By Aziz El Yaakoubi
AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) -Gulf Arab leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a summit focused on ending a long-running dispute with Qatar as Washington pushes for a united Gulf front to contain Iran.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was met in the historic city of al-Ula by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men, wearing face masks, embraced on the tarmac.
Before the gathering, Kuwait announced that Saudi Arabia, which along with allies boycotted Doha in mid-2017, would reopen its airspace and borders to Qatar under a deal that a senior U.S. official said would be signed in the presence of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a charge it denies.
The official said Kushner, assigned to work on the dispute by U.S. President Donald Trump, helped negotiate the deal and was making phone calls on it until the early hours of Monday morning.
The breakthrough is the latest in a series of Middle East deals sought by Washington – the others involving Israel and Arab states – aimed at building a united front against Iran.
Other Gulf leaders arrived in al-Ula earlier and a source said Egypt’s foreign minister would attend the annual summit, postponed from its December date as Riyadh worked for a deal.
While Riyadh made clear it intended to lift the embargo, the other three states did not immediately comment on the issue. But the U.S. official said “it’s our expectation” they would also join. Under the emerging deal, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the boycott, the official said.
Diplomats and analysts said Saudi Arabia was pushing reluctant allies for the deal to show U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Riyadh is open to dialogue. Biden has said he will take a harder line with the kingdom over its human rights record and the Yemen war.
“Despite the purported rapprochement between Gulf parties, it is worth noting that this is seemingly influenced by a desire to pre-empt pressure from an incoming Biden administration, more than a genuine commitment to conflict resolution,” said Emadeddin Badi, nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council.
“As such, the détente within the GCC is very unlikely to significantly affect geopolitical dynamics beyond the Gulf.”
The UAE and Egypt are at cross purposes with Qatar in Libya and over the Muslim Brotherhood.
All the states are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
Qatar says the boycott aims to curb its sovereignty.
The other countries had set Doha 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera TV, shuttering a Turkish base, cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
(Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi in Dubai Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by Tom Hogue, John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)
Media coverage of COVID is failing Albertans, and it's not the media’s fault. – Alberta Daily Herald Tribune
Article content continued
This has to stop.
Either Dr. Hinshaw or her two expert, and well-compensated, deputies need to make themselves available on a regular basis to answer technical questions — from reporters whose microphones don’t get muted. They’ll need to explain what the statistics they release really mean and take questions about the particulars of outbreaks and the evolving science of the pandemic.
Yes, some of the questions and answers will be uncomfortable, and uncertainty will be highlighted. But Albertans will be better served by having these questions answered with uncertainty than they are when the questions aren’t even asked.
Of course, the semi-regular official briefings with top decision-makers should continue when there are major policy announcements. But those would also benefit from being less stilted. Also, Alberta is a wealthy province; we can afford a socially distanced second podium on the stage so that we don’t have to waste precious question time on the theatre of hand sanitizing.
COVID is contagious and it has required us to change the nature of news gathering, but the news-gathering function is more important now than ever.
Albertans are being asked to give up so much. Our compliance should happen in exchange for our government’s willingness to answer all our questions.
Vitor Marciano was formerly press secretary to two leaders of the Opposition.
Opinion | Trump is finally banned from social media — but why was such an important decision left to a small group of companies enforcing their terms of service? – WellandTribune.ca
To be quite honest, I’m a bit sad I missed it.
The move, which was hotly debated inside Twitter, started something of a chain reaction. After the violent insurrection in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Twitter decided that the public harm from letting Trump foment more anger outweighed its commitment to foster a public conversation. Other companies followed. Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and more have all either permanently or temporarily removed Trump.
It felt inevitable. A man so totally amoral and self-involved, so deeply and obviously bigoted, and so utterly lacking in sympathy was always going to be a danger when given a platform. All the same, the ban was unsettling, in part because of what it signified, and in part because of the response.
On one side were the conservative and far-right supporters of Trump who claimed this was clear-cut censorship. On the other were people who said that private companies have every right to do whatever they want. Regardless of how one feels about Trump, the ban is symbolic of the fact that the 21st-century public sphere is owned by private companies — and that situation simply cannot hold.
For one, much of the conversation around barring Trump focused on the rights of private companies and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees free speech. That is in itself indicative of what’s wrong: that questions about who can have access to platforms and under what conditions are often controlled by the whims of companies located in foreign countries — even if the country in question is a neighbour and ally.
Still, that same argument suggests that the ban wasn’t censorship proper; it was a private company enforcing its terms of service and protecting the validity of its platform. To let Trump continue to peddle lies in what feels like a tense moment in American history would have been an obvious mistake.
Yet, in a thoughtful thread on his own platform, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggested that the ban was what was right for Twitter — but that what it augured for a free and open internet was more worrying because to have all the major platform companies act in unison would be “be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet.”
While Dorsey’s perspective seems to slip somewhat into that dangerous trap of a naive objectivity — that too-common idea in which free speech as an abstract idea is held up above the harm of allowing, say, white supremacists or anti-vaxxers open access to platforms — it does point to what’s at stake. When a group of private companies control online public speech, they react in their own best interest, not necessarily in what is best for society at large. Just because those two ideas coincided in the example of Trump, it doesn’t mean they always will.
If we dismiss the concerns about censorship, we adhere to a needlessly capitalist idea of free speech — one that essentially says corporations can do whatever they want. Where that leaves us is unclear, in part because what we are dealing with is historically unprecedented. We’ve had mass media for a couple of centuries now, but social media is something else, and we’re scrambling to understand its effect on how we live, think and act.
What is clear, however, is that to either say that social media companies can do as they wish, or that no one should be deplatformed or banned, is naive. Neither of those is true.
The Trump ban is just an example of how the web is still mostly lawless, or at least ad hoc — still a thing in which people like Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg make decisions for hundreds of millions of people, often haphazardly, and with little in the way of accountability.
What one wants to thus in response to all this uncertainty is something reassuring and precise — for example, that we must insist the public sphere should be public. But what that might look like is unclear. After all, it’s not as if each national government around the world is about to launch its own version of Twitter.
Rather, the Trump ban is a sign that far too few people have any idea what they’re doing when it comes to how we manage social media and its effect on our societies — not tech company CEOs, not government regulators, and maybe not newspaper columnists either. But that lack of clarity is itself a kind of call to action, a clear indication of the urgency and scope of the problem.
We are all glued to our phones — everyday people, presidents, and violent insurrectionists — and it’s time to figure out some rules for the new digital world in which we live.
Social Media Buzz: Norway's Warnings, New Jersey Smokers, CDU – Bloomberg
What’s buzzing on social media this morning:
- Until Friday, Pfizer/BioNTech was the only vaccine available in Norway, and Pfizer said the companies are working with the Norwegian regulator to investigate the deaths.
- The reported deaths were “elderly people with serious basic disorders.” Norway’s recommendation does not mean younger, healthier people should avoid being vaccinated.
In New Jersey, smokers are now eligible for Covid-19 shots under the state’s vaccine expansion plan. No proof is needed. Smoking and obesity are among the conditions listed under “individuals at high risk,” the plan shows.
Germany’s governing CDU party elected Armin Laschet as next leader, opting for the candidate who most resembles departing Chancellor Angela Merkel in policy and style.
President-elect Joe Biden picked Wendy Sherman, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs under President Barack Obama, as deputy secretary of state. A regular critic of President Donald Trump on Twitter, Sherman was the lead U.S. negotiator in talks that led to the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
The Maryland Department of Transportation is suspending its MARC commuter train service ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration amid threats of unrest.
The Justice Department executed Dustin Higgs, 48, early Saturday, the 13th and final federal inmate scheduled to die during President Donald Trump’s term. The opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three justices who dissented, trended on Twitter, including in a post by Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking” based on Prejean’s book of the same name.
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