal Bibi. It must do so if it is to live up to its promises about women’s rights.

Last year human rights organisations reiterated their calls for a ban on so-called virginity tests, abusive procedures that are a routine part of criminal proceedings in Afghanistan even though they have no scientific validity. Where has all the Western angst about women’s rights been over that particular procedure? The Afghan penal code requires a court order and the consent of the woman for the tests, but in more than 90 per cent of cases the women’s rights were ignored, despite laws enacted by Ghani’s government.

The mainstream media did not pick up on this scandal. Why? We can be sure that they’ll be writing, talking and broadcasting about it soon if the Taliban is not savvy enough to remove this vile piece of legislation from the statute book. As one media observer has said, the mainstream appears to be on a “full blown crusade” to provoke an uprising against the Taliban: “These people don’t care about Afghanistan, they just want to get revenge for the Western defeat.”

Scratch the surface and the truth is that the bar set for women’s rights in Afghanistan is deplorably low. The education system is in tatters and literacy rates do not match the proud boasts of what has been achieved by the US, British and NATO occupation.

Thousands of displaced families suffer hardships in a park in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 11 August 2021. [Haroon Sabawoon - Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of displaced families suffer hardships in a park in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 11 August 2021. [Haroon Sabawoon – Anadolu Agency]

America spent $2 trillion dollars fuelling its war in Afghanistan while pouring nearly $90 billion into establishing, arming and training a 300,000-strong Afghan National Army and police force, which simply melted away ahead of the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul. Billions more was thrown at the US military, private security contractors and arms manufacturers who gorged on a seemingly bottomless trough of cash. Pork barrel politics at its very worst.

Why weren’t these vast sums invested in Afghanistan’s health, welfare and education sectors instead? That is what nation building is about. Instead, US tax dollars have fuelled occupation and an unwinnable war, which tells us all we need to know about George W Bush’s intentions back in 2001. He wanted revenge for 9/11 — which the Taliban had nothing whatsoever to do with, remember — no matter what the cost. The US has treated Afghanistan abominably, like a high maintenance military playground, and its people have suffered as a result. President Joe Biden has now cussed the Afghans for being ungrateful and not fighting for it.

It was refreshing to hear the Taliban leaders talk about peace, women’s rights and education. Now they must put words into action, and show those who’ve occupied their land for two decades how it should have been done. Afghans have suffered for decades from foreign colonial interference, the violence of criminal warlords, famine, civil war, the Taliban in the 1990s and the US military and their corrupt local proxies since 2001.

Do the women of Afghanistan really believe that they are now going to be propelled backwards into a dark, medieval state of ignorance? I don’t think so. They have endured unimaginable hardships in wars and refugee camps; under communism and George W Bush’s “War on Terror”. The Taliban is undoubtedly misogynistic, but if it is true to its word, the movement is offering Afghanistan — and its women especially — hope, peace and stability, all of which have been absent for the past five decades. Give peace a chance, as John Lennon once sang. The people of Afghanistan deserve nothing less.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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Whether it’s Afghanistan or Palestine occupations don’t last forever – Middle East Monitor

Establishing an army or security apparatus to serve the interests of an occupying power is no easy task, not even in the best of times. The US has finally come to this realisation, albeit reluctantly. Recent events in Afghanistan confirm this. Just 14 years ago, the US-funded security forces led by Mahmoud Abbas were routed in Gaza. Like Afghanistan, they disintegrated and fled after they were defeated by resistance forces.

Despite their clear historical and geographical differences, there were definite similarities which underpinned the US experiments in both Afghanistan and Palestine.

After routing the Taliban in October 2001, the Bush administration spurned repeated overtures to include them in a political settlement. As early as December 2001 senior Taliban leaders reached out to the newly installed president, Hamid Karzai, to lay down arms and be included in the political process. Their offers were dismissed out of hand by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.

Undeterred by this initial refusal, the Taliban continued throughout 2002-2004 to press Karzai, who in turn lobbied the US to open a political dialogue. All these efforts were dismissed, culminating in a ban by the administration on any contact with the group.

In Palestine, the Bush administration’s attitude toward the resistance, and Hamas in particular, was arguably even more hostile. Ironically, it became even more so after the movement won the 2006 elections, which should have been a catalyst for democratic change.

OPINION: America and its allies helped the Taliban on the road to victory

Like the Karzai government, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not allowed to engage with Hamas. After the elections, Hamas sought to include its rival party Fatah in a national unity government, but they flatly refused, ostensibly at the behest of the US.

Given its appalling record of derailing the democratic experiments in Afghanistan and Palestine, the US must accept some measure of responsibility for the destabilisation of both countries. To the same degree that the exclusion of political adversaries had undermined national unity, so too the misuse of the security forces has fuelled entrenched grievances and divisions.

In Palestine, Lieutenant-General William Ward, the first US Security Coordinator (USSC), told a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the PA’s security sector was “dysfunctional, with separate chieftains [sic] that were loyal to individuals… not having any clear lines of authority and unresponsive to any central command.”

Stanley McChrystal, the retired United States Army general who served in Afghanistan as Chief of Staff of the Combined Joint Task Force and as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, had a similar view of the country’s security sector: “The Afghan National Army, trained and equipped largely by the United States, are employed primarily at static checkpoints around the country that are vulnerable to Taliban attacks.”

With regard to the Afghan National Police, he recalled it was “riddled with corruption and poor leadership, is used more for the protection of members of parliament and other officials than for its intended purpose of enforcing law and order.”

OPINION: The Taliban has triumphed and exposed the US as a colonial entity

Herein lies a common dilemma which confronted the nascent security forces in Palestine and Afghanistan. Simply put, they were called upon to be all things to all men. Whereas the Palestinians had the unenviable task of protecting conflicting Israeli and Palestinian interests, all at the same time, so too the Afghans were required to combat insurgents, hunt down drug barons, prevent the growth of opium, and yet coordinate with American forces to seek out Al-Qaeda fugitives in the Pashtun regions. In the end, they achieved none.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on August 16, 2021 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images]

After all the wars and their accompanying death and destruction, it is still not clear what the Americans really wanted. In November 2003, the immediate post 9/11 period, President Bush told a gathering at the White House that “our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come.”

Now, two decades on, after the Taliban regained control of all of Afghanistan, Joe Biden incredulously tells the American people, “Our mission in Afghanistan was never to create a unified democracy.”

Remarkably, Gen. McChrystal had a different understanding of his mission in there. Writing recently in Foreign Affairs he affirmed that they invaded Afghanistan “to destroy Al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban regime that was hosting it.” And in the same breath, he added that the mission “came to include the establishment of an Afghan nation that defended its own sovereignty, embraced democracy, educated women, and cracked down on opium production.”

Whatever their origins or persuasion, military occupations are innately opposed to freedom and development. Even in their most benign forms, they lead to resistance and prevent democracy from taking root. Palestine and Afghanistan are salient examples. Throughout history, their peoples have witnessed numerous invasions and occupations. After two decades the US has finally run out of stamina. Similarly, they will eventually realise the futility of supporting the Zionist occupation of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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LGBT+ Afghans desperate to escape amid Taliban takeover – Middle East Monitor

It was never easy being gay or transgender in Afghanistan. Now it could be deadly, according to LGBT+ Afghans, whose fear of violence under the Taliban is driving a frantic bid to escape, Reuters reported.

But how any evacuation might work is another matter, with scant practical support coming from overseas and even less hope that Islamist militants will let them into the airport.

“If I find a visa and a country gives me permission to leave, of course I will risk everything to get out,” said one gay Afghan student, whose name was withheld for his protection.

“Any country, but not here. Living here means nothing for us.”

The odds are stacked against an escape as the 21-year-old hides indoors, paralysed by fear of what might happen on the street, with few exit routes open amid chaotic airport scenes.

READ: UN chief ready to talk to Taliban once leadership is clear

Nor is it clear where LGBT+ Afghans might be welcome to set up home or whether sexuality or gender identity are criteria for automatic asylum in many countries around the world.

Canada has pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans, explicitly including LGBT+ people in its commitment.

In offering such clear assurance, Canada is an outlier.

Irish media has reported that LGBT+ people will also be among its 150 Afghan refugees brought to the country. Ireland’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

But in other Western democracies, including the United States and Europe, there was no such clarity.

On Monday, the day after Kabul fell, US President Joe Biden wrote a memo granting $500 million for “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk” in the tumult.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the United States would “bring to safety… vulnerable Afghans” without specifying who. Asked if this covered LGBT+ Afghans, the State Department declined comment.

Britain says it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans under year one of a resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Again, it made no mention of LGBT+ Afghans and did not respond to a Thomson Reuters Foundation request for comment.

Many European leaders are wary of accepting any migrants – of any type – and some countries, including Australia, have explicitly rejected an Afghan influx.

Turkey is bolstering its border walls with Iran, which neighbours Afghanistan, expressly to keep out Afghan migrants.

Secrets and fear

Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian-based LGBT+ advocacy group, has urged governments to help gay and trans Afghan refugees.

“Public attitudes…towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, and death,” it said.

“Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

US novelist Nemat Sedat, a gay Afghan-American who left his homeland aged 5, then taught at an Afghan university from 2012 to 2013, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he had been contacted by more than 100 LGBT+ Afghans desperate to flee.

READ: Women mark Afghanistan Independence Day under Taliban rule

“People are messaging me, telling me ‘What can we do? We’re going to get exterminated. The Taliban are going to weed us out and kill us,'” Sedat said in a video call.

Sedat said he was working with an American based in Kabul and lobbying his congressman to try and arrange a flight out.

Contacted over WhatsApp, the American confirmed he was at Kabul airport, but said the situation was “really bad” and he was unsure even how to get LGBT+ people safely through the city.

Chaos has swamped the airport, with reports of stampedes, Taliban fighters turning back Afghans with travel documents and women throwing their babies over the wall to US soldiers.

Since Sunday, 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, according to NATO and Taliban officials.

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Former anti-corruption chief under house arrest – Middle East Monitor

Chawki Tabib, former head of the Tunisian Anti-Corruption Authority (INLUCC), has confirmed via his Facebook page that he has been played under house arrest.

“The chief of a security unit that has been stationed since 10 PM Tunis time (9.30 GMT) in front of the door of my apartment, and informed me that the official in charge of running the Ministry of the Interior issued an order to place me under house arrest,” Tabib wrote.

Tabib considers this to be a clear violation of his rights guaranteed by law and the Constitution.

He added: “What concerns me at this moment is to send an initial message to my family and friends that there is no reason for you to be ashamed of your kinship or friendship with me, quite the contrary.”

Interview with Tunisian legal expert Sana Ben Achour: ‘The coup was two years in the making’

Tabib continued: “The second message goes to those who made this shameful and unjust decision against me. I will pursue you before justice in Tunisia and abroad and before the justice of heaven if I could not restore my right from you on this earth.”

On Friday, Tunisian President Kais Saied issued a presidential order to dismiss Anouar Ben Hassan, secretary-general of INLUCC, without giving reasons for the decision.

Local media reported that Reda Gharsalawi, who is in charge of running the Ministry of Interior, on Friday ordered the eviction of the headquarters of the National Anti-Corruption Authority of its employees amid security presence, accompanied by the governor of Tunis, Chadli Boualag.

The Ministry of Interior has not yet explained the reasons behind the evacuation of the headquarters of the constitutional commission.

At the end of July, the Tunisian judiciary opened an investigation into Chawki Tabib on suspicion of “forgery”.

Tunisia: President Saied attacks constitution article guaranteeing freedom of conscience and belief

The commission was established in 2011 to succeed the Commission of Inquiry into Corruption and Bribery, which was immediately established after the revolution that toppled former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia has witnessed a severe political crisis since 25 July, when Saied decided to freeze Parliament and dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi as part of exceptional measures, justified by the deterioration of the economy and the failure to manage the coronavirus pandemic crisis.

The majority of parties, including the Ennahda Movement, rejected these decisions, considering the recent resolutions as a “coup against the Constitution“, while others backed this move as a way to correct the course of the revolution.

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LGBT+ Afghans desperate to escape amid Taliban takeover – Middle East Monitor

It was never easy being gay or transgender in Afghanistan. Now it could be deadly, according to LGBT+ Afghans, whose fear of violence under the Taliban is driving a frantic bid to escape, Reuters reported.

But how any evacuation might work is another matter, with scant practical support coming from overseas and even less hope that Islamist militants will let them into the airport.

“If I find a visa and a country gives me permission to leave, of course I will risk everything to get out,” said one gay Afghan student, whose name was withheld for his protection.

“Any country, but not here. Living here means nothing for us.”

The odds are stacked against an escape as the 21-year-old hides indoors, paralysed by fear of what might happen on the street, with few exit routes open amid chaotic airport scenes.

READ: UN chief ready to talk to Taliban once leadership is clear

Nor is it clear where LGBT+ Afghans might be welcome to set up home or whether sexuality or gender identity are criteria for automatic asylum in many countries around the world.

Canada has pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans, explicitly including LGBT+ people in its commitment.

In offering such clear assurance, Canada is an outlier.

Irish media has reported that LGBT+ people will also be among its 150 Afghan refugees brought to the country. Ireland’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

But in other Western democracies, including the United States and Europe, there was no such clarity.

On Monday, the day after Kabul fell, US President Joe Biden wrote a memo granting $500 million for “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk” in the tumult.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the United States would “bring to safety… vulnerable Afghans” without specifying who. Asked if this covered LGBT+ Afghans, the State Department declined comment.

Britain says it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans under year one of a resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Again, it made no mention of LGBT+ Afghans and did not respond to a Thomson Reuters Foundation request for comment.

Many European leaders are wary of accepting any migrants – of any type – and some countries, including Australia, have explicitly rejected an Afghan influx.

Turkey is bolstering its border walls with Iran, which neighbours Afghanistan, expressly to keep out Afghan migrants.

Secrets and fear

Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian-based LGBT+ advocacy group, has urged governments to help gay and trans Afghan refugees.

“Public attitudes…towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, and death,” it said.

“Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

US novelist Nemat Sedat, a gay Afghan-American who left his homeland aged 5, then taught at an Afghan university from 2012 to 2013, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he had been contacted by more than 100 LGBT+ Afghans desperate to flee.

READ: Women mark Afghanistan Independence Day under Taliban rule

“People are messaging me, telling me ‘What can we do? We’re going to get exterminated. The Taliban are going to weed us out and kill us,'” Sedat said in a video call.

Sedat said he was working with an American based in Kabul and lobbying his congressman to try and arrange a flight out.

Contacted over WhatsApp, the American confirmed he was at Kabul airport, but said the situation was “really bad” and he was unsure even how to get LGBT+ people safely through the city.

Chaos has swamped the airport, with reports of stampedes, Taliban fighters turning back Afghans with travel documents and women throwing their babies over the wall to US soldiers.

Since Sunday, 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, according to NATO and Taliban officials.

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Middle East

LGBT+ Afghans desperate to escape amid Taliban takeover – Middle East Monitor

It was never easy being gay or transgender in Afghanistan. Now it could be deadly, according to LGBT+ Afghans, whose fear of violence under the Taliban is driving a frantic bid to escape, Reuters reported.

But how any evacuation might work is another matter, with scant practical support coming from overseas and even less hope that Islamist militants will let them into the airport.

“If I find a visa and a country gives me permission to leave, of course I will risk everything to get out,” said one gay Afghan student, whose name was withheld for his protection.

“Any country, but not here. Living here means nothing for us.”

The odds are stacked against an escape as the 21-year-old hides indoors, paralysed by fear of what might happen on the street, with few exit routes open amid chaotic airport scenes.

READ: UN chief ready to talk to Taliban once leadership is clear

Nor is it clear where LGBT+ Afghans might be welcome to set up home or whether sexuality or gender identity are criteria for automatic asylum in many countries around the world.

Canada has pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans, explicitly including LGBT+ people in its commitment.

In offering such clear assurance, Canada is an outlier.

Irish media has reported that LGBT+ people will also be among its 150 Afghan refugees brought to the country. Ireland’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

But in other Western democracies, including the United States and Europe, there was no such clarity.

On Monday, the day after Kabul fell, US President Joe Biden wrote a memo granting $500 million for “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk” in the tumult.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the United States would “bring to safety… vulnerable Afghans” without specifying who. Asked if this covered LGBT+ Afghans, the State Department declined comment.

Britain says it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans under year one of a resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Again, it made no mention of LGBT+ Afghans and did not respond to a Thomson Reuters Foundation request for comment.

Many European leaders are wary of accepting any migrants – of any type – and some countries, including Australia, have explicitly rejected an Afghan influx.

Turkey is bolstering its border walls with Iran, which neighbours Afghanistan, expressly to keep out Afghan migrants.

Secrets and fear

Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian-based LGBT+ advocacy group, has urged governments to help gay and trans Afghan refugees.

“Public attitudes…towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, and death,” it said.

“Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

US novelist Nemat Sedat, a gay Afghan-American who left his homeland aged 5, then taught at an Afghan university from 2012 to 2013, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he had been contacted by more than 100 LGBT+ Afghans desperate to flee.

READ: Women mark Afghanistan Independence Day under Taliban rule

“People are messaging me, telling me ‘What can we do? We’re going to get exterminated. The Taliban are going to weed us out and kill us,'” Sedat said in a video call.

Sedat said he was working with an American based in Kabul and lobbying his congressman to try and arrange a flight out.

Contacted over WhatsApp, the American confirmed he was at Kabul airport, but said the situation was “really bad” and he was unsure even how to get LGBT+ people safely through the city.

Chaos has swamped the airport, with reports of stampedes, Taliban fighters turning back Afghans with travel documents and women throwing their babies over the wall to US soldiers.

Since Sunday, 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, according to NATO and Taliban officials.

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Middle East

53 US lawmakers warn of Israel’s use of collective punishment in Gaza – Middle East Monitor

Fifty-three House Democrats have warned of the grim humanitarian situation in Gaza in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they denounced Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in the besieged enclave and the occupation state’s banning of essential material that are vital to ease Palestinian suffering.

“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter praised by progressive American Jewish groups. “Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents,” the letter continued.

Led by Democrat members of Congress Mark Pocan and Debbie Dingell, the letter which comes three months after Israel’s 11-day onslaught on the Strip which killed more than 250 people including women and children, called for securing changes that are “vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

The lawmakers said that Gaza’s humanitarian situation has been “exacerbated by the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel” and “left an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance.”

“Unfortunately the recent Israeli air campaign in Gaza has only worsened living conditions, inflicting $380 million in damage to the beleaguered strip and necessitating $485 million in immediate humanitarian and reconstruction aid,” said the letter referring to a recent report by the UN, the World Bank and EU.

Read: We are losing US Jews, says Israel minister issuing warning of a progressive bloc

The letter called on Blinken to work with Israel and Egypt on issuing clear guidance on materials allowed into Gaza and to review the efficacy of the existing Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism agreement. With Israel having effective control of Gaza, the occupation state has the ultimate say over what goes in an out of the besieged Strip. It’s often been accused of denying essential material including basic foods to punish Palestinians.

Decrying the lack of clarity regarding which construction materials are prohibited from entering the Gaza Strip, the lawmakers said that Israel “selectively ban materials that it considers having ‘dual use’ — any item it claims could have a military application.” They highlight vital materials that have been classified as dual use such as water disinfectants, desalination units and electricity generators.

Israel’s restriction of Gaza’s fishing zone to six nautical miles was also condemned by the lawmakers as a form of collective punishment. “Although the restriction was recently reversed, the decision to collectively punish the people of Gaza by unilaterally restricting its fishing zone remains extremely concerning,” said the letter, urging Blinken “to work with the Israeli government to refrain from such harmful and illegal actions.”

Read: AIPAC is in a losing battle to preserve Israel’s bipartisan status in America

Wednesday’s letter is one of several sent to officials in the Biden administration in recent months highlighting Israel’s aggression against Palestinians. In June, 73 US lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to undo his predecessor’s pro-Israel policies.

In May, 25 Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Blinken calling on him to pressure Israel to halt the planned forced eviction of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. A month before that US lawmakers submitted a draft bill to prevent Israel using US tax dollars to target children.

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Middle East

160 people evacuated from Afghan capital reach Istanbul – Middle East Monitor

Some 160 people, including Turkish citizens and foreign nationals, evacuated from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul arrived in Istanbul on Saturday, Anadolu Agency reported.

They were first taken to Pakistan on a Turkish Air Force transport plane and then brought to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight.

The Turkish citizens among the evacuees have been directed to quarantine at their homes, while the foreign nationals have been placed in hotels.

The Turkish Air Force also flew out 204 more Turkish nationals from Kabul in two groups, with 104 citizens evacuated on Saturday and 100 late on Friday.

The unexpected power grab by the Taliban has triggered a rush to flee Afghanistan, including civilians who assisted foreign soldiers or groups and now fear retribution.

READ: US to expand evacuation flights from Kabul to Europe

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Middle East

UAE responsible for regional instability over Israel ties – Middle East Monitor

Iran warned on Monday that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be responsible for destabilising the region due to the Israeli presence on its territory, Anadolu Agency reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters that Israel seeks to gain legitimacy in the region through the UAE’s opening of its embassy in Israel.

“The United Arab Emirates must also be mindful that it will be held accountable for the unrest and the consequences of presence of Jerusalem-occupying regime [Israel] in this region,” Khatibzadeh said.

Last week, the UAE opened its embassy in Tel Aviv, a move that was preceded by opening an Israeli embassy and a consulate in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively.

In September 2020, the UAE and Israel signed a US-sponsored deal to normalize their relations. Since then, the two countries have signed dozens of bilateral agreements in various fields, including investment, banking services, and tourism.

READ: UAE embassy in Israel to be opened in Tel Aviv