President Erdoğan issued a controversial decree on emergency rule, published in the Official Gazette on December 24th, with a provision granting immunity to anyone resisting “terrorists” or working against attempts to overthrow the government. Critics fear the law will embolden Erdoğan loyalists and legitimate political violence. Among the decree’s detractors is former President Abdullah Gül, a member of Erdoğan’s party who voiced his opposition after Friday prayers on December 29th.
Focused on further honing Turkish security measures against terrorists, the Turkish security sector was engaged in a major crackdown on ISIS jihadists in the country ahead of the new year celebrations. Turkish police arrested at least 75 suspected members of the terrorist organization in the cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Last year at least 39 people were killed and dozens more were injured as a result of an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. Approximately 715 suspected ISIL supporters were arrested between September 1, 2017 and September 26, 2017.
In the eastern Ghouta region in Syria, critically ill patients were evacuated after the Syrian government approved the evacuation of 30 civilians in critical condition to receive medical attention. Eastern Ghouta holds 400,000 residents under regime siege.
President Bashar Assad reorganized his government on Monday replacing key members of his government including ministers of industry, information and defense. The reshuffling came as different parts of Syria experienced high levels of violence, such as eastern Damascus. The fighting was between government forces and al-Qaeda linked fighters who were able to capture parts of a military installation. Syrian rebels also launched a series of attacks on other neighborhoods, including Aleppo, killing and injuring a large number of people.
The Egyptian government has claimed victory in the December 29 attack that left nine people dead outside Mar Mina church in Helwan, a southern suburb of Cairo. The attacker was prevented from entering the holy site, prompting the security services to proclaim their success. After the shooting the gunman was filmed walking the streets unopposed, and security forces took ten minutes to respond. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately, praising the gunman on its propaganda site Aamaq. Videos of the attack and its aftermath, and the government’s handling of the event have prompted critical outrage on Egyptian social media.
Clashes in Iran continued through the night of December 31st, leaving more than twelve dead since the protests first erupted five days ago. The largest public protests since the 2009 Green Movement erupted across the country last week over economic concerns and a pushback challenging the rule of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The protests have spread both geographically and politically with cities and towns across the country participating in the daily protests, including in Tehran, Hamadan, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Dorud, Mashad, Kermanshah and Kerman. Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, stated that the Iran people should have the right to protest and express their discontent. Nonetheless, he warned that violence is unacceptable. Approximately, 200 hundred protesters have been arrested so far.
While the Islamic State appears largely defeated in Northern Iraq, families are still struggling to find their missing loved ones. In Mosul alone over 3,000 people are missing, while nationwide up to 20,000 people are being held in Iraqi jails. Some families report that their loved ones did not disappear until after the city had been liberated from the Islamic State, calling into question the methods and efficacy of the Iraqi government.
The Saudi government accused the United Nations of bias following a statement which described the Kingdom’s war in Yemen as “absurd.” The UN official’s comments came after an ten day period of intense bombardment in which more than 100 civilians were killed. This latest round of coalition strikes was in response to a Houthi ballistic missile launch which reached the Saudi capital.
The residents of Saudi Arabia have long enjoyed a tax free and heavily subsidized living standard. However, as of January 1, 2018, the government has introduced a value added tax (VAT). Due to slumping oil prices, the country is seeking to spur economic reform, diversification and further stabilize its economic conditions. This tax will be imposed on an array of commodities, including: food, clothes, fuel, entertainment, and electronics, as well as telephone, water and electricity bills.
The royal palace in Jordan denied rumors about the dismissal of Jordanian princes, days after King Abdullah relieved his brothers of top army posts as part of a move to restructure the military. The Palace also warned of legal action against those who propagate lies that aim to create a divide between Jordanians and the ruling family. Between 2012 and 2017, the King issued a series of seven discussion papers which chart a sweeping course for Jordan’s democratic reform, yet the military and the monarchy have long been taboo for the state-controlled media. The Jordanian dynasty has a history of using gag orders to quell public discussion of matters deemed sensitive to the palace.
Israel & Palestine
Israel’s transportation and intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, last week proposed the creation of a railway line in Jerusalem’s Old City, with a stop to be named after US President Donald Trump. The railway would be an extension of a nearly-completed 15-year project to build an express line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Katz argued that the naming of a new station would honor the President for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, such a project—by digging below territory disputed by Israelis and Palestinians—could further exacerbate tensions between the sides and harm the prospects of the apparently already-moribund peace process.
In other news, the Central Committee of Israel’s governing Likud party unanimously adopted a resolution calling on its leadership to seek the formal annexation of the West Bank. While the decision is non-binding, Prime Minister Netanyahu refrained from intervening in its passage, a notable move in light of his previous tendency to block the discussion of similar symbolic but diplomatically-fraught issues.
At the same time, the Israeli government approved a cooperation agreement with the European Union that provides EU funding only to Israeli areas within the pre-1967 borders—an effective boycott of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The EU’s Cross Border Cooperation in the Mediterranean program grants EU financial aid to a number of socio-economic development projects in several Mediterranean basin countries, including Israel and the Palestinian Territories.