The recent protests across Iran were primarily centered in working class towns and cities. The outpouring of discontent was not only aimed at President Hassan Rouhani, but also Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Much of the anger is related to Iran’s economic situation, particularly its financial institutions. According to the IMF, Iran’s banks need to urgently undergo restructuring and recapitalization in order to stabilize the country’s economy on macro and micro levels. Corruption is a major underlying factor in the country’s banking woes, including its bank failures. The government is now addressing these issues with the aim of stabilizing the economy, strengthening the banking sector and addressing the economic concerns of the protestors. One striking component of this strategy is the plan of the Iran Privatization Organization to divest shares of privatized banks.
Palestine and Israel
The United States announced this week that it would withhold over half of a $120 million scheduled payment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an international body that has long provided essential services to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. The Administration explained that the move was designed to stimulate reform within the Agency and encourage Arab countries to increase their aid to Palestinians. The White House denied that the decision was a response to the Palestinian leaders’ recent statements that American leadership of the peace process was no longer viable in light of President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, observers fear the slashing of UNRWA’s funding will jeopardize its ability to fund vital services like healthcare and education for the over 2 million Palestinian refugees it supports in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia has announced its plans to build nine desalination plants for more than $530 million. The plants will have capacity of 240,000 cubic meters of water per day and will be completed in less than 18 months. This follows announcements in August detailing the proposed development of resorts on approximately fifty Red Sea islands.
A new book has opened fresh allegations over corruption in regards to the country’s 2022 World Cup bid. The book claims that Qatar’s state TV company beIN Sports agreed a secret $100 million deal with FIFA if Qatar won the bid. The book is due to be released on Wednesday.
Houthi rebels fired another ballistic missile towards Saudi Arabia on Saturday. The group announced the operation on its official TV station al-Masirah, stating that the missile was intended for a military base located in the Southern Saudi province of Najran. Saudi forces said the missile had been intercepted. There were no reports of casualties or damage.
Southern Yemeni separatists declared a state of emergency in the port city of Aden on Sunday and vowed to overthrow the country’s Hadi-led Government. The Southern Resistance Forces (SRF) had been in alliance with the central government and its international backers but seemed to cease those ties amidst mass starvation induced by the Saudi-led blockade. The group stated “The Southern Resistance Forces (SRF) declare a state of emergency in Aden and announce that it has begun the process of overthrowing the legitimate government and replacing it with a cabinet of technocrats.”
Yemen announced on Sunday its first budget since the country descended into armed conflict in 2014. Helped by a $2 billion Saudi deposit into the central bank last week, the government announced that the new budget set total expected revenues in 2018 at $2.22 billion while spending would amount to $3.32 billion. Salaries in Houthi-dominated areas will be limited to only the education and health sectors.
Bahraini police carried out 47 arrests on Sunday in a mass crackdown on what it called “terrorist agents.” Police also transferred the cases of 290 wanted persons and suspects to the public prosecutor’s office. The police claimed that these arrests and charges were targeted at those who had plotted to “assassinate public figures.” The Government accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism inside the country, an accusation that Tehran vehemently denies.
Turkish troops have crossed into Syria’s city Afrin in an attempt to create a five kilometer “safe zone” inside Syria. This comes following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vow to crush Kurdish fighters in Syria. There are reports from the Kurdish militia group YPG that six civilians and three fighters have been killed in Turkish airstrikes.
Near Masnaa in Lebanon, 15 Syrian refugees were found frozen while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Several other members of the group were rescued. Reports suggest that the group was abandoned by smugglers and two smugglers were arrested in connection with the incident.
Despite the ongoing violence in the country, the Syrian government is hoping to revive its tourism industry. Syrian authorities promoted the country at a tourism fair in Spain this past weekend. Syria is home to several important historical sites, including the ruins of Palmyra and Aleppo’s citadel. However, the country’s tourism sector has been decimated since the start of the civil war in 2011.
A Jordanian government spokesman reported that Israel has apologised for the death of two Jordanians, who were killed by a guard at the Israeli embassy in Jordan. Israel refused to prosecute the guard, positing he acted in self-defence. According to diplomatic sources, Israel will be paying $5 million to the Jordanian government as compensation, who will then disburse the funds to the bereaved families.
The United States’ Vice President Mike Pence kicked off his three-country tour in Egypt on Saturday where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the recent U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Pence informed reporters that while Sisi was not on board with President Trump’s decision, the meeting assured Sisi that the Trump Administration was doing everything in its power to ensure a peaceful and satisfactory resolution in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
On Friday, President Sisi officially announced that he would be seeking a second term in the upcoming presidential elections. The former military chief of staff, Sami Anan, also announced his bid for the presidency. Anan, along with human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, are expected to be the two main contenders in the election, however it is unclear whether both will be able to obtain the 25,000 voter endorsements necessary for their candidacy applications. Although President Sisi ensured a free and fair election, many are skeptical and predict that Sisi will undoubtedly win a second term.
Khaled Ali’s candidacy is in danger over a public indecency conviction from last year, and his appeal is scheduled for March 7th, three weeks before the elections. In an interview with Reuters last June, Ali said “If we had fair elections, anyone could defeat Sisi.”
Tunisian security forces killed a senior al-Qaeda member on Saturday. Bilel Kobi was a top aide of Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Kobi has been wanted by Algeria since 1993. The operation was carried out by the Special Unit of the National Guard in western Tunisia near Mount Chaambi, which is considered to be a main base for jihadist groups. Tunisia has been in a state of emergency since November 2015, when a suicide bombing carried out by the Islamic State killed 12 presidential guards.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced on Sunday it would resume pumping oil from the al-Sarah field in al-Wahat district, in Libya’s east. The NOC expects an output of 55,000 barrels per day by Monday. The oil field is owned by Wintershall GmBH, a German subsidiary of BASF, and has been in operation since 1989. Libya’s daily output rose markedly since its historic low point of 200,000 barrels per day in 2016, to over 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2017. Amid political divisions between the Eastern-based government of Khalifa Haftar and Tripoli, this latest move by the Tripoli-based NOC heralds a defeat for the Eastern-based government and highlights its failed attempts to wrest control of the nation’s oil and financial levers away from Tripoli. Officials in the Eastern-based government were not available for comment.