Weekly Roundup: Syrian activist Raed Fares murdered in Idlib, Saudi Arabia accused of torturing female detainees, and Tunisian civil servants strike over IMF-mandated wage cuts


On November 26th, Algeria’s state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach announced the completion of a solar plant that will provide clean energy to an oil field. The plant was constructed in partnership with Italian energy firm Eni, which has operated in Algeria since 1981.

Separately, Sonatrach suspended oil operations in Libya November 25th, citing security concerns. The company had signed a deal in January with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to run several oil wells along Algeria’s border with Libya.



Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa opened a new oil pipeline between the two countries on November 26th. The Crown Prince and the King Hamad attended the opening ceremony for the pipeline, a cooperative project between Saudi oil company Aramco and Bahrain Petroleum Company. The pipeline connects Saudi oil processing facilities at Abqaiq with the Bapco refinery in Bahrain.



Authorities revealed on November 22nd that Aisha al-Shater, daughter of Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater, and five others are in custody for an investigation into their links to the Brotherhood organization. The families of the detainees filed missing person reports over three weeks ago, but it is unclear when or if the government will release the detainees from custody. Egypt has arrested over 40 individuals since late October 2018, including human rights workers, lawyers, and political activists.



The European Union and Iran affirmed support for the 2015 nuclear deal this week amid talks in Brussels on civil nuclear cooperation. EU Energy Commissioner Arias Canete and Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi both emphasized the importance of keeping the deal alive, despite the withdrawal of the United States.

More than 700 people were injured in the western Iran province of Kermanshah by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on November 26th. Most have been treated and released, though at least 18 remain hospitalized. Kermanshah was the epicenter of an earthquake last year that killed more than 600 people.



Qais al-Khazali, the head of a powerful Iraqi militia, is seeking a formal role for Shia paramilitaries in securing Iraq’s border with Syria. al-Khazali leads the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and is urging the government to provide a more formal, long-term border protection role for the militias. Shia militias form a majority of the groups contained within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which have played a major role in the conflict with ISIL. PMF forces were deployed to the Iraqi-Syrian border in late October after an ISIL attack there.

Flash floods following weeks of heavy rains left 21 dead, over 180 injured, and thousands more displaced on November 23rd. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq announced emergency aid to the Iraqi government November 24th, aiming to provide for displaced persons in Ninewa and Salaheddine Provinces.



Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi met with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on November 23rd to discuss a political solution to the Syrian crisis, as well as bilateral ties between Russia and Jordan. Talks focused on the Rukban refugee camp, located in southern Syria by the Jordanian border. The two sides agreed that refugees from the camp should voluntarily return to their hometowns in Syria.

The cancellation of the Turkish-Jordanian free trade agreement (FTA) went into effect on November 22nd, with customs duties of 20-30% imposed on Turkish imports to Jordan. Jordan said that it was willing to reinstate the FTA if Turkey were to meet its demands, including agreements to protection measures that would shield local economies and increase Turkish technical assistance to Jordan.



On November 26th, Kuwait inaugurated its first-ever diplomatic mission to NATO. Kuwait has been an active member of NATO’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which aims to promote cooperation, interoperability, and understanding regarding common security challenges between NATO partners in the Arabian Gulf region.



The Lebanese government has entered the seventh month of a deadlock over the formation of a new government. On the eve of Lebanon’s 75th independence day, President Michel Aoun called for all parties to set aside differences and waste no time in the formation of a new government; the more time passes, he claims, the weaker Lebanon’s response to the worsening economic crisis. U.S. President Trump sent a message to Prime Minister Hariri and President Aoun on Lebanese Independence Day to reaffirm support and express praise for the parliamentary elections that took place last May.



On November 23rd, gunmen raided the town of Tazerbo, north of Kufra in Libya’s southern desert, killing nine people and kidnapping several others. A military source said the attackers had occupied a police station before being expelled by residents. Local officials blamed the attack on ISIS.

Libya’s coast guard released a statement November 26th announcing the rescue of 113 migrants, including women and children, who were bound for Europe off the country’s Mediterranean coast. Coast Guard officials said the migrants were taken to a refugee camp in the western town of Zawiya.



The Moroccan navy retrieved the bodies of 15 migrants and rescued another 53 from a boat off the coast of Morocco on November 24th. The boat was headed to Spain, but became stranded at sea for four days following engine failure. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 600 have died or gone missing while attempting to reach Spain. In September, the European Union provided Morocco with $275 million in aid, which is intended to help stem immigration flows from Morocco.



Saudi Arabia has barred over one and a half million Palestinian citizens of Israel from using temporary Jordanian passports in order to travel to Mecca and perform Hajj and Umrah. This policy bears similarities to one initiated in September barring Muslim Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, and East Jerusalem from using temporary Jordanian or Lebanese passports to perform pilgrimages.  

Israel is seeking to establish diplomatic relations with Bahrain in the latest development in a gradual warming between Israel and several Gulf states. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his willingness to forge official ties with Bahrain during the visit of Chadian President Idriss Deby to Jerusalem on November 25th.

On November 23rd, Israel admitted to sinking a Lebanese boat carrying refugees and killing 25 of the people on board off the coast of Tripoli in the 1982 Israeli-Lebanese War. Information on the sinking had been banned from publication since June 1982, until a petition from the nonprofit Consumers’ Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society and Economy. The submarine captain claimed that he thought the people on board the boat were terrorists.



Qatar Airways announced November 26th that it will add more flights to Iran starting in January. The announcement follows re-imposed US sanctions aimed at crippling Tehran’s economy. Qatar Airways will add two weekly flights to its existing Doha-Tehran route and add three weekly flights on its Shiraz service in January and two weekly flights to Isfahan in February.

On November 26th, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani signed several agreements with Turkey during a visit to Ankara. The agreements, which largely focused on cementing economic relations, aimed to reaffirm the already-close bilateral ties between the two countries.


Saudi Arabia

On November 20th, international rights monitors accused Saudi Arabia of subjecting several women’s rights activists to torture and psychological abuse while in prison. The activists have been imprisoned for over six months, and international bodies, including the UN, have repeatedly called for their release. Saudi officials rejected the allegations of prisoner abuse.

In Washington, the White House released a statement on November 20th responding to a CIA assessment holding Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. President Trump stood by the the Crown Prince and cast doubt on the CIA’s conclusion while noting the importance of U.S.-Saudi relations in countering Iran and fighting terrorism. In Congress on November 23rd, the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, expressed his intentions to investigate the U.S.-Saudi relationship next year, including the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen. Senators are expected to receive a briefing this week from senior Trump administration officials on Saudi Arabia that could determine whether Congress goes forward with sanctions on the Kingdom. Saudi officials have rebuked the CIA’s conclusions on the Khashoggi killing. Still, the international community has taken steps to censure Riyadh. Finland and Denmark announced the suspension of arms sales to the Kingdom on November 22nd, following a similar decision by Germany earlier this month.



On November 24th, Syrian non-violence activist, satirist, and radio host Raed Fares was murdered in the Idlib town of Kafranabel by unidentified gunmen. Fares, who had survived several previous attempts on his life, was killed alongside fellow activist Hamoud Junaid. His Radio Fresh station satirized the Assad government and opposition groups alike. Mourners filled the streets November 24th to commemorate Fares and his work.

On November 19th, outgoing UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura provided an update to the UN Security Council on the formation of a Syrian constitutional committee. A deadline is set for the end of 2018 to form a the committee, after which de Mistura’s replacement, Geir Pedersen, will take over as UN Syria envoy.

On November 25th, Syrian state media reported that rebels carried out a chemical attack in government-held Aleppo. Damascus alleges that over 100 people were injured, and called on the UN to condemn the act.



The Tunisian cabinet approved a bill that mandates gender equality in inheritance on November 23rd. The bill will be next be sent to parliament for discussion. The law was proposed by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. It was rejected by the Islamist Ennahda party, as it contradicts Quranic stipulations on inheritance. In response to Ennahda, Essebsi stated that Tunisians should have the ability to choose whether or not to follow the Islamic code. A 2017 survey by the International Republican Institute found that 63 percent of Tunisians oppose equal inheritance.

Approximately 650,000 Tunisian civil servants went on strike November 22nd strike to protest the government’s refusal to raise public sector wages. Thousands gathered in front of the parliament building in Tunis, while others protested in Sfax, Sidi Bouzid, and other major cities. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed is working to reduce Tunisia’s budget deficit, and his unpopular reforms have included significant cuts to the public sector and state companies in order to comply with IMF mandates for receiving loan funds. Union leader Noureddine Taboubi said negotiations failed because Tunisia had lost sovereign control over the wage issue to the IMF.



On November 23rd, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu criticized President Trump’s response to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and continued support of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, accusing Trump of “turning a blind eye” to the events.

President Erdogan dismissed a November 20th European Court of Human Rights decision ordering the release of former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş, saying the court’s decisions are not binding on Turkey. Turkey’s response to the decision threatens to increase tensions between Turkey and Europe. The Council of Europe also called on Turkey to release Demirtas in line with the ruling. Turkey has signed on to the European Convention of Human Rights, which makes the Court’s decisions binding on signatories.

On November 25th, riot police in Istanbul fired tear gas at a gathering for a women’s rights march after the crowd did not disperse. In a report coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, for which the march was also organized, Turkey’s Human Rights Association found an increase in incidents of violence against women in the country over the past six years. It cited a lack of enforcement and implementation of existing legislation as drivers of this rise.


United Arab Emirates

Matthew Hedges, a British academic who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the UAE for espionage received an official pardon on November 26th, although UAE officials continue to insist that he does work for British intelligence. The conviction of Hedges, and the severity of the sentence, was met with outrage in Britain. The British government rejected accusations that Hedges was a spy, insisting there was no evidence behind the charges, but expressed gratitude to the UAE for pardoning him.



Five international charities have urged the United States to halt all military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, saying such a move would save millions of lives. A joint statement by the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, CARE U.S., Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council said that 14 million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen if the parties to the conflict don’t change course immediately. The charities called on the United States to back up its recent call for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen with genuine diplomatic pressure.

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