SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – First it was the fault of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who mistakenly forecasted a quick end to winter. Now climate scientists are saying that Arctic sea ice—or the lack of it—is a driving force behind the Northern Hemisphere's unseasonably cold spring.
As Northern Hemisphere temperatures remain below normal more than a week into the official start of spring, a team of meteorologists and climate scientists are pointing to recent research that suggests sea ice cover is a likely culprit.
Recent imaging from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center showed a historic minimum in Arctic ice cover last fall, and current data reveals that sea ice cover—which recently reached its maximum for the year—is at its sixth lowest extent in the satellite record. (Related: "Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low—Extreme Weather to Come?")
Less Arctic sea ice—which is caused by global warming—alters atmospheric circulation in a way that leads to more snow and ice, said climate scientist Jiping Liu, who led a 2012 study on the topic published by the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
It's a tough thing to understand. Less ice at the top of the world, often considered the planet's thermostat, might normally signal warmer global temperatures, not colder ones.
But the way weather works isn't so simple. Without a substantial ice cover, Arctic wind is less constrained. The jet stream—the belt of cool air that regulates weather around most of the Northern Hemisphere—then dips farther and farther south, bringing cold air from the Arctic closer to the Equator.
The result is much colder weather dipping into the spring much longer, and more forcefully, than normal. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.)
Sea Ice Culprit
In trying to explain recent cold temperatures throughout the world, Liu and colleagues arrived at the melting Arctic ice by way of deduction.
"For the past few winters, large parts of Asia, North America, and Europe experienced these cold conditions above normal snowfall," said Liu, of the University of Albany.
"When we started to explore the reason why, our study suggested it was the decline of Arctic sea ice."
The problem is compounded by moisture. Arctic ice normally locks up water molecules that, in a liquid state, would evaporate and become rain. (Learn more about Earth's atmosphere.)
Less ice means more open ocean, allowing more moisture into the atmosphere to freeze and, eventually, fall. Arctic ice that melts, in effect, turns into snow in other parts of the world, like in Indiana or Missouri, which this week saw record levels of snow for this time of year.
Other researchers have had similar findings about how changes in some parts of the world will drive unexpected weather around the globe. (Read more about extreme weather in National Geographic magazine.)
A study released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2012 signaled that low sea ice and increasing quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could lead to warmer summers as well.
"Simulations suggest that these summertime highs will intensify in the twenty-first century as a result of an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations," the researchers soberly declared. (Learn about the greenhouse effect.)
Left unanswered are year-to-year anomalies, such as how last year's winter was unseasonably warm while Arctic ice continued to shrink.
The warm 2012 winter was widely credited to unexpected oscillations of the North Atlantic and Arctic weather patterns. (See a graphic of extreme-weather trends.)
Those freak seasons might continue to happen. But Liu and others believe that we're likely to see more longer and colder winters as the Arctic—and the planet in general—continues to warm.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- In the old days we did the spring clean by washing the winter's accumulated soot off our paintwork. Now, where this tradition still exists, we are more likely to take the curtains to the dry cleaners and dare to see what has been breeding down the back of the sofa. As well as seeing off unwanted dirt and clutter, spring is as good a time as any to extend this ritual to look at our metaphorical fluff. We could take out everything we've ever been told, everything we've ever absorbed and only put back what we need.
When it comes to working on ourselves, though, it's usually more difficult than cleaning out a cupboard. But difficult does not necessarily translate to being undesirable. We need stimulation. We can look for it within or externally. When we get away to explore a new place, we feel refreshed by the new sights, smells, environment or culture. Certainly when I do this, I can feel it doing me good. If we seek out richer and more exciting environments it has the side-effect of not only enhancing our self-esteem but also boosting our immune system. A little unfairly, experiments have been done with rats showing that they can withstand the effects of poison better when they are in a stimulating environment, as opposed to poor rats stuck in a familiar situation. So don't let these rats suffer in vain – seek out enough stimulation.
As the motivational speaker Ed Foreman says: "If we always do what we've always done, then we're going to get what we've always got." If we wish for different things we tend to want change to be outside ourselves – to be in the form of a saviour, such as a Prince Charming, or a win on the lottery, or a significant-other undergoing a character change. And this is normal. But just because passivity is normal, it doesn't mean it's viable. Changes that make a positive difference don't have to be dramatic; they can be tiny, fine-tuned adjustments, such as deciding to cultivate a different variety of plant or learning a new word a day. Even when we make a very small difference to our routine or outlook, it can make a significant impact on our feelings of well-being.
When we experiment with something new, it's normal to feel in two minds about it. Sometimes it feels the more good it's going to do us is in direct proportion to how much dread we feel when contemplating it. We often talk to ourselves in a defeatist way by saying: "This isn't really me", but we can clock such excuses and decide to experiment in spite of them. If the experiment doesn't make us feel more stimulated, more interconnected, more alive, no harm will have been done and we can drop it.
Here's my recommendation: get a large piece of plain paper and draw a circle in the middle. Inside the circle write examples of activities that you feel completely comfortable doing. In mine, I might put something like going for a short walk. Around the outside of that circle write down examples of activities that you can do but that you have to push yourself a little bit to do. For example, climbing to the top of a monument or hill. Draw a larger circle around this circle of activities. In the next band write activities that you would like to do but feel some trepidation about. These might be things like a seven-day walk, approaching someone with a new business idea or starting a charity. Draw another circle around this ring of activities. Write down those things you are far too scared to try but harbour ambitions about – maybe putting yourself forward for public office. Create as many circles as you like.
In time, the activities immediately outside our inner circle become commonplace and our comfort zone expands. What may be in an outer circle might well be in an inner circle of someone else's, but we should remember that whatever we try is for ourselves alone. It does not matter what anyone else might think. The idea is to expand in small steps. In my experience, I have found that if we don't test our limits from time to time, the comfort zone can shrink. So onwards and outwards…
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- When millions across the world used the phrase "Arab spring" to describe pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made it clear he disapproved. Instead, he referred to those events as the Islamic awakening, with the intention of keeping a political uprising from crossing the borders into the Islamic republic.
But to the ayatollah's dismay Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasingly using the word "spring" in what appears to be a campaign slogan for the man many believe he has chosen as his candidate in the forthcoming presidential race.
The president's speech at the UN general assembly in September 2012 was the first time he is known to have used what has now become his pet phrase, causing internal disputes and anger among his conservative rivals. "Long live this spring, long live this spring and long live this spring," he said at the UN podium in what was perceived to be one of his mildest public addresses during his seven years in office. The president has since repeated similar lines several times.
It has become common to hear Ahmadinejad publicly using the word. After a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, when a reporter asked if he had any news for people, he replied: "What is a better and prettier news than the fact that spring is coming. The time of sorrow is going away and, God willing, the next year will be a good and successful year for all Iranians."
March 20, marking the spring equinox, is the start of the Persian new year – Nowruz – a 13-day ancient Zoroastrian festival celebrated as the most important holiday of the Iranian calendar. The presidential elections, scheduled for 14 June, are taking place in the final days of the season.
Ahmadinejad's critics believe the president, who is prevented under Iranian law from running for a third term, is pursuing a Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle by grooming his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as his possible successor.
Mashaei, a confidant of Ahmadinejad and his relative, is accused of advocating nationalism, greater cultural openness and attempting to undermine clerical rule, especially the supremacy of Khamenei. Opponents say that Mashaei is the head of a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle and he has little respect for the supreme leader, although he denies it. If Mashaei does put his name forward for the presidential vote, the powerful pro-Khamenei Guardian Council will have to vet his candidacy. Many believe he will not be allowed to run, while others say Ahmadinejad will threaten to go out with all guns firing if that happens.
Last week, in a ceremony held before Nowruz, Ahmadinejad awarded Mashaei the country's highest cultural medal. Both men were recorded as using spring in their speeches. Keyhan, an ultra-conservative newspaper with a director appointed by Khamenei, has attacked the men for repeated references to spring, which it said could have un-Islamic connotations.
Senior figures associated with the elite revolutionary guards have also voiced criticism of Ahmadinejad's catchphrase. Mohammad Esmail Kowsari, an MP, has warned that the president might be accused of engineering the elections. Another MP, Mohammad Hassan Asafari, said "long live the spring" was used by the "deviants". In response to the criticism, Ahmadinejad has said the use of spring merely referred to the revered Shia figure hidden Imam Mahdi. Meanwhile, local newspapers reported that Tehran's municipality has banned the word spring from being used in billboards across the Iranian capital.
Some analysts say that Ahmadinejad is trying to attract the popular vote by creating his own version of an Iranian spring that is aimed at highlighting nationalism. By infuriating the establishment, some say, in fact Ahmadinejad is intending to draw attention from voters sympathetic to the Iranian opposition and reformers.
Ahmadinejad has also been recently accused of a series of "inappropriate" and "un-Islamic" behaviours, such as saying that Hugo Chávez will be resurrected with Jesus and embracing the mother of the former Venezuelan president at his funeral, which, some believe, could have been an intentional move in order to showcase openness.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- A closer look at the details in Quranic verses and traditions on the story of water sharing between Samoodtribe and Salih's camel indicates that even after the emergence of the camel out of the mountain they had plenty of water. What made this tribe to finally disobey God and slay the camel [against God's command to safeguard it] was not owing to the pressure of water shortage caused by sharing the water with the camel but the primary reason was their obstinacy that made it intolerable for them to see the whole water in their land be assigned for the camel every other day while they did not have any privilege to use the water even though their daily water requirements were fulfilled and compensated by the camel's milk. The term “al-maa'” [water] used in the verse 28 of chapter 54 of the Holy Quran instead of "springs" in the verse 147 of chapter 26 refers to water resources of this land and it does in no way indicate water shortage; however it expresses two different applications in the Arabic language; the former refers to the waters of that land as a single cohesive unit and the latter refers to the waters in detail describing their characteristics.
Samood tribe was a people who, exploiting numerous natural bounties, managed to build an affluent life. Thanks to plentiful water supplies in their land they had a prosperous agriculture. The Quran depicts their plentiful water resources quoting Salih as saying "Will you be left secure in what is here; in gardens and springs, and cornfields and palm-trees having fine spadices?"[i]
Rationing the water in Samood tribe's land
When God sent Salih to Samood as His messenger and he called people to God they expressed their doubt about his call[ii]. After they ignored Salih's call and defied his assertions they stated they would not believe in him unless he brought them a camel out of the hard rocks[iii]. With God's power a camel emerged out of the mountain to be Salih's miracle. To make people understand that it was a miracle from God, he addressed his people "And, O my people! this will be (as) Allah's she-camel for you, a sign; therefore leave her to pasture on Allah's earth and do not touch her with evil, for then a near chastisement will overtake you."[iv] Then God revealed to His messenger "And inform them that the water is shared between them; every share of the water shall be regulated"[v] so people figured out that the water would be rationed between people and the camel.
Concordance of the verses stating the rationing of the water and the verses stating its abundance
To evade Salih's frequent calls – supposing he would not be able to fulfill their strange demand-Samood tribe asked Salih to ask his God to bring a camel out of the hard rocks. To show His messenger's sincerity, God granted him this miracle. However, He assigned specific conditions for this camel because of their stubbornness and testiness. The holy Quran says: "Surely We are going to send the she-camel as a trial for them; therefore watch them and have patience"[vi] After delivering God's message, Salih introduced the camel as a sign from God and ordered them to leave the camel free to graze as she wishes and not harm her; since it will result in an excruciating chastisement[vii]. Therefore Samood's test was the freedom of the camel and the restriction that God imposed upon them by rationing their water between them and the camel. Therefore the rationing of water was never for water shortage but as divine test.
Answer to the claims of incongruity among these two groups of verses
It may be said that the verse about water rationing[viii] implies water shortage in this land; otherwise why should it have been rationed?!
Unlike the verse speaking of abundant water springs in Samood tribe’s land[ix], this verse does not speak of water springs but instead, their water resources are referred to as "al-maa" or "the water"[x]. Therefore it should be admitted that these two groups of verses are met with a verbal or apparent contradiction to be resolved. To resolve this verbal contradiction, details of this story are needed. The verses containing this story do not reveal much information about it except one which states that the camel had a share of the water[xi]. What can be inferred from this verse is that water sharing was based on time and that people could use water on specific days but to find out how it was rationed we need to consult the traditions of the Ahlul-Bayt (AS).
Based on a tradition from Imam Sadiq (AS), God revealed to his messenger Salih to inform his people that God had designated one day of water use for the camel for one day of their water use. Thus on those days that it was the camel's turn to use the water they had no right to use water and instead they milked the camel and her milk was enough for all the people of that land. Similarly when it was people's turn to use the water the camel did not approach the water and did not use it[xii]. So traditions from Imams (AS) do not mention a water shortage which had resulted in public dissatisfaction; rather their discontent was for their deprivation of water for every other day which was not owing to water shortage since the camel's milk could meet all their needs.
But using the term "springs" in the verse 147 of chapter 26 of the Quran and the term "al-maa" (the water) in verse 28 of chapter 54 of the Quran is in fact the application of different rhetorical techniques; that is water resources of this land have at times been mentioned with their characteristics as springs and at other times they have been referred to generally as "water". In other words, while water means water in the literal sense, it can also include numerous springs, so there would be no problem if the water mentioned in the verse 28 of chapter 54 refers to the same springs mentioned in the verse 147 of chapter 26. This is affirmed by verse 12 of chapter al-Qamar of the Quran where both "springs" and "water" are used in a single verse. It says: " وَ فَجَّرْنَا الْأَرْضَ عُيُونًا فَالْتَقَى الْمَاءُ عَلىَ أَمْرٍ قَدْ قُدِر" "And We made water to flow forth in the land in springs, so the water gathered together according to a measure already ordained". In this verse the term "al-maa" is used to refer to both springs and precipitations. Therefore the use of this word to describe Samood's land should not be considered as a sign of water shortage and contradictory to other verses which indicate the existence of numerous springs in their land.
[i] Quran 26:146-147
[ii] Quran 11:61-62
[iii] Kulaini, Muhammad, Al-Kafi, vol.8, p.187, no.214, Darul Kutub Al-Islamiya, Tehran , 1987
[iv] ًQuran 11:64
[v] Quran 54:28
[vi] Quran 54:27
[vii] Quran 7:73; Quran 11:64; Quran 26:156
[viii] Quran 54:28
[ix] Quran 26:147
[x] Quran 54:28 "And inform them that the water is shared between them"
[xi] Quran 26:155
[xii] Kafi, vol.8, p.187, no.214
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Coloradans are lamenting the setting in of the bitter cold weather without any deep powder to play in, but there is a silver lining in Steamboat Springs -- the weather is just right for the return of Brent Christensen's stunning ice castle project.
On the Ice Castles blog, Christensen's inspiration for building these majestic ice structures that rely on the cold, a lot of water, a little lighting and, miraculously, no substructures is described.
Brent Christensen is the inventing artist who created the method of building our Ice Castles. This came about one winter as he was searching for new outdoor winter activities for his children. Together they experimented by building ice skating rinks, ice caves, and other frozen creations. One year he wanted to build an ice fort by using only ice. He started experimenting by using icicles as the base structure and through this process created a large ice formation in his front yard. His children called it “an ice castle,” and the name stuck. He built into it a cave, tunnels, and a huge slide with a bank turn on to an ice skating rink.
Christensen begins the process by creating and placing thousands of icicles daily. TheSummit Daily reported at last season's event that he used 3 million gallons of water to construct 10-foot walls with 40-foot towers. He writes on his blog embedded inside the walls of last season's ice castle were 200 compact fluorescent bulbs, capable of producing more than 350,000 lumens of light and at night the ice walls glow with ethereal hues of green and blue.
This season's castle sounds like it's even more grand and stunning than in years past. "Upon entering the Ice Castle, visitors will pass ice walls and ice archways to enter the lower courtyard," the castle is described on Christensen's blog. "Groomed pathways will lead guests upward through mesmerizing ice columns, tunnels, towers and more archways–each a stunning photo opportunity of its own. Latticed icicles connect frozen towers to each other. They form 'ceilings,' which result in aquamarine-colored tunnels for visitors to play in and explore. It’s like walking into the interior of a 25,000-ton glacier or a shimmering ice cavern, full of frozen waterfalls and icicle drippings."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Protests planned in Amman could see confrontation between opposition and loyalists, writes Ian Black
Amman, Jordan's capital, has been largely spared the drama of events elsewhere in the Arab world over the past two years. Demonstrations in March 2011 were contained and protests since have been restricted to outlying areas - albeit in loyal East Bank heartlands such as Tafila and Ma'an. Talk of reform has been accompanied by three changes of prime minister. King Abdullah sacked his last one, Awn Khasawneh, because, the palace insisted, he was not moving fast enough. The other view is that he was getting too cosy in talks with the Islamic Action Front - the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
So is Arab spring unrest about to hit the Hashemite kingdom? On Friday the IAF is organising a big rally under the resonant slogan "Save the Homeland." Its target is the constitutional changes the king has approved in advance of parliamentary elections he says must be held by the end of the year — though the increasingly vocal IAF says the reforms are inadequate and insists it will boycott the polls. That would render them meaningless.
The IAF has been emboldened by the successes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia and by the prominent role it is playing in the uprising in Syria next door. Complicating matters, many of its supporters are Jordanians of Palestinian origin, always a sensitive issue, as is the peace treaty with Israel. The Obeidat, a large East Bank clan, has just disowned one of its members who has accepted the post of Jordanian ambassador to Tel Aviv.
The king is under pressure from his western friends to respond convincingly to growing demands for change. Crucially, though, he plans to retain the power to appoint the prime minister and dismiss parliament at will. Overall the proposed new electoral system is still rigged in favour of regime supporters; Palestinian-Jordanians in particular will be significantly under-represented. Critics complain that reforms are more apparent than real.
Talk has been rife of a showdown on Friday — and perhaps a violent one. Young thugs wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the king's image have been mobilised for a loyalist counter-demonstration and there are signs of an offically-inspired whispering campaign suggesting that the IAF will call on Abdullah to surrender power. It insists it is doing no such thing. The popular slogan the "people demand the fall of the regime" has barely been heard in the Hashemite kingdom.
In recent months there has been widespread unease because of the crisis in Syria, a serious financial squeeze, a row over the removal of fuel subsidies and anger about new restrictions on the internet. The once iron-clad taboo on criticism of the royal court has been eroded.
The IAF rally is to be held on the familiar "safety-valve" route from the al-Hussein mosque in downtown Amman to nearby al-Nakhil square. Loyalists were planning to oppose it under the banner of "Alleigance and Belonging." Several well-known Jordanian commentators have suggested that the government was seeking a confrontation with the opposition. According to the latest reports from Amman that counter-demonstration is now to be re-scheduled. That would help avoid a potentially dangerous clash — even if Jordan's underlying tensions remain.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — In 2009, just five months into his presidency, Barack Obama gave a speech in Cairo to signal what he hoped would be a fresh start with the Muslim world. "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world -- one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition," Obama said. "Instead, they overlap and share common principles -- principles of justice, and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings."
After almost a decade of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Obama was seeking to turn the page on years of mutual distrust and suspicion.
That attempt largely failed, says Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. But Rubin also says that's not because of anything Obama did or didn't do after he gave that speech. "I'm not sure we can really say that the Middle East revolves around the White House or [whoever] the occupant of the White House happens to be," Rubin says. "Oftentimes, whether it's under Obama, or before him, under Bush, or Clinton, the U.S. tends to be in reactive mode towards the Middle East, rather than in proactive mode."
Protests sparked by an obscure U.S.-made video mocking Islam kicked off in Arab countries this month before sweeping across other parts of the Muslim world. And as the often violent protests continue, Obama's post-Arab spring policies are coming up for review in Washington in the midst of a heated election season.
Decades of Political Autocracy and Economic Failure
Republicans have seized on the violent deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, as well as images of U.S. embassies being overrun and the American flag being torn down, to criticize Obama for weak leadership. But Rubin, like many foreign policy analysts, sees the current wave of anti-American anger as rooted in Arab Muslims' deep frustration over decades of oppression and lack of economic opportunities.
"I think that 80 percent of what we're seeing in the Middle East right now has to do with domestic politics in the Arab world, for which the United States is a convenient foil," Rubin says. "The fault upon Obama may have been expecting that a change of tone could fundamentally alter the perceptions in the Middle East of the United States, but in reality, the Arab Spring caught everyone by surprise."
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, says blaming Obama's policies for the anti-American protests is "misplaced and inappropriate." Like Rubin, Miller says U.S. influence during the Arab Spring has been diminished because events are being driven by forces beyond Washington's control.
"They're being driven by a profound anger toward the United States, which has been loosed by the Arab Spring. And that anger has been building up over the course of 40 years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations," Miller says. "Profound anger rooted in what is perceived to be our blind support for Israel, profound anger as a consequence of our military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, profound anger against our counterterrorism policy and use of predator drones.
"And then among a marginal but increasingly influential group of Islamists, anger at who we are -- our culture, our values, our freedom of conscience and freedom of speech," Miller continues, "which in this country is protected and which allows a fourth-rate filmmaker to make a video which offends Muslims to the core."
An "Islamist Spring"?
Miller says U.S. influence has also shrunk in places where post-revolution governments are dominated by Islamic politicians, who are less willing than their predecessors to calm tensions during anti-U.S. protests. He even describes the rise to power of these new leaders as the "Islamist Spring."
"We have to get used to the fact that when fair and free elections are held in this part of the world, whatever we prefer or don't, Islamists -- disciplined, more organized, more coherent, rooted in and appealing to very traditional societies like Egypt -- are going to do extremely well," he says.
Miller says he would have liked to see Obama "send a much stronger message" to new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who waited several hours before sending police to stop a mob that was attacking the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Morsi eventually condemned the violence and called for calm, but only after a reportedly tough phone call from Obama.
But Rubin thinks the White House could have done more to prevent Islamists from gaining power in the first place, by supporting more democratically minded candidates. He faults the White House for relying on regional allies to assert its influence. "When it came to Egypt, when it came to Libya, we found ourselves working through Qatar, working through Turkey, perhaps even working through Saudi Arabia," Rubin says. "But where I would fault Obama is, it seemed too often he forgot that these countries had their own agendas. And without exception, they tended to fund and back the more radical factions emerging in these states."
The Cautious U.S. Reaction to Anti-Dictatorship Opposition Movements
In his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama expressed strong support for democratic principles, but he also said, "No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other." In 2011, months after the Arab spring began, he gave another speech -- one that detailed a bold plan to help countries that suddenly found themselves in the midst of political transition. He offered $4 billion to Egypt alone, to boost private investment, create jobs, and forgive debt.
Obama's reaction to embattled Arab dictators -- some of them longtime U.S. allies -- has been more cautious. He was criticized for standing by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak too long, but he led the NATO air strikes in Libya that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi, and he has called repeatedly for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power. His muted response to anti-government protests in Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is headquartered, has been criticized by democracy activists.
Whichever candidate wins the White House this fall, Miller says don't expect to see much change in U.S. policy toward the region. "What you see is what you get," he says. "A very difficult road for the United States to try and protect its interests." —www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: The Atlantic
SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — Canadian authorities red-pencilled almost $4.3 billion in suspect assets belonging to dictators, allegedly corrupt officials and others in response to the Arab Spring uprisings, newly disclosed documents say.
An RCMP briefing note says the national police force’s federal policing branch worked with the Foreign Affairs Department, Public Safety, security intelligence agencies and Canadian banks to “identify and freeze” the assets.
The note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, paints a picture of the extent to which Canadian officials toiled behind the scenes to drain the financial lifeblood of Arab dictatorships.
The agencies relied on an array of sanctions and legislative tools to freeze money and property linked to regimes that toppled in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, as well as Syria, whose leadership has so far withstood intense pressure from opponents. Some of the probes continue.
However, privacy law and the confidentiality surrounding investigative efforts means only a portion of the $4.3 billion can be discussed and accounted for publicly.
Foreign Affairs says the vast majority of $2.2 billion that Canada seized under the auspices of United Nations Act sanctions has been released to the Libyan National Transitional Council following the demise of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
An undisclosed amount seized under the Special Economic Measures Act was also released by last September. The act, known as SEMA, allows cabinet to impose sanctions when “a grave breach of international peace and security” has occurred and likely will result in a serious crisis.
Concerning Egypt and Tunisia, authorities zeroed in on residential property valued at $2.55 million and bank accounts containing a total of $122,000 using the Freezing of Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act.
As the name suggests, the act allows Ottawa, upon the request of a foreign state, to temporarily freeze assets that former dictators and their entourage have placed in Canada.
“The investigation to identify assets is ongoing,” said Foreign Affairs spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve.
“We’re working with both countries to transfer assets back to their citizens, but we require more information from the Tunisians and the Egyptians to be able to do so under Canadian law.”
RCMP Cpl. Stephane Gagne of the force’s proceeds of crime division confirmed that investigations continue. “In some of those files, the ball is in the other country’s court.”
The law essentially gives newly installed governments time to get their “ducks in a row” and show Canada that the corrupt officials in question indeed owned the assets, usually paving the way for return of the monies to the new government, said Gagne.
For reasons of privacy and commercial confidentiality, Foreign Affairs could not provide details about these amounts.
Undisclosed assets linked to Syria were also frozen under the Special Economic Measures Act.
In some cases, the money identified by authorities and Canadian banks ends up being unfrozen and freed for use by its owners. For instance, said Gagne, some “honest Canadians” working in Libya had their paycheques temporarily frozen — www.shafaqna.com/english/