Weekly Roundup: Regional concern over Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, uncertainty about the former Yemeni president’s status, and the upcoming GCC meeting


On Wednesday, former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, currently based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced his intention to run in the 2018 presidential elections. Shafik competed in the 2012 presidential elections and lost to former President Mohamed Morsi. However, on Saturday, the UAE arrested Shafik in order to deport him to Cairo. He now faces possible treason charges or other legal action in Egyptian courts, possibly indicating efforts by the UAE to neutralize Shafik as a challenger to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Egyptian elections.



Reports have emerged from the Trump administration that the President will likely act this week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move at odds with decades of official United States policy on the issue. While Israel has long considered the city its capital, the international community has refrained from condoning a claim that contravenes international law and undermines Palestinians’ aspirations that East Jerusalem serve as the capital of any future state of their own. Thus, while many Israelis would welcome such a move, it would likely alienate Palestinians and much of the Islamic world more broadly, jeopardizing the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nevertheless, the precise nature of any American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not yet clear; furthermore, such a declaration would fall short of fulfilling President Trump’s campaign promise to shift the American embassy in Israel to the Holy City.

It is unclear how the reported move will impact the ongoing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, nominally planned for implementation this Friday. Among the major sticking points is the future of Hamas’s governmental employees in the Gaza Strip and the role of its armed wing, which has not been officially mentioned in public releases by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The armed Hamas wing, known as the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades is only one armed group from the Gaza Strip. Notable among the others is Islamic Jihad, who has pledged to continue fighting against Israel. Meanwhile the PA has arrested dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank. For its part, Israel has indicated it will not deal with a joint government that includes Hamas, but said it will continue its program of security cooperation with the PA and its security services.



Jordan has initiated the process to  convene an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in response to United States’ President Donald Trump’s statement that the U.S. plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which is a major reason why Jordan is concerned with changes to the status of the city.


Speaking to reporters on Sunday, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the US is shifting its stance in Syria to reflect the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) defeat. Mattis also said the US will draw down its support to Kurdish militias in favor of local police and security forces. It is unclear who constitutes the Syrian security services, outside of the Assad regime and YPG. The Syrian regime announced its intentions to march into Raqqa a month ago, likely complicating any future arrangements in the city.

Despite the nominal defeat of ISIS, analysts have been quick to highlight the continued danger that the group’s online entity will pose. A recent study detailed the scope and nature of the group’s online presence and recommended continued pressure be exerted by the US Intelligence Community, while recently-passed legislation restricting US government monitoring is caught up in a political dispute along bipartisan lines.   

In other Syria-related news, the Syrian delegation withdrew from the United Nations-led peace negotiations in Geneva on Friday.  The chief government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari  said that the government delegation will not return to the talks unless the opposition withdraws its statement demanding that President Bashar al-Assad play no role in an interim post-war government.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has intercepted another missile, fired from Yemen. The ballistic missile, fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was shot down on Thursday near the south-western city of Khamis Mushait. It was the second missile fired from Yemen this month, after a rocket was reportedly intercepted near the capital Riyadh a few weeks earlier. The success of the earlier interception has been called into question by a team of missile researchers.



Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was reportedly killed Monday, December 4th in Sana’a, according to unverified reports from inside Yemen. The former Yemeni president’s party, the General People’s Congress, has refuted the claim, stating Saleh is alive and leading troops in intense fighting in the Houthi-controlled capital.  Saleh announced this week that he was abandoning his support of the Houthi rebel group. He said that he was ready to turn a “new page” in ties with the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, if it stopped attacks on Yemeni citizens and lifted a siege. The coalition launched airstrikes on Sanaa in response, lending support to the former president.



Following the news that the next Gulf Cooperation Council GCC meeting will go ahead as scheduled in Kuwait on Tuesday and Wednesday, Qatar announced that Emir Sheikh Tamim will attend despite the Saudi-led boycott against him. Speaking in Doha, he announced that “it is important that the GCC remains alive.”



On Sunday, Iran’s President Rouhani officially opened the southeastern port of Chabahar in Iran’s Sistan-e Baluchestan province. This event was attended by officials from seventeen countries as Iran marked the opening of the strategic corridor further enhancing its ties with the international community. The Chabahar project is not only important for Iran, but also for India as it will allow the country to bypass Pakistan in accessing Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as other regional trading partners. It is widely believed that this project will also result in increased trade and connectivity between Iran, India and Afghanistan.



Spotlight on Migration & Refugees

Libyan leaders agreed to implement a joint emergency plan with European and African governments to evacuate migrants who have been trapped and abused in Libya’s detention camps. The deal aims to house migrants in a transit center until they repatriate to a safer place. Additionally, the deal will  target trafficking networks especially after footage of a slave auction in Tripoli was released by CNN several weeks ago.