Egyptian authorities on Saturday detained and imprisoned two sons of Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak in connection with longstanding charges of insider trading. The arrest of Gamal and Alaa Mubarak was a reminder of the widespread corruption under Mubarak’s Egypt, especially in the run-up to the 2011 revolution. The case against Mubarak’s sons began in 2012. Prosecutors alleged that they broke financial trading rules in a deal involving shares of Egypt’s Al Watany Bank. They were convicted in May 2015 in a separate case of embezzling millions of dollars of government funds, but freed after a judge credited them for the 43 months in jail they had already served while awaiting criminal trials in other matters. Both Gamal and Alaa Mubarak have denied the charges.
Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif tweeted at twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to call out the social media platform for shutting down twitter accounts of real Iranians. Zarif demanded that the CEO focus his attention on “actual bots” that are used to call for “regime change” out of D.C. Last month, twitter decided to shut down 284 accounts that it accused of “coordinated manipulation”. Many of these accounts were said to have originated in Iran and were used to propagate “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes”, while also advocating in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.
Oil prices rose on Monday, September 17th, as the market anticipates Iranian supply shortages. Buyers are continuing to cut imports from Iran due to U.S. sanctions, as the Trump Administration hopes to pressure Iran into renegotiating the nuclear deal. At the annual U.N. nuclear watchdog meeting Ali Ekbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, stated that the U.S.’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal was detrimental to the overall peace and stability of the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia reports cholera outbreak in a Southern province bordering Yemen. The health ministry confirmed one case of cholera and suspected three others. The victims were identified as “non-Saudis” and are being treated in the al-Mauwassem General Hospital. Officials have not verified whether or not the outbreak is a direct cause of the Yemen conflict or of the recent influx of Muslim pilgrims for Hajj. The World Health Organization has dispatched treatment programs to help mitigate the spreading of the disease especially considering the rampant attacks on neighboring Yemen that have rendered their medical facilities useless.
The UN Security Council has extended the mandate for the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until September 15, 2019. The Security Council, however, did not endorse a December 10 date for elections that have been pushed by Paris. France has stuck to its position of pushing for elections in Libya before the end of the year, even as instability remains rife, including in the capital of Tripoli, which has witnessed recent clashes. Instead, the Security Council unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution that called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in Libya “as soon as possible, provided the necessary security, technical, legislative and political conditions are in place.”
Tunisia’s ruling Nidaa Tounes party said on Friday it had frozen Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s membership in the party as part of the latest escalation in tensions between Chahed and the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi. The president’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, is the leader of Nidaa Tounes and has called for Chahed’s dismissal because of his government’s failure to revive the economy. Hafedh is supported by Tunisia’s powerful UGTT labor union, which rejects the economic reforms proposed by the prime minister. President Essebsi has also called on Chahed to step down. Chahed has so far refused to resign or adjust his planned economic reforms.
Morocco has put into force a law criminalizing violence against women. The law includes a ban on forced marriage, sexual harassment in public places, and tougher penalties for certain forms of violence. The law, however, has been criticized by Human Rights Watch for not explicitly criminalizing marital rape and failing to present a precise definition of domestic violence. The law has also been criticized for requiring victims to file for criminal prosecution to obtain protection.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on September 13th that the government would begin a series of development programs to remedy the current economic challenges that Basra faces. Abadi is backed by the U.S. after successfully eliminating the Islamic State’s presence in Iraq and overcoming the oil economic crisis in the time he served as Prime Minister. The recent political and economic challenges, however, pose a significant setback for Abadi and prospects for reelection are at this point dismal. This means that the U.S. will likely have little or no influence on the shaping of the new Iraqi government in the upcoming elections.
On September 13th, Israeli forces demolished five shacks in the contested Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld a court order for the village’s demolition September 5th, but activists and residents continue to protest the decision. The European Parliament upheld a resolution the same day denouncing the move as a “grave breach of international law.” Separately, Israeli forces conducted a raid in Yatta September 17th on the home of a Palestinian suspected of killing an Israeli citizen in an attack September 16th.
The Trump Administration revoked the visas of Palestinian Ambassador Dr. Husam Zomlot and his family September 16th following the announced closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) embassy in Washington on September 10th. The decisions are a continuation of the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Palestinian negotiators into talks with Israel.
The Israel Defence Force (IDF) halted its humanitarian assistance program in Syria on September 13th. The decision to end Operation Good Neighbor follows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of territory across Syria’s south in July.
Jordanian authorities held talks September 12th with representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s government on reopening the Nassib border crossing, which had been held by Syrian rebels for seven years until government forces recaptured it during Damascus’ push to consolidate its former territory in the country’s south in July. The Jordanian government hopes that reopening the border crossing will be a step towards jump starting trade between Europe and Gulf countries.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri attended the closing hearing on his father’s assassination trial in The Hague on September 11th. Hariri said he was only seeking justice and not “revenge,” reacting against accusations of bias. The trial of Rafik Hariri’s assassination has lasted for four years, and approximately 300 witnesses have been called to testify. The prosecution presented evidence against four Hezbollah members believed to have carried out the attack. The defendants have not been caught and Hezbollah denies any connection to the assassination, dismissing the entire case as a plot of the United States and Israel. The closing arguments are expected to continue until September 21st, and the final verdict is anticipated to be released this year.
The Syrian government held local elections for the first time since 2011 on September 16th aimed at projecting strength and normalcy in the territory it controls ahead of the impending assault on the rebel holdout of Idlib. The US, EU, and GCC all dismissed the elections as illegitimate, and none were held in the Kurdish-controlled northeast. The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in talks with Damascus in the hopes of securing autonomy through a federalist arrangement in the aftermath of the civil war.
The UN released a new report September 13th detailing additional uses of banned chlorine gas weapons by Syrian government forces in attacks on rebel strongholds in Douma in January and February 2018. UN chief Antonio Gueterres issued a plea September 11th for Russia, Iran, and Turkey to “spare no effort” in finding a political solution to avert an assault on Idlib, which UN monitors fear could displace as many as 800,000 more civilians.
US marines concluded eight days of training exercises with Syrian rebel forces at Tanf in southern Syria, involving rare live-fire drilling with hundreds of rebel fighters and US troops meant to signal American intentions on remaining in Syria to Russian and Iranian forces. Separately, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces units launched a ground assault September 10th on ISIL fighters in the eastern town of Hajin, near the Iraqi border.
Regulators at Turkey’s Central Bank raised rates by over six points on September 13th, hoping to combat the ongoing currency crisis. The rate hike is an important deviation from the priorities of President Erdoğan, who is firmly opposed to higher interest rates. At a meeting of Justice and Development Party (AKP) notables September 14th, Mr. Erdoğan said his patience “has limits,” recalling fears over the Central Bank’s independence after Mr. Erdoğan appointed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak Treasury and Finance Minister in July. He has continued to consolidate his personal control over financial policy, most recently appointing himself chairman of Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund September 12th. Mr. Erdoğan also issued a call September 17th for an investigation into members of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) serving as board members to Isbank, a major banking institution in which the CHP holds a 28% stake bequeathed to the party by Mustafa Kemal.
On September 14th, talks commenced in Istanbul over the impending invasion of Idlib by Syrian government forces and Russian allies. Turkish diplomats met with French, German and Russian envoys to push for a political settlement to avert a humanitarian crisis that has already displaced 30,000 and is expected to impact as many as 800,000. Turkey deployed troops to reinforce two observation posts it maintains in Idlib on September 13th during a 24-hour letup in the Russian-led bombing campaign in Idlib province.
The Saudi-led coalition launched an airstrike attack against a radio station in the Houthi-controlled port-city of Hodeidah. The attack killed four people working at the station. These latest attacks are an attempt by the Saudis to prevent the transport of supplies from Hodeidah to the Houthi-controlled capital of Sanaa. These attacks come at the same time as U.N. officials intensifying diplomacy talks in an attempt to bring an end to the ongoing conflict. U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths was visiting Sanaa this past Sunday attempting to convince the Houthis to travel to Geneva and participate in the peace talks.