News Roundup: Floods continue to devastate Southern Iran, Escalation of violence in Libya between Haftar and UN-backed government in Tripoli, and Bouteflika officially resigns after weeks of demonstrations
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2nd after weeks of massive street protests calling for his removal. The announcement of his resignation came after an earlier communiqué from the President’s office that said Bouteflika would step down before his term ended on April 28. The announcement followed calls by the country’s army chief for Bouteflika to resign. Bouteflika had already dropped plans to seek a fifth term as president as opposition to his rule grew. Protests in Algeria, however, expressed concerns over Algeria’s caretaker government, and called for the entire ruling regime to be replaced. Abdelkader Bensalah, an Bouteflika ally, as head of the current upper house of parliament was confirmed as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days until an election.
After the major and gas discovery in 2018, the government of Bahrain is seeking US expertise to develop an offshore shale discovery. Oil Minister Shaikh Mohamed bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa visited Texas in an effort to entice US operating and service companies to consider doing business in the Arabian Gulf country.
As the date for Parliament to vote on the new constitutional amendments nears, a propaganda campaign across Egypt is actively urging citizens to vote “yes.” Members of the pro-amendment camp from the House of Representatives are thought to be behind the campaign. Slated to take place on April 14th, voting for the constitutional amendments puts presidential terms limits and gender quotas in Parliament into question.
On April 7th, Egypt cleared a group of indigenous Nubians of charges related to a protest staged over two years ago. Of the 32 charged, eight were acquitted, and the rest received varying amounts of fines. The demonstrations that occurred in 2017 in Aswan were an attempt to peacefully assert Nubians’ right to return to their ancestral villages. However, Egypt has largely ignored their calls.
Finally, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi began a tour through West Africa on April 7th. The trip is part of his strategy to strengthen communication, commerce, and trade between Egypt and the rest of the African continent during his term as chairman of the African Union.
Widespread floods continue to devastate southern Iran, with the death toll rising to at least 70. Dozens of villages and towns are being evacuated as more rain is expected. The new flooding may affect up to 400,000 people in southern provinces. President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the Iranian Red Crescent have blamed U.S. sanctions for blocking aid to flood victims. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the Iranian government for mismanaging the crisis. The European Union on April 4 provided 1.2 million euros in disaster aid to Iran, a number that some Iranians called insufficient.
On April 8, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, an unprecedented step aimed at increasing pressure on Iran’s government. Iranian lawmakers are preparing reciprocal legislation that would label parts of the US military as terrorist groups, and Iranian officials reacted harshly to rumors of the announcement on April 7th. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Trump administration of doing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bidding, while IRGC commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari warned that “American forces deployed in the West Asia region will not enjoy the tranquility that they are experiencing today” in an April 7th statement.
On April 1st, the Basra Provincial Council unanimously voted to turn Basra Province into an autonomous region. The people in Basra have continuously protested against the federal government because of the lack of basic services, such as electricity and water. Basra Province is home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq.
Iran and Iraq have reached an understanding to develop two oil fields near their borders. During bilateral talks, the countries expressed interest in increasing trade and other links between the two states. On April 6th, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei pressured Baghdad to remove US troops from Iraq during a visit to the Iraqi capital. Khamenei reportedly believes the US is plotting to remove Iranian-backed politicians and activists from Iraq.
New reporting revealed April 3rd that Jordan rejected proposals offered in March from the United States and other international partners to mediate between Jordan and Israel over the dispute surrounding the opening of the Bab al-Rahma Mosque. In mid-March an Israeli court ruled that the mosque must be closed, which sparked Palestinian demonstrations.
On April 6th, Elie Bou Saab, Lebanon’s minister of national defense, stated that dialogue with Hezbollah rather than sanctions would prove more successful in dealing with tensions in their region. During remarks at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, he called Lebanon a “mosaic country.”
On April 7th, President Michel Aoun voiced his concern that Lebanese land occupied by Israel could be considered Israeli after the United States’ decision to recognize Syria’s Golan Heights as property of the Jewish state.
Violence in Libya escalated this week as forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, a warlord associated with the breakaway Eastern Government, clashed with allies of the UN-backed government in Tripoli. A warplane operated by pro-Haftar forces attacked the only functioning airport in Tripoli on April 8th as fighting between forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar and rival militias escalated and EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to try to de-escalate the violence. Mitiga airport, located in an eastern suburb of the capital, was temporarily closed after the airstrike. Fighting at Tripoli’s international airport is also ongoing; Haftar’s forces lost control of the Tripoli airport after clashes with forces allied to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The fighting left around 25 dead and injured over 80, according to Libya’s Health Ministry.
The United Nations’ top humanitarian official in Libya said more than 2,800 people had fled the violence in and around Tripoli, but wounded and vulnerable civilians are so isolated that emergency responders cannot reach them. The UN called for a truce to provide humanitarian services and evacuate at-risk civilians from areas overtaken by fighting.
The United States announced that it temporarily withdrew some of its forces from Libya due to “security conditions on the ground.” A small contingent of US troops has been stationed in Libya in recent years, mainly engaged in counterterrorism operations.
A Moroccan court upheld the prison sentences of Hirak movement activists on April 6th. The Hirak movement spread across Morocco’s northern Rif movement in 2016 and 2017, following the death of a local fish seller that prompted discussions of governmental neglect and injustice. The movement’s leader, Nasser Zefzaki, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and accused of encouraging separatism. A total of 41 other activists received prison sentences of varying lengths. Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Casablanca court demanding the prisoners’ release.
On April 6th, just days before the elections in Israel, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that, if re-elected, he would extend Israeli sovereignty over areas of Jewish settlement in the West Bank. In doing so, he said he would make no distinction between blocs of settlements and individual settlements. This followed the recent U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which many saw as a precursor to annexation of the West Bank.
On April 8th, on the eve of the Israeli elections, polls indicated that Netanyahu remains behind his main challenger Benny Gantz, head of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party. However, the same polls indicate that the overall right-wing bloc (Netanyahu’s likely coalition partners) holds a substantial lead over the center-left bloc (the likely coalition partners for Gantz). That means that even if Gantz’s party has the highest number of mandates when all votes have been counted, he may be unable to form a coalition, thus giving the next biggest party (the Likud) the opportunity to do so.
In response to Qatar filed lawsuits against several banks based in Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on April 8th alleging that Saudi Arabia and the UAE collaborated to manipulate its currency, the Qatari Riyal. The central bank of Qatar has opened an investigation to see whether Saudi Arabia and the UAE attempted to devalue the Qatari Riyal in the first month of their embargo that started in June 2017.
Saudi Arabia has detained seven activists, including two U.S. citizens, marking the kingdom’s first sweep of arrests targeting dissidents since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. One of the two U.S. citizens last week was Salah al-Haidar, a dual Saudi-U.S. citizen who is the son of prominent women’s rights defender Aziza al-Yousef, according to sources.
On April 3rd, satellite images published by Bloomberg showed that the Saudi Arabia is close to finishing its first nuclear reactor. There is increasing concern from U.S. lawmakers regarding Saudi Arabia’s compliance with international regulations and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and figures within the Trump administration regarding the Saudi Arabia’s development of nuclear technology.
On April 1st, Saudi Aramco revealed its net income of $111 billion in 2018, making the state oil company by far the most profitable company in the world. It hopes to attract more investors and borrow up to $15 billion in bond sales. The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to diversify the economy under his “Vision 2030” reform agenda.
On April 7th, at least 15 people were killed in shelling between the Syrian government and rebels in Syria’s opposition-held northwest. On April 1st, the Arab League announced its intent to submit a query to the International Court of Justice concerning the legality of U.S. President Donald Trump’s proclamation that recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Golan Heights.
Also on April 1st, the chairpersons and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee circulated a draft letter addressed to President Trump concerning the threats posed by Iran and Russia in Syria.
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi announced that he does not plan to run for re-election in November. Essebsi’s party has encouraged him to run, and he is constitutionally eligible for a second term. However, Essebsi, 92, stated that he intends to “open the door to the youth.” This comes after mass protests in Algeria led to the resignation of 82 year old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Last week’s tight local races in Turkey resulted in recounts of certain canceled ballots in a number of provinces. Turkey’s ruling party (AKP) called on April 7th for a full recount of all ballots cast in Istanbul, where numbers showed the opposition party candidate had won. Earlier in the week, the AKP also said it would seek to expand the vote recount in Ankara—where it also lost to the opposition—but on April 7th the Supreme Electoral Board rejected its appeal to fully recount all votes in the capital. Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) contested the AKP’s win in two southeastern provinces that have large Kurdish populations.
The last passenger flight from Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport flew on April 6th, as the transfer to Istanbul’s new airport was finalized. The airport, which Turkey has said will be the world’s largest, cost $8 billion and has been criticized both for its cost and its adverse impact on the environment and wildlife in the area.
A British-Iranian woman is facing two years in jail in UAE for allegedly insulting her ex-husband’s new wife on Facebook, a campaign group says. The Detained In Dubai campaign group said Laleh Shahravesh was arrested at Dubai airport in March after flying there to attend her ex-husband’s funeral. The group said she faced up to two years in jail and a fine of $65,000 for two Facebook posts she wrote while living in Britain in 2016.
In other news, the UAE became the first country to sign on to the ‘Scale 360’ initiative, is a World Economic Forum plan that aims to encourage a reduction in pollution and tackle climate change. The plan incorporates initiatives surrounding the promotion of renewable processes, innovation, and social governance. The initiative aims to minimize waste through recyclable and renewable goods to ensure their utilization even after the end of their shelf life and in order to achieve efficient use of natural resources. The Scale 360 plan coincides with the UAE Vision 2021.
An explosion in a warehouse in Sana’a on April 7th killed 13 people, including seven children, and injured over 100. The Saudi-led coalition denied striking the area, saying it carried out operations outside the city. On April 8th, Saudi Arabia and the UAE said they will provide $200 million in aid Yemen for use during the month of Ramadan.
On April 4th, the US House of Representatives voted to pass a measure to halt U.S. support for the war in the Yemen and withdraw U.S. troops deployed there within 30 days. The Senate passed the resolution in March, with an eye to constraining President Trump’s continued support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Trump is likely to veto the measure, but Congress still has other options to take a stand on Yemen.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) suspended its operations in the Yemeni port city of Aden on April 3rd. The decision to leave Aden follows the March 2nd kidnapping and murder of an MSF patient from one of the organization’s facilities in Aden. MSF said it was departing Aden out of concern for the deteriorating security situation; this is the first time the organization has pulled out of the city since 2015.