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China’s ‘splinternet’ will create a state-controlled alternative cyberspace | Flavia Kenyon

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Cyberspace is one huge, unregulated mess. A virtual wild west where sophisticated criminal gangs ply their trade alongside multinational companies, spy agencies, activists, celebrity influencers – and nation states. The question of who governs it is one of the biggest of our time.

Britain needs to be, if not quite ruling the waves, at least a global force for good in the expanding virtual world. The issue has never been so pressing. Six years ago, I acted for a coder in the biggest cyberfraud phishing case in the UK. The malware my client and others created was so sophisticated that the police could not decode it but were able to show it was used for fraud. The financial data harvested was stored on two servers, one in France and one in the US, and the lack of international cooperation meant law enforcement never got their hands on it.

The case is almost ancient history in cyber terms. Today, that same sort of malware is being used on a previously unimaginable scale in ransomware attacks targeting national infrastructures, such as the US oil pipeline operator Colonial last month, the NHS in 2017, and even the city of Baltimore.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and the nearest we have to a cyber minister, signalled his determination to make Britain a global tech superpower, protecting the most vulnerable countries in the world, during a landmark cyber summit in London in May. But the signs are there that his government hugely underestimates the scariest cyber scenario of all: the possible fragmentation of the internet.

Raab said that Britain must shape cyberspace according to “our values”, while preventing China, Russia and others from “filling the multilateral vacuum”. What does he mean? It all sounds so abstract, so removed from our daily lives.

What he is referring to is the invisible battle for control of cyberspace and the ideological imperative that we, the liberal democracies, emerge triumphant, to imbue the rest of the world with “our values”.

As part of that mission, Raab announced a £22m investment in a British-funded cyber-operations hub in Africa, hoping that the continent might be charmed into playing cyber ally. The bad news is, Africa has already found a partner.

It has been showered with Chinese investment for decades. As I write, Beijing is planning to lay undersea cables along Africa’s western and eastern coasts to provide internet access to previously neglected towns and villages. Connectivity sounds like progress, and many in Africa are understandably pleased.

But here’s the problem: the Chinese are building their own internet, in a potential fragmentation that has been called the “splinternet”, an alternative cyberspace in which Britain does not even get a look in, unless invited. Many developing countries are likely to sign up to it.

The Chinese version of cyberspace would be separate and ideologically distinct. Beijing is not interested in improving the existing internet in an interoperable and open way, or helping the world become more resilient to cyber-attacks. It is engaged in creating a completely different digital architecture, complete with its own ideological governance and values – and incompatible with our own.

In building this architecture, the Chinese have turned to an unlikely freedom-loving technology: blockchain. It’s a word that baffles many people. But it’s simply a decentralised, digital network made up of blocks of data stored on nodes – and all our laptops could be nodes linked in a chain, which means we are all connected without censorship or interruption.

Part of the attraction of blockchain is supposed to be that it is a peer-to-peer system with no intermediaries and, crucially, no central power. But China plans to subvert that because the Chinese state would own the blockchain, and have its agents operating each node. The Chinese Communist party would have the power to monitor every communication in perpetuity.

The blockchain would become a superpowered tracking device and a warehouse of data on an unimaginable scale. How is Britain’s African cyberhub going to help prevent all that?

Any country signing up to China’s splinternet would almost certainly expose its people to the same levels of state control. For some leaders, that would be tolerated as a byproduct of China’s technological benevolence, as Beijing hands out free internet to Africa. To others, it would be welcomed as an opportunity to subjugate their own people. It would, in effect, herald the beginning of a new cold war-style split, not between east and west, but between an open and free internet, and one used to control and oppress.

It’s a grim vision, but one which China seems to be embracing with determination. Another manifestation is its potential for fiscal surveillance, by way of its new digital currency, the state-backed, digital yuan, controlled by the People’s Bank of China.

Raab’s vision of Britain “shaping cyberspace according to our values” is laudable, but in such a swiftly fragmenting cyber landscape, in which China has the tools and the desire to dominate the world community, he is in danger of sounding rather quaint.

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Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar

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The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant has prompted a debate in Germany over whether people who have not yet been vaccinated should face restrictions – after other countries like France and Greece made similar moves.

“Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people,” chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in an interview published on Sunday (25 July).

If infections continue to rise, unvaccinated people might be forbidden from entering restaurants, cinemas, theatres or sports stadiums because “the residual risk is too high,” he said.

Merkel has previously spoken out against making vaccination itself mandatory.

According to Braun, cases are increasing by 60-percent per week and are expected to continue rising.

“If the Delta variant were to continue to spread at this rate and we don’t counter it with a very high vaccination-rate or change in behaviour, we would have an incidence of 850 [cases per 100,000 inhabitants] in just nine weeks,” he said.

Braun argued that introducing further restrictions for unvaccinated people would be legal since “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens” – triggering a debate even within Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

The CDU candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September’s national elections, Armin Laschet, has opposed such measures.

“I do not believe in compulsory vaccination, and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF television.

“We have had a rule that you must be tested, vaccinated or recovered and I think that is a good principle,” Laschet said.

For his part, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Rolf Mützenich, warned that politicians are not going “to change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats”.

About 60 percent of Germany’s 83 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 jab, while just 48 percent are fully-vaccinated.

All jabs approved in the EU – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson – appeared to be effective against the Delta variant when both doses are administrated in the case of two-shot jabs.

Other countries like Italy, France, and Greece are trying to increase vaccination rates by imposing vaccine passport schemes or mandatory vaccination for certain workers, such as health and care staff.

Weekend protests

Those moves have sparked protests over the weekend.

Thousands gathered on Saturday in several French cities to speak out against the new Covid-19 restrictions for unvaccinated people and mandatory vaccination – with far-right activists and members of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement clashing with police in Paris.

Similar rallies took place outside the Greek parliament in Athens for the third time this month, while large crowds took the streets in Dublin to protest against the introduction of vaccines passports.

As part of a so-called “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” campaign, protest against vaccine passports, wearing masks, and further lockdowns were organised in major cities across the world, including Sydney, London or Rome.

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Syrian Air Defenses Shot Down Rockets Launched Towards Damasсus Vicinity, Russian Military Says

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Middle East

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The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Israel of conducting regular airstrikes on its territory, calling on international organizations to denounce the attacks as violations of Syria’s sovereignty and introduce sanctions against the Jewish State.

Syrian air defense systems have destroyed two missiles fired by the Israeli F-16 fighter jets toward facilities in the Damascus region, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, said on Sunday.

This comes just after Russian-made Buk-M2E air defense systems downed all the rockets launched at the central Syrian province of Homs in the early hours of Thursday. The Russian military added that two Israeli F-16 fighters fired four guided missiles at several facilities in the Homs province. Syrian state media also attributed the strikes to the Israeli military, which never denied nor assumed responsibility for the attack.

According to the official, in the early hours of Sunday, two Israeli F-16 fighter jets conducted an airstrike against facilities in the Set Zaynab settlement, south of Damascus, without entering the Syrian airspace.

“Both missiles were destroyed by Russian Buk-M2E missile systems that are used by the Syrian military’s air defense forces,” Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit said.

On Monday, state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported that the Syrian air defense was repelling an air attack from Israel on the Syrian city of as-Safira in the Aleppo Governorate. The Russian military confirmed later that seven missiles fired by Israeli F-16s at Syria were destroyed by the Pantsir-S and Buk-M2 systems of the Syrian air defense.


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Sputnik / Mikhail Fomichev

Air Defense soldiers during exercise, Ashuluk firing ground

While Israel avoids commenting on foreign reports, as it says, in December, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi did acknowledge that the Jewish State had conducted numerous attacks on Syrian territory to counter what he called Iran’s “retrenchment” in the Arab Republic.

It is also reported that Israel uses Lebanon’s airspace to launch strikes against Syria, while some of the rockets are launched from the occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.



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Jehan Sadat obituary | Women’s rights and gender equality

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Jehan Sadat, who has died aged 88 of cancer, spent most of her life promoting social justice and women’s rights in Egypt. She continued to campaign decades after her husband, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, on 6 October 1981, by militants in the army avenging the imprisonment of fellow Islamists and condemning the 1978 Camp David accords that he had signed with Israel.

As a girl in Cairo, Jehan had explored the streets of her neighbourhood of Al-Manial, attributing her self-confidence to her supportive parents. She said that her fight against gender inequality started during her schooldays, when she was encouraged to focus on subjects such as sewing and cooking in preparation for marriage rather than the sciences that would lead to a university career. “I have always regretted that decision. I would never allow my daughters to close off their futures that way,” she wrote in her autobiography, A Woman of Egypt (1987).

Jehan had married Sadat in 1949 at the age of 15; a former army officer, he was twice her age and active in the fight against British control in Egypt. Three years later, he was a key player in the military coup that toppled King Farouk and later brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to the presidency. Sadat took a series of senior positions in the government and after Nasser’s death in 1970 was elected president.

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year. Photograph: Karl Schumacher/EPA

Jehan had begun her work for women’s rights in the years before she became first lady. She was vocal in condemning female genital mutilation and played a crucial role in the 1960s in the formation of a co-operative in the village of Talla in the Nile Delta that helped local women become skilled in sewing and therefore economically independent of their husbands.

She also headed SOS Children’s Villages, an organisation that provides homes for orphans in a family environment. In 1975 she led the Egyptian delegation to the UN international conference on women in Mexico City and to the 1980 conference in Copenhagen.

Most crucially, she was involved in a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law that would grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children. The 1975 film Oridu Hallan (I Want a Solution), starring Faten Hamama, illustrated the struggles of Egyptian women under a conservative legal system that suppressed their rights.

“Over half our population are women, Anwar,” she told her husband, as she recorded in A Woman of Egypt. “Egypt will not be a democracy until women are as free as men.”

The attempts of some liberal clerics to defend the limited legal amendments supported by Jehan were undermined by the growing influence of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Despite the backlash from conservative Muslims, in the summer of 1979 her husband granted her wish and issued decrees improving the divorce status of women, as well as a second law that set aside 30 seats in parliament for women. These measures, which were later passed through parliament, became known as “Jehan’s laws”.

She was born Jehan Raouf in Cairo, into an upper-middle-class family, the third child of Safwat Raouf, an Egyptian surgeon, and his wife, Gladys Cotrell, a British music teacher, who had met in Sheffield when Safwat was studying medicine at the university. Jehan was raised as a Muslim, according to her father’s wishes, but she also attended a Christian secondary school for girls in Cairo.

She met Anwar at a summer party at her cousin’s house, not long after he was released from prison for the second time for his revolutionary activities; he was also recently divorced. The idealistic Jehan was impressed, despite her mother’s initial misgivings and the 15-year age gap. They married the following year, and went on to have four children.

In 1977 Anwar flew to Jerusalem to propose a peace settlement to the Israeli Knesset, and the following year he signed the Camp David accords, the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel, with the prime minister Menachem Begin and the US president Jimmy Carter. Jehan, who was a far more visible first lady than President Nasser’s wife had been, later made a point of saying that she had stood by her husband even though the peace agreement was highly controversial in Egypt.

Jehan Sadat interviewed by Barbara Walters

While he had believed that the affection of the armed forces for him was such that they could not be infiltrated by militant Islamists, she later told the BBC: “I knew that he would be killed.” She begged him to wear a bullet-proof vest but he refused, and was proud of the new uniform that he had had designed for a military march-past on the outskirts of Cairo.

When people were looking up at the Egyptian air force planes flying in formation and doing aerobatics, Jehan noticed an army truck pulling out of the line of artillery vehicles and stopping in front of the reviewing stands. Then she saw soldiers with machine-guns running towards the stands. Her husband stood up, was riddled with bullets, and fell. The glass through which she and her grandchildren were watching was likewise splintered by bullets, and her bodyguard pushed her to the ground.

Jehan spoke of the shock of losing the man who was not only “my beloved husband whom I loved all my life, but … my partner”.

Her aspiration to higher education had eventually been realised, with a BA (1977) in Arabic literature and an MA (1980) in comparative literature at Cairo University, and she followed these with a PhD (1986). In later years she was a visiting professor at several US universities, and continued to promote international peace and women’s rights. A second book, My Hope for Peace, followed in 2009.

She is survived by her three daughters, Lubna, Noha and Jehan, her son, Gamal, and 11 grandchildren.

Jehan Sadat, women’s rights campaigner, human rights activist and writer, born 29 August 1933; died 9 July 2021

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