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Rouhani: Iran still ready for nuclear talks if US lifts sanctions

CAIRO: Motorized rickshaws known as tuk-tuks have ruled the streets of Cairo’s slums for the past two decades, squeezing through dusty alleys, dodging trash bins and fruit stands, blaring rhythmic electro-pop and navigating the city’s chaos to haul millions of Egyptians home every day.Now the government is taking its most ambitious stand yet again against…

Rouhani: Iran still ready for nuclear talks if US lifts sanctions

CAIRO: Motorized rickshaws known as tuk-tuks have ruled the streets of Cairo’s slums for the past two decades, squeezing through dusty alleys, dodging trash bins and fruit stands, blaring rhythmic electro-pop and navigating the city’s chaos to haul millions of Egyptians home every day.Now the government is taking its most ambitious stand yet again against the polluting three-wheeled vehicles: in a push to modernize the country’s neglected transport system, it plans to replace tuk-tuks with clean-running minivans.“This is for the health and safety of all Egyptians,” said Khaled El-Qassim, the spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Local Development, which is spearheading the initiative. “We’re creating a more beautiful image of our country.”The state had long turned a blind eye as tuk-tuks became part of the fabric of life in Cairo’s vast informal settlements.The new plan requires that drivers sell their tuk-tuks for scrap and take loans to buy new minivans — or risk fines and even prosecution. It has raised fears that the poorest Egyptians, already squeezed by economic austerity measures, will shoulder the bulk of the burden.“I’d rather work as a thief than pay for this minivan,” said Ehab Sobhy, a 47-year-old who earns 130 pounds, about $8, a day plying the densely-packed district of Shobra in his weathered black-and-yellow tuk-tuk, sporting a decorative Islamic sticker in place of a license.“If they take this away … how is my family going to eat,” asked Sobhy. Even with a government loan, he said he wouldn’t be able to afford the 90,000 pounds he estimates he’d need for the new minivan.“They’ll bring money to the banks, all at the expense of the people,” declared Mohammed Zaydan, a 52-year-old father of five who started driving a tuk-tuk after struggling to find work as a painter. “If they ban the tuk-tuk, they trample on the poor.”Former President Hosni Mubarak’s government tried to stem the tide of tuk-tuks, banning them in most of Cairo’s affluent neighborhoods but it also allowed tuk-tuk parts to flow from South Asia to Egypt, where auto manufacturers legally assembled and sold the unlicensed vehicles.It was a classic example of the state’s contradictory approach toward the informal economy, which accounts for as much as 50 percent to 60 percent of Egypt’s GDP, according to the International Labor Organization.“Because of its limited capacities, the state lives with deeply embedded informality,” or do-it-yourself infrastructure, like unauthorized housing, which saves the government from providing mass services to the poor, said Amr Adly, a Cairo-based political economy expert.The business exploded, with rickshaws becoming especially popular with disabled people, the elderly and women who want to avoid harassment at crowded bus stops.But that could soon change.Now President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government, which has spent the past five years trying to revamp Egypt’s image, is taking aim at the unregulated vehicles.Last year, it passed a traffic law requiring that all new buyers license their tuk-tuks. Ghabbour Group, the country’s largest auto producer, was hard hit, its tuk-tuk sales dropping by 60 percent.In September, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced a sweeping plan to phase out tuk-tuks in 20 governorates, swapping them for seven-seater gas-powered minivans. The proposal, offering drivers a payoff period of up to five years, bars all tuk-tuks from cities and main roads but allows new and licensed tuk-tuks to continue operating in narrow alleys and rural villages.Egypt’s finance and military production ministries, along with three major auto manufacturers, have opened an economic review to hammer out the details, and expect the microbuses to hit the streets within a year.El-Qassim, the spokesman for the development ministry, said the tuk-tuks contribute to congestion, air pollution and fatal car crashes — even terrorism, since the government can’t trace unlicensed vehicles. He described them as a drag on Egypt’s economic productivity, keeping teenagers out of school and depriving the state of revenue from registration fees and taxes.But skeptics question the logic of changing a tuk-tuk prized for its tiny size, high maneuverability and cheap fare for a microbus that manufacturers expect to be four times the size and price.“It’s a reflection of how the state is more obsessed with appearances than investing in the infrastructure of where people actually live,” said Rabab El-Mahdi, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.Since taking power in 2014, El-Sisi has focused on ambitious mega-projects, building high-end housing complexes and a sprawling $45 billion new administrative capital in the desert outside Cairo. The bigger goal is to revive tourism and attract foreign investment as the country recovers from the turmoil of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled Mubarak.Meanwhile, much of Cairo has spiraled into disrepair and decay. The official statistics agency recently reported that one third of Egyptians live in poverty. Tough austerity measures imposed to stave off economic collapse have slashed subsidies and dramatically hiked up prices of everything from subway fares to drinking water, taking a heavy toll on working-class Egyptians.In September, sharp economic discontent and allegations of government corruption marshaled small but rare protests against the president. Security forces arrested thousands, escalating a long-running crackdown.“The state is much more willing and able to go down with a heavy hand,” said El-Mahdi, adding that the military mindset has created a governmentwide shift.Still, observers note that enforcing the new plan will pose a challenge. Much remains uncertain, including how the government will guarantee registration among those more accustomed to bribing police than obeying traffic laws.“People will be trying to resist, to circumvent these developments, to go on living,” said Yasser Elsheshtawy, professor of architecture at Columbia University. “This is something very Egyptian.”

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Middle East News

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we…

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya”.

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Middle East News

US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the…

US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the hard-won gains that we secured against Daesh,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday said the US killing of Soleimani was state terrorism, and that Iran would ‘respond proportionately.’“We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war it would be very damaging and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners,” the British foreign secretary said.“We’re working with our US partners, our EU partners, that is why I’m travelling out to Brussels today, to make sure we send a very clear and consistent message on the need for de-escalation and to find a diplomatic route though.”

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Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the…

Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”

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