Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records): 
Generous UAE
wins hearts again
Nothing can match the joy of giving. The UAE knows this best and has always led in the field of charity, aid and voluntary initiatives globally.
The country is blessed with a benevolent leadership that relentlessly strives for the happiness of not only its citizens and residents, but beyond too, breaking borders to reach aid to the needy, without any discrimination.
Proving that it never gives up when it comes to giving, the UAE has maintained its position for the fourth consecutive year as one of the largest international donors in the field of official development assistance compared to its gross national income (GNI), occupying first place globally in 2016 for the third time, after occupying the first place in 2013 and 2014.
The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has declared that according to preliminary data for countries that provided official development assistance during 2016, the UAE has been a top donor country in comparison with its GNI.
Incidentally, the UAE's level of official development assistance during 2016 was about Dhs15.23 billion, representing 1.12 per cent of GNI while more than 54 per cent of this aid was offered in the form of grants.
It should be noted that the UAE is the only Arab country among the top 10 donor countries in the world.
What is gratifying is the fact that the UAE does not provide conditional assistance and neither does for the sake of reciprocal interests. It does so only for the good and stability of all peoples, as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has aptly pointed out.
The announcement of the UAE being ranked first development assistance donor in 2016 could not have come at a better time as the nation is marking the Year of Giving and various charitable initiatives are already underway.
President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s designating 2017 as the Year of Giving has, in fact, taken generosity to an unparalleled level.
With continued support for the underprivileged everywhere, the UAE foreign aid surely represents a global model to follow in terms of humanitarian and development work.
“Giving” is a value the nation cherishes and saw personified in the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
It is a matter of great pride that the young nation stands tall as the most generous in the world.
France votes for hope
but all’s not over yet
The French election is being keenly watched the world over especially because it is seen as a political war between liberal values and bigotry of the extreme right.
The Brexit vote in the UK, the election of US President Donald Trump who challenged liberal values, and the rise of far right, anti-European Union (EU) Marine Le Pen had all raised serious questions about the path France would choose.The first round, fortunately, has clearly gone in favour of hope and liberal democracy.
The voters have dealt a knock-out blow to established political parties and signaled a thumbs up for centrist Emmanuel Macron as clear favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president.
The result has paved the way for a straight two-way fight between Macron and Le Pen in a run-off on May 7, with opinion polls indicating Macron as  the favourite.
France's political mainstream has united to call on voters to back Macron.
President Francois Hollande too has endorsed Macron citing "the risk for our country" in the event of Le Pen winning power.
Jittery EU now has reasons to feel relieved.
So much so that Brussels officials broke with protocol on not intervening in national elections and swiftly congratulated Macron despite the fact he still has to beat Le Pen in the run-off.
But worryingly for Brussels, the anti-EU vote in France still adds up to around 46 per cent, with far leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon coming in a close fourth with 19.2 per cent of the tally.
Macron, a former banker and French economy minister, wants to accelerate EU integration, including by giving the eurozone a central parliament, finance minister and budget.
This is in stark contrast to Le Pen who backs an exit from the European single currency and a Brexit-style referendum to pave the way for a French exit from the bloc.
She has gone to the extent of predicting the EU "will die."
Le Pen has pledged to reduce net immigration to just 10,000 and has vowed a "moratorium" on legal immigration. She would also ban the wearing of head scarves and veils in public.
Macron, however, has said he would not look to prohibit head scarves, and has pledged to speed up the review process for asylum requests to a maximum of six months, including appeals.
The final verdict is not out yet. Le Pen could still pull off a surprise victory. If that happens, France would lose its “liberal” tag.

Diplomacy, not war,
best option on N.Korea
The persistent war of words between Pyongyang and Washington is only adding fuel to the fire in the Korean Peninsula instead of dousing tensions.
North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and the deployment of a US aircraft carrier group have spiked worries about which direction the crisis is heading to.
For sure, the last thing anyone wants is to see war break out in the region.
Pyongyang on Tuesday marked a military anniversary with a massive conventional firing drill, which South Korea’s Yonhap news agency stated as the "largest ever," presumed to have been overseen by leader Kim Jong-Un.
The North's Rodong Sinmun — the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea — has warned of dire consequences in the event of a US-led pre-emptive strike.
It promised "the most brutal punishment... in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice."
Two missile tests by North Korea this month prompted US President Donald Trump to warn that "all options are on the table" against Pyongyang, including military action.
Trump has already urged UN Security Council ambassadors to consider stronger sanctions against Pyongyang.
The US has long pushed for China to intensify efforts to curb Pyongyang's behaviour. But Beijing has resisted, concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.
Nevertheless, it has become increasingly concerned as the possibility of a sixth nuclear test by the North looms.
China banned all imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year from Feb.26, cutting off its most important export. The exact impact of that economic pressure is yet to be ascertained.
Chinese media has even raised the possibility of cutting oil shipments to North Korea, if it conducted another nuclear test.
Incidentally, since taking power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has rarely met with Chinese officials and has yet to visit the country that provides his regime with most of its foreign trade and economic assistance.
It is distressing that North Korea is diverting resources to the pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons while most of its citizens have several unmet needs.
The importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula should never be underestimated. A peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue is the only best option. Aggravating the situation would prove disastrous not only for the region, but the entire world.
US should not pour cold
water on climate action
It is deeply disappointing that Group of Seven (G7) energy ministers could not reach an agreement on a joint statement on climate change as the United States expressed reservations.
Washington "reserved its position" on the text about commitments made by G7 countries under the 2015 Paris climate accord, according to Carlo Calenda, the Italian minister for economic development, who chaired the meeting in Rome.
Lack of unanimity ostensibly prompted Italy, which currently presides over the group, to drop its decision on proposing the joint statement.
What the US forgets is that the Paris Agreement on climate change adopted in December 2015 is unique in its universality, with every single government having signed it.
The pact entered force in less than a year. To date more than 130 parties have ratified it, and the numbers are growing.
As top UN officials emphasise, all nations recognise that implementing the 2030 Agenda goes hand-in-glove with limiting global temperature rise and increasing climate resilience.
The Paris Agreement has a noble aim to cap global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius compared to late 19th-century levels — an effort that scientists say will require massive cuts in carbon emissions from coal and other fossil fuels.
It also pledges to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for poor countries badly exposed to drought, flood, rising seas and other climate impacts.
Sadly, in March, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order rolling back some of the previous Democratic administration's policies on carbon emissions and climate change.
Trump has also made it clear that he did not intend to honour promises made by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, to provide financial aid under the Paris accord.
Nevertheless, the heartening factor is that almost all European Union countries remain strongly committed to the Paris accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is indisputably a growing and potent threat. The indications are crystal clear. Last year was once again the hottest on record. Sea ice is at a historic low and sea levels are at a historic high.
UN officials insist that the consequences of climate change include food insecurity, water scarcity, poverty and displacement.
Limiting global temperature rise and increasing climate resilience is the need of the hour. As experts repeatedly point out, addressing climate change is a massive opportunity that humanity cannot afford to miss.
One only hopes that Washington does not play spoilsport in this well-meaning global endeavour.
Egypt church attacks
an abhorrent crime
Sunday’s terrorist attacks in Egypt that targeted the Mar Girgis church in the city of Tanta north of Cairo and Saint Mark's Church in the coastal city of Alexandria are abhorrent, inhuman acts that contravene all humanitarian and religious values and principles.
Such cowardly actions by militants with depraved mindsets pose a threat not only to Egyptians but also to the entire world and hence underline the need for international unity to erase the scourge of terrorism.
The aim of the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that claimed several innocent lives is to drive a wedge between people of different faiths who have been living peacefully together for generations.
The criminals chose a time when the crowds were heavy, as the worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday.
Incidentally, Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, had been targeted earlier too by militants.
Previously, the deadliest attack against Egypt's Christians was a New Year's Day bombing in 2011 in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, for centuries the seat of the Orthodox Coptic church. At least 21 were killed in that attack.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by Daesh killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo. The group later released a video threatening Egypt’s Christians with more attacks.
The bombing of the church took place within a compound that also held the seat of the Coptic papacy.
A spate of militant attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led Coptic families to flee their homes.
Peace-loving UAE has always supported Egypt in its efforts to stem terrorism and preserve its security and stability.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has rightly affirmed the solidarity of the UAE and Egypt, standing by the side of the brotherly nation in confronting this criminal and malicious act.
The extremists should be made to understand that the Egyptian spirit is much stronger and cannot be cowed down by guns.
The solidarity of the Egyptian people and the country’s ability to uphold its national unity will surely help defeat abhorrent terrorism.
The perpetrators of the heinous crimes need to be brought to justice at the earliest.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Trump’s move adds
fuel to climate crisis
US President Donald Trump’s signing of an order to undo former president Barack Obama’s regulations to curb climate change has come at a time when world temperatures hit record highs in 2016 for the third year in a row.
The main target of Trump’s deeply disappointing action is Obama's Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions from power plants and was key to the US pledge under Paris to cut emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The order also lifts a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.
The Obama administration had imposed the moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year programme must be modernised to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.
Trump has not made it clear whether he would pull out of the Paris Agreement, agreed by almost 200 nations and which seeks a shift from fossil fuels as the cornerstone of efforts to limit heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
The fear is that less action by the United States, the Number Two greenhouse gas emitter, will cause other nations to roll back their own goals.
A report by the US Department of Energy in January said 43 per cent of the workforce in electric power generation, or about 374,000 workers, were employed in the solar sector. Fossil fuels accounted for just 22 per cent of jobs in the sector.
It is heartening, though, that China has promised to stick to its climate commitments. China is the No.1 emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases but also the top investor in solar, wind and other renewable energy.
Beijing has committed to carrying out its pledges under the Paris climate agreement negotiated in 2015.
Incidentally, Trump earlier called climate change a hoax created by China.
China's 2015 spending of $103 billion was more than double the US level of $44 billion, according to the UN Environment Programme.
While a vast investment shift from fossil fuels to clean energy is currently underway with benefits ranging from less air pollution to more jobs, Trump’s move has triggered undesirable turbulence.
It is disappointing that the world’s most powerful country has taken such a dangerous stance on the subject.
With one stroke, Trump has pre-empted earnest global efforts to build a sustainable, carbon-free future not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come.
Verdict against hatred
in the Dutch polls
At a time when extreme far-right and hardline forces are rearing their heads and more countries in the West are opting for walls than bridges, some positive news has emerged from the Netherlands.
Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte has successfully fought off the challenge of anti-Islam and anti-European Union rival Geert Wilders in the battle of the ballot.
Following last year's shock Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's victory in the US, the Dutch vote was being closely scrutinised as a gauge of the rise of populism on the continent ahead of crucial elections in France and Germany.
A win for Wilders would have largely been seen as a boost for French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, running second in opinion polls before a presidential election in April and May, and for populist parties elsewhere that want to curb immigration and weaken or break up the European Union.
At 80 per cent, the turnout was the highest in a decade in an election that was a test of whether the Dutch wanted to end decades of liberalism and choose the anti-immigrant path by voting for Wilders.
Good sense prevailed and the poll verdict has left peace-loving people around the world heave a sigh of relief.
Wilders had led in opinion polls until late in the campaign and had hoped to pull off an anti-establishment triumph in the first of three key elections in the European Union this year.
In a serious threat to liberalism, Wilders had even pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques and leave the European Union if he won the polls.
The poll results prove that his divisive tone cut no ice with the Dutch voters.
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande has called the result a "clear victory against extremism," and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called it "an inspiration for many."
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is facing Le Pen in a two-way run-off on May 7, has stated: "The Netherlands is showing us that a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum."
Incidentally, the euro gained as the results of Wednesday's vote showed a clear win for Rutte.
In a globalised world, what is needed is unity among nations and peoples and not the repulsive separation walls and hate-filled ideologies. The Dutch voters deserve praise for their verdict against divisive forces.
Brexit triggers
new anxieties
London and Brussels have activated their divorce proceedings, but the path ahead is ostensibly strewn with obstacles.
By triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Britain and European Union (EU) are expected to have a two-year process in which the terms of exit will be negotiated.
Unless both sides agree to extend the deadline, Britain will leave in March 2019.
There are three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million British people within the bloc's nations whose future is entangled with the tough decisions the two sides are expected to make.
Also looming large over negotiations is the so-called "exit bill" Britain will have to pay, estimated to be as much as 60 billion euros.
The first battle lines have already surfaced. France and Germany have put up a common front against British Prime Minister Theresa May's call to negotiate the exit and the new relationship at the same time, setting up a major stumbling block before negotiations even begin.
French President Francois Hollande has made it clear that Britain must agree on the conditions of its exit from the EU before the bloc's members discuss other issues such as a trade deal.
May’s warning that a failure to clinch a deal on trade would weaken the fight against terrorism has not gone well with Brussels.
While EU officials have cautioned Britain against using security as a bargaining chip in the talks, Brexit minister David Davis has denied the statement is a threat.
There have been huge business fall-outs as well. Since May's Brexit notification, the prestigious Lloyd's of London insurance market has declared it would open a new Brussels subsidiary to ensure smooth operations in the EU.
Several banks have also announced plans to increase their operations in continental Europe as a safeguard once Britain leaves the single market.
A first response from the EU to Britain handing in its notice is expected to come from EU President Donald Tusk on Friday when he issues draft "negotiating guidelines."
Outspoken US President Donald Trump has been vocal in his support of Britain’s vote to leave the EU. He has even hinted that other countries may follow suit.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is clearly not amused. He has mentioned in a lighter vein that he is ready to encourage Ohio or Texas to leave the United States should Trump continue to celebrate Brexit.
Considering the complexities involved in the divorce process, what is certain about the future path of Brexit is uncertainty.
UAE’s special care for
kids with disabilities
The UAE Cabinet’s approval of a national strategy to promote the rights of children with disabilities and a strategy for motherhood and childhood demonstrates the leadership’s aim to achieve happiness for all segments of the community based on a vision towards building a happy and sustainable society.
The Strategic Plan for the Rights of Children with Disabilities 2017-2021 is derived from the UAE vision 2021 and the idea is particularly noble because it aims at providing a long healthy life, an optimal education system and an integrated lifestyle.
The strategy is the first of its kind at the federal level and has come after a detailed study involving a number of relevant organisations across the country.
Incidentally, a national task force will develop action plans and coordinate the implementation of the strategy.
As Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself outlined, the UAE attaches special importance to supporting children with disabilities and enabling them to play a constructive and effective role in the development and the achievement of UAE national agenda and vision for 2021.
The strategic plan aims to provide the best quality medical care and social services to children with disabilities and contribute to their integration into society.
It may be recalled that earlier Dubai took measures to cater to disabled passengers at all terminals of Dubai Airports, including Al Maktoum Airport, by installing special counters that help make travelling through the airport easy, enjoyable and comfortable.
The move turned out to be the first in the Middle East and one of the few in the world.
The sixth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2017) this week hosted a special interactive session for people with disabilities.
The session concluded with several valuable recommendations that provide people with disabilities an opportunity to express their abilities. The recommendations included the need to involve people with hearing disabilities and mobility challenges in all initiatives that help enable them and reflect their requirements and rights.
One of the recommendations focused on teaching the sign language in schools, so that all members of society can communicate seamlessly in sign language with people with disabilities towards building a happy and sustainable society.
People with disabilities represent an integral component of UAE’s society and have the right to enjoy a happy and dignified life like other community groups. It is heartening that all effective measures are initiated to validate this point.
Need to accelerate
Syria peace efforts
The brutal war in Syria has entered its seventh year and it is highly unfortunate that no concrete peace solution has as yet emerged.
The Syrian people have watched huge parts of their country reduced to rubble. The suffering of civilians has been enormous.
According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O‘Brien, almost five million people – the majority of them women and children – have fled the violence and deprivation and are now living as refugees.
Thousands of people who set out on perilous journeys to escape the war also perished on the way.
More than six million people are displaced within Syria. They are among the 13.5 million people in Syria who are in dire need of humanitarian aid.
UN officials stress that families and entire communities are struggling to meet their most basic food needs. While food shortages worsen, an endless supply of bombs and artillery shells continue to extinguish lives. A generation of children in Syria has known nothing but brutal conflict.
It is in this background that the need to accelerate the peace efforts gains extra significance.
The UAE has been one country that never hesitates when it comes to making a positive and effective contribution to alleviate the suffering of others.
Speaking at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva, has made it clear that the country supports all recommendations that could pave the way to resolving the conflict in Syria.
These include ending blockades, halting indiscriminate attacks on populated civilian areas, funding and supporting humanitarian operations and delivery of aid to affected areas, the immediate and unconditional release of detainees, and facilitating access to the missing as a result of enforced disappearances.
Generosity has remained a hallmark of the UAE. It should be noted that the UAE has provided $800 million in humanitarian aid since the outbreak of the conflict six years ago, and is preparing to receive 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.
There is a dire need to stop all acts of violence against civilians and provide safe corridors for the swift delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people in besieged areas.
As the UAE Ambassador has suggested, neighbouring countries need to stand by Syria and provide additional support to absorb refugees and displaced persons to alleviate their suffering.