News from Ukraine, Syria and Egypt

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on March 4, 2014

UKRAINE – ‘Worst crisis in Europe in the 21st Century’

ukraine-recruits

Ukrainian recruits receive instructions from a commander in a recruitment self defence quarter at Kiev’s Independence Square

KIEV, Ukraine | Ukraine’s besieged interim government raced to head off violence that might set off a Russian invasion of its eastern provinces on Sunday, recruiting wealthy eastern businessmen to become provincial governors in an effort to dampen secessionist sentiment there.

As complete Russian control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula became a reality on Sunday, with Western officials reporting that thousands more Russian troops were flowing into the region, worries mounted in Kiev that the mostly ethnic-Russian east could be next to fall.

In Kharkiv, the eastern city that is the country’s second-largest, a sprawling pro-Russian protest camp occupied the central square, and Russian flags were on display. Many said they would even prefer that Russian troops invade the city, just 20 miles from the border, instead of submitting to Kiev’s rule.

“I would welcome them with flowers,” said Aleksandr Sorokin, 55, a pensioner walking by a phalanx of riot police officers guarding the administration building in Kharkiv. “We do not want to spill blood, but we are willing to do so.”

image1331Even as Kiev’s pro-Western government called up its army reserves and vowed to fight for its sovereignty, calling Russia’s invasion of Crimea a “declaration of war,” it mustered a mostly political response to demonstrations in the east.

The office of President Oleksandr Turchynov announced the two appointments on Sunday of two billionaires – Sergei Taruta in Donetsk and Ihor Kolomoysky in Dnipropetrovsk – and more were reportedly under consideration for positions in the eastern regions.

The strategy is recognition that the oligarchs represent the country’s industrial and business elite, and hold great influence over thousands of workers in the east. Officials said the hope was that they could dampen secessionist hopes in the east and keep violent outbreaks – like fighting between pro-Western and pro-Russian protesters in Kharkiv that put at least 100 people in the hospital on Saturday – from providing a rationale for a Russian invasion in the name of protecting ethnic Russians.

SYRIA – Militant Islamist group in Syria orders Christians to pay protection tax

ISIS

Fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham (ISIS) march in Raqqa, Syria.

A militant Islamist group has demanded Christians living in the north-east of Syria pay it a tax in return for protection as it seeks to build a traditional “Caliphate” in areas it controls.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) published the terms under which minorities could live under its rule in a statement on the internet.

“Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor,” their decree said. “They must not hide their status, and can pay in two installments per year.” Four dinars would amount to just over half an ounce of gold, worth £435 [$723.85] at current prices. [Syrian salaries vary widely: low-wage worker makes approximately $2,000/year per wikipedia.]

In return, Christians will not be harmed and will be allowed to worship privately, maintain their own clergy without interference and keep their own cemeteries, it added. They are implicitly allowed to continue drinking alcohol and eating pork, but may not do so publicly or trade them with Muslims. Nor may they build or renovate churches, or display the cross.

image1333The demand carries weight because ISIS, which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has become the most feared militia in Syria. It has now been disavowed by Osama bin Laden’s replacement as al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and is effectively at war with the rest of the rebel movement, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the group seen by al-Qaeda as its representative in Syria.

It controls nearly all of Raqqa province in the north-east, where it is attempting to build the institutions of an Islamic state. The decree refers to Christians as “dhimmis” – effectively protected minorities – a term that originated in the seventh century when the Muslim world was ruled by a single religious leader, the Caliph.

Raqqa, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim in make-up, had a small Christian community but much if not all of it has already fled. … There was said to be one Christian family still living in the town, but if so they were in hiding. Later, the crosses were removed from the top of the city’s two churches. …

Christians used to make up around one in ten of Syria’s 22 million population, but the civil war has forced an estimated 500,000 to flee their homes and villages, which are scattered across the country. Some 1,200 are thought to have been killed.

As a religious minority they enjoyed protection under President Assad, and as such have become an indirect target of the Sunni Muslim led uprising.

John Pontifex, of Aid to Church in Need, a Catholic charity that has highighted the plight of Christians in Syria, said: “We have already received reports of this nature, and if true, they spell out loud and clear the degree to which Christians are under attack and at risk. “There seems to be a desire to flush Chrisians out or reduce them to second class status.”

Imposition of the so-called “dhimmi” rules conforms precisely with regime claims that the rebels are seeking to take Syria back to the Middle Ages. …

EGYPT – Army says it found cure for Aids

CAIRO | Egypt’s military leaders have come under ridicule after the chief army engineer unveiled what he described as a “miraculous” set of devices that detect and cure AIDS, hepatitis and other viruses.

The claim, dismissed by experts and called “shocking to scientists” by president’s science adviser, strikes a blow to the army’s carefully managed image as the savior of the nation. It also comes as military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who toppled Mohammed Morsi in July after the Islamist leader ignored mass protests calling for him to step down, isexpected to announce he’ll run for president.

The televised presentation – which was made to el-Sissi, interim President Adly Mansour and other senior officials – raised concerns that the military’s offer of seemingly inconceivable future devices will draw Egypt back into the broken promises of authoritarian rule, when Hosni Mubarak frequently announced grand initiatives that failed to meet expectations.

image1332“The men of the armed forces have achieved a scientific leap by inventing the detecting devices,” military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali wrote later on his official Facebook page. Ali said a patent has been filed under the name of the Armed Forces Engineering Agency.

Well-known writer Hamdi Rizk noted that video clips of the presentation had gone viral on social media, with tweets and blogs saying the military had made a fool of itself and put its reputation in jeopardy.

“The marshal’s camp has been dealt a deep moral defeat,” he wrote in a column in Thursday’s Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. “God give mercy to … the reputation of the Egyptian army, which became the target of cyber shelling around the clock.”

image1334Professor Massimo Pinzani, a liver specialist and director of the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, said he attended a demonstration of the C-Fast device during a visit to Egypt but “was not given convincing explanations about the technology” and wasn’t allowed to try it for himself.

“As it is at present, the device is proposed without any convincing technical and scientific basis and, until this is clearly provided, it should be regarded as a potential fraud,” he wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

None of the research has been published in a reputable journal.

The uproar escalated when a scientific adviser to Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour denounced the claim and said it has no scientific base. “What has been said and published by the armed forces harms the image of the scientists and science in Egypt,” Essam Heggy, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, told the daily newspaper El-Watan in remarks published Wednesday. “All scientists inside and outside Egypt are in a state of shock.”

He added that both Mansour and el-Sissi were surprised and their presence in the audience did not indicate approval.

(The news briefs above are from articles by Steven Erlanger in the NY Times on March 2, London’s Daily Telegraph by Richard Spencer posted on Feb. 27 and wire and staff reports at CBSNews on Feb. 28.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, provide the following information:

a) capital:

b) location/the countries that share its borders:

c) the religious breakdown of the population:

d) the type of government:

e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:

f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for maps and a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources.”

2. For UKRAINE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What do you think of President Oleksandr Turchynov’s attempts to prevent secessionist hopes in Russian-majority areas of Ukraine? Considering the lack of U.S., Western and/or UN assistance, is this a good strategy? Explain your answer. 
c) Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council not because of its population or economy (which are small and weak), but only because of the size of its military and nuclear arsenal. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has voted down sanctions or any type of intervention in Syria numerous times, but has now sent troops into Ukraine.
The UN’s purpose is “to develop friendly international relations based on respect for the ‘principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’.” The UN and Security Council “prohibits the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States.”
What steps must the UN take regarding Russian intervention in Ukraine to prove that it is not an ineffective and irrelevant organization in the world?

3. For SYRIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Define Caliphate, jizya, dhimmi and ISIS as used in the report.
c) What must Syrian Christians in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria do to prevent these Islamists from harming them? What will they be permitted/prohibited by ISIS from doing in exchange for this?
d) Consider President Obama’s denunciation of Uganda’s recently passed law criminalizing homosexuality. Do you think the President and other Western countries will issue such a strong condemnation of persecution of Christians by Islamists? Explain your answer.
e) How do you think the Obama administration should react to a Muslim country where Christian persecution takes place?

4. For EGYPT:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, head of the Egyptian Army’s Cancer Treatment and Screening center said “I defeated AIDS with the grace of my God [Allah] at the rate of 100% . And I defeated hepatitis C.” How is it claimed the “Complete Cure Device” works?


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Background

SYRIA:

  • The Telegraph reports: “But there is growing resentment among activists towards the stringent controls ISIS has imposed on the general population, including the wearing of the veil by women and separation of the sexes, even in bread queues. A photograph circulated of an Assad-regime flag hanging from a house, an unthinkable act of defiance until recently.”
  • Also from the Telegraph article: Aymenn al-Tamimi, an Oxford University-based academic expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” – Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam.  In a post to the Syria Comment website, he added: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.'” 

EGYPT:

  • The furor [over the “cure” for AIDS and Hepatitis C] started when Maj. Gen. Taher Abdullah, the head of the Engineering Agency in the Armed Forces, gave a widely televised presentation to el-Sissi and other senior officials on what he calls an “astonishing miraculous scientific invention.”
  • Abdullah said two of the devices named C-Fast and I Fast used electromagnetism to detect AIDS, hepatitis and other viruses without taking blood samples while the third, named Complete Cure Device, acted as a dialysis unit to purify the blood. He also said the C-FAST, which looks an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender, detected patients infected with viruses that cause hepatitis and AIDS with a high success rate.
  • A short film aired during the presentation showed the engineering team’s leader Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti telling a patient: “All the results are great, showing you had AIDS but you were cured. Thank [Allah].” The patient replies: “Thank [Allah].”
  • The next day, Abdel-Atti and his team held their own press conference at which the scientist said “I take AIDS from the patient and nourish the patient on the AIDS by giving him a skewer of AIDS kofta,” a meat dish.
  • Gamal Shiha, head of the Association for Liver Patients Care, one of Egypt’s prominent centers that worked alongside with the military, said he was angry about the “hasty” announcements. He said only one of the devices – C-FAST – underwent thorough testing.
  • Shiha said the C-Fast uses electromagnetic frequencies similar to those used in bomb detectors and radars and had been tested on more than 2,000 patients with a high success rate. “The technology of C-Fast is effective without doubt,” he said. However, he dismissed the claims that the other two devices detect AIDS and cure viruses.
  • Despite the skepticism, Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah said the ministry recognizes the devices as legitimate. Egypt’s former Health Minister Amr Helmi, a liver surgeon by profession, said C-Fast had been approved by the ministry two years ago but he had never before heard of the other two devices.
  • For the general public, the uproar added to the uncertainty already fueled by years of turmoil since Mubarak’s overthrow in February 2011. “I hope that the invention turns out to be true but I don’t have confidence this is the case,” said 35-year-old taxi driver Ahmed Morad. “I don’t believe anyone … everything is very confusing. It is like a salad.” (from the CBS News article above)

and from a CNN report: 

“I defeated AIDS with the grace of my God [Allah] at the rate of 100% . And I defeated hepatitis C,” said Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, head of the Egyptian Army’s Cancer Treatment and Screening center.

The so-called “Complete Cure Device” draws blood from a patient, breaks down the disease and returns the purified blood back to the body, according to Dr. Ihsan Hanfy Hussein, a member of Abdel-Atti’s research team. She said it cures the ailments in as little as 16 hours.

“I will take the AIDS from the patient and I will nourish the patient on the AIDS treatment. I will give it to him like a skewer of Kofta to nourish him,” Abdel-Atti said, referring to a dish made of ground meat. “I will take it away from him as a disease and give it back to him in the form of a cure,” he said. “This is the greatest form of scientific breakthrough.”

He paid tribute to the military chief and unofficial presidential hopeful, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who attended the unveiling of the “miracle” device registered under the armed forces and approved by the country’s Ministry of Health.

Egypt contains the highest prevalence of hepatitis C worldwide, with at least 10% of the population suffering from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Gamal Shiha, a leading liver specialist and member of a team evaluating a controversial device developed by Egypt’s military for detecting hepatitis C without drawing blood from a patient, said the announcement shocked him and his colleagues. “What has been said is not scientifically disciplined. There is nothing published, and there is nothing in medical conferences, and there is no single eminent professor around the project,” Shiha told CNN. “Nothing scientifically relevant has been said.”