April 20/2019
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today
Holy Saturday: The Guard at the Tomb
Mathews 27/62-66/The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Holy Saturday:Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day” (Ps 138:12)
Saint Luke 24/01-12/At daybreak on the first day of the week the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day." And they remembered his words. Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on April 19-20/19
Israel Threatens to Attack All of Lebanon, Reveals S-300-Evading Missile
President Aoun and First Lady attend Good Friday Mass at Kaslik University
Hashem to Aoun: We pray that the goodness march succeeds during your mandate
Berri confers with Syrian Ambassador over developments, meets with Iranian Parliamentarians
Report: Aoun Presses Budget Talks on Thursday
Khalil Reveals Shocking Figures about Public Sector Wages
Raad Says Austerity Measures Mustn’t Impact the Poor or Employees
Lebanese Embassy in Rome Promotes Lebanon Tourism
Kanaan: Budget Draft Must Be Discussed in Cabinet
Jumblatt denounces attempts to stall political action, disrupt and sabotage country's affairs
Raad says tampering with the pockets of the poor to reduce deficit is impermissible

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 19-20/19

White House says Trump spoke to Libyan commander Haftar
WHO says over 200 killed in fighting over Libyan capital
Rouhani Says Iranian Army Not a Threat to Region, Warns US
Macron Meets Syria Kurds, Vows Support in Fight Against ISIS
Security Chaos Worsens in Regime Controlled Suwayda, Syria
UAE FM, Pompeo Discuss Cooperation, Regional Affairs
UN Urges Solving Crisis of 2500 Foreign Children in Syria
Israel Demolishes Family Apartments of Accused Palestinian Attacker
Palestinians Launch Major Campaign against ‘Deal of the Century’
Moody’s Upgrades Egypt’s Sovereign Rating from B3 to B2
Algeria's Streets See New Wave of Protests As Thousands March in Demand of Radical Reform
Sudanese Opposition Members Hold Meetings in Dubai
Sudan Protest Leaders to Unveil Civilian Council
Turkey Heeds Int’l Call to Freeze Assets of Houthi Leadership
UN Begins Evacuating Refugees from Libya to Niger
Egypt Bucks Trend with Vote to Extend Sisi Rule
US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy
Al-Nusra fighters were sent from Turkey to join Tripoli battles: LNA

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 19-20/19
Israel Threatens to Attack All of Lebanon, Reveals S-300-Evading Missile
Nazir Magally/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 19/19
Good Friday Traditions From Around the World/CNN and Aleteia/April 19/2019
When the Ayatollah Plays His Joker/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/April 19/19
Spain: Does the Term 'Islamist' Constitute Hate Speech/Soeren Kern/Gatestone/Gatestone Institute/April 19/19
Analysis/Iran Floods Leave Its Regime Drowning in Domestic Criticism/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/April 19/19
The Egyptian Brotherhood goes to Washington/Hany Ghoraba/Al-Ahram/April 19/19
When a Hamas Front Lobbies Congress/Dr. Oren Litwin and Samantha Rose Mandeles/American Spectator/April 19/2019
Turkish-Armenian issue held hostage by third parties/Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/April 19/2019
Notre-Dame fire a reminder of world’s unpredictability/Michael Kugelman/Arab News/April 19/2019

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on April 19-20/19
Israel Threatens to Attack All of Lebanon, Reveals S-300-Evading Missile
Tel Aviv – Nazir Magally/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/
Despite the complete calm on the Lebanese-Syrian and Lebanese-Israeli borders an Israeli military commander warned on Thursday that the whole of Lebanon will not be spared should a new war erupt with the Hezbollah party. “It would be wise to declare war on Lebanon to demonstrate the price they will have to pay, should Hezbollah attack,” outgoing head of Israel’s Northern Command, General Yoel Strick told ynet news. “It would be a mistake separating Hezbollah from the rest of Lebanon since it is a political player and part of the establishment.”On Hezbollah’s alleged plans to infiltrate Israel’s northern border, he said that the destruction of tunnels the party had dug under the border with Lebanon has not deterred its plans. “We, of course, will not let that happen. We will foil those plans. This is not only a threat to us but also an opportunity, since they have diverted their best fighters to the South. We will face them and I have no doubt of the outcome,” Strick warned. He refused to confirm that all of Hezbollah’s tunnels have been destroyed, adding: “In my profession, there is no certainty, so I will say as far as I am aware - with the means available to us I can say with a high degree of confidence that the threat from attack tunnels has been removed. Can they be developed again? I hope not.” In December, Israel accused Hezbollah of digging cross-border tunnels into its territory from southern Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them. According to the army, Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities.On Syria, Strick said Israel's actions against Iranian entrenchment in southern Syria, including on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, succeeded in moving them away from the border with Israel, though their presence in the rest of the country continues, reported ynet. "We will introduce advanced weapons systems into the area, but Israel has an excellent air force. I will not go into detail of our options, but if the Syrians employ Russian S-300s against our planes, and we take them out, it will be seen as a legitimate move on our part. I see that happening though I hope we don't get to that. But if our freedom of movement is threatened we will remove the threat. We know how to do that,” he continued. Russian media reported on Wednesday that the Israeli airforce used for the first time during its raids against Syrian targets on Saturday the country's newest air defense-evading Rampage air-to-surface missiles. Independent defense analyst Babak Taghvaee said that the missiles successfully struck weapons caches in the Masyaf region in the Hama countryside, reported Sputnik. Anti-aircraft defense systems failed in hitting the Israeli jets. The Rampage missile was introduced last year, with developers boasting that the missile "allows us to strike under conditions we've never had before". The all-weather weapon can be deployed aboard Israeli F-15s, F-16s and F-35s, and can travel over 140 km at supersonic speeds, guided by an onboard GPS system.

President Aoun and First Lady attend Good Friday Mass at Kaslik University
Hashem to Aoun: We pray that the goodness march succeeds during your mandate
Fri 19 Apr 2019/NNA - Following the Western Christian Calendar, the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik held this afternoon "Good Friday Mass" presided over by Maronite Order General Head, Father Naamatallah Hashem, in the presence of President Michel Aoun and First Lady, Nadia Shami Aoun. In his religious sermon, Father Hashem said "the march of humanitarian brotherhood led by the Pope across in the world, along with the various peoples and different religions, coincides with the initiative of President Aoun in rendering Lebanon a country of unison and humanitarian dialogue." "We raise our prayers to the Lord to bless the march of goodness that you have set out towards a better tomorrow for Lebanon, and to ensure its success during your mandate," Hashem added, addressing President Aoun. Hashem called on all Lebanese to come together in joint efforts for the sake of preserving their country, saying: "I want to urge all brethrens of Lebanese citizenship to shoulder together this grave responsibility for the rise of Lebanon." The Good Friday Mass was also attended by: former President Amin Gemayel, Cabinet Ministers Gebran Bassil, Elias Bou Saab, Albert Serhan, Kamil Abu Sleiman, May Chidiac, Mansour Btaich, Nada Boustani, Fadi Jreissati and Richard Kouyoumjian, as well as Papal Ambassador Joseph Spiteri, alongside various other prominent figures and officials.

Berri confers with Syrian Ambassador over developments, meets with Iranian Parliamentarians
Fri 19 Apr 2019/NNA - House Speaker Nabih Berri met Friday with Syrian Ambassador, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, with talks centering on recent developments. On emerging, Ambassador Ali indicated that the Speaker briefed him on his recent trips abroad and his political reading of the situation in the region. "There is concern about Western-Israeli plans to exploit the crises of the region," said Ali. "But what Syria has achieved and what the Syrians have expressed in Majdal Shams, in the occupied Golan and in the liberated Golan, is the blatant rejection of Syria and its people, who have faced terrorism, its supporters and investors, of the terrorist tool of Israel, while holding on to their land, their accomplishments and victories," Ali went on. "These people are also facing the blockade that the American and Western sides are attempting to turn into a choking factor, so it is an expression of the failure of those who bet on Syria's collapse and their frustration for its steadfastness and victory with its allies and friends," the Syrian Ambassador underscored. The House Speaker later met with a delegation of the National Commission in charge of marking the Centennial of Boutros Boustani, which included the Commission's Vice President Elie Ferzli, MP Farid Boustani, former Minister Ghattas Khoury and former MP Nasser Kandil. Following the meeting, MP Ferzli indicated that the purpose of the visit was to request the honor of the House Speaker's participation in commemorating the late Mentor Boutros Boustani on May 1st in a ceremony to be held under the auspices of His Excellency, President Michel Aoun, and in the presence of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Ferzli hoped that this day would be a true day for the Arabic language, which that the late Boustani played a pioneering role in strengthening in the region. The Speaker also received this afternoon a delegation from the Iranian-Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Committee, headed by Iranian Shura Council Member, MP Amir Khajesteh, and Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Jalal Firouznia. Latest developments topped their discussions.

Report: Aoun Presses Budget Talks on Thursday
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 19/19/As Lebanon mulls austerity measures to slash its ballooning budget deficit, President Michel Aoun insists the 2019 state budget draft gets discussed in Cabinet during its upcoming meeting next week on Thursday, said al-Joumhouria daily on Friday. Informed sources told the newspaper that “current consultations have not yet reached an understanding. There is more than one approach to the possible austerity measures.”No budget agreement yet has been reached but leaks about possible wage cuts have led to random protests and street closures by members of a worried public. Prime Minister Saad Hariri has warned of a “catastrophe” unless the government implements strict austerity measures to reduce a growing budget deficit and massive national debt. The protest by more than 2,000 state employees in downtown Beirut early this week erupted amid discussions by the government of what it called "painful" and "unpopular" measures to be taken to try to cut the budget deficit and slow the growth of the national debt, which stands at more than $85 billion, or more than 150% of the gross domestic product, making it among the highest in the world.

Khalil Reveals Shocking Figures about Public Sector Wages

Associated Press/Naharnet/April 19/19/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil revealed shocking figures related to salaries of some state employees, a needed revelation after a public outcry provoked by government plans to cut pays as part of strict austerity measures to counter an economic collapse. In a televised interview on MTV station on Thursday, Khalil said the salaries, benefits and pensions of some state employees, mainly the military and security sector, are tremendously high noting plans to limit retirement benefits and reduce salaries of high-waged employees.“It is unacceptable that salaries of some state employees are higher than that of President of the Republic. Some of the deputies receive pensions and also receive their parliament salaries,” revealed Khalil.“The head of the examination department, for example, receives 60 million LBP in five days during the annual state examinations and there are those who take compensation exceeding 100 million LBP,” he added. “The monthly salary of some Grade 1 employees reaches 50 million LBP! This must stop,” stressed Khalil. He noted “the budget was completed in a manner observing all the amendments and scenarios that can be discussed,” stressing that he contacted Prime Minister Saad Hariri and wished him to hold a Cabinet meeting before the Easter holidays next week if allowed by President Michel Aoun in order to submit the budget and discuss it next week.To cut spending, “one of the suggestions proposed by the Ministry of Finance is deducting %50 of the salaries of presidents, ministers, current and former deputies,” added Khalil who assured that the wage scale for civil servants will not be altered. Lebanon is set to impose austerity measures to combat its bulging fiscal deficit. Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of gross domestic product in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody's. The budget for 2019 has yet to be finalised, but public sector workers fear that austerity measures may mean cuts to their salaries. Hundreds of civil servants protested in central Beirut on Wednesday to denounce any such move. The demonstrations came as part of a nationwide public sector strike that affected schools, universities, state-run media outlets and the tourism ministry's offices. Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Wednesday, warning of an economic "catastrophe" if public spending keeps rising. "As a government, we are required to issue the most austere budget in Lebanon's history because our financial position doesn't allow us to increase spending. If we continue like this we will reach a catastrophe," he said.

Raad Says Austerity Measures Mustn’t Impact the Poor or Employees
Naharnet/April 19/19/Head of Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad on Friday said the government “must not take from the poor and state employees in its quest to implement reforms and slash the budget deficit,” the National News Agency reported. “We are not allowed to touch the pockets of the poor and employees in our quest to implement reforms to slash the budget deficit, and forget tens of years of theft, corruption and squandering that filled the pockets of many who ruled then,” said Raad. Such measures “could cause destruction and chaos. They have to look for other resources and when they do, they will find that the poor employees will also contribute to reforming the economic situation and reducing the budget deficit.”"We are in a difficult economic situation. In spite of all our bitterness and harm to our people, we must prove that we are partners in this country and assume our responsibility in addressing the economic, budget and financial situation,” he added.

Lebanese Embassy in Rome Promotes Lebanon Tourism
Naharnet/April 19/19/The Ambassador of Lebanon in Rome, Mira Daher, held a series of meetings to promote tourism in Lebanon, the National News Agency reported on Friday. Daher met with Italian officials of the Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Affairs, as well as with senior representatives of tour operators in the Italian capital, said NNA. The Ambassador urged Italy to lift reservation against travel of Itaian citizens to Lebanon, “Lebanon today is one of the safest countries,” she said.

Kanaan: Budget Draft Must Be Discussed in Cabinet

Naharnet/April 19/19/MP Ibrahim Kanaan on Thursday said the state budget draft “must be discussed in Cabinet,” stressing that discussions must be conducted within the constitutional institutions. Kanaan’s comments came after meeting President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, he said: “President Aoun is determined to finalize the state budget draft, and all the ideas being circulated (about slashing the budget and cutting state employee pays) are mere ideas.”The MP stressed that the budget must be put on the Cabinet table for discussion in order for “everyone to express transparently their points of view. Then, a decision that serves Lebanon’s interest can be taken.”

Jumblatt denounces attempts to stall political action, disrupt and sabotage country's affairs
Fri 19 Apr 2019/NNA - Progressive Socialist Party Chief, Walid Jumblatt, deemed via his Twitter account today that the proposals submitted by Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil are the basis for reaching an austerity budget without affecting employees' salaries. However, Jumblatt noted that certain "trespassers on political life" wish to stall all action and to disrupt and sabotage the country's affairs, resulting in the temple's collapse on everyone's head!

Raad says tampering with the pockets of the poor to reduce deficit is impermissible

Fri 19 Apr 2019/NNA - "Loyalty to the Resistance" Parliamentary Bloc Chief, MP Mohamad Raad, stressed Friday that touching the pockets of state employees and the poor class as a means to carry out reform and reduce the budget deficit is an unacceptable measure. Raad refuted any attempt to place the burden on low-income and underprivileged citizens in this country, noting that such a step would lead to ruining the state as a whole. He, thus, called for adopting other measures that target the thefts, waste and corruption that has persisted over decades. "When the necessary measures are implemented, underprivileged employees will also contribute to reforming the economic situation and reducing the budget deficit," he corroborated. The MP's words came during a memorial ceremony held by Hezbollah in the Southern town of Kfardounin earlier today. "We demand that we be partners in the country in both rights and duties," Raad stressed. He called for working together to envisage and set a strategic plan that would address the country's dire economic situation and rectify its budget and monetary status.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on April 19-20/19
White House says Trump spoke to Libyan commander Haftar

Reuters, Palm Beach/Friday, 19 April 2019/The White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Monday to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar and discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya.”The statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”On Thursday, mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of Tripoli, almost hitting a clinic, after two weeks of an offensive by Haftar’s eastern troops on the Libyan capital, which is held by an internationally recognized government. On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time.
Also on Friday, the UN said it had evacuated 163 refugees from war-ravaged Libya to neighboring Niger, but more than 3,000 others were still trapped in detention centers affected by clashes.

WHO says over 200 killed in fighting over Libyan capital
The Associated Press, Benghazi/Friday, 19 April 2019/The fighting between Libya’s rival factions for control of the country’s capital this month killed 205 people so far, the World Health Organization said, announcing it would deploy medical specialists, including surgeons, to treat the wounded. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that “the number of civilian casualties, and attacks on civilian property and infrastructure, are worryingly on the rise.”The clashes, which erupted earlier in April, have threatened to ignite a civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi.
The fighting has also forced the UN to indefinitely postpone reconciliation talks planned for mid-April that were meant to try to find a way to pull Libya out of the chaos that followed Gaddafi’s ouster. WHO said on Wednesday it would send medical staff to treat the wounded, whose number has reached 913. It wasn’t clear how many among the dead are civilians. Fighting over Tripoli is pitting the self-styled Libyan National Army based in the country’s east, which is led by commander Khalifa Haftar, against Tripoli’s UN-recognized government. The UN says that more than 25,000 people have been displaced in the clashes.

Rouhani Says Iranian Army Not a Threat to Region, Warns US
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday Iran’s armed forces did not pose a threat to regional countries, criticizing the US decision to blacklist the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. “I want to tell the regional countries that the armed forces of Iran are not against you and your national interests. They stand against invaders... The roots of our problems are the Zionist regime and American imperialism,” Rouhani said according to Reuters during the parade to mark Army Day. He also said that Tehran sought “regional security and stability”.“The US is angry with every force which does not obey it, is not under its control and prevents it from reaching its goals,” Rouhani added. The administration is upset with the IRGC’s role in supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, he continued. Thousands of soldiers marched past Rouhani and top military commanders at the parade, while new Iranian-built fighter jets flew overhead. Iran also showed off missiles, submarines, armored vehicles, radars and its Russian-supplied S-300 defense system. Head of the air force Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh said: “The enemy knows our military power and I doubt they dare to make a stupid and adventurous move against us; But if they do, we will respond in the strongest way possible.”Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned in a letter to his counterparts around the world that Washington’s latest move in blacklisting the IRGC is meant to prepare the American public opinion for “a new adventure”. Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers because he saw that Tehran had violated it by insisting on its malicious regional policy and on developing ballistic missiles. Shortly after, he reimposed biting sanctions against Iran.

Macron Meets Syria Kurds, Vows Support in Fight Against ISIS

Paris- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated ISIS extremists in Syria, assuring them of France's support in the fight against remaining militants. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had in late March flushed out ISIS from their last bastion in Syria but still warn the militants remain a threat in places. The SDF is an umbrella force of Kurds and Arabs dominated by Kurds from the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. It is regarded with huge distrust by neighboring Turkey which sees the YPG as a terror group.Macron assured the SDF representatives, who were not named, of the "active support of France in the fight against Daesh which continues to be a menace for collective security," the presidency said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. Particularly important was the support in the "handling of terrorist fighters held as prisoners along with their families." European capitals are all keeping a careful eye on the ISIS prisoners held by the SDF after the defeat of the militants, given many are dual nationals. Macron also vowed that financial support would be allocated to "respond to the humanitarian needs and the socio-economic stabilization of civilian populations in Syria."The SDF were the key ally of the West in defeating ISIS and waged the bulk of the fighting on the ground. But they fear being abandoned by their patrons now ISIS is beaten, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had in April announced one million euros ($1.1 million) in humanitarian aid for camps housing displaced people, notably Al-Hol which holds thousands of women and children who lived in ISIS-held areas.

Security Chaos Worsens in Regime Controlled Suwayda, Syria
Damascus, Sweida - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/Unchecked proliferation of arms has hampered the daily lives of southwest Syria locals living in Suwayda, a Druze majority city close to the border with Jordan. Controlled by regime forces, Damascus is held accountable for gun control in the area. “The regime is promoting chaos in Suwayda. Months ago, mob activity skyrocketed with the obvious intention to stifle locals who opposed their children being dragged into obligatory army serves,” a resident, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat. “After the events that rocked the city in 2018, when ISIS overran the area and killed over 300 locals, citizens were driven to unite and defend themselves fiercely against terrorists,” they added, explaining that their striving for self-defense has placed the regime, the body initially responsible for their protection, into a wedge. Suwayda Syrians, who found themselves vulnerable and exposed, over-armed themselves. A result of unregulated arms spreading in the city, a neighborhood school brawl escalated to the point of detonating a sound IED which left one injured. Shock waves caused severe damage to one of the school’s bus. The incident raised the alarm on weapons finding their way to the hands of average schoolchildren. Despite the loud warnings raised by locals, regime forces remained indifferent and nonresponsive. Earlier, a triple bombing attack targeted the northern Suwayda neighborhood of Al Mazraa. Suspicions are on the rise that certain parties are working to evoke a civil war within the community as a well-followed social media campaign backed the theory. The regime’s intended oversight suggests that it is not only aware of the deteriorating security conditions, but is complicit in their decline. In the past two days, unknown gunmen kidnapped Maher al-Numeir, head of a village of Jbeib. Earlier, Arif Mamoun al-Nunu, a sanitary ware dealer from Damascus, was also kidnapped while visiting Suwayda. Nunu’s kidnappers demanded a ransom of 50 million pounds for his release. The incidents were the latest in a wider series of violence and disorder that broke out last Friday, April 18, with the abduction of six traders who came from Damascus to the city to buy locally-grown produce.

UAE FM, Pompeo Discuss Cooperation, Regional Affairs

Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan held talks in Washington on Friday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.The two officials discussed cooperation and issues of common interest, including combating extremism, resolving the conflict in Yemen and bolstering security and stability in the region. "The UAE and the US are close friends and strong allies," said Sheikh Abdullah, according the UAE’s WAM news agency. "Our enduring bilateral partnership is based on shared values and a common outlook for a more inclusive and peaceful future in the region."

UN Urges Solving Crisis of 2500 Foreign Children in Syria

Geneva- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/A senior United Nations relief official called on governments on Thursday to help resolve the fate of 2,500 foreign children being held among 75,000 people at al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after fleeing ISIS’s last stronghold. “Children should be treated first and foremost as victims. Any solutions must be decided on the basis of the best interest of the child,” Panos Moumtzis, Reuters quoted UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis as saying at a Geneva briefing. Solutions must be found “irrespective of children’s age, sex or any perceived family affiliation”, he said. Save the Children organization revealed in February that more than 2,500 children from more than 30 countries are living in three camps for people displaced in North-East Syria. It urged the international community to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all the children, some of which are merely days or weeks old. In some cases, individuals from overseas who were recruited by ISIS as children are now mothers themselves. “All children with perceived and actual associations with ISIS are victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. All states whose nationals are trapped in Syria must take responsibility for their citizens, said Save the Children’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush in a statement. “While some states have begun to do so, many countries – including several European countries – have yet to take steps to ensure the safety of the children and their families,” she explained. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) manage these camps, which shelter tens of thousands of displaced people and those fleeing the fight, providing them with services within their modest means. ISIS families are put in special sections and are under heavy guard, which in turn affects ability to access aid and services, according to the organization. Save the Children called on countries of origin to repatriate these children and their families safely for the purposes of rehabilitation and/or reintegration. It stressed that agreed international standards have established that access to support for recovery and rehabilitation is critical to resolving such situations. “This access is not currently available in the displacement camps in Syria,” it said.

Israel Demolishes Family Apartments of Accused Palestinian Attacker
West Bank- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/Israeli forces demolished two apartments in the occupied West Bank on Friday that housed the family of a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli woman in February, the army said. Soldiers surrounded the apartment block in the flashpoint southern city of Hebron beginning late on Thursday. They then destroyed the two apartments that were home to the family of Arafat Irfaiya, 29, with the use of heavy construction equipment in the early hours of the morning. Some clashes broke out between Palestinian residents and Israeli forces during the operation, AFP journalists reported. The murder of Ori Ansbacher, 19, reportedly stabbed multiple times, triggered shock and anger in Israel. Her body was found on February 7 in a forest southeast of Jerusalem and Irfaiya was arrested two days later in a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Israeli authorities labeled it a "nationalist" attack, meaning linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of attacks on Israelis as part of a policy it says discourages future violence. But human rights groups and Palestinians condemn the practice, as it amounts to collective punishment with family members forced to pay for the acts of a relative.

Palestinians Launch Major Campaign against ‘Deal of the Century’

Ramallah - Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/The Palestinian Authority said it will not accept “gifts” from the United States, stressing that that no money will change the Palestinian rejection of the so-called “deal of the century” peace proposal. New Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused the US of declaring “financial war” on his people. “The Palestinian Authority will not surrender to the financial war led by the US, on one hand, and Israel, on the other, to accept the deal of the century,” he noted, calling on states to save the two-state solution instead of issuing many statements. His position was part of a major campaign launched by the PA against the plan. The plan aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause, said Nabil Shaath, international relations adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on Thursday. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates issued a statement addressed to adviser to US President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, and his envoy to the peace process, Jason Greenblatt. “We don’t want Kushner’s Eid al-Fitr gift because it does not offer the Palestinians an independent and sovereign state,” the statement read in reference to the holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. It came in response to Kushner’s announcement earlier this week that the administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East will be published after Ramadan, which ends in June. The ministry said the US administration has implemented the vast majority of the plan’s political part, leaving only some sections unimplemented. It stressed that declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was the most prominent part of this deal, followed by the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. “If these actions and US decisions are not part of the plan, then what are they? Are they preparatory steps for what might be worse? Or is the US administration actually starting to implement the plan gradually without announcing it in advance?” the ministry asked. It recalled in its statement various US decisions, such as closing the PLO office in Washington, announcing its cut of aid for UNRWA, launching an incitement campaign targeting the UN body and its credibility and declaring that Israel has the right to establish settlements anywhere in occupied territory. Furthermore, it annexed the US consulate, which was established in Jerusalem in 1844, to the US Embassy in Jerusalem, imposed a financial siege on the PA, cut financial aid to the PA and its development projects, including support to Jerusalem hospitals, and recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights all part of its peace plan, said the statement.

Moody’s Upgrades Egypt’s Sovereign Rating from B3 to B2
Cairo/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/Rating agency Moody’s has upgraded Egypt’s sovereign rating, saying ongoing economic reforms will help improve its fiscal position and boost economic growth. Moody’s upgraded the long-term foreign and local currency issuer ratings of Egypt to B2 from B3.
The decision was based on “Moody’s expectation that ongoing fiscal and economic reforms will support a gradual but steady improvement in Egypt’s fiscal metrics and raise real GDP growth,” the agency said in a statement late on Wednesday. Moody’s also said it believed Egypt’s large domestic funding base would support its resilience to refinancing shocks despite the government’s very high borrowing needs and interest costs. Moody’s said it expected a steady improvement of Egypt’s fiscal position, “albeit from very weak levels”.Maintained primary budget surpluses combined with strong nominal GDP growth would help reduce the general government debt/GDP ratio to below 80 percent by the 2021 fiscal year from 92.6 percent in 2018 fiscal year, Moody’s said. Egypt’s fiscal year runs from July to June. Moody’s also said it expected energy price hikes as part of Egypt’s fuel subsidy reform, which it believed would be completed in the 2019 fiscal year. This, along with the fiscal reforms implemented in the last few years, would allow the government to maintain the primary budget balance in surplus in the next few years, Moody’s said. Egypt is pushing ahead with tough economic reforms as part of a three-year USD12 billion IMF loan deal signed in 2016. The reforms, aimed at attracting investors who fled during the 2011 uprising, have included new taxes, deep cuts to energy subsidies and a currency devaluation. The reforms have helped the economy recover, but have also put the budgets of tens of millions of Egyptians under strain. Egypt’s Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said that it is an acknowledgment of the government reforms' success and the state’s commitment to implement its comprehensive economic and financial reform program. In a statement released commenting on the rating upgrading, Maait added that Moody’s affirmed that there is a huge and flexible funding foundation, which provides better dealing with foreign strikes such as the global rise of interest or the exit of some financial surges outside the country.

Algeria's Streets See New Wave of Protests As Thousands March in Demand of Radical Reform
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/Thousands of demonstrators went back to Algeria’s streets on Friday to affirm their demands for major democratic change following Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation which came after six weeks of mass protests. Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition the powerful military endorsed. But Bouteflika’s April 2 exit failed to placate many Algerians who want to topple the entire, largely elderly elite that have dominated the country since independence from France in 1962, Reuters reported. People gathered in city centers around the country calling for root-and-branch reforms - including political pluralism. Witnesses also said people are demanding crackdowns on corruption and cronyism. Further protests were expected following Friday prayers. On Tuesday, army chief said Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah said the military was considering all options to resolve the national political crisis and warned “time is running out”.Salah did not specify what measures the army could take but added: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation.”According to Reuters, the army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.

Sudanese Opposition Members Hold Meetings in Dubai

London - Mustafa Serri/Asharq Al Awsat/April 19/19/Sudan People's Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) deputy leader, Yasir Arman, revealed that a delegation had arrived in the United Arab Emirates to hold talks on restoring peace in the African state. In a statement, he clarified that the delegation landed in Dubai upon an invitation from the UAE. He added that the Gulf country is keen on aiding the people of Sudan balance their ambitions for peace and democracy and national stability. Urging the supporting states to respond to the people’s calls and demands, Arman said: “We have ended the so-called fascist political Islam project, which ruined both religion and politics, and call for working together to build a new Sudan and resolve the challenges for the benefit of all.”He also refuted claims that the anti-regime protests have resorted to armed action. He reiterated the SPLM’s commitment to non-violence as a mean to impact change. On the other hand, the German news agency, dpa, quoted SPLM sources as confirming the UAE meeting between the movement’s leaders and the Sudan Liberation Army, which is led by Minni Arko Minnawi. Sources pointed out that the two sides may sign a memorandum of understanding in Dubai, outlining their vision to resolve the crisis. This may pave the way for direct meetings with the military council in Khartoum. The dpa reports were not backed by an official UAE source. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who is head of the SPLM, had also offered to mediate in the ongoing political transition in Sudan after the fall of former president Omar al-Bashir.“The president has offered to mediate the ongoing negotiations among various groups in Sudan with the hope that the new transition will usher in a new day in Sudan…,” a statement by Kiir’s office said.

Sudan Protest Leaders to Unveil Civilian Council

Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019/Sudan protest leaders announced Friday that they intent to unveil a civilian council that will take over from the transitional military council as they kept up their rally outside army headquarters in Khartoum. The military council, which took power after ousting Sudan's longtime leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11, has so far resisted calls from protesters to quickly make way for a civilian administration. The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading the protests, said in a statement that the civilian council members would be named at a news conference at 1700 GMT on Sunday outside the army complex to which foreign diplomats are also invited. "We are demanding that this civilian council, which will have representatives of the army, replace the military council," Ahmed al-Rabia, a leader of the umbrella group of unions for doctors, engineers and teachers, told AFP. Four months after anti-regime protests started, access roads were packed on Friday with crowds flocking to huge square outside army headquarters. Activists mobilized demonstrators through social media to keep up the pressure for replacing the military council, now led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
"Power to civilians, power to civilians," protesters chanted through Thursday night. "I won't leave until Burhan transfers power to a civilian government," said Wali Aldeen, who has camped outside the complex since the day Bashir was ousted. Activists have called for large crowds to gather after weekly Muslim prayers, as on previous Fridays. Protests first broke out on December 19 in response to the tripling of bread prices, swiftly turning into nationwide rallies against Bashir's three-decade rule. After his ouster, protesters demonstrated against General Awad Ibn Ouf who took over as the first head of the military council, insisting he was a tool of the old regime. Ibn Ouf stepped down in less than 24 hours and was replaced by Burhan, who so far has appeased protesters by lifting a night-time curfew and vowing to "uproot" Bashir's circle. The United States on Thursday praised orders by Sudan's new military leader to free political prisoners and end the curfew as it dispatched Makila James, a deputy assistant secretary of state, on a mission to Khartoum this weekend. The United States will "calibrate our policies based on our assessment of events", State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said, adding however that talks on delisting Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism remained suspended. "We are encouraged by the decision to release political prisoners and cancel the curfew in Khartoum," Ortagus said in a statement. She said that the United States wanted the military council and other armed units to "show restraint, avoid conflict and remain committed to the protection of the Sudanese people.""The will of the Sudanese people is clear: it is time to move toward a transitional government that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and the rule of law," she said. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington's short-term goal was to "get the military folks out of center-stage" and "back to being responsible for security, nothing else." "Longer term is to make absolutely sure that whichever group is going to be responsible for the transition prepares a transition implementation that will lead to a truly democratic government that will reflect the will of the Sudanese people," he said. The official did not specify whom James would meet in Khartoum but said, "the US engages with everyone."

Turkey Heeds Int’l Call to Freeze Assets of Houthi Leadership
Ankara, Aden - Saeed Abdurrazak and Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 19 April, 2019 /Turkey has frozen the assets of three senior Houthi leaders in line with UN Security Council resolutions, the country’s official gazette reported on Thursday. The decision is valid until February 26, 2020, and affects Abdulmalek Al-Houthi, Abd Al-Khaliq Al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim. The Iran-backed Houthi leadership and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh were sanctioned and blacklisted by the UN in 2014 for obstructing peace, security and stability in the country. Ankara also temporarily froze the assets of Saleh and his son in Turkish banks and other financial institutions, including safes, about two years ago. It has extended the duration of this freeze. Separately, Yemen’s Economic Committee reiterated the determination of government bodies and the country’s Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) to uphold the action plan and policies for stabilizing the national economy and local currency rates. Strict regulatory measures have been put into effect to stop powerful traders and bankers from buying into political patronage and profiteering off the suffering of war-ailed Yemenis. The committee, in an official statement, pointed out that it is carefully vetting local trade operations, and is looking into applications filed by companies working in areas outside government control for exemptions. The crackdown on businessmen and trade activity in the country aims to thwart Houthi attempts to monopolize Yemen’s oil market. “Houthi militias have boosted black market activity by offering oil from the so-called Houthi Oil Company and prevented qualified traders from applying for government permits during the past two months,” the statement said. As for the committee’s licensing of oil imports into the war-torn country, it confirmed approving shipments for all qualifying applications, once completed, within 24 days. It had recently approved the entry of four oil shipments to the port of Hodeidah.

UN Begins Evacuating Refugees from Libya to Niger
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 19/19/The UN said Friday it had evacuated 163 refugees from war-ravaged Libya to neighbouring Niger, but more than 3,000 others were still trapped in detention centres affected by clashes. The move marked the first evacuation of refugees and migrants out of Libya since fighting escalated in Tripoli two weeks ago, the UN refugee agency said. "Given the situation in Libya, humanitarian evacuations are a lifeline for detained refugees whose lives are in jeopardy in Libya," UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement. The operation came as fierce fighting continued between forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar and those backing the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded, the World Health Organization said Thursday. More than 25,000 have been displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration. Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning. They had all been held in detention centres near the frontlines of the conflict. UNHCR said it had previously relocated many of them from the Abu Selim and Ain Zara centres to its Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the centre of the capital. In all, it said, it had relocated 539 refugees from several detention centres near the immediate fighting zone. But it said more than 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention in areas where the fighting was raging. The agency said it remained "extremely concerned" for the safety of those who remain "trapped inside detention centres and exposed to violence." Grandi meanwhile hailed Niger for welcoming the refugees and urged other countries to follow suit. "Niger's solidarity in receiving these refugees is world-leading and exemplary, but Niger cannot do this alone," he said. "There must be shared responsibility and we need other countries to come forward to lend a hand and help bring vulnerable refugees out of Libya to safety."  UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to the international community to find solutions for all the trapped and detained refugees in Libya. Among other things, it said there was a need for evacuations and humanitarian corridors to allow refugees in its GDF in Tripoli to find safety abroad. It also said new such spaces were needed, since the facility had only limited capacity.

Egypt Bucks Trend with Vote to Extend Sisi Rule
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 19/19/In a referendum bucking the trend of the region's mini-Arab Spring, Egyptians are to start voting Saturday on constitutional amendments that extend President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rule until at least 2024. The vote running from April 20-22 was officially announced on Wednesday, a day after parliament overwhelmingly approved the changes extending presidential terms from four to six years. The amendments -- widely expected to pass in the face of minimal opposition -- would prolong Sisi's current term to 2024 from 2022 and allow him to then run for another six-year term. They also include giving the military greater influence in political life, granting Sisi wide control over the judiciary and broadening the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians. Egypt has been preparing for the referendum at the same time as parliament debated the amendments since the start of April. Banners and billboards have gone up across the capital Cairo in the past weeks urging people to take part. Many carry slogans implicitly urging people to back the amendments by doing "the right thing", while others sponsored by the pro-government Nation's Future party call outright for a "Yes" vote. The referendum comes after two veteran presidents, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar al-Bashir, were ousted in Algeria and Sudan, respectively, this month following mass street demonstrations. MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, who pushed for the constitutional amendments to keep Sisi in power, is adamant the changes are needed to allow the president to complete political and economic reforms. Sisi "took important political, economic and security measures... (and) must continue with his reforms", in the face of the unrest gripping neighbouring countries, the deputy told AFP.
The Soufan Center, however, said Thursday that the amendments would "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime". "There is little observable public opposition to the constitutional changes, likely a result of the oppressive nature of the Egyptian government," said the think tank. Under Sisi, "Egypt has become even more autocratic than it was under (long-time ruler Hosni) Mubarak", it said.
Criticism of rights groups
As army chief of staff at the time, Sisi led the military's overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader's rule. He won his first term as president in 2014, three years after the uprising that toppled Mubarak, and was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent of the vote, after standing virtually unopposed. His government has been widely criticised by human rights groups for the repression of political opponents. But the "recent political upheavals in Algeria and Sudan have little hope of being replicated in Egypt, where the initial murmurings of the Arab Spring have since been silenced", said the Soufan Center. Other constitutional amendments include a quota for women's representation of no less than 25 percent in parliament and forming a second parliamentary chamber. Activists including Human Rights Watch have blasted the main changes as part of a campaign to cement Sisi's "authoritarian rule". Amnesty International said that by approving the amendments, parliamentarians had shown a "complete disregard for human rights". The haste with which the referendum has been pushed through prompted Egyptian and international human rights groups to call the electoral process "unfree and unfair". "The current national climate in Egypt is devoid of any space in which a... referendum can occur with... guarantees of partiality and fairness," rights groups said in a joint statement. Parliament's small opposition "25-30 Alliance" is urging Egypt's electorate to reject the amendments. With the overwhelming majority of the media in the Sisi camp, dissenting voices have been largely restricted to social networks.

US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy
Arab/News/April 19/19/JERUSALEM: US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will not involve giving land from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula to the Palestinians, an American envoy said on Friday. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, apparently sought to deny reports on social media that the long-awaited plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve extending Gaza into the northern Sinai along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. “Hearing reports our plan includes the concept that we will give a portion of Sinai (which is Egypt’s) to Gaza. False!,” Greenblatt, one of the architects of the proposal, tweeted on Friday. The American plan is expected to be unveiled once Israel’s newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forms a government coalition and after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in June. Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Wednesday the plan would require compromise by all parties, a source familiar with his remarks said. It is unclear whether the plan will propose outright the creation of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians’ core demand. The Palestinians have long sought to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The last round of US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.

Al-Nusra fighters were sent from Turkey to join Tripoli battles: LNA
Al Arabiya/Friday, 19 April 2019/The spokesperson for the Libyan National Army (LNA), Brigadier Ahmed al-Mesmari, said that members of al-Nusrah front, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, were sent from Turkey to Libya to join the battles in Tripoli, in a press conference on Friday. “The LNA is fighting countries that support the terrorists,” al-Mesmari said, “and the Government of National Accord is threatening diplomats and ambassadors for a coup against the LNA,” he added. Al-Mesmari also said that 14 “armed terrorists” have been killed following their attack on Tamanhant base. He added that the attackers failed to reach the heart of the base, which is not used for military purposes. “We are committed to the rules of conflict and the humanitarian law,” said al-Mesmari, adding that their priorities lie in preserving the lives of civilians and their properties.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on April 19-20/19
Good Friday Traditions From Around the World
CNN and Aleteia/April 19/2019
From processions to kite flying, there are several traditions around the world that mark Good Friday, as each country has its own unique way of commemorating the crucification of Jesus Christ.
In this city, the Friday before Easter is called "Venerdì Santo," meaning Holy Friday, the day Jesus Christ was crucified.
Many Italians choose to fast or eat a diet consisting of only fish on this day. To observe the Catholic Church's day of mourning, every statue and cross in churches is covered by a black or purple cloth.
Rome's largest Good Friday event, known as "Way of the Cross" or "Stations of the Cross," is a solemn torchlight procession led by the Pope. The crowd visits each of the 14 "stations of the cross," each symbolizing a part of Jesus' passion and death. The procession begins at the Colosseum and ends at Palatine Hill.
Jerusalem is where Jesus' crucifixion took place, according to the Bible. Therefore, it makes sense that Good Friday is a highly spiritual and ritualistic holiday for the city.
Traditions include a pilgrimage in which individuals, many of whom carry crosses, retrace the steps Jesus took on his way to the cross. The route leads to Golgotha, also known as the Place of the Skull, where Jesus met his death.
Following the pilgrimage, there is an evening funeral procession in which participants will reenact the burial of Jesus.
This time of year might remind you of dyeing eggs bright colors. Jamaicans have a different use for eggs during their celebration of Good Friday.
This tradition involves cracking an egg and separating its yolk from its white. Before sunrise, they will pour the egg white into a glass of water. As the sun's heat warms the glass, patterns will form from the egg. In the past, Jamaican elders believed the pattern revealed how you would die.
London's Trafalgar Square puts on a free open-air play every year on Good Friday. "The Passion of Jesus" is performed by a mixture of both amateur and professional Christian actors who take their audience on a journey from Jesus' arrest to his resurrection on Easter.
The cast comprises more than 100 performers as well as several animals. As the show features a realistic portrayal of the crucifixion, parental guidance is suggested.
Central America
Countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in Central America use art to celebrate Good Friday. On this day, the streets are lined with Alfombras, Spanish for "rug." Created using colorful sawdust, their subjects often are either religious or nature-focused. In order to take in their beauty, you must observe the Alfrombras before any Good Friday processions commence, as they will be washed away by the flood of the crowd's feet. Two days before the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday, Good Friday provides an outlet for Christians to express their remembrance of Jesus' death.
In Bensheim, Germany, the Italian community participates in an annual procession on Good Friday. The event depicts the last days of Christ’s life on earth, from the betrayal to his crucifixion, with a real-life Jesus “nailed” to the cross. You’ll have to look closely to see how it is reenacted without harming the performer!
As well as eating hot cross buns and codfish cakes, residents on the island in the North Atlantic Ocean take to the beaches and fly kites on Good Friday. Not your regular tradition for sure, but the charming history behind the festival is that a Sunday school teacher was trying to demonstrate to the children Christ’s ascension to heaven.
If you’ve ever seen the many Easter processions that take place in Spain during Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, you might have been surprised to see penitents wearing the white hoods similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. However, these hats are a throwback to the famous Spanish Inquisition, where those found guilty would wear a conical hat and be forced to walk in the streets to the mocks and jeers of crowds. The processions are now a nod to Christ’s walk to Calvary.
As in many Christians countries, residents take part in a procession reenacting Christ’s walk to his death. Taking part in Iztapalapa, out of the 4000 actors who participate in the event, one courageous man is chosen to play part of Jesus. Donning a crown of thorns, along the journey he is flogged and even bears a 200 pound cross for two kilometers.
In Peru many locals will participate in Good Friday processions. However, residents of the country’s capital, Lima, will make their way to a hand-painted crucifix called the Lord of Miracles that was made in the 1600s by a slave. The religious icon has survived numerous earthquakes over the countries.
Throughout the Mediterranean island, locals take part in various processions in the late afternoon to honor the Passion of Christ. Along the walks participants are dressed as biblical figures, with some carrying statues. As with other processions people may choose to carry crosses, while some will drag heavy chains in an act of penance, or of faith.

When the Ayatollah Plays His Joker
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/April 19/19
For years, “Iran experts” in the West have regarded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the “deep government” in the Islamic Republic. However, the events of the past weeks, marked by floods that wreaked havoc in 22 of Iran’s 31 provinces, may warrant a second look at that theory. The floods showed that, in real terms, Iran has no government and that the IRGC is more of a business-cum-security conglomerate than a government, deep or shallow. The first week of chaos and confusion showed that, despite boasts by its commanders, the IRGC, was unable to organize a credible rescue operation. IRGC chief Gen. Muhammad-Ali Aziz-Jaafari was even unable to travel to the affected provinces. Then came small but ominous protests by flood-stricken people against the IRGC, blaming it, rightly or wrongly, for causing the floods by jerry-building of dams and railway lines.
Concerned that popular anger may trigger clashes between IRGC and the populace, Islamic Chief of Staff Gen. Muhammad Baqeri decreed that IRGC men should not carry arms in public. That meant that they wouldn’t be able to mount any relief operation while risking attacks by angry crowds. There was the additional risk that local IRGC units might side with protesters who were their kin and kith. Top mullahs were also advised to stay away from stricken areas where their security couldn’t be guaranteed. The vacuum created had enabled units from the regular army to remind the people that it still exists by doing a bit of relief work.
Scenes of people fraternizing with the army, regarded by some as a relic of the “good old days” before the mullahs seized power, caused some concern in the entourage of “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. With using IRGC a risk-ridden scheme and the army not quite reliable, Khamenei decided to play his joker in the shape of Major-General Qassem Soleimani whom he had just decorated with the Khomeinist regime’s highest honor, the Zulfiqar (double-edged sword) Medal. Official propaganda, echoed by ill-informed Western personalities and media, have built Soleimani as a cross between the Scarlet Pimpernel and Napoleon Bonaparte. As if that were not enough regime apologists to describe Soleimani in laughably exaggerated terms. Massoud Behnoud of the BBC’s Persian service praises Soleimani as one of the “mystic commanders “who has marked Iran’s history. Retired diplomat Jalil Bahar sees Soleimani as a potential “savior”, the same way Reza Shah rescued a declining Iran in the last century. The daily Kayhan, reflecting Khamenei’s views, claims that Soleimani, almost single-handedly, kept Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad in power, defeated ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, crushed the Israelis in proxy wars and seized control of a chunk of Yemen.
Time magazine has put Soleimani on its cover while CNN called him “the most powerful man in the Middle East”. Soleimani’s fans quote the US General Stanley McCrystal describing their idol as “a great strategist.” Thus when Soleimani appeared on TV to announce he was taking over flood relief, many saw this as “Superman” rushing to the rescue at the 11th hour.  Soon, however, it became clear that “Islam’s bravest soldier since Imam Ali” owed part of his reputation to bluffing and his talent for self-aggrandizement. He gathered a few cronies and set out for the southwestern province of Khuzestan to show that he could go where neither President Rouhani nor IRGC chief Aziz-Jaafari dared go.
Then started mishaps that resembled episodes from the Keystone Kops.
The heir to Imam Ali and Napoleon Bonaparte was stranded at Andimeshk where floods had cut the Trans-Iranian railway. He had to hitch a ride in a Red Crescent chopper and ended up in Malashieh where he took selfies with local Arab tribes. There, too, he was stranded until given transport by a local trucking company usually carrying sheep and cows. Unwilling to rely on the IRGC and/or Islamic security units for his safety, the general summoned Iraqi units of his foreign legion in the shape of the Popular Mobilization (Hashd al-Shaabi). The summoning of Iraqi mercenaries showed that Khamenei isn’t quite sure of the regime’s military and security apparatus and, when the chips are down, relies on his foreign legion. The head of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court Mussa Ghozanfar-Abadi puts it thus: “When people do not help the revolution, Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi, Afghan Fatimyoun, Pakistani Zaynbiyoun, Yemeni Houthis and Lebanese Hezbollah shall come and defend the revolution.”
Soleimani’s experience in Khuzestan reminded me of a similarly farcical episode involving Adolf Hitler on in March 1938 when he ordered his troops to invade Austria for Anschluss (annexation). The plan was for Panzer units to enter the border at Braunau on 12 March at dawn and arrive in Vienna before sunset. The Fuhrer was scheduled to join them soon afterward for a night of celebrations. Austrian SS and Fascist groups had organized numerous feasts all the way, waiting for General Heinz Guderian’s “Blitzkrieg “(Lightning War) theory to be tested in practice. However, as the night deepened, there was no sign either of the German army or the Fuhrer. It turned out that numerous German tanks and armored cars had run into engine trouble, creating a mammoth traffic jam behind which, his furor notwithstanding, the Fuhrer was also stuck. In the end, the Austrian SS had to commandeer railway cars used for carrying livestock to ship the Fuhrer’s “kaput” tanks and armored cars to Vienna. Hitler and his entourage reached the city much later, hungry and all in a sweat.
Time magazine at the time had praised Hitler’s army for “working like a clock.” It turned out that the clock could get stuck while the bluff worked because gullible pundits in the West fell for the dictator’s propaganda and cautioned against any action to nip the Nazi monster in the bud.
To be sure, the Islamic Republic isn’t Nazi Germany and the hapless Qassem Soleimani isn’t Adolf Hitler. But in both cases Western gullibility has contributed to overrating a brutal regime and a mediocre leader, thus helping spread the fear that such regimes and leaders rely upon for their survival.

Spain: Does the Term 'Islamist' Constitute Hate Speech?
Soeren Kern/Gatestone/Gatestone Institute/April 19/19
"The external enemies want to tell us how to run our country.... Angela Merkel and her fellow travelers, George Soros, the immigration mafias, believe that they can tell us who can and cannot enter our country. They demand that our boats pluck so-called castaways out of the sea, transfer them to our ports and shower them with money. Who do they think we are?" — Ortega Smith, Secretary General of the Vox party, Spain.
"These.... groups stand out not because of prejudice ('Islamophobia' or racism) but due to their being the least assimilable of foreigners, an array of problems associated with them, such as not working and criminal activity, and a fear that they will impose their ways on Europe.... Other concerns deal with Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims, including Christophobia and Judeophobia, jihadi violence, and the insistence that Islam enjoy a privileged status vis-à-vis other religions" — Daniel Pipes, historian, "Europe's Civilizationist Parties," Commentary, November 2018.
"We all know about the lack of freedom, if not direct persecution, suffered by women and Christians in Islamic countries, while here they enjoy the generosity characteristic of freedom, democracy and reciprocity, of course, all of which they systematically deny...." — Santiago Abascal, President of the Vox party, "Trojan Horse," Libertad Digital, December 2014.
"The left defends any gratuitous offense, even the most beastly ones, against Christians as 'freedom of expression.' At the same time, the mere fact of criticizing Islam is branded as 'Islamophobia.' .... Is this still Spain or are we in Iran?" — Elantir, blogger, Contando Estrelas.
Vox, a fast-rising Spanish populist party, describes itself as is a socially conservative political project aimed at defending traditional Spanish values from the challenges posed by mass migration, multiculturalism and globalism. Vox's foundational mission statement affirms that the party is dedicated to constitutional democracy, free-market capitalism and the rule of law. Pictured: Santiago Abascal, President of Vox, arrives at a party rally in Granada, Spain on April 17, 2019. (Image source: David Ramos/Getty Images)
Spanish prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation to determine whether the secretary general of Vox, a fast-rising Spanish populist party, is guilty of hate speech for warning of an "Islamist invasion."
The criminal inquiry, based on a complaint from a Muslim activist group, appears aimed at silencing critical discussion of Islam ahead of national elections on April 28. More broadly, however, the case poses a potentially immeasurable threat to the exercise of free speech in Spain.
Prosecutors in Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain, said that they were investigating Javier Ortega Smith, the second-ranking leader of Vox, for an alleged hate crime after they received a complaint from a Muslim group called "Muslims Against Islamophobia" (Musulmanes Contra la Islamofobia).
At a rally in Valencia on September 16, 2018, Ortega Smith declared that Europe's "common enemy" is the "Islamist invasion":
"Spain is facing threats from internal and external enemies. The internal enemies are perfectly identifiable: the [Catalan] separatists, the friends of [Basque] terrorists, those who want to tear our nation apart....
"The external enemies want to tell us how to run our country.... Angela Merkel and her fellow travelers, George Soros, the immigration mafias, believe that they can tell us who can and cannot enter our country. They demand that our boats pluck so-called castaways out of the sea, transfer them to our ports and shower them with money. Who do they think we are? We say enough is enough....
"We will unite our voice with those of millions of Europeans who also are standing up. Those voices are saying, long live Germany, long live Switzerland, long live France, long live Great Britain. These Europeans understand the need to respect national sovereignty and national identity. They have no intention of being diluted into the magma of European multiculturalism.
"Together we will be stronger against the common enemy that has a very clear name. I will not stop saying it. Our common enemy, the enemy of Europe, the enemy of freedom, the enemy of progress, the enemy of democracy, the enemy of the family, the enemy of life, the enemy of the future is called the Islamist invasion.
"What is at stake is what we understand or know as civilization. It is under serious threat. We are not alone. More and more Europeans are standing up because they are suffering in their cities, on their streets and in their neighborhoods due to the application of Sharia law. They are not willing to have their cathedrals torn down and forcibly replaced with mosques.
"They are not willing to have their women cover their faces with a black cloth and be forced to walk ten steps behind — to be treated worse than camels. They are not willing to extinguish what we understand as civilization and a respect for rights and freedom."
The founder of Muslims Against Islamophobia, Ibrahim Miguel Ángel Pérez, said that Ortega Smith's comments are "completely untrue and undermine social peace and coexistence" by "encouraging the creation of an atmosphere of fear and rejection towards Muslim communities." Pérez, a Spanish convert to Islam, added:
"We believe that the content of the video, which is circulating on the Internet, is highly alarmist and could threaten coexistence and social peace, which is why we have decided to act, to determine if the content could be constitutive of an alleged hate crime."
Prosecutors must now determine whether Ortega Smith is guilty of a hate crime as described in Article 510.1 of the Criminal Code, which establishes prison sentences of between one to four years for those found guilty of "publicly fomenting, promoting or inciting, directly or indirectly, hate, hostility, discrimination or violence against a group [...] for racist, anti-Semitic or other motives associated with ideology, religion or beliefs."
Ortega Smith said that he would be "delighted" to explain to prosecutors what the "Islamist invasion" means, namely "the attempt to end freedoms, to end respect for family, life, women and democracy." If the prosecutor determines that there is some alleged crime, "there will be no problem to explain that Europe and Spain are facing an attempted Islamist invasion because of the Europeans themselves and their erroneous policies regarding national borders and their control," he added.
Vox, founded in December 2013 in response to the degeneration of Spanish conservatism, has been soaring in the polls — in large measure because it is filling a political vacuum created by the center-right Popular Party (PP), which in recent years has drifted leftward and is viewed by many Spanish voters as having abandoned its role as standard bearer of conservative values.
Often derided by Spain's political and media establishment as a "far right" party, Vox does not fit the traditional left-right paradigm. During regional elections in Andalusia in December 2018, for instance, Vox was catapulted into the Andalusian Parliament by voters from across the political spectrum: 45% of those who voted for Vox in 2018 backed the PP in 2015; another 15% of Vox voters previously supported the centrist party Citizens (Ciudanos); and a whopping 15% of Vox voters previously opted for center-left and far-left parties.
Vox (based on the Latin word for voice) describes itself as is a socially conservative political project aimed at defending traditional Spanish values from the challenges posed by mass migration, multiculturalism and globalism. Vox's foundational mission statement affirms that the party is dedicated to constitutional democracy, free-market capitalism and the rule of law. In foreign policy, Vox is pro-Israel, pro-American and pro-NATO. Party leaders have called for Spain to double its defense spending to meet its commitments to the transatlantic alliance. In domestic policy, Vox's stated priority is to enact constitutional reforms aimed at preventing the territorial disintegration of Spain from threats by Basque nationalism and Catalan separatism.
Vox's growing appeal also rests on the fact that it is the only political party in Spain to fundamentally eschew political correctness. Vox leaders speak with a frankness and clarity of conviction long unheard of in multicultural Spain.
"We are neither a fascist party, nor the extreme right, nor do we eat children, nor are we totalitarians," Ortega Smith recently said in an interview with the Espejo Público television program. "We are the only party that is defending the constitution and democracy [against Catalan separatists]."
Vox could be described as "civilizationist," a term coined by historian Daniel Pipes to describe parties that "cherish Europe's and the West's traditional culture and want to defend it from assault by immigrants aided by the left." In an essay titled, "Europe's Civilizationist Parties," Pipes wrote:
"Civilizationalist parties are populist, anti-immigration, and anti-Islamization. Populist means nursing grievances against the system and a suspicion of an elite that ignores or denigrates those concerns....
"Civilizationist parties, led by Italy's League, are anti-immigration, seeking to control, reduce, and even reverse the immigration of recent decades, especially that of Muslims and Africans. These two groups stand out not because of prejudice ('Islamophobia' or racism) but due to their being the least assimilable of foreigners, an array of problems associated with them, such as not working and criminal activity, and a fear that they will impose their ways on Europe.
"Finally, the parties are anti-Islamization. As Europeans learn about Islamic law (the Shari'a), they increasingly focus on its role concerning women's issues, such as niqabs and burqas, polygamy, taharrush (sexual assault), honor killings, and female genital mutilation. Other concerns deal with Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims, including Christophobia and Judeophobia, jihadi violence, and the insistence that Islam enjoy a privileged status vis-à-vis other religions."
Since Vox's inception, party leaders have warned against creeping Islamization. In December 2014, for example, Vox President Santiago Abascal criticized the Spanish government's decision to approve a law that promotes Islam in Spanish public schools. In an essay entitled, "Trojan Horse," Abascal wrote that the government was conceding a "dangerous privilege" to Islam:
"The Spanish state is allowing the Muslim community to preach in schools and propose Mohammed as a role model.... This law, according to experts, has been drafted in its entirety by the heads of the Muslim community in Spain, with little review by the competent ministry. The law surprises by its markedly confessional character in each of its articles, and it develops a proselytizing vocation, covering with tolerance the most controversial aspects of a strict theocratic system. The controversial preaching of the imams in our mosques, often bordering on the criminal, is well known. And we all know about the lack of freedom, if not direct persecution, suffered by women and Christians in Islamic countries, while here they enjoy the generosity characteristic of freedom, democracy and reciprocity, of course, all of which they systematically deny....
"We already know that a part of the Western world is determined to commit suicide and many governments know that, to achieve this, they must destroy their own foundations. The beautiful multiculturalism of the progressive myth — reflected in nonsense such as the Alliance of Civilizations, or false notions of peaceful coexistence of the 'Three Cultures' in al-Andalus — is fed above all by the contempt for one's own culture. The best ally of intolerance is the relativism of those who have no principles.
"Today we have to face two fundamentalisms that, as we are seeing, are allies: Islamism and radical secularism. Every day they seem less opposed to each other and more complementary."
After members of the Muslim community accused Abascal of being "anti-democratic," "Islamophobic," and "reactionary," Abascal replied:
"It is somewhat curious that the Islamic Commission of Spain accuses me of trying to 'create permanent confusion' by identifying the political dimension of Islam with the religious dimension, when, precisely, the mixture of the religious and the political is so obviously constitutive of the Muslim world. It is worth remembering in this regard that, while our Christian civilization was built precisely on the separation of the civil and religious, you cannot say the same about yours....
"Of course, not all who profess Islam share the most extreme expressions of Islamist intolerance or support terrorism; but it is also true that the failure of multiculturalism is clearly visible throughout Europe. I reiterate that there are better and worse civilizations, a view that, I'm sure, you share. As I said, putting them all on the same level is just paving the way to barbarism.
"Finally: you refer the 'myth' of the invasion (I suppose that refers to the year 711), historical evidence that you seem to question in line with the darkest historical revisionism. We Spaniards, however, know very well that such a 'myth' is an unquestionable historical reality, for which we must thank the formation of a deep sense of national identity forged during the eight centuries of struggle for the recovery of the fatherland of our ancestors."
In an August 2017 interview, days after the jihadi attacks in Barcelona and nearby Cambrils, in which 14 people were killed and more than 130 injured, Abascal was asked if Spain is at war. He replied:
A: "We are in a global war. They have declared war. It's not a war between regular armies. It's a war that is distinct and very different from the wars we have known unto now. It is a global war against radical Islam."
Q: "Is Spain responsible? Are Spaniards responsible? Are Europeans responsible? Do we have to ask for forgiveness for something?"
A: "Those who have to ask for forgiveness are the politicians for their failure to protect us. The politicians are guilty for accepting the massive Islamic invasion, for failing to value the importance of borders, for providing migrants with economic assistance paid for by Spanish taxpayers."
Q: "Are we responsible for people who see no other option than to immolate themselves?"
A: "Are we responsible because they want to kill us?"
Q: "An MP from the far-left party Podemos said that we have to assume responsibility."
A: "We are not responsible. My children are not responsible. I am not going to accept that my children have to bow the knee to Mecca. I am not going to accept that my daughters are forced to wear a veil. If the far left like these guys, fine. If they like these jihadis, they should invite them into their homes and have them force their daughters to wear the veil. These politicians lack the courage to defend our borders and they lack the courage to defend Spaniards."
Q: "What about Islamophobia?"
A: "The danger is Islamophilia. I am tired of this constant preoccupation with Islamophobia. Muslims do not face persecution in Spain. I do not like that Muslims are incapable of making a distinction between religion and politics. I don't like the way they treat women. I don't like their concept of liberty. I don't like it. And to say this I'm called an Islamophobe. I can criticize a Communist and they don't call me a Communistphobe. If I criticize the separatists, they don't call me a Separatistphobe. But if I criticize a Muslim because I don't like their worldview, they call me Islamophobe. Why?"
In a radio interview in November 2018, Abascal commented on the growing popular support for Vox:
"I am very aware of the responsibility we are assuming. More and more people trust us. People are disappointed because the other parties have failed them. We have been able to connect with people who say in their homes the same things we say in public. This is the key to the great support we are getting. We know that people who come to our meetings do so not because of Vox, but because they are worried about their country and because we are not ashamed about talking about Spain.
"Vox is not ashamed to use words such as 'Reconquest.' To a large extent, the success we are reaping is because we have rescued words that seemed to be proscribed. From a historical perspective, the Reconquest is not a bad thing. On the contrary, we avoided Islamization and we live in freedom."
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Miguel Ángel Pérez, the man who reported Ortega Smith to Spanish prosecutors, says that he is dedicated to imprisoning those who, according to him, "profess the discourse of hatred against Islam." Pérez, who married a Moroccan woman before converting to Islam, is a member of the far-left party Podemos. He has bragged of his efforts to force the closure of the social media accounts of dozens of people who are critical of Islam.
A blogger named "Elantir" wrote about the significance of the hate crime allegations against Ortega Smith:
"For years the left has maintained a curious double discourse on religious matters: it promotes hatred of Christianity, calling it retrograde and macho, while it is friendly with Islam.
"With the same ease with which they accuse you of the crime of 'micro-machismo' if you compliment a woman, the left defends the use of the Islamic veil and does not dare to criticize the atrocious discrimination suffered by women in Muslim countries.
"While here in the West the left does everything possible to uproot our Christian heritage, the left considers it respectable that there are countries that have Islam as their official religion and that treat religious minorities as second-class citizens, or even subject them to persecution.
"Likewise, the left defends any gratuitous offense, even the most beastly ones, against Christians as 'freedom of expression.' At the same time, the mere criticism of Islam is branded as 'Islamophobia.'
"Note that Ortega spoke of 'Islamist,' an adjective used to refer to Islamic extremism.
"Apparently, now they do not just want us to stop all criticism of Islam: they do not want us to oppose the more extreme version either. On April 4, many media outlets reported that the Prosecutor's Office will investigate Ortega to verify if there is such a 'hate crime.'
"That is to say, that public resources will be used to investigate whether a person had the audacity to meddle with Islam.
"Is this still Spain or are we in Iran?
"It was to be expected that sooner or later some Muslims would try to transfer to Spain an environment of intolerance to any criticism of Islam such as that which exists in most Islamic countries.
"When a Muslim association tries to censor a critique of Islamism, the political and media left remains silent as a grave. It is more: yesterday the progressive media loaded their inks not against the denunciating association, but against the denounced politician.
"Every time that the Association of Christian Lawyers makes a denunciation against acts of Christianophobia, the leftist media speak of an 'ultra-Catholic group.' Yesterday, not one progressive used the term 'ultra-Islamic group' to describe an organization that is trying to impede the right to criticize Islamism.
"Rather, the news seemed designed to imply that the mere fact of being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office already makes Ortega guilty. No presumption of innocence, no freedom of expression or tolerance. When it comes to Islam, the left changes the relativist 'anything goes' for an authoritarian 'shut your mouth.'"
Meanwhile, popular support for Vox is higher than ever, according to the Center for Sociological Research (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, CIS), a Spanish public research institute. A recent poll found that Vox is projected to win around 12% of the vote in the upcoming national election on April 28. Vox would win between 29 and 37 seats in the next parliament, positioning the party as king-maker in any potential center-right coalition government.
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Analysis/Iran Floods Leave Its Regime Drowning in Domestic Criticism
زفي بارئيل/الهآرتس: فيضانات إيران تغرق نظامها في موجة نقد محلية
Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/April 19/19

President Rohani's major difficulty to conduct a consistent policy, implement economic reforms or navigate between the sanctions and EU states lies in the fact elite Quds Force's chief Qassem Soleimani is the one pulling all the strings.
In about two weeks, from mid-March to the beginning of April, some 70 percent of the annual precipitation fell in Iran. About 1,900 cities and villages – some estimates cite 4,500 communities in about 21 districts – were flooded with water and mud. More than 70 people were killed and about two million are in need of food and medicines.
Some 150,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged, dozens of bridges collapsed or were rendered unsafe and some 12,000 kilometers of roads, about one third of Iran's paved roads, have been damaged or destroyed. According to a preliminary assessment the damage is $2.2 billion.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Iran's fierce rivals, sent an airplane with some 90 tons of humanitarian aid in the wake of the disaster and hundreds of warriors of the Iraqi popular militias crossed the border to help the afflicted communities. This last move reawakened old tensions between Iraq and Iran and the social networks spread denunciations and criticism of the "Iraqi foreign forces" entering Iran's territory.
Iran's citizens didn't need to read the Iranian commentators, who blamed Hassan Rohani's government for its years-long neglect of infrastructures and the failure to manage the natural disasters, with which the country is inundated. Nor were the citizens impressed by Rohani's accusing the state's meteorological service of failing to pass on accurate warnings in real time.
This accusation was unjustified, for the service had passed on the information and warned of expected floods. But little could be done with it since the government had granted licenses to cronies to build on the river banks, thus increasing the damages to houses and to the collapsed banks.
Bijan Khajehpour, a partner of the Austrian consulting company Eurasian Nexus Partners, wrote recently in the Al-Monitor media site that the main problem is the absence of coordination between Iran's authorities, vague regulations that don't define each authority's jurisdiction properly, struggles over funds and a culture of temporary solutions without an orderly plan.
The compensation law for disaster victims was enacted in 2016 but hasn't been implemented due to disagreements over financial sources and the compensation distribution.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed American sanctions, which prevented Iran from preparing for the natural disaster. But this is a groundless argument in light of the government's incompetence following previous less harsh disasters such as earthquakes or floods. The sanctions are now cited as an excuse for any shortcoming, certainly for the acute economic crisis, which began long before the sanctions had come into effect.
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei's decision to use two billion dollars from the national development fund to cushion the Iranian economy from the sanctions' effects, shows that the state's budget hadn't taken into consideration natural disasters or unforeseen needs.
The government's most significant step to soften the sanctions' blow was to ban the import of dozens of goods, including cars, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, tractors, ambulances, powdered milk, ambulances, ovens, cameras and musical instruments, in a bid to save the dwindling rial currency, which had dropped to more than 145,000 per dollar.
Last year, Iran imported some 70,000 cars, 9 percent less than the previous year. Local car producers are unlikely to be able to step up production this year to replace the imported cars in view of the demand, due to funding difficulties and lack of spare parts.
Iranian economists attribute little importance to the ban on imports, saying it would only increase the smuggling and strengthen the administration-sponsored crime rings. Iran occasionally reports the development of a new missile or details of its advanced space program. Recently it stated its intention to invest in building a railway between Baghdad and Damascus.
Until six months ago, Iran exported 2-3 billion oil barrels a month to Syria, which consumes some 100,000 oil barrels a day and produces only some 24,000 barrels a day. Then it stopped exporting oil to Syria in an effort to save expenses due to the sanctions. Now the lines are very long at Syrian gas stations, following the government's quota of 20 oil liters per two days to every car owner.
In the past Iran usually separated between financing its military and civilian involvement in other states and managing domestic economic crises. The elite Revolutionary Guards Corps and mainly the Quds Force, under Qasem Soleimani's command, have a separate budget and unsupervised income sources that are not part of the state budget.
The Guards Corps' advantage is in controlling the airport, export and import terminals and hundreds of production factories. So Soleimani and his forces haven't been harmed by Iran's economic upheavals even when the sanctions were in full force prior to the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015.
However, when U.S. President Trump designated the Guards this week a foreign terror organization, the rial plummeted by some 7.5 percent, sending people to stand in queues outside money changers' stalls and bank doors. Only the central bank governor's promise that there was no shortage of foreign currency calmed things down and raised the rial a little.
Perhaps suspending the oil export to Syria is meant to pressure Assad's regime to grant Iran economic favors, development franchises and investments for the post-war period. Iran has learned that despite the military and economic assistance it gave Assad, the Syrian president favors Russia, to which he granted franchises to develop the Syrian oil fields and huge contracts to rehabilitate infrastructures after the war.
The economic rivalry between Iran and Russia has been reflected this week by clashes between Iranian militia forces and Russian forces near Aleppo's vegetable market over controlling checkpoints and charging commissions.
Iran also blames Russia for indirectly coordinating the last air force attack with Israel. Iranian commentators believe Russia and Israel are planning to dispossess Iran of its achievements in Syria.
Iran's relations with Russia will be tested again on Wednesday, when delegates of Russia, Iran and Turkey gather in Astana for another round of peace talks toward ending the eight-year civil war in Syria. They are due to discuss retaking full control of Idlib and to plan the continued diplomatic moves.
Iran's problem is the duplicate systems running the policy vis-a-vis Syria. President Rohani, whose term is ending in two years, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif may be the ones appearing at those international meetings, but Qasem Soleimani is the decider, backed by Khamenei.
Here lies Rohani's major difficulty to conduct a consistent policy, implement economic reforms or navigate between the sanctions and EU states, which have decided to set up a payment system bypassing the sanctions, but haven't implemented it yet.
One part of Iran's policy remains fixed, however. Iran is implementing the nuclear agreement with no violations or deviations. By so doing it has obtained at least the support of the United States Congress.
Republican Senator Rand Paul warned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week that the administration would not be able to wage a war against Iran without the Congress' explicit approval. The warning was required following Pompeo's statement at the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee that "there is no doubt there is a connection" between Al Qaeda and Iran.
The administration classified the Revolutionary Guards Corps as foreign terror organization two days earlier to enable the United States to attack Iran without the Congress' approval.
Senior State Department officials apparently share Senator Paul's position and, according to Reuters, have criticized the department's annual report on international compliance with arms control accords. The report, which was published on the State Department's site, removed and then put up again, does not include Russia, North Korea, Myanmar and Syria, unlike previous reports.
The sources told Reuters that the administration intended by means of this report to politicize and slant assessments about Iran without proper evidence. The transactions between the administration and Congress show that Washington has no orderly policy or agreed plan of action to pressure Iran, not to mention launch a war against it.
Washington and Tehran are currently stuck. The United States will continue hoping the sanctions work, while Iran will attempt to cut damages and implement a survival policy until the next presidential election in the United States. By that time the floods are likely to dry up as well.

The Egyptian Brotherhood goes to Washington
Hany Ghoraba/Al-Ahram/April 19/19
Spring has arrived in Washington D.C. And a sure sign of the changing seasons in America's capital is the annual parade of Islamist lobbyists, who come in March and April to the heart of Western democracy to advocate, under the guise of human rights, for Islamist causes and to misrepresent the beliefs held by ordinary Muslims.Just a week before American Islamists descended on the Capitol to push for Islamist-friendly policies during the fifth annual National Muslim Advocacy Day, their Egyptian Islamist allies did the same. On March 24 and 25, Egypt Advocacy Day took place in Washington D.C. Sponsored by Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski, Egyptian activists and Western human rights lobbyists came together to warn policymakers against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and encourage the U.S. government to ensure Egypt works "to uphold the democratic principle of peaceful transfer of power."
Representatives of prominent human rights organizations Human Rights Watch, Project on Middle East Democracy and Human Rights First were happy to take part in this effort, seemingly unconcerned that the organizers of this lobbying day are prominent officials of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, which was removed from power in 2013 following enormous protests against its own abuse of powers.
The main organizing body behind the advocacy day is the Freedom Initiative, a group founded by prominent Muslim Brotherhood activist Mohamed Soltan, who was imprisoned in Egypt for nearly two years on terrorism charges, until President Obama pressured the Cairo authorities to release him in 2015. While critics claim Soltan was the victim of political persecution, he has a long history of involvement with hardline Islamist efforts in both the U.S. and Egypt – openly expressing support for the designated terror group Hamas, and leading chants praising the killing of Jews.
Other sponsors and supporters of Egypt Advocacy Day included the Egyptian Human Rights Forum, of which Soltan is among the founders. In previous years, a key Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood proxy in America, Egyptian Americans for Freedom and Justice (EAFAJ), has also been closely involved in the annual Egypt Advocacy Day. This year, its officials took part in the lobbying day, but the organization's name and logo were nowhere to be found on official literature.
Perhaps this is a result of a series of articles and reports exposing EAFAJ's extremism, particularly its leading officials Hani Elkadi and Ayat al-Oraby. Curiously, for example, the Project on Middle East Democracy, which sponsored this year's Egypt Advocacy Day, notes on its own website that "A number of experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have spoken out regarding EAFAJ's lobbying efforts and condemned al-Oraby's views in particular. On Twitter, analyst Mokhtar Awad referred to al-Oraby as 'a raving sectarian lunatic.' Awad also posted a video of al-Oraby calling for an economic boycott of Christian businesses, where she states that '[Christians] must be made to understand that the [Islamic symbol] crescent must be on top of the cross.'"
In the days and weeks after Egypt Advocacy Day, EAFAJ held further meetings with congressional staffers and policymakers, to express support for deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi and encourage lawmakers to force the Egyptian government to release "political prisoners" – that is, jailed Muslim Brotherhood operatives. One report alleges that EAFAJ even met with Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Leading the delegation was EAFAJ president Hani Elkadi, a New Jersey-based activist who is referred to in Arabic media as a Muslim Brotherhood "leader" in America. Elkadi openly supports violent jihadist organizations in Egypt, and routinely publishes anti-Semitic and pro-Islamist rhetoric on his social media accounts. Elkadi was a particularly vocal supporter of Mohamed Kamal, the late jihadist leader behind the U.S-designated terrorist organizations Liwa Al Thawra and Hasm. Kamal was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Egyptian police in October 2016.
Along with anti-Semitic and anti-Christian activist Ayat Oraby, Elkadi was accompanied by Amr Darraj and Ahmed Shehata. Darraj is wanted by Egyptian authorities on charges of coordinating terrorist activity in Egypt from his home in Turkey.
Shehata, meanwhile, is a prominent Islamist activist in America, closely involved with Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, another Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood proxy, as well as the international aid charity Islamic Relief and the community organization Muslim American Society, both of which serve as the flagship institutions of the Muslim Brotherhood-influenced Islamism in America.
The April 9 visit of President Sisi to Washington evoked an angry response from Muslim Brotherhood operatives involved with all the recent lobbying efforts. At a protest outside the White House, EAFAJ, along with other supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, wore Muslim Brotherhood insignia and held aloft placards of Mohamed Morsi.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, gave Mohamed Soltan column inches to denounce Sisi and criticize the Trump administration for hosting him. No mention was made of Soltan's radical Islamist affiliations, with his byline merely noting that he is "a human rights advocate and founder of the Freedom Initiative."
Why are politicians, human rights organizations and media outlets offering their support and time to these Islamist activists, given the violence and oppression that swept through Egypt under Morsi's rule? Admittedly, the involvement of Representative Tom Malinowski is not particularly surprising. Malinowski was a vocal critic of plans to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and has condemned Trump's meeting with Sisi.
But opposition to President Sisi should not mean support for a violent Islamist movement. In December 2017, the Muslim Brotherhood officially declared the United States of America an "enemy state." Were that not enough for elected officials to stay away, Muslim Brotherhood members and splinter groups have wreaked havoc in Egypt over the past seven years, supporting attacks on Coptic churches, and involving themselves in terrorism and assassinations. The Brotherhood's sister organization, the designated terrorist organization Hamas, needs no introduction.
For many in the Arab world, it is a bitter irony that a movement responsible for such widespread violence and hate is now paraded around the halls of the U.S. Capitol as hearty advocates for human rights, democracy and justice. Too often, naïve Western activists and policymakers offer legitimacy to the extremists, leaving ordinary Egyptians to suffer the consequences.
*Hany Ghoraba is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

When a Hamas Front Lobbies Congress
Dr. Oren Litwin and Samantha Rose Mandeles/American Spectator/April 19/2019
Mere days after the United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO, an Islamist umbrella coalition), descended upon Capitol Hill for National Muslim Advocacy Day, one of USCMO's founding groups, the virulently anti-Semitic American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), returned to lobby Congress yet again. AMP and its partner organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), claim to be motivated by universal human rights, but the truth is more alarming; as a recent court case has made clear, AMP is the direct successor organization to the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which was sued into oblivion for being a propaganda front for the terrorist group Hamas.
While the USCMO lobby day focused on domestic issues of concern to Islamists, AMP's fifth annual Palestine Advocacy Day focused on eroding American relations with Israel — complete with two days of training, and presentations from Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Arizona state representative Athena Salman — and an entire day of Hamas-connected activists holding meetings with members of Congress.
Ms. Salman is a relatively new addition to the AMP scene. She was first elected to the Arizona legislature in 2016 and is already serving as minority whip. Salman is an avowed atheist, but her father is Palestinian and Salman publicly defended the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction the state of Israel (BDS) during a contentious debate on an anti-BDS bill in the Arizona legislature in early April. (She had voted against the earlier version of the bill as well in 2016, which earned her the endorsement of the Arizona State chapter of SJP.)
Participants in the event seem to be more extreme. One example of excellence is Joe Catron — a blogger at the viciously anti-Semitic site Electronic Intifada — who calls himself a "reluctant citizen of the American empire." Catron maintains a Twitter account emblazoned with images glorifying terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), such as a map of Israel inside crosshairs, with an Arabic caption that reads, "Hell awaits you."
Unfortunately, Mr. Catron fits right in with AMP. As has been established in court and in Congressional testimony, AMP's board is composed of alumni from not only the Hamas front IAP, but also the terror-finance charities KindHearts for Charitable Development (shut down by the Federal government) and the Holy Land Foundation (its executives convicted in court), both of which laundered donations to Hamas.
Indeed, one major player in the event was AMP's National Policy Director, Osama Abu Irshaid. Abu Irshaid previously served as the editor of Al Zaytounah, the official newspaper of Hamas front IAP. Abu Irshaid has written that the terrorist group Hamas is "an army for liberation" whose fighters "rise up for the blood of martyrs." In another post, Abu Irshaid praised Hamas's "steadfastness and sacrifice."At a May 11, 2018 AMP speaking engagement, he parroted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory by telling his audience that most modern Jews are "not [real] Jews."
Also looming large in the crowd were activists from the infamously Islamist Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), including Jinan Shbat, CAIR's national outreach manager. Like Abu Irshaid, Shbat is an avowed supporter of the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas, having tweeted her preference for that organization over the Palestinian Authority. As a spoken-word performer, she has delivered her poems at several Islamist events — including a 2017 "Muslim Law Symposium," where she claimed credit for violence against Israeli Jews with the line, "My first act of defiance — a rock thrown."
Shbat's Twitter feed is replete with openly anti-Semitic statements. In one instance, she responded to a simple news headline about Israel's Holocaust remembrance day with outrage, tweeting, "Wow. The nerve! Palestinians are now in a Holocaust!" In another instance, she responded to a photo of the Emirati cycling team's training in Israel by tweeting, "You should burn in hell along with Israel."
Shbat doesn't reserve her ire for only the Jewish state. After the judge ruled in favor of Florida police in the case of the mismanaged Parkland shooting response, Shbat tweeted simply, "I hate my country." That doesn't stop her from maintaining a friendly relationship with some of its leadership, at least if you count Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Shbat was recently the subject of some internet buzz when a CAIR video showed her in an altercation with Muslim reformer Asra Nomani, who was attempting to record a group of Islamists visiting Tlaib's office.
According to AMP's website, the lobbying event drew more than 500 attendees, who held meetings with 191 members of Congress. That is disappointing. AMP attracts overt supporters of Islamist terrorism and provides them with a sheen of legitimacy. American lawmakers should be cautious about lending credibility to Islamist supremacists — especially those connected to the terror group Hamas.
*Dr. Oren Litwin is the associate director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.
/Samantha Rose Mandeles is the coordinator of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. You can find her on Twitter @SRMandeles.

Turkish-Armenian issue held hostage by third parties
Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/April 19/2019
There are now just a few days until April 24, the date on which Armenians all around the world remember the victims of the tragic events of 1915 — the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Needless to say, these events are a controversial matter in Turkey and Armenia, as Armenians describe them as “genocide,” while Turkey denies this and says that both Turks and Armenians were killed.
As they do every year, the events of 1915 have dominated the political agendas of some European countries. Rather than taking steps to aid the normalization of ties between two estranged neighbors, they prefer to further complicate the matter. Last week, both the Italian and French governments made decisions recognizing the so-called Armenian genocide. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that April 24 would be a day of commemoration after the decision was first announced in February. A day earlier, Italy’s Chamber of Deputies passed a motion recognizing the “genocide.” Turkey strongly criticized the stances of both Paris and Rome, saying that France needed to look at its own dark history in Africa and that Italy’s move “fuels political populism.” Also last week, members of the US House of Representatives presented a new resolution on the recognition of the “Armenian genocide.” It was supported by more than 70 congressmen.
It is not new for Western countries to feed the theme of “genocide” every year prior to April 24, threatening Turkey with its recognition and playing with the issue to fit their own domestic agendas. The matter itself is a complicated one that the two nations do not agree on. However, the interference of third parties, with their own hidden agendas, not only manipulates the historical facts for domestic political gain, but also undermines the tiny chance for normalization between the two neighbors.
“Armenian claims being continuously put forward before elections or in the context of anti-Turkish sentiments clearly reveals the political nature of these claims and their incompatibility with historical facts,” read a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War, but it says the figures are inaccurate and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated. Ankara has previously called on parties to open the archives of 1915 and proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia, plus international experts, to tackle the issue, which Yerevan opposes.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War, but it says the figures are inaccurate and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated.
Bringing up the matter publicly both harms the European countries’ relations with Ankara and hinders the prospects of open discussions between Ankara and Yerevan. Thus, such an atmosphere makes it difficult for the two nations to come to an agreement.
One also should not neglect the role of the Armenian lobby in pressuring Western countries to take an anti-Turkey stance regarding the events of 1915. There is significant pressure exerted by the Armenian lobby, which has engaged in intense competition with a quietly growing Turkish lobby. Although the Turkish diaspora is far greater in number than Armenia’s, the Turks preferred not to turn the matter, which is something that should be left to historians, into a political issue.
It is likely that, without the Armenian lobby’s behavior, Turkey and Armenia could work out their problems more easily. Secondly, as someone who has visited the country twice, it is safe to say that the Armenian diaspora is far from the realities of Armenia, which is facing serious economic and social problems due to both its internal issues and the fact it is surrounded by neighbors who have mostly closed their borders. The million-dollar question is whether the Armenians who live in poverty in their home country are of the same opinion as the diaspora, which should be promoting its nation’s interests abroad.
Allow me to conclude with the words of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated by an ultranationalist teenager outside his office in Istanbul in 2007: “There is no meaning in a state or government recognizing the issue under pressure from the outside. Because those who need to see the truth are not states but peoples... States have no conscience, but societies and peoples do.”
*Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Notre-Dame fire a reminder of world’s unpredictability
Michael Kugelman/Arab News/April 19/2019
Back in 1890, the psychologist William James famously described a baby’s first experience after birth as a “blooming, buzzing confusion.”
That colorful phrase also aptly characterizes the world we live in today — loud, frenetic, volatile, unpredictable and so incredibly overwhelming that adults as well as newborns can’t help but be confused by it all.
In such a tough world, it is natural to take solace in the precious few things that are predictable and reassuring — those things we can always depend on being where they have always been and doing what they have always done. These are, in effect, the few items and ideas that we can get away with taking for granted.This is why Paris’ famed Notre-Dame Cathedral going up in flames is so difficult to process.
Fortunately, it could have been so much worse. No one died or was injured. No valuable relics were lost. The damage, while serious, could have been much more acute. And the French government intends to rebuild the cathedral within five years.
And yet there is still a sense of trauma and disorientation when trying to process the images of the burning cathedral we saw on our phones and televisions screens — and, in the case of the shocked Parisians who flocked to the site of the fire, right in front of our eyes.
Notre-Dame was predictable in the most fundamental sense of the term. For hundreds of years, it sat majestically on the Ile de la Cite, even while so much changed around it. Everyone assumed it would always be there because it had already been there for so long — surviving several scares over its long history, including during the French Revolution, when people stormed the cathedral and destroyed some of its statues. It also survived both world wars.
Everyone who has lived in Paris, myself included, has memories and stories of walking around inside and outside Notre-Dame, of seeing it from various parts of the city — and recognizing it as one of the most famous landmarks in a country chock-full of them. It was everywhere and was always there. When we had family and other guests visit us in Paris, Notre-Dame was so often the place we would be asked to take them first.
That the structure was rife with so much historical, architectural, literary and religious significance makes the fire even more difficult to process.
When thinking about the conflagration that destroyed the cathedral’s roof and toppled its spire, one is reminded of another tragic case of destruction being inflicted on an iconic structure: The bombing, by the Taliban, of the famed Buddha statues in the Afghan province of Bamyan in early 2001.
To be sure, this is not a fair analogy. The Buddha statues, which were constructed in the 6th century, were completely destroyed and are yet to be replaced; Notre-Dame will be rebuilt. Additionally, the Buddha statues were maliciously targeted by extremists, first with tanks and artillery and then with explosives planted by prisoners of the Taliban. The Notre-Dame fire, according to all indications so far, was caused by an accident that may have been connected to ongoing renovations.
The flames that brought down part of a seemingly immutable cathedral are a sobering reminder that the world is just so utterly unpredictable — and truly a ‘blooming, buzzing confusion.’
And yet, in Paris and in Bamyan, something so sublime and sacred — and seemingly permanent — was suddenly taken away.
After the US-led intervention ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001, pressure mounted for the statues to be rebuilt. However, that still has not come to fruition.
Nonetheless, the world, undeterred in its determination to somehow bring those statues back, persisted. And, in 2015, they returned — in virtual form, thanks to three-dimensional light projection technology donated to Afghanistan by a Chinese couple. The images were projected on to the same cliffs where the actual statues once stood.
These innovative efforts to recreate the Buddha statues underscore just how vital those cherished artifacts were, and just how far humanity is willing to go to restore them in some way.
This all suggests that the French will do everything possible to reconstruct their fallen landmark, even if it takes longer than the five years — an admittedly ambitious timeframe — promised by Paris. “We now have to get things done,” President Emmanuel Macron declared in an address to the nation. “We will act and we will succeed.”
And yet, even though Notre-Dame can and will be repaired, there is something that can never be replaced: Its embodiment of predictability and constancy — the centuries-old Parisian icon that was always there and would always be there, despite a series of scares over time, and that provided a semblance of reassurance to Parisians and to us all.
Indeed, the flames that brought down part of a seemingly immutable cathedral are a sobering reminder that the world is just so utterly unpredictable — and truly a “blooming, buzzing confusion.”
*Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Twitter: @michaelkugelman