TIME General al-Sisi

Egypt’s Al-Sisi Asks Obama For Help in ‘War on Terrorism’

The man who is set to become Egypt's next head of state asked Barack Obama for help to fight terrorism in his country

Egyptian General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi needs U.S. help in fighting “a war on terrorism,” he said in an interview published Thursday.

“We need American support to fight terrorism, we need American equipment to use to combat terrorism,” Sisi told Reuters in his first interview with foreign media before Egypt’s upcoming presidential election. The general is set to win those elections, which take place at the end of the month.

Sisi last year led the ouster of elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Sisi has since declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

The 59-year-old Sisi also said there was no question that Egypt was still committed to its peace treaty with Israel and that the relations between the two countries had been stable for 30 years despite many challenges.

 

TIME russia

Putin Demands Ukraine Pay Ahead for Gas Supply

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Ministy of Defence representatives at the Bocharov Ruchey State Residence on May 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Ministy of Defence representatives at the Bocharov Ruchey State Residence on May 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his country would only deliver crucial gas supplies to Ukraine on a pre-paid basis after June 1 since Ukraine already owes $3.5 billion in pack payments

Russia said Thursday that it would only deliver gas to Ukraine if the troubled country pays in advance, intensifying efforts to bring its neighbor back under its control, the Associated Press reports.

Ukraine has faced economic near-collapse since the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, and has been kept afloat in part by a $3.2 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which has offered a total aid package of $17 billion over two years.

But on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country’s mounting debt to Russia has reached $3.5 billion and said that after June 1 it will only deliver prepaid gas.

The threat puts the pro-Western interim government in Ukraine under added pressure amid ongoing unrest in the country’s east, where pro-Russian separatists have seized administrative buildings and entire towns after Russia annexed the southern region of Crimea.

It’s not the first time Russia has lorded its energy dominance over Ukraine and other European neighbors. Amid price disputes in 2005 and 2009, Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine and Europe.

Cutting off delivery to Ukraine in June is likely to have less of an impact on Europe than in the past, the Associated Press reports, in part because it will fall during the warmer summer months and in part because Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas giant, has built a pipeline to Europe that bypasses Ukraine. Ukraine has called for Russia to restore discounts on the gas that were canceled after Yanukovych was removed.

[AP]

TIME Religion

Rabbi, Muslim Leader to Join Pope Francis on Holy Land Trip

For the first time, pope's delegation will include leaders of other faiths

Pope Francis will be joined by a rabbi and a Muslim leader on his upcoming trip to the Holy Land, marking the first time an official papal delegation included members of other faiths.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader from Argentina’s Islamic community, are friends of the Pope from his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The three leaders will visit Jordan, the West Bank and Israel on a May 24-26 trip, the Associated Press reports.

The historic trip will be an “absolute novelty,” intended to show the “normality” of having friends of other religions, said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Francis hopes the trip will honor the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem, which was the first foreign trip by a pope.

[AP]

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death After Marrying Christian

A Sudanese woman who was born to a Muslim father was sentenced to death by hanging for marrying a Christian man

A pregnant 27-year-old Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by hanging Thursday for apostasy after marrying a Christian man and refusing to convert to Islam. Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag also faces charges of adultery.

Ibrahim, who was born to a Muslim father but raised Orthodox Christian by her mother, was first sentenced on Sunday, but she was given until Thursday to change her mind and convert. She refused to do so, Al Jazeera reports.

“I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim was found guilty of apostasy — the abandonment of one’s religious faith – because she was born to a Muslim father and married a Christian man. The adultery charge came as Islamic law prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside of their religion, a rule which effectively voided the marriage.

The death sentence will reportedly be carried out after Ibrahim gives birth.

Western embassies and human rights groups have urged Sudan to let Ibrahim choose her religion freely. Following the verdict, about 50 people protested against the sentence outside the courtroom.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Nigeria

5 Reasons Boko Haram is Un-Islamic

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

The militant Nigerian group's actions repeatedly go against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad

The official name of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group apparently responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls, is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad. That translates into English as “People Committed to the Propogation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” The name is wholly inappropriate. With their sustained campaign of murders and kidnappings, the members of Boko Haram conduct themselves in a manner that could barely be more alien to the Prophet Muhammad teachings. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, declared Boko Haram was “set up to smear the image of Islam.” The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, told the Associated Press that violent extremists like Boko Haram “not only disavow their Islam, but their humanity.”

It’s always dangerous to generalize about a faith observed by 1.6 billion people – there’s a lot of room for interpretation between that many people – but it’s clear that Boko Haram’s atrocities go against the mainstream teachings of Islam. Here are five reasons why Boko Haram’s actions are fundamentally un-Islamic:

 

1. Boko Haram targets educational establishments.

In the local Hausa language, “Boko Haram” translates roughly as “Western education is forbidden.” In 2012, the group began targeting government schools with home-made firebombs. Over the last two years, reports Amnesty International, attacks by armed groups have forced over 60 schools in northern Nigeria to close, with Boko Haram claiming responsibility for some of the attacks.

Boko Haram’s hostility to education stems from its suspicion of what it views as the government’s secular education system. But that hostility strongly contravenes the teachings of Islam, a faith whose first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was the word “Read,” whose scripture repeatedly enjoins Muslims to reflect, and whose traditions enjoin all Muslims – regardless of gender – to pursue education.

 

2. It claims to be waging jihad.

Boko Haram’s formal name makes it clear that the group is pursuing jihad. There’s debate among Islamic scholars as to what constitutes a “just” jihad, but mainstream scholars agree that jihad can only be led by a legitimate leader of a Muslim community, not self-appointed leaders like Osama bin Laden or Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since 2009. Even if the conditions for jihad are met, the Prophet Muhammad banned targeting non-combatants. Boko Haram has repeatedly flaunted that ban. In February, the group killed over 50 schoolboys, opening fire on a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria before burning it down. Last fall, Boko Haram gunmen shot 40 students at an agricultural training college as they lay asleep in their dorms. According to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, women and children, rabbis and priests and other noncombatants are to be spared. Warriors cannot burn down property, destroy trees or fields, or commit atrocities.

 

3. It has declared war against Christians.

In a rambling video released May 5, Shekau declared war “against Christians generally.” He included in that group President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “and any unbeliever.” But the Quran tells Muslims to respect their fellow monotheists, specifically the Christians and the Jews, who are “People of the Book.” The Quran says: “Those who believe [Muslims], the Jews, the Christians….whosoever believe in God and the Last day and do good deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord, shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they come to grief.”

 

4. It forcibly converts people.

The May 12 video of the kidnapped schoolgirls purports to show some Christian girls speaking their new Muslim names. The girls had been “liberated,” claimed Shekau, by having converted from Christianity to Islam. But he’s flouting a key teaching of Islam. “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” states the Quran. The verse, notes Usama Hasan, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a U.K.-based counter-extremism think-tank, was revealed to Muhammad after some of the earliest Muslims’ children converted to Judaism and Christianity. Nobody can force anyone to convert to Islam, say scholars. Embracing the faith is a matter between individuals and their God.

 

5. It espouses forcing girls and women into marriage.

In the May 5 video, Shekau says the kidnapped schoolgirls should be married off. But Islam does not allow anyone – male or female – to be married without his or her own consent. According to one hadith – hadiths are the words or deeds of the Prophet Muhammad that, along with the Quran, constitute the basis of Islamic law – one day a girl married off against her will came crying to Muhammad, saying she hadn’t agreed to the marriage. Muhammad promptly declared the marriage invalid.

 

The members of Boko Haram certainly consider themselves Muslims but their actions make them traitors to their faith. We should start referring to them as a criminal group rather than an Islamist group. Their sickening deeds and rhetoric repeatedly demonstrate that not only do they lack kinship with the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, but they lack respect for the religion they claim to fight for.

Power writes on Muslim social issues. If the Oceans Were Ink, her memoir of studying the Quran with a traditional Muslim scholar, will be published next year.

 

TIME russia

Russia Pours Scorn on News of Hunter Biden’s New Job

U.S Vice President Joe Biden Visits China
Vice President Joe Biden with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden and son Hunter Biden on Dec. 4, 2013 in Beijing. Ng Han Guan-Pool—Getty Images

The Vice President's son has accepted a position at a Ukrainian gas company

The news that Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter had taken a job with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma has been met in Russia with malicious glee. “Ahaha,” tweeted Member of Parliament Alexander Sidyakin, reacting to the White House statement that there was no conflict of interest after the news of Hunter Biden’s new role was made public on Tuesday. “Joe Biden is a good dad – took the trouble of going across the ocean to secure a job for his son,” the pro-Kremlin website politrussia.ru commented in its Twitter feed, referring to Vice President’s recent trip to Ukraine.

Rossiya TV channel’s commentator Andrey Arkhipov said the appointment was “in line with Washington’s plan to gain control over global energy resources.” Dubbing Joe Biden “the curator of the military coup in Ukraine” – a reference to the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February following months of public protests – Arkhipov ridiculed the idea that no U.S. lobbying was involved in the appointment.

Top TV and radio anchor Vladimir Solovyov speculated about the fact that Burisma owned licenses for shale gas deposits in the areas of eastern Ukraine, where armed conflict between government forces and separatist insurgents is now flaring. “Let me remind you what the U.S. keeps telling Europe: Reject Russian gas. We’ll provide as much gas as you need. We have shale gas technology,” he said, without developing his conspiracy theory any further. Ukraine’s and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies is a major factor in the Ukrainian geopolitical equation.

Russian media has been picturing Joe Biden as the Ukrainian government’s puppeteer ever since last month’s visit, which was aimed at demonstrating American support for the interim Ukrainian government. While in Kiev, Biden was filmed taking the chairperson’s seat at a meeting with Ukrainian ministers. That footage featured prominently in Russian TV bulletins as an illustration of Ukraine allegedly turning into a U.S. colony.

The incident prompted a vitriolic comment by Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov, who said that “Joe Biden was conducting a meeting with the Ukrainian leadership essentially in the capacity of the head of state, presiding over the table, with Ukrainian officials on his side.”

 

TIME Bangladesh

Bangladesh Ferry Capsizes With About 200 Onboard

The ferry capsized outside the capital in stormy weather, triggering a rescue operation involving the the country's navy and coast guard.

A ferry carrying about 200 people capsized in a river in Bangladesh Thursday, Reuters reports. At least six bodies have been recovered so far.

The ferry overturned in the Meghna River near the capital of Dhaka amid stormy weather. The government has dispatched navy and coast guard vessels to aid in rescue efforts.

One of the six recovered bodies is that of a child, Reuters reports.

[Reuters]

TIME Fast Food

Fast Food Workers Across the World Protest Pay

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, on May 15, 2014.
Los Angeles: Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's on May 15, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Employees at fast-food restaurants in dozens of cities around the world and across the U.S. went on strike Thursday to demand that wages be raised to at least $15 an hour. The current federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25.

Updated 1:15 p.m. E.T.

Fast food workers demanding higher wages staged strikes in dozens of cities across as many as 30 countries Thursday, alongside 150 similar protests planned in the United States.

Workers were set to take to the streets in Seoul, Dublin, Casablanca and Panama City, part of strikes planned in as many as 80 cities, the New York Times reports.

“We’re here to get $15 and a union, we’re here to strike, we’re here to make some noise and we’re here to disrupt because that’s the only way to get their attention,” Taco Bell employee Chad Tall said on CNN. He and other workers were striking outside a McDonald’s in New York.

The most recent round of fast food wage strikes began more than a year ago, but they have failed to meet their goal of forcing McDonald’s and other companies to raise workers’ wages to at least $15 an hour. (The current federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25.)

Protest organizers in the U.S. have turned to international workers to increase global pressure on fast food companies in light of dwindling membership in American unions. Fast food companies increasingly rely on international revenue in the face of falling U.S. sales.

“Fast-food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies—low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.

The median pay for fast food workers is slightly higher than $9 an hour, coming out to $18,500 a year, CNN reports—which falls short of the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold of $23,000 for a family of four.

TIME Syria

Postcard From Damascus: Yoga Bags, Campaign Posters and Distant Booms

A family walks down a street in Damascus on May 14, 2014.
A family walks down a street in Damascus on May 14, 2014. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

Some neighborhoods in Syria's capital feels strangely normal after more than three years of civil war, TIME's Middle East bureau chief Aryn Baker finds out

The luxury condominium compounds lining the highway that links Damascus to Syria’s border with Lebanon are frozen mid-development, their landscaped grounds well tended, but their interiors dark and unfurnished. Shopping malls and brightly colored children’s amusement parks are empty, awaiting tenants and visitors that never arrive. Billboards that might normally advertise consumer goods show images of Syrian President Bashar Assad instead. His image appears every 50 m or so, flashing past my car window in a bewildering array of costumes and facial expressions: Stern Assad in camouflage, smiling Assad in a suit, saluting Assad in formal military dress, waving Assad in a blazer with a grin and a twinkle in his eyes. But the Assad in these photos is different from the one who shows up in television appearances in Syria these days. While the Assad of the posters is beaming with strength and health, television Assad is pale. He has lost weight. Three and a half years of war have taken a toll, and it is reflected in Assad’s campaign for the upcoming presidential election.

“Together!” reads the slogan scrawled across billboards dotting the city. “Together we will make Syria safe.” “Together we will make Syria stronger.” “Together we will live.” Each is tagged with Assad’s signature. No one doubts that Assad will win the election, which the opposition is not taking part in, by a huge margin.

If Assad — and the road that links his capital to his most important trading partner — is showing the stresses of war, downtown Damascus is another story altogether. Graceful pedestrian arcades heave with shoppers trying out the latest smartphones and sampling the nut-filled pastries and chocolates for which Damascus is famous. Bareheaded women come out of private gyms toting yoga bags, while others, tightly swathed in colorful headscarves, wait for taxis on street corners. Bands of young men discreetly check out both groups. Yellow signs along the wide boulevards warn that speeding is monitored by radar, and traffic cops, clad in blinding white, guide motorists through rush-hour gridlock, caused, in part, by the ubiquitous military checkpoints. Those sandbagged bunkers are rare acknowledgements that war is not far away. But in quieter parts of the city, the attendant soldiers look more bored than alert to impending danger as they tap away on their mobile phones.

Assad lives with his family in one of those bougainvillea-bedecked neighborhoods, a wealthy and closely packed district of three-story townhouses. His decision to live in the house of his father, former President Hafez Assad, seems intended to promote a sense that he is a man of the people. According to official accounts, he commutes every day to the presidential palace, an imposing edifice on a hill on the edge of the capital. But few believe the script. Why should Assad take that risk, traveling an exposed highway to a lonely fort, distant from the people he claims to love? Many Syrians whisper that he actually works from home. Few know the truth.

The war may be psychologically distant to those in central Damascus, but it is being waged only a few miles away from Assad’s front door, along the edges of the city and in the suburbs. Fighter jets scream overhead, and the deep rumble of shelling in restive areas can be felt as well as heard. So regular are the blasts that no one even bothers to look up.

Just after sunset, patrons of the Abu Abdu juice shop in the downtown area line up eight deep for a glass of icy strawberry nectar in a spring tradition dating back to well before the war. Families perch on narrow benches to share plates of cream-covered fresh fruit, and couples lean against parked cars to sip the shop’s latest fruit-blend inventions. A group of English-language students on an excursion pounce on the opportunity to practice their English with two TIME journalists. Damascus used to be a major tourist destination, and chances to speak English were many. These days native English speakers are hard to find. “What is your name, please?” they ask. “What do you think of Syria?” “The Western TV makes Syria look like it is war all the time, are you worried about safety?” No, I answer, waving my strawberry juice around to indicate the crowd. Yes, they affirm, “life is normal here.” Just then the thunder of a not-so-distant bomb blast interrupts the conversation. No one in the crowd looks up, and the students, noting the alarm on my face, laugh and assure me that it is far away, “at least a few kilometers.”

By car, the brutal legacy of the war is just minutes away. Our driver makes his way through empty highways to Barze, once one of the bloodiest neighborhoods in Syria, and since February the site of an experimental cease-fire that many are hoping could be a model for the rest of the country. The radio blasts a fusion of rap, reggae and Arab rock praising Assad. Our driver knows every word. As we enter Barze the signs of war are, at first, barely noticeable: a few bullet-pocked concrete barriers and broken windows. Here the buildings are aging, the population notably poorer. But suddenly the horizon unreels in a scene of total devastation. Blasted-out high-rises loom over the remains of barricaded bunkers. Anti-Assad graffiti has been scrubbed off the walls. Pro-regime slogans have yet to be painted in their place. Twisted rebar and electrical wires snake out of the skeletal remains of eight-story apartment buildings. Some life has returned to the less damaged buildings in the form of drying laundry, but the pancaked residential buildings will never again host their former residents. Barze is peaceful now — but it is ruined.

We cross back into the parts of the city that Assad has always held and that have seen almost no violence during the war. The President appears in another poster. In this one, smiling Assad declares, “With you, we will rebuild it, and take care of it.”

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections Headed for a Runoff

Frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, received 45% of the vote, missing the majority marker necessary for an outright win. He'll face Ashraf Ghani on June 14.

Afghanistan’s election commission announced Friday the long-awaited results of last month’s presidential vote, slightly tweaking the final numbers but still sending the vote to a two-candidate runoff.

Frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, received 45% of the vote, missing the majority marker necessary for an outright win, the Independent Election Commission said. He’ll face Ashraf Ghani, who received 31.6% of the vote, in a June 14 decision.

More than seven million Afghans went to the polls last month in the country’s election to replace President Hamid Karzai, who has been in power since 2001. Election day was mostly peaceful despite Taliban threats to disrupt the vote. It’s unclear, however, if the runoff elections will draw the same turnout. The runoff will take place during the height of the country’s so-called “fighting season,” during which insurgent attacks typically spike.

Both candidates have said they will sign a security deal with the U.S. to allow some American troops to stay beyond 2014, which Karzai has refused to do. They have also both said they are open to a peace deal with the Taliban.

The results of the runoff are expected to be announced July 22.

[New York Times]

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