Weekly Roundup: Gulf nations express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi case, Iran moves to impose restrictions on terror financing, and Turkish authorities release detained US pastor


Bahrain

Bahrain released a statement on October 14th expressing solidarity with Riyadh amidst accusations against Saudi Arabia of murdering prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmad, also called for a boycott of Uber via Twitter after the company’s CEO decided to pull out of an upcoming business conference in Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi.

 

Egypt

Almost 100 people have been sentenced to death in Egypt this week. On October 14th, three men were sentenced to death on for their involvement in the murder of at least ten Egyptian policemen between August 2013 and May 2014. They were also charged with forming a militant group called Ansar al-Sharia with at least a dozen others. On October 11th, 17 people were sentenced to death for their involvement in church attacks that killed upwards of 70 people between 2016 and 2017. At least four members of Daesh were also sentenced to death.

On October 10th, police detained Mohammad Morsi’s son Abdullah on charges of spreading false news after discussing his father’s detention in an October 2nd interview. Abdullah was released on bail after several hours of questioning.

 

Iran

On October 7th, the Iranian parliament approved new measures against funding terrorism, changes that officials hope will move the country closer to global norms and remove the country from investment blacklists as Iran faces renewed U.S. sanctions starting November 4th. Hardliners in Iran oppose such measures, fearing reductions in Iranian support to allies such as Hezbollah. The vote succeeded after a speech by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in which he announced, “the parliament faces a historic decision … to act along the interests of the nation and take away any future excuses from the United States (to pressure Iran).”

The measures must be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council, which holds a more hardline position than the parliament. Should the Guardian Council reject the legislation, it will be up to the Expediency Council to decide the fate to the anti-terror funding measures. The bill represents the last remaining piece of legislation that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global anti-money laundering body, demands of Iran in order to fulfill its Action Plan. FATF has given Tehran until October to complete reforms or face consequences that could further deter investors from the country.

 

Iraq

Prime Minister-incumbent Adil Abdul-Mahdi is forming a new cabinet and has invited candidates to apply. Over 15,000 Iraqis have expressed their interest in joining the new government. On October 11th, Iraq’s government named former Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi head of a new National Oil Company, which will oversee the organization of disparate state oil companies.

Nadia Murad became the first Iraqi to win a Nobel Peace Prize on October 5th. Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist, is known for her capture and detention by the Islamic State. She earned the award for her global human rights activism.  

 

Jordan

On October 15th, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat expressed support on behalf of the Jordanian government for Saudi Arabia amid the investigation into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. Ghunaimat spoke to the importance of Saudi Arabia in maintaining stability and peace in the region, as well as in strengthening regional economic security.

Jordanian and Syrian authorities officially reopened the Nassib border crossing on October 15th, an event expected to economically revitalize both Syria and Jordan. Currently, Jordanian citizens can cross into Syria in private cars. Syrians coming into Jordan must provide valid travel and security clearance documents. Shipments moving from Jordan to Syria are subject to inspection, but Syrians with authenticated investor cards are authorized to enter Jordan in private vehicles without prior approval.

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz began a cabinet reshuffle on October 11th, aiming to speed economic reforms tied to IMF loans. The sweeping personnel changes also aim to address public concerns over corruption. The heads of the Interior, Foreign, and Finance Ministries, all powerful positions, retained their posts.

 

Kuwait

On October 15th, Kuwait announced its support for neighboring Saudi Arabia amidst international scrutiny over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. Officials urged the public to wait until the relevant parties have concluded their investigation before any further action and protested current accusations against Riyadh.

 

Lebanon

Prime Minister Hariri’s self-proclaimed deadline for forming the Lebanese government has passed, and the international sphere is beginning to express their concerns. President Aoun and French President Emmanuel Macron met in Yerevan on October 12th, where President Macron told President Aoun that he hoped the government would be formed quickly. The British Ambassador to Lebanon, Chris Rampling, expressed similar sentiments. President Aoun later retorted that the formation of the government is a “Lebanese issue.”

On Monday, October 15th, 835 Syrian refugees registered with the Lebanese General Security to return to Syria and took buses provided by the Syria government to the border. The refugees will cross into Syria at the Masnaa, Al-Zamarani, and Abboudieh border crossings. In September, Major General Abbas Ibrahim claimed that 50,000 Syrian returnees have left Lebanon, and that the number could increase to 200,000 within a year. This number, however, is much higher than the United Nations’ and General Security’s previously reported numbers.

 

Libya

Four Libyans were killed and a dozen others wounded in clashes against Chadian rebels in southwestern Libya. Local media sources said the clashes took place after a recent abduction of local residents by the Chadian the rebels. A security vacuum in Libya’s south has left the area open and vulnerable to kidnapping and crime from competing militias and rebel groups from neighboring countries.

 

Morocco

Germany deported a Moroccan associate of the 9/11 hijackers on October 15th after he served most of a 15-year jail term for helping organize the 2001 attacks. Mounir El Motassadeq was a member of a group of extremists based in the northern German city of Hamburg who helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks. German media reported that Motassadeq was taken to Frankfurt to be deported to Morocco, where his family lives.

 

Qatar

On October 13th, the Taliban has released a statement confirming a meeting with U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and other senior U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar with the aim of ending the 17-year Afghan war. The meeting came after the Trump administration ordered the State Department to kick-start direct peace talks with the militant group in July. Although neither the United States nor the Taliban agreed to each other’s immediate demands, they both agreed to continue meeting in an effort to end the conflict, one Taliban source said.

 

Palestine/ Israel

The Israeli government approved a $6.1 million project to build Jewish settlements in Hebron on October 14th, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Upon completion, the project will see the construction of 31 settler homes and two kindergartens. Hebron is currently populated by 200,000 Palestinians and 800 settlers who live under the protection of the Israeli army. Peace Now, an NGO which monitors Israeli settlement construction in the Palestinian territories, released a statement asserting that the land legally belongs to the Palestinian municipality of Hebron and has filed an appeal of the decision.

Israel’s Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal of Lara Alqasem, an American graduate student registered at Hebrew University who has been detained since October 2nd. She arrived with a valid student visa but was denied entry to Israel after questioning regarding her political activities in the boycott movement against Israel and her Palestinian heritage. 300 American academics have called on Israel to allow Alqasem entry, stating that detainment based on “political beliefs or ethnic heritage is an attack on academic freedom.”

 

Syria

Militants in Syria voiced support for a demilitarized zone in the country’s final opposition stronghold of Idlib, even as they appeared to defy an internationally brokered deadline for their withdrawal. A September 17th deal between Russia and Turkey called for heavy weapons and Islamist militant groups to withdraw from the buffer zone buffer zone. As the deadline passed on October 15th, monitoring groups said that although a bloc of Turkey-backed rebels had withdrawn their weapons, the province’s most extreme militants were still there. The al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is expected to grudgingly comply. In recent days, HTS has toned down its resistance to the deal, but has so far refused to give up fighting or disarm.

 

Tunisia

On October 9th, the Tunisian parliament voted overwhelmingly to outlaw racial discrimination and make criminal offenders eligible for prison time. The legislation came in response to an assault on a man from Ivory Coast on a street in Tunis in July that triggered a heated reaction online and denunciation from anti-racism associations. The new law defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, ancestry.” It allows prison sentences of up to three years for convictions.

Meanwhile, the government said on October 15th that it will not impose new taxes on citizens in 2019 and will cut the tax burden for some sectors to boost growth, after years of tax hikes that have stoked public anger and provoked protests.

 

Turkey

American pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained for nearly two years in Turkey on charges of espionage and links to terrorism, was released and returned to the U.S. on October 12th. Brunson had been sentenced to over three years in prison and had recently appealed to Turkey’s Constitutional Court after lower courts refused to release him and lift his travel ban. President Trump denied that his release was related to Turkey’s seeking American help in its handling of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkish officials say was murdered inside Istanbul’s Saudi consulate. According to official government media, Ankara has audio and video recordings of Khashoggi’s death.

 

Saudi Arabia

On October 15th, Turkish and Saudi investigators began inspecting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen before his disappearance on Oct 2nd. Additionally, President Donald Trump spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia about the case. Trump also said he would send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with the Saudi King about Khashoggi.

Days earlier on October 11, President Trump promised “severe punishment” against Riyadh in an interview for 60 Minutes if the royal court is found responsible for Khashoggi’s death. Saudi’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on October 14 confirming Riyadh’s total rejection of any threats or international pressure. Several business executive and media organizations have canceled their planned attendance to the Riyadh based Future Investment Initiative after the journalist’s disappearance.

 

United Arab Emirates

A British academic has been charged with spying in the UAE, Emirati authorities said on Monday, five months after he was arrested at the end of a study trip. Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old doctoral student at Durham University, was arrested on May 5th at Dubai airport after a two-week visit and has been kept in solitary confinement since then, his wife Daniela Tejada said last week. “The Attorney General of United Arab Emirates … confirmed today that Mr. Matthew Hedges, a British Citizen, has been charged with spying for and on behalf of a foreign State, jeopardizing the military, economy and political security of the UAE,” the government said in a statement

Investigators had gathered evidence from Hedges’ electronic devices and intelligence from UAE security agencies, the statement said. The British Foreign Office did not immediately reply for a request for comment. British authorities have said they raised Hedges’ case with the UAE previously.

 

Yemen

The UN warned October 15th that Yemen could face the worst famine in 100 years, with 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation, should airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition continue. According to a report released October 9th by the World Peace Foundation, Yemen’s food supply has been deliberately impaired by Saudi strikes, which have systematically targeted the country’s agricultural sites, fishing installations, and other food related infrastructure.

On October 14th, the UN and humanitarian agencies condemned an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition that reportedly killed at least 15 civilians near the port city of Hodeida. Meanwhile, pressure was renewed in Congress to end U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen over the alleged killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

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