New UAE law outlaws all forms of discrimination – Legislation seeks to promote tolerance, acceptance

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates has outlawed religious or racial discrimination, the state news agency WAM said yesterday, citing a royal decree by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The law is aimed in part at countering Islamist militancy, particularly the practice known as takfir, whereby hardline Muslims label followers of other schools of Islam unbelievers, but it also outlaws insults against religions.

The legislation bars discrimination based on “religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, color or ethnic origin,” according to WAM. “The new law No. 02 of 2015 criminalizes any acts that stoke religious hatred and/or which insult religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or via online media,” WAM reported. “The law is intended to provide a sound foundation for the environment of tolerance, broadmindedness and acceptance in the UAE,” the report said. Penalties include six months to more than 10 years in prison and fines up to two million dirhams ($545,000). Authorities held out the possibility of amnesty for those who proactively turn themselves in.

The UAE, an oil-exporting confederation of seven Muslim emirates ruled by hereditary dynasties and bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, is worried about political Islam, which appeals to religious conservatives while challenging its lack of democratic rule. It has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization – the Brotherhood denies any involvement in militant violence – and taken part in US-led air strikes on the ultra-radical Islamic State insurgent group in Syria. The UAE is also concerned about efforts by Sunni Muslim jihadists to stoke sectarian tensions in the Gulf with recent blasts at Shiite Muslim mosques in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Militant violence is rare in the UAE, but Islamic State has urged Muslims in Gulf countries to target Western expatriates in retaliation for attacks against it. While all UAE citizens are Muslims, most of them are Sunni. The country is also home to hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim expatriates and is a popular destination for foreign tourists. Human rights organizations criticize the country for clamping down on free speech and accuse it of using laws against terrorism to jail peaceful critics of the government. — Agencies

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Death toll from Yemen rebel shelling doubles to 100 – Saudi-led coalition target Houthi positions

Vendors salvage goods from under the rubble of their shops following an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on the Yemeni capital Sanaa yesterday. — AFP

Vendors salvage goods from under the rubble of their shops following an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on the Yemeni capital Sanaa yesterday. — AFP

SANAA: The death toll in Yemen from the Shiite rebel shelling of a town near the southern port city of Aden rose yesterday to nearly 100, the head of an international aid group said, describing it as “the worst day” for the city and its surroundings in over three months of fighting. The rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies started shelled the town of Dar Saad on Sunday after earlier losing control of some of Aden’s neighborhoods. The violence highlighted the bloody chaos of the civil war gripping the Arab world’s poorest country, which also has been the target of Saudi-led, US-backed airstrikes since late March.

Hassan Boucenine of the Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders said that by yesterday, his organization reported nearly 100 people dead, twice the casualty toll from the previous day. The shelling also wounded about 200 people, said Boucenine, the head of the organization in Yemen. Of the victims, 80 percent are civilians, including many pregnant women, elderly and children, he added. “Yesterday was the worst day in Aden since (the Saudi-led coalition campaign) started in March,” Boucenine told The Associated Press, adding that he fears “attacks on civilians will continue.” Sunday’s shelling in Dar Saad began after the Houthi rebels lost control of much of the Aden district of Tawahi, according to officials and witnesses. Tawahi is now under a security lockdown, the officials said, as anti-Houthi forces search buildings looking for rebels, some of whom had fled to the nearby mountains. Overnight, the Saudi-led coalition targeted Houthi positions north of Aden and in Dar Saad, killing at least 55 rebels, officials and witnesses said.

Shelling continues
The coalition also struck the home of Mehdi Meqlawa, a prominent supporter of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a Sanaa suburb. In the Yemeni capital, it also hit Houthi headquarters near the Souq Aziz market, killing one person. Rebel shelling continued yesterday in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, killing eight residents, while ground fighting raged on in Marib, with six anti-Houthi tribesmen and 10 Houthi fighters killed in clashes. All officials and eyewitnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters or feared reprisals. Houthi officials declined to comment on the fighting. The spokesman of the Yemeni government in exile, Rageh Badie, said they appointed the head of the Resistance Council, Nayef al- Bakri, as governor of Aden. Al-Bakri served as deputy to the former governor, Abdulaziz bin Habtoor, who fled the embattled city earlier this year. Al-Bakri is joined by the exiled deputy minister of health and the transportation and interior ministers, who have flown into Aden two days ago from Saudi Arabia. Other exiled ministers will follow suit over the next few weeks, Badie said. Yemen’s conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthis and troops loyal to the former president, Saleh, against an array of forces, including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed internationally. — AP

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In an IS camp, Children told: Behead the doll

In this photo released on Jan 11, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, an Islamic State militant, center, holds plastic bags full of stationery and other gifts as he distributes them to Iraqi young students, at a school classroom, in Mosul, northern Iraq. — AP

In this photo released on Jan 11, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, an Islamic State militant, center, holds plastic bags full of stationery and other gifts as he distributes them to Iraqi young students, at a school classroom, in Mosul, northern Iraq. — AP

SANLIURFA: The children had all been shown videos of beheadings and told by their trainers with the Islamic State group that they would perform one someday. First, they had to practice technique. The more than 120 boys were each given a doll and a sword and told, cut off its head.

A 14-year-old who was among the boys, all abducted from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, said he couldn’t cut it right. He chopped once, twice, three times. “Then they taught me how to hold the sword, and they told me how to hit. They told me it was the head of the infidels,” the boy, renamed Yahya by his IS captors, told The Associated Press last week in northern Iraq, where he fled after escaping the IS training camp. When Islamic State extremists overran Yazidi towns in northern Iraq last year, they butchered older men and enslaved many of the women and girls. Dozens of young Yazidi boys like Yahya had a different fate: The IS sought to re-educate them.

They forced them to convert to Islam from their ancient faith and tried to turn them into jihadi fighters. It is part of a concerted effort by the extremists to build a new generation of militants, according to AP interviews with residents who fled or still live under IS in Syria and Iraq.

The group is recruiting teens and children using gifts, threats and brainwashing. Boys have been turned into killers and suicide bombers. An IS video issued last week showed a boy beheading a Syrian soldier under an adult militant’s supervision. Last month, a video showed 25 children unflinchingly shooting 25 captured Syrian soldiers in the head. In schools and mosques, militants infuse children with extremist doctrine, often turning them against their own parents. Fighters in the street befriend children with toys. IS training camps churn out the Ashbal, Arabic for “lion cubs,” child fighters for the “caliphate” that IS declared across its territory.

The caliphate is a historic form of Islamic rule that the group claims to be reviving with its own radical interpretation, though the vast majority of Muslims reject its claims. “I am terribly worried about future generations,” said Abu Hafs Naqshabandi, a Syrian sheikh who runs religion classes for refugees in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa to counter IS ideology. The indoctrination mainly targets Sunni Muslim children. In ISheld towns, militants show young people videos at street booths. They hold outdoor events for children, distributing soft drinks and candy – and propaganda.

They tell adults, “We have given up on you, we care about the new generation,” said an anti-IS activist who fled the Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremists’ de facto capital. He spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve the safety of relatives under IS rule. With the Yazidis, whom IS considers heretics ripe for slaughter, the group sought to take another community’s youth, erase their past and replace it with radicalism. Yahya, his little brother, their mother and hundreds of Yazidis were captured when IS seized the Iraqi town of Sulagh in August. They were taken to Raqqa, where the brothers and other Yazidi boys aged 8 to 15 were put in the Farouq training camp. They were given Muslim Arabic names to replace their Kurdish names. Yahya asked that AP not use his real name for his and his family’s safety. He spent nearly five months there, training eight to 10 hours a day, including exercises, weapons drills and Quranic studies. They told him Yazidis are “dirty” and should be killed, he said. They showed him how to shoot someone from close range. —AP

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Gold price sinks to more than 5-year low

LONDON: Gold slumped yesterday to the lowest point in nearly five and a half years, weighed down by reports of massive selling in China, dealers said. The precious metal tumbled to $1,072.35 in Asian deals, striking the lowest point since February 11, 2010, and breaching the key psychological barrier of $1,100. “The price slide was triggered by high selling volumes on the gold exchange in Shanghai,” said Commerzbank analysts in a research note to clients. Dealer Nick Rose, at trading firm TradeNext, agreed that the latest price slump was sparked by Chinese sellers offloading large quantities of the metal. Gold had already slid on Friday on the back of the strong dollar, which soared last week after US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen reaffirmed expectations of an interest rate hike by year-end.

A stronger greenback makes dollar-denominated commodities more expensive for buyers using weaker currencies. That tends to dent demand and, in turn, pull prices lower. Prices were hit Friday by news that China’s official gold reserves rose almost 60 percent over the past six years, according to the first official data on the subject since 2009. The central People’s Bank of China (PBoC) said bullion holdings rose 57 percent to 1,658 tons as of the end of June, from 1,054 tons in April 2009, the last time a figure was released. “Markets have commenced the week with an unexpected start following a spectacular drop in gold during the Asian session that sent the yellow metal to a new milestone five-year low,” added analyst Jameel Ahmad at traders FXTM yesterday. “Gold dropping so sharply is a surprise and while the reports that China gold reserves were half the expected level might have inspired additional selling pressure, it is the repeated comments of commitment from the Federal Reserve that they will begin raising US interest rates at some point this year that have continuously pressured gold in recent months.” Other precious metals also forged multi-year lows yesterday. Silver dived to $14.54 per ounce, the lowest level in nearly six years.

Platinum sank to a six-year trough at $946.25 an ounce, while sister metal palladium slid to $603.95 per ounce-last witnessed on November 11, 2012. China had foreign currency reserves of $3.69 trillion as of the end of June, the world’s largest trove. The PBoC announces those figures on a quarterly basis. The gold reserve figure-announced late Friday-comes as China works to internationalize its tightly controlled yuan currency.

Beijing is also seeking to have the yuan included in the basket that makes up the IMF’s “special drawing rights” reserve currency. The central bank said it would adjust its gold holdings according to its reserves and investment needs. Zhang Qi, an analyst at Haitong Securities, told AFP on Monday China’s gold to foreign currency reserve ratio remained much lower than other countries, adding: “The internationalization of the renminbi is irreversible.” —Agencies

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Billionaire pledges $100m to find intelligent life in space

Russian entrepreneur and co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize Yuri Milner (left), and British scientist Stephen Hawking attend a press conference yesterday. —AFP

Russian entrepreneur and co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize Yuri Milner (left), and British scientist Stephen Hawking attend a press conference yesterday. —AFP

SAN FRANCISCO: Wondering if we are alone in the universe has engaged minds through the ages. Add to the list Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who announced yesterday that he plans to spend $100 million to explore the idea. Using some of the world’s largest radio telescopes, a team of scientists handpicked by Milner will oversee an initiative he calls Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year search for radio signals that could indicate the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. “It’s the most interesting technological question of our day,” Milner said in an interview, noting that he became fascinated by the notion of extra-terrestrial life after reading astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s “Intelligent Life in the Universe” as a 10-year-old in Moscow.

His funds to bankroll the project came from savvy early investments in startups such as Facebook Inc. Milner’s motivation is his belief that other civilizations could teach us how to handle challenges such as allocating natural resources. “If we’re alone, we need to cherish what we have,” he said. “The message is, the universe has no backup.” Scientists said the project dwarfs anything else in the field, known as the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. Globally, less than $2 million annually is spent on SETI, said Dan Werthimer, an adviser to Milner’s project and the astrophysicist who directs the SETI@home project affiliated with the University of California in Berkeley.

Today, due to technology improvements, including in computing power and telescope sensitivity, $100 million will go much farther than in the early 1990s, the last time SETI had significant funding, scientists said. The advances allow scientists to monitor several billion radio frequencies at a time, instead of several million, and to search 10 times more sky than in the early 1990s. But any signals the scientists detect will likely have been created years ago, perhaps even centuries or millennia earlier. Radio signals take four years simply to travel between Earth and the nearest star outside our solar system. In 10 years, with his $100 million, Milner figures scientists can listen for radio transmissions in the Milky Way galaxy, plus the 100 nearest galaxies.

One of the biggest costs lies in booking time at radio telescopes, including at Australia’s Parkes Observatory in New South Wales and the Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. Milner plans to book about two months a year at each site, a boon to scientists who normally might get two days a year on the telescopes. The team, led by scientists such as Peter Worden, who until earlier this year directed the NASA Ames Research Center, will organize the radio signals they find, make the data public, and examine the data for patterns. The goal lies less in understanding the signals than in establishing whether they were created by intelligent life rather than natural phenomena. Scientists say the fact that humans have developed radio signaling makes it a good bet that others may use it as well. “It doesn’t tell you anything about the civilization, but it tells you a civilization is there,” said Frank Drake, who with Carl Sagan sent the first physical message into space in 1972, the Pioneer plaques on board the Pioneer 10 US spacecraft. An adviser to Breakthrough Listen, Drake is also chairman emeritus of the SETI Institute. In addition to checking for radio signals, Breakthrough Listen will hunt for light-based signals using a telescope at the Lick Observatory in California. —Agencies

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Iran’s conservatives take aim at nuclear deal

iran-nuclearDUBAI: Iran’s security hawks have begun sniping at their country’s historic nuclear deal, emboldened a day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described some of the world powers that signed it as “untrustworthy”. Khamenei’s remark will be understood by Iranians to refer largely to the United States and Britain, the “Great and Little Satans” long reviled by Iran’s revolutionary theocracy for their support of the Shah, overthrown in 1979. The comment carries weight, because the conservative cleric is the ultimate arbiter of high state policy under Iran’s unwieldy dual system of clerical and republican rule. Khamenei did voice guarded appreciation of the deal, saying it was significant, and urged calm, perhaps alluding to surging popular hopes for an end to Iran’s isolation, or to strains between the supporters of the deal and its critics. But his downbeat, measured tone was in contrast to lavish praise for the agreement from pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and his Western-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Figures close to Khamenei lost little time in taking aim at the accord, which lifts sanctions on Tehran in return for Iran accepting longterm curbs on a nuclear programme that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.

One saw worrying discrepancies between the US and Iranian interpretations of what had been agreed. “The Iranian fact-sheet of the conclusion of the deal issued by the foreign ministry had significant differences with what America’s president mentioned in his remarks,” Mohammad Kazem Anbarlui wrote in an editorial for the conservative newspaper Resalat. “The fact-sheet of the rival shows that Iranian red lines, particularly about the lifting of sanctions, have not been observed. The phrases and words used in the text contain parentheses and it is loaded with interpretable, ambiguous or multi-meaning expressions,” he added. Some conservatives believe reaching a deal with Washington is tantamount to a pact with the devil. While Khamenei will have the last word on the deal, hardliners want the text subjected to rigorous scrutiny when it is submitted for consideration to parliament and the National Security Council.

These critics had a mild but visible presence in the streets on Tuesday when the deal was announced. An eyewitness told Reuters that, in the Karaj suburb of Tehran, a man who was handing out sweets to people for “nuclear victory” was shoved and roughed up by long bearded men who looked like members of the hardline Basij militia. Another eyewitness told Reuters that Basij on motorbikes made their presence felt in the affluent Vanak Square in north Tehran to show dissatisfaction with street jubilations. They were outnumbered by young people dancing. No clash was reported. Security hardliners such as the Basij and the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards Corps carry real clout. Conservative leaders of the Guards opposed many policies of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, and helped to scuttle his boldest initiatives.

The Guards and the Basij also helped suppress huge street protests that followed the disputed re-election of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. The two organisations are part of Iran’s unwieldy system of competing power structures, some of which, like the Guards, have their own business empires. Critics of Rouhani’s outreach to the West started their political campaign last year, announcing their concerns about Tehran’s possible concessions in nuclear negotiations. After a lavish conference titled “We are worried about a bad deal”, they have simply become known as “The Worried”. While not a political party, “The Worried” is an umbrella term describing those with a deep affiliation with hardline conservatives and those who criticise Rouhani’s government.—Reuters

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France foils ‘terror’ attack on military

francePARIS: France has foiled a “terrorist” plot to capture and decapitate a member of its armed forces at a military base, officials said. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces staged dawn raids on Monday and arrested four people, aged between 16 and 23, who were “planning to commit a terrorist act” at a French military installation. The youngest was quickly released but the other three are suspected of planning to kidnap and behead a member of the military, possibly on December 31 when the facility was thinly staffed. The oldest of the group served as a navy signalman at the base around the southern town of Collioure, which is also used for training by elite commando forces.

He was identified as Djebril and was recently kicked out of the navy, said a source close to the investigation who did not wish to be named. The other key plotter was just 17, and was already being closely watched by authorities due to his activities on social media and connections to French jihadists in prison. All three of those still under arrest had been planning to travel to jihadist-controlled areas of Syria, the security source said, but the 17-yearold’s mother contacted authorities and he was interviewed by counter-terrorism officials.

No weapons were found during the arrests, the source said, although officials discovered documents on preparing explosives. The news of the arrests followed a statement from President Francois Hollande, who said attacks had been thwarted in recent days. “This week, we stopped terrorist attacks which could have taken place,” Hollande said on a visit to the southern city of Marseille. France remains on high alert more than six months after jihadist attacks in January that claimed 17 lives and started with shootings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

At traditional July 14 celebrations, Hollande said: “Every week, we are arresting, preventing … terrorist acts.” The suspected plotters are now in the custody of France’s intelligence services, the DGSI, and anti-terrorist prosecutors in Paris have opened a probe, Cazeneuve said. “I want to congratulate our security services for this new blow to the terrorists and for again foiling an attack,” said the minister.

Jihadist ‘hotline’
News of the foiled attack came just hours after two blasts on Tuesday at a petrochemical plant near Marseille, described by Cazeneuve as a “criminal act”. Investigators had yet to pin down a motive for the explosions and there was currently “no link” with the foiled attack on the military base, he added. The government says there are 1,850 French citizens or people living in France who are “implicated” in jihadist networks, with around 500 in Syria or Iraq. France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, has beefed up security, posting 30,000 police officers and soldiers outside 5,000 sites deemed “sensitive” such as schools and places of worship. Authorities have also set up a hotline for friends or family concerned that someone could be tempted to wage jihad-an effort that has yielded 2,500 leads.

Following controversial “anti-terror” laws passed last year, France is also preventing suspected jihadists from leaving the countrysome 118 travel bans have been enforced since the legislation was passed in November. Cazeneuve said 29 people had been prevented from entering the country in that time. A further 40 “preachers of hate, including pseudo-, self-proclaimed imams” had been kicked out of France. Paris has also tightened security around sensitive sites such as factories, calling for “maximum vigilance”. Last month, a man with a suspected link to the Islamic State group spiked his boss’s severed head onto the fence of a US-owned gas factory in eastern France. But experts have warned it is extremely difficult to defend against attacks on such sensitive sites. “There is no such thing as zero risk,” said Philippe Prudhon, a technical expert at the UIC union of chemical industries. “If someone really wants to cause harm, it will be difficult to stop him or her. We have to realise that we have been in a fundamentally different environment for the past three years,” Prudhon said. — AFP

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Pakistan summons Indian envoy after ‘spy drone’ shot down – Five killed in cross-border shelling

droneISLAMABAD: Pakistan summoned the Indian ambassador yesterday after a “spy drone” was shot down in disputed Kashmir, as officials said five people were killed in cross-border shelling between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The flare-up between the two countries, who have fought three wars since 1947, comes days after their prime ministers met in Russia in an apparent sign of a thaw in relations. The Pakistani military said Wednesday that troops had shot down “an Indian spy drone used for aerial photography” close to the de facto border in Kashmir. A picture in Pakistani media purportedly of the downed drone showed a small lightweight model of a type widely available for commercial purchase.

The Indian Army and Air Force both denied any of their drones had been shot down or had crashed, according to a Press Trust of India report. Following the incident, Pakistan’s foreign ministry hauled in the Indian high commissioner, or ambassador, to hear a “strong protest over airspace violation”, a statement said.

The ministry said the intrusion of the drone, which came down in the Pakistanadministered part of Kashmir, was a violation of international law and territorial integrity. Pakistan also protested to the envoy over what it called “unprovoked ceasefire violations” along the disputed border. The two countries both control part of Kashmir, but claim the territory in full and have fought two wars over the Himalayan region.

They agreed on a border ceasefire in 2003, which has largely held, though violations are regularly reported from both sides. Pakistani officials said Indian fire on Wednesday and Thursday had killed at least four civilians, including one in Kashmir and three near the town of Sialkot, which lies close to the border. For its part, India protested to Pakistan over the firing, a government source said. The complaint was registered after India claimed one of its civilians was killed in fire near the undisputed part of the de facto border in Jammu’s Akhnoor sector on Wednesday, the source told AFP. “Our high commission in Pakistan has lodged a protest. This matter was also taken up with Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit in New Delhi,” the source said. India said the latest flare up had killed a 42-year-old woman and injured six others, including three border police.

Television footage showed Indian villagers holding empty mortar shells and cartridges, which they alleged had been fired by Pakistani rangers. Last Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted an invitation from his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to visit Pakistan next year, raising hopes of an improvement in perennially difficult relations. After months of stalemate and recriminations, Modi and Sharif spoke for about an hour while visiting Russia for a regional summit. It will be the first time that Modi-who has a reputation as a hardline nationalisthas travelled to Pakistan since coming to power. —AFP

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Muslim scholars use Ramadan to push for an Islamic renewal

muslim-scholarsDuring the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are called on to reflect on their faith as they conduct their daily fast. This past month, some clerics and scholars reflected on ways to reform the religious discourse in Islam to keep up with modern-day challenges and oppose extremism. A popular Egyptian religious figure used his daily TV show to talk about ways to renew interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. The United Arab Emirates hosted a series of Ramadan mosque lectures by dozens of clerics, including many from Al-Azhar, Egypt’s premier Sunni Muslim center of thought and learning, and a popular American sheikh, who warned that renovation is needed in Islam after centuries of neglect in thought left the Muslim world in disrepair. On one level, the religious reform effort – known in Arabic as “tajdeed,” or “renewal”- is aimed at drawing the faithful away from extremism at a time when militant violence has escalated in the region with the spread of the Islamic State group. A common theme among renewal-minded clerics is a call for greater emphasis on tolerance of others.

On another level, the movement faces a struggle in revamping how the faith is practiced without altering its foundations. Talk of change rose to the fore in January, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi called for a revolution in Islam, saying outdated interpretations made the Muslim world a source of destruction. He urged government clerics and the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar to carry out this change. On Tuesday, he broached the subject again, saying “tolerance is disregarded by extremist interpretations” of Islamic texts. Critics of El-Sissi have accused him of using this effort to purge religious institutions of his Muslim Brotherhood opponents and control another arm of the state’s levers, in this instance a religious institution that is already weighed down by bureaucracy and government meddling.

Counter terrorism lectures
But he also has strong regional support from the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s seat of government. The UAE’s counterterrorism lectures, organized by Abu Dhabi’s Islamic Affairs authority during the month of Ramadan, which ends Friday, drew more than 300 speakers, many of them from Cairo’s Al-Azhar. Among the best known speakers in the lectures was an American from California, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who converted to Islam almost 40 years ago. He is a founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley in 2008, the first accredited Muslim college in the United States. Speaking to a crowd of mostly young professionals of various ethnic backgrounds in the UAE, he acknowledged that “our scholars have not responded properly” to current challenges quickly enough. He urged a return to the core tenet of mercy in Islam. People in the audience asked him questions ranging from how Muslims should react to the US Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision to whether “Catcher in the Rye” was appropriate summer reading material for a ninth grader.

Need of renovation
Speaking to The Associated Press later, the 58- year-old Yusuf described Islam as a house that has been neglected and is in need of renovation. “The water taps aren’t working, the plumbing’s not working. The house is in disarray. It’s derelict,” he said. “The house is dilapidated. You don’t destroy it, you don’t set it aside. You renovate it.” He said Muslims should not oppose even strong reforms, nor feel that everything needs to be changed. “Because of the urgency of the situation, some people are waking up … and thinking we better do something,” he said. In his sermon at an Abu Dhabi mosque, Sheikh Maher Amer, a scholar of Shariah at Al-Azhar

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Arabs worry nuke deal will boost Iran’s power – Wariness, caution, skepticism in Arab world

Iranian wave the national flag during celebration in northern Tehran yesterday, after Iran’s nuclear negotiating team struck a deal with world powers in Vienna. Iranians poured onto the streets of Tehran after the Ramadan fast ended at sundown Tuesday to celebrate the historic nuclear deal agreed earlier with world powers in Vienna. —AFP

Iranian wave the national flag during celebration in northern Tehran yesterday, after Iran’s nuclear negotiating team struck a deal with world powers in Vienna. Iranians poured onto the streets of Tehran after the Ramadan fast ended at sundown Tuesday to celebrate the historic nuclear deal agreed earlier with world powers in Vienna. —AFP

DUBAI: The nuclear deal with Iran was met with a profound wariness in the Arab world, where concerns are widespread that the easing of its international isolation could tip the already bloody contest for power in the region toward Shiite-led Tehran. Arab countries have deep fears of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, and some have been skeptical that a deal will prevent that from happening. But equally high for key Sunni-dominated Gulf allies of the United States is the worry that a deal gives Iran the means – through an economic windfall – and an implicit green light to push influence in the region.

The Arab world has been polarized for years in a worsening proxy conflict between Iran and Gulf powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, fueling Sunni-Shiite tensions and stoking wars. In Syria, Iran’s support has ensured the survival of President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels backed by Gulf nations in a devastating civil war, now in its fifth year. Yemen has been torn apart this year as Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition air campaign, has tried to help fend off Shiite rebels supported by Tehran. In Iraq, Saudi Arabia has opposed the growing power of Iran even since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein and the rise of a government led by Shiite politicians close to Iran.

“Deal or no deal, tension in the region is not going to go away,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University. “If Iran is bent on acting as a hegemon, as a regional power, I think we are in for some difficult times.” Saudi Arabia issued a pointed warning, saying Iran must use any economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to improve the lives of Iranians, “rather than using them to cause turmoil in the region, a matter that will meet a decisive reaction from the nations of the region,” in a statement carried on the state news agency late Tuesday.

Other Gulf monarchies sought to show some cautious optimism. The president of the United Arab Emirates, which has longstanding trade ties to Iran, and HH the Amir of Kuwait, who visited Tehran last year in an effort to improve relations, each sent congratulations to Iran and expressed hope the agreement will contribute to regional security and stability.

On the nuclear issue itself, Arab countries have shown skepticism that a deal would stop Iran from building a weapon. In its statement Tuesday, Saudi Arabia withheld judgment on the final accord, but underlined it always wanted an agreement that guarantees Iran cannot develop a bomb, includes a strict inspection mechanism for all sites – including military ones – and ensures a swift re-imposition of sanctions if Tehran violates the deal.

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, warned earlier this year that a deal might fuel a regional arms race. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelattie, said his country hopes the deal would be “a step toward a region free of nuclear weapons”- a project Egypt has been lobbying for in the United Nations for long, with its eyes on Israel’s all but confirmed arsenal. But foremost on the minds of Iran’s opponents in the region was the worry that the deal strengthens its hand in the region’s conflicts. “This agreement, from our point of view, represents an indirect threat to Gulf and Arab interests and peace,” said Tariq Al-Shammari, a Saudi analyst and president of the Council of Gulf International Relations.

Behind the scenes, he said, Gulf Arab countries will work to try and keep Iran isolated politically and economically, he added, pointing out that Saudi Arabia in particular has already moved to improve ties with Russia, which is a strong ally of Iran. Syrian rebels were alarmed, warning that now Iran will feel free to infuse even more cash and weapons to prop up Assad’s overstretched army.

“This agreement translates into more barrel bombs, more massacres and more blood across Syria,” said a rebel with the Islamic Al-Jabha al-Shamiya faction in northern Syria who spoke on condition he be identified by his nom de guerre of Abu Yasser, for his own safety. Barrel bombs are the crude but destructive bombs dropped from Syrian military aircraft that have caused considerable civilian casualties. He said an Iran at peace with the international community will feel “even more at ease” to implement its agenda across the region, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

‘Great Victory’
On the pro-government side in Syria, some had the same expectation. Bassam Mahfouz, a 54-year-old resident of the capital, Damascus, said he hoped Iran will now increase its support for Syria in the fight against “terrorism”. Assad was quick to congratulate Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. In his cable addressed to Khamenei, Assad described the deal as “a great victory” achieved by Iran and a “historic turning point” in the history of Iran, the region and the world. “We are quite assured that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue, with greater momentum, supporting the just issues of nations,” he said.

President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that the US and Iran remain at odds over many issues, including Tehran’s support for terrorism in the Middle East and its detention of several American citizens. Still, he suggested a breakthrough on the nuclear issue could pave the way for a broader shift in relations between the US and Iran. “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction,” Obama said. “We should seize it.”

Supporters of the deal see that opening as an opportunity to try to moderate Iran’s role in the region. In Iraq, the complex sectarian fault lines make the deal’s impact hard to read. The Iran-US and Iran-Saudi rivalries have fueled tensions in the country for years. At the same time, Iran and the US have recently found themselves on the same side fighting against the Islamic State group, though they have avoided working with each other.

Saad Al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi, called the deal “a catalyst for regional stability” that will lead to better unity in the fight against terrorism. Hamid Al-Mutlaq, an Iraqi Sunni lawmaker, was more cautious. “We hope now to see a positive Iranian interference, not a negative one in the region, and to change the way it sees and deals with people of the regional countries,” he said.

But Sunni hardliners in the Arab world were convinced the deal signals U.S. acquiescence to the spread of Iranian power. One prominent Saudi Muslim cleric, Salman Al-Ouda, who is often critical of the Saudi government, warned in a tweet that “Iran is moving according to a well-studied clear vision, absorbing its adversaries. Where are the Arab governments? Where is their alternative project to face the challenge?” A hard-line Qatari cleric, Mohammed Al-Shinqiti, tweeted that in return for limiting Iran’s nuclear program, “America has something to offer Iran: An Arab world open for its wars.” – AP

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