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March 12, 2017

Cairo’s population is set to grow by 500,000 this year, more than any other city in the world, adding to the pressure on an Egyptian economy struggling to recover from six years of political turmoil.

Greater Cairo, a metropolitan area including the cities of Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia, is home to some 22.8 million people and will gain another half a million in 2017, a Euromonitor International report released last week shows.

That represents a quarter of Egypt’s 92 million. The national natural population growth of 2.4 per cent per year is double the average of other developing countries, said Mohamed Abdelgalil, adviser to official statistics agency CAPMAS.

Stinging poverty in southern Egypt leads many families to have several children in the hope they can become sources of income. Those children eventually migrate to larger cities for job opportunities scarce in their hometowns.

“In rural areas, and in the south in particular, poor families have many children because they see these children as a safety net,” Maysa Shawky, the head of the National Population Council, told Reuters in an interview.

“Also, many of them have daughters until they have sons,” she added. “They want to produce breadwinners – instead of hiring a worker, they could have their children help them.”

Shawky said awareness campaigns at universities and schools have begun as part of a national population strategy.

New Capital

Internal migration is one of the main causes of overpopulation in Cairo. Egypt lists 351 slums as “unsafe”, most of them in the sprawling capital where the poorest have built ramshackle homes that lack basic amenities such as mains sewage and water. Some 850,000 people are believed to live in such dangerous slums.

“For the average citizen to not be affected by hikes in the prices of goods and services, the economic growth rate must be double the natural population increase rate,” Abdelgalil said.

Egypt’s economic growth was 4.3 per cent in 2015-2016, which is not enough to achieve that. The IMF expects it to be about 4 per cent this year, which is even less.

A new administrative capital, announced in March 2015, is intended partly to reduce the crowding in Cairo. Some 45 kilometres to the east, it will be home to government ministries, housing and an airport.

People will start moving to the as yet-unnamed new city in 2018, said Khaled Abbas, assistant to the housing minister for technical affairs. Work on 17,000-18,000 residential units is nearing completion and they will be put up for sale in April.

“Egypt’s population is expected to reach 160-180 million in 40 years. Where will all these people go?” said Abbas. “We’re also working on developing areas in northern and southern Egypt.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170312-cairo-population-to-grow-by-half-a-million-people-in-2017/.

January 10, 2017

The Russian defence ministry has reportedly announced that Egypt would send troops to Syria to observe the implementation of the truce reached between the Syrian regime’s forces and the armed opposition, according to the Israeli website Rotter.

The news website added that the Egyptian troops will arrive in Syria early next week, noting that a number of Egyptian officers had been already in Syria to pave the way for the troops’ arrival.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Egypt as a partner to join his country along with Turkey and Iran in the talks on Syria’s future and the implementation of the truce, according to Rotter.

Russia had decided to halt flights to Egyptian airports after a Russian plane crashed in October 2015 over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 217 passengers on board. The Metrojet flight crashed after its departure from the Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh International Airport.

Rotter said that for Egypt to join the trio discussing Syria’s future would be a great Russian success, which is also interesting in light of Egypt’s tense relations with Turkey on the one hand and its relations with Iran on the other.

It will be also interesting to know the US response to this step, given that the United States and European countries are not taking part in the Syria talks, the Israeli website added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170110-citing-russian-defence-ministry-israeli-website-says-egypt-to-send-troops-to-syria-next-week/.

January 05, 2017

CAIRO (AP) — A leading Egyptian activist behind the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak was released from prison Thursday after serving a three-year sentence for violating a ban on unauthorized protests.

Ahmed Maher, who returned to his Cairo home, will remain under surveillance for three years as part of his sentence, his lawyer, Tarek al-Awadi, told The Associated Press. He will not be allowed to leave the country.

Maher, 36, was the co-founder of the April 6 movement, which used social media to bring protesters into the streets in Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations that forced Mubarak to resign in February 2011. Two and half years later, the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president and the new government banned all unauthorized demonstrations.

Maher was arrested in November 2013, and the following month he was convicted along with April 6 co-founders Mohammed Adel and Ahmed Douma. Each was fined and sentenced to three years in prison. Adel will finish his sentence within a month while Douma is serving a life sentence in another case and is awaiting an appeal trial in April.

The government has waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent over the past three years, jailing thousands of people. Most of those imprisoned are Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown and jailed in 2013, but the crackdown has also swept up prominent secular activists like Maher, Adel and Douma.

It’s unclear whether Maher will be able to return to activism in the current climate. Al-Awadi said the local police station charged with monitoring Maher would have wide discretion over his treatment.

“If they decide to put a lot of pressure on him, humiliate him and treat him like they treat thieves and drug dealers, they could order him to spend each night of the coming three years at the police station,” al-Awadi said.

Maher’s wife, Reham Ibrahim, welcomed his release in a Facebook post, saying “We will make up for what we missed.” The two have a son and a daughter.

August 10, 2017

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia is marking the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit, her last overseas tour before she died in a car crash in Paris. Her crusade against land mines led to her three-day visit to Bosnia from Aug. 9, 1997, during which she met victims who sustained injuries from devices planted during the country’s savage civil war in the 1990s.

Three weeks after her visit, which coincided with news of her romance with millionaire Dodi al Fayed, the pair died in a car crash in Paris when their driver lost control of his car as they were pursued by photographers.

British Ambassador Edward Ferguson said Thursday during a memorial conference in Sarajevo that Diana would be saddened by the fact that mines still kill people in Bosnia. “What I think 20 years ago Princess Diana did is that she shone a light on this problem with mines, and she really brought it into public attention in an enormous way, in a way, perhaps, that only she could have done,” Ferguson said.

“By walking through a mine field in Angola, by visiting Bosnia-Hercegovina just a few days before she sadly died. She really got the public attention and therefore political attention as well.” He said undetected land mines still represent a danger in Bosnia despite some recent progress. A half-million people, or about 15 percent of the population, live with this fear of mines, Ferguson added.

The princess’ trip to Bosnia was organized by The Land Mines Survivors’ Network, a group founded in 1995 by two American victims of land mines, Ken Rutherford and Jerry White. As part of the visit, Diana made a surprise visit to the Suljkanovic family in their modest home in the small village of Dobrnja near Tuzla.

Several weeks earlier, the father of the family, Muhamed Suljkanovic, had lost both his feet after stepping on a land mine in the forest outside his house, a remnant of Bosnia’s three-year war. Diana took him some cake on Aug. 9, his birthday, his wife Suada remembered.

“Diana and her friend Ken (Rutherford), the American, they brought the birthday cake, and they sang happy birthday to him, and we were in shock. How did they know?” But the Suljkanovic family’s joy turned to shock and disbelief when, just a few weeks after Diana’s visit, they heard on the radio that the princess had died.

“What? I said to myself. How? Where? I could not believe it. Immediately after that I named my newborn daughter Diana, after the princess. They say we have to somehow remember good people, and we remember her like that,” Muhamed Suljkanovic said.

During her visit, Princess Diana promised financial support for Muhamed for a new prosthesis. Just a couple of months after she died, the family say they received a donation from the royal family, the exact amount promised by Diana.

Another land mine victim, Malic Bradaric, was only 13 in 1996 when he stepped on one while playing in his village of Klokotnica. The incident left him without most of his right leg. When Diana came to visit, he said this week that he expected a royal in a shiny dress wearing a crown. Instead, she arrived on his doorstep wearing jeans and a white shirt.

Bradaric and his friends, who had a chance to meet Diana, said she was “a light at the end of the tunnel” for them. He now remembers the shock when he heard that the princess was killed. “That light that we saw at the end of the tunnel just turned off,” Bradaric said.

Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

August 01, 2017

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Thousands of people converged on the southern Bosnian city of Mostar over the weekend for an annual diving competition from a historic bridge that has drawn crowds for more than four centuries.

Over 10,000 spectators cheered and let off smoke bombs as they watched 41 daring men take the plunge from the Old Bridge during Mostar’s 451st annual diving competition. The competitors dove from a bridge 27 meters (89 feet) high into the cold, fast-flowing Neretva River below in front of a panel of judges studying the quality of the dive.

The fall from the top of the bridge to the 4.5-meter (15-foot) deep river underneath lasts nearly three seconds, with divers picking up a speed of around 80 kph (50 mph). At the end of a beautiful Sunday afternoon of diving, 38-year-old Mostar native Lorens Listo claimed his 11th competition victory.

“Every time I compete it is more difficult and every victory is thus sweeter,” Listo said. Diving or jumping from the bridge, originally built by the Ottomans in 1566, has been a rite of passage for generations of Mostar youngsters.

The Old Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was destroyed during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, but was painstakingly rebuilt after the conflict. “I compete elsewhere as well, but I love diving from the Old Bridge more than anything else,” Listo said.

The event climaxed with participants jumping from the bridge after nightfall with flares in their outstretched hands.

July 11, 2017

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people converged on Srebrenica Tuesday for a funeral for dozens of newly identified victims of the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town. Remains of 71 Muslim Bosniak victims, including seven juvenile boys and a woman, were buried at the memorial cemetery on the 22nd anniversary of the crime. They were laid to rest next to over 6,000 other Srebrenica victims found previously in mass graves. The youngest victim buried this year was 15, the oldest was 72.

Adela Efendic came to Srebrenica to bury the remains of her father, Senaid. “I was 20-day-old baby when he was killed. I have no words to explain how it feels to bury the father you have never met,” Efendic said. “You imagine what kind of a person he might have been, but that is all you have.”

More than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys perished in 10 days of slaughter after Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995. It is the only episode of Bosnia’s fratricidal 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide by two U.N. courts.

Serbs hastily disposed of the victims’ bodies in several large pits, then dug them up again and scattered the remains over the nearly 100 smaller mass graves and hidden burial sites around the town. Every year forensic experts identify newly found remains through DNA analysis before reburial.

Most coffins are lowered into their graves by strangers, because all male members of the victims’ families had often been killed. “I was looking for him for 20 years…they found him in a garbage dump last December,” Emina Salkic said through tears, hugging the coffin of her brother Munib. He was 16 when he was killed.

Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces for years before it fell. It was declared a U.N. “safe haven” for civilians in 1993, but a Security Council mission that visited shortly afterward described the town as “an open jail” where a “slow-motion process of genocide” was in effect.

When Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic broke through two years later, Srebrenica’s terrified Muslim Bosniak population rushed to the U.N. compound hoping that Dutch U.N. peacekeepers would protect them. But the outgunned peacekeepers watched helplessly as Mladic’s troops separated out men and boys for execution and sent the women and girls to Bosnian government-held territory.

An appeals court in The Hague ruled this month that the Dutch government was partially liable in the deaths of more than 300 people who were turned away from the compound. Mladic is now on trial before a U.N. war crimes tribunal, but many Bosnian Serbs, including political leaders, continue to deny that the slaughter constituted genocide.

“We are again calling on Serbs and their political and intellectual elites to find courage to face the truth and stop denying genocide,” Bakir Izetbegovic, Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, said in his address to the mourners.

Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, the head of the EU delegation to Bosnia, said that remembering what happened in Srebrenica was “the common duty of us as Europeans,” especially as we live “in a world where facts and truth are being manipulated.”

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the international community, “and in particular the United Nations,” have accepted their share of responsibility, and that all parties must acknowledge “that these crimes occurred and our roles in allowing them to occur.”

“The difficult task of building trust to allow for full reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina lies with the people of the country’s various communities,” Guterres said in a statement. “To build a better and common future, the tragedies of the past must be recognized by those communities.”

Amel Emric in Srebrenica and Edie Lederer in New York contributed

February 3, 2017

A Bosnia-based international school said today it would offer scholarships to refugees and students from seven nations affected by the immigration ban issued last week by US President’s Donald Trump.

United World College (UWC) Mostar, one of 17 UWC schools worldwide that aim to bring together students from conflict zones, opened in 2005 with the goal of healing ethnic divisions after the Bosnian war of the 1990s.

“We offer scholarships to US students, as well as to refugees and students from majority Muslim countries banned by the US Executive order to send a signal for peace,” said Valentina Mindoljevic, head of the UWC Mostar.

Trump’s order bars the admission of people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and places an indefinite hold on Syrian refugees.

The school in 2011 extended a scholarship to Kim Han-sol, the grandson of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, after Hong Kong refused him a visa to study there.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170203-college-in-bosnia-offers-scholarships-to-people-banned-by-trump/.

January 09, 2017

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian Serbs celebrated a controversial holiday Monday in defiance of the country’s other ethnic groups, its constitutional court and the international community.

The Jan. 9 holiday commemorates the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia, igniting the country’s devastating four-year war. Police officers, firefighters and folklore groups paraded through the streets of Banja Luka, the de-facto capital of the Serb-run part of the country, Republika Srpska.

Members of a Bosnian Army regiment who come from the Serb chunk of the country were also in attendance despite warnings by the defense ministry and NATO that their participation would be considered illegal.

The soldiers did not take part in the parade, but were present on the orders of the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, who insisted he had the right to request a military honor guard.

The separate post-war militaries of Bosnia’s three ethnic groups merged into a common army in 2005 in what was considered the country’s most successful postwar reform. Monday’s events were the first time that the army’s unity and shared command — requiring unanimous decisions by the presidency’s Bosniak, Croat and Serb members — had been challenged.

Bosnia’s defense ministry said Monday it had issued a clear order vetoing participation of the Bosnian Army soldiers in the celebration. The ministry added in a statement that it will investigate how and why its order was disregarded.

Reacting to the celebration, the U.S. embassy in Bosnia said it was taking “any threat to the security and stability … very seriously,” adding that those responsible for the rule of law violations “must be held accountable”

Although Serb leaders insisted that Monday’s celebrations would be a secular holiday, they participated in Serb Christian Orthodox ceremonies in the city’s main church. That was broadcast live on local television, along with interviews with Bosnian Serb wartime military and political leaders who had been sentenced for crimes against humanity by a U.N war crimes court.

During the war that killed 100,000 people and turned half of the country’s population into refugees, Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats were persecuted and almost completely expelled from Republika Srpska territory.

After the war, Republika Srpska became an autonomous region of Bosnia. Bosniaks and Croats who returned there view the holiday as a celebration of their expulsion. The holiday was banned last year by Bosnia’s top court. It ruled that the date, which falls on a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday, discriminates against the country’s other ethnic groups.

The continued celebration was repeatedly condemned by the top European Union and the U.S diplomats in Bosnia who urged Bosnian Serbs to stop defying the country’s top court.

August 10, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities have detained a Russian national and suspected Islamic State group militant for allegedly planning a drone attack on U.S. aircraft at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, police said Thursday.

Renad Bakiev was detained in the southern city of Adana over suspicions that he plotted to crash an American aircraft or attack the Incirlik air base using a drone, Adana police said in a statement. Turkish private news agency Dogan said a court later ordered him formally arrested pending a trial.

Bakiev also intended to attack the local Alevi community in Adana city, the statement said. It said he was affiliated with IS and had previously traveled to Syria. The Alevi religious minority is an offshoot of Shia Islam and is the largest religious group in Turkey after Sunnis. IS regards Alevis as heretics.

Bakiev appealed for 2,800 Turkish Lira (nearly $800) from other militants on the Telegram messaging application, which IS sympathizers use widely, to buy a drone, police said. The private Dogan news agency said during his questioning that he allegedly defended the need to kill Alevis and considered them “enemies of Allah,” the statement said.

During police interrogations, Bakiev admitted to reconnoitering the air base for his strike, the police statement said. A previous attempt he made to attack Americans was unsuccessful. Bakiev’s plans came to light in testimony from suspected IS members detained in a counterterror raid in June, according to Dogan news agency. That operation captured the alleged commander of an Adana-based IS cell, 32-year old Abdulkerim Cakar, and 10 others.

The U.S. Air Force has used Incirlik air base, near Adana, as a staging post for the air campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq since 2015. IS militants have used armed drones to deadly effect in Iraq and Syria, converting commercial drones to carry small explosives.

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

August 9, 2017

Dubai’s status as a financial hub for the region is increasingly coming under threat as one of Qatar’s major shipping and logistics firm relocates its regional trans-shipment hub from Dubai to Oman’s Sohar port.

With the Saudi led blockade of Qatar now entering its third month, Milaha Maritime and Logistics, which “delivers a comprehensive range of services to some of the region’s biggest players in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors”, announced the move that may raise concerns in Dubai over its potential to remain the unrivaled economic hub of the region.

One of the measures taken by the blockading countries was to deny Qatar access to their ports. Typically, cargo for Qatar stopped at the UAE’s massive port in Jebel Ali, Dubai, or in Abu Dhabi, then got put on smaller boats heading to Doha. Following the blockade, international free trade zones like Jebel Ali were off-limits to Qatari companies. Hundreds of containers destined for Qatar were seized by the authorities in clear breach of the provisions and laws of the International Trade Organisation that safeguard the free flow of goods.

Oman was quick to announce its readiness to become the import/export hub of the region. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member was one of the countries that stood to benefit from the Saudi-led blockade after deciding to remain neutral and allowing Qatar-bound ships to use its ports. The country also launched one of its boldest projects; Bayan is the largest electronic system in the Sultanate that allows international traders to obtain government permits and licences quickly and efficiently.

An increasing number of companies have now turned to Oman, and that is likely to have a severe knock-on effect on Dubai. Analysts have warned that the economic embargo on Qatar could hurt Dubai’s status as a financial hub.

Industry analysts believe that both Kuwait and Oman will reap the benefit of trade transactions that used to take place in countries like the UAE. Qatar Petroleum chief Saad Al-Kaabi told Al Jazeera that, as the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) producing up to 77 million tonnes each year, it had to move quickly to mitigate the impact of the blockade and secure alternative routes. While stressing that the blockade has made Qatar much stronger, Doha was in any case unlikely to return to using ports within the blockading countries that previously serviced its global exports.

On Monday, Qatar’s transport ministry said three new direct shipping lines are being opened with Malaysia, Pakistan and Taiwan. These countries, along with Oman and Kuwait, are expected to benefit financially from doing trade with the countries affected by the boycott.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170809-qatar-shipping-company-moves-hub-from-uae-to-oman/.