Weekly Roundup: Saudi public prosecutor seeks death penalty for five accused of Khashoggi murder, Hamas ceasefire triggers uproar in Israeli right-wing politics, and Libyan factions meet in Italy to discuss elections


Algeria

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent a congratulatory message to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on November 18th to mark Moroccan Independence Day. The statement was a routine diplomatic cable that reaffirmed Algeria’s commitment to “brotherhood and solidarity”. In what some are a calling a snub, Bouteflika failed to address King Mohammed’s November 7th call for “frank and open dialogue” to end the decades-old diplomatic standoff between the two nations.

 

Bahrain

On November 18th, Bahrain sentenced a dozen anti-regime protesters to prison as the Kingdom continues to clamp down on dissidents. The move comes after handing down life sentences to prominent opposition figures, including secretary general of the dissolved Wefaq party Sheikh Ali Salman.  

 

Egypt

On November 17th, the Egyptian government announced that it sentenced a man affiliated with ISIL to death for his involvement in the fatal stabbing of a Christian doctor. The killing, which happened in September of 2017, involved the 40-year-old assailant and an elderly Christian doctor. The death sentence is a reflection of Sisi’s staunch stance against extremism in the country.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly met with Ethiopian counterparts on November 18th to discuss strengthening bilateral ties. Topics included a disputed dam project, delayed by Addis Ababa’s concerns about Cairo’s monopoly over the Nile’s waterways. The plans for the hydroelectric dam, which is projected to cost $4 billion, have been pushed several years as a result of the conflict, but Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly affirmed Egypt’s commitment to seeing the project through.

Human Rights Watch released a new report November 18th documenting forty arrests made since October as part of a wider campaign by Egyptian security forces targeting human rights workers, lawyers, and activists.

 

Iran

On November 15th, Amnesty International condemned Iran’s execution of two gold traders. The verdict was well-publicised by state media outlets; coverage included in-depth interviews with Mahid Mazloomin and Mohammad Esmail Ghasemi, the two condemned men. They were found guilty and sentenced to death for allegedly exploiting a surge in demand for gold and destabilizing the country’s currency. The verdict was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court. As Iran’s economy has faced increased hardship, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian judiciary has promoted harsher sentencing against “those who disrupt economic security” since June.

 

Iraq

On November 14th, authorities in Baghdad reclaimed property worth millions after a court ruled the land was unlawfully sold to a government official’s wife. The plot of land is located in the upscale neighborhood of Kadhimiyya. The identity of the official who sold the land improperly was not revealed.

Iraqi officials said November 14th that they had reached an agreement with Iran to exchange food products for Iranian oil, and are now waiting for US approval to begin importing Iranian oil. US sanctions on Iran went back into effect November 4th under orders from the Trump administration to overturn the Obama-era deal easing sanctions in return for nuclear concessions. Iraqi officials sought an exception to the US sanctions regime because Baghdad said it needed more time to find an alternative to Iranian oil supplies, on which Iraqi power providers rely heavily.

 

Jordan

On November 15th, King Abdullah met with newly elected Iraqi President Barham Saleh. The two leaders pledged to increase bilateral cooperation between the two countries, particularly on economic matters. Iraq and Jordan plan to establish a joint industrial zone on the Iraqi Jordanian border, and are considering measures to increase the sale of Jordanian goods in Iraq.

King Abdullah met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on November 14th to emphasize the need to de-escalate the aggression in Gaza. Abdullah warned that an increase in violence in Gaza will heighten tensions around the region.

The families of three American Special Forces officers killed in 2016 by a Jordanian soldier at King Faisal Airbase have sued Jordan. The families allege Jordanian authorities spread false accusations that the American soldiers had provoked the killings, although Jordanian officials officially retracted these claims when video of the shooting was released.

 

Kuwait

On November 19th, Kuwait announced a demographic initiative to limit its expatriate population to around 25% of the total population, which would likely require at least 600,000 Indians and 300,000 Egyptians to depart the country. The plan does not account for the fate of 120,000 Bedouins in the country, many of whom have an ambiguous legal status, nor does it specify whether the cuts will include 650,000 domestic helpers.

 

Lebanon

A convoy of 800 Syrian refugees departed Lebanese territory on November 16th. This group is the latest in a steady stream of refugees returning to Syria from Lebanese territory, a process that began last spring and gained momentum in September.

On November 13th, the US government handed down new sanctions on Hezbollah officials, including Hassan Nasrallah’s son Jawad, as part of a broader effort to counteract Iranian influence in the region. State Department officials also accused Hezbollah November 14th of interfering with the formation of Lebanon’s new government.  

 

Libya

Following a conference on Libya held in Palermo, Italy on November 12th and 13th, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero expressed hopes that the recently postponed Libyan national elections will take place in the Spring of next year, in accordance with the new United Nations action plan. The timeline discussed in Palermo, which was endorsed by the United States on November 13th, includes plans for a Libyan-led national conference to be held in early 2019. The Palermo conference also marked the first meeting of Libya’s two main rival leaders– Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli and Khalifa Haftar, head of the rival eastern government– since both attended a conference on Libya in Paris last May.

On November 15th, Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih met with Mustafa Sanallah, president of Libya’s OPEC delegation and chief of the National Oil Corporation. With Libyan production levels recently on the rise, Falih stressed the importance of cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers.

 

Morocco

Morocco inaugurated Africa’s first high-speed rail line, which connects the economic centers of Tangier and Casablanca at a speed of up to 199 miles/hour. The project was launched in September 2011 by Morocco’s King Mohammed and then-president of France Nicolas Sarkozy. France financed 51% of $2 billion project.

 

Palestine & Israel

On November 13th, Hamas fighters fired hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory in response to a botched Israeli intelligence operation in Gaza that killed at least seven Palestinians. The two parties still managed to agree to a ceasefire, but Avigdor Liberman resigned his post as Defense Minister on November 14th to protest the ceasefire agreement. The move threatened to break up Netanyahu’s coalition, which retains a thin majority in the Knesset by 61 out of 120 seats. Education Minister and head of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett had threatened to depart the coalition as well unless he received the defense job, but walked back his threats on November 19th after Netanyahu took over the defense portfolio himself. Netanyahu now acts as Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health. Barring early elections, the next legislative elections in Israel are set to take place in November 2019.

The online home-rental company AirBnB announced November 19th that it would remove all of its properties (around 200) listed in Israeli-occupied West Bank territory. The company had come under fire from Palestinians for supporting the Israeli settler economy. In response, the Israeli Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, has vowed to limit AirBnB’s scale of operations in Israel.  

 

Qatar

On November 18th, Kuwait News Agency announced that a GCC summit will take place in Riyadh next month. The summit will be attended by all member states, including Qatar, according to Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister, who expressed hope for reviving his country’s efforts to find a solution to the GCC diplomatic crisis. The US has been trying to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the crisis and focus on a uniting bloc against Iran, to little effect.

 

Saudi Arabia

The CIA said publicly on November 16th that it judged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. President Trump cast doubt on the CIA’s conclusion in an interview with Fox News.

On November 15th, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. The sanctions arrived just as Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that he would seek the death penalty for five people accused of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would require sanctions within 30 days on anyone involved in Khashoggi’s death. The bill would also suspend weapons sales and prohibit the U.S. refueling of coalition aircrafts in response to Saudi-led coalition human rights violations in the war in Yemen.

King Salman received Iraq’s President Barham Saleh on November 18th on the president’s first official visit to the Kingdom. That same day, King Salman delivered his annual address to the Shura Council. The King refrained from mentioning the Khashoggi controversy and instead reiterated support for UN efforts to end the war in Yemen, expressing a desire for a political solution in Syria and calling on the international community to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

 

Syria

Democrats in the US House of Representatives have signaled increased oversight over US military action abroad, and have indicated intentions to pursue a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for US presence in Syria and Iraq. The incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), said that he will request that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo address the committee.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced on November 13th that it will begin assigning attribution in its investigations in Syria. The OPCW will assign blame for all attacks dating back to 2014, when it began its Syria mission.

Syria’s Transportation Minister Ali Hammoud told Russian outlet Sputnik on November 1st that, following an October 15th meeting between Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, Syria and Iraq agreed to reopen border crossings.

 

Tunisia

Tunisia’s Parliament approved Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s cabinet picks on November 13th in a vote of confidence that the powerful Nidaa Tounes party chose to boycott due to a falling out between Chahed and Tunisian President and Nidaa Tounes founder Beji Caid Essebsi. Nidaa Tounes, now led by Essebsi’s son Hafedh, has called for Chahed’s ouster for failing to revive the ailing economy. The long-running debate testified to the fractious atmosphere prevailing in Tunisian politics, but the support of Ennahda, which holds a comfortable 68 seats in parliament, was enough to buoy Chahed to success and break months of political deadlock. Among those confirmed was Rene Trabelsi, Tunisia’s new Minister of Tourism and the first Jewish person to hold a ministerial position in the Arab world since the 1950s. Leftist and nationalist groups protested Trabelsi’s appointment, alleging that he has close ties with Israel. Trabelsi denied this claim.

 

Turkey

On November 16th, Turkey detained 13 academics and activists over links to the Anadolu Kültur cultural organization, an NGO headed by businessman and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been jailed for over a year without formal charges. Kavala and those detained were accused of spreading and publicizing the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Twelve of the thirteen detained on November 16th were released November 18th, but the deputy chairman of Anadolu Kültür, Yiğit Aksakoğlu remained under arrest.

An Istanbul court sentenced six defendants involved in the June 2016 Atatürk Airport attack, which Turkey attributes to ISIS, to life in prison on November 16th. Twenty-six others were acquitted.

 

United Arab Emirates

An Emirati Economy Ministry official said November 19th that the UAE is fully complying with sanctions imposed this month by the US on Iran. The UAE is among American allies in the GCC region that oppose Iranian foreign policy, and Abu Dhabi swiftly backed the US decision to reimpose sanctions. It is also a member of a Saudi-led coalition that is opposing the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen. The UAE government will look to boost trade with other markets such as Africa and Asia to offset the impact of the sanctions on its own economy, extending an existing government policy to diversify trade.

 

Yemen

In response to international pressures, the Houthis’ announced a halt to their drone and missile attacks on November 19th. The announcement followed a Saudi-led coalition order to halt it’s offensive against Hodeidah port. This offensive aimed to cut the main supply route for Houthi-controlled areas. The United Nations Refugee Agency urged all parties to show restraints in preparations for peace talks.

 

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