Weekly Roundup: Saudi Arabia admits to Khashoggi death in consulate, Algerian parliament stages a sit-in, and violence erupts in Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon
Algerian authorities have banned female civil servants from wearing full-face veils, or niqabs, at work. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouayhia has cited concerns of security and identification as the primary reasons behind this decision. The niqab is largely unpopular among most Algerian women, who tend to prefer headscarves that leave the face unobscured. Algeria’s secular government has often clashed with Salafist minority groups, who are expected to resist this decision.
On October 16th, 200 deputies locked themselves in Algerian parliament and demanded that the speaker of parliament, Said Bouhadja, resign from his post. Since September, several members have been criticizing Bouhadja for his “mismanagement” and his problematic recruiting strategies, as well as his accumulation of inexplicable expenses. Bouhadja refuses to step down from his post and the Algerian constitution does not have a clear procedure for replacing a speaker of parliament, thus creating a precarious situation for the Algerian parliament.
On October 20th, Bahrain welcomed the Saudi royal decrees firing two of Mohammed bin Salman’s closest aides and restructuring the intelligence agencies as Saudi investigations over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi continues. The Kingdom praised the measures taken by King Salman and described them as “transparent”.
The Bahrain opposition group, Al-Wefaq called for a national boycott of the upcoming quadrennial elections set to take place on November 24th. Although these elections were supposed to mark a “democratic” beginning in Bahrain, many opposition groups have been dissolved and opposition members prevented from participating in the elections. Given recent economic unrest due to a royal decree that implemented a Value Added Tax in Bahrain as part of an aid package from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the lead democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has maintained a hold on 2017 Fiscal Year military aid to Egypt of approximately $105 million until Egypt shows a commitment towards improving its human rights record. Leahy is specifically concerned with the release of Mostafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American who was recently sentenced to 15 years for “attempting to overthrow the regime”. Senator Leahy compiled a list of human rights concerns that he believes are pertinent to the lifting of the hold.
On October 15th, Egyptian parliament approved and extended Egypt’s state of emergency for three more months. The country has been under a state of emergency since the attacks on two Coptic Churches in April 2017. This state of emergency gives security forces immense power that allows them to carry out arrests in the name of “national security.”
On October 17th, Egypt and Russia signed a strategic cooperation agreement to expand bilateral relations between the two countries. The deal includes plans for 1,300 railway passenger cars to be given to Egypt in five years, a commitment to increased trade between the two countries, and construction plans for a nuclear power plant. The world leaders have met around eight times in the past four years and this agreement is the first tangible result of their talks.
On October 19th, Iran’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision of the global anti-money laundering body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to extend the suspension of economic counter-measures against Iran until February 2019. The FATF is thus giving Iran more time to implement the last of ten measures to combat money-laundering and terrorism funding. On October 7th, the Iranian parliament approved legislation to implement these remaining measures against funding terrorism, but the bill must also be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council. With this, the FATF continues to lift restrictions on Iran as agreed in the nuclear deal of January 2016. Avoiding blacklisting by the FATF is of great significance to the Iranian economy. Blacklisting Iran would lead to further isolation of the country from the international banking system, stressing the economy and accelerating the fall of the rial.
The news must be seen in connection to Iran facing renewed U.S. sanctions starting November 4th. On October 18th, the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the 28-nation bloc was working on “the concrete establishment of its plan” to set up financial channels aimed at preserving business with Iran and circumventing new US sanctions. It has been reported that such a solution may be a barter system for oil. On October 21st, a visiting delegation from the French Senate and National Assembly to Tehran spoke of the importance of keeping Iran connected to the world banking system through SWIFT, a financial messaging service which facilitates the bulk of the world’s cross-border money transactions. Meanwhile, on the same day US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the US Treasury was in negotiations with Belgian-based SWIFT on disconnecting Iran from the network.
Iraq has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with General Electric to improve Iraq’s power infrastructure. The deal is estimated to be worth $15 billion, and it comes as a surprise as the conglomerate Siemens had previously negotiated with Iraq’s government.
In the Kurdistan Region, the parliamentary election results were revealed on October 21st. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won the majority of seats, followed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Multiple opposition parties, including Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), have rejected the results accusing the KDP and PUK of commiting voting fraud and rigging the elections.
On October 21st, King Abdullah announced that Jordan has decided to terminate two annexes along the Jordanian-Israeli border, cutting off Israelis’ free access to the land. The areas are al-Baqura, in the north of Jordan, and al-Ghamr, which is south of the Dead Sea. As established in the 1994 peace treaty, Israelis have had private land-use rights to this sovereign Jordanian territory; it had been used for agricultural and touristic purposes. The arrangement was to remain for 25 years, and could be renewed or canceled by either side with one year’s notice. King Abdullah has been under political pressure from the Jordanian parliament as well as Jordanian citizens, given the upcoming deadline on the agreement. While the reclamation is unlikely to cause any significant diplomatic disasters, the decision did come as an undesirable surprise to Israelis and does reveal simmering tensions around the region.
On October 15th and 16th, violent clashes erupted between militants from Ansar Allah and Fatah in the Palestinian refugee camp of Mieh Mieh. Two Fatah members were killed, and approximately 20 people were injured. On Thursday, October 18th, the Lebanese Army deployed soldiers within the camp, at its entrances, and around it–outside of the areas controlled by UNRWA. Based originally on a 1969 Cairo agreement, Palestinian camps in Lebanon are largely off limits to Lebanese forces; it is considered the responsibility of Palestinian forces to maintain security within the camps. There is concern that the Army’s presence will only exacerbate the tense situation.
A Lebanese delegation headed by Speaker Nabih Berry voted against a bill calling for gay rights to be respected worldwide at an international parliamentary conference in Geneva. Opposition came from countries including Russia and China, and eventually led to the demise of the bill.
Libya’s eastern oil port of Hariga appears to be operating normally after protests broke out at the port’s gate on October 18th. Members of the Obeidat tribe gathered at the port to protest the appointment of Ali Essawi as economy minister, a decision made by the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. Ali Essawi was suspected in 2011 of killing top rebel commander and Obeidat tribesman Abdel Fattah Younes, who played a prominent role in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi the same year. Hariga’s oil port is under the control of Libya’s rival government, which controls the country’s east and has established its own infrastructure there. Khalifa Haftar, a top commander in the eastern government, has called for a new investigation into Younes’s murder following the announcement of Essawi’s appointment.
On October 16th, seven people died and at least 80 were injured in the derailment of a shuttle train in northern Morocco. Emergency workers, rescue teams, and military personnel arrived at the scene to aid victims. Moroccan king Mohammed VI has offered to personally pay for the cost of victims’ funerals. Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the derailment. Morocco’s interior and transport ministers have refused to comment.
After a rocket was fired from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists, striking a house in Israel’s southern city of Be’ersheva, the IDF responded with Israeli fighter jets bombing twenty targets in the Gaza Strip. The rocket that fell in Be’ersheva caused no deaths or injuries, and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, released a joint statement denying responsibility for the attack and condemning it as an attempt to derail the chances of reaching a peaceful settlement.
In the West-Bank city of Hebron, near the holy site of the Cave of the Patriarchs (a.k.a. the Ibrahimi Mosque), a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier, who replied by shooting the Palestinian man dead. Hebron, and specifically the Cave of the Patriarchs, has historically been a site of some of the bloodiest violence in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israelis marked the 23rd anniversary this week of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, shot dead at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995. At an event commemorating the former Israeli prime minister, Rabin’s grandson, Yonatan Ben-Artzi, scolded current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his leadership that “… encourages division and violent attacks on others’ opinions”. Leader of the parliamentary opposition, MK Tzipi Livni, similarly attacked Netanyahu for inciting against those with opinions different to his, including against Rabin himself those 23 years ago.
On October 20th, Qatar had a year worth of rain in just one day with a recorded 84mm of rain. The torrential downpour caused massive flooding, which lead to nationwide disruption to services. Qatar Foundation announced on Twitter that all of its offices will be closed citing safety concerns. Videos of new buildings leaking like Qatar’s National Library and flooded streets in Al-Wakra and other areas were circulated on Twitter sparking outrage over government negligence.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman called the Khashoggi family on Oct 21st to give their condolences. After two weeks of conflicting reports, Saudi Arabia admits that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside it’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi’s public prosecutor announced the arrest of 18 suspects and dismissal of high ranking officials including Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court adviser and Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence. Angela Merkel announced that Germany will freeze their arms sale to Saudi Arabia stating “We are far from seeing everything on the table and the perpetrators being brought to justice.”
On October 16th, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that a delegation of senior diplomatic and defense officials toured Saudi Arabia on October 14th and 15th to discuss regional issues, especially developments in the Syrian Civil War.
Nearly 250 people, including 90 women and their children, were abducted by Islamic State fighters amidst an offensive by the US-led Global Coalition in the Deir az-Zour governorate in eastern Syria. The kidnappings occurred after the offensive began on October 10th, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
During his October 10th remarks at the 36th Annual Jewish Institute for National Security of America Awards Dinner, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that US funds for Syrian reconstruction are contingent on the departure of Iranian-backed forces in Syria. On October 16th, US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin announced that the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will target the financial assets of individuals supporting Iranian Basij forces operating in Syria.
The United Nations issued a warning on October 17th about the humanitarian situation in the Rukban refugee camp near Jordan. 80 percent of the camp’s estimated 50,000 people are women and children.
An official delegation from Russian-annexed Crimea visited Syria on October 15th. Led by Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, the visit involved the signing of bilateral economic agreements and establishing passenger flights between Syria and Crimea.
Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement has appointed chief Rached Ghannouchi on October 22nd to mediate discussions between President Beji Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed in order to reach consensus and achieve political stability. Analysts have reported that tensions have risen between the two parties due to Chahed’s alleged disobedience and his public criticism of the president’s son.
In the wake of Saudi Arabia’s admission that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate, President Erdogan said on October 21st that he would reveal the full details of Khashoggi’s killing, of which Turkey says it has evidence differing from Saudi Arabia’s account, at a speech in Parliament on October 23rd. Turkey has placed Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé under 24-hour police protection.
Meanwhile, a Turkish news site reported that on October 16th, an Istanbul court asked Interpol to issue “red notice” arrest warrants for Turkish journalists Can Dündar and İlhan Tanır. They are being tried in absentia in a case that has convicted other staff members of the newspaper Cümhuriyet of aiding terrorist organizations.
Turkish media reported that almost 5,000 Syrians have moved out of a temporary shelter center set to be closed in Akçakale, Şanlıurfa, to rented houses in nearby districts and provinces.
Celebrated photographer Ara Güler, whose work capturing a changing Istanbul earned him the title of “the eye” of the city, passed away in Istanbul on October 17th at the age of 90.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE has praised the decisions made by its ally Saudi Arabia in the recent incident regarding journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, commended King Salman for his “‘great efforts to explore the truth and seek legal accountability’, which he said ‘reflects the transparency and justice in his decision-making on the case.’”
On October 15th, Emirati officials charged British PhD student Matthew Hedges with espionage. Hedges was arrested in May, allegedly held in solitary confinement since, and has been denied access to legal services since.
Around a dozen people were killed and over 120 injured when a cyclone struck the Al-Muhra governorate on October 21st while Saudi airstrikes in Hajjah an Hudayda provinces killed at least five civilians that day.
On October 15th, Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fired his prime minister, Ahmed bin Dahgher, blaming him for the country’s ongoing economic crisis. President Hadi then named Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed as the new prime minister. Saeed was previously the minister of public works and roads, which along with the government, operates largely from Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the country’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. The World Food Programme’s spokesperson, Herve Verhoosel, stated on October 15th that the country’s escalating civil conflict and deteriorating economic conditions is pushing an additional 3.5 million people to the brink of famine.