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.

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