Weekly Roundup: Turkish investigators accuse Saudi Arabia of killing exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Egypt grants Muslim Brotherhood leaders retrial, and Libyan National Army forces capture wanted Egyptian militant
Sonatrach, Algeria’s state-owned oil and gas company, announced October 7th that it will begin offshore drilling in 2019. The operations will focus on two sites in eastern and western Algeria. Sonatrach also signed new agreements with Total, a French integrated oil and gas corporation, to develop the Erg Issouance gas field and invest over $400 million in a joint venture in the port city of Arzew. The agreements focus on further strengthening strategic partnerships in gas reserve development.
A royal decree ordered Bahrain’s parliament held an extraordinary session on October 7th to approve a draft Value Added Tax (VAT) law. Bahrain is the third Persian Gulf state, after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to introduce legislation complying with a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) treaty to introduce a formalized VAT system across all six member states. The law has yet to receive approval from parliament’s upper house, which is expected to consider the measure during the week of October 8th. Bahrain’s push to implement the terms of the GCC VAT agreement follows the October 4th announcement of a $10 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE to support fiscal reforms and avoid a debt crisis in the Kingdom.
Egypt’s army announced on October 8th that security forces killed 52 suspected militants and three Egyptian soldiers in operations in the Sinai Peninsula targeting fighters aligned with Sunni extremist groups. The offensives are part of a broader effort, “Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018,” launched in February 2018 in response to the November 2017 attack on al-Rawda mosque, which killed over 300. The Islamic State (Daesh) announced October 2nd that one of its Sinai leaders, Abu Hamza al-Maqdisi, was killed in a similar operation, and 15 fighters were announced dead in an October 3rd operation in Sheikh Zuweid.
On September 30th, a court in Cairo granted a retrial under new charges to Mohamed Badie and several other Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Badie and his associates were previously handed death sentences for inciting murder and attempted murder, based on their involvement in demonstrations that took place in June 2013.
On October 7th, Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced his country will continue buying Iranian oil even after the renewed US sanctions on countries doing business with Iran come into force November 4th. India, Iran’s no. 2 oil importer after China, is seeking a waiver from US sanctions to ensure its wider exposure to the US financial system is not affected. Pradhan added that India may seek to establish a different payment system to buy Iranian oil by bypassing the use of the dollar.
In June, US officials hinted at the possibility of such waivers being issued for countries that import large amounts of Iranian oil, such as China, India and Turkey. On October 5th, the Trump Administration confirmed it was in the process of considering waivers on a “case-by-case basis”. Although China has reduced its oil imports from Iran, Beijing will likewise have a hard time complying with U.S. demands. Iran has close diplomatic ties with India, and the Indian-built Chabahar port in Southern Iran is expected to be operational by 2019.
On October 6th, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leader of the Sairoon Coalition, called on Prime Minister-designate Adil Abdul-Mahdi to make independent nominations for his cabinet, especially for the positions of Defense and Interior Minister, and warned that Abdul-Mahdi would face backlash if he did not implement reforms within a year. Sadr’s Sairoon Coalition won a majority in Iraq’s May 2018 elections, though he could not take the Prime Ministership for himself because he did not stand himself. Abdul-Mahdi, who is seen as a compromise candidate, emphasizes reconstruction and provision of basic services as a pillar of his administration.
In the Kurdistan Region, pressure is mounting on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On October 6th, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed to ‘finish’ the PKK in Iraq after an October 4th bomb attack killed eight Turkish soldiers in Batman. The PKK is fighting an insurgency against Turkey, and their headquarters is in the Qandil Mountains, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Iraq’s government ordered troops to the Turkish-Iraqi border in March 2018 to prevent further violations. Iraq is also concerned with Turkish incursions into Iraqi airspace.
On October 4th, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE finalized a $2.5 billion aid package for Jordan, aiming to provide stability and assist the Jordanian government in carrying out fiscal reforms. Jordan has been struggling to implement IMF-advised austerity measures, in compliance with a 2016 agreement for $723 million. The tax increases and heightened energy prices were met with public outrage and mass protests in June 2018. Per the agreement with the Gulf kingdoms, which was announced in June 2018, Jordan’s Central Bank received $1 billion in budgetary support on October 4th. Additionally, the three Gulf countries will offer a $6 million loan guarantee, as well as $150 million annually in budget aid for five years. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE will also provide $50 million for the construction of schools in Jordan.
On October 4th, Prime Minister Saad Hariri claimed that a unity government in Lebanon would be formed within ten days. However, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said October 6th that there was little hope of meeting that deadline. Disagreements between President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces Party over the power allocation in the party has stymied negotiations. Hariri’s government faces pressure to find a solution after an October 4th World Bank report reduced Lebanon’s 2018 growth forecast by half, citing concerns over changes to subsidized real estate loans.
On September 29th, Lebanese General Security forces attempted to shut down a conference on LGBTQ rights organized by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) in Beirut. General Security was responding to a complaint filed by Hay’at Al-Oulamaa el Mouslimin (Association of Muslim Scholars) claiming that the conference incited immortality and promoted drug use. General Security officers questioned AFE executive director Georges Azzi and demanded he cancel the conference. Though he refused, officers ordered the hotel to call off the conference and took the names and passport information of all participants from the hotel registry.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) announced October 8th that they had captured Hisham el-Ashmawi, an Egyptian militant wanted on terror charges, during a raid in Eastern Libya. El-Ashmawi is believed to be behind a 2013 assassination attempt against Mohammad Ibrahim, then Egypt’s Interior Minister, and also stands accused of spreading propaganda on behalf of radical Islamic groups. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 2017 and has been one of Egypt’s most wanted men since. Egyptian military authorities have confirmed that el-Ashmawi was apprehended.
Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) announced on October 3rd that it will postpone a conference it plans to host in Benghazi, citing damage inflicted on the company’s headquarters during a deadly attack in September 2018. The three-day conference, which will bring together local and foreign firms to discuss development of the oil and gas sector, will now be held from October 24th to 26th, two weeks later than planned.
On October 7th, Libyan Prime-Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announced several changes in top political appointments in an attempt to bolster support for his U.N.-backed government, as well as increasing security in the state following increased militia violence in recent weeks.
Morocco withdrew from the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in protest of the inclusion of the Polisario Front on October 7th. The Polisario Front represents the government-in-exile of the Western Sahara, a disputed territory claimed by both the Polisario and Morocco. The conference was organized in cooperation with the UN, the UN Development Program, the World Bank, and the African Union Commission.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said October 7th that he will meet Russian President Putin soon to discuss military cooperation over Syria. Relations between Tel Aviv and Moscow chilled after Israeli jets used a Russian military transport as cover over Syria, causing Syrian air defense units to destroy the Russian plane.
A Palestinian man killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded another near Barkan Industrial Zone in the West Bank on October 7th. Officials called the incident a lone-wolf attack, and police continue to search for the suspect.
Turkish investigators announced October 7th that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, was killed by a team sent from Saudi Arabia. Turkish police said it appeared to be a pre-planned murder involving fifteen Saudi nationals. A Saudi official denied the accusations, saying that a team of Saudi investigators arrived on October 6th to assist the investigation. Rights groups decried reports of Khashoggi’s assassination as an act of extrajudicial execution, and Turkish President Erdoğan called for Saudi Arabia to prove that Khashoggi left the consulate as Saudi diplomatic officials claim.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responded to President Trump’s demands for increased oil production on October 5th, dismissing Trump’s claims of Saudi dependence on the US and insisting the stalled Aramco IPO was on track with plans to sell shares in oil giant by 2021.
Russian defense officials announced October 8th that three battalions of S-300 missile launchers were delivered to the Assad government free of charge on October 1st. The S-300 is an advanced air defense system, and was promised to the Syrian government after a Russian military transport was downed due to the actions of Israeli jets.
Rebel fighters began withdrawing heavy weapons from the contested city of Idlib on October 6th. The Turkey-aligned National Front for Liberation (NFL) was the first group to depart. Tahrir al-Sham leaders mocked those heeding Turkey’s deal, evidencing the split between competing rebel groups on moving forward. Turkish state media reported that opposition forces in Idlib completed withdrawing heavy weaponry from the front lines of the province’s de-escalation zone on October 8th.
President Erdoğan said October 7th that the Ministry of Justice is considering granting partial amnesty to some prisoners, in response to calls from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)’s to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Mr. Erdoğan was careful to note that amnesty will not be granted specifically for the purpose of reducing crowding conditions in prisons. Erdoğan also warned the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) that candidates for next year’s municipal elections deemed to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which the government alleges the HDP supports—would be replaced with administrators selected by the government.
United Arab Emirates
On October 8th, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargarsh said the UAE is working to become a “soft power” superpower, fifteen months ahead of hosting World Expo 2020. Gargash also highlighted the UAE’s recent efforts to promote diversity and the arts with the recent opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and granting visa-free entry to citizens of over 160 countries.
On Oct 6th, Houthi fighters arrested dozens of demonstrators in Sanaa protesting soaring prices and the deteriorating economic situation. Successive currency crises have damaged the Yemeni riyal and exacerbated the humanitarian fallout of the conflict there.
Bahraini authorities accused Houthis fighters of shelling a camp for displaced people near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on October 5th, killing one woman and injuring several civilians, according to a statement from its foreign ministry.