Weekly Roundup: Iran faces renewed US sanctions, the UN appoints a new Special Envoy for Syria, and Tunisian premier Chahed announces cabinet reshuffle


Families of detained Algerian generals who have been in prison for the past 20 days on charges of corruption are protesting the court’s recent decision, which rejects the appointment of lawyers for them. The families intend to appeal for the intervention of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on the basis of the defendants’ constitutional rights. The officials face charges of “illicit enrichment” and the use of their positions for personal gains.



On November 2nd, eight people were killed and thirteen people were injured by gunmen who targeted three buses traveling to the Saint Samuel Coptic Christian Monastery in the province of Minya. This is the second attack in two years that targeted Coptic Christians going to the Saint Samuel Monastery. A similar attack took place in May 2017 at almost the same location where 28 pilgrims were killed by gunmen. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack but did not provided any evidence. On November 4, the Interior Ministry announced that nineteen militants, who were accused of carrying out the attacks, were killed in a shoot-out with the police. Security forces offered very little information regarding the circumstances of the raid.



November 4th marked the 40-year anniversary of Iranian students’ storming of the American embassy in 1979. As per tradition, Iranians made use of the occasion to take to the streets to stage government-endorsed, anti-U.S. protests. This year, the commemorations was held mere hours before the imposition of a renewed U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. The protests came the day after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attacked President Donald Trump in a speech, saying Trump had “disgraced” U.S. prestige. In his speech, Khamenei offered little in terms of the economic steps Iran aim to take to respond to the new sanctions. The U.S. said that it would grant waivers to eight countries to import Iranian oil, including Turkey and Iraq, after the sanctions come into force.


Saudi Arabia

On November 2nd, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan writing in the Washington Post claimed that the order to kill Jamal Khashoggi was given at “the highest levels of the Saudi government” and accused Saudi authorities of refusing to answer key questions about the murder. On November 5th, a Turkish newspaper reported that Saudi Arabia deployed a “cover up” team which included a chemist and toxicology expert to Istanbul on October 11th in an attempt to obscure evidence.

A day earlier Khashoggi’s sons appeared on CNN calling for the return of their father’s body, in their first interview since he was killed on October 2nd. Despite the developments, reports also emerged that major U.S. firms including McKinsey, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Boston Consulting are all continuing business with Saudi Arabia as usual.



Clashes erupted among armed groups in Sabratha, Libya on November 4th. Local media reported that all entrances and exits of the city have been blocked by the warring parties. The UN, in a statement, warned that “attacks on civilian facilities [that endanger] civilians, and in this case young children, are prohibited by international humanitarian law.”

On November 5th, the UN Security Council authorized action against illicit oil exports from Libya for an additional six months. The Security Council also added a new justification for sanctions on Libya, namely planning and committing sexual and gender-based violence. The Netherlands and Sweden pushed for including “planning, directing or committing acts involving sexual and gender-based violence” as criteria for sanctions, citing the increasingly worrying problem in Libya especially against migrants trying to reach Europe.



Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed is expected to announce a partial cabinet reshuffle this week as he faces mounting pressure over the government’s failure to revive the economy, including from his own party Nidaa Tunis. Chahed will make changes to at least six portfolios, including Tourism, Energy, Health, and Transport, a source said. The Ministries of Interior, Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Finance are expected to be unaffected.



Morocco imposed an online entry permit rule for African travelers on November 1st. The rule requires them to fill out an online form at least 96 hours prior to their departure. This comes after increased pressure from the European Union has placed further scrutiny on Morocco’s migration policies. Since January, more than 40,000 African migrants have reached Spain’s southern coast via Morocco.



On October 31st, a Canadian-led NATO mission commenced in order to train Iraqi forces and promote stabilization. On November 2nd, Iraq’s government and the Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Forces  deployed up to 30,000 fighters in order to protect the Iraq Syria border. Iraq is desperate to avoid a border spillover of ISIS insurgents.



Following the tragic flash floods at the Dead Sea in late October, Jordan’s King Abdullah has accepted the resignation of two prime ministers, Minister of Tourism Lena Annab and Education Minister Azmi Mahafzeh. The Jordanian government has admitted responsibility for failing to effectively respond to the natural disasters.

Separately, official sources confirmed November 4th that Israel has submitted a formal request to the Jordanian government to meet on the status of al-Baqura and al-Ghamr, the two border areas that Jordan annexed in late October.



As Donald Trump re-imposes oil and financial sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the Obama administration in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal, Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the the move as “the sea change the Middle East has been waiting for.” Lieberman was originally appointed to his position in 2016 as part of an attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sideline a mainstream Israeli national security establishment that was largely supportive of the Iranian nuclear deal.

Local council elections took place across Israel October 31st, with the race for the position of mayor of Jerusalem entering a second round between Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Lion. Both Berkovitch, a secular candidate and current Jerusalem deputy mayor, and Lion, a candidate backed by the religious parties in the Knesset, have vowed to appeal to all sectors of the city, including the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Likud-backed candidate Ze’ev Elkin, who came in third in the race, had pledged to cut off some of these neighborhoods from the jurisdiction of the city council. Meanwhile, many Jerusalem Palestinians have boycotted the city’s mayoral elections, complaining of continued neglect of their neighborhoods by the city council.  



Hezbollah is demanding that one of its Sunni allies be given a post in Lebanon’s new government as politicians seek a compromise to the gridlock preventing the formation of a Lebanese government. Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri is trying to clinch a deal on a national unity government more than five months since a general election that produced a parliament tilted in favor of Hezbollah and its allies.



On November 4th, Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani issued a royal decree ordering cabinet reshuffle and appointing new ministers. Another decree named the CEO of Qatar National Bank  the minister of commerce and industry and the chief executive of Qatar Petroleum the minister of state for energy affairs. It was the first government shuffle in Qatar since early 2016 but diplomats and analysts said the changes did not represent a significant shift in power.



On November 4th, Bahrain’s public prosecutor sentenced the Shiite cleric Ali Salman, the former secretary-general of the main opposition party al-Wefaq, to life in prison along with other senior opposition figures accusing them of spying for regional rival Qatar. The court ruling came after Sheikh Salman was acquitted of all espionage charges by a Bahraini court months ago.



With informal approval by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Norway’s ambassador to China, Geir Pedersen, was appointed on October 30th by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as the new UN Special Envoy for Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on October 28th that the Turkish armed forces will begin a campaign east of the Euphrates River to clear northeast Syria of Syrian Kurdish YPG, an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party. On November 1st, the U.S. and Turkey began joint military patrols in Manbij in an effort to ease tensions regarding the YPG’s presence on Turkey’s southern border.

On November 5th, France announced that it issued international arrest warrants for three Syrian intelligence officials, including the director of Syria’s National Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk, in connection to the detainment, torture, and death of Syrian-French dual nationals Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh. The Dabbaghs were father and son, respectively, and were held at the notorious Mezzeh Airbase Prison in Damascus. French officials accused the regime officials of crimes against humanity. Syrian civil society groups lauded the move as a step towards justice and accountability. Jamil Hassan, the head of the Air Force Intelligence, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, the head of the Air Force Intelligence Investigative Bureau at the Mezzeh Airbase Prison, were the other two designated officials.



On November 2nd, Turkey and the U.S. announced their mutual lifting of sanctions on each other’s government officials following the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from detention in Turkey last month. Turkey also received initial signs from the U.S. that it will be granted a waiver allowing it to continue to import Iranian oil in line with US plans to re-impose sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

On October 31st, Turkey’s chief prosecutor said that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been strangled upon arrival at Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate and then dismembered. In a November 2nd op-ed in the Washington Post, President Erdogan wrote that Turkey “know[s] the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.”

Meanwhile, independent news reported that the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on November 4th protested the detention and arrests of over 6,000 party members. The protests coincided with the two-year anniversary of the November 4th, 2016 arrests of 11 HDP officials, including then party leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, for alleged links to terrorist organizations. Nine of the officials arrested then remain in jail.



Saudi-coalition backed Yemeni forces moved closer to Hodeidah port on November 4th in an effort to take the city from the Houthis as the UN warned that half of Yemen’s population is on the brink of a famine. Geert Cappelaere, Middle East director for the UN Children’s Fund, said, “We have evidence that today in Yemen every 10 minutes a child under the age of 5 is dying from preventable diseases and severe acute malnutrition.”