Middle east and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa Section of IR Insider publishes breaking news reports and analysis from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern and North African nations. Topics covered by the Middle East and North Africa Section may range from the Syrian Civil War to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and beyond. Our writers Zoie Brauser, Ali Hassan, and Shannon Kandell produce weekly. Our section editor is Emily Termotto.
In southeast Syria, the 40,000-person Rukban camp — controlled by the United States military — went without an aid delivery for three months, finally receiving it around Feb. 7. Aid comes only twice a year to the residents, 80% of whom are women and children.
Announced by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in December 2018, the Year of Tolerance is meant to advance “a decades-long dream of creating a tolerant and cohesive society, open to peoples of varying cultures and religions from around the world.”
On Monday, representatives from Iran and Syria signed a number of agreements and memorandums of understanding concerning the Syrian economy. News of the deals comes at a time when many Iranian government officials have been emphasizing the need for the country to take a leading role in Syria’s economic recovery as the Syrian Civil War appears to be coming to an end.
The conflict in Libya has created over 200,000 internally displaced people, 43,000 refugees, and wealth inequality that’s taking a toll on the middle-class.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Israeli police recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery and corruption on suspicion that he had eased regulations to benefit a telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his wife by a news website owned by the firm.
Israel began its military campaign against tunnels along the Lebanese-Israeli border. It is the first time Israel has taken action against these underground passageways, which are suspected to be part of an offensive initiative by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Amidst the G-20 summit held in Argentina on Nov. 30, the host country opened an inquiry into criminal charges against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The potential charges include human rights abuses, namely the torture and killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as well as war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war.
On Tuesday, Tunisians publically gathered in the cities of Tunis and Sfax to protest the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The protesters showed their disgust at Bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the atrocities of the Saudi-led war against the Houthis in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve relations with Israel at the expense of Palestinians.
In the latest wave of storms to hit the Middle East, areas across Iraq have been subjected to intense flooding after weeks of heavy rainfall.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Israel and Hamas signed an Egypt-brokered ceasefire to end an escalation of violence between the two parties that began on Sunday. After the agreement was signed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Hamas “begged for peace”. However, Palestinians in Gaza reportedly celebrated the signing of the ceasefire as a victory.
Violence between Israel and the Palestinians has increased along the Israel-Gaza border since Sunday. The increase in bombings and attacks follows a failed intelligence operation by the Israeli military that resulted in the deaths of several Palestinians, including Nour Baraka, the commander of Hamas’ Qassam Brigade. The latest attacks mark the greatest escalation in violence since 2014, with some officials expressing concern that Israel and Palestine may be on the brink of war.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has drawn more than a million visitors since it opened exactly one year ago. Situated on Saadiyat island, 500 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the museum is part of the United Arab Emirates’ tourism-cultural initiative to “help transform the art and cultural scene in the Middle East.”
The military forces of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi have intensified efforts to take back the Yemeni port city of Al Hudaydah from Houthis rebel control.
Hadi’s forces are backed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Houthi positions in the city. Nearly 200 fighters have died in the battle of Hudayda since fighting escalated last week. In the past 24 hours, 27 Houthi fighters and 12 of Hadi’s soldiers have been killed on the outskirts of the city.
Over 200 mass graves left by the Islamic State (ISIS) have been discovered in Iraq, according to a joint report released Tuesday by the United Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is estimated that 6,000-12,000 victims are buried at the sites, including women, children, people with disabilities, the elderly, foreign workers, and members of the Iraqi security forces.
On Tuesday Oct. 30, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) released on bail a British academic accused of espionage. Emirati authorities arrested Matthew Hedges, a PhD candidate at Durham University, in Dubai on May 5 and reportedly held him in solitary confinement for almost six months. Hedges denies spying for the UK government.
Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist from Japan, was freed after being held in captivity by militants in Syria since 2015. Yasuda is now being held in an immigration facility in Turkey and is believed to be in a healthy, stable condition. His captors were members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is known for holding foreigners hostage and demanding ransom from their governments. The group was previously affiliated with al Qaeda.
Jamal Khashoggi’s death in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate has brought the Saudi government’s foreign policy under greater scrutiny. A New York Times article showing pictures of starving Yemeni children is bringing much needed attention to the three-year-long civil war in Yemen, which, considering the intense humanitarian crisis, has received minimal coverage from Euro-American media.
On Oct. 22, the Government of Saudi Arabia admitted that the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. While Saudi Arabia stopped short of admitting the government’s involvement in the murder, the recognition allows for the prosecution of those directly involved in the crime to be tried as murder suspects.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin visited Saudi Arabia this past Sunday despite uproar over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mnuchin justified his trip by emphasizing the importance of the economic and strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, while at the same time stressing the need for the U.S. to serve as a leader for human rights.
On Saturday morning, the Islamic State (IS) released two women and four children as part of an agreement with the Syrian government. In return, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syrian government will release 60 women who are related to IS members, as well as a $27 million ransom.
Turkish officials claim to have obtained an audio recording revealing the final moments of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s life. Turkey’s Sabah newspaper reported the contents of the audio recording, which was allegedly captured by Khashoggi’s Apple Watch. Turkish authorities obtained the recording from Khashoggi’s iPhone and iCloud account that were synced to his watch.
On Saturday Oct. 13, the Brooklyn Museum opened an exhibit called “Syria then and now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart.” This exhibit marks the beginning of the 2018-2019 “New York Arab World Art & Education Initiative,” in which museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, as well as colleges like Columbia University are, according to the initiative’s website, coming together to “build a greater understanding between the United States and the Arab world.”
Tara Fares, an Iraqi social media star with nearly 3 million Instagram followers, was shot on September 27th while driving her car through Baghdad. It was announced on Monday that Fares had been killed by extremists. The announcement follows Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's demand for an investigation into not only the death of Fares, but also into what appears to be a pattern of “well-planned killings and kidnappings” with the aim of "carrying out a plan to destabilize the security situation under the pretext of fighting perversion."
Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, has been missing since October 2. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul the afternoon of October 2. CCTV footage from the consulate’s entrance shows Khashoggi entering the building. There is no footage indicating that he ever exited.
In the past month, Kuwait’s government has sponsored book banning and censorship by the Ministry of Information, the organization responsible for deciding which books are appropriate for consumption.
On Tuesday Oct. 2, the Council of Representatives (Iraq’s parliament) chose the Kurdish politician Barham Ahmad Salih to be Iraq’s new President. Immediately after his election to the role as President, Barham Salih assigned Shi’a politician Adel Abdul Mahdi with the task of forming a new government, thereby making him the new Prime Minister of Iraq.
Last Friday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to send a cadre of war crime experts into Yemen. The civil war in Yemen has caught international attention due to famine and widespread casualties.
Seven Palestinians were killed during conflict on the Gaza border last Friday, nearly six months after Palestinians in Gaza began protesting for the right to return. Health officials in Gaza estimate that at least 180 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began in March, and over 18,000 injured.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Donald Trump severely criticized each other’s governments in speeches at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.