The UK’s Identity Card scheme may have been scrapped and swept under the bureaucratic carpet. But the UAE scheme, initiated at a similar time, has just been completed. The end of June marked the final deadline for obtaining Emirates ID cards in Dubai, with earlier deadlines already passing in the other six emirates. Fines of 20 Dhs per day up to an accumulation of Dhs 1000 for those not yet registered ensured the financial incentive.
But is the golden card in my wallet yet? No. Only recently re-acquiring a UAE residency visa to replace my prior visa for under-18s, the bureaucracy has been a new experience. The system is such that in order to get an appointment at an identity centre, UAE residents first have to pre-register at a typing centre, a waiting room with a few chairs, where a guy behind the desk quite literally types up the necessary documents. This was the precursor to a baffling medical component of the visa process. On top of this, in 2010, reports circulated that some typing centres completing ID card paperwork were holding people’s passports, with warnings of potential identity theft.
With my ID card paperwork finally completed in May and all the fees paid, I was unable to attend the appointment given to me for June. Not to worry. Even then, I was informed, appointments were already being scheduled for October. Such is the backlog that late September is now the date when my fingerprints will be taken.
With a conservative estimate of the population at 7.2 million, it’s hardly surprising that the process, begun a few years ago, has taken so long. In 2010, 1.5 million people were reported to have registered. With the first deadlines initially set towards the end of that year, they were unlikely to be met. Since then, newspapers have continually carried reports of looming deadlines. Each time, there’s been a rush and long queues outside identity centres - followed by the announcement of an extension. This time, The National newspaper tweeted that the end of June really was the “final final deadline”.
Unlike the UK’s controversial scheme, there has not been any discernible commentary on the collecting of biometric data. A population register is being created at the same time to support ‘strategic planning’, according to the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA). The benefits being touted are that ID cards would replace other official paperwork. Eventually, the plan is that labour permits, health cards and driving licenses will be integrated onto the ID card, with the cards necessary for road and traffic issues and paying utility bills. But there’s no sign of this happening in the near future.
People in the UAE have been vocal in their own way; through the letter pages of newpapers and on Twitter. With ID cards not useful at the moment, residents are wondering why they so urgently need them. Parents are particularly questioning this, objecting that children under 15 are required to register, although they can’t drive, register vehicles, or pay water and electricity bills.
Some think the cards might be useful for ‘security’. But many UAE residents are cynical about the cost first and foremost. With a standard 3-year visa, an ID card costs Dhs 370 - over 100$ US. This needs to be renewed, and paid for again, every time the visa expires, which also includes when you change jobs. Not only the monetary cost, but the cost in time — the length of the process, uncertainty, changing information and delays — has been a source of frustration. There were issues with delivery through the postal system, and on the day of the ‘final final’ deadline, EIDA centres turned out to be closed for the weekend.
The latest announcement
is that every mobile phone SIM card with the duopoly telecom providers Etisalat
and Du will have
to be re-registered using new ID cards. Cost and timing are currently
unknown. The deadline may have passed,
but UAE residents certainly haven’t heard the last of ID cards.
The difference between a Tunisian girl and an Israeli girl entering Jordan is that the first comes from a country that set the whole Middle East alight a year and a half ago and the second comes from an apartheid country that has been persecuting the Palestinian people since 1948.
The Israeli girl got through the passport check in Queen Alia airport smoothly in no time at all whereas I had to wait and wait and wait and then be bombarded with endless questions before being given permission to enter the Jordanian territories. I could not believe at first that I was asked to go into the intelligence office and be treated as a terrorist who might disturb the political status quo of Jordan.
My Jordanian visa and the official letter of invitation could not save me from this torpid investigation.” Why are you coming to Amman?” said the officer,” I came to train in social development” I replied - but why, how, why not anyone else, why now, who is inviting you, who is waiting for you? I had to be showered with a flood of questions just for holding a Tunisian passport. I wanted to cry, I felt angry, humiliated and powerless and I felt the fear in the eyes of the investigators who were really disappointed that they could not find a tangible reason for denying me entry. My Egyptian friend went through almost the same experience and was even asked about her political preferences regarding the Egyptian elections!
It turns out that the Arab countries that were not visibly affected by the Arab spring are terrified of the youth from countries that have felt the winds of change. The Jordanian spring seems to be hardly imminent since the protests of people calling for political reform remain small-scale and have done little as yet to mobilize the masses who remain frustrated with the lack of political freedom, the rise of prices and corruption among political officials.
One might offer several interpretations for the relative immunity of Jordan from the impact of the Arab spring. Jordanians seem to agree that they do not want the bloody conflicts of their neighbours to affect their country. On the other hand the element of fear seems to be persistent and overwhelming. While tension and frustration are boiling underground especially among the educated youth, we cannot talk about a really broad mobilization in Jordan.
But change is indeed contagious and the aspirations for the Jordanian people do not differ much from that of the Tunisians and Libyans and all those individuals who decided at some point to break down the wall of fear and claim their rights. Until this dream materializes, what can the Jordanian government do but keep on looking over their shoulders at the people behind the Arab awakening?
Campaigning for the July 7 elections is heating up and the Tripoli thoroughfares which were once dominated by images of Gaddafi have now been transformed into colourful canvases, where the faces of those hoping to be elected next week peer down at those sitting in traffic below. Some sport winning smiles and flashy clothes in an attempt to look open and approachable; others look stern and serious, presumably hoping to convince voters of their wisdom and importance. These pictures are plastered all over the city, usually accompanied by inspirational yet meaningless slogans such as ‘justice’, ‘equality’ and ‘hope’. Whole swathes of billboards have been occupied by Libya’s biggest political parties promoting themselves and their candidates, as well of course as reminding the public of the big names in their particular party. The airwaves are clogged with endless talk shows and discussions about the elections and as NGOs step up their awareness campaigns and international observers and journalists arrive in town, Libyans are starting to prepare for their first democratic experience in over forty years.
Of the 200 seats up for grabs in the General National Congress, 80 are for political entities and 120 for individual candidates. There are 130 political parties registered; the main ones include the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, the Nation Party which boasts Ali al-Sallabi and Abdul Hakim Belhaj as its high flyers, Yousef Magariaf’s National Front, and the National Forces Alliance headed by Mahmoud Jibril. These parties are relatively well known and most Libyans know that, broadly speaking, the former two are religious parties, the latter two secular. There are 1202 candidates registered for political entities, 540 of whom are women and 2500 individual candidates registered, only 85 of whom are women.
So how will Libyans decide who to vote for and who will they choose ? The reality is that despite the current noise about elections, many Libyans are still non-the-wiser about what they are actually voting for, let alone who they are going to vote for. When I asked a Libyan friend a few days ago about who she was going to vote for, her response was ‘well I don’t want Belhaj to be president, but I like Jibril so maybe I will vote for him.’ It seems Libyans are finding it hard to escape from Gaddafi’s ‘strong leader’ legacy. They are judging parties based on their patrons rather than on their values, and judging candidates on whether they look the part of a leader or not.
While driving in Tripoli, another friend pointed out a poster and said ‘I think I’m going to vote for him.’ When I asked whether this candidate was standing in his constituency, he had no idea what I was talking about. It would be unrealistic to expect a population that have lived under dictatorial rule for so long to become experts on electoral systems overnight. However, with little over a week to go until the elections take place, the signs are pointing to a chaotic day of voting. Many are still at a loss to know how to choose between different candidates based on photos and slogans alone, and are frustrated by the whole campaigning process. They want to make informed decisions but feel that information isn’t available. Although the HNEC has detailed information about the elections, it doesn’t have details on individual candidates and, as many are actually aligned with political parties, voters are right to be hesitant about choosing blindly.
The environment for these elections is far from perfect and in many ways they will be largely symbolic. Lack of awareness among both voters and candidates means that it is unclear whether the majority of Libyans will share the same vision for Libya’s future as the people that are elected to represent them. Despite this however, it is important that these elections take place now. The perfect environment would take years to develop, and although Libya may be a long way away from becoming a truly democratic society, these elections will mark a new era in Libyan history and a huge step towards the future Libyans fought for in the February 17 Revolution.
By Rohan Talbot
With the swearing in of a new president in Egypt last week, many were quick to point out that this step is just the beginning of the country’s transition towards being a functioning democratic state. This is true not only because of the emerging power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but also because of the challenges the new government will face in bonding former adversaries together into one viable nation.
The post-revolutionary states of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have exacted punishment on their previous dictators – be it through exile, imprisonment or death – but autocracies are made up of more than one man. The ousted presidents were held in place not just by the security infrastructures they built around themselves. They were also endorsed by significant proportions of the populations who supported them for a multitude of reasons, including economic benefit, political ideology, and tribal loyalty.
Consequently, the memory of abuses does not fade with the removal of the figurehead, and the existence of large numbers of supporters of the previous dictators is a considerable problem for the new governments. Seeking out and punishing all those involved in the oppressive machinery of the old regimes can crumble state institutions (as in the case of the ‘de-Ba’athification’ of Iraq), and breed further grievance and perceived victimhood amongst these sympathy pools. Conversely, a lack of public recognition of their roles in abuses will create dissent among those who suffered under the old regimes.
Lebanon’s long history of conflict serves as a powerful example of the danger of failing to reconcile former enemies. This country has never recovered from the divisions and mistrust, along axes of religious and political identity, bred by decades of war and foreign occupation. Enmity therefore continues to simmer, and each community here believes that they have suffered the most. This is a considerable part of the reason why political groups in Lebanon refuse to disarm, and why the country is seemingly never free from political crisis and violence. The recent clashes in Tripoli are as much a symptom of the failure to reconcile as they are anything to do with Syria. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is the country’s only real attempt to deal with past political crimes. But by focusing only on the offences committed against one political bloc it breeds discord and grievance rather than building national unity.
Troublingly, despite encouragement from the UN there has been a similar lack of focus on reconciliation across the post-revolutionary societies of the Arab Spring. As the sheen of revolution starts to tarnish, the harsh realities of reconstructing a nation in the face of economic and social challenges will stir memories of suffering and abuse. Resentment will not just be held by those who suffered under the old regimes, but also those who lost out in the revolutions and even those revolutionaries who find themselves side-lined in new democratic governments. This is equally true for Tunisia and Libya, and should the rebels win in Syria, they would similarly have to placate Assad’s many supporters to have any hope of building a stable nation.
One way for new governments to walk the tightrope of competing grievances and victimhoods after such political sea-change is through the establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions. In South Africa, after the fall of the apartheid government in 1994, the TRC provided a platform to air and admonish the crimes of both sides, and to grant amnesties for some of those who confessed their roles in abuses. Such an approach gives a platform to not only provide some restorative justice to victims, but also to highlight remarkable cases of personal forgiveness and build a new, inclusive and forward-looking national narrative.
If the revolutions of the Arab world are to succeed in building prosperous, egalitarian nations, then the revolutionaries must find a way to bond former oppressors and oppressed together in this process. The alternatives, a grievance-fermenting ‘victor’s justice’ or attempts to forget or repress the past, may doom states to emulate Lebanon and spiral into dangerous cycles of competitive victimhood and potentially even future violence.
Is it finally happening in Ramallah? Is the place which has been long seen as the PA’s safest compound, where the Palestinian authority’s headquarter “Almuqata’a” is located, finally revolting against it? The frustration with the non-representative PA which has been long vented online has finally left the virtual space and taken to the real streets of Ramallah.
The news of an unjustifiable meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister - which if it happened would be the first official meeting taking place since the last attempt to resume negotiations in 2010 - has caused outrage amongst many Palestinians. Courting a visit from someone Palestinians saw as a war criminal, who led several military operations against us, including ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ which led to the massacre of Jenin in 2002, killing hundreds of Palestinians and destroying hundreds of houses, was seen then as treacherous.
Protesters took the streets on Saturday holding posters that reject both the next visit and any scheduled meeting, despite news of its postponement until further notice. The protests however were met with unexpected brutality from the PA’s security forces. Another protest was called for on Sunday, this time also protesting against the brutality of the PA.
Through photos circulated around social networks, I’m very familiar with the people who led the protests from seeing their involvement in weekly demonstrations against the occupation in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere. Here they were being verbally assaulted, beaten up and even arrested because they have raised their voices. One friend of mine who is an activist and a blogger tweeted on the assault:
This was a disheartening message, and yet, there was still joy in my heart to see these scenes of revolt in Ramallah streets. People have finally voices their fear and resentment at PA actions supposedly on behalf of the Palestinian people. Abbas’ approach seems to us to concede far too much without expecting any corresponding gesture from the Israeli side. It simply seems to ignore the daily humiliations, practices and policies against Palestinians, the systemized ethnic cleansing taking place on a daily basis in the West Bank, or the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip. It does not take into consideration popular resistance that has been going on for years against the continuous colonization of land and the increasing of settlers’ activities, to mention only a few of such brutal practices that contradicts any true intention of making peace.
Abbas and the PA’s several attempts in the recent years to resume negotiations on the precondition of freezing settlement building activity was previously vigorously refused by the Israelis. Abbas knows full well that settlement building will continue, despite all the fake talk of peace that never seems to take off.
The people now are beginning to realize this. The PA security forces - one of the major sectors of the PA’s structure - is being used to crackdown on the protesters in Ramallah. So the PA is not even willing to accept dissent. Does that make it the next Arab tyranny that needs to be toppled? Will the calls for dismantling the PA frequently voiced in the media turn serious?
We might find out sooner than expected.
This isn’t my story. But it could have been, and it can be the story of any young Palestinian living in this small besieged part of the world. Only that it bears much more painful profundity being the story of that particular man who chose to be nicknamed “Awsaj”— the Arabic equivalent for Lycium, which is some kind of a thorny shrub that bears red berries and is used sometimes for hedging.
Awsaj is my new friend whom I have met only twice, the first meeting lasting for no more than a quarter of an hour at a mutual friend’s, and the second born out of my initiative to venture out southward to the far eastern areas of Khan Yunis near ‘the Green Line’ (a phrase which refers to the demarcation lines marking the lines between Israel and other territories including the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in 1967). Awsaj is an intelligent human being. He is an angry young man with such a variety of contradictions which, though they can be seen almost everywhere in Gaza, would make any description of him sound like the figment of an eccentric writer’s imagination. To be painstakingly interested in perfumes, to hold a degree in IT studies, and to voraciously read such a fussy amalgam of Jubran Khalil Jibran, Edward Said, Karl Marx, and Marquez, these are all signs of a human being with an especially sophisticated interest. To be, on top of this, a self-sustaining farmer absolutely adds up to an unparalleled elegance.
We arrived at Awsaj’s farmland where, in perfectly farmer-like style, he was diligently ploughing the land with a shovel, and as we hailed him from a distance, he looked up, waved back to us, and wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of one hand, placed the shovel aside with the other, and walked in our direction to welcome us. “He can’t be a farmer,” I said to myself, “he’s trying to look like one!”
Soon he was chopping small pieces of wood to add to the small fire he had just built in order to make us some of his special manually-ground black coffee. I had already formed a considerable admiration for Awsaj, both inspired by and jealous of his exhaustive knowledge, his avidity for reading, his ardent passionate talk and angry criticism of almost everything. We shared several targets of scathing criticism. We were particularly sarcastic about “our” buffoon politicians. These, we agreed, are complete morons whose very presence in the positions they occupy is only a matter of fortune, or the arbitrariness of fate, or, as some would say, demonstrative of the injustice of this world, a world in which it is hard to believe there is any logic at work. It is their job to lead the “country” (a word we use almost always cynically) down the road into, well, the abyss. They are an untouchable gang; mostly silly, possibly educated but unquestionably unthinking, blinded by an absolute loyalty to the party they belong to. “Morons, indeed!” he sighed. They are of two sorts: the openly treacherous, base and self-interested collaborators and, most annoying, the completely delusional. Although they are one step away from, probably unknowingly, following the exact same steps as their lousy predecessors, they never stop indulging in self-aggrandizement and claiming the moral high ground and relentlessly bore you with their unexciting oratory. “You know what,” Awsaj told me, “I have no problem with the first kind of politician. It’s similar to working like a prostitute: although everyone else knows they are one, the prostitute is still okay, possibly even proud, about being one. As simple as that, my friend!”
He was unorthodoxly and harshly critical of parents as fosterers of hypocrisy, mental impotence, personal insecurity... Though at some point, a fiery debate erupted between us over his unwarranted criticism of how people’s relationships are no more governed by affection, care and mutual respect for the other, but rather largely dominated by private interests where, in the normal state of affairs, it should be presumed that hate pre-exists any human communication. Nevertheless, our personalities were largely drawn to each other, and Awsaj made such a favourable impression on all of us.
To be equipped with a critical mindset and a desire to learn and read is enough, at least in our eyes, to make someone worthy of being held in high esteem by their interlocutors. But that’s not the case in a local community that is concerned, first and foremost, with outward appearances and thus can be easily manipulated and mind-controlled, a society that no longer has the slightest appreciation for complaining, outspoken and ungovernable personalities, a society that is highly polarized in politics, social convention and religion and every other field of life, and a society that has no understanding, acceptance or tolerance for the other, or the different. “I am right, and everyone else is wrong. Things should be done my way. This is when victory will come your way. This is when you can liberate Palestine!” Awsaj furiously and succinctly reproduced this doctrine of fanaticism while we both continuously shook our heads in sympathetic agreement.
To have to face these things, however — or, more precisely, to tell yourself that you do — and to display, on top of that, some interest in politics, to steer most of your conversations toward politics in Palestine, essentially saying nothing about the conflict more than stating its most obvious facts (like, for example, ‘not every Jew is a Zionist!’), to always talk to your international ‘friends’ about how Palestinians are craving to live in peace and to simplistically speak of “peace”, time and again, as the solution to ending this conflict as though “peace” per se was not the problem in the first place and as if there actually was unanimous agreement on the meaning of the darned word. Moreover, to have the kuffiyeh wrapped around your neck or flung over your shoulders every now and then, and to stress to your interlocutors the fact that you run a blog, never mind how infrequently you update it or the sort of stuff you post on it, and you are then the very guy who is likely to be identified here as an activist, which is an appealing personality, largely regarded as a promising peace (and potential human rights) champion by roughly everyone working in the field here, particularly by a bunch of foreign journalists with whom you engage in seldom profound, political discussions and who you might win over, but by no means does your knowledge about Palestine, Israel or politics match theirs.
Awsaj is of this type, for which so little space has been left in our society. There is still something much more characteristically appealing about him, i.e. (what he boastfully dubbed) his wide-ranging experience and “history of struggle”. And out of this history, there is one specific experience which Awsaj found himself narrating to his guests that, listening to, we agreed must uniquely underlie this man’s personality, at which I insisted that it would not go unrecorded.
Almost every Palestinian must have been in direct contact with Israel, and by ‘Israel’ I mean Israel as it is referred to by ordinary Palestinians, the occupation and its actual manifestations, its war machine, the military establishment, its rogue army and every other Israeli atrocity it inflicts upon the Palestinians; and every Palestinian, therefore, must have been a direct victim of Israeli crimes. There is no such thing as an indirect victim within the context of the Israeli occupation and its ubiquitous oppression of the Palestinian people, being essentially a conflict between a state (i.e. Israel), on the one hand, and individuals (i.e. Palestinians) on the other. Israel as a state and in the above sense is an enemy of every Palestinian as an individual, as far as they are its direct victims. It’s no big deal therefore when I am told that this old man had spent twenty years in Israeli prisons; that this little boy’s parents were killed during Israel’s last airstrike in Gaza, this old woman’s son was assassinated by Israel in the 1980s; these two kids were traumatized during a night raid by heavily-armed Israeli soldiers in Nabi Saleh, or this student from Gaza has lost their scholarship because they were not allowed to travel, and so on and so forth...
The weighty significance of Awsaj’s experience, I believe, resides in the fact that it encloses within its narrative several Israeli actualities. Whereas most of the endless Palestinian encounters with Israel lose an extremely large share of their actual significance once the real encounter is over and is narrated time and again as a past experience, Awsaj’s experience seems to have acquired vitality and a renewed reality each time he has narrated it since. During his powerful narrative, Israel would borrow such a physical existence that it was no more an abstract entity but had become embodied in the Israeli soldier, the Israeli jeep, and the female officer’s broken Arabic phrases, the Bedouin collaborator, the scars across my friend’s back... The reason? It definitely lies somewhere in relation to Awsaj’s human passion and dramatic eloquence. During the course of his narration, Israel becomes one single intimidating and repulsively antagonistic entity that one will have to face with nothing but piles of pent-up anger and extreme hatred, both securing the last vestiges of their almost lost humanity.
The sun having sunk, we head towards our friend’s home, having already chatted for what seemed to be ages. Straight backed, we walk, gossip and whistle, leaving behind neatly-queued, graceful thyme saplings, four scattered coffee-soiled plastic cups, a dying fire, and several untold stories.
By Mihyedin Iso
With the ongoing bloodshed on the streets of Syrian cities for more than 15 months, members of the international community and the Syrian opposition are preparing for meetings to end this bloodshed. Their aim is to exert pressure on the Assad regime to stop his military machinery, remove his security apparatus from the revolting Syrian towns and villages and reach a consensual political resolution that can be agreed upon by both international and domestic forces.
The international meeting that convened on Saturday, June 30, in Geneva at the suggestion of the UN Envoy Kofi Annan, constituted a turning point in the Syrian crisis and a serious attempt from the international community to find a political resolution that adheres to the ambitions of the Syrian street of moving from political authoritarianism to a civil, democratic and pluralistic state for all Syrians. However, the Syrian opposition is still divided with regards to this international resolution. For while the Syrian National Council is unwilling to accept a resolution short of Bashar Al-Assad stepping down, the internal opposition in Syria, including the National Coordinating Committees and Building the Syrian State Party, sees Al-Assad stepping down as an end result and not as a pre-condition. Also, the western countries have yet to agree on a specific mechanism to guarantee the success of this meeting due to the resistance of the Russians and the Chinese, who have in the past used their veto rights in the UN Security Council.
The Syrian street - that is still paying the price of the western countries' positions and the external and internal divisions among the Syrian opposition and its loss of direction as it faces the internationalization of the Syrian conflict - is still watering the plants of its dreams of freedom and dignity with the blood of Syrians and the suffering of Syrian mothers. Since the breakout of the revolution in March of 2011 and until today, more than 15,000 Syrians were killed, not to mention the thousands detained in the regime's prisons as well as the hundreds of thousands of refugees outside Syrian borders. However, in spite of all the great risks that face every single individual who is involved in revolutionary activities, the uprising continues. The Syrians involved in the people’s movement are still awaiting more involvement from the Syrian opposition in the field and in political campaigns and hope that the opposition can mobilize more international support to stop the massacres of the regime against the defenseless people of Syria.
Cairo’s conference, which was held this Monday, July 2, 2012, hosted by the Arab League of States, has witnessed several extreme clashes between the different factions of the Syrian opposition prior to its convention. This is due to certain thorny issues such as the option of international intervention and arming the Free Syrian Army. These options are accepted by the SNC but are rejected by the internal opposition. According to several Syrian activists, this conference will not have any value added for the Syrian revolution except for the purposes of exchanging points of view by different personalities and factions of the Syrian opposition, in spite of its progressive Covenant Document, which demanded in one of its articles the protection of the rights of national and sectarian minorities in Syria and the establishment of a transitional period which is based on the prevention of any expected outbreak of civil war due to escalating sectarian tensions in the country. This sectarian tension is evident after the massacres which took place in areas mainly occupied by Sunnis, who have accused Alawite villages of carrying on the atrocities and trying to protect the Syrian authorities, which they believe have lost their political and moral legitimacy since the first bullet that was shot at defenseless citizens.
The Syrian opposition, which lived through several decades of injustice, authoritarianism, repression and detention by the Syrian regime, will never shake hands with any of the pillars of this regime, especially those who have Syrian blood on their hands. Additionally, dialogue and the formation of a new national government according to the Geneva conference will be rejected given the current situation. Also, fifty years of security repression and the rupture between the opposition and political work in Syria have forced an environment of mistrust, weakness and inexperience among all the opposition’s factions without any exception. Furthermore, the weakness of the opposition factions’ ability to communicate among each other and with the Syrian street will render making the right decision a difficult task. The opposition will require time to become capable of gaining the political experience to lead the next stage of establishing a Syrian state for all Syrians, away from religious, sectarian or national factions, while facing the escalation of bloodshed and killing and kidnapping operations based on sectarian identities.
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