Tour Operator Thomas Cook Collapses
The news offered a rare sign of comity at a time when Iran has been in an escalating cycle of confrontation with its Persian Gulf neighbors and with the United States, including the shooting down of drones, the seizure of tankers and, most recently, an attack on major oil installations in Saudi Arabia.
Officials of the United States and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the region, have blamed Tehran for the Sept. 14 attack on oil facilities in the kingdom, raising the prospect of retaliatory strikes and even war. But so far, the only apparent action they have taken against Tehran is a tightening of economic sanctions.
Iran had accused the British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, of violating maritime regulations in the Strait of Hormuz, but the seizure on July 19 was widely seen as retaliation for the detention of the Iranian vessel.
The legal proceedings against the Stena Impero have concluded, and Iran has decided to waive the allegations of violations, an Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiyee, said at a news conference, according to Iranian and Western news agencies that were present.
The ship had not left Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran, as of midday, and it was not clear how quickly it would set sail. Erik Hanell, chief executive of the tanker’s owner, the shipping company Stena Bulk, told SVT, a Swedish television station, that he hoped it would be a matter of hours.
Iran detained the 23-member crew along with the ship. It released seven of them this month, but the others have remained with the vessel.
The decision to release the ship comes a little more than a week after the attack on the Saudi oil installations. Iran has denied any responsibility for the attack, a sophisticated operation involving some two dozen drones and cruise missiles. The aerial strikes damaged infrastructure and temporarily cut Saudi oil production in half, sending tremors through world markets, but they caused no reported casualties.
The Houthi rebel faction in Yemen’s civil war, a group that is known to use weapons supplied by Iran, has said it carried out the attack against Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing in Yemen for more than four years, killing thousands of people.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said early on Monday that there was “a very high degree of probability” that Iran was responsible for the strikes in Saudi Arabia, and he did not rule out British participation in military retaliation. The topic is sure to be aired this week at the United Nations General Assembly’s annual gathering of heads of government, which will be attended by Mr. Johnson, President Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, among many others.
In May and June, several tankers operating near the Strait of Hormuz were damaged in what the United States said was sabotage by Iranian forces — which Iran also denied. Iran also detained several ships for varying periods of time, notably the Stena Impero, and shot down an American surveillance drone.
Analysts have characterized the attacks — whether carried out by Iran or by one of the armed factions it supports in the Middle East — and ship seizures as Tehran’s demonstration that it has the power to cut off a large part of the world’s energy supplies.
Iran wants relief from punishing sanctions imposed by President Trump since he withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal that restricted the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program. Relations have grown worse since then, as the United States has steadily added more economic penalties, seeking to choke off Iran’s oil sales, the life blood of its economy. In recent months, Iran has taken a series of steps to go beyond the limits imposed by the nuclear accord.
While many other nations, including key American allies, have sided with Iran on the nuclear deal and the sanctions, there is less sympathy for Iran internationally than there was before the recent provocations.
The direct confrontation with Britain began on July 4, when British marines and Gibraltar port officials seized an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, which has since been renamed the Adrian Darya 1. They said the ship was carrying oil to Syria, in violation of a European Union embargo.
Iran denied the allegation and accused the British of concocting the story to act against Tehran at the behest of Washington, though Britain formally opposes the American sanctions.
The government of Gibraltar, a semiautonomous British territory, released the ship six weeks later, and said that it had assurances that the Iranian tanker would not go to Syria. American officials asked that the ship be turned over to them, but the Gibraltar government rejected the request.
It was the end of another day of violent demonstrations in Hong Kong. The tear gas had dispersed and the crowds that had filled the streets were gone. The few demonstrators who remained were scattered around a popular shopping mall and getting ready to leave. Then, a group of men dressed in black rushed in, tackling people and beating them with batons.
Protesters have accused the Hong Kong police of using excessive force throughout the demonstrations that have gripped the city for the past four months. But on the night of Aug. 11, a major shift occurred. For the first time, officers disguised as demonstrators were seen beating protesters and conducting arrests.
Videos of the night went viral. They showed undercover officers hitting protesters with batons and pinning them to the ground, leaving some bleeding profusely. We analyzed footage of the night and spoke to more than a dozen witnesses and protesters who were detained. Lawyers and human rights advocates who watched the images say the police used excessive force to conduct arbitrary arrests.
The Hong Kong police said they had conducted a “decoy operation” targeting a “core group of violent rioters.” But three of the men arrested said they did not know one another, and protests in the area had ended hours before the clash.
One man says he suffered a brain hemorrhage; others had serious bone fractures. Doctors described one injury, a broken arm, as caused by assault. The episode became one more example of police tactics that have infuriated citizens, driving calls for an independent investigation into police misconduct.
When asked about the footage of one of the bloody arrests made that night, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, said that “officers used appropriate force to subdue the man and conduct an arrest.”
Demonstrators said that undercover officers didn’t identify themselves as police, adding to fears that the men had been part of gangs that had attacked demonstrators in recent weeks. According to the Hong Kong police’s guidelines, officers are required to identify themselves before exercising their duties.
SRIRACHA, Thailand — When Thai park rangers raided a popular zoo famous for letting visitors feed and handle tigers, their grisly haul three years ago shocked the world: 1,600 tiger parts, including pelts, amulets fashioned from skins, scores of teeth, 40 dead cubs found in a freezer and 20 more preserved in jars.
Behind the veneer of the Tiger Temple, a zoo run by Buddhist monks, was a business profiting from the illegal trade in tiger parts. Three monks were arrested while trying to escape, and in a highly publicized spectacle 147 tigers were seized and taken to a government-run facility.
The raids were a high-water mark for Thailand in its effort to crack down on animal abuse and the illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts. But since then, the plight of Thailand’s captive tigers has only worsened.
Officials admitted last week that 86 of the seized temple tigers had died in their care, many from stress-related causes. No one from the Tiger Temple ever went to jail for possessing tiger parts or for operating the lucrative unlicensed zoo.
In recent years the number of tigers in captivity — including those remaining in the government’s custody — has tripled to about 2,000, and the number of facilities with captive tigers has grown to 67, with two more under construction, said Edwin Wiek, the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
Since the raids, Thailand’s Department of National Parks has made no effort to stop the spread of hands-on experiences that the temple helped pioneer. Now, at least 20 zoos around the country offer visitors the chance to feed a cub, have a photo taken with a tiger or enter an enclosure.
Animal welfare activists have long urged the government to shutter those tiger zoos that are little more than farms producing animals for the black market.
“The whole system of animal welfare needs to be upgraded in Thailand,” said Tanya Erzinclioglu, who cared for tigers at the Tiger Temple before becoming an animal welfare activist. “They need proper zoo standards. Everyone would have to upgrade, including the Department of National Parks.”
One of the country’s oldest and largest zoos, the Sriracha Tiger Zoo, has more than 300 tigers.
There, piglets and tiger cubs are put together in cages. The smallest cubs and piglets nurse together from a sow or sometimes from a tiger — an echo of the Tiger Temple’s marketing mantra of peaceful coexistence among species.
At an exhibit called “Shoot ‘n Feed,” tourists fire pellet guns at targets above a tiger pen. Direct hits release food to waiting tigers, which fight over the scraps.
Elsewhere, visitors line up to have their photos taken as they bottle-feed cubs. Or they can attend a show where tigers perform tricks, such as jumping through a flaming hoop.
After the raid on the Tiger Temple, Ms. Erzinclioglu founded a nonprofit group, For Tigers, to help raise funds for their welfare and began conducting annual surveys of zoos.
In a July report assessing three dozen zoos open to the public, she concluded that tigers in 74 percent of the facilities were kept in inadequate conditions.
Nearly 60 percent of the zoos had no fresh water for the tigers, she found, and fewer than 20 percent provided spacious enclosures where the animals could move around without restraint or interference from humans.
In some zoos, tigers have been trained by handlers to fear being hit with a stick. Many have had their claws removed.
Ms. Erzinclioglu and her team counted 28 tigers at different zoos that were kept on short chains for hours a day so that tourists could pose with them for photos.
“There are more facilities with tigers than before the Tiger Temple was closed,” she said. “There are good places but overall they are very poor.”
The zoos cater mainly to tourists from Asian countries.
Young tigers are the most popular with visitors. Older tigers that have outgrown their usefulness are often shunted out of sight to smaller cages with concrete floors. They are the most vulnerable to the illegal trade.
It is not difficult to breed tigers in captivity and many zoos produce far more tigers than they need to entertain tourists.
It is, however, illegal to operate a tiger farm in Thailand. Mr. Wiek, who has been tracking the trade for years, says that about 20 facilities should be regarded as farms, not zoos, because more than 80 percent of their animals are tigers and the facilities are actively engaged in breeding them.
Moreover, he said, captive breeding encourages the hunting of wild tigers.
It may seem counterintuitive, but feeding and raising a tiger to adulthood costs more in Thailand than going to the jungle and shooting one. Mr. Wiek said the existence of tiger farms creates a market for tiger parts, which gives poachers an incentive to kill them.
Furthermore, he said, buyers will pay more for a wild tiger than for one that is farmed.
“The farming of tigers is having a direct effect on the wild population,” said Mr. Wiek, who operates a wildlife rescue center and has advisedParliament. “It is much cheaper to go out and shoot one in the wild.”
Tiger skins, bones, penises and other parts are highly desired in China and Vietnam, particularly for use in so-called traditional medicine.
The trade in tiger parts operates so brazenly that at least one company openly offers foreign tourists tiger-bone powder as a supposed health supplement, Mr. Wiek said.
“I cannot remember one case where a zoo that was caught for illegal trafficking or illegal possession actually lost its zoo license,” he said.
The director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office, Kanjana Nitaya, whose office oversees zoos, said all of the country’s zoos meet the requirements of their licenses.
Inspectors frequently visit the zoos and examine the health of the tigers, which they find to be satisfactory, she said.
Unlike the Tiger Temple, which was shut down because it was unlicensed, other zoos offering interaction with tourists have not faced sanctions because they have licenses, she said.
The department’s role is not to regulate what the zoos do with the animals, she said, but to ensure that they zoos take proper care of them.
“It is not our task to tell them their activities,” she said.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are 3,900 wild tigers left on earth, inhabiting isolated fragments of their historic range.
Nearly 3,000 are in India, which has made a concerted effort to protect their habitat and increase their numbers.
Thailand is one of the few remaining countries in Southeast Asia with a viable wild tiger population, which numbers about 250. A small population of tigers was recently discovered in an area of northern Thailand where they had not been present for years.
“There is good news in Thailand,” said Tim Redford, a training coordinator at the Freeland Foundation, an environmental and human rights group. “There are still tigers breeding here. It is not a lost cause yet.”
If captive breeding were to become the last resort for saving the tiger, most of Thailand’s captive tigers would not be good candidates.
Many are inbred and most are a mix of tiger subspecies, including Amur tigers, which are native to Siberia and northern China, and Bengal tigers, which are native to India.
Among those in captivity, there are relatively few Indochinese tigers, the subspecies native to Thailand.
Last week, officials blamed the deaths of the 86 temple tigers on the fact that many were inbred and that some were ill when they were seized in mid-2016.
But it should have been standard procedure to quarantine sick tigers on their arrival. Instead, they were placed in relatively small cages close to each other, where contagious diseases could easily spread.
On Friday, officials invited journalists to the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Breeding Center in Ratchaburi, one of the two facilities where the temple tigers were kept.
The group saw two tigers that might have been from the temple amid rows of empty cages.
“I want to keep them in their best life, happy and living a long time,” said the center’s director, Banpot Maleehuan. “I never neglect them.”
Perhaps the best strategy for closing down disreputable zoos and tiger farms, suggested Mr. Wiek and Mr. Redford, would be to sterilize the inbred and mixed-breed tigers.
A lack of new cubs would curtail feeding and photo opportunities. And over 15 years or so, many problems associated with the tiger zoos and farms would disappear.
“It is the solution,” Mr. Wiek said. “When you cannot enforce the laws you have in place or people are so corrupt, this is probably the only way to stop the breeding of these tigers.”
Navaon Siradapuvadol contributed reporting.
BEIJING — President Xi Jinping was holding a military parade, and the Chinese police wanted me out.
Officer Wang Yong, a veteran of the Beijing security bureau with nervous eyes and amber teeth, came to my door one recent Saturday morning to deliver the news.
“Do you know about the National Day celebrations?” he asked.
I nodded. In early October, Mr. Xi would be the host of a grand celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, along the Street of Eternal Peace, near my apartment.
“You need to leave,” Officer Wang said. “Armed police will be stationed inside for four days.”
As an American journalist based in Beijing for the past four years, I am accustomed to onerous visa rules, hassles at the airport and arbitrary detentions in the countryside.
But never had the police insisted on occupying my home. I imagined a cantankerous bunch of officers spread out on the sofa, poring over books on dissident art and American politics as they smoked the night away.
Officer Wang, strong but slumping, with gray tufts of hair springing from under his navy cap, grew impatient. “Do you understand?” he said. “Don’t you have another place to go?”
Even in quiet times, Beijing can feel stifling: the police, the propaganda, the smog.
But the city is in a state of extreme agitation before Mr. Xi’s parade, a show of strength meant to signal to the United States and other countries that China and its leader, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, are more resilient than ever.
Officials are leading a more extensive security crackdown than usual, perhaps reflecting concerns within the party about threats to social stability, as unrest brews in Hong Kong.
Bomb-sniffing dogs patrol shopping malls. Police and military officers stand guard on street corners. X-ray machines and metal detectors protect entrances to residential buildings, shops and hotels along the parade route.
Even by the standards of an authoritarian government, the rules are strict. The city has imposed bans on flying kites, drones, balloons and captive pigeons, a popular pastime, in many areas. Some Chinese cities are barring officials from consuming alcohol in the run-up to the parade.
Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao, is the unmistakable star of the show, and the streets are filled with bright red propaganda banners urging the public to rally behind him, referring to his call for a “new era” of centralized control and his vision of a “Chinese dream” of economic prosperity.
“Seek happiness for the Chinese people, seek rejuvenation for the Chinese nation,” one banner says.
“Everybody is a witness, pioneer and builder of the new era,” reads another.
“We are all chasing the dream,” proclaims a third.
Since early September, the authorities have placed my entire neighborhood, not far from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, on lockdown. Roads are blocked, and the internet has slowed to a crawl. Security officers pat me down every time I enter my apartment building, morning and night.
On weekends, during rehearsals for the parade, tanks rumble down the street and fighter jets and helicopters patrol the skies, carrying red hammer-and-sickle flags as cargo.
The police have imposed curfews, requiring residents to return to their homes by 5 p.m., and lock windows and close curtains by 8. Police officers sleep in the hallways of apartment buildings to ensure the rules are followed.
In messages slipped under my door, the authorities thanked me for my cooperation in the security campaign, known as “safe and sound Beijing.” But the checks were tedious and exhausting, another reminder of the strength of the police state in China, where surveillance cameras and facial-recognition technology are used to spy on citizens on a huge scale.
Yet many of my Chinese friends are indifferent, even proud. When the Beijing government posted an online notice detailing nightmarish traffic disruptions, internet users rejoiced.
“I look forward to the grand military parade,” said one of the most popular comments on WeChat, a popular messaging app, punctuated by three thumbs-up emoticons. “My country is amazing.”
On a recent afternoon, I walked to Tiananmen Square, the site of the government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989. The parade was set to culminate in Tiananmen, though this painful chapter in modern Chinese history would not be discussed, in keeping with the party line.
Outside the Forbidden City, which is just north of Tiananmen Square, many people told me the parade was another sign of China’s growing military and economic prowess.
“China now ranks top in the world,” said Wang Wanting, 22, a university student in Beijing. “China will get stronger and stronger and surpass the United States.”
Nearby, Li Peiqin, a food delivery worker, sat on his scooter, watching tourists wander around the gates of the Forbidden City.
Mr. Li said he moved to Beijing last month from the southern province of Guangdong so that he could experience two things: the snow and Mr. Xi’s parade. He had stocked up on instant noodles and rice in anticipation. He said he was most looking forward to the cannons and fighter jets, which are expected to be featured alongside intercontinental ballistic missiles, drones and other weapons.
“China needs to better protect itself,” he said.
I walked to a nearby park. A propaganda sign now hung at the entrance: “Let patriotism become every Chinese person’s firm belief and spiritual sustenance.”
Inside, construction workers napped on benches. Small groups of chain-smoking men played poker, shouting obscenities as they slapped cards on the table.
“They can’t stop our games,” a retiree, Xu Jin, said of the security crackdown, as he anted up 35 renminbi, or about $5.
With the curfew approaching, I headed home. From my window, I could see police officers gathering on nearby rooftops, assembling tents and surveying the neighborhood through binoculars.
At 8 p.m., I closed my curtains, following police orders. About a half-hour later, Officer Wang was at my door, more brusque than before.
“Didn’t I tell you there was an exercise today?” he asked. “Why didn’t you close your curtains?”
I explained that I had, but Officer Wang, incredulous, stepped into my living room to inspect. “Keep them closed,” he said, storming out.
In the days that followed, Officer Wang called my cellphone to remind me I needed to leave and to ask where I would go. It was clear that there was no room for negotiation, that I had no choice but to obey the rules.
One day, I awoke to a rainbow-colored tapestry outside my window. The authorities had hung 40 lines of red, blue, green and yellow flags between two buildings that overlooked my street. The flags were most likely aimed at blocking views of Mr. Xi and the weapons, but they were decidedly out of place, an irreverent diversion from the sea of black-and-gray office buildings that surround my home.
I watched one day as a group of visiting Tibetan monks wandered over to the multicolor display, seemingly amused by its likeness to traditional prayer flags.
As police officers patrolled the neighborhood and office workers submitted to pat-downs, the monks stood before the flags and smiled blissfully, snapping selfies in the late-summer sun.
CAIRO — Under the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, so little dissent is allowed — and what little there is comes at such a high price — that when just a few hundred people across the country called for Mr. el-Sisi’s ouster in a burst of scattered protests on Friday night, it came as a shock.
The apparent trigger for the demonstrations was almost as unexpected: Mohamed Ali, a 45-year-old construction contractor and part-time actor who says he got rich building projects for the Egyptian military and then left for Spain to live in self-imposed exile, where he began posting videos on social media accusing Mr. el-Sisi of corruption and hypocrisy.
In the three weeks since his first video appeared, Mr. Ali has reinvented himself as a whistle-blower, an el-Sisi antagonist and a protest guru, and his tales of corruption at the top have transformed him into a leading voice of opposition to the president. When the protests erupted, it was at the time and date Mr. Ali had urged from afar.
But the extent, and durability, of Mr. Ali’s out-of-nowhere influence — and his ability to spur further demonstrations — remains to be seen. His surge from obscurity to prominence has also raised questions in Egypt about whether his sudden fame has been helped along or exploited by powerful interest groups in the country, inside or outside the government.
“It is sort of odd,” said Amy Hawthorne, the deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “Who is this person, who is he connected to, what led him to come out with these allegations now? Obviously he’s very well connected, but who exactly are his connections?”
To at least some protesters, Mr. Ali was less an inspiration than an opportunity to vent their frustrations.
“I protested because the way Sisi is ruling is wrong and disgraceful,” said Ali Mohamed, 19, a resident of the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Boulaq who live-streamed some of the Tahrir Square demonstrations on Friday. “Egypt deserves better than for its land to be sold out or for its people to be imprisoned.”
He added: “People were just waiting for the opportunity to protest — Mohamed Ali’s videos are not the real reason why they did. The reason is that people wanted to take action.”
On Saturday evening, about 200 protesters in the Red Sea city of Suez were met with police officers firing rubber bullets, according to posts on social media and a witness.
In Cairo, however, there did not appear to be any signs of further protests. The police pre-emptively flooded Tahrir Square on Saturday, where mass demonstrations during the Arab Spring eight years ago brought down President Hosni Mubarak and raised hopes for democratic change.
The test of just how deep Mr. Ali’s influence is could come as soon as this week. In a video posted Saturday evening, Mr. Ali called for a new round of protests against Mr. el-Sisi to take place this coming Friday.
“We should stop making gods out of presidents,” he said in the video, exhorting the military to remove Mr. el-Sisi from power.
Though the police did not kill any protesters on Friday, the security forces have not hesitated to use deadly force in the past, and Mr. el-Sisi is likely to order a swift and thorough crackdown if the protests persist.
Since coming to power in a 2013 military takeover, Mr. el-Sisi has cemented his hold through harsh repression that has silenced critics and curtailed free speech.
An Egyptian monitoring group, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, said on Sunday that at least 274 people had been arrested at the protests, and that some demonstrators had reported being beaten and tear-gassed.
Given the gravity of the possible consequences, observers were stunned that protesters had dared to show up at all, apparently moved by little more than a man with a webcam waging a campaign against Mr. el-Sisi from the safety of Spain.
But the Facebook videos Mr. Ali posts under the name “Mohamed Ali Secrets” have become must-see TV among young, social media-savvy Egyptians, who tune in every day or two to watch him talk to the camera, chain-smoking as he cheerfully insults Mr. el-Sisi as a “midget” and a “disgrace.” There have been at least 35 so far.
In working-class, colloquial and often profane Arabic, he muses on the military’s growing domination of the Egyptian economy. He complains of being owed millions of dollars by the government for construction work. He accuses Mr. el-Sisi of wasting government funds on vanity projects like multimillion-dollar presidential palaces.
“The system has made us all corrupt,” he said in one video. “We are going to change that system and install a proper one.”
Mr. Ali’s gravel-voiced exposés have resonated with many Egyptians, who have watched Mr. el-Sisi erect enormous building projects while their own finances collapse. The government reported in July that one in three Egyptians were living in poverty.
The video monologues have been repeatedly taken down from Facebook, under unclear circumstances, but not before accumulating millions of views. On Twitter, Egyptians joked that his episodes were better than Netflix.
Then last week, Mr. Ali called for viewers to take to the streets Friday evening after a soccer game between two popular Egyptian teams. That appeared to let loose hundreds of Egyptians — many of them young, working-class men — who participated in protests in a scattering of cities around the country, including in Tahrir Square and the poor neighborhood of Warraq Island in Cairo, as well as in Alexandria, Suez and El-Mahalla El-Kubra.
But beyond the fact that the protests erupted when Mr. Ali called for them, theories far outweighed the available information about his precise role. Some observers speculated Mr. Ali may be a puppet controlled, at least in part, by another entity, possibly people in Mr. el-Sisi’s government who are seeking to undermine or even overthrow the president, who is out of the country attending the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“The entire thing is a little bit fishy,” said Khaled Dawoud, a longtime journalist and spokesman for one of Egypt’s all-but-defunct opposition parties. “He didn’t introduce himself as a politician. He’s more like a whistle-blower, and suddenly he decided to turn into a revolutionary leader.”
Others wondered whether the protests had truly been spontaneous, or if they had been orchestrated by opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that Mr. el-Sisi has sought to throttle ever since he came to power in a coup that deposed President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood who was also Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
Mr. Dawoud said the opposition, which has lost much of its leadership to prison or self-imposed exile, was waiting to see how the protests evolved — and to identify who exactly was protesting — before jumping in.
Those who support the president say the Brotherhood is likely to be quietly organizing the protests. Though public opinion is difficult to gauge accurately in Egypt, they say many Egyptians support Mr. el-Sisi’s economic overhauls and the stability he has brought in a time of turmoil across the region.
“The trains go and run on time. We lacked that for two and a half years,” said Moataz Abdel Fattah, a pro-Sisi political scientist. “The great majority of Egyptians would say, ‘No, hold on, you cannot drive the country into some sort of waterfall.’”
Most protesters on Friday appeared to be young men in their teens or early 20s, who were children during the upheavals of 2011 and 2013, when protests brought down two successive presidents.
Good-looking and fit, Mr. Ali may be seen as something of a folk hero, analysts said — an uneducated man who made millions and who is now riding to the rescue of the working classes. He does not speak like a democracy activist or a politician, but like one of them — or, perhaps, who they would like to be.
“He resonates with a wider sector of Egyptians in a way that no one before him ever did,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “They look at him and see a successful version of themselves.”
It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Ali exudes on-camera charisma. A movie in which he stars and also produced, about young Egyptians making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, won the 2019 Outstanding Art for Peace prize at the Luxembourg Peace Prize awards in June.
But Mr. Ali’s motivations remain murky, as do his exact whereabouts in Spain. In an article published in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair in July, he said that he decided to settle in Barcelona and pursue business projects there after a vacation in the area.
He could not be reached for comment.
His credibility with Egyptians is, if anything, greater because he profited from the very system to which he is now taking a sledgehammer, and because he does not seem motivated by ideology.
“He’s not a person from the opposition that seemed to have an ax to grind,” said Michele Dunne, the director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He’s seen as a bit of a common man, not an elite figure speaking to them about abstract elite concepts.”
Mr. el-Sisi may have helped legitimize Mr. Ali as an opposition figure with a recent speech in which he addressed but did not refute his claims.
“Yes, I have built presidential palaces, and will build more,” he said. “I will continue to do more and more, but not for me. Nothing is in my name. It is in Egypt’s name.”
JERUSALEM — After 27 years of sitting out decisions on who should lead Israel, Arab lawmakers on Sunday recommended that Benny Gantz, the centrist former army chief, get the first chance to form a government over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a watershed assertion of political power.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed published on Sunday that the alliance’s 13 incoming lawmakers — the third-largest faction in the newly elected Parliament — had decided to recommend Mr. Gantz because it would “create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu.”
“It should be the end of his political career,” Mr. Odeh wrote.
The Arab lawmakers’ recommendation, which Mr. Odeh and other members of the Joint List delivered to President Reuven Rivlin in a face-to-face meeting Sunday evening, reflected Arab citizens’ impatience to integrate more fully into Israeli society and to have their concerns be given greater weight by Israeli lawmakers.
“There is no doubt a historic aspect to what we are doing now,” Mr. Odeh said in the meeting with the president, which was broadcast live.
Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party responded furiously to the Joint List’s recommendation, continuing an anti-Arab campaign as if the election was yet to take place.
“There are now two options,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video clip soon after the meeting between members of the Joint List and the president. “Either there will be a minority government that relies on those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists who murder our soldiers and civilians, or there will be a broad national government.”
“I know what the answer is and so do you,” he continued, “which is why I will work as hard as I can to form a broad national unity government.”
There was no immediate word from Mr. Gantz or his Blue and White party.
The Joint List’s recommendation was a striking act of comeuppance for Mr. Netanyahu, who for years had rallied his right-wing supporters by inflaming anti-Arab sentiments. Before the Sept. 17 election, he accused Arab politicians of trying to steal the election and at one point accused them of wanting to “destroy us all.”
Israeli Arabs “have chosen to reject Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade,” Mr. Odeh wrote in the Op-Ed for The Times.
It was all the more surprising that the Arab lawmakers chose to end a quarter-century of noninvolvement by endorsing Mr. Gantz, a former army chief of staff. He led a devastating, 50-day war against the militant groups in Gaza five years ago. Blue and White has three former military chiefs in its top four slots, who appeared in a past campaign video in full battle dress.
In a further gesture of outreach to the Israeli mainstream, Mr. Odeh quoted from Psalms 118:22, telling Mr. Rivlin, in Hebrew, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone” — a verse cited in Jewish and Christian scriptures and liturgies.
Still, even though the Joint List recommended that Mr. Gantz be asked first to form a government, Mr. Odeh wrote that the group would not itself enter a government led by Mr. Gantz because he had not agreed to embrace its entire “equality agenda.”
That agenda consists of various positions, among them, changing housing and planning laws to treat Arab and Jewish neighborhoods the same; resuming peace talks with the Palestinians; and repealing the law passed last year that declared Israel the nation-state only of the Jewish people.
Also, one of several predominantly Arab parties making up the Joint List, Balad, which accounts for three of the alliance’s 13 seats, opposed recommending Mr. Gantz. Its representatives did not attend the meeting with the president. Some Arab lawmakers described Mr. Gantz as a “default choice.”
The last time Arab lawmakers recommended a prime minister was in 1992, when two Arab parties with a total of five seats in Parliament recommended Yitzhak Rabin — another former chief of staff — though they did not join his government.
“We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored,” Mr. Odeh wrote.
In the 1992 election, Mr. Rabin initially held a narrow majority in the 120-seat Knesset even without the Arab parties’ support, though he came to rely on it a year later after Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party, quit the government when Mr. Rabin signed the Oslo peace accords.
Mr. Odeh wrote that the decision to support Mr. Gantz was meant as “a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Palestinian citizens.”
Mr. Gantz narrowly edged the prime minister in the national election last Tuesday. Afterward, both candidates called for unity, but differed on how to achieve it.
The former army chief appears to lack a 61-seat majority even with the Joint List’s support.
He emerged from the election with 57 seats, including those of allies on the left and the Joint List, compared with 55 seats for Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies.
Some analysts questioned whether Balad’s three seats would ultimately be counted as being on Mr. Gantz’s side, since Balad refused to endorse him, potentially leaving Mr. Gantz with only 54 supporters.
Avigdor Liberman, leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won eight seats, is in position to be a kingmaker, but said on Sunday that he would not recommend any candidate. He said Mr. Odeh and the Joint List were not merely political opponents, but “the enemies” and belonged in the “Parliament in Ramallah,” not in the Knesset.
Mr. Liberman said that Mr. Gantz called him on Sunday night, and that the pair agreed to meet on Monday.
Mr. Rivlin began hearing the recommendations of each major party Sunday evening and was to finish on Monday, before entrusting the task of forming a government to whichever candidate he believes has the best chance of being successful.
In remarks at the start of that process, Mr. Rivlin said the Israeli public wanted a unity government including both Blue and White and Likud.
On paper, the Joint List’s recommendation increases the chances that Mr. Rivlin will give Mr. Gantz the first crack at forming a government.
But analysts said the postelection imbroglio was far from resolved.
In deciding who is better placed to form a viable and stable coalition, Mr. Rivlin may take more than the basic numbers of recommendations into consideration, according to experts. In addition to Balad’s non-endorsement, he could, for example, take into account the Joint List’s broader refusal to join a Gantz-led government in weighing Mr. Gantz’s prospects.
In any case, there are risks for both Mr. Gantz and Mr. Netanyahu in being the first to try to form a government, and analysts were already parsing the pros and cons of going first. Each might prefer their rival to try first and fail, in the hope that the second time around, it may be easier to persuade potential partners to cooperate in order to prevent a third election.
For Mr. Gantz, there could be an additional advantage in waiting: Mr. Netanyahu is facing a looming indictment in three corruption cases on accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and he could be charged in the coming weeks or months.
LONDON — The tour operator and airline Thomas Cook said on Monday that it had collapsed, forcing hundreds of thousands of travelers to scramble to find a way home, after last-minute negotiations to obtain necessary financing for the debt-ridden company fell apart.
“We are sorry to announce that Thomas Cook has ceased trading with immediate effect,” the company said in a post on Twitter, and the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain said that all Thomas Cook bookings, including flights and vacations, had been canceled, affecting an estimated 600,000 people around the world.
The liquidation of the world’s oldest travel company, which specialized in low-cost package vacations that included flights and accommodation in more than 60 destinations around the world, has set in motion what was being described as the biggest peacetime repatriation in British history, as the government announced plans to bring back 150,000 Britons.
The Civil Aviation Authority said that the first repatriation flight had left from Kennedy Airport in New York with more than 300 passengers on board and was expected to land at about 5 p.m. in London.
Thomas Cook was struggling with debts approaching £2 billion, forcing it to enter negotiations with shareholders and creditors that came at least £200 million short of what was needed to keep the company running. With no other choice, the company ceased operations.
Before the collapse, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would not intervene to save the airline, adding that doing so would create a “moral hazard” because the possibility of a government bailout could encourage other companies to take risks.
Condor, an airline that is a subsidiary of Thomas Cook, said it was seeking financial help from the German government to keep its planes in the air after the collapse of the company, which impacted around 140,000 German travelers.
Condor said that it had been “profitable for many years” and that a loan from the German government would help it fly back those German travelers who were scheduled to fly with Condor anyway. Those Germans who flew with other Thomas Cook affiliates will also be covered by the insurance mandatory for operators of package tours.
The Civil Aviation Authority said it was working with the government to support passengers scheduled to fly back to Britain with Thomas Cook between Monday and Oct. 6, the agency said in a statement on its website, though the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, cautioned that what is known as “Operation Matterhorn” would not “be entirely smooth sailing.”
The BBC reported that the government had chartered 45 jets to get people home. Airlines including easyJet, British Airways and Virgin were providing planes, the BBC said, with some being flown in from as far away as Malaysia.
The aviation authority told passengers who were booked on Thomas Cook Airlines flights not to go to British airports, “as your flight will not be operating,” and warned that the repatriation effort would not include any outbound flights from Britain.
It also noted that it had contacted the hotels hosting Thomas Cook customers, who booked their accommodation as part of a package, to tell them that the cost of their stay will also be covered by the government. The announcement alleviated fears that travelers would be unable to leave their hotels until payment was settled.
On Saturday, some British tourists described being stopped from checking out of their hotel in Tunisia over concerns the hotel might not be paid.
The effects of the collapse will ripple out far from Britain, the headquarters of Thomas Cook. In Greece, where 50,000 vacationers are expected to be repatriated to their home countries in the coming days, there are fears about the effect of the company’s collapse on the local economy.
Michalis Vlatakis, the head of Crete’s union of tour operators, described the developments as a “7-magnitude earthquake,” adding that the local tourism sector was now “waiting for the tsunami.”
About 70 percent of tour operators on Crete have contracts with Thomas Cook, he said, adding that so far this year the British company brought 400,000 visitors to the island, and other islands that are even more reliant on tourism.
Layton Roche and Natalie Wells booked flights more than a year ago from Manchester to Kos, a Greek island, for their Friday wedding, and they said they had been forced to improvise after the collapse turned their plans into chaos.
“I have been awake for 28 hours now,” Mr. Roche, a 30-year-old civil engineer, said in a message on Monday, while he and Ms. Wells, 31, were on their way to Birmingham to find an alternative flight.
The couple had already paid about 4,000 pounds, or about $5,000, for alternative flights for themselves and some family members, and they were expecting to spend another £2,000 for their accommodation.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” Mr. Roche said, adding that around 80 percent of the guests would not be able to make it because of the extra costs.
Mr. Roche said he expected a wait of at least three months before being able to claim money through the Air Travel Organizer’s License, a program that protects most package vacations sold by travel businesses based in Britain.
The failure of Thomas Cook touched off a debate in Britain over whether the government should have intervened to prevent the collapse. Speaking to the British television network ITV, Mr. Shapps, the transport secretary, said that beyond the fact that “governments don’t usually go around investing in travel companies,” a bailout of Thomas Cook would most likely have only put off the inevitable by “stretching things out for a couple of weeks.”
“The company were asking for up to £250 million,” he said on “Good Morning Britain.” “They needed about £900 million on top of that, and they’ve got debts of £1.7 billion, so the idea of just spending taxpayers’ money on that just wasn’t really a goer.”
The company’s struggles have been building, and Thomas Cook warned that it had endured an especially difficult time in the six-month period ending in March.
Peter Fankhauser, the chief executive of Thomas Cook, cited a prolonged heat wave in the summer of 2018 that brought high prices in the Canary Islands, a popular destination for the tour operator.
But he also noted that, “there is now little doubt that the Brexit process has led many U.K. customers to delay their holiday plans for this summer.”
The travel operator got its start in 1841, when a cabinet maker — and the man for whom the company is named — suggested a special route to carry temperance supporters from Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough, 12 miles away.
The company later expanded with trips to continental Europe and North America, and, according to its website, had sales of £7.8 billion and 19 million customers each year.
Visitors to the company’s website on Monday were greeted with a sparse gray screen with the company’s logo informing them of the collapse. “Thomas Cook UK Plc and associated UK entities have entered Compulsory Liquidation and are now under the control of the Official Receiver,” the website read, instructing customers to visit a special Civil Aviation Authority website that had been established.
Most British travelers on package vacations should be able to get home without suffering any financial loss. British law requires that those trips be insured under the Air Travel Organizer’s License, which is intended to reimburse travelers if their tour operator stops doing business. But those who only bought flights from Thomas Cook do not have the same protections and will be more reliant on personal travel insurance.
Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, said in a statement that the government intended to convene a task force to support the thousands of Thomas Cook employees who will lose their jobs.
“This will be a hugely worrying time for employees of Thomas Cook, as well as their customers,” Ms. Leadsom said. “Government will do all it can to support them.”
The government also said that it would push to expedite an investigation into the circumstances around the company’s going into liquidation.
Two years ago, Monarch, another British carrier and tour operator, collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 passengers stranded abroad and forcing the government to step in to bring them home.