The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al Sabah, has been admitted to a local hospital after a sudden health issue, according to reports from the Kuwaiti media on Wednesday. The state-run Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) further added that the Emir’s health condition is presently stable.
Citing medical sources, KUNA also provided assurance that Sheikh Nawaf is slated to receive necessary medical treatment and will further undergo comprehensive medical examinations to determine the nature of the health emergency.
Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al Sabah, widely known as Emir Nawaf, is the current reigning monarch of the State of Kuwait. He took the reins of leadership following the passing of his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah IV, in September of 2020. Managing the affairs of the country at a critical time amidst the pandemic, he remains an influential figure in the region, making his health a matter of national significance.
Health updates of rulers in the Gulf Arab monarchies are closely watched due to their tremendous influence on their respective countries’ political and socio-economic landscapes. The incident has stirred a sense of worry among domestic and international observers, drawing widespread attention as speculation swirls regarding the natural progression of leadership in this oil-rich country.
However, the prompt assurance about the Emir’s stabilised condition has somewhat allayed potential speculation over immediate succession or any burgeoning political crisis in the country. As it is, succession in Kuwait is a relatively transparent process, typically passing to the most capable among the senior members of the Al Sabah family. What potential implications this situation may have regarding any possible leadership transition remains a subject of profound speculation.
Reportedly, Emir Nawaf has been taken to a local hospital for the emergency health issue, further details of which are yet to be disclosed. It could give more context to the gravity of the situation, which is evidently a significant concern for the people of Kuwait and other regional actors alike.
In times past, health crises concerning the leaders of the Gulf have at times led to major leadership reshuffles, sparking changes in regional geopolitics. The reconsideration of political alignments might be an implication that may warrant attention, bearing in mind the intricate geopolitical dynamics of the region.
It is hoped that the swift medical response to Emir Nawaf’s emergency health crisis, as reported, will soon lead to his speedy recovery. Efforts to stabilise his condition will remain an immediate priority, and the ongoing medical examinations will reveal more about the situation in due course.
Drawing attention towards the numerous variables at play, this incident is a stark reminder of how the health of leaders can at times critically impact the socio-political landscape of a nation. For now, the spotlight is firmly on the Emir’s health, not only in Kuwait but across the broader Middle East region.
Until further information regarding the Emir’s health is made available, much remains speculative. It serves as a subtle yet potent reminder of the inherent fragility of life and leadership. It underscores the pivotal role leaders such as Emir Nawaf play on the national and global political stages. Meanwhile, prayers and well-wishes for the speedy recovery of the leader are pouring in from across the globe.
While the Gulf region keeps a keen eye on the Emir’s health, the world too watches with bated breath as the situation continues to unfold.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Nasser Waggi
In a startling event that raised significant concerns within the international naval community, two ballistic missiles launched by the Houthi rebels came to rest near a US Navy tanker stationed in the Gulf of Aden, off the Yemeni coast. The tanker was in the midst of a routine operation to assist a commercial vessel when the incident occurred. This alarming event carries grave implications, given the backdrop of spiralling tensions due to a surge in attacks on ships tied to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
Decoding the geographical importance, the Gulf of Aden is a strategic waterway, nestled in the Arabian Sea between Yemen on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. An estimated 20,000 ships pass through its waters each year, directly contributing to the global oil transportation network. This incident has stirred anxiety around the existing climate of instability in the region.
Although the source of the missiles has not been officially confirmed, early analysis suggests that they were fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have previously targeted Saudi-led coalition forces in and around Yemen. The Houthis have of late been embroiled in an intensifying conflict with the Saudi-led coalition, which has been waging war in Yemen since 2015. The resultant turmoil and human tragedy have drawn international scorn, yet the conflict shows alarming signs of escalating further.
The timing of this incident troubles many within the maritime security community. It comes hot on the heels of a recent spate of ship attacks that are seemingly interlinked with the ever-inflating diplomatic and military standoff between Israel and Hamas. The current pressure-cooker situation in the wider Middle East is inducing an undercurrent of tension in these crucial maritime channels.
The potential implications of these missile strikes cast a shadow over the activity of naval relief work, which at times necessitates the assistance of military vessels like the US Navy tanker implicated in this incident. The tanker’s primary mission was to provide support to a civilian commercial vessel when it became the unwitting target of the ballistic missiles.
International reactions have been immediate, with grave concerns raised about the security of global maritime trade, particularly involving the transport lanes for crude oil. Questions have swelled regarding the adequacy of current protocols for naval vessels operating in regions rife with conflict and the potential for international escalation of the ongoing Israel-Hamas tension within the maritime domain.
The precarious scenario in the Gulf of Aden is symptomatic of the broader issues afflicting the Middle East, including issues of maritime security, territorial disputes, and continued instability. This event not only raises critical questions regarding the assured safety of vessels in the region and the potential threats to global trade activities, but it also further reroutes attention towards the deep-seated issues that have led to such a volatile environment in the maritime sector and beyond.
With the discourse on geopolitics, conflict management, and maritime security becoming increasingly relevant in the aftermath of these incidents, it falls upon the global community to muster an effective, balanced, and enduring solution to these challenges. As of now, the consequences of this missile attack near the US Navy tanker remain to be seen, and the unfolding geopolitical narrative seems to hint towards an intricate confluence of regional tensions, global interests, and ever-evolving naval security obligations.
Image Credit: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight/Handout via Reuters
In a bold move to combat soaring inflation, Turkey’s central bank has increased its main interest rate to 40%, a significant rise from the previous rate of 35%. This increase surpassed expectations and marks a decisive shift in the country’s monetary policy.
The central bank, now under the leadership of Hafize Gaye Erkan, a former Wall Street banker, has been granted the freedom to escalate interest rates significantly. This move, which has seen rates jump from 8.5% to 40%, aims to curb the escalating cost of living by making borrowing more expensive and thus slowing down price rises.
In a statement, the central bank indicated that the rate hikes were nearing the level necessary to begin reducing inflation, which hit a staggering 61.36% in October. Inflation is expected to continue its upward trend, potentially peaking at around 70-75% by May next year.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had previously resisted raising interest rates despite global trends and economic orthodoxy, has altered his stance following his re-election in May. Erdogan had earlier argued that higher rates would lead to increased prices, a view at odds with conventional economic wisdom.
This policy shift comes at a critical time for Turkey’s economy, which experienced substantial growth in the early years of President Erdogan’s administration but has faced significant challenges recently. The central bank’s prior strategy of cutting interest rates amidst high inflation had precipitated a currency crisis in 2021, forcing the government to implement measures to protect lira deposits from currency depreciation.
The central bank has expressed that the current pace of monetary tightening will soon slow down, and the tightening cycle will be completed in a short period. It also stressed that interest rates would remain elevated for as long as necessary to ensure sustained price stability, reflecting a determined approach to stabilising the nation’s economy.
Image Credit: Tarik Haiga on Unsplash
Lebanon’s once-thriving hospitality industry is experiencing a severe downturn due to escalating border tensions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. In Byblos, a coastal city north of Beirut and home to a World Heritage site, the war’s specter has led to deserted streets and empty establishments. Bartender Richard Alam, 19, has seen a dramatic drop in customers, reflecting a broader trend across the country’s hospitality venues..
The impact is not limited to Byblos; it extends throughout Lebanon. Customer scarcity is evident in souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, with many business owners like Mona Mujahed, 60, reporting a significant loss of income. The conflict has deterred not only international tourists but also domestic visitors, further straining an industry already weakened by an economic crisis since 2019, which forced the closure of half of Lebanon’s hospitality establishments.
Tony Ramy, head of an industry syndicate, notes that the sector was just beginning to recover from multiple setbacks, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut port explosion in 2020. However, the recent conflict has led to a considerable decline in clientele, with up to an 80% drop on weekdays and 30-50% on weekends.
The conflict’s toll has been deadly, with cross-border skirmishes resulting in casualties on both sides. Lebanon has reported at least 88 deaths, primarily Hezbollah combatants and 10 civilians, while northern Israel has recorded nine deaths, including six soldiers.
The repercussions extend to air travel, with Lebanon’s national carrier Middle East Airlines reducing flights due to a significant drop in passenger numbers from the region and Europe. This decrease has contributed to the struggle of hospitality venues in Beirut, where places like the Hotel Cavalier in the Hamra area have seen a surge in cancellations and a drastic reduction in new bookings.
Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted, according to Pierre Ashkar, head of the hotel owners’ syndicate. He mentioned that even if the conflict ends soon, it would take months for travel advisories to change and business to return to normal. Despite these challenges, there is a sense of resilience among the Lebanese, born from years of navigating through crises, including the civil war and other conflicts. This enduring spirit gives hope to the sector’s eventual recovery once stability returns.
The Israeli National Security Council has declared that the commencement of a prisoner exchange agreement with the Islamist organisation Hamas has been postponed until at least Friday. This crucial decision, which impacts the fate of several hostages in custody, was disclosed by the council’s president, Tzachi Hanegbi.
Hanegbi, who was instrumental in the intricate negotiation process, revealed that discussions concerning the release of the hostages have been “constantly progressing”. The steady development suggests that while there might be complexities in finalising this critical pact, both parties are committed to a resolution.
This announcement is significant in the context of the turbulent history between Israel and Hamas. It provides a crucial snapshot into the ongoing struggle to establish dialogue and agree on terms that could potentially alleviate some elements of the prolonged tensions. Indeed, it indicates a willingness and desire for peaceful negotiation over militaristic conflict.
The concept of a hostage exchange deal is not new in the conflict-laden relationship between Israel and Hamas. They have a precedent of similar negotiations over the years. However, the present case provides an opportunity for a brand new perspective on the way forward for these two entities.
The Israeli National Security Council, acting as a pivotal fixture in this ongoing scenario, is tasked with managing the state’s overall national security. The council’s strategies and decisions are often viewed as instrumental in influencing the course of the nation’s history. Its president, Tzachi Hanegbi, is a notable figure in Israeli politics, renowned for his diplomatic approach towards critical national matters.
Details of the hostages or the specifics of the swap deal have not been released in the council’s initial announcement. It remains a matter of speculation as to who these individuals are and what their release could mean to both Israel and Hamas. This sensitive issue carries profound implications, both human and political, which are likely to resonate beyond the immediate context of this deal.
The decision to postpone the initiation of the hostage swap suggests the intricate dynamics and probable challenges that the Israeli National Security Council is grappling with. It underpins the complex, diplomatic panorama of Middle East politics, bearing testimony to the region’s intricate weave of conflicts and alliances.
This development warrants close monitoring due to the potential it carries for affecting the broader narratives surrounding the Israeli-Hamas relationship. The subtle diplomacy at work in such arrangements, and what they imply about the wider social, political and security implications, remain points of interest for observers around the globe.
The stage is now set for Friday’s proceedings with the world watching carefully. The emphasis is not only on the release of the hostages but also on the broader political implications of the agreement. This incident presents yet another episode in the layered narrative of the Middle East, a narrative whose repercussions resonate far beyond the region’s geographical boundaries.
The Israeli National Security Council’s announcement of a delay in the hostage exchange deal with Hamas serves as a stark reminder of the complexities and realities of maintaining peace and stability within the volatility of the Middle East.
The latest Landmine Monitor data, released on Tuesday, alarmingly indicates that children comprised almost half of the civilian population killed or injured by landmines last year. The report outlines grim statistics, stating 4,710 casualties attributed to mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the past year, resulting in 1,661 deaths and 3,015 injured individuals.
Out of the total casualties documented, 85% were civilians, equating to 4,341 of the victims for whom the military or civilian status was known. Further disconcerting data reveals an estimated 49% of civilian victims were children, denoting 1,171 casualties where age was accounted for.
Syria recorded the highest number of casualties at 834 – a macabre distinction the nation retains for a third successive year. Ukraine, which reported 608 casualties, a staggering ten-fold increase from the previous year, and Yemen along with Myanmar, each accounted for over 500 casualties in the same period.
The report likes to echo the devastating and disproportionate impact of mines and ERWs on civilians, stating, “Children made up almost half (49%) of civilian casualties and just over one-third (35%) of all casualties in 2022, where the age group was known.” Most child casualties were boys, who accounted for nearly 79% of victims where gender was recognized. ERWs and improvised mines were the main items responsible for child victims; accounting for 44% and 19% of casualties respectively.
The report delves deeper, voicing concern over the expected rise in casualties in Ukraine for the year 2023. Despite progress in landmine clearance, the critical issue of underfunded care facilities for victims persists.
In 2022, global support for mine action rose to $913.5 million, a notable 52% ($314.5 million) year-on-year increase. Activities across Ukraine saw $162.3 million of this sum. For the first time, Saudi Arabia emerged among the top 15 donors, which jointly contributed 97% of global mine action funding that amounted to $774.9 million. However, the UK’s contribution saw a significant decrease, down by 35% from its previous contribution in 2021.
Contrarily, the United States and the European Union, the largest and second largest mine action donors respectively, notably upped their contributions in 2022. Half of all victim support was allocated to just three states – Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. However, the report underlines these states were still failing to receive the help they need.
Issues in healthcare and rehabilitation services, like underfunding, accessibility, lack of expertise, and material supply have persisted in 2022. Countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen, faced massive disruption, damage, and even destruction to their healthcare systems in the same period. While some strides in integrating physical rehabilitation into national healthcare systems were noted, the report cited a lack of prioritisation from several affected countries.
Of the 164 state parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, 94 have confirmed the destruction of their stocks of antipersonnel mines, amounting to a total of 55 million landmines being destroyed. Sri Lanka was the latest to destroy its stocks in October 2021.
In 2022, state parties reported clearing a total of 219.31km² of contaminated land, resulting in the destruction of 169,276 antipersonnel landmines. This presents a rise compared to 2021, when 132.52km² of land was cleared and 117,847 mines were destroyed. Cambodia and Croatia reported the highest clearance rates in 2022, by jointly clearing over 128.67km² of land and destroying 14,815 antipersonnel mines.
Image Credit: AP News
The confluence of diplomatic efforts between Israel and Hamas has birthed a historic truce agreement, a significant measure hailed and welcomed by the United Nations. This significant development could steer the region towards peaceful negotiations at a time of rising tensions.
The UN took to the digital forum X (previously known as Twitter) to applaud this significant move. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, expressed his endorsement of the Israel-Hamas agreement. This truce, facilitated by the mediation efforts of Qatar and supported strongly by Egypt and the United States, was praised as an essential stride towards stability in the Middle East.
The UN’s post emphasised, “This is an important step in the right direction; however, much more needs to be done.” The United Nations positioned itself firmly in support of the implementation of the agreement, promising to marshal all its faculties to ensure its success.
Simultaneously, global reactions to the truce have been largely positive. Turkey, among others, lauded the Israel-Hamas truce in Gaza, depicting it as a vital measure to prevent further bloodshed. The Turkish Foreign Ministry underscored its expectation for ‘full compliance’ with the truce arrangement, which comprises the release of hostages, prisoners, and amplified humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Notwithstanding, the successful execution of the deal is marked by several noteworthy developments on the ground. Prime among them is the slated release of hostages and prisoners on both sides – a move expected to alleviate current tensions substantially. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed that the first group of hostages in Gaza is expected to be released on Thursday. The phase will see 50 Israeli hostages freed by Hamas, whilst Israel has committed to releasing 150 Palestinians.
Global sentiments towards this truce have been welcoming, with China adding its voice to the countries celebrating this ‘humanitarian pause’ and prisoner swap deal.
At the heart of the region, amid a tentative air of hopefulness, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also exhibited joy following the announcement of the humanitarian armistice in Gaza.
However, the desired stability in the region is conditional to the steadfast pursuit of humanitarian efforts. In this regard, the call from the WHO’s regional head for the Eastern Mediterranean, Ahmed Mandhari, emphasises the need for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza. He highlighted the need for hospitals to fulfil their crucial roles following the humanitarian truce arrangement.
Certainly, the undertakings towards the successful execution of the Israel-Hamas truce represent a commendable stride towards stability. Nonetheless, it is recognised that the pathway to lasting peace in the Middle East requires unwavering commitment from all parties involved. As the international community keeps a close watch on the region’s developments, the hope for a definitive and enduring resolution remains steadfastly alive.
Image Credit: AP Photo/ Yousef Masoud
In a decision grounded in judicial controversy, Iraq’s Parliament has confirmed the cessation of membership for its ex-Speaker, Mohammed Al Halbousi. The decision, announced this Tuesday, comes in the wake of a protracted legal battle and is the result of a ruling by the nation’s highest court.
Earlier this year, accusations were levelled against Al Halbousi by Sunni legislator Laith Al Dulaimi of fraudulent activity. Al Dulaimi contended that Al Halbousi had manipulated his signature and fabricated a date on a resignation letter. The proceedings led to the Federal Supreme Court’s breakthrough ruling last week that not only resulted in Al Halbousi’s expulsion but also terminated Al Dulaimi’s presence as an MP.
The Federal Supreme Court order was ratified when Mohsen Al Mandalawi, the Deputy Speaker, signed the decision terminating Al Halbousi’s membership. Parallelly, Parliament addressed the Independent High Elections Commission in a letter this Monday, nominating a lawmaker to fill Al Halbousi’s now-vacant seat. As per established legal procedure, the seat will be given to the candidate who polled the most votes but lost to Al Halbousi in the October 2021 elections.
Post the 2003 US-led incursion that upended the reign of Saddam Hussein and subverted the existing political framework, the US installed a democratic system of governance. The newly established political architecture envisaged national elections every four years for the selection of members of Parliament and the formation of the government. The resultant setup, where the government’s formation is not anchored exactly on election results, has been a cauldron of broad-based dispute since its inception during the first free elections in 2005.
An unofficial but practised rule amongst political parties designates the largely ornamental role of president to a Kurd, the prime minister’s position to a Shiite and leaves the Speaker of Parliament’s office for a Sunni. The remaining governmental offices are distributed across the political factions in accordance with their religious and ethnic identities.
Despite the recent upheaval, Parliament has maintained its equilibrium and scheduled an extraordinary session dedicated to voting for a fresh Speaker of Parliament this coming Wednesday. Sunni political entities, however, remain mired in stalemate over the nomination of an acceptable candidate. Al Halbousi, refusing to concede defeat, is advocating for a nominee from his Taqadum Party as his rivals eye the vacant berth.
Following the ruling by the Federal Supreme court, Al Halbousi brought constitutional disputes to bear, contending the court had stepped beyond its legal parameters when addressing Parliamentary membership. He asserted that the court is solely responsible for arbitrating constitutional issues consensus of legislative and regulatory mandates, as well as adjudicating disputes across federal governments, regions, and provinces. Membership and cessation of membership to the Parliament, he insisted, fall within the purview of the constitution, applicable laws and procedural protocols which he claims sit outside the court’s authority.
Shrugging off the dismissal, The Taqadum Party released a statement indicating three ministers – of planning, industry and culture – were planning on resigning in light of Al Halbousi’s termination. This party-wide revolt extends to participation, with party members refusing to attend Parliamentary sessions and commit to political dialogues with other parties. However, these resignations have been rejected by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, as per an official communication on Monday.
Image Credit: Iraqi Parliament media office via Reuters
In a fresh round of confrontations, a US warplane has launched a retaliatory strike against an Iran-backed militant group suspected to be at the heart of recent attacks on the Ain Al-Asad base, as confirmed by the US Central Command.
The strike orchestrated from the American side is widely seen as a robust response and a measure of self-defence exerted to protect its interests in the region. This development follows Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East, raising concerns among officials and spectators alike.
The US Central Command, the force overseeing American military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, issued a report detailing the event. The statement affirmed that an American aircraft initiated a focused counterstrike aimed at neutralising forces believed to be direct contributors to the offensive on Ain Al-Asad base.
The Ain Al-Asad base, on Iraq’s western border, has been a recurrent target of attacks since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The latest incident being an act of aggression against the installation which houses multiple international forces, including American and coalition troops.
The American airstrike against the armed group supported by Iran signals mounting tensions in the region. This highlights the rapidly evolving face of conflict in the Middle East, where Iran’s involvement is increasingly marked in militarised altercations. Iran has been implicated in providing support, including detailed logistics and contingency, to a variety of armed factions across the Middle East.
The defensive action taken by the U.S. is a clear affirmation of the country’s resolve to protect their on-ground assets. The U.S. government, while demonstrating a reasoned stance towards Iran’s aggressive tendencies, conveys to international spectators that it will not shy away from safeguarding its regional interests and those of its allies.
This U.S. operation comes on the back of increased geopolitical tensions in the Middle East region, involving a range of state and non-state actors, intermittently colluding and clashing. The stability of the region becomes ever more precarious with the critical balance of power subjected to the ambitions of Iran, the US, and other regional players.
The retaliatory measure instigated by the US military is seen as a significant move. While the American government has largely relied on diplomatic pressures and economic sanctions to curb Iran’s ambitions, this military action indicates a distinct shift in strategy.
Indeed, the incident underlines a pressing question around diplomatic relations and strategic alliances in the region. It forces a re-evaluation of the existing dynamics, bringing to the forefront the implications of shifting military power plays, the positioning of international actors, and the profound impact these could have on the region’s future stability.
Simply put, this proactive strike by a US warplane brings into sharper focus the issue of Iran’s involvement in backing armed militant groups across the Middle East region. It underlines the immediate need for an international consensus in addressing the situation, bringing a peaceful resolution for the peoples of the region and ensuring a stable global environment remains not just a possibility, but a reality.
Whilst the direct confrontation between American and Iran-backed forces is an alarming escalation, it further underscores the importance of achieving a robust and effective diplomatic solution. The coming days will undoubtedly unveil the full repercussions of this latest event, highlighting the pivotal role of strategic diplomacy in de-escalating the situation and the path taken by the key players involved.
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France has embarked on the pursuit of an international arrest warrant for none other than Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. This allegation revolves around his purported involvement in grievous crimes against humanity, traceable back to chemical attacks executed in 2013. Verifiable sources close to the judiciary and the plaintiffs in the case have come forward confirming these allegations.
The 2013 attacks, which have been largely condemned by the international community, transpired near Damascus, the Syrian capital, within the month of August. These horrific events claimed the lives of over 1,400 civilians. In an episode that provoked shockwaves around the globe, these chemical attacks notably were attributed, by opposition factions, to al-Assad’s regime.
This is far from the first time that al-Assad’s regime has been implicated in such grave charges. His reign, which kicked off in the year 2000, has been dogged by numerous allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, this is the first time that an international arrest warrant has been pursued by one of Syria’s Western critics.
The charges levelled against al-Assad go beyond mere complicity; they challenge his direct culpability in these war atrocities. France’s accusations, as significant as they are, point towards an intricate pattern of complying in war crimes on part of the Syrian President.
Marking a new chapter in the Syrian civil war narrative, French action comes at a high point in international dissatisfaction with al-Assad’s regime. The undeniable repercussions of these chemical attacks have left an indelible scar on the psyche of Syrian citizens and the global community at large.
There had been persistent calls for accountability and justice from the international community following these incidents. Yet the documentary evidence required to firmly link al-Assad to these attacks has always been lacking until now. The specifics of the evidence which provided the basis for France’s new charges against al-Assad have not been made public, leaving details of its nature and credibility still under a veil of speculation.
What is clear, however, is that should these charges be upheld in an international court, they would have far-reaching implications not just for al-Assad’s regime, but for the geopolitics of the entire Middle East region. It is an overall development that contributes to a deeper understanding of the ongoing dynamics of the Syrian crisis and provides a clearer lens by which to view the accountability for these atrocities.
On another note, some critics have already pointed out that the enforceability of France’s warrant is likely to be challenged. Historically, efforts to hold state leaders accountable for crimes under their watch have been fraught with political hurdles. The case of al-Assad, a head of state still firmly in power, will indeed be no exception.
As the world watches on, the success or failure of this international arrest warrant pursuit will undoubtedly set the tone for future endeavours to uphold justice and accountability against state leaders accused of war crimes. What we see unfolding could potentially re-shape the expectations and enforcement capacities of international criminal justice, all the while sending a clear message to leaders worldwide about the heavy price of crimes against humanity.
In light of these developments, it is crucial to bear in mind that these accusations are still allegations at this stage. Yet, they undeniably serve as a stark reminder of the weight and gravity of war crimes and their potential consequences for leaders who fail to respect international
The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, will embark on a strategic journey to Egypt and Jordan this Saturday, November 18th. The news was revealed on X, the social networking service formerly known as Twitter, by a spokesperson for the EU Commission.
Underlining von der Leyen’s visit is a testament to the European Union’s growing commitment to deepen diplomatic and trade links with countries in the Middle East region. Egypt and Jordan, as pivotal nations in this area, undoubtedly play significant roles in shaping regional stability and prosperity, and fostering fruitful dialogue with them is part of von der Leyen’s plan to fortify EU’s Middle East policy.
This announcement comes amidst dynamic global and regional transformations, where powerful blocs like the EU are reassessing and bolstering their international relationships. Egypt, the most populous Arab state, holds a key strategic location at the crossroads of Africa and Asia. Its complicated geopolitical status makes it both a necessary ally and a potential pivot for the EU’s influence in Africa and the broader Middle East.
Consequently, von der Leyen’s visit to Egypt represents not just a diplomatic courtesy call but a symbolic assertion of the EU’s willingness to engage robustly with transitional democracies in the region, despite their complexities and challenges.
Furthermore, historians and analysts recognise Jordan as a centre of relative calm in an otherwise turbulent region. Jordan’s stability, despite its location amidst some of the region’s most intense conflicts, is often credited to its balanced foreign policies. As such, von der Leyen’s trip signifies the EU’s acknowledgement of Jordan’s role maintaining stability and peace within the region and aims to strengthen mutual cooperation against shared challenges.
Indeed, the European Union has previously leveraged Jordan as an influential mediator between warring factions in neighbouring countries, offering aid to support hosting refugee populations displaced by conflicts. As such, von der Leyen’s visit affirms the EU’s commitment to sustaining this cooperative relationship.
It remains to be seen how these upcoming engagements with Egypt and Jordan will influence the wider EU’s policy towards the Middle East. It is also worth noticing how von der Leyen will use these visits to manoeuvre the finer points of diplomacy, particularly when addressing contentious topics such as human rights, democracy, and regional security.
Nevertheless, this visit signifies the EU’s continuing desire to foster stronger ties with Middle Eastern countries, acknowledging their geopolitical significance and their potential role in shaping a more stable and peaceful Middle East. As such, von der Leyen’s trip could aid in forming or strengthening alliances and partnerships within this critical region.
This report reaffirms the European Union’s ongoing efforts to build robust and mutually beneficial relationships with Middle Eastern nations. Communities in Egypt and Jordan will be keen to see how the visit from von der Leyen can influence their strategic partnership with the EU, potentially opening avenues for deeper cooperation and increased investment.
While this upcoming journey signifies a specific diplomatic effort, it also mirrors the broader global trend of nations realigning and reassessing their relationships within the increasingly intertwined world political sphere. Further updates on the visit will be reported as events unfold.
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Iran has firmly dismissed a G7 communique urging Tehran to cease its backing of Hamas operatives and actions that contribute to the instability in the Middle East. The G7, comprised of the world’s leading economies, convened in Tokyo and highlighted their advocacy for humanitarian truces and safe passages amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
This rebuttal from Tehran arrived subsequent to the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting where they aligned in support of measures aimed at easing the hostilities in Gaza. The region has been subjected to intensive Israeli air raids subsequent to the incursion by Hamas militants on the 7th of October, which resulted in significant civilian casualties and the capture of hostages, as stated by Israeli authorities.
The Israeli countermeasures in Gaza have led to a substantial number of deaths, with a disproportionate impact on women and children, as reported by the health ministry controlled by Hamas. Furthermore, the G7’s appeal to Iran encompassed a broader scope, urging restraint in its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and other similar entities.
In a strong response on Thursday, the spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanani, repudiated the G7’s declaration. He criticized the group—which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Italy, France, and Japan—for not fulfilling what he deemed their international duty to denounce the actions of Israel that contravene human rights and international law in Gaza.
Despite backing Hamas both financially and militarily, Iran has praised the militant group’s offensive against Israel as a “success” while refuting any direct involvement. President Ebrahim Raisi has stated Iran’s commitment to support resistance factions and maintains that these groups operate autonomously. Iran, which does not recognize Israel’s statehood, has consistently underscored its solidarity with the Palestinian cause as a fundamental aspect of its foreign policy since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
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The recent opening of the Gaza-Egypt border crossing has presented a potential exit route for British nationals trapped in the conflict-ridden Gaza Strip.
The border, often subject to closures, has seen a rare opening, giving hope to those British citizens who have found themselves stranded amidst the ongoing tensions in the region. The British Foreign Office has been continuously monitoring the situation, exploring every possible avenue to ensure the safe return of its nationals.
The frequent flare-ups between Gaza and Israel have led to numerous border shutdowns in the past, making it difficult for Britons and other foreign nationals to leave the territory. The sudden opening of the border crossing at Rafah could provide a much-needed escape route.
A spokesperson from the Foreign Office stated, “We are acutely aware of the challenges faced by British nationals in Gaza. We are exploring all options and are in continuous touch with local authorities to facilitate a safe passage for our citizens.”
However, with the unpredictability of the situation, there is no certainty about how long the border will remain open, urging those in need of evacuation to act swiftly.
Concerned family members in the UK are advised to stay updated via the Foreign Office’s official channels and to maintain communication with their relatives in Gaza.
Image Credit: Said Khatib/AFP
In the labyrinth of Middle Eastern geopolitics, Lebanon finds itself delicately poised between a challenging past and an uncertain future. The recent uptick in hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel has raised more than just alarm bells; it’s reignited a fundamental question: Where does Lebanon truly stand amidst this tumult?
As the drums of war beat louder along the border, a different kind of sound emerges from the heart of Beirut and the wider Lebanese landscape – a collective sigh. For a nation that’s been grappling with an economic maelstrom, the thought of another war is nightmarish. This sentiment finds resonance in the words of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, who is fervently working to stave off a full-blown confrontation with Israel.
The complex dynamic between Hezbollah’s actions and the larger Lebanese zeitgeist cannot be overstated. It’s paramount to remember that Hezbollah’s moves aren’t necessarily Lebanon’s. Many Lebanese, wearied by past conflicts and present challenges, crave nothing more than peace and normalcy.
The evolving nature of the Lebanon-Israel conflict presents a sobering picture. No longer confined to predictable zones, the skirmishes now hint at a more expansive and unpredictable pattern. This shift only amplifies the apprehensions of the average Lebanese citizen, many of whom watch with bated breath, hoping that their homeland remains unscathed.
Peeling back the layers of Lebanon’s current situation reveals a poignant truth: The nation, in its entirety, isn’t mirrored by the actions of one group, no matter how influential. As the spectre of war looms, it’s crucial to recognise the diverse voices within Lebanon, many of whom yearn for a chapter defined by peace rather than conflict.
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In the undulating rhythm of Syrian resistance, the spirits of rebellion have once more swelled to the surface in the Druze majority al-Suwayda governorate, shocking an international community that perceived the uprising’s final chord had been struck. A dozen years have eclipsed since the inception of the popular 2011 revolution, and against the odds, the echoes of dissent continue to permeate through the war-torn tapestry of Syria, particularly within the al-Suwayda governorate in southern Syria, where the largely Druze minority population has astoundingly engaged in peaceful protests daily for over a month.
The resurgence of civil unrest exposes the unhealed wounds of a nation brutalised by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Over a grisly 12-year reign, the regime has not merely clung to power but has enacted a torrent of human rights violations, including indiscriminate bombing of civilians, chemical weapon attacks, and targeted onslaughts against hospitals and schools. It’s a horrifying tableau where, according to the United Nations, over half the nation’s populace has been displaced, marking one of the most harrowing humanitarian crises in contemporary history.
In light of these atrocities and the insatiable appetite for change among Syrians, thousands have coalesced in recent weeks to rally against Assad’s iron-fisted rule, demanding his ouster and the realisation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. Adopted unanimously in 2015, the resolution mandates the inception of an “inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers”. Yet, the Assad regime, despite the cacophony of international outrage and demands, has remained impervious, continuing its tyrannical rule unbridled.
The winds of opposition are not confined to al-Suwayda. In the coastal birthplace of Assad, voices of opposition have daringly pierced through the regime’s fortress of fear. Yet, these brave souls in al-Suwayda and beyond not only battle against a dictator but grapple with an economy in tatters. Whilst Syrians languish in destitution, Assad and his inner circle bask in opulence, their regime simultaneously entwined with the burgeoning Captagon trade, positioning Syria as a pivotal manufacturer and supplier of the drug, per multiple international reports.
Nevertheless, the regime, bolstered by staunch support from allies Russia and Iran, has withstood the tempest of rebellion, which has embroiled Syria in a ceaseless conflagration. The global response has largely oscillated between tepid and ineffective, allowing Russia, in particular, to overstep boundaries with seeming impunity, not only in Syria but subsequently in Ukraine as well. And now, with China’s burgeoning interest in liaising with the Syrian regime, the geopolitical stakes are further elevated.
The stoic resilience of the protestors in al-Suwayda is emblematic of the unquenchable desire for not only political reformation but also a clamouring for fundamental human rights: freedom and dignity. Amidst the palpable fear of violent reprisal and the regime’s vehement accusations of Western collaboration amongst protestors, the spirit of rebellion remains indomitably fervent.
The ripples of the al-Suwayda movement have cascaded throughout Syria, igniting demonstrations in Daraa, northern Syria, and various other governorates, encapsulating the profound, universal aspirations for democracy and accountability for war crimes amongst Syrians.
For surrounding Arab nations, the rekindled Syrian resistance presents a complex geopolitical conundrum, particularly in light of Jordan’s King Abdullah’s stark proclamation at last month’s UN General Assembly: “Jordan’s capacity to deliver necessary services to refugees has surpassed its limits.” Thus, the Syrian regime is transmitted an unambiguous directive: the resort to violence must not be replayed.
In the shadows of past international missteps, the ongoing Syrian resistance heralds a crucial opportunity: to reconcile with past shortcomings and constructively engage with the legitimate Syrian uprising. The undeterred resilience of the protestors underscores a poignant reminder of the universality of the longing for liberty and justice, providing a pivotal juncture to recalibrate global approaches towards a genuine political resolution that addresses the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.
Image credit: Handout/Suwayda 24/AFP
In a bold stride towards establishing its presence as a formidable entity within the global sports arena, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has officially declared its intent to bid as the host nation for the 2034 FIFA World Cup. The revelation, conveyed through the state news agency SPA on a recent Wednesday, not only underscores the Kingdom’s ambition in the realm of international sport but also reflects its broader objectives of transformation and development.
The Saudi minister of sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, disseminated his sentiments through the Saudi Press Agency, articulating a vivid dream: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would assist us in realising our aspiration of emerging as a pivotal nation in global sport and would delineate a notable milestone in the nation’s transformation.”
He added, “As a nascent and hospitable home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is an intuitive subsequent phase in our football journey.”
The initial interest of the country was piqued for the 2030 competition. Nonetheless, the latter is projected to be a multi-nation spectacle, with Spain, Portugal, and Morocco potentially serving as hosts for matches. Additionally, the preliminary matches are scheduled to be held in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has turned its sights towards 2034, with visions of hosting the esteemed tournament autonomously, crafting an event that would symbolise a landmark in their sporting journey.
This announcement coexists with past interactions between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Greece, where dialogues centred around a collaborative bid to host the tournament. Nonetheless, the recent proclamations point towards Saudi Arabia’s plan to single-handedly host the 2034 event.
Yasser Al Misehal, the President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), conveyed a message of optimism and dedication through a statement on the SAFF website: “We believe the time is ripe for Saudi Arabia to host the FIFA World Cup.”
He further stated, “Our bid is motivated by a fervent love for the game and a wish to see it burgeon in every corner of the world. We want to celebrate our football culture and share our nation with the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s journey towards this point is steeped in its embrace for innovation and growth, forming the backbone of their bid for the tournament. “The Kingdom’s transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid,” Al Misehal remarked. Commitments towards hosting an exemplary event, one that celebrates the sport, enthralls players and fans alike, and ignites the imaginations of future generations, are evident.
Illustrating a historic backdrop, Saudi Arabia has qualified for the World Cup on six previous occasions, with their inaugural appearance tracing back to 1994. A notable triumph was marked when they bested the world champions, Argentina, with a scoreline of 2-1 at the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar.
Amidst these developments, the Saudi Pro League has witnessed a surge in profile and popularity. Big names in world football, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Karim Benzema, have made transitions to play in the Saudi Pro League in the preceding year, bolstering its reputation and stake on the international stage.
In a nutshell, the Kingdom’s leadership has exuded full-fledged support towards this bid, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to propel the nation forwards, and unveil new horizons of opportunities and engagements in the world of sport. Saudi Arabia, through its intentions to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, does not merely aim to be a spectator but envisions being a pivotal player, shaping the narratives and experiences in the global sporting domain.
The prospect of the 2034 FIFA World Cup could perhaps be a chapter where the world witnesses the union of sporting spirit and innovative transformations, amalgamated seamlessly in the desert landscapes of Saudi Arabia.
AP Photo/Jorge Saenz
In a sudden and strikingly efficient military offensive launched on 19th September, Azerbaijan asserted a decisive victory over the Republic of Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian-majority autonomous enclave located within its borders. The campaign, which came after a protracted blockade of the vital Lachin Corridor, supplying Artsakh, was notably swift, culminating on 20th September when Artsakh President Samvel Shahramanyan conceded, agreeing to peace on Azerbaijan’s terms.
The geopolitical aftershocks of Azerbaijan’s triumph, enabled by a seemingly minimal exertion, will reverberate through the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future. Notably, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians, propelled by fears of ethnic cleansing, have fled Artsakh, contributing to a burgeoning humanitarian crisis that stands in stark contrast to the disbanding of the Artsakh Defence Army and the planned dissolution of the separatist government by year-end.
Turkey’s solid support for Azerbaijan’s campaign aligns not only with its established alliance but also accords with a broader strategic vision for the region. Turkey has ardently backed Azerbaijan’s intention to construct the Zangezur Corridor, anticipated to forge stronger cultural and economic ties by granting Azerbaijan unimpeded access to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and further linking Azerbaijan to eastern Turkey.
Meanwhile, Russia’s decision to abstain from military intervention, despite maintaining a 2,000-strong peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, reveals a complex web of geopolitical relationships and ambitions. Frustrations with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s leadership and potential prospects for enhancing its partnership with Azerbaijan underpinned Moscow’s restrained approach, facilitating the ceasefire that handed Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, despite existing ties to Armenia.
Iran, despite its ongoing tensions with Azerbaijan, stemming from its alleged pro-Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Azerbaijan’s security collaboration with Israel, has navigated a cautious middle-ground approach to Azerbaijan’s reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Notably, amidst Iran’s expression of concern over the humanitarian plight of ethnic Armenians, Turkey has asserted that Iran has moderated its opposition to the Zangezur Corridor project.
For Western powers, moral dilemmas unfold as potential actions, or lack thereof, are scrutinised on the international stage. Despite strong admonitions and the clear expression of concern over human rights abuses, concrete interventions, such as sanctions, appear improbable given Europe’s energy dependencies on Azerbaijan. The lack of consistent policy in response to the crisis is evident, with NATO and the European Union seemingly lacking tangible leverage to decisively influence the ongoing situation.
The humanitarian crisis emanating from the conflict cannot be understated. With over 65,000 refugees, representing over one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, seeking sanctuary in Armenia by 28th September, Armenia faces both humanitarian and political turmoil. Prime Minister Pashinyan, now contending with the comprehensive management of refugee inflow amidst mounting criticism, seeks humanitarian assistance from the international community, the delivery and sufficiency of which remain to be seen.
In contrast, Azerbaijan’s assured victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, achieved with unexpected ease, consolidates its position in the region but potentially sets the stage for intricate geopolitical manoeuvring and conflict in the South Caucasus for years ahead.
While Turkey’s ambitions seem somewhat realised through Azerbaijan’s triumph, Russia, Iran, and Western powers are compelled to navigate through a newly altered geopolitical landscape, balancing strategic interests against ethical considerations and international perceptions.
The legacy of Prime Minister Pashinyan, forever marred by the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, hinges precariously upon his handling of the resettlement and care of displaced ethnic Armenians, establishing a stage where international relations, humanitarian obligations, and domestic politics are inextricably entwined.
The complex unfolding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict thereby raises questions about international intervention, humanitarian obligations, and the future stability of the South Caucasus, with global eyes watching, awaiting the subsequent moves of regional and international players in this high-stakes geopolitical arena.
Image credit: AZE Media
Note: This article provides a general overview and may not cover all aspects of the complex situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore, events might have evolved beyond the information available at the time of writing, given the fast-changing nature of geopolitical events.
Navigating the Tumultuous Waters of the Lebanese Refugee Crisis.
In the realm of international politics, Lebanon has surfaced into the limelight, owing to a bold proclamation by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a staunch pro-Iran terror group. His recent address illuminated a perspective on the sensitive matter of Syrian migration through Lebanon, sparking vigorous debates and eliciting varied reactions from the global community. As Lebanon grapples with an intensified influx of Syrians crossing its border, Nasrallah has proposed a controversial solution: ceasing the prevention of Syrians’ maritime passage to the European Union.
This significant uptick in migration from Syria, motivated by citizens endeavouring to evade the hostile clutches of the Assad regime and circumvent a deteriorating Syrian economic landscape, has thrown Lebanon into a precarious situation. The Lebanese military has thus beseeched for augmented resources and manpower to safeguard the expansive 394-kilometer border with Syria, a feat currently deemed unattainable given the present circumstances.
Nasrallah’s assertion hinges on the claim that the United States, through its rigorous imposition of sanctions epitomised by the Caesar Act, is instrumental in the destabilisation of the Syrian economy and, consequently, the displacement of Syrian refugees. He postulates that relieving these sanctions and allowing investments to flow into Syria would catalyse the return of countless Syrians to their homeland.
However, beneath the macrocosmic lens of international politics, the escalating Syrian refugee crisis has catalysed a crescendo of xenophobia and frustration amongst the Lebanese populace and political entities alike. A palpable tension percolates through the nation as nearly 1.6 million Syrian refugees seek solace on Lebanese soil, eliciting a complex maelstrom of socio-economic and political quandaries amidst an already dire Lebanese economic crisis, which has submerged approximately 80% of its citizens into the abyss of poverty since its inception in 2019.
The fractious relationship between the Lebanese and Syrian refugees is increasingly evident. Several prominent Lebanese political factions have voiced a unanimous plea for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. This has been accompanied by the execution of numerous deportations by the Lebanese state since April, alongside an upsurge in anti-Syrian demonstrations within the capital, Beirut.
Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations adamantly underscore the inhospitable conditions within Syria, highlighting the palpable dangers that await returning refugees, including potential torture, forced disappearances, and even fatal encounters with security services. This situation places the involved parties in a moral and political quandary, with seemingly no straightforward resolution in sight.
The disconcerting crisis transcends Lebanese borders, permeating into the European Union, where member states exhibit increasing frustration towards the burgeoning numbers of Syrians journeying by sea to seek asylum. A notable example was witnessed on 15th September when Cypriot Interior Minister, Constantinos Ioannou, approached the EU parliament, imploring them to reassess the security situation within Syria. This was with a view to initiating the return of Syrian asylum seekers, whilst concurrently soliciting additional financial assistance for Lebanon, which he defined as a crucial “barrier” preventing further refugees from infiltrating Europe.
This complex, multi-faceted crisis intertwines geopolitical, humanitarian, and socio-economic threads, creating a delicate tapestry that requires a meticulously balanced approach. While Nasrallah’s provocative strategy of essentially employing the refugee crisis as a bargaining chip with Europe raises ethical and practical questions, it undoubtedly propels the issue further into the global arena, necessitating urgent, collective contemplation and action.
As Lebanon navigates through these tumultuous waters, the coming months will be pivotal, not only in shaping the nation’s socio-political landscape but also in defining the broader international response to a crisis that continues to unfurl amidst an already chaotic global stage.
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Embarking on a Joint Venture in Maritime Oil and Gas Exploration: A Closer Look at the Consortium Formed by QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni in Lebanon.
Lebanon has witnessed a significant shift in its energy sector dynamics with the announcement of a three-way consortium between QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni to explore oil and gas in two maritime blocks off its coast, signaling an intriguing turn of events for the region’s energy landscape. Amidst a complex geopolitical backdrop and an evolving global energy market, this endeavor, heralded by the Lebanese energy ministry, unfolds a chapter that could be pivotal for Lebanon’s economic prospects and energy security.
In a beacon of positive development amidst Lebanon’s multifaceted challenges, the energy ministry declared that QatarEnergy would be joining hands with France’s TotalEnergies and Italy’s Eni to foster exploration activities in the nation’s offshore sectors. The consortium underscores a shared vision and collaborative effort aimed at harnessing the potential encapsulated in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant offshore areas, which have historically proven to be reservoirs of substantial gas discoveries, especially over the previous decade.
Following months of intricate negotiations, the stakeholder distribution among the consortium members was agreed upon, with QatarEnergy securing a 30% stake, while TotalEnergies and Eni would retain 35% each. Notably, this resolution emerges after Lebanon’s first licensing round in 2017, during which a consortium—comprising TotalEnergies, Eni, and Russia’s Novatek—was victorious in procuring bids to explore offshore 4 and 9 blocks.
However, the journey to this current consortium configuration has not been without its share of challenges and evolutions. In September 2022, Novatek relinquished its involvement, thereby bestowing its 20% stake upon the Lebanese government. This withdrawal necessitated the recalibration of stakeholder investments and roles within the exploration project and rendered the involvement of a new partner, QatarEnergy, both timely and vital to sustaining the momentum of exploration activities.
Moreover, the geopolitical dimension, invariably intertwined with energy exploration and production in the region, played a critical role in shaping the framework and agreements related to these maritime blocks. Particularly, the lingering dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning their maritime border witnessed a historic resolution in the month succeeding Novatek’s withdrawal. The U.S.-brokered landmark agreement between Lebanon and Israel, delineating their maritime borders, became a pivotal determinant in the structuring and future trajectory of the exploration endeavors in block 9. Notably, a portion of block 9 is situated south of the newly established border with Israel.
A distinct and diplomatically nuanced agreement between Total and Israel was fashioned concerning the revenue generation from the aforementioned segment of block 9, reinforcing the intricacy of managing energy exploration within a context of layered geopolitical considerations. The agreement firmly established that neither Lebanese nor Israeli corporations would operate in the zone located below the newly delineated border, instigating the transfer of the TotalEnergies and government stakes to entities referred to as “vehicles” of TotalEnergies and precipitating the quest for a new consortium partner.
This ambitious exploration initiative arrives amidst heightened global interest in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant regions, particularly given the notable gas discoveries in the previous decade and the augmented reliance on diversified gas supply chains in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The consortium, therefore, not only represents a cooperative venture aimed at tapping into the rich energy potential off Lebanon’s coast but also resonates on a larger scale within the context of regional energy security and global energy supply dynamics.
In conclusion, the formation of the consortium between QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni and the ensuing exploration in Lebanon’s maritime blocks is emblematic of the complex, yet potentially rewarding, interplay of energy exploration, geopolitical considerations, and collaborative international ventures. It is imperative that such collaborations are navigated with a judicious blend of economic foresight, environmental consideration, and diplomatic acumen to ensure that the potential benefits can be realized in a manner that is conducive to regional stability and symbiotic international relations.
With this initiative underpinning Lebanon’s aspirations for energy self-sufficiency and economic rejuvenation, all eyes will be attentively observing the unfolding chapters of this exploration story, deciphering its implications not only for the nation but also for the broader dynamics of the global energy landscape.
Turkey is set to resume operations on a crucial crude oil pipeline from Iraq following a six-month suspension, as announced by Turkey’s Energy Minister, Alparslan Bayraktar, on October 2nd. The announcement was made during the ADIPEC conference held in Abu Dhabi. Upon reactivation, the Iraq-Turkey pipeline is poised to supply almost half a million barrels to the global oil markets weekly.
The pipeline’s operations were initially halted half a year ago subsequent to an arbitration decision by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The ICC mandated Turkey to remunerate Baghdad for unauthorized exports that occurred between 2014 and 2018. Following the ruling, Turkey embarked on maintenance work on the pipeline, which is a significant conduit contributing approximately 0.5% to the global crude supply.
In the interim, Baghdad and Ankara came to an agreement to postpone the recommencement of the pipeline flows until the maintenance assessment, particularly imperative as the pipeline transverses a seismic zone, was finalized. Concurrently, the two nations have been entwined in a legal skirmish regarding arbitration awards. Bayraktar had mentioned in the previous month that Turkey was considering legal proceedings against Iraq, given that the latter has an outstanding enforcement case against Turkey.
Moreover, Bayraktar emphasized Turkey’s history as a steadfast transit route for oil and gas. This pipeline resumption is not only vital for Turkey and Iraq but also stands to have a substantial impact on global oil markets by infusing a considerable quantity of crude oil amidst existing market dynamics.
The decisions and subsequent actions from both countries following the reactivation of the pipeline will be pivotal, especially considering the previous legal and operational challenges. As this development unfolds, it may potentially usher in various economic and geopolitical implications within the region, and perhaps, on a global scale.
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In an illuminating article published by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, a complex, multi-faceted deal in the intricate Syria-Iran-Hezbollah-Russia network is purportedly in the works, potentially escalating the already tense geopolitical climate in the region. The alleged four-way deal, as corroborated by trusted sources, has the potential to heighten threats against both Israel and Ukraine, countries already grappling with their respective security challenges.
If there’s merit to the claim, the arms movement could witness a strategic transfer of weapons from Hezbollah to Syrian regime-supported Arab tribes and further on to Moscow, a move that might appear paradoxical considering Hezbollah’s well-documented proclivity for stockpiling weaponry. Nonetheless, it is argued that such a manoeuvre might enable Hezbollah to offload older munitions while simultaneously acquiring newer, perhaps more advanced Iranian weaponry, thus not only maintaining but potentially upgrading its military capabilities.
This scenario is further complicated by the historical backdrop of arms movement through Syria to Hezbollah, a strategy that Iran has previously leveraged. The unfolding of the Syrian Civil War from 2011 onwards, with Hezbollah’s intervention on behalf of the regime – facilitated by Iranian support, including the deployment of IRGC troops – shifted the geopolitical dynamics slightly, embedding an objective of Iranian entrenchment within the broader framework.
Hezbollah managed not only to benefit from the situation but also firmly establish itself in strategic Syrian locations such as near Aleppo and the Golan. Iran reciprocally expanded its trading axis in Syria, maneuvering weaponry to crucial points like Albukamal, T-4 base, Damascus, and further across the Syrian expanse.
A vital aspect to explore in this convoluted situation is the Quds Force’s leadership, particularly its current leader, Ismail Qaani, who stepped into the role following the 2020 killing of his predecessor, Qasem Soleimani. Qaani, according to a source cited by Al-Jarida, agreed to facilitate the provision of new weapons to Hezbollah via Syria, receiving, in return, a significant portion of its older arms and ammunition to bolster the Arab tribes allied with Syria. These tribes pose a threat to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and are instrumental in expanding the regime’s sway, particularly in eastern Syria. A facet of this arrangement potentially enables Russia to acquire a portion of Hezbollah’s weapons, bolstering its military operations in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
On a parallel trajectory, the alleged deal may facilitate diplomatic and strategic maneuvering between Moscow, Turkey, and Syria. Turkey, having occupied northern Syria and supported Syrian rebels against the SDF, maintains a turbulent relationship with the latter, designating it a “terrorist” entity. As Ankara navigates discussions with Russia, the Syrian regime, and Iran, normalization between Turkey and Syria remains a complex and delicate process, hinging on nuanced demands and historical agreements like the Adana agreement of 1998. However, it appears that Turkey, Iran, and Russia collectively seek to avoid a direct confrontation with Washington, each due to its individual reasons, viewing the empowerment of Arab tribes as a strategically viable means to undermine the SDF without directly instigating conflict.
Moreover, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in dialogue with Qaani, reportedly expressed that confrontations with Israel have morphed into a new phase, centring upon the conflict over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Thus, Hezbollah’s need for qualitative weaponry, capable of establishing a deterrent balance with Israel, becomes imperative.
This complex web of international relations and strategic deals indicates an elaborate, albeit precarious balance in which entities like Hezbollah stand to benefit, replenishing their weapon caches with more advanced technology, and thereby perpetuating a persistent threat to Israel. Simultaneously, Russia’s benefit from the arrangement is situated in the acquisition of additional arms—albeit how Moscow would navigate the transportation of the weaponry remains unclear. This arrangement, if brought to fruition, is indicative of a recalibration of power dynamics in the region, emphasizing the need for careful observation and strategic engagement from the international community to mitigate potential escalations and protect precarious stabilities.
Turkish air strikes conducted in northern Iraq on Sunday night, as stated by Turkey’s defense ministry, resulted in the “neutralization” of numerous Kurdish militants and the destruction of their depots and shelters. This operation came shortly after a Kurdish group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in the capital city of Ankara.
On Sunday morning, two assailants detonated a bomb near government buildings in Ankara, resulting in the death of both attackers and the injury of two police officers. The banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group claimed responsibility for this attack.
The ministry reported, “A total of 20 targets were destroyed, consisting of caves, bunkers, shelters, and depots used by the separatist terrorist organization.” The term “neutralized” was used to indicate that many militants were killed in these operations. These airstrikes were carried out in the Metina, Hakurk, Qandil, and Gara regions of northern Iraq at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT), and the ministry emphasized that all necessary precautions were taken to prevent harm to civilians and the environment.
Earlier on Sunday, CCTV footage showed a vehicle pulling up to the main gate of the Interior Ministry, with one of its occupants quickly approaching the building before being engulfed in an explosion. The other individual remained on the street. One attacker was killed in the blast, while authorities eliminated the other. This explosion sent shockwaves through a district housing ministerial buildings and the nearby parliament, marking the first attack in the capital in several years and coinciding with the opening of the new parliamentary session.
The ANF News website, closely associated with the PKK, cited the group as claiming responsibility for the attack, carried out by a team from its Immortals Battalion unit. The PKK has been classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. It initiated an insurgency in south-eastern Turkey in 1984, resulting in the deaths of over 40,000 people in the ongoing conflict.
The bomb explosion on Ataturk Boulevard was the first such incident in Ankara since 2016 when a series of deadly attacks plagued the country.
Subsequent videos depicted a Renault cargo vehicle parked at the scene, with shattered windows and open doors, amidst debris and surrounded by soldiers, ambulances, fire trucks, and armored vehicles.
A senior Turkish official informed a western news agency that the attackers had hijacked the vehicle and killed its driver in Kayseri, a city located 260 kilometres (161 miles) southeast of Ankara, before executing the attack.
During a series of violent incidents in 2015 and 2016, Kurdish militants, ISIS, and other groups either claimed responsibility for or were implicated in a series of attacks in Turkish cities.
Furthermore, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq in the mid-2010s had significant repercussions for Turkey. The porous border between Turkey and its troubled neighbours facilitated the flow of foreign fighters and logistical support to ISIS, leading to a spate of deadly attacks within Turkey, including bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.
Turkey’s fight against terrorism has been multifaceted, involving both domestic and international efforts. The country has undertaken military operations, intelligence sharing, and law enforcement initiatives to combat various extremist groups. Additionally, Turkey has called for greater international cooperation in addressing the root causes of terrorism, including socioeconomic factors and ideological extremism.
Throughout its history, Turkey has demonstrated resilience in the face of terrorism, and its security forces have worked tirelessly to protect its citizens and maintain stability. However, the threat of terrorism remains a persistent challenge that requires ongoing vigilance and cooperation with the international community and especially regional allies.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has officially announced his candidacy for a third term in the upcoming presidential election slated for December. Al-Sisi, a former military leader who has held the presidency since 2014, had been widely anticipated to seek re-election after constitutional amendments were enacted four years ago, extending his potential term in office until 2030.
Supporters of President al-Sisi have actively promoted his candidacy in recent weeks through various means, including billboards and public messages encouraging him to run for a third term.
Al-Sisi first assumed power following his prominent role in the ousting of the democratically elected Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013. He subsequently won the presidential elections in 2014 and 2018 with overwhelming margins, receiving 97 percent of the vote on both occasions.
This decision to run for a third term has significant implications for Egypt’s political landscape, and the upcoming election in December will be closely watched both domestically and internationally.
In response to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s announcement of his candidacy for a third term, there has been a mixed reaction within Egypt. While his supporters praise his strong leadership and efforts to maintain stability in the country, critics argue that his extended tenure could potentially undermine democratic principles and limit political diversity. Some opposition groups have raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of the upcoming election, citing previous allegations of electoral irregularities.
The decision to run for a third term also raises questions about the future direction of Egypt’s political landscape. It remains to be seen how this announcement will impact the dynamics of the presidential race and whether any formidable challengers will emerge. As the country prepares for the December election, the international community will be closely monitoring developments to assess the overall fairness and legitimacy of the electoral process.
Military commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has command over forces in eastern Libya, engaged in discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday.
Field Marshal Haftar, a supporter of the House of Representatives government located in the eastern city of Tobruk, has over time fostered close relations with Moscow, and heavily depends on the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, for military aid.
The administration in Tobruk is in contention with the UN-endorsed Government of National Unity situated in Tripoli.
Field Marshal Haftar “engaged in discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu,” declared his Libyan Arab Armed Forces group on social media.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov verified that Field Marshal Haftar had conducted discussions with Mr. Putin.
“The situation in Libya and the overall region were the subjects of their conversation,” Mr. Peskov conveyed in statements reported by Russia’s state news agency, Tass.
This was the inaugural meeting between the two individuals since 2019, as per Libyan media reports.
Field Marshal Haftar, arriving in Moscow on Tuesday, had previously engaged in discussions with Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Mr. Yevkurov has been a recurrent visitor to eastern Libya in the last few years, his most recent visit being on September 17, where he met Field Marshal Haftar following the floods that wrecked the coastal city of Derna, resulting in thousands of fatalities and numerous missing individuals.
A 2019 onslaught by Field Marshal Haftar’s forces on the government in Tripoli was significantly dependent on Wagner mercenaries. However, it was unsuccessful in overcoming the Turkish-supported armed forces of the Tripoli government.
Post the October 2020 ceasefire, which concluded the offensive, Wagner relocated several of its members, including to other locations in Africa – a continent where Russia has been endeavouring to enhance its influence – and to Ukraine, participating in Moscow’s invasion.
Nonetheless, despite successive UN Security Council resolutions demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military personnel from Libya, a substantial number of Wagner staff are still positioned in the east and in regions of the desert south under Field Marshal Haftar’s command.
The future plans of Wagner are indeterminate following the demise of leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in an aeroplane crash north-west of Moscow in August.
Image Credit: US Department of State
Ankara was enveloped in chaos after a substantial explosion reverberated through the heart of the Turkish capital this Sunday. The unsettling echo of the blast created a ripple of unrest amidst the city’s bustling ambiance.
The Turkish Interior Ministry was swift in categorising the blast as a “terrorist attack”. Reports from Turkish media outlets elucidate that two terrorists instigated the attack right in front of the ministry building. The ministry unveiled that one of the assailants has been neutralised, whilst the other triggered his explosives, causing him to perish in the process. In the chaotic aftermath, two security officers sustained injuries while trying to counter the attackers.
The attack unfolded just as the Turkish parliament is poised to reconvene this week following the conclusion of the summer recess. It has been in hiatus since late July and is scheduled to resume its sessions in October.
The Interior Minister divulged further details, stating that the culprits behind the morning’s horrific scenes were, in fact, two suicide bombers who aimed their ire at Turkey’s parliament. Besides the self-inflicted casualties of the attackers, two security guards are nursing injuries from the ordeal.
As the city still grapples with the shock of the unexpected attack, heightened security measures are likely to be enforced around the parliamentary building and other crucial state infrastructures. With the parliament scheduled to reopen soon, an air of heightened vigilance is expected to envelop the political quarters of the Turkish capital.
Image Credit: Tarik Haiga on Unsplash
The structural integrity of the Derna dams had been under scrutiny for nearly four decades, revealed Al-Sediq Al-Sour, a Libyan state prosecutor. This revelation comes amidst ongoing searches for victims from the catastrophic floods last week.
The initial concerns over the dams’ structural health can be traced back to 1986. These were built in the 1970s by a Yugoslavian firm and underwent substantial damage following a powerful storm. An official investigation authorised by the Libyan administration a decade afterwards disclosed cracks and fissures in their construction.
Fast-forward to 2007, Arsel Construction Company, a Turkish enterprise, was brought on board to oversee the maintenance of these dams and to construct an additional one. While the company’s official site asserted the completion of the project by November 2012, recent satellite imagery indicates the absence of the third dam. Attempts to get a statement from Arsel went unanswered.
The tumultuous NATO-endorsed revolution and subsequent civil strife in 2011, resulting in the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, led to many foreign businesses retreating from Libya.
Post this, nearly £1.6m was designated for the dams. However, a state audit from 2021 suggested that the maintenance remained lacklustre. Al-Sour indicated that a thorough investigation surrounding the dam’s failure and fund appropriation is imminent.
The catastrophic flood led to the death of over 11,000 individuals, and an alarming 10,000 are yet to be accounted for, leaving Derna in ruins.
Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister of Libya’s eastern regime, confirmed on Sunday the interment of 3,283 individuals. Many of these burials took place in large communal graves on the outskirts of Derna, whilst others were transported to neighbouring towns.
The relief efforts are continuously impeded by an absence of coordination, challenges in channeling aid to the most affected regions, and the annihilation of Derna’s infrastructural foundations, inclusive of multiple bridges.
Preceding the onslaught of Storm Daniel, the divided Libyan leaderships – one in the west, underpinned by assorted armed factions, and another in the east, aligned with the so-called Libyan National Army – disseminated contrasting advisories.
Derna’s local council proactively encouraged citizens to vacate coastal zones. In contrast, numerous locals cited receiving mobile notifications persuading them to remain indoors.
Activists now champion the cause for an international inquiry, expressing concerns about the efficacy of a domestic examination in a nation so polarised.
Given the political instability and entrenched internal conflicts, Libya has been a fertile ground for unchecked corruption within its public institutions, as highlighted by Transparency International.
On another note, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya expressed apprehensions regarding potential water contamination post the dam’s failure, predicting another dire crisis. Haider al-Saeih, at the helm of Libya’s Centre for Combating Diseases, reported on television that approximately 150 individuals in Derna contracted diarrhoea from tainted water consumption.
Image Credit: AP Photo/ Jamal Alkomaty
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati commenced his formal dialogues at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, engaging in discussions with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland. Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib was also present during the talks.
The primary emphasis of the discussions was the intricacies of the Lebanese-American alliance, as well as the manifold challenges Lebanon is presently grappling with.
Mr Mikati made a fervent appeal to the global community, urging them to stand by Lebanon in its struggle with the escalating Syrian displacement dilemma, emphasising the monumental threat it places upon Lebanon and the fabric of its society.
Mikati remarked, “We’ve finalised the reform schemes stipulated by the International Monetary Fund, and it’s now up to the parliament to take the necessary actions.”
In response, the U.S. delegate Ms Nuland urged Lebanese political factions to hasten the appointment of a new head of state. She underscored Washington’s endorsement of any intra-Lebanese discourse concerning this.
Moreover, Nuland beseeched Lebanon to bolster its collaborative efforts with global entities, notably the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This is in an effort to address not only the current Syrian displacement issue but all facets of the displacement concern.
Reaffirming Washington’s continued backing for the Lebanese Army, the US official underscored the imperative need to finalise economic and fiscal reforms.
Mahsa Amini’s name, forever etched into the annals of Iranian history, represents more than just a tragic tale of a young woman’s untimely death. It stands as a symbol of resilience, resistance, and empowerment for countless Iranian women who have decided to take a stance against the mandatory hijab and the suppression of their rights. Her legacy has birthed a movement that resonates not only within Iran’s borders but also across the globe.
On the anniversary of her death, amid the clatter of helicopters and heightened security measures, the Iranian government’s efforts to suppress any form of commemoration were clear. Detaining her father, Amjad Amini, roadblocks leading to Aichi cemetery, and the shutting down of the internet were just some of the measures the regime employed to contain the swelling tide of dissent. Despite such oppressive measures, the spirit of Amini’s fight for women’s rights remains undeterred.
The chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom!” are not merely slogans. They encapsulate the aspirations and dreams of millions of Iranian women, who, inspired by Amini’s sacrifice, have started to challenge the status quo. Many have taken the brave step of forgoing their headscarves, publicly defying a deeply entrenched system of religious and legal mandates. The authorities, left with the dilemma of how to respond to this growing tide of resistance, have doubled down on repressive measures, from deploying smart cameras and morality police to shuttering establishments serving women with a “loose hijab.”
Mahsa Amini’s tragic end in police custody remains a contentious issue, with her family insisting she succumbed to brutality at the hands of the ‘morality police’, and the government attributing her death to a pre-existing neurological condition. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her demise, there’s no disputing the profound impact her story has had on the women’s rights movement in Iran.
International voices, from Joe and Jill Biden to Amnesty Iran, have lauded Mahsa’s impact, recognising her role in shaping a historic movement for gender equality. The wave of protests and commemorative events held in various cities around the world signifies the global resonance of her story.
Yet, as with all revolutions, the path is fraught with challenges. The looming ratification of a new hijab law threatens to impose even stricter penalties on those deemed in violation. The severe internet restrictions, crackdown on VPNs, and arrest of dissidents reflect a regime grappling to retain its grip on a changing society. Even academia hasn’t been spared, with professors at top universities facing expulsion, presumably linked to their support for the movement.
However, the attempts to subdue the burgeoning women’s rights movement in Iran seem futile in the face of a determined populace. The persistent campaigns, both within and outside Iran, showcase a populace eager to embrace change.
Mahsa Amini’s legacy serves as a poignant reminder that change is often birthed from sacrifice. As her mother poignantly stated, while the past year was filled with “sadness and sorrow”, the outpouring of “love and comfort” from all corners of the world serves as a testament to Mahsa’s enduring impact.
As Iranian women continue to redefine societal norms and expectations, they are armed with the legacy of Mahsa Amini, a beacon of hope and a symbol of defiance in the face of repression. Her story, far from fading, only grows more potent with each passing day, serving as a clarion call for equality, respect, and human rights.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File
The events of September 11, 2001, will forever be etched in the annals of history as a turning point in global geopolitics, especially in the Middle East. The terrorist attacks on the United States not only shattered the skyline of New York City but also sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East region, reshaping its political, social, and security landscapes. The U.S. responses to 9/11 triggered a series of events that continue to reverberate in the region to this day and speak to a complex tapestry of successes and failures in American policy.
The fallout: Unintended consequences of U.S. reaction
The 9/11 attacks were the deadliest foreign assault ever on U.S. soil, resulting in 2,977 innocent lives lost. In his remarks, President Bush added that while American freedom was under attack, the U.S. would undoubtedly win the war that had been waged upon it. For Bush, the notion of American exceptionalism demanded the unprovoked attacks required a strong and resolute response to protect national security and prevent future acts of terrorism. The way the U.S. went about its response, however, was deeply flawed and often counterproductive. The legacy of these flawed policies underscores the importance of thoughtful approaches to addressing complex global challenges.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. launched its “War on Terror,” a multifaceted and global campaign aimed at dismantling al-Qaeda and preventing future terrorist threats. Two primary theatres emerged: Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion aimed to remove the Taliban from power, disrupt al-Qaeda’s core leadership, eliminate terrorist sanctuaries, and weaken its ability to conduct large-scale international attacks. While the initial phase of the war achieved these goals, the subsequent years witnessed a protracted conflict with unforeseen consequences. The U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan struggled amid insurgency and regional power dynamics.
The primary rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction, but the invasion had broader implications for the region. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime triggered sectarian strife and unleashed forces that Iraq struggled to contain for years to come.
One of the most significant and unintended consequences of the 9/11 attacks was the emergence of new extremist groups in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, was not the only group operating in the region, but its audacious attack galvanized jihadists and set in motion a new wave of militancy. Afghanistan and Iraq became epicenters of violence and instability, leading to the emergence of new extremist groups. The region saw the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS, which exploited the power vacuums created by the conflicts. These groups posed significant security threats not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also globally.
Iran watched the developments in Afghanistan and Iraq with a mix of apprehension and opportunity. The fall of Saddam Hussein ultimately shifted the balance of power in Iraq in favour of the Shiite majority. Iran sought to capitalize on this by cultivating Shiite militias and political groups in Iraq, effectively increasing its influence in the country. Moreover, the Bush administration’s inclusion of Iran in the “Axis of Evil” further strained U.S.-Iran relations. These tensions would later play a role in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities and regional proxy conflicts. Today, Iran remains one of only four country’s the U.S. has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Hard lessons: Military choices undermine soft-power efforts
The U.S. engaged in diplomatic outreach to build international support for its counterterrorism efforts. This involved seeking cooperation from regional and international partners, including NATO countries. However, trust issues and concerns about U.S. motives hampered diplomatic efforts. The perception of U.S. unilateralism and pre-emption in the Iraq War eroded trust among traditional allies and regional actors.
These trust issues spilled over to the battlefield. The U.S. managed to form alliances such as the “Coalition of the Willing” to share the burden of combat operations and provide legitimacy to their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. When it came to delegating responsibility to its partners, however, the U.S. chose to dominate the planning and execution of military actions. This approach led to the perception that the coalition was in name only.
The U.S. invested in public diplomacy efforts to improve its image and engage with Middle Eastern populations after its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These initiatives to win hearts and minds, promote American values, and counter extremist narratives included cultural exchange programs, educational scholarships, and English-language teaching. The U.S. also sought to counter extremist narratives through various media outlets and information campaigns, including the creation of Arabic-language media such as the satellite television channel Alhurra and Radio Sawa. These outlets faced credibility issues and struggled to compete with established regional media organizations.
Doubts about U.S. motives undermined the impact about many of these efforts, and this skepticism carried over to the superpower’s efforts to promote democratic governance and human rights in the region. The thinking behind this policy was that addressing political grievances would help counter extremism, however, they were met with accusations of hypocrisy, particularly because the U.S. continued to support authoritarian regimes that were allies in the War on Terror. The absence of WMDs also undermined the legitimacy of the Iraq War and fuelled anti-American sentiments across the Middle East, leading to protests and strained diplomatic relations.
One of the most controversial aspects of the War on Terror was the use of extra-legal renditions and enhanced interrogation techniques, including torture. Techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation were employed on detainees at various detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. These practices undermined the moral high ground the U.S. sought to occupy, sparking global outrage with critics arguing that they violated international law and human rights standards.
Some Middle Eastern governments, particularly those with close ties to the United States, cooperated in the rendition of individuals suspected of terrorism. These countries allowed U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, to detain and transport individuals through their territory or airspace. This cooperation often raised concerns about complicity in practices that violated international human rights standards, including the use of torture. Jordan, for example, was used as a transit point for the rendition of suspected terrorists. Jordanian intelligence agencies were known for their involvement in interrogations that raised concerns about torture and human rights abuses.
The legacy of the 9/11 campaigns: Human suffering and moral failure
The prolonged military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq reinforced a militarized approach to counterterrorism, which inadvertently led to collateral damage and civilian casualties. The wars led to widespread displacement, with millions of Afghans and Iraqis forced to flee their homes. Internally displaced persons and refugees faced dire conditions, lacking access to basic necessities and enduring harsh living conditions. Between 2002-2003, public opinion of the U.S. was less favourable in the Middle East, compared to elsewhere around the world. By 2022, regional opinion polling found that more than half the respondents agreed that the United States has become an unreliable partner, and that the region should reorient its attention towards Russia and China as partners.
The human cost of post-9/11 war zones is estimated to be nearly 4.6 million causalities. While the figure represents an approximation that includes both direct casualties as a result of war, many others – especially children lost their lives due to the reverberations of war, including devastation brought on by economic impacts and the spread of diseases.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also resulted in significant casualties among U.S. military personnel. Over seven thousand American soldiers lost their lives in post 9/11 war operations, while many more were wounded in combat operations. Deployments to combat zones also took a toll on the mental health of U.S. service members. The exposure to combat stress, traumatic experiences, and multiple deployments contributed to high rates of PTSD and other mental health issues among returning veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for providing healthcare and benefits to veterans, faced challenges in meeting the needs of a large and growing veteran population. Reports of long wait times, inadequate mental health services, and bureaucratic inefficiencies raised concerns about the quality of care provided. From 2001-2011, the U.S government had spent nearly $31.3 billion providing medical care and disability benefits for nearly 650,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as a result of injuries sustained during their tours.
In the wake of these complex and interwoven events, it is imperative that U.S. policymakers internalize the profound lessons offered by the flawed foreign policies following 9/11. These lessons underscore the need for nuanced, well-considered approaches that prioritize diplomacy, international cooperation, and respect for human rights as fundamental cornerstones of effective global engagement. Dealing with terrorist attacks presents an inherently challenging landscape, one where policymakers must resist ideological rigidity and instead adopt pragmatic, thoughtful strategies.
The complexity of the modern world demands a flexibility of thought and an openness to nuanced solutions that can adapt to the evolving nature of global threats. Such an approach acknowledges that while security remains paramount, it should not come at the expense of civil liberties, human rights, or long-term stability. Achieving a balance between security and the preservation of democratic values is a delicate but essential task for policymakers navigating the post-9/11 world.
Dr Kristian Alexander is a senior fellow and director of the International Security & Terrorism Program at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.
Gina Bou Serhal is a researcher at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.
A few weeks ago, an elderly Egyptian mother appealed to President Al Sisi to have mercy upon her innocent son, jailed since 2009. She requested a Presidential pardon to release her son from prison. Her fear is that she will die before hugging her son again as his father had recently passed away.
Unjustly convicted in January 2010 without a fair trial, her son, Gerges Baromy, received a 15-year hard labor prison sentence. Held in custody for a year awaiting trial, Baromy, a bread vendor, was an innocent victim of sectarian violence and the unjust courts. During his incarceration, his family begged for mercy many times; it was denied four times. As tradition allows, requests are presented to the Egyptian president during the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice (Al Adha) when forgiveness is offered to well-behaved prisoners.
A Coptic scapegoat
Baromy was a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time becoming the Christian scapegoat in an unverified rape narrative that allegedly took place in the daylight hours; no crime was proven. No facts were presented in the court except for an official medical report, which stated that Baromy was sexually impotent, rendering the accusation false. The young Muslim girl was never medically examined nor made a statement. Despite all this, Baromy was found guilty of rape.
Long before the verdict, rumor of Baromy’s guilt spread through the villages and sparked firebombing of Coptic homes and shops for five consecutive days forcing Baromy’s family to be displaced and lose their home. There was an immediate, unappealable Bedouin Court decision that permanently handed over Baromy family property to Muslim marauders and forbid the family to return to their village.
While Baromy was jailed without bail, Hamman al-Kamouni opened fire on a Naga Hammadi church killing one police guard and six Christians leaving the Coptic Christmas Eve service. Al-Kamouni said he was avenging the honor of the raped Muslim girl.
Baromy’s trial was seething with tension as the terrified defense attorney stood inside the courtroom while outside Islamic radicals surrounded the building. He managed to present the forensic report confirming Baromy’s sexual disability. Under intense pressure from vigilante forces, he was unable to complete his arguments, and nothing was presented by the prosecutor. Making matters worse, Baromy’s lawyers were now handling the high-profile al-Karmouni revenge case for the innocent murder victims, which distracted their energies away from the Baromy matter.
Baromy’s case became secondary for his lawyers who were more focused on publicity and legal victory in the Naga Hammadi martyrs’ case. Baromy became a victim of circumstance for a second time due to his lack of defense. Furthermore, upon his mother’s request for a pardon, his lawyers neglected to advise her that rape cases are an exclusion from presidential forgiveness.
The zeitgeist of Egypt was revolution. There were uprisings in the streets against President Mubarak. A not-guilty verdict for a Christian male accused of raping a Muslim girl was risking retaliation and street justice. In March of 2011, Baromy was declared guilty, and his legal right of appeal was denied.
The verdict had far-reaching consequences. The political insurrection in the streets used Baromy’s “victimhood” and “guilt” to fuel both sides of the religious skirmishes taking place. Coptic organizations, Egyptian human rights organizations, the anti-Mubarak revolutionary April Six movement, and socialists sided with Baromy, using the issue to pour into the streets and fuel anti-Mubarak protests.
Baromy’s village of Farshout returned to sectarian calm. State police were sent in and national security tightened everywhere to avoid any political spark that might ignite this volatile moment. No doubt Baromy was dealt a grave injustice as well as his mother who will now wait for 2025 for “injustice” to be served in full.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File
Morocco, a pivotal nation in North Africa, was hit by a devastating earthquake on Friday night. The aftermath has resulted in the loss of over 2,000 lives, with thousands more injured. The impact of the earthquake has been felt deeply, especially around the nation’s epicentre near the bustling city of Marrakech.
On Friday, at precisely 11:11 p.m. local time (6.11 p.m ET), Morocco was shaken by the quake. Its epicentre was identified in the High Atlas mountain range, approximately 72 kilometres southwest of Marrakech, a city with a population nearing a million.
Shockwaves from the earthquake rippled far and wide, with reports of tremors being felt as far north as Casablanca.
Classified as “strong”, the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8. Its shallow depth compounded its destructive nature. Such earthquakes are rare in this region, with the US Geological Survey noting that the area has experienced only nine quakes of magnitude 5 or higher since 1900. This recent earthquake has been the deadliest in Morocco since the catastrophic 1960 event, which claimed over 12,000 lives.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the quake has affected over 300,000 individuals in Marrakech and its neighbouring areas. Notably, some of the most significant damage occurred in areas proximal to the Atlas Mountains. Towns in the mountain foothills, like Asni, have reported severe destruction, with many homes heavily damaged or destroyed. The provinces of Al Haouz and the city of Taroudant have also been gravely impacted.
Emergency services have been actively deployed to the affected areas, although damaged roads and debris have hindered accessibility. In remote villages within the mountain foothills, reaching victims has proven particularly challenging.
Heartbreaking stories emerge from survivors. Mohammed, a resident of Ouirgane, painfully recounted how he lost four family members. For many, like Mohammed, homes have been lost, and lives irrevocably altered.
Many Marrakech residents chose to stay outdoors, fearing aftershocks. The Moroccan government has been proactive, mobilising resources to manage the disaster and urging its citizens to remain calm.
In a gesture of solidarity, King Mohammed VI has established a relief commission to provide aid to those affected by the earthquake.
The global community has been quick to respond to the crisis. Numerous leaders worldwide have extended their condolences and have pledged support.
Turkey has offered to send personnel and tents. Notably, Algeria has offered to reopen its airspace, closed since 2021 due to diplomatic tensions, to facilitate humanitarian efforts.
Leading global figures, including US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have sent their condolences.
Furthermore, international organisations such as the International Red Cross have voiced concerns about the long-term recovery process. Hossam Elsharkawi, the Red Cross’s Middle East and North Africa director, mentioned that recovery and reconstruction might span years. Spain has also pledged support, sending specialist workers to assist with the ongoing rescue operations.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that they are closely monitoring the situation and are poised to offer any necessary support.
Image Credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP
Lebanon’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, expressed the nation’s unwavering commitment to the decision made by the United Nations Security Council, which extends the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a further year.
This assertion came during a pivotal meeting at the Grand Serail on Wednesday between Prime Minister Mikati and the Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Aroldo Lázaro. The Prime Minister conveyed, “The Lebanese government stands poised to bolster its collaboration with UNIFIL, leveraging the army’s capabilities to uphold security in the southern region of Lebanon.”
Mr Mikati extolled the ongoing pragmatic synergy between the Lebanese army and UNIFIL. He further urged international forces to intervene and prevent Israeli transgressions that infringe upon Lebanese sovereignty.
The meeting saw Major General Lázaro at the helm of a delegation from UNIFIL, joined by Lebanese Government Coordinator with UNIFIL, Brigadier General Mounir Chehade, and advisor to Prime Minister Mikati, Ziad Mikati.
This week saw Sandra De Waele step into her role as the newly appointed European Union Ambassador to Lebanon.
During her first official week, Ambassador De Waele held meetings with Lebanon’s key figures, including the caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Abdallah Bou Habib, Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, as reported in an EU Delegation statement.
The statement further highlighted Ambassador De Waele’s emphasis on the European Union’s enduring relationship with Lebanon. She voiced the EU’s resolute commitment to the Lebanese citizens, especially considering the escalating socio-economic turmoil the country faces.
Ambassador De Waele commented, “I am keen to foster close relations with the Lebanese authorities, civil society groups, and the global community to steer Lebanon towards a period of recovery.”
She went on to stress the importance of Lebanon implementing structural reforms, saying, “Institutionalising such reforms is paramount for Lebanon to cultivate resilient state entities that genuinely represent and are accountable to its people. Such a step will undeniably enrich EU-Lebanon ties.”
With over a quarter-century of service under her belt for the European Union, De Waele boasts an impressive career, encompassing assignments in various EU Delegations and most recently a pivotal role at the External Action Service headquarters in Brussels.
Image Credit: Christian Lue on Unsplash
Beirut, the fabled capital of Lebanon, has long resonated in the annals of history and the hearts of those who’ve meandered its labyrinthine streets. Yet beyond its celebrated landmarks, there are tales and nuances that many remain oblivious to. Here, we delve into five such enigmatic facets of the capital of Lebanon.
To truly fathom the depths of Beirut, one must move beyond the surface and delve into the hidden stories that make the capital of Lebanon a city of timeless allure.
Baklava, with its golden layers of flaky pastry, sweet nut filling, and honeyed syrup, is arguably the crown jewel of Middle Eastern desserts. It stands out not merely because of its rich taste but also due to its illustrious history and growing global popularity.
When we dive into the world of Middle Eastern desserts, there’s a plethora of options, from the creamy Kunafa to the delicate Ma’amoul. However, what sets Baklava apart is its intricate blend of textures and flavors. The crispiness of the phyllo dough juxtaposed with the softness of the sweet filling offers a delightful experience that few other desserts can rival. Each bite delivers a taste of roasted nuts, often pistachio or walnut, intertwined with the sweet, aromatic touch of cinnamon or clove. This symphony of flavors is then enveloped in a syrup, often infused with rose or orange blossom, giving Baklava its characteristic sweetness.
While many Middle Eastern desserts are delectable, few have gained the global acclaim that Baklava enjoys. Can you recall the last time someone mentioned they didn’t like Baklava? It’s a rarity, indeed. Its allure is so universal that it’s hard to find a dissenting palate. Whether served at a traditional Middle Eastern festivity or as a gourmet dessert in a European cafe, Baklava fits seamlessly into any setting, making it a favorite across cultures and continents.
One of the telltale signs of Baklava’s rise to global fame is its availability in supermarkets around the world. What was once a treat reserved for special occasions in Middle Eastern households is now available for everyone to enjoy, from the aisles of upscale grocery chains in London and New York to local markets in Sydney and Cape Town. This accessibility has been instrumental in introducing countless people to the wonders of Middle Eastern desserts, with Baklava serving as the delightful gateway.
Moreover, as global cuisines continue to mingle and fuse, Baklava has found its way into the heart of many fusion dishes. Don’t be surprised to find Baklava cheesecake or Baklava ice cream the next time you’re at a trendy dessert parlour. This confluence of culinary worlds further solidifies Baklava’s position at the forefront of global desserts.
Mohamed Al-Fayed, the renowned Egyptian businessman and former owner of Fulham FC, passed away recently at the age of 94. As tributes pour in and the world mourns his death, there’s a renewed interest in his personal life, particularly about his family. Many are keen to know, who was Mohamed Al-Fayed’s wife, and how many children did he have?
Mohamed Al-Fayed was married twice. His first wife was Samira Khashoggi, with whom he had a son, Dodi Al-Fayed. Their marriage, which began in 1954, was short-lived, lasting just two years.
Years later, in 1985, Mohamed Al-Fayed married the Finnish socialite and former model, Heini Wathén. The couple had four children together: Camilla, Omar, Jasmine, and Karim.
Samira Khashoggi was not only the first wife of Mohamed Al-Fayed but also a well-known figure in her own right. As the founder of Al Sharkiah Magazine and an author of seven books, Samira had a distinguished career. Her lineage was also noteworthy, being the daughter of Mohammed Khashoggi, the personal doctor to the King of Saudi Arabia.
Heini Wathén, the second wife of Mohamed Al-Fayed, was a Finnish socialite and former model. Born on February 24, 1955, she was introduced to Mohamed by his son Dodi, leading to their eventual marriage.
While Mohamed Al-Fayed will be remembered for his business ventures and ownership of Fulham FC, his legacy lives on through his children and the mark they’ve made in their respective fields. As we remember him, it’s also essential to recognize the family that stood behind him and their contributions to society. Whether it’s through sustainable farming, environmental entrepreneurship, or fashion, the Al-Fayed family continues to make an impact, even in Mohamed’s absence.
In the shadowed streets of southern Syria, a chorus of voices is rising, echoing from a past filled with unrest and seeking a future devoid of oppression. Almost a decade ago, similar voices calling for change were met with violence, plunging the nation into a brutal civil war. Today, those voices have returned, louder and clearer, ringing through the cities of Sweida, Daraa, and even the coastal province of Tartus. They bring forth not only the scars of a past conflict but also the fresh wounds of a nation undergoing a severe economic crisis. Their message is unequivocal: it’s time for change.
It started as murmurs of dissatisfaction in Sweida in August. The removal of fuel subsidies, the dramatic plunge of the Syrian currency – from 47 pounds to the dollar to a record low of 15,500 – and surging inflation all converged, driving the citizens to the streets. But while the flame might have been lit by economic distress, it rapidly ignited long-standing political grievances.
Shouts of “Bashar out! Syria free!” echoed through the city, juxtaposed with posters proclaiming, “Syria is not a farm. We are not sheep.” Such open criticism of the government, particularly in areas under its control, has historically been rare. Yet, as the nation’s economic woes deepened, the discontent became increasingly public.
At the heart of these protests is the emblematic three-star flag of Syria’s 2011 uprising, a symbol of the people’s yearning for autonomy and freedom. Moreover, signs criticizing Iran, which has long supported President Bashar al-Assad, are pervasive. This external influence has become a focal point of contention, further highlighting the rifts between Assad’s regime and many of his citizens.
The recent protests, while reminiscent of those from a decade ago, carry unique nuances. Sweida, home to the majority of Syria’s Druze community, remained neutral during the initial conflicts. Now, the heartland of this religious minority is at the epicenter of the protests. Despite divisions within the Druze leadership regarding the demonstrations, the community’s engagement signals a profound shift in the nation’s political landscape.
Daraa, on the other hand, bears the weight of history. It was here that the 2011 protests began, which were met with a violent government response that catalyzed the ensuing civil war. Today, its streets are once again filled with protesters, evoking memories of a decade past and hopes for a brighter future.
While the protests in the south are overt, other regions under government control, like the coastal province of Tartus, are more discreet in expressing discontent. Residents quietly display postcards proclaiming, “Syria belongs to us, not to the [ruling] Ba’ath party.” Such acts, though subtle, are profound markers of a nation’s collective sentiment.
The Road Ahead for Assad
The confluence of economic hardships and political grievances poses a significant challenge for President Bashar al-Assad. The current wave of protests, while rooted in economic issues, has rapidly evolved into a wider call for political change. With the echoes of 2011 still resonant, Assad faces a delicate balance: addressing the legitimate concerns of his people while navigating the political intricacies of his regime.
The resurgence of these protests suggests that the scars of the past have not faded, and the Syrian people’s yearning for change remains undiminished. The unfolding events will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of Syria’s future and, crucially, the legacy of Assad’s reign.
Image Credit: Handout/Suwayda 24/AFP
Kuwait, a jewel of the Middle East, boasts of its rich culture, dynamic economy, and modern marvels. Yet, lurking behind this progressive facade is a ticking time bomb – obesity. Kuwait ranks first globally in obesity and a disconcerting second in diabetes rates, as per the World Health Organization data. These figures cast an alarming shadow over Kuwait’s aspirations and future.
The statistics are eye-opening: 39.7% of Kuwait’s population over 18 is obese, overshadowing the US’s 38.5%. This isn’t just a numerical race but an indicator of deep-rooted issues, ranging from sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy dietary habits, genetic factors, and overall societal norms. Dr. Abeer Al Bahwa, Director of the Health Promotion Department, highlighted the disturbing trend of obesity in the 18 to 29 age bracket, the age of the country’s future torchbearers.
It’s undeniable that obesity isn’t merely about aesthetics or size. The complications associated with obesity, including heart diseases, stroke, and diabetes, are the leading causes of death worldwide. And if unchecked, Kuwait is steering towards an unprecedented health catastrophe.
Yet, beyond the physical ailments, obesity brings with it a myriad of psychological and social issues, especially for the younger generation. When children bear the brunt of weight-related complications, it becomes a shared societal failure. The Gulf region as a whole is wrestling with this challenge. By 2035, Kuwait could see over half of its adult population not just overweight but teetering into obesity.
Addressing obesity, particularly in children, is paramount. Dr. Al Bahwa suggests measures like encouraging healthy eating habits, promoting physical activity, integrating physical education into school curricula, and ensuring adequate sleep. While these are commendable, they must be executed with vigor and consistency.
Despite these grim statistics and projections, World Obesity Day on March 4th slipped under Kuwait’s radar. Mainstream media, healthcare promoters, and civil society organizations failed to magnify this issue. A blatant oversight, especially when the World Obesity Atlas indicates a potential scenario where half of Kuwait’s population could be obese by 2035.
On the financial front, the repercussions of obesity could shave off over $5.6 billion from Kuwait’s projected GDP by 2035. An amount that could be redirected towards infrastructural advancements, educational reforms, or sustainable initiatives.
While globally, obesity rates are escalating with predictions that half of the global populace will be overweight or obese by 2035, nations, including Kuwait, must introspect on the existing preventive measures. The rise in obesity cannot solely be attributed to individual choices; systemic issues, societal pressures, and a myriad of complex factors interplay in this scenario.
The widespread availability of calorie-laden processed foods, which provide fleeting satisfaction, is a significant contributor. Creating awareness about nutritious foods, making them accessible, and ensuring their affordability could be the first step towards pivoting to healthier dietary habits.
The World Obesity Federation’s report demands attention, not just from governments and policymakers but also from every individual, community, and society at large.
As Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation, rightly points out, we need a unified, concerted effort to safeguard the future generations from the adverse impacts of obesity. Kuwait, with its resources and potential, is at a pivotal juncture. The pressing question remains: Is Kuwait doing enough, or does the real change start at home?
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The glistening lake in Donegal was an unlikely setting for a revelation. A conversation with a 10-year-old Liverpool supporter, who listed Ronaldo’s goals with conviction, made it clear: football is changing. Ronaldo’s feats in the Saudi league may raise eyebrows, but they signify the shifting sands of football’s global landscape.
Football, long hailed as the ‘beautiful game’, is currently in the spotlight for the massive influx of Saudi money. Notably, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has been acquiring some of the world’s most celebrated players, like Ronaldo from Manchester United and Benzema from Real Madrid, at jaw-dropping prices. The world gasped when Riyadh’s gargantuan offer for Mbappé was made public. When even sporting legends like Usain Bolt jest about the irresistible allure of Saudi money, it makes one wonder: is football’s soul being auctioned to the highest bidder?
The reasons behind Saudi’s aggressive football investments are manifold. Some opine it’s a strategy to diversify their oil-reliant economy. Others see it as an attempt at “sportswashing”, where the country seeks to divert attention from its controversial geopolitical maneuvers by shining in the football arena. But irrespective of intent, one thing is evident: if the financial trajectory persists, the Saudi Pro League is bound to become a magnet for global football talent.
Historically, countries like Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands have seen their football standards dwindle due to the commercialization of powerful European leagues. The Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A started hoarding global talent, leaving other leagues in their shadows. The paradigm now seems to be shifting towards the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia at the helm.
But is it solely about Saudi Arabia? Is the nation singularly responsible for this change? While the kingdom is pouring unprecedented sums into the game, it is crucial to remember that football’s commercialized trajectory started much before. Oligarchs, petro-states, and billionaires have dabbled in the game, often molding it to fit their whims and fancies. Today, elite European football, although a global entertainment product, has retained some essence of its working-class past. But with Saudi Arabia’s entrance, even this essence is under threat.
It’s crucial to draw parallels with China’s fleeting football dream. The Chinese Super League (CSL) once lured European football’s crème de la crème with irresistible salaries. But it collapsed as rapidly as it rose, primarily because it banked solely on foreign stars and overlooked grassroots development. Saudi Arabia, however, has seemingly learned from CSL’s downfall. By securing younger players and global icons alike, the Saudi Pro League is already eclipsing its Chinese counterpart.
As for concerns about ‘sportswashing’, they are not unfounded. Countries have historically used sports as PR tools. And given Saudi Arabia’s contentious political standing, its foray into football might well be an attempt to polish its global image. But if the world’s best players keep marching towards the Middle East, fans will follow, irrespective of politics.
Football’s core has always been its fans. From European alleys to South American streets, the game evolved organically, knitting communities together. If Saudi Arabia genuinely wishes to etch its name in football’s annals, it should aim to nourish the game at its roots, not merely splurge on its fruits.
In the face of this paradigm shift, fans worldwide have a choice: lament the game’s departure from tradition or adapt to its new era. The football of yore, with its intimate local ties, might be fading, but its global allure remains undiminished. Whether that’s for better or worse is a tale only time will tell.
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Reports emerging from Azerbaijan reveal that their embassy located in Beirut, Lebanon was reportedly assailed by individuals believed to be of Armenian descent on Thursday. No injuries were noted following the incident.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry announced, “Approximately 50 individuals, identified as being of Armenian origin, assaulted the embassy’s surrounding barriers, hurling bottles filled with paint and potential explosive materials.”
It was further highlighted that the Lebanese entity tasked with safeguarding diplomatic premises was promptly informed about the occurrence. Nevertheless, the purported assailants evaded capture, making their getaway prior to the police’s arrival at the scene.
In light of the incident, Azerbaijan’s ministry has made an earnest plea to the Lebanese government to apprehend the culprits. They have also intensified security measures around their mission.
Historically, diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been strained, rooted in a dispute that began in 1991. This contention revolves around the Armenian military’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh – a region globally acknowledged as Azerbaijani territory – and seven nearby regions.
By autumn 2020, after 44 days of skirmishes, Azerbaijani forces reclaimed several cities, villages, and other territories from Armenian control. This conflict reached a temporary cessation courtesy of a truce orchestrated by Russia. Negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement between the two nations have been underway ever since.
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In a bid to fortify ties against looming security challenges, the United Kingdom and Iraq are set to enhance their partnership, primarily targeting terrorism and the burgeoning menace of drug trafficking. The two nations have expressed their keen interest in fortifying their security association to pinpoint and tackle shared severe organised crime threats.
Tom Tugendhat, UK’s Security Minister, expressed the country’s intent to bolster Iraq’s capabilities against drug manufacturing and distribution during his recent visit to Baghdad. Mr Tugendhat emphasised on the imperative need to augment their existing collaboration against terrorism, stating the aim is to “identify and address shared serious organised-crime threats.”
Drawing attention to the intricacies of the situation, he mentioned, “Human smuggling, trafficking, narcotics and money laundering operate collectively as a criminal network, severely undermining Iraq’s statehood.”
Historically, Iraq has been more of a conduit for drugs, notably the amphetamine Captagon, with its primary source being neighbouring Syria. However, recent indicators suggest a shift in production sites towards Iraq.
Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Mr Tugendhat revealed that a facility manufacturing Captagon was unearthed last month in a province adjacent to Saudi Arabia, strategically positioned for facilitated access to the kingdom.
Elaborating on the interconnected nature of these crimes, Mr Tugendhat commented, “There’s an inherent interlink between narcotics, human trafficking, terrorism, and violence. These illicit activities, especially drug trafficking and human smuggling, don’t just afflict Iraq but resonate throughout the region, impacting many of our regional allies.”
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, lauded his nation’s “significant efforts” in combating drug and human trafficking. Highlighting the forthcoming collaboration, Mr Al Sudani mentioned that both the Iraqi and British interior ministries are on the cusp of inking agreements that delineate their cooperative strategies on these pressing concerns.
A spokesperson from the UK side confirmed that the focal point of these accords would be the exchange of information, supporting efforts against terrorism and the broader spectrum of “serious organised crime”.
In a strategic move to spur more investment, Bahrain, known as the Arabian Gulf’s most petite oil producer, recently granted golden licences to five companies that have committed over $1.4 billion to extensive investment projects within the kingdom.
This initiative is a part of Bahrain’s larger strategy to shift its economic focus from oil and promote business expansion. The past few years have seen Bahrain rolling out several plans to foster growth. In 2021, a significant economic reform plan was set in motion, pledging around $30 billion towards pivotal projects intended to fuel post-pandemic growth, heighten job opportunities for locals, and magnetise foreign direct investments.
Following this ambitious plan, the government proposed cost-saving measures with an end goal of generating over 20,000 jobs for its citizens by the upcoming year. The efficacy of these efforts is evident. Bahrain’s economy bolstered by 4.9% the previous year, marking the most commendable growth rate since 2013, predominantly driven by the country’s non-oil sectors.
Initiated in April, the golden licence scheme extends a host of benefits to both local and international corporations. These perks range from priority in land allocation for investments and expedited access to governmental services like building permit approvals to financial support avenues through the Bahrain Development Bank and the labour fund, Tamkeen.
Furthermore, beneficiaries can anticipate an enhanced collaboration with diverse governmental departments, a dedicated account manager courtesy of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board, and a potential revision of standing laws or regulations as deemed necessary.
The principal objective behind this enticing scheme is clear: to pull in investments from both domestic and international shores, thereby facilitating economic progression and local job creation.
To qualify for this golden ticket, companies must either propose major investment initiatives that promise to introduce more than 500 jobs within Bahrain or commit to an investment exceeding $50 million. The pioneer beneficiaries of this scheme comprise notable names such as Citi, Eagle Hills Diyar, Infracorp, Saudi Telecom, and the Whampoa Group, all of which have been greenlit by the government to initiate or enhance their operations within the kingdom.
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Safety fears have been raised at Beirut Airport following an inspection that has brought to the forefront urgent shortcomings in safety measures.
The inspection report draws attention to the shortcomings in air navigation services (ANS) that must be urgently tackled. This encompasses air-traffic control, communication, navigation, surveillance, and meteorological services.
Undertaken by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as a pre-audit, the report’s findings emerged from a support mission to Lebanon this June. This mission aimed to offer guidance for the upcoming Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), slated for the subsequent year. The purpose of such missions is to pinpoint and rectify areas of weakness.
ICAO, recognised as the global standard for aviation safety, consistently undertakes audits of its member states to ensure their competence in upholding rigorous safety oversight systems.
As a signatory to the Chicago Convention, Lebanon is bound to meet the standards and best practices recommended by ICAO. After its maiden audit in 2008, Lebanon underwent four more audits, the latest one being in 2017. Presently, Lebanon’s score stands at 58.5, trailing behind the global average of 69.8.
Should a grave safety concern be recognised during an audit, ICAO has the authority to red-flag any country in violation of global aviation regulations. While these red flags don’t carry any legal mandate, they play a crucial role in alerting other nations, which then independently choose the subsequent course of action, including the potential suspension of flights.
The report pointed out multiple “systemic deficiencies” related to ANS, primarily focused on air-traffic control. The pivotal role of air-traffic controllers in guiding flights safely from take-off to landing can’t be understated. One of the glaring issues highlighted in the report is the staff shortage in ATC, a matter that poses significant risks for Lebanese aviation. As one aviation specialist aptly put it, an overwhelmed controller might inadvertently make errors with potentially devastating outcomes.
The report further emphasised the pressing need for the Lebanese civil aviation authorities to recruit and retain experienced and qualified staff for air traffic services. Another glaring issue is the lack of updated obstacle registries and functionality checks for navigation aids. An expert, after analysing the report, highlighted the crucial role these navigation tools play in aiding pilots.
The report also drew attention to the blurred lines between the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), and ANS service providers, a situation that raises concerns about conflicts of interest. To potentially alleviate some of the staffing concerns, an expert proposed running the airport for limited hours, a departure from its current round-the-clock operation.
While the deficiency in air-traffic controllers has been a longstanding concern, the current economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the problem. The plummeting value of the national currency and the subsequent socio-economic repercussions have intensified the staffing crisis at Beirut airport.
A source revealed the alarming statistic that currently only 15 air-traffic controllers are certified against a standard requirement of 87. The economic downturn, which saw salaries drastically cut, has spurred many to leave the country. This exodus has resulted in arduously long shifts for the remaining controllers, often stretching 24 hours at a go.
The urgent situation is further complicated by the aging workforce, with an average age of 45. Recruitment locally hasn’t picked up pace, while hiring internationally would strain finances. Furthermore, those in junior positions, such as ground staff or assistants, lack the essential training and certification.
Efforts to address this staffing concern have been made. During a recent interaction with the Public Works Committee, the Caretaker Public Works Minister, Ali Hamie, considered roping in air-traffic controllers from ICAO to mitigate the staff shortfall. However, questions remain on why those who successfully cleared the 2018 air-traffic controller exam haven’t been considered for these positions. Reports suggest that the approvals weren’t granted owing to concerns of a sectarian imbalance in recruitment.
The urgency of the situation is palpable, and the onus is now on Lebanese authorities to act swiftly.
Oman has nearly doubled the duration of paid maternity leave in a series of sweeping reforms put forth by the nation’s government.
Previously, women could enjoy up to 50 days of paid maternity leave, a figure which has now been revised to 98 days.
Additionally, the reforms herald the introduction of seven days’ paid paternity leave, a benefit that was non-existent in the past.
In a significant move, non-Muslim workers are now entitled to 14 days of paid bereavement leave if their husband passes away.
These reforms have been met with widespread approval from both employers and workers.
Mohammed Al Rahbi, employed in the oil and gas sector, commented on the positive implications, stating, “The new rights for employees, including those not from Oman, mark a tremendous stride towards achieving a balanced work-life dynamic.”
Moreover, the modified law now permits employees to avail study leaves for exams.
Mohammed Al Farsi, a legal associate at Decree, a firm dedicated to providing a comprehensive English database of Omani royal decrees and laws, remarked, “The current Labour Law has been crafted to protect workers’ rights while simultaneously offering an encouraging milieu for businesses.”
Mr Al Farsi pointed out that these laws were a rejuvenation of the 2003 legislation, encompassing subjects like contracts, wages, working hours, and penalties.
He further noted, “Distinct aspects of the new Labour Law could radically transform Oman’s employment scenario.”
A significant update in the Labour Law enables companies to end contracts with Omani employees who are not performing up to the mark.
Fatma Al Balushi, an Omani business proprietor, voiced her endorsement for this amendment. She opined that it would propel companies to uphold superior standards in their workforce.
Echoing her sentiment, Mr Al Rahbi expressed optimism about the potential prospects these changes could usher in for Oman’s job sector. He concluded, “The government’s commitment to fostering a just and inclusive working milieu is evident through these reforms.”
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A consortium comprised of French, Italian, and Qatari energy companies initiated offshore exploration in Block 9 of the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, marking a promising development in Lebanon’s long-awaited gas initiatives.
TotalEnergies, Eni, and QatarEnergy embarked on their exploration approximately 120 kilometers from Beirut. The commencement was attended by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, parliament speaker Nabih Berri, and other key officials, as highlighted by the National News Agency.
While TotalEnergies’ general manager in Lebanon, Romain de La Martiniere, stated that the substantive drilling is set to commence in the forthcoming days, this venture is not without its historical challenges. The original agreement for gas exploration was signed between TotalEnergies, Eni, and Russia’s Novatek in 2018. However, they halted operations in Block 4 in 2020 due to inadequate gas finds. Block 9’s exploration faced postponements, largely attributed to Lebanon’s maritime border disputes with Israel. These differences were finally settled in October, leading to a swift call for energy exploration in Block 9.
This recent exploration venture is bolstered by the Transocean Barents rig, which arrived at Block 9 last week. While Novatek exited the consortium last year, QatarEnergy joined earlier this year, resulting in both TotalEnergies and Eni holding 35% stakes each and QatarEnergy retaining the remaining 30%.
The significance of this endeavour cannot be overstated. Lebanon, plagued by acute electricity shortages exacerbated by the economic and political turmoil since 2019, finds its residents grappling with electricity accessibility for merely one to three hours daily. Escalated fuel prices, due to dependency on fuel-powered generators, have aggravated the situation.
A potential solution lies in Lebanon’s budding natural gas sector. However, the country’s aspirations to leverage its offshore oil and gas reserves have been hampered by multifaceted challenges, ranging from complex geological conditions and domestic political challenges to diplomatic tensions related to maritime boundaries.
Despite these adversities, Lebanon’s renewed attempt at offshore exploration, supported by significant international stakeholders, might just signal a turning point in the nation’s energy and economic trajectory.
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The Syrian administration has taken bold steps in an attempt to revitalise its beleaguered economy by simultaneously doubling the salaries in the public sector and curbing fuel subsidies. These declarations were promptly communicated after the Syrian pound plummeted to a historic low against the US dollar in the unofficial exchange arena.
This drop in the currency’s value has exacerbated hyperinflation, plunging a staggering 90% of Syrians below the poverty threshold. Recent economic pressures have led to infrequent demonstrations, even in areas traditionally supportive of the government.
Since the onset of civil unrest in 2011, following President Bashar al-Assad’s aggressive response to nonviolent calls for democratic reforms, Syria has been grievously impacted. The resultant civil conflict has claimed the lives of over half a million citizens.
Current figures suggest that a significant 70% of Syrians, equating to over 15 million people, are in dire need of humanitarian aid, with 12.1 million facing food scarcity.
Wednesday saw the introduction of presidential mandates, proclaiming a sweeping 100% salary and pension increment for public sector workers, armed forces members, and government affiliates. This marks the initial salary augmentation since December 2021.
These directives also formalised the standard minimum monthly wage, setting it at 185,940 Syrian pounds. This translates to £17.09 when converted at the official exchange rate, but is much lower when pegged to the prevailing unofficial rate. To contextualise, at the war’s commencement, the Syrian pound’s exchange rate to the dollar stood at 47:1.
Based on data from May, this adjusted wage would hardly suffice to purchase even one-third of the essential monthly groceries for a typical family of five, as per the World Food Programme’s estimates. Moreover, it would barely cover a mere tenth of a similar family’s most basic household expenses.
As inflation soars, vulnerable families grapple with escalating bills. The minimum household spend, according to the WFP, has surged by 62% since May 2022 and an astonishing 159% since September 2021.
In an accompanying overnight announcement, Syria’s commerce department publicised a complete withdrawal of petrol subsidies and a semi-withdrawal of fuel oil subsidies, effectively hiking the cost of both commodities.
The Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous, expressed last year that reductions in fuel subsidies would serve to alleviate the budget deficit and aid in stabilising the Syrian pound, benefiting impoverished families. Yet, financial experts highlight that the government’s inability to uphold these subsidies and indicate that the raise in public sector wages may inadvertently spur further inflation and currency depreciation. This could potentially nullify any economic advantages in the coming months.
Government officials attribute the grave economic plight and the struggles of everyday Syrians to the stringent US sanctions instated in 2019, which zero in on entities extending support to Assad’s regime. The US maintains that these measures exempt humanitarian assistance.
At the recent Saudi-China Business Forum in Beijing, entities from Saudi Arabia and China endorsed multiple housing and infrastructure contracts, highlighting the strengthening bond between the two nations.
The forum, chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Hogail, primarily concentrated on investment possibilities between the two nations in areas such as urban infrastructure, housing, real estate development, and financing. During the event, Al-Hogail extended an invitation to Chinese companies to engage in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning real estate market.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, a total of 12 agreements related to infrastructure development and financing were signed during this event, with the total value exceeding £1 billion ($1.33 billion). Although the specifics of the entities involved have not been disclosed, it has been confirmed by the Saudi Ministry for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing that Al-Hogail interacted with representatives from the Chinese state-backed investment powerhouse, CITIC. Their discussion centred on construction opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the potential adoption of “green housing technology,” as detailed in a press statement released on Tuesday.
The bigger picture: Ties between Saudi Arabia and China are evidently deepening. Earlier in March, China played a pivotal role in brokering the pact that saw the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Moreover, economically, Saudi Arabia hosted the Arab-China Business Conference in June, which generated deals surpassing £7 billion ($10 billion). Just last month, Saudi Aramco procured a stake worth £2.5 billion ($3.4 billion) in the Chinese petrochemical entity, Rongsheng Petrochemical Co. Ltd.
In 2022, it’s noteworthy to mention that Saudi Arabia was China’s primary supplier of oil.
Nearly a month after its initial release in Algeria, the Barbie film has been removed from cinemas across the nation. Reports from the online news platform, 24H Algerie, highlight that Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts issued an urgent directive to cinemas in major cities such as Algiers, Oran, and Constantine to immediately cease the film’s screening.
To date, neither the ministry nor the Algerian Audiovisual Regulatory Authority has provided an explanation for this sudden directive or made any comment.
Following its release in select Algerian theatres last month, film distributors initiated the removal of the Hollywood blockbuster from their weekly schedules. This move mirrors decisions made by authorities in Kuwait and Lebanon, where the film was banned due to its commentary on gender and sexuality.
The abrupt cancellation has prompted a flurry of discussions on social media. Supporters voiced their frustration using the hashtag “#IAmBarbie”, with others condemning the act as an instance of “censorship” and “bigotry”. Leila Belkacem, a prominent writer, expressed her discontent on Facebook, questioning the motives behind the censorship given the private behaviours of some officials.
Fatima Ait Kaci, who had anticipated watching the film with her granddaughters visiting from Canada, expressed her dismay upon discovering the change in schedule at the Riadh El Feth cinema in Algiers. She criticised Algerian authorities for their lack of transparency and responsibility.
This incident follows the recent suspension of programming by the private TV channel Es Salam, accused of broadcasting content contrary to Islamic principles and Algerian societal norms.
Directed by the acclaimed Greta Gerwig, the film stars Margot Robbie, portraying the iconic Barbie, and Ryan Gosling as her partner, Ken. While the film does not include explicit sexual scenes or direct references to LGBTQ+ rights, it has faced criticism due to its vibrant representation and overarching message of gender equality and inclusion. This theme is particularly controversial in areas where same-sex relationships are prohibited by law.
Despite the regional controversies, the Warner Bros production has achieved significant success, grossing over $1bn globally. This outstanding performance has positioned it as the top-grossing film directed by a woman in cinematic history.
Accounts of Lebanon’s former central bank governor, Riad Salameh, alongside those of his close relatives and associates, have been frozen on orders of the interim central bank governor, Wassim Mansouri. This move comes in the wake of sanctions placed on them by the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.
The decision emerged after the Special Investigation Commission, responsible for combating money laundering and terrorism financing, convened. Those named include Salameh’s son Nady, brother Raja, associate Marianne Hoayek, and former partner Anna Kosakova.
Beyond freezing their assets in Lebanese financial establishments, the directive also waives bank confidentiality for the said individuals, facilitating investigations by judicial authorities. Salameh, once celebrated as the bulwark of Lebanon’s fiscal stability, now faces scrutiny both domestically and abroad. His policies have been criticised for precipitating Lebanon’s economic downfall, marked by the plummeting value of the Lebanese pound and soaring inflation.
Recent findings from a forensic audit by New York firm, Alvarez & Marsal, disclosed Salameh’s prolonged misconduct, including $111 million in “illegitimate commissions”. This audit, a demand of the international community and the International Monetary Fund, only underscores their waning confidence in Lebanon’s economic management.
Salameh’s tenure as the central bank governor from 1993 until 31st July is under intense scrutiny, with arrest warrants in both France and Germany probing the alleged misappropriation of $330 million from the Lebanese central bank during his tenure. Charges of embezzlement and financial misdemeanours have been laid in Lebanon against Salameh, his brother, and Hoayek.
Despite the mounting allegations, Salameh refutes all claims, pledging to contest the sanctions. He informed Reuters that some of his assets were already impounded in earlier investigations. March 2022 witnessed the freezing of roughly 120 million euros worth of Lebanese assets across various European nations, with Salameh implicated in the case. Furthermore, assets seized by the French judiciary were transferred to the Lebanese state in July.
Given the vacancy in the central bank’s governance after Salameh, Wassim Mansouri, the first vice governor, now officiates as the acting governor, evidenced by his signature on Monday’s statement.
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The head of the upcoming U.N. global climate summit, Sultan al-Jaber, has called for increased availability of funds to combat climate change in the Caribbean. Al-Jaber, who is also the United Arab Emirates’ minister of industry, spoke during a regional meeting in Barbados, addressing leaders from the 15-member trade bloc known as Caricom.
Highlighting the severe climate impacts faced by island nations, al-Jaber noted that high costs have hindered these nations from swiftly adopting renewable energy solutions. “The peoples of the Caribbean have been on the front lines of climate change for longer than most,” he asserted, describing their experience as an “early warning system for the rest of the world.”
He also stressed the importance of closing the climate finance gap as a priority ahead of the COP28 summit scheduled for December in Dubai. This call for financial support comes on the same day that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) escalated its prediction for the Atlantic hurricane season from near-normal to above-normal due to record sea surface temperatures. The prediction now includes 14 to 21 named storms, with two to five major hurricanes.
With five tropical storms having already formed this year, marking an unusually active start to the hurricane season, al-Jaber highlighted the Caribbean’s acute awareness of “the human and economic costs of too little finance for climate adaptation and resilience.”
The meeting also acknowledged the efforts of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who initiated a plan known as the Bridgetown Initiative. This proposal aims to simplify the process for developing nations to combat global warming and defer debt payments in the wake of natural disasters. Supporters of the plan believe it could potentially release $1 trillion in climate financing.
In a related development, Mottley announced on Wednesday that her administration would establish a legacy fund to assist Barbados in its battle against climate change. Her announcement resonated with al-Jaber’s call to action, emphasizing the urgent need for financial resources in the Caribbean region to mitigate the severe consequences of climate change.
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On Saturday, Saudi Arabia appointed its first non-resident ambassador to Palestine. Ambassador Nayef Al Sudairi’s credentials were presented to Majdi Al Khalidi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s diplomatic adviser, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
This appointment has been heralded as “an important step” by Mr Al Sudairi, reflecting the determination of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to strengthen relations with the brothers of the State of Palestine and give it a formal boost in all areas.” The ceremony was conducted on Saturday, where the ambassador’s credentials were handed over.
State-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) detailed that the dialogue during the ceremony focused on “reinforcing and advancing bilateral ties across diverse domains.” The event was also attended by the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Jordan, Atallah Khairi.
Palestinian analyst Talal Okal regards the diplomatic appointment as a half-step towards an official Saudi representation office in the West Bank and a commitment by Saudi Arabia to the rights of Palestinians in a fully sovereign state. This marks a notable shift as Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic file for Palestine has traditionally been managed by the embassy in Amman, AFP reported.
A Palestinian Authority official told AFP that this announcement symbolises “Saudi Arabia’s reaffirmation of its recognition of the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital” and expressed the intention to further develop the relationship.
While the development comes amid discussions concerning Saudi conditions for normalisation with Israel, Riyadh continues to assert its position of not establishing ties with Israel until the Palestinian conflict is resolved. In parallel, the diplomatic appointment reiterates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to bolstering ties with Palestine and upholding its rights.
Image Credit: U.S. Department of State
The United Nations’ top human rights official, Volker Türk, has issued a warning over the potential wider regional impact of Iraq’s water crisis. Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday, following a four-day visit to various parts of the country, Türk detailed the significant decline in water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which constitute more than 90% of Iraq’s freshwater reserves.
The situation has worsened over the years, partially due to the construction of dams and water diversion upstream in Turkey and Iran. Türk expressed his personal observations on the tangible effects of climate change in the southern Iraqi region of Basra, stating, “Standing in searing heat in that scarred landscape, breathing air polluted by the many gas flares dotting the region, it was clear to me that the era of global boiling has indeed begun.”
He went on to describe the situation as a “climate emergency” and emphasised the urgent need for action. Iraq has been identified by the UN as the fifth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis, facing increased loss of arable land owing to salinisation, reduced rainfall, and extended heatwaves.
The crisis stems from a “toxic mix” of factors, including global warming, reduced rainfall, lack of effective water management and regulation, violence, and oil industry excesses. Basra, where the two rivers meet, has been the most severely affected by the water crisis, leading to desertification in previously fertile areas and shutting down water purification systems due to rising salinity.
The impact extends to the destruction of wheat and fruit harvests and the decimation of fish and livestock. Concerns have been raised that millions of people could be deprived of water from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, affecting neighbouring Syria as well.
While Türk acknowledged the Iraqi government’s commitment to addressing climate change and water scarcity, he criticised ongoing legal actions against journalists and activists covering the matter, highlighting the negative effect on freedom of speech. He also expressed concerns over reports of violence, intimidation, and death threats against environmental activists and stressed the importance of transparency and collaboration.
In his meetings with Iraqi government and judicial officials, including Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani and Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi, Türk discussed various human rights issues, such as the death penalty, overcrowded prisons, and the strengthening of human rights institutions in the country.
The UN human rights chief’s alarming observations and call for immediate action underline the escalating crisis and draw attention to the potential broader implications for the region, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive measures to mitigate the unfolding disaster.
Kuwait has announced a ban on the Warner Brothers film “Barbie”, citing the need to protect “public ethics and social traditions.” This decision comes shortly after a Lebanese minister requested a similar ban in Lebanon, alleging that the movie promotes homosexuality.
Late on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Ministry of Information stated that the film “promulgates ideas and beliefs that are alien to Kuwaiti society and public order,” according to the official KUNA news agency. In addition to “Barbie”, the Kuwaiti ministry has also prohibited the Australian supernatural horror film “Talk to Me” on similar grounds.
In Lebanon, Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada made a parallel announcement on Wednesday, requesting the Lebanese interior ministry to take steps to prevent the film from being shown in the country. He accused the film of promoting homosexuality and transsexuality, undermining parental roles, and questioning the necessity of marriage and family.
The Lebanese Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, subsequently directed the country’s censorship committee to review the film and make a recommendation. This comes amid a growing anti-LGBTQ campaign in Lebanon, spearheaded by the powerful Hezbollah armed group.
“Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has been widely anticipated by LGBTQ communities worldwide, even though the film does not contain overt references to same-sex relationships or queer themes. It is the first film by a solo female director to surpass the billion-dollar benchmark.
The film’s ban is part of a broader pattern of increasing scrutiny and censorship. It has already faced bans in Vietnam over a contentious scene involving a fictitious world map. The Philippines allowed the screening but requested blurring the map of a disputed sea area. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, the release was delayed over undisclosed “objectionable content”.
Lafy Al-Subei’e, head of Kuwait’s cinema censorship committee, told KUNA that foreign movies are often subject to censoring of scenes that contradict public ethics. However, if a film carries alien concepts or unacceptable behavior, the committee may decide to bar the film altogether.
Gulf Arab states, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, have previously censored films containing LGBTQ references. Interestingly, “Barbie” continues to be shown in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain despite the controversy.
Ayman Mhanna, executive director at the nonprofit civic Samir Kassir Foundation, described the move to ban the film as part of “a wave of bigotry” that has brought together various factions against LGBT people.
This decision to ban “Barbie” underscores the complex and often contentious relationship between cinema, social values, and politics in the region, and it may spark further debate and division in the international community.
Image Credit: AP
The minister’s vehicle was reportedly struck by several bullets, primarily damaging the car’s rear windshield. Fortunately, Sleem emerged unscathed from the incident and is now safely located. In a brief statement, he confirmed, “I am fine, but the car’s back glass was shot.”
No further injuries have been reported from the scene, and details are still emerging. Investigations are underway to apprehend those responsible.
Image Credit: Maurice Sleem/Twitter
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed twelve regional governors in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. This announcement was made on Thursday, and official sources have yet to provide an explanation for the unexpected decision.
The affected governors include those of North Gaza, Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Rafah in the Gaza Strip, as well as Jenin, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, Tul Karm, Tubas, and Jericho in the occupied West Bank. All have been ordered into retirement, with a presidential committee now established to appoint their successors.
This move is unprecedented in the history of the occupied Palestinian Territories, and it comes on the heels of unsuccessful unity talks between President Abbas and the rival faction Hamas in Cairo last month. Hamas has governed the blockaded Gaza Strip for nearly two decades, and the failure of the talks to achieve any tangible progress has further strained the Palestinian front against mounting Israeli pressure.
Speculation surrounds the motivations behind this drastic reshuffling, but some context might be drawn from President Abbas’s recent controversies. The long-serving leader has faced criticism in the city of Jenin for perceived governmental inaction following a deadly raid that claimed 12 lives last month. Despite a rare visit to the affected camp, Abbas was met with a rebuke from residents who were dissatisfied with the government’s response to almost-daily Israeli incursions.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority’s standing has been on a downward trajectory in recent years, plagued by allegations of corruption, negligence, and controversial cooperation with Israel. A poll conducted last year revealed that only 27 per cent of the population were content with the administration’s performance.
Observers are now keenly watching the development of this political upheaval, as the dismissal of such a significant number of key figures may signal a significant shift in the Palestinian leadership’s strategy or a response to internal pressures.
While the official Wafa news agency reported the dismissals, it did not delve into the reasoning behind the decision, leaving the political landscape tinged with uncertainty. The formation of a presidential committee to select replacements adds another layer of intrigue to an already complex and tense situation.
Image Credit: European External Action Service
After a week-long halt in services due to violent clashes in Ain el-Helweh, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has recommenced its operations within the refugee camp.
Following the disturbances, Health Centre II has reopened its doors, continuing its pivotal role in providing medical care to Palestine Refugee patients. In recent days, the centre has seen a steady influx of patients, including numerous children and newborns who are in need of treatment and immunisations.
In a bid to restore normalcy, sanitation workers have embarked on a clean-up mission, swiftly removing accumulated rubbish from the streets and carrying out disinfection processes in areas less impacted by the skirmishes.
Collaborating closely with multiple stakeholders, UNRWA is gearing up to undertake assessments and eliminate war remnants in the areas that have been affected. These measures will commence as soon as they are deemed safe for access.
Dorothee Klaus, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, recently paid a visit to the Ain el-Helweh camp on Tuesday to monitor the situation and supervise the gradual restoration of the Agency’s operations. Speaking on her visit, she expressed, “We earnestly hope for sustained peace in the camp.”
Ms. Klaus shared poignant anecdotes from her visit: “I was told of families trapped in their homes due to the conflict, some injured while attempting to flee. I’ve seen children terrified, cries echoing through the camp, and women in such distress that their hair has turned white.”
Highlighting the path forward, Klaus emphasised the agency’s unwavering commitment: “UNRWA is set to support in clearing debris and restoring damaged water and electricity infrastructures. A stable and safe environment is crucial for our operations.”
Concluding her remarks, she added that UNRWA is working hand-in-hand with partner organisations to ensure the timely clearance of affected camp sites. This endeavour aims to safeguard both the community and UNRWA personnel from lingering dangers of the conflict.
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The Moroccan navy has recovered the bodies of five Senegalese migrants and successfully rescued 189 others after their boat tragically capsized off the coast of Western Sahara, as reported by Morocco’s official news agency Map on Monday.
According to an unidentified military official, the incident occurred on Saturday off Guerguerat, a village located in the south of Western Sahara near the border with Mauritania. It is believed that the migrants were attempting a perilous journey to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
In addition to those rescued, 11 other migrants were found to be in a critical condition and were swiftly taken to Hassan II Hospital in the city of Dakhla in Western Sahara. The rescued individuals were transferred to Dakhla on Sunday and placed under the care of Moroccan authorities.
This tragedy forms part of a broader crisis in the region. In a separate incident, officials announced on Monday that 16 migrants had died in shipwrecks off the coasts of Tunisia and Western Sahara. Local court spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi reported that at least 11 migrants died off the coast of Tunisia’s second city, Sfax, with an additional 44 reported missing. Two survivors were rescued from the boat, which had 57 people on board, all hailing from sub-Saharan African countries.
The first six months of 2023 have seen nearly 1,000 migrants perish while attempting to reach Spain by sea, according to Spanish migrant rights group Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders). Most of these attempts have been made from Senegal or Morocco.
These tragic incidents highlight the ongoing migration crisis in the region and the immense risks that desperate individuals are willing to take for a chance at a better life. As European countries grapple with the political and humanitarian challenges of migration, the loss of life in the Mediterranean continues to be a stark and urgent reminder of the human cost of this complex issue.
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In a recent statement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati has sought to calm rising concerns over the significant violence in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain Al Hilweh. He insisted that top security officials believe the situation “does not call for concern or panic,” though acknowledged there had been “significant progress” in halting the clashes that have rocked the camp since late July.
The violence, particularly severe in recent weeks, has resulted in the displacement of approximately a quarter of the camp’s residents. At least 13 people have died, and occasional stray bullets have even reached areas outside the camp. Despite a ceasefire being called, it has repeatedly been broken, fuelling further unrest.
Mikati hinted that the Lebanese army could be deployed if the situation escalates further, expressing in a phone call with Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that the army would “play the required role” in ending the clashes.
In the midst of this turmoil, two of Lebanon’s most influential political figures have expressed confusion at the travel warnings issued by some embassies. Leading figure in Lebanon’s Druze community, Walid Joumblatt, stated after a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri that they “do not understand… the fears expressed in the embassies’ press releases.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon. The Kuwaiti Embassy in Lebanon also urged Kuwaiti citizens to avoid conflict areas, and the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded citizens of an existing ban on travel to Lebanon.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Ein El Hilweh Camp conflict has seen 12 deaths and 50 injuries. Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi declared yesterday that measures have been implemented to maintain security, emphasizing that security violations and endangering lives will not be tolerated.
Despite these travel warnings, the head of the Federation of Tourism Syndicates in Lebanon, Pierre Al-Ashqar, asserted that nothing has changed in the country’s tourism landscape following the embassy advisories.
The situation in Ain Al Hilweh continues to be volatile, reflecting the often-complex relationship between Lebanon and Palestinian factions. The Lebanese Armed Forces usually avoid entering the camps as part of a long-standing agreement with Palestinian security.
The country now finds itself in a precarious situation, where addressing the violence and reassuring both citizens and foreign nationals becomes paramount. With international eyes on Lebanon, the next steps taken by the government could prove crucial in stabilising the situation and preserving both national and regional security.
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Three years. That’s how long it has been since the earth shook and a pall of smoke overshadowed Beirut. On Aug. 4, 2020, an explosion of catastrophic proportions devastated the Lebanese capital, claiming over 200 lives, injuring thousands, and leaving billions of dollars in damage. But perhaps more chilling than the explosion itself is the unyielding stalemate in holding those responsible accountable.
The echoes of that horrific day resonate not just in the shattered lives of the Lebanese people but in a political system designed to shield the perpetrators from justice. A system in which “the powerful are never held to account and no justice is ever served.” A system emboldened and entrenched by Hezbollah, with the support of Lebanon’s political elite.
The domestic judicial process to investigate the blast and deliver justice to victims has been effectively quashed. Politicians and security officials summoned by the judge continue to carry out their public functions as if nothing happened. The local investigation led by Judge Tarek Bitar has been stifled, hindered, and abused. The perpetrators have “used both legal and illegal means to block any substantive investigation into the explosion.”
There’s something profoundly disheartening about a nation’s cry for justice being stifled by the very powers meant to uphold it. The explosion wasn’t merely a domestic tragedy; it was a global one. The Port of Beirut, as the epicenter of this tragedy, became an unregulated arena for international arms smuggling, hinting at a broader nexus that threatens international peace and security.
Families of victims and human rights organizations have tirelessly pressed for an independent international investigation. A U.N. fact-finding mission could be a pathway to determining the truth and delineating responsibility. As seen with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), international mechanisms have the potential to overcome local obstruction.
But why, despite the clear evidence and enormous human cost, does this cry for international intervention seem to fall on deaf ears? Is it mere indifference, or something more calculated?
In a political arena where alliances are as shadowy as they are complex, the issue of Hezbollah cannot be ignored. Some countries may be reluctant to dig deeper, fearing that exposing Hezbollah’s connections could be a Pandora’s box that could unravel sensitive political dynamics. The silence may be strategic, but it’s a strategy that continues to wound the very soul of Lebanon.
Three years have come and gone, and the wounds of that tragic day continue to fester. There’s a painful truth that must be acknowledged: “neglect is a deliberate act” and the failure to hold anyone accountable is a choice—a choice that is devastating a nation and denying its people the justice they so desperately need and deserve.
The international community, and indeed, the conscience of the world, must act now. It is time to escalate the issue and enable a U.N. investigation. It is time to sanction those responsible for obstructing justice and make ending impunity the centerpiece of international mediation on the Lebanese crisis.
The story of Lebanon, its cries for justice, and its struggles for accountability, should be a rallying cry for the world. For in Lebanon’s fight for justice, we see our collective moral responsibility reflected. We must not, we cannot, allow the third anniversary to mark “the beginning of the long forgetting.”
Justice delayed is justice denied. The time to act is now. Lebanon’s shattered heart demands it, and history will remember how we respond.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
Iraq’s Ministry of Communications announced on Sunday that it had suspended the popular messaging app Telegram, citing national security issues and the mishandling of users’ personal data.
In a statement, the ministry detailed its attempts to engage with the company, requesting the closure of “platforms that leak the data of the official state institutions and the personal data of citizens.” Despite these efforts, the ministry said, “the company did not respond and did not interact with any of these requests.”
The Ministry was keen to emphasise its commitment to “citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and communication, without prejudice to the security of the state and its institutions.”
Telegram, widely used in Iraq—including by Iran-backed militia groups linked to political factions in the parliament—has become a source of concern for the Iraqi government. Some channels contain substantial personal data, such as names, addresses, and family connections of Iraqi citizens.
Experts have highlighted the app’s role in facilitating paramilitary groups in publicising their attacks, including assaults on military bases hosting coalition troops fighting remnants of ISIS.
A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified nearly two dozen Telegram channels created between March 2020 and 2021, of which over 75% were affiliated with militias. The Sabereen news channel, affiliated with Iran-backed groups, has been a notable source of information on militia activities, often posting news of attacks on coalition bases and the US embassy.
In addition to its use by political and paramilitary groups, the encrypted instant messaging app has also been utilised by terrorist organisations. ISIS, for instance, confirmed the death of its leader Abu Hussein Al Husseini Al Quraishi via Telegram this week.
Last year, an ISIS follower was sentenced to over eight years in prison by a London court for distributing terrorist propaganda on the app.
By midday on Sunday, the service was effectively blocked in Iraq, though it remained accessible to users connected through a VPN.
The decision to suspend Telegram has provoked criticism from channels aligned with pro-Iran factions. One channel, with over 330,000 subscribers, accused the Iraqi government, supported by pro-Iran parties, of “confiscating freedoms” and described the suspension as an act of “gagging.”
Iraq’s government asserts that the suspension of Telegram is vital to “protect the personal data of citizens, which is violated by the application” and to address the “data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace.”
The move represents a significant action in Iraq’s ongoing struggle to balance security concerns with freedom of expression and communication, and it will likely continue to be a contentious issue within the country’s complex political landscape.
A massive blaze broke out on Saturday at the historic building of Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) in central Cairo, engulfing the top floor of the structure, according to local reports.
No casualties were reported, and at least seven fire trucks from the General Administration of Civil Protection were dispatched to combat the fire, the Cairo Governorate confirmed. The fire was largely extinguished after several hours of intense firefighting efforts.
The incident occurred just days after the Awqaf employees had relocated to new premises in a burgeoning capital city under construction in the desert, 45km east of Cairo. The relocation is part of a larger strategy to draw investment and rejuvenate central Cairo.
Governor Khaled Abdel Aal praised the civil protection forces for their swift action in extinguishing the fire and took immediate measures to prevent the blaze from reigniting. He has also ordered the creation of a committee to examine the condition of the building post-fire.
The Public Prosecution and criminal investigation department are expected to conduct an inspection to determine the cause of the blaze, prior to the commencement of a clean-up operation.
The Awqaf building, whose main part was constructed in 1898 with wings added in 1912 and 1927, had been mostly emptied of its employees, who moved to the new capital at the end of July. Flames were reported to have been seen shooting out of a second-floor window, as per a Reuters account.
Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa, the Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments, personally inspected the firefighting process and expressed gratitude to the civil protection team for their dedication and control of the fire. He later referred the incident for investigation to the Public Prosecution and the Administrative Prosecution.
As the building was vacated on July 1, the minister has urged the continuation of maintenance contracts for the old structure. Assistant Minister Abdullah Hassan Abdel-Qawi also confirmed that an assessment of the damage was underway.
A source informed Arab News that four ambulances were promptly dispatched to the accident site, though no casualties were found. The building’s vacancy played a critical role in averting injuries.
The incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of safety measures in institutional buildings, even those that may be unoccupied. The effective and coordinated response by various authorities also underscores the country’s commitment to emergency preparedness and community well-being.
Some of the former ministry buildings are anticipated to be repurposed under Egypt’s Sovereign Fund, an initiative that aligns with the government’s broader plans to attract crucial investment to the heart of Cairo. The ministry is awaiting reports from security services regarding the fire’s cause before deciding on further action.
Image Credit: Reuters
Friday marked the third anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, a tragic event which claimed the lives of more than 200 individuals and left thousands injured, causing significant devastation throughout the capital. Despite the colossal scale of this incident, no senior official has yet been held accountable and internal attempts to seek justice continue to face consistent obstacles.
In a show of solidarity and defiance, a protest march was organised on Friday afternoon in Beirut, with additional demonstrations anticipated globally. The procession commenced at 4pm local time from the Karantina fire station, located in close proximity to the port, culminating near the epicentre of the 2020 blast.
The city fell silent at 6:07pm, the exact time when the explosion occurred three years ago, as a fire engine’s siren signalled the start of a minute’s silence. The sombre silence was followed by applause, and a poignant reading of the victims’ names. Many businesses across Lebanon observed the day as a public holiday in commemoration of the tragedy.
Paul Naggear, a father still mourning the loss of his three-year-old daughter Alexandra, voiced his urgent need for justice, saying, “This is a national cause. If we don’t get justice for this and what happened, we won’t get justice for anything.”
The explosion was caused by a cache of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for several years, a fact known to senior officials. The domestic inquiry led by Judge Tarek Bitar has faced repeated roadblocks, including resistance from former ministers he intended to question.
Nizar Sagieh, a prominent lawyer and founder of the rights group Legal Agenda, criticised Lebanon’s political class for its chronic lack of accountability. The devastating blast has come to symbolise the deep-seated corruption and mismanagement by the ruling elite, which has also presided over a financial collapse that began in 2019.
The search for justice has increasingly turned towards international intervention. Savaro Ltd, a UK-registered company found liable for the blast, was ordered to compensate four victims a total of $1 million, setting a “strong precedent” for other lawsuits, according to Mr. Naggear. On the eve of the anniversary, a multitude of human rights groups, survivors and relatives of the victims appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to establish a fact-finding mission into the explosion.
This plea echoes a joint statement by 38 nations, expressed by Australia at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, emphasising their collective concern over the investigation’s stagnation due to “systemic obstruction, interference and intimidation”. They noted the failure of Lebanese authorities to guarantee an independent judiciary in accordance with international standards.
In a separate statement, the French Foreign Ministry also called for the Lebanese justice system to resume its investigation “in complete transparency, protected from any political interference”, emphasising the global clamour for truth and accountability in the wake of the Beirut port explosion.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
In a recent official visit, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis travelled to the seaside city of Alamein to meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, according to the presidency’s spokesperson. This marks Mr Mitsotakis’s first visit to Egypt since his re-election as Prime Minister in June. The two leaders engaged in thorough discussions on subjects of mutual interest, solidifying the long-standing alliance between the two nations.
In the meeting, President El Sisi expressed gratitude towards Greece for its continual support on a regional level and in Egypt’s negotiations with the EU. In response, Mr Mitsotakis thanked Mr El Sisi for Egypt’s assistance in battling recent wildfires in Greece, as confirmed by the presidency’s spokesperson.
Egyptian and Greek relations, although traditionally amiable, have significantly intensified since President El Sisi assumed power in 2014. The two countries have since secured several crucial military, security, and energy agreements, aligning their interests, especially in the oil and gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean region.
In a landmark agreement last year, Egypt committed to supplying power to the Greek grid, which could then be channelled into the broader European power network. The £4 billion deal was initiated as Europe was exploring alternatives to Russian energy, which was cut off due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Currently, an underwater cable network is being installed in the Mediterranean to interconnect the power grids of Greece and Egypt. Once operational, the project is expected to deliver 3,000 megawatts daily to the European grid, equating to electricity for around three million homes, depending on domestic electricity demand.
Moreover, in 2021, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus signed a tripartite agreement to bolster military co-ordination to safeguard their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. This deal, however, sparked criticism from Turkey, Greece’s historic adversary.
In recent territorial disputes over oil and gas rights in the Mediterranean, Cairo has consistently aligned with Athens against Turkey. Both Egypt and Greece have also expressed their disapproval of Ankara’s affiliation with Libya’s Tripoli-based government, led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, which the rival Libyan Parliament in the east refuses to recognise as legitimate.
Relations between Cairo and Ankara became further strained following Ankara’s denouncement of the 2013 removal of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, an event which paved the way for President El Sisi’s rise to power. Consequently, this dispute evolved into a broader regional disagreement over Islamism.
From a security perspective, President El Sisi’s governance has been partially defined by a relentless anti-terrorism campaign in North Sinai against ISIS and widespread suppression of radical Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s principal cities. Athens has consistently and openly supported President El Sisi’s campaign, labelling it as vital for regional stability.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File
Amidst Lebanon’s most severe economic turmoil in its brief, tumultuous history, banks from four Arab nations are showing interest in the beleaguered banking sector of the small Mediterranean country. This comes after a three-year economic meltdown that has massively escalated poverty and inflation, hampering the public sector and infrastructure.
Wissam Fattouh, the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Banks, relayed the news to the Associated Press. His statements came during the most significant regional banking conference in Beirut since the catastrophic economic crisis began in October 2019. Caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam, along with Lebanese and regional banking officials, urged their Arab peers to invest in the crisis-laden country and contribute to its economic resurrection.
Back in July, Fattouh disclosed to the Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath that Jordanian and Iraqi banks were considering the purchase of smaller Lebanese banks. He elaborated, “During our numerous visits to Arab countries and meetings with banking leadership, we explored the potential of acquiring some Lebanese banks willing to sell.” However, he refrained from specifying which banks were contemplating an investment in Lebanon.
As of 2022, 61 banks were operating in Lebanon, 46 of which were commercial banks. Due to the crisis, many have had to downsize. The World Bank has labeled Lebanon’s financial crisis as one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century – the result of years of financial mismanagement, corruption, and harmful policy.
Towards the end of 2019, a scarcity of dollars in Lebanon instigated panic, leading to a run on the banks, as strict withdrawal limits were imposed on depositors who kept their savings there. This crisis was exacerbated by what financial experts and the World Bank defined as a Ponzi scheme. Here, the central bank of Lebanon encouraged commercial banks to lend dollars at high interest rates, thereby maintaining liquidity. The banks then enticed customers to deposit their savings in their accounts, offering even higher interest rates.
Subsequently, Lebanon has operated on a cash economy. The Lebanese pound, its local currency, has lost about 90% of its value, primarily influenced by a non-transparent black market rate which has become the norm for most goods and services throughout the country. Desperate for money, depositors have been withdrawing their savings at exchange rates considerably below the market rate.
Regarding the current deposits at the Central Bank, Fattouh commented, “The fate of those deposits is still a mystery. Thus, investors will prefer banks that don’t have high liabilities and only possess some deposits in the Central Bank.”
In April 2022, a preliminary agreement between the International Monetary Fund and the Lebanese government proposed an “externally assisted bank-by-bank evaluation for the 14 largest banks.” However, the audit never materialised as Lebanon’s ruling political parties and officials, many of whom hold shares or own the banks, refused to introduce any reforms.
Lebanon has been without a president since October, and its Central Bank governor resigned earlier this week. Nevertheless, Fattouh believes this presents an opportunity for investors. He suggested, “Once constitutional affairs are in order in Lebanon following a presidential election, a banking license could potentially cost around $200 million. Hence, acquiring a bank now could be less costly and highly profitable in the future.”
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A Turkish woman working as a secretary at the Swedish honorary consulate found herself the victim of a shooting in the western province of Izmir, Turkey on Tuesday. The woman was gravely injured in the incident, according to official reports and media outlets.
The local governor’s office, while not specifically mentioning the consulate, indicated that the violent event occurred in Izmir’s Konak district in the early hours of the day. The suspect in the incident, believed to suffer from mental health issues, has been apprehended by local authorities.
Prominent Turkish broadcaster, NTV, reported that the shooting took place outside the Swedish honorary consulate. As a result of the attack, the secretary is reportedly in a critical state.
The governor’s office has confirmed that Turkish authorities have detained the attacker and launched a thorough investigation into the incident.
Unlike regular consulates, honorary consulates represent foreign countries’ interests but are managed by individuals who are not career diplomats.
In response to the incident, the Swedish Foreign Ministry stated that the consul general would travel to Izmir on Wednesday to gather further details. It also mentioned maintaining open dialogue with the consulate general in Istanbul and Swedish staff stationed in Turkey.
However, the Ministry declined to make any further comment regarding threats to diplomatic services or the security measures being implemented, asserting that such disclosures might undermine the effectiveness of said measures.
Yilmaz Tunc, the Turkish Justice Minister, strongly condemned the attack via a post on the messaging platform X, previously known as Twitter, while confirming that a criminal investigation into the incident had been initiated.
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In an audacious operation, security personnel in Jordan have apprehended an individual labelled as a “dangerous criminal” and said to be connected with global narcotics syndicates. The arrest took place in Irbid, a city in the north of Jordan, according to an announcement made by a police spokesperson on Wednesday.
The operation forms part of a heightened national campaign against drug dealers within the kingdom, with authorities chiefly focusing on curbing the trafficking of the amphetamine-type stimulant, Captagon, believed to be illicitly transported from Syria across the Jordanian border.
The spokesperson detailed that the apprehended male, deemed dangerous and confirmed to have ties with global drug cartels, was seized in a flat in Irbid after an extended period of surveillance and reconnaissance.
Authorities discovered an extensive cache of drugs at the residence: 287 packets of hashish and a substantial haul of 17,000 tablets were uncovered. The individual’s identity and nationality remain undisclosed. Irbid is situated a mere 15 kilometres from the Syrian border, underlining the strategic challenge faced by law enforcement.
Further to this operation, the police spokesperson reported the capture of nine additional drug traffickers across Amman, the town of Ruseifeh located on the eastern fringe of the Jordanian capital, and within the central Balkaa governorate, over the past few days.
In an effort to clamp down on narcotics smuggling from Syria, Jordanian authorities and Syrian Defence Minister, Ali Mahmoud, convened in Amman last month. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry confirmed these discussions which represented the inaugural meeting for a joint security committee, established earlier this month to address the pressing issue.
The Jordanian government has previously accused the Syrian military and southern Syrian militias, thought to be pro-Iran, of supervising the smuggling operations.
Despite these concerns, Jordan remains an integral part of the Arab rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The kingdom endorsed Damascus’s reintegration into the Arab League in May.
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In a period marked by escalating tension with the US in the Gulf, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has revealed the presence of vessels fitted with long-range missiles near the Strait of Hormuz.
The announcement was made on Wednesday during an Iranian military exercise, which simulated an ‘enemy attack’ involving rocket launchers, navy helicopters, and drones. According to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, the display included missiles with a 600-kilometre range, although they provided no additional information regarding the weaponry. It follows Iran’s recent statement that the new Abu Mahdi cruise missile, boasting a range of 1,000 kilometres, has been commissioned.
In response to Iran’s heightened activity in the strait, the US dispatched additional warplanes and a guided missile destroyer last month. “The Department of Defence is enhancing our presence and capacity to monitor the [Strait of Hormuz] and surrounding waters,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh stated in a press briefing.
The Strait of Hormuz, located between Iran and Oman, is a crucial artery for global oil transportation. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products pass through it, making it the world’s most important oil chokepoint.
Last month, Iran attempted to seize two commercial tankers, which was condemned by the UK Maritime Component Command, a branch of the British military, as “unacceptable harassment.” In May, Iran took control of two tankers within a week and has been alleged to have held a vessel hostage over a payment dispute.
The US Navy claims that Tehran has captured at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed multiple others. Such operations are seen as a strategic move against the West following the re-establishment of US sanctions and the collapse of the 2015 nuclear agreement in 2018.
The revelation of the Abu Mahdi cruise missile is just the latest in a series of new Iranian weapon system announcements. Last month, Iran claimed to have a new hypersonic missile with a stated range of 1,400km.
Billboards in Tehran advertised the new weapon in Farsi, Hebrew, and Arabic, boasting, “400 seconds to Tel Aviv.” Hypersonic missiles, travelling at over five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, give enemy forces merely seconds to react to the approaching threat. These missiles are reportedly capable of manoeuvring mid-flight, making it difficult for anti-missile systems, such as the US Patriot, to predict their course.
This technology is highly sought after, with Russia, China, the US, and more recently, Japan, France, and India, investing heavily in it. Russia purports to have deployed the first hypersonic missile in combat in Ukraine, claiming its Kinzhal missiles have struck targets while flying at Mach 10.
US experts, however, contest that the missile was not genuinely hypersonic, and the US announced on May 10 that a Patriot system in Ukraine had intercepted one. Nevertheless, according to the US Department of Defence, the overarching Iranian missile threat stems not from any one system, but from the sheer size and capabilities of “its missile arsenal, which is characterised by increasing numbers, as well as increases in accuracy, range and lethality”. The Pentagon’s report went on to state that “Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East.”
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In a deeply troubling series of events over the past week, numerous Egyptian high school students, gripped with concern over their performance in the national secondary school standardised examinations, have reportedly attempted suicide. These exams hold significant weight, as they are the determining factor for admission into the country’s universities.
On Monday, an 18-year-old pupil from the Nasr City district of Cairo was rushed to hospital, following a failed suicide attempt, confirmed by the local authorities. The exam results were still pending at the time of the incident, but investigators have unearthed that the pupil was facing severe psychological stress.
Elsewhere, in the southern province of Sohag, a student tragically ended her own life mere minutes after being informed of her examination results. The inquiry by the local prosecutor’s office revealed that the student had not managed to pass several subjects, contributing to her despair.
Further incidents have taken place in the province of Qalyubia, where four female students attempted suicide. They are now receiving medical treatment in hospital, the police reports suggest.
In another concerning episode, three more students from the province of Sharqia also attempted suicide, including a young girl who was gripped by fear over her family’s potential reaction to her exam results, according to officials.
The results of these national secondary school exams, which ultimately decide the students’ future career pathways, have placed an immense amount of pressure on the students. Experts are urging a comprehensive review of the system, and an increased focus on providing psychological support to students.
The Iraqi dinar has plummeted against the US dollar this week after the United States imposed sanctions on 14 Iraqi private banks, barring them from conducting transactions in dollars.
The sanctions come amidst Iraq’s ongoing struggle to stabilise its currency as it relies heavily on imports priced in dollars. The dinar dipped from 1,470 to 1,580 against the greenback in the past two days, sparking chaos in markets and angry protests outside Iraq’s central bank headquarters in Baghdad.
Representatives of the sanctioned banks denied wrongdoing and appealed to the Iraqi government to intervene on their behalf. “We call on the brothers at the Iraqi government to use all available means to undo the damage which occurred to us specifically, and to the Iraqi banking sector in general,” banker Haider Al Shamma said in a statement on behalf of the 14 banks.
He warned the sanctions could deter foreign investment and have far-reaching impacts beyond the banks themselves. “Forcing sanctions on a third of the Iraqi private banks from conducting dollar transactions will have negative consequences not only on the value of the Iraqi dinar against the US dollar, but it will have a very big impact on foreign investments,” he said.
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined the banks were complicit in facilitating suspect dollar transfers to Iran last year, hence the punitive measures. But Mr Al Shamma insisted the banks were apolitical entities focused on finance, saying, “Our banks have nothing to do with political tensions but are independent financial institutions.”
Iraq’s central bank said affected banks could still conduct transactions using Iraqi dinars or other non-dollar currencies. But dollars remain crucial for Iraq’s largely import-driven economy.
The volatility is the latest chapter in Iraq’s ongoing currency crisis that has led to price hikes on consumer goods and sparked street protests demanding solutions.
Iraq has struggled to stabilise the dinar since late 2021 when the US Federal Reserve tightened procedures for international dollar transfers, rejecting or delaying many requests from Iraq. The Fed remains concerned dollars are being funnelled through Iraq’s currency auction to Iran, Syria and Lebanon – countries facing US sanctions.
The US has blacklisted Iraqi banks it accused of money laundering or suspicious transactions. But the Iraqi government blames Washington for the currency chaos and the resulting economic impacts.
Despite a series of measures aimed at containing public anger, the central bank has failed to control the exchange rate declines.
The latest sanctions on the 14 private banks represent another hurdle, likely feeding further dinar instability. With more volatility ahead, ordinary Iraqis continue bearing the brunt of external political tensions beyond their control.
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In the run-up to a significant assembly of Palestinian factions in Cairo this Sunday, leaders of Fatah and Hamas are said to have convened in Turkey, according to multiple sources.
This alleged gathering aligns with the visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Turkey. Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh Al Arouri, leading the Hamas delegation, are rumoured to have engaged in discussions with Mr Abbas in Ankara this Tuesday, based on information provided to Al Araby Al Jadeed.
Public acknowledgment of such a meeting remains absent from both Fatah and Hamas. Requests for comment to a Hamas official have remained unanswered at the time of print.
Post meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abbas acknowledged ongoing endeavours to consolidate unity within the Palestinian population and territory.
Abbas confirmed that Fatah has extended invitations to heads of Palestinian factions for a crucial meeting in Cairo on Sunday, the objective being “to restore national unity and develop a national programme to address the challenges facing the Palestinian people and land”.
However, Ziyad Al Nakhalah, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, declared their intention to withdraw from the Sunday gathering in the Egyptian capital.
A public encounter between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas last transpired in Algeria in June 2022, marking the first occasion in over five years.
For more than a decade and a half, Palestinian politics have remained in a state of impasse. The militant group Hamas, ruling Gaza, and Fatah, were embroiled in an internal struggle for control of the Palestinian Authority, resulting in Abbas’ party being ejected from the Gaza Strip. Previous reunification attempts have proven unsuccessful, and Palestinians have been denied the opportunity to vote for their leadership since 2006.
President Erdogan and President Abbas conducted in-depth discussions at the presidential complex in Ankara on Tuesday, focussing on relations, the Palestine-Israel conflict, and other international and regional developments.
Erdogan emphasised post-meeting that “we cannot tolerate any acts attempting to change the historical status quo of holy places, particularly the Al Aqsa Mosque. The unity and reconciliation of the Palestinians are key elements in this process.”
A scheduled visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey this week has been postponed due to the Israeli Prime Minister undergoing an unplanned surgery over the weekend.
Image Credit: European External Action Service
In a significant development, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has extended a formal invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to visit the North African kingdom. This invitation comes as a gesture of gratitude following Israel’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the contentious Western Sahara territory.
The royal summons, issued this Wednesday, warmly invites Mr. Netanyahu to visit Morocco at a mutually agreeable time, to be determined through diplomatic channels.
The Israeli Prime Minister announced his decision regarding the mineral-laden desert region via a letter which was subsequently referenced by the Moroccan royal office on Monday.
Economic, security, and tourism ties between Israel and Morocco have been strengthening progressively. This forthcoming meeting is expected to “open new possibilities in the bilateral relations between Morocco and Israel,” as per King Mohammed.
The Moroccan monarch praised Israel’s decision, affirming that the issue of Western Sahara represents “the national cause of the kingdom and the priority of its foreign policy”.
Around 80 per cent of the vast 266,000-square-kilometre desert region is currently administered by Morocco. The remaining portion of this sparsely populated area is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a breakaway state supported by Algeria and not internationally recognised by the United Nations.
Several Arab and African nations, along with the US, back Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The ongoing territorial dispute has led to the closure of land borders between Algeria and Morocco since the early 1990s due to security apprehensions.
Earlier this year, an attempt to mollify the strained relations was made by King Mohammed when he invited Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune for discussions in Rabat. However, the King chose not to attend the first Arab League summit in three years, hosted by Algeria in November.
A thaw in Israel-Morocco relations was observed as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, with encouragement from the then-US President Donald Trump, who acknowledged Morocco’s rule over the Western Sahara region.
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In a significant diplomatic development, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to host Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in Ankara next week. This visit marks the first by an Israeli premier to the Turkish capital in 15 years.
Mr Netanyahu’s journey to Ankara, scheduled for July 28, anticipates high-level discussions with President Erdogan on a broad spectrum of regional and international issues.
Adding to the diplomatic momentum, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be in Ankara a few days prior to Mr Netanyahu’s arrival.
The Turkish presidency confirmed, “President Erdogan will extend a warm welcome to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same week.”
The dialogue will primarily focus on “the evolution of Turkey-Palestine relations, the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other pertinent international issues,” according to the presidency’s statement.
Mr Netanyahu’s office confirmed this historic visit, the first for an Israeli Prime Minister since Ehud Olmert‘s trip to Turkey in 2008.
This diplomatic initiative by Turkey comes amid an impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, compounded by the worst outbreak of violence in recent years in the occupied West Bank.
In April, the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a highly sensitive religious site, became the epicentre of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. President Erdogan responded by stating that Israel had overstepped a “red line”.
Furthermore, Israeli President Isaac Herzog held talks with Mr Erdogan in Turkey, and a few months later, former prime minister Yair Lapid also met with the Turkish leader in New York. These interactions set the stage for what is hoped to be a further easing of tensions and progress in diplomatic relations.
Image Credit: Orhan Erkılıç / Wikimedia Commons
In the shadow of continued instability in Yemen, a potential breakthrough has been reported by the local authorities, with the identification of a suspect in the murder of Moayad Hameidi, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative based in Taiz. Hameidi, a key figure of the Rome-based UN food agency’s work in Yemen, was tragically gunned down last Friday in the neighbouring city of Turbah.
The suspect has allegedly resided in Taiz since 2017 after leaving Aden in the wake of security operations against Al Qaeda militants. The identity of the official who revealed this information remains confidential, and they were unable to confirm whether the suspect has connections to any Islamist groups.
Aden has served as the base for Yemen’s internationally recognised government since Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014. The conflict escalated further in 2015 with the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition supporting the embattled government.
Taiz, controlled by the government, faces a blockade from surrounding Houthi-controlled areas. The chaos of the war in Yemen has provided fertile ground for extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS loyalists. A considerable security effort has been made by the Saudi-led coalition, backed by US and UAE forces, to suppress these radical elements.
An arrest warrant for the suspect has been issued, as confirmed by an Interior Ministry telegram obtained by AFP. The violence has diminished over the past year, yet sporadic attacks continue to disrupt the fragile peace.
The late Moayad Hameidi, a Jordanian national, had been a stalwart of the WFP for 18 years, serving not only in Yemen, but also in Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. His sudden death triggered profound sadness within the agency, with WFP’s Yemen country director, Richard Ragan, declaring any loss of life in humanitarian service as an “unacceptable tragedy.”
The global community has also responded, with Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, expressing condolences to Hameidi’s family, friends, and colleagues, while mourning alongside the humanitarian community in Yemen.
The UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, Reem Al Hashimy, condemned the murder emphatically, highlighting the targeting of humanitarian aid staff as a “flagrant violation of all international treaties that ensure their protection.”
US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also denounced Hameidi’s killing and extended his deepest sympathies to Hameidi’s family and the WFP team.
This tragic event echoes the 2018 killing of Lebanese aid worker Hanna Lahoud, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose murderers are yet to be found. Hameidi’s death serves as a harsh reminder of the significant dangers faced by humanitarian workers in conflict-ridden zones like Yemen.
n a shocking incident that unfurled on live Lebanese television, a fierce debate between two well-known figures escalated into a brawl, necessitating army intervention.
Wiam Wahhab, a politician and former minister affiliated with the Hezbollah-led March 8 movement, and Simon Abou Fadel, a journalist linked with the March 14 anti-Hezbollah movement, clashed on the popular political chat show, Sar el Waqt.
The altercation was sparked during a discussion on the contentious issue of US sanctions on Lebanese individuals alleged to be involved in corruption and connected with Hezbollah.
The exchange grew tense as Mr Wahhab dismissed the sanctions as “worth as much as my shoes”. Mr Abou Fadel retorted sharply, “You can do whatever you want with your shoes later. That’s a problem between you and your shoes”.
Mr Wahhab’s reply was inaudible, and the argument swiftly devolved into a shouting match, with both men demanding the other to “shut up”.
The situation spiralled out of control when Mr Wahhab hurled his water glass at Mr Abou Fadel, who retaliated with a punch that sent Mr Wahhab’s glasses flying.
The studio descended into chaos as the duo exchanged a barrage of slaps and thumps, prompting the crew to intervene to stop the brawl and separate the feuding pair.
A video shared widely on social media later revealed the confrontation had moved outside to the studio car park. Mr Abou Fadel was shown being restrained by onlookers while the army stepped in to quell the scuffle.
Subsequently, Mr Abou Fadel re-emerged on the programme sporting a bruised eye and a bleeding forehead. “My face is a reflection of my conscience,” he declared to the show’s host, Marcel Ghanem.
Interestingly, this is not the first instance of violence erupting on Mr Ghanem’s programme. Last year, live on air, an altercation took place between members of the audience and supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement political party.
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In a bid to invigorate its economy, Oman‘s Sultan Haitham has decreed the establishment of the Khazaen Economic City, complete with two free economic zones, as confirmed by the Oman News Agency on Monday. Located within the South Al Batina Governorate, the new city will be administered by the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones.
These pioneering initiatives will come to life under the management of Oman Logistics Company, tasked with operating both Khazaen Economic City and its two embedded free zones. The responsibility for developing these economic areas falls to the Khazaen Economic City Company.
This ambitious move comes as Oman intensifies its economic diversification strategy, buoyed by favourable oil prices, prudent fiscal reforms, and the containment of inflation, as reported by the International Monetary Fund last month.
Despite anticipating a budget deficit of 1.3 billion rials in 2023, accounting for 3% of its economy, Oman enjoyed a surplus of 1.14 billion rials the previous year, according to the nation’s Ministry of Finance.
To galvanise the country’s economic rebound from the COVID-19-induced slowdown, Oman launched a three-year fiscal stability programme last October. This scheme is designed to spur the Sultanate’s financial sector and facilitate national economic recovery.
Further bolstering its economy, Oman has recently signed several agreements with its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) counterparts. These include a $3 billion railway project linking the Sultanate with the United Arab Emirates and a $320 million infrastructure development endeavour, backed by the Saudi Fund for Development.
Oman’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by international observers. In April, Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for the country from stable to positive, maintaining its “BB” rating. The agency cited a surge in oil revenue and a reduction in public debt as key contributors to this positive trajectory, reflecting the government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has issued a stern warning to any entity involved in offloading oil from its seized tankers. The threat was issued by IRGC navy commander Alireza Tangsiri on Thursday and was reported by state media outlets.
The warning comes as a response to the US confiscation of an Iranian oil shipment off the coast of Malaysia in April. This move was said to be a part of the US efforts to enforce sanctions against Iran.
Commander Tangsiri made it clear that Tehran holds Washington accountable for the unloading of the oil from the impounded tanker. Insiders, preferring to remain anonymous, confirmed to Reuters that Washington had taken charge of the oil aboard the Suez Rajan, subsequent to a court order.
In a seemingly related move, on Monday, the US divulged plans to deploy additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets and a warship to the Middle East. This decision is said to be an attempt to monitor significant waterways in the region, following Iran’s recent actions including the seizure and alleged harassment of commercial vessels.
The past few years, and especially recent months, have seen rising tensions between Iran and the US, with numerous attacks on ships in the Gulf waters reported since 2019. The Strait of Hormuz, a key point between Iran and Oman, sees approximately one-fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products passing through.
This year has seen an upsurge in military seizures and attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf waterways. The situation worsened in May, with two tankers being seized within a week, one of which was headed for Texas.
The US Navy maintains that the recent deployment of the warship is aimed at ensuring regional maritime security and stability.
In April, the IRGC publicised footage of its forces capturing the US-bound, Chinese-owned tanker, Advantage Sweet. The video displayed commandos boarding the vessel’s decks, descending from a helicopter on ropes.
The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet expressed concern at the time, stating, “Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy.”
Since these events, Iran has attacked a tanker, inflicting minor damage to the Richmond Voyager off the Oman coast. The US Navy shared drone footage of the incident on July 5, revealing that the USS McFaul missile destroyer prevented the vessel from being captured.
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The Syrian information ministry, in a formal statement, censured the British broadcaster for its purported deviation from professional standards and alleged propagation of biased reports. Consequently, it annulled the permission of the BBC’s correspondent and cameraman to operate in Syria.
The BBC Radio representative in Syria has also been stripped of their accreditation, according to additional information from the ministry.
When contacted for a comment, a spokesperson for the BBC, without directly addressing the Syrian government’s decision, underscored that “BBC News Arabic offers impartial independent journalism”. They stressed the broadcaster’s commitment to engage with a range of political voices to establish factual narratives.
The spokesperson added that the broadcaster would persist in providing impartial news and information to its audiences throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
The Syrian information ministry also criticised the BBC’s coverage of the country’s decade-long conflict, accusing it of propagating “subjective and fake information and reports about the reality” in Syria since the outbreak of the war in 2011.
Syria’s prolonged conflict, which has drawn in foreign powers and global jihadists, has led to the death of over half a million people, displaced countless others, and wrought severe damage to the country’s infrastructure and industry.
Despite being cautioned “more than once”, the BBC persisted in broadcasting “misleading reports based on statements… from terrorist entities and those hostile to Syria,” the ministry continued.
The rescinding of accreditation from international media is a relatively rare event for Damascus, where a handful of foreign media outlets continue to operate with locally based journalists. The escalation of the conflict resulted in a significant exodus of foreign journalists from the nation.
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In the run-up to Egypt‘s 2024 Presidential Elections, an open and vigorous national debate has sparked around the country’s future. With an impending vote in just a few months, this dialogue is unfolding against a backdrop of a daunting economic crisis and heightened calls for political reform, according to political commentators, activists and politicians.
This dialogue, although under scrutiny from authorities, is displaying a level of tolerance for criticisms of government policies that would have been unthinkable a little over a year ago. The topic of civil liberties has become a contentious issue in Egypt, whether directly associated with the forthcoming elections or seen as a ploy by the authorities to pacify the rising public discontent over soaring prices of essential commodities.
Yet, the motive aside, Egyptians are currently experiencing a level of freedom – albeit carefully managed and under close watch by authorities – not seen in the past decade.
Current President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who has led Egypt for the past ten years, has yet to announce whether he will run for another term. However, the likelihood is high, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he is projected to secure a comfortable victory.
Despite the predictable result of these elections, the political stir they are creating is dominating television debates, newspaper columns, and social media platforms, which have been the primary vehicles for expression in Egypt over the last decade.
The public is openly criticising perceived governmental shortcomings, demanding an action plan to tackle the economic crisis, advocating for broader freedoms and requesting President El Sisi to ensure a fair and transparent election.
Political pundits and politicians suggest this surge in political discourse offers El Sisi and his government an opportunity to foster a credible electoral process that would overwrite the memories of the 2018 election – a near one-man race, where President El Sisi faced off against a virtually unknown politician who entered the contest at the eleventh hour to prevent it from being a one-man referendum, a type all too familiar in Egypt’s recent past.
In April last year, El Sisi initiated the shift from a zero-tolerance approach to dissent by calling for a national dialogue. The dialogue, which started in May this year, will produce recommendations for Egypt’s future expected later this year.
El Sisi also ordered the release of hundreds of critics held in pretrial detention over the past year, permitted exiled critics to return home, and tolerated – albeit within bounds – criticism of his economic policies.
However, many more journalists and activists remain incarcerated. Not everyone is prepared to trust the current administration. Khaled Dawoud, the chief spokesperson for the opposition 12-party Civil Democratic Movement, expresses scepticism about the government’s sincerity.
El Sisi has responded to criticism over his handling of the economy by extolling the transformation of Egypt into a modern state during his tenure, with reliable infrastructure, renewable energy usage, and an ambitious drive to uplift the quality of life in rural areas.
Nevertheless, several aspiring candidates, including the only female candidate, veteran politician Gameela Ismail, are waiting for assurances of a fair election.
The presidential hopefuls, some of whom are known supporters of President El Sisi, are keen to avoid a repeat of the 2018 election. Despite this cautious optimism, the upcoming election is predicted to be a tightly controlled affair unlikely to produce any surprises.
The widespread national debate indicates a shift in the Egyptian political landscape. However, its long-term implications and whether it signifies a genuine commitment to political reform remain to be seen.
Image Credit: Graham Carlow / Wikimedia
A masterpiece in marble and pink sandstone, Abu Dhabi‘s first traditional Hindu temple will open its doors for prayers on 10th February after four years of tireless effort by artisans from both India and the UAE.
Confirming the temple’s inauguration, The National reports that a series of prayer ceremonies, part of a ‘festival of harmony’, will commence from 10 February 2024, leading up to the temple’s public opening for worship on 18 February.
Drawing individuals of various faiths and nationalities, the impressive white marble and pink sandstone edifice in Abu Dhabi’s Abu Mureikha area has already become a significant landmark. Over 2,000 craftsmen have been working diligently in India’s Rajasthan state, carving exquisite pillars and columns for this first-ever hand-sculpted Hindu temple in the Middle East.
On site in Abu Dhabi, the temple’s main prayer hall and ground level are nearly complete, with plans to erect towering shikhars, or spires, symbolic of each Emirati state, on the second level.
As per the schedule of inaugural prayer services, the 6pm ceremony on 10 February will exclusively welcome contributors to the temple’s construction. The following day, a 10am service will host prayers for couples who have supported the building project. A restricted prayer session for Hindu deities will take place on 14 February, from 8am to noon, catering solely to invited guests.
The temple doors will then open to the public for a two-hour dedication ceremony on 15 February, starting at 6pm. From 18 February onwards, the temple will be open for public worship.
President Sheikh Mohamed gifted the 5.4-hectare site to the Indian community in 2015. Supervised by the Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the temple’s construction welcomes all faiths and nationalities. The organisation has overseen the creation of roughly 1,200 temples globally.
In homage to ancient Hindu shrines, the temple has been constructed without the use of steel, iron, or reinforced concrete, instead opting for a layered compression technique involving granite, pink sandstone, and marble.
The completed temple, standing 32-metres high, will be adorned with over 200 intricate pillars and intricate exterior carvings depicting the lives of deities, promoting peace. A total of 20,000 tonnes of stone, including 5,500 tonnes of white marble and 14,500 tonnes of pink sandstone, have been used in the construction.
A temple spokesperson declared that Abu Dhabi would host “the biggest celebration of togetherness – the festival of harmony” on the temple’s website, mandir.ae. The celebration aims to highlight timeless art, borderless culture, and ageless values, marking the inauguration of this spiritual oasis for global harmony.
The temple, situated just off the main E11 Sheikh Zayed motorway connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai, will feature an array of facilities. These include two parks, a community hall, a visitors’ centre, an amphitheatre, a food court, and welcoming areas, all crafted with a focus on fostering unity and harmony. Additionally, channels replicating three Indian rivers and seating areas overlooking the temple structure are being constructed.
The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was seized and set alight by enraged demonstrators protesting against the burning of the Quran in Sweden. The assault took place in the early hours of Thursday, with protestors scaling the Swedish embassy compound walls and igniting a fire.
Correspondent Mahmoud Abdelwahed reported from Nasiriya in southern Iraq that the crowd brandished flags and placards showing their allegiance to the influential Iraqi Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr.
According to a statement from the Swedish foreign ministry, all staff within the embassy are safe. The ministry denounced the attack and called upon the Iraqi government to guarantee the security of diplomatic missions.
The attack was also condemned by Iraq’s foreign ministry, with a promise of an urgent investigation and necessary security measures to identify and bring to justice those responsible.
Despite this, a subsequent statement released later on Thursday by the Iraqi government indicated that it may sever diplomatic ties with Sweden if a second instance of Quran burning occurs on Swedish soil.
According to eyewitnesses, security forces had entered the Swedish embassy compound by dawn, battling to extinguish the lingering flames. Although most of the protestors had dispersed by this time, a contingent remained outside the embassy premises.
The protestors have threatened to maintain their action if further desecrations of the Quran occur, and have indicated their readiness to “take matters into their own hands” should the Iraqi government not immediately dismiss the Swedish diplomatic mission, reported Abdelwahed.
The protest at the Swedish embassy was organised by Sadr supporters in response to a planned second Quran burning at the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.
At the site of the demonstration, one protestor, Hassan Ahmed, spoke to the French news agency AFP, stating, “We are mobilised today to denounce the burning of the Quran, which is all about love and faith.” He appealed to both the Swedish and Iraqi governments to prevent such incidents in the future.
Swedish news outlets identified the instigator of the Quran burning as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden. Momika, who also desecrated a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm’s largest mosque on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, had triggered a previous storming of Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad.
The incident has incited international protest from several Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq, Turkey, UAE, Jordan, and Morocco, who are all demanding Momika’s extradition to face trial in Iraq. Swedish authorities, who initially granted Momika a permit under free speech protections, have now opened an investigation into potential “agitation against an ethnic group”.
Image Credit: Ahmed Saad/Reuters
Israel has officially recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the contested region of Western Sahara, according to statements from the Moroccan government and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. It was announced on Monday that Israel is planning to establish a consulate in Dakhla, a prominent city in the disputed territory.
The news followed a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, indicating Israel’s stance on the matter. Moroccan control over Western Sahara has been a contentious issue since 1975 when Spanish colonial rule ended. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, advocates for an independent state within the region.
The letter from Israel detailing their position will reportedly be sent to the United Nations, regional and international organisations, and to all countries Israel has diplomatic relations with. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen affirmed that this recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory would bolster ties between the two nations and enhance regional stability.
A senior Moroccan official said Israel’s clear-cut stance on Western Sahara adds to the growing support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the territory, which has been backed by Washington and several European capitals, including Madrid.
This Israeli recognition, however, will not change Morocco’s stance in advocating for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is anticipated that the decision may boost Israeli investment in Western Sahara.
In 2020, Morocco agreed to normalise relations with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement. This agreement saw then-US President Donald Trump recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. This has been criticised by Palestinians, who argue that Arab countries have undermined peace efforts by abandoning the demand for Israel to cede land for a Palestinian state in exchange for recognition.
The appointment of an Israeli colonel as defence attache to Morocco further indicated the warming relations between the two nations. Since the renewal of ties, Israel and Morocco have signed several cooperation agreements, including a defence pact.
Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara echoes the US’s 2020 decision to do the same. The region, formerly a Spanish colony rich in offshore oil deposits and minerals, was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The UN has tried, and failed, to organise a referendum on the region’s future due to disagreements over voter eligibility. The Polisario Front reignited armed conflict in 2020, ending a 29-year truce.
The region’s tensions have also had a significant impact on Morocco’s neighbour, Algeria, which severed diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021, escalating hostilities between the two countries, both of whom have shared allies in the West and Middle East.
In a significant development, Saudi Arabia has committed to procuring Turkish drones, marking one of several prosperous deals established by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Turkey’s embattled economy. This comes amidst Turkey’s recent diplomatic efforts to mend relations with Gulf Arab countries.
President Erdogan embarked on a three-stop tour of the region, landing in Saudi Arabia on Monday. He was accompanied by a contingent of nearly 200 businesspeople, according to the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey. During the visit, multiple memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were inked across diverse sectors, such as energy, direct investments and defence industries.
President Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presided over the signing ceremony for the drones agreement, which was orchestrated between Baykar, a Turkish defence company, and the Saudi defence ministry, as reported by the Saudi state news agency SPA.
Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud expressed that the acquisition of drones was designed to enhance the readiness of Saudi’s armed forces and elevate its defence and manufacturing capabilities.
Although the value of the deal was not disclosed by SPA, the acquisition signifies a promising development for Turkey’s beleaguered economy. The nation has been grappling with economic challenges, including soaring inflation rates, a ballooning current account deficit, and a depreciating currency. Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek stated that tax hikes were essential to restoring fiscal discipline and reducing inflation.
Turkey has also sought to repair its ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, following a decade-long dispute subsequent to the 2011 Arab Spring and Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. This rapprochement has resulted in significant financial support from Gulf nations.
In fact, shortly after President Erdogan’s re-election last month, the UAE and Turkey agreed upon a trade deal potentially worth $40bn over the next five years. Turkey also received $5bn from Saudi Arabia deposited into its central bank in March, as well as $20bn in currency swap agreements from Qatar and the UAE.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha on Tuesday before visiting the UAE leader in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
Image Credit: Turkish Presidency via AP
Saudi Arabia, the globe’s top oil exporter, has confirmed ongoing cooperation with Japan in sectors such as crude exports and clean hydrogen, according to statements made by the Saudi energy minister.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman declared that Saudi Arabia, providing 40% of Japan’s oil imports, will ensure the stability of supplies to the energy-hungry Asian nation, as per a report from the official Saudi Press Agency this Sunday.
Prince Abdulaziz further stressed the importance of mutual cooperation in the field of clean hydrogen and its applications, as well as development of infrastructure for “circular carbon economy” applications.
Recently, Japan, the fourth-largest crude importer worldwide, and OPEC agreed to instigate a dialogue among top officials to address Tokyo’s energy security apprehensions.
Seeking to reinforce its energy security, Japan has turned to long-term liquefied natural gas agreements and increased integration of renewable resources into its overall energy mix.
As China’s economy recovers and Europe accumulates more natural gas before next winter, global competition for LNG cargo is set to escalate. Last December, Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration company, Inpex, signed a supply agreement with US-based Venture Global LNG for a million tonnes annually over the next two decades.
In the previous year, Saudi Arabia and Japan endorsed new agreements concentrating on the circular carbon economy and carbon recycling fields, along with other areas such as green hydrogen, fuel ammonia, and derivatives.
The Saudi energy minister confirmed that the kingdom’s energy sector purchases from Japan reached nearly 12 billion Saudi riyals ($3.2 billion) in the past five years.
The minister also suggested abundant opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in the petrochemicals sector.
Last April, a low-carbon ammonia shipment from Saudi Arabia, independently certified, arrived in Japan for use in power generation. The ammonia, produced by Sabic Agri-Nutrients using feedstock from Saudi Aramco, the top crude exporter, represented a “milestone” in clean energy solutions, and was the result of effective cooperation between entities in Saudi Arabia and Japan, Prince Abdulaziz highlighted.
Ammonia, a nitrogen and hydrogen compound, can serve as a low-carbon fuel across industrial applications, including transport, power generation, and industries such as steel, cement, and fertiliser production.
Power plants could potentially utilise 100 million tonnes of low-carbon ammonia as feedstock by 2050, as per Wood Mackenzie. Aramco intends to produce up to 11 million tonnes of blue ammonia per year by 2030, while currently working on developing carbon capture and hydrogen capabilities.
This past Sunday, Saudi Arabia and Japan bolstered their strong trade ties by exchanging 26 pre-signed economic agreements at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Jeddah. The agreements spanned healthcare, clean energy, mining, and digital innovation sectors.
This exchange marked the evolving bilateral relationship, led by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who arrived in Jeddah last Saturday to endorse Japan’s major local companies and discover more opportunities for collaboration with the kingdom.
Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih hailed the Japanese delegation to the kingdom, calling for a mutually beneficial economic partnership.
Al-Falih highlighted that the kingdom’s GDP had grown remarkably since the launch of the Saudi Vision 2030 seven years prior.
“Our GDP is now 66% higher than when we launched Vision 2030. Our foreign direct investment has also increased significantly by 120%,” he stated.
The Japanese delegation’s visit is part of their tour in the Middle East by the Japanese government’s Economic Partnership Mission to strengthen Japan’s economic ties with the region’s countries.
Image Credit: The official Saudi Press Agency
With obesity rates rising at an alarming rate in Kuwait, especially among 18 to 29-year-olds, early intervention to tackle the Kubwait’s obesity problem is becoming increasingly urgent, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. The chief of the Health Enhancement Administration at the Ministry, Dr Abeer Al-Bahouh, recently revealed to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that Kuwait holds the unenviable top spot for obesity in the Arab World. The country reports that 77 percent of its population is overweight and has an obesity rate exceeding 40 percent.
In a world grappling with obesity, current projections estimate that by 2035, around four billion people will be overweight. This figure is significantly higher than the 2.6 billion reported in 2020. Dr Al-Bahouh warns that obesity prevalence among children and teenagers is likely to be particularly high, and could double by 2035, reaching 20 percent among boys and 18 percent among girls globally.
The health risks associated with obesity are well-documented, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and it is currently the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. Obesity’s detrimental impact extends to children’s health as well, leading to issues such as breathing difficulties, fatigue, snoring, joint pain, and delayed puberty.
The causes of obesity are multifactorial, with poor dietary habits, a sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors, gut flora, and Cushing’s syndrome among the contributing factors. Local and World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that one in five adults in the Gulf are severely obese. The adult obesity rate in Kuwait is predicted to reach 52 percent by 2035.
Dr Al-Bahouh advocates for obesity interventions to start in childhood, with education on healthy eating habits, encouraging physical activity, providing psychiatric therapy sessions, and treating health issues that may lead to obesity. While stomach and intestine surgeries are potential weight loss solutions, they are only suitable for teenagers, not children, and are supplementary to a healthy diet and exercise regime.
Dr Al-Bahouh emphasises the pivotal role of parents in monitoring their children’s diet, swapping fast foods and fizzy drinks for healthier alternatives like fruits, vegetables, wholegrain products, water, natural juices, and low-fat milk. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, spending time together as a family, and reducing time spent on screen-based activities like video games and television are also crucial.
She further highlights the need for the Ministry of Health to develop and implement strategies to combat obesity, including making physical education compulsory in schools. Over the next five years, in collaboration with other bodies, the administration plans to launch campaigns to limit obesity.
A report by Forbes magazine in 2007 listed Kuwait as the eighth fattest country in the world, with 74.2% of its population having an unhealthy weight. This health issue has been compounded by a high prevalence of diabetes. By 2035, it’s feared that 52 percent of adults in Kuwait will be obese, significantly raising the risk of related health issues.
While efforts to raise awareness and implement healthier habits are underway, obesity and its related health implications continue to be a grave concern for Kuwait. The country’s health challenges are further exacerbated by the increase in diabetes rates, poor dietary habits, a lack of physical activity, and high obesity rates.
Global trends in malnutrition, including a rapid rise in overweight and obesity rates, persist, despite increasing numbers facing hunger and undernourishment. Current predictions suggest that the global medical costs related to obesity could exceed US$1 trillion by 2030.
The correlation between obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, points to an urgent need for intervention. Dr Al-Bahouh asserts that over 70 percent of deaths in Kuwait are linked to these conditions, emphasizing the dire necessity for effective action to curb obesity.
Turkey has dramatically increased its fuel taxes by nearly 200% in an effort to recover expenses related to pre-election giveaways and the rebuilding costs stemming from a catastrophic earthquake in February. The taxes have been raised to TL7.53 per litre on regular petrol, and there has also been a noticeable increase on diesel and other petroleum products.
The significant tax hike, which has resulted in a 20% increase in fuel prices, is the latest in a series of measures introduced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following his re-election on 28th May. The government has also increased Value Added Tax (VAT) on a vast range of goods and services. These fiscal policies have come at a challenging time for Turkish citizens, who have been grappling with rampant inflation and a substantial depreciation of the lira, which has fallen nearly 30% against the US dollar this year alone.
President Erdoğan is set to embark on a diplomatic tour to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates later this week, with the intention of attracting new investments from these Gulf nations.
Economic analysts have expressed concerns that the weakened lira, coupled with the new taxes, might trigger a resurgence in inflation, which fell to 38.2% in June from an alarming peak of 85.5% in October 2022. The new fiscal approach, which is part of a comprehensive plan by finance minister Mehmet Şimşek to rectify Turkey’s economic trajectory, arrives after a tumultuous period of economic instability brought on by the government’s unconventional policies.
Prior to the May elections, Erdoğan embarked on a massive spending spree, offering a month of free natural gas and increases in public sector wages and pensions. Additionally, the aftermath of February’s earthquake has left Turkey with a reconstruction bill of up to $100 billion. These financial challenges have led economists to predict a significant rise in Turkey’s government budget deficit, estimated to reach 4.4% of GDP this year, a stark increase from just 0.9% in 2022.
Şimşek’s plan also includes cooling domestic demand, which many argue has become excessively high following years of lenient fiscal and monetary policy. The overheated economy has led to a surge in imports, far outpacing exports, which has resulted in a record current account deficit of $37.7 billion in just the first five months of this year. The higher prices resulting from increased taxes could potentially dampen demand for fuel, thus reducing imports, since Turkey is a major energy importer.
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A significant agreement has been finalised in Tunis on Sunday between the European Union and Tunisia, as announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The purpose of the “new partnership” is to bolster trade and regulate migration from the North African country to Europe.
The comprehensive package of measures, as articulated by von der Leyen, will be swiftly implemented. Details of the preliminary agreement will be disclosed following its presentation to the European Council and Parliament, according to an EU commission representative.
While the press was excluded from the signing event at the Carthage palace, a live stream was facilitated by the EU Commission and the Tunisian presidency. In attendance were Italian and Dutch prime ministers, Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte respectively. Their presence forms part of a financial aid commitment previously announced by von der Leyen during her visit to Tunis in June.
The partnership is expected to centre around five key areas, including enhanced economic and trade relations, personal contact, sustainable energy partnership, and a comprehensive approach to migration.
Dutch media reported an agreement for a financial exchange between the EU and Tunisia. Last month, Tunisia was promised a €1 billion support package from the EU, €100 million of which was specifically for border security enhancements. However, the financial assistance addressing Tunisia’s economic crisis is contingent on the fulfilment of certain conditions.
Von der Leyen stressed the EU’s commitment to helping construct a resilient Tunisian economy that is more impervious to shocks and can foster growth. She noted that the EU is ready to mobilise macro-financial assistance as soon as the necessary conditions are met and provide immediate budget support.
The agreement comes at a time when Tunisia is facing difficulties securing third-party funding for its beleaguered public sector, as it has yet to reach an agreement on a pending $1.9 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Migration remains a contentious issue, with around 60,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa in the first half of 2023, as reported by the UN International Organisation for Migration. Approximately 2,000 individuals lost their lives attempting this dangerous voyage.
While the EU maintains that the aid involves a range of economic development assistance, including infrastructure funding, observers and experts in Tunisia assert that migration is at the heart of these discussions.
Prime Ministers Rutte and von der Leyen stressed the importance of gaining control over irregular migration, for the benefit of both parties.
The agreement was signed by Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, and a representative of the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, in the presence of von der Leyen, Rutte and Meloni, and Tunisian President Kais Saied.
In a significant diplomatic manoeuvre, Turkey has expressed crucial support for Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, a development greeted with caution by US President Joe Biden, citing the divisive nature of the move among alliance members amid Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the promising result following his talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, as the conflict marked its 500th day on Saturday. The Ukrainian leader lauded Turkey’s consistent support for his country’s territorial sovereignty and hoped that their united efforts could further contribute to peace and stability.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the two leaders also signed military production agreements, including the manufacture of drones. Zelenskiy extended an invitation to Turkey to partake in the massive task of rebuilding and transforming war-torn Ukraine.
Although the meeting was under the watchful eye of the Kremlin, which has been making diplomatic strides to nurture relations with Turkey, Erdogan confirmed his unwavering support for Ukraine’s NATO aspiration. “There is no doubt that Ukraine deserves membership of NATO,” he said in a joint press briefing.
Nonetheless, President Biden expressed reservations about the timing, during a CNN interview aired on Friday. He argued that the current ongoing conflict could escalate the situation, putting the entire NATO alliance in a state of war with Russia.
Next month, Erdogan is set to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin on these negotiations during his visit to Turkey – the first since the invasion began. Their discussion will encompass potential prisoner exchanges, an area where Erdogan has proven effective in the past, and the status of the Black Sea grain deal crucial to Ukraine’s exports.
As anticipation builds for the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, leaders are expected to affirm Ukraine’s potential membership and strategize on strengthening its ties with the alliance, according to NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. His strong words emphasised NATO’s unity and Russia’s futile aggression.
However, the path to NATO membership remains complex for Ukraine. The US national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated that further steps are required before Kyiv can be officially welcomed into the NATO fold.
As the conflict drags on, President Zelenskiy is vigorously campaigning across Europe for more powerful weapons to bolster a sluggish counteroffensive against entrenched Russian forces. Despite human rights criticism, the Ukrainian president appreciated the controversial US decision to supply banned cluster munitions, describing them as a “timely, broad, and much-needed” measure.
In other news, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials reported significant progress inspecting several areas of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. Contrary to previous reports of explosives, the IAEA found no such indications, though they were unable to visit the facility’s rooftops, where alleged explosive devices were suspected. Both Ukraine and Russia continue to exchange accusations about potential threats to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
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A plea for international backing in the pursuit of justice for victims of the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion has been renewed by Lebanon’s largest parliamentary party, the Lebanese Forces, and the family members of those who perished in the catastrophe.
The appeal surfaces less than a month before the tragic incident’s third anniversary. The massive explosion, triggered by a sizeable stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port for years, claimed the lives of over 220 people, inflicted injuries on thousands, and wreaked extensive damage across the Lebanese capital. It arrives a week ahead of the European Parliament’s session dedicated to discussing the crisis in Lebanon.
The reasons for the storage of the volatile compound remain undisclosed. The inquiry into the incident has experienced several obstructions and legal hindrances, augmenting the heartache felt by those affected. The inability to hold any high-ranking official accountable, with some issuing legal objections against the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, further exacerbates the sense of injustice.
East Beirut’s Lebanese Forces MP and former deputy prime minister, Ghassan Hasbani, expressed his concerns to The National. “As is widely recognised now, justice is being delayed and derailed. A postponed justice equates to justice unserved,” he remarked.
Hasbani clarified that the intent is not to supplant the Lebanese judiciary with an international tribunal. Instead, the aim is to acquire “resolutions and commitments” from the UN Human Rights Council or the European Parliament to commission a fact-finding mission. The mission would scrutinise human rights violations and instances of justice obstruction, eventually freeing the judicial system from interference and facilitating a path towards accountability.
The poignant plea of Mireille Khoury, who tragically lost her son Elias to the blast and whose daughter Nour suffered serious injuries, resonated at an event rallying for justice. She appealed to the humanity of the members of the UN Human Rights Council, reminding them of the continual agony endured by parents like her. “Can you fathom our living conditions, our constant state of despair? It’s obvious in Lebanon that justice cannot be achieved,” she lamented.
The Lebanese judiciary system, heavily politicised, has been critiqued by 38 countries earlier this year. A joint statement delivered by Australia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva expressed worries about the unresolved investigation, which they perceived as being hindered by systemic obstruction, interference and intimidation.
Judge Bitar, having reopened the case in January, charged various senior politicians, judiciary and security personnel in connection with the explosion. However, he was soon notified by Lebanon’s top prosecutor that the investigation was still on hold, and was himself charged with rebelling against the judiciary.
The horrific explosion is seen as an indication of the persistent mismanagement and corruption in Lebanon, factors that have contributed to an overwhelming economic breakdown.
The Lebanese Forces, a Christian-led party that originated from a civil war militia, superseded their conventional rival, the Free Patriotic Movement, to become the largest party in the 128-seat parliament following the 2022 legislative elections. However, with no faction holding a majority in the deeply divided parliament, the quest for justice remains arduous.
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The Syrian pound has sunk to an unprecedented low, hovering close to 10,000 against the dollar, fuelling concerns over skyrocketing inflation in the conflict-ridden nation.
The exchange rate plunged to 9,750 liras to the dollar before a slight recovery on Friday morning, as reported by the currency-tracking website “Syria Pound Today”. This drastic devaluation of the pound, triggered by prolonged conflict, Western sanctions and a financial meltdown in Lebanon, presents a significant escalation in Syria’s economic crisis.
Since late 2022, the lira has undergone significant depreciation, leading the Central Bank of Syria to adjust the official exchange rate in February in an attempt to narrow the disparity with the black market rates.
Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the lira was trading at approximately 46 against the dollar. In a bid to manage the economic crisis, the central bank devalued the lira against major currencies on Thursday by about 200 liras per dollar and 205.31 liras against the euro.
The bank said the move aimed to facilitate cash exchanges and the purchase of foreign transfers, whether sourced from Syrian expatriates or international transfer networks.
Ali Al Shami, a financial analyst in Damascus, linked the spike in the dollar and euro to a slump in remittance values during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha. He told Al Araby Al Jadeed that money flowing into Syria from expatriate remittances had halved compared to three months prior, during Eid Al Fitr.
The depreciating lira and rising dollar prices have resulted in a sharp decline in average wages in government-held regions, falling to approximately $10 per month. Meanwhile, commodity prices have soared, including significant increases in oil derivatives.
In response to the rising costs, Syria’s Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has increased the price of octane 95 petrol by 1,000 Syrian pounds, making it 8,600 liras per litre, marking the third price hike in only four months.
As local media speculates about potential salary increases in the public sector, mass resignations have swept across public sector roles due to the government’s inability to raise wages. Poverty and food insecurity continue to afflict Syria at devastating levels, with the World Health Organisation estimating that 60% of the population – over 12 million people – are experiencing food insecurity.
Regions under the Syrian regime are facing a grave economic crisis, characterised by oil derivative shortages, a staggering 90% poverty rate, stalled production and industry, and limited electricity availability.
The latest shock to the Syrian economy follows the introduction of new 5,000-lira banknotes into circulation on 20 June by the central bank.
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In a shocking move, the Iraqi government announced a prohibition on conducting personal and business transactions in US dollars last Sunday, causing a stir amongst those seeking to make substantial purchases. This development symbolises a potential shift in the Middle East’s currency preference, which has, for decades, favoured the US dollar.
Big-ticket purchases such as homes and cars have traditionally been made using dollars in Iraq, owing to the continual depreciation of the dinar. However, stringent regulations from US authorities on the influx of dollars, ostensibly driven by concerns over illicit funds reaching sanctioned Iran, have led to significant volatility in the value of the Iraqi dinar. This dollar drought was the catalyst for Iraq’s recent embargo on dollar transactions.
Iraq isn’t alone in its reconsideration of the dollar’s dominance. Saudi Arabia has expressed openness to trading oil in currencies other than the dollar, including the euro and the yuan, while the United Arab Emirates is considering transactions with India using the Indian rupee.
On a broader scale, several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Algeria, and Bahrain, have expressed interest in joining the BRICS alliance — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — which plans to discuss the introduction of a new currency for cross-border trade at an upcoming meeting in June.
While these developments have triggered alarmist headlines around the world, many experts believe that the transition away from the US dollar is a slower process than the media portrays, particularly in the Middle East. Although statements hinting at a potential shift have been made by several Middle East nations, experts, including Hasan Alhasan of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, emphasise that a de-pegging of Middle Eastern currencies from the US dollar would be the real indication of a significant shift.
Daniel McDowell, a political science professor at Syracuse University, suggests that while the dollar’s supremacy may eventually wane, much of the current rhetoric is symbolic and the imminent change is likely to be marginal and slow. He further noted that the threats to use other currencies by Middle Eastern countries are likely influenced by the conflict in Ukraine and the use of financial sanctions.
Echoing this sentiment, Maria Demertzis, a senior fellow at Bruegel, an economic think tank, stated that the shift away from the US dollar might continue as long as sanctions persist. However, she underscored the complexity of replacing the settlement infrastructure underpinned by the dollar-driven system, hinting at an intricate and drawn-out process.
With the US and Europe’s recent actions of freezing Russian central bank reserve assets, central banks have been transformed into weapons, potentially causing harm to the international financial system. In response, countries in the Middle East are reportedly preparing for a more multipolar global world, with a keen interest in manoeuvring within and outside dollarised zones.
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In light of an escalating pattern of intense heat waves, the Middle East is bracing for an alarming increase in heat-related deaths. Despite existing gaps in public health planning, experts suggest that the region’s adaptability to extreme heat could offer invaluable insights for other parts of the globe.
On the occasion when Iraq’s temperatures threaten to exceed a searing 50 degrees Celsius, locals are granted a holiday and advised to remain indoors, according to Kholoud al-Amiry, founder of a Baghdad-based network for female journalists focusing on climate change. She noted, however, that local adaptation is largely self-driven due to perceived governmental neglect.
This neglect is especially concerning given the susceptibility of the Middle East’s population to extreme heat. According to recent research in Nature Sustainability, the majority of Middle Eastern inhabitants could face exposure to extreme heat by 2050 if global temperatures exceed a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise over the next 50 years.
Another paper published in The Lancet earlier this year warned that heat-related deaths in the Middle East and North Africa could rise from the current average of about two per 100,000 people annually to approximately 123 per 100,000 in the final two decades of the century. This equates to a likely 138,000 heat-related fatalities every year in Iraq alone by 2100.
These studies also highlighted the increased vulnerability of the ageing population and city dwellers to the deleterious effects of heat. By 2100, older people will outnumber the young in the region, and by the 2050s, nearly 70% of the population is expected to reside in major cities. Cities are particularly prone to high temperatures due to the urban heat island effect, caused by denser buildings, heat-absorbing asphalt streets, and a lack of greenery.
Eleni Myrivili, the global chief heat officer for UN Habitat, highlighted the urgent need for governments to increase awareness, preparedness, and resilience against this threat.
Despite most Middle Eastern countries passing laws on sustainable development and environmental protection, a comprehensive plan to address the long-term health effects of climate change remains elusive. This deficiency is especially evident in the lack of heat action plans, which could include government-run cooling centres, educational campaigns about heat safety, and urban tree planting initiatives.
The wealth divide in the region also influences adaptive capabilities. For instance, air conditioning can shield vulnerable populations in wealthier nations, such as the Gulf states, but it is not a feasible solution in poorer nations or for those unable to afford it.
However, there is also potential to learn from the region’s long history of adapting to high temperatures. Sylvia Bergh, a professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, highlighted the Middle East’s centuries-old strategies for dealing with water scarcity and hot climate, including “wind catcher” towers, irrigation tunnels, and screens instead of walls.
Moving forward, Myrivili and Bergh both believe local and urban authorities have a key role to play in raising awareness, increasing preparedness, and redesigning urban environments.
Researchers of The Lancet’s recent study also proposed that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels could prevent over 80% of the projected heat-related deaths in the Middle East. This simpler, yet daunting proposition underscores the critical need for international cooperation in addressing climate change.
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Underneath the sheen of an unprecedented collaboration between Aston Martin, the preferred automaker of fictional British spy James Bond, and Californian electric vehicle prodigy, Lucid Motors, lies a compelling subplot—the omnipresent hand of Saudi Arabia, a leading exporter of oil and gas on the planet.
Last month’s partnership, far from being merely an alliance of tradition and innovation, also features the Public Investment Fund (PIF)—Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. While the PIF’s role in channelling immense quantities of fossil fuel-generated wealth into projects and enterprises worldwide is well-known, its significant stakes in both Aston Martin and Lucid Motors might raise a few eyebrows.
Estimated to oversee assets exceeding £500 billion, the PIF is chaired by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and Prime Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a scion of the Al Saud dynasty. The PIF holds an 18% stake in Aston Martin, valued at approximately £450 million, exemplifying the ultra-conservative kingdom’s ambition to extend its economic reach in Britain, akin to the approaches of other Gulf countries such as Qatar.
Beyond Aston Martin, the PIF’s portfolio also comprises holdings in Carnival, a renowned cruise ship company, and several controversial forays into the realm of sports. In 2021, it attracted global attention following its purchase of Premier League football team Newcastle United from the former owner, retail tycoon Mike Ashley. Despite the charges of “sportswashing” surrounding this takeover—due to allegations of regimes with dubious human rights records leveraging professional sports to improve their images—supporters compared the backlash to the response to similar acquisitions by other Middle Eastern entities.
Moreover, the kingdom’s growing clout in the sports sector was further underscored last month amidst uproar over a proposed merger between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour and the US PGA Tour. Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia has committed to a ten-year Formula One hosting deal, with speculation also swirling about its plans to host the 2030 football World Cup.
The dive into professional sports is perceived by many as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to ‘cleanse’ its international reputation, particularly given its notorious human rights record and stringent laws, which include capital punishment for same-sex activity and severely restricted women’s rights.
“The Saudi authorities’ use of their sovereign wealth fund reveals that it is not merely a vehicle for state investment—it’s also a tool for state-level image management,” Peter Frankental, Economic Affairs Director at Amnesty International UK, noted. He added that Saudi’s acquisition of Newcastle United and partnership with Aston Martin could be seen as another step in this ‘sportswashing’ direction.
However, opponents of Saudi Arabia’s growing influence must reckon with one undeniable truth: the PIF’s extensive resources offer the potential to fund the kind of long-term investments that the UK sorely requires. Infrastructure endeavours such as the Sizewell C nuclear power plant are expected to be financed in part by sovereign wealth funds.
The future influx of Saudi investment seems unlikely to slow down, particularly given the boon of recent global oil price surges following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The British Government recognises Saudi Arabia as its largest trading partner in the Middle East. With shared interests and a potential free-trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council on the horizon, the UK aims to stimulate its economy, bolster employment, and increase wages.
Additionally, private Saudi investors, like their peers in countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are increasingly captivated by the UK’s profitable property market. The ninth son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Turki bin Salman Al Saud, reportedly owns around 20 properties in London via Moncrieff Holdings, a firm headquartered in the British Virgin Islands.
Image Credit: U.S. Department of State
An Israeli-Russian academic, who disappeared in Iraq earlier this year, has reportedly been captured by an Iraqi Shia militia, announced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral candidate at the distinguished Princeton University, USA, vanished during a research mission in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The Israeli authorities have indicated that Kataib Hezbollah, an influential Iraqi Shia militia with strong links to Iran, is behind her detainment. The militia’s stipulations for her release remain undisclosed.
Israel firmly places the onus of Ms Tsurkov’s welfare on Iraq, stating it to be accountable for her safety. “We hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being,” said a spokesperson for Mr Netanyahu’s office.
The Shia militia in question, Kataib Hezbollah, also known as Brigades of the Party of God, is bolstered by financial and military assistance from Iran. Since 2009, the United States has labelled the group as a terrorist organisation.
The Israeli government has refrained from divulging further details, leaving the matter to be dealt with by the “relevant parties”, citing concerns for Ms Tsurkov’s “security and well-being”.
Iraq and Israel share a turbulent history and lack formal diplomatic ties. Iraq’s parliament outlawed any attempts to normalise relations with Israel just last year, a country it has yet to officially acknowledge.
The Washington Post quoted a statement from Ms Tsurkov’s family, in which they too held “the Iraqi government as directly responsible for her safety”. The scholar entered Iraq on her Russian passport, as confirmed by Mr Netanyahu’s office.
According to the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based think tank where Ms Tsurkov holds a fellowship, she last reached out to them in March. It was later that they discovered her abduction by a “pro-Iranian militia” from independent sources.
The Institute noted it resisted the urge to publicise her disappearance due to the family’s preferences and in the hopes of a prompt resolution.
Ms Tsurkov’s research primarily centres around the Levant, a geographical term encompassing present-day Israel, Syria, among other regions, and focuses on “the Syrian uprising and civil war”.
New Lines also highlighted that Ms Tsurkov’s outspoken criticism of Israel, Iran, and Russia – the trio likely to be instrumental in negotiating her release – further complicates the situation. The think tank stressed the need for the United States’ involvement, given Ms Tsurkov’s affiliation with New Lines and Princeton.
Princeton expressed grave concern via a statement posted on Twitter. The university declared, “We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.”
As of now, no official comments have been made by the United States, Russia, Iran, or Iraq.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Tsurkov / Twitter
A Libyan court, in an unprecedented move, has issued severe prison sentences to three individuals charged with human trafficking. This represents a milestone judgement in a North African state notorious for the systemic maltreatment of migrants.
The defendants were found guilty of human trafficking, the unlawful detention and torture of migrants, and the extortion of relatives for their release by the Criminal Court of Tripoli. This was according to an announcement released on Friday by the office of the country’s chief prosecutor.
The court handed down a life sentence to one of the convicted individuals, while the remaining two have each been sentenced to twenty years in prison, as per the statement.
Further specifics regarding the identities or nationalities of the convicted were not included in the statement. On Saturday, no comments were available from the General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sourr.
Libya has been in a state of turmoil since the NATO-supported uprising in 2011 that led to the overthrow and subsequent death of longstanding dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, Libya has become a prominent transit hub for migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe.
Human traffickers have exploited Libya’s instability and used the country’s extensive border with six nations to smuggle migrants. In desperation, these individuals are often crammed into inadequately equipped rubber boats and other vessels for hazardous journeys via the Central Mediterranean Sea route.
For many years, the United Nations and various human rights organisations have condemned the dreadful conditions faced by migrants trafficked and smuggled across the Mediterranean.
In March, human rights experts backed by the United Nations suggested there was evidence that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated against Libyans and migrants within the country, including women being coerced into sexual slavery.
Image Credit: AP / Joan Mateu Parra
China is heightening its presence in the Middle East, demonstrating a renewed interest in assisting the resolution as a mediator in Yemen’s ongoing crisis. An increased focus on diplomatic engagement underpins China’s strategy, highlighting its emergent importance in regional affairs.
On Friday, 7 July, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East. The officials engaged in discussions regarding “ways to strengthen international support for mediation,” a measure currently led by the UN in a bid to end the war that has ravaged Yemen. While this diplomatic dialogue didn’t produce any immediate, substantial announcements, it underscored China’s rising role in the Middle East, extending to the complex Yemen issue.
China’s approach has so far remained relatively subdued, limiting itself to diplomatic meetings such as this, and the welcoming of Yemen’s President in Beijing last December. Despite the absence of explicit declarations or the orchestration of highly publicised summits, it is apparent that Chinese diplomacy is quietly, but increasingly, becoming a force in the Middle East.
China has considerable potential to influence the situation in Yemen. Prior to the war, it was the country’s second-largest trading partner. In 2021, its imports from Yemen still reached $411 million, primarily in oil and copper. Though Beijing officially maintains no relations with the non-state armed groups in the country, it is unlikely that such a high level of trade could be sustained solely with the exiled government. This suggests that China may be engaging commercially with various Yemeni factions.
Beijing is also playing a strategic geopolitical card. Anticipating a US disengagement from the region, China has increased its investment and involvement. It has notably sponsored the Saudi-Iran reconciliation and strengthened its ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are the main sponsors of the conflicting groups in Yemen. These connections place China in a strong position to act as a mediator in Yemen, underscoring its ever-growing influence in the Middle East.
Image Credit: AFP – JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD
In an official statement on Sunday, the United States Central Command confirmed the elimination of a high-profile ISIS leader, Usamah al-Muhajir, in Eastern Syria. The targeted strike, which occurred on July 7, reflects America’s relentless commitment to disrupting ISIS operations throughout the region.
The Central Command report detailed that the MQ-9 drones, used in the fatal airstrike on the terrorist leader, had earlier experienced almost two hours of harassment by Russian aircraft. This provocation didn’t deter the U.S. from successfully executing its mission, demonstrating a steadfast resolve despite any foreign interference.
“The operation demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the defeat of ISIS across the region,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, Commander of U.S. Central Command, after the successful operation. He also emphasized, “ISIS remains a serious threat, not only to the region but beyond. Our efforts to destabilize their operations are crucial for global security.”
The airstrike was conducted without civilian casualties, as confirmed by the U.S. government. However, they are currently investigating reports of a single civilian injury associated with the strike.
This operation forms part of the U.S. strategic approach to “disrupt and degrade” the capabilities of ISIS to plan and carry out terror attacks. It further underpins a broader international effort to curb the rise of the terror group, known for its brutalities across Syria and Iraq.
This operation comes in the wake of the successful elimination of two prominent ISIS leaders last year. Abu al Hassan al Hashimi al Qurayshi, one of these leaders, met his end as the terror group was mounting a resurgence. According to Abu Omar al Muhajer, an ISIS spokesman, Qurayshi “died fighting the enemies of God, killing some of them before being killed like a man on the battlefield.” In July 2021, the U.S. Central Command said Maher al-Agal, one of the top five leaders of the militant group had been killed in a drone strike in northwesten Syria and a close associate of his was seriously injured.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is one of eleven unified commands in the United States Department of Defense. Established in 1983, it is responsible for directing operations in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
The command has a broad mandate that includes military and peacekeeping operations, security cooperation, and humanitarian assistance efforts. This includes operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and against the ISIS terror group.
Led by General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM plays a vital role in America’s efforts to maintain global security and stability, particularly in regions that have been central to U.S. strategic interests for many years.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File
In a move highlighting the country’s ongoing restriction of press freedoms, Jordan has shut down access to the satirical website Al-Hudood, which recently poked fun at the kingdom’s latest royal wedding. Since the 5th of July, the site, which translates to “The Boundaries” or “The Limits” in Arabic, has been unreachable within Jordan’s borders.
While no official reason has been given by Amman, the pan-Arab site Raseef22 has noted that Al-Hudood’s most recent content on Jordan involved humorous takes on the nuptials of Crown Prince Hussein, son of King Abdullah, and Saudi Rajwa Al-Saif, held on the 1st of June.
In a recent satirical post, the site suggested that Jordanian authorities were planning to launch a campaign encouraging all citizens, including children, to visibly express their joy over the royal wedding or face potential fines.
Another post that possibly provoked the monarchy was a cartoon by a Bahraini artist, which depicted locals throwing pieces of their clothing at the newlyweds – a visual metaphor emphasising the stark contrast between the royal grandeur and the economic hardship of the populace.
Al-Hudood, founded in 2013 by Jordanian-Palestinian journalist Issam Ouraiqat and colleagues, originally focused on satirising Jordan’s domestic affairs but swiftly expanded its scope to cover the wider Arab world. It remains accessible outside of Jordan and frequently features work from regional cartoonists and caricaturists.
Described by Raseef22 as “a platform for Arab creativity offering satirical content and using comedy to shed light on sensitive issues in the Middle East,” Al-Hudood tackles topics ranging from politics and economics to societal norms and freedoms.
In a statement, Al-Hudood voiced concern over this action by the Jordanian government, reminiscing about the times when the kingdom allowed “a certain degree of freedom and satire.” In a pointed reminder, they referenced King Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania’s participation in a march in Paris for the victims of the 2015 attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Over the past decade, Jordanian authorities have intensified their control over the press and the internet, echoing tactics employed by other authoritarian regimes in the region. This includes blocking websites and persecuting journalists. According to the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Jordan ranks at 146th place out of 180 countries.
Image Credit: Al-Hudood
The much-loved Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca , Morocco, finds itself in the limelight as concerns about its future rise amidst plans to construct a new stadium 40km away from the city. Fans of the two local clubs are apprehensive that the historic venue might close down due to safety reasons.
Officially known as the Mohammed V Stadium, fans endearingly call it the “Donor,” referencing the “Stade d’honneur” (stadium of honour, in French), a name given to it at Morocco’s independence. Launched in 1955 in what was then the outskirts of Casablanca, today the bustling Maarif district, this 45,000-seat structure is an architectural marvel amidst its modern neighbouring buildings.
Its imposing reinforced concrete structure, the work of French architect Achille Dangleterre, is a quintessential example of the Brutalist movement. With strong ties to the city’s two clubs, Raja and Wydad, the stadium is home to at least two heated derbies per season, hailed by specialist press as among the world’s most intense football rivalries. Fans see the stadium as an integral part of Casablanca’s identity and its football culture.
However, the recently confirmed location for the new ‘great stadium of Casablanca’ in Benslimane, approximately 40km from the economic capital, has sparked confusion among fans. Social media quickly buzzed with criticism, questioning the logic of building a new stadium so far from the city.
The planned 93,000-seat project has reopened ongoing debates about the future of Mohammed V Stadium. Abdullah Abaakil, adviser for the Maarif district and city council member for the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), states, “The idea of moving the stadium is not new. But if it ends up closed and handed over to property developers, especially once the new stadium is built, it would be baffling. For the residents of popular neighbourhoods, it’s a source of integration, of which we have few in Casablanca.”
The proposal for a new stadium has been in discussion intermittently since 2008. The recent announcement came as Mohammed V underwent another round of renovations, and following the death of a female fan near the stadium on 29th April while attending a match. Official reports attribute her death to a crush caused by ticketless fans, but videos and testimonies implicate the police’s use of water cannons that day.
Casablanca Events & Animation, the company charged with managing the stadium, has been repeatedly accused of poor handling. After the events of 29th April, the company defended itself by citing the excessive number of spectators and the responsibility of clubs in deciding the number of tickets for sale.
“Matchday is a different day,” confesses Othman, 37, who spent part of his childhood living near the stadium. For residents, the hours before a game follow a set script: the area is cordoned off by the police, car movements are restricted, shops close early. Othman, who has lived in England, states emphatically, “Casablanca fans are no worse than West Ham or Millwall fans who attend their team’s matches in downtown London. The issue isn’t the location, but if a move must happen, a place within Casablanca, such as Central Quarries, should have been chosen. There is ample land available and it would have revitalised the neighbourhood.”
So far, no official announcement has been made regarding the future of the Mohammed V Stadium. Its fate hangs in the balance, held hostage by urban planning ambitions and the aspirations of Moroccan football for a modern stadium fitting of a future World Cup host.
In 2016, clashes within the stadium led to the death of two fans. For the next two years, ultra-supporters were banned from the stadium. In 2018, the press was intrigued by the chants echoed in its stands, notably the most famous, F’bladi Dalmouni (“I suffered from injustice in my country”), protesting a lack of freedom.
The Mohammed V Stadium holds a significant place in Casablanca’s urban and football heritage. For many, its location, history, and architecture make it a monument to be preserved at all costs. As the debate about its future continues, what is certain is that whatever decision is made will profoundly affect the lives of local football fans and the city’s identity.
As the country prepares to host the 2030 World Cup, Moroccan authorities face a challenging task in balancing the need for modern football infrastructure with preserving the deep-rooted cultural identity embedded in the nation’s football history.
Image Caption: Mustapha Ennaimi / Flickr
Secretary Clinton and First Lady Obama With 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. Image credit: United States government work
Despite being the bearers of social progress and nurturers of the family, women have been largely overshadowed in Middle Eastern politics, sidelined by patriarchal norms and cultural mores. However, recent years have seen a change, however gradual.
For most of the 20th century, women in the Middle East faced overwhelming barriers to their political participation. The political scene was exclusively male, with women rarely stepping into the limelight. But there were notable exceptions, such as Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her instrumental role in the Arab Spring.
In the 21st century, we’ve seen significant changes. Take the example of the United Arab Emirates, where, as of 2022, women constituted 50% of the Federal National Council. Another beacon of progress is Tunisia, where women hold around 31% of the parliamentary seats, an achievement unparalleled in the Arab world. These women are breaking barriers and reinforcing that a woman’s place can, and should, be in the corridors of power, alongside men.
However, the situation is far from perfect. Despite these commendable advances, several hurdles remain. Deep-rooted social norms, persistent gender bias and restrictive laws still create a daunting landscape for women. Saudi Arabia, for example, only allowed women to drive in 2018 and still requires male guardianship for women to make critical life decisions. In Iran, women can be elected to parliament but cannot run for president.
External factors have added another layer of complexity to the issue. The civil war in Syria, the conflict in Yemen and the Afghan refugee crisis, to name but a few, have pushed the agenda of women’s political rights to the sidelines, seen as a luxury in the face of survival.
The road to gender equality in Middle Eastern politics remains winding and steep, but it’s a journey worth taking. Policies that promote gender equality, such as Jordan’s gender quota system, which reserves a certain number of parliamentary seats for women, need to be introduced and promoted. International agencies and NGOs can provide support, such as UN Women’s political empowerment programmes in Palestine and Iraq. Education, especially for young girls, must be a priority. The example of Malala Yousafzai and her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan is a shining beacon of what can be achieved.
Several practical measures could help increase the representation of women in Middle Eastern politics. The public and private sectors could create programmes to mentor and develop future female leaders. These initiatives would provide the necessary skills, resources and networks to break into the political sphere. Governments should also actively promote and enforce gender equality in education, thereby removing one of the main barriers to women’s political participation. At the same time, the media could play a key role by highlighting successful women in politics, thereby challenging stereotypes and providing positive role models. There is also a need to promote local, regional and international partnerships that focus on increasing women’s political representation. This could include collaboration between governments, NGOs, academic institutions and community organisations to share best practices and promote policy change. Finally, the role of men as allies cannot be overemphasised; they should be encouraged to support gender equality initiatives, including in politics, for the benefit of society as a whole.
Increasing women’s participation in politics will have far-reaching effects. It promises a future where women can contribute to decision-making, propose innovative solutions and better represent half the population. We need look no further than the leadership of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the COVID-19 pandemic to see the effectiveness of female leadership.
The full participation of women in politics in the Middle East is not something that can be achieved overnight. Although progress has been made, there are still mountains to climb. But with determination, supportive policies and international cooperation, the day will undoubtedly come when women play an equal role in shaping the political destiny of the Middle East. The seeds of change have been sown; now it’s time to nurture them to fruition.
A significant step toward a potential trial unfolded on Tuesday as Paris’ Court of Appeal endorsed the seizure of assets attributed to the influential Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, amid suspicions of fraudulent acquisition.
The legal difficulties are intensifying for the Lebanese banking figurehead, as the Parisian court has validated a dozen seizures on Salameh’s wealth, believed to have been obtained illegally. Sources close to the case disclosed that the court upheld the validity of the seizures targeting Salameh’s real estate and bank holdings across Europe; Salameh has led the Lebanese Central Bank since 1993.
Governor Salameh’s team had contested a series of seizures by France, valuing tens of millions of Euros: apartments in Paris’ 16th district, on the Champs-Élysées, in the UK, Belgium, and numerous bank accounts.
The wealth is believed to have been secured through a sophisticated financial scheme and extensive embezzlement of public funds, a subject under investigation by various European authorities, alongside an enquiry in Lebanon.
“The confirmation of these seizures erodes Salameh’s defence while reinforcing an already substantial legal process. This is a certain advancement,” rejoiced William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, lawyers representing the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon (CPVCL), the plaintiffs.
Reacting to the court’s decision, Pierre-Olivier Sur, Salameh’s lawyer, stated, “This is a stage in the process. Following these charges, there will be acts of discharge and favourable decisions. We are filing an appeal.”
The stakes were significant: the Attorney General of the Court of Appeal had called for confirmation of the seizures, fearing that if these were annulled, France would lose all prospects of confiscation of these assets in the event of a conviction.
International Arrest Warrant Following Salameh’s no-show at a summons from French justice on 16th May, an international arrest warrant was issued for him by the financial examining magistrate handling this case.
Yet, as Lebanon refuses to extradite its nationals and adjudicates them on its soil if they are convicted abroad, it is unlikely that Salameh will be present at a potential trial in France.
Upon receiving Interpol’s red notice based on this arrest warrant, Lebanese justice has barred Salameh from leaving the ‘Land of the Cedars’ and confiscated his two Lebanese and French passports.
Since the start of the year, European judges, including a French magistrate, have thrice visited Lebanon to question Salameh, and his close acquaintances, including his brother, Raja Salameh.
Salameh, who is closely tied to his country’s political class battling a severe monetary crisis since 2019, continues to serve as the head of the Central Bank and denounced “baseless” allegations in May. His term is due to end in July.
Investigations began in France following complaints by the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, established by savers swindled during the country’s crisis since 2019.
Following a preliminary investigation, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) opened a judicial inquiry for organised money laundering and conspiracy to commit a crime on 2 July 2021.
Besides Salameh, at least three other people are implicated in the French judicial information: Anna K., a confidante of Salameh suspected of being one of his proxies in France;
Image Credit: Tachfine Oumlil on Wikimedia
Iran is anticipated to secure membership of Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), an influential regional entity, next week. This assertion comes from Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, and is expected to bring Iran into closer cooperation with countries such as China, Russia, and a host of Central Asian nations.
Mr Lavrov made the announcement on Friday, during the inauguration of an SCO centre in Moscow. “The full membership of Iran will be approved at the meeting of heads of state on July 4,” he stated.
Known as the globe’s largest defence and security organisation, the SCO consists of eight countries including China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia currently hold observer status.
The Russian Foreign Minister also shared insights into various geopolitical issues in a news conference. He addressed the operations of the Wagner Group in Africa, the 2018 alleged poisoning of a defector, and recent developments in Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov criticised Western countries for what he termed as “brazen pressure” applied on African and Latin American nations, coercing them into siding with sanctions against Russia due to its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
Discussing the role of the Wagner Group, a private military company reportedly linked to Russia, he stated that it would be the prerogative of African countries to continue their engagement with the group.
Recent tensions involving the Wagner Group escalated into a brief rebellion, which was suppressed last weekend. The outfit, commanded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, operates in several African nations including Mali and the Central African Republic.
Mr Lavrov refuted allegations of deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine by Russia’s armed forces. He pointed the finger at Ukraine, accusing them of positioning military resources near civilian areas like schools and residential buildings.
The Foreign Minister further rebutted claims by Ukraine and its Western allies that Russia was endangering the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, accusing Kyiv of spreading “pure lies.”
In addition, he mentioned recent enquiries from Russia to the UK about the location of Sergei and Yuliya Skripal, a former double agent for Britain and his daughter, who the UK alleges were poisoned by Russian agents in Salisbury in 2018 – a claim Moscow consistently denies.
Image Credit: India Prime Minister Office
Kuwait has appealed to Iran to embark on negotiations surrounding the delimitation of their maritime borders, whilst reaffirming its exclusive rights alongside Saudi Arabia over the contested Al Durra offshore gas field.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait underscored, through the state news agency Kuna, that the marine zone encompassing the Al Durra field is indisputably part of Kuwait’s maritime territory. The natural resources found therein are exclusively a shared entitlement between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“Only Kuwait and Saudi Arabia possess exclusive rights over the natural resources of the Al Durra field,” reaffirmed an anonymous ministry source.
Negotiations held in Tehran in March saw Kuwaiti and Iranian officials jointly discussing the demarcation of their maritime borders. Both parties emphasised the imperative of resolving the issue in alignment with international law.
However, Iran voiced opposition a year earlier, branding the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to cultivate the gas field as “illegal”. Iran insisted on its stake in the field, asserting that it should be included in any developmental discussions.
Situated in the neutral zone shared between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the field is forecasted to yield one billion cubic feet of gas and 84,000 barrels of condensate per day. Iran has laid claims to a portion of the field, referred to as Arash in Iran, and pledged to advance with the development of what it perceives as its own sector.
Back in 2016, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait reported instances of the Iranian navy launching attacks in the waters adjacent to the neutral zone.
Image Credit: Martin Adams on Unplash
Millions of fish have been found dead along the banks of the river in Iraq’s southern province of Maysan, prompting concerns of a serious ecological disaster. The resulting scene is a direct consequence of a significant surge in salinity and pollution, which can be traced back to the region’s chronic shortage of freshwater resources.
According to Ahmed Salih Nima, an environmental activist, the primary reason for the mass death of fish is the dwindling water supply from the Tigris River. The Tigris River has historically fed smaller rivers and canals in various parts of the province, helping to maintain a balanced aquatic ecosystem.
“As water supplies decline, the oxygen levels drop while the salinity rate increases. This shift in balance leads to a rise in pH levels, resulting in the death of millions of fish,” Nima explained. “Regular replenishment of freshwater in these rivers and canals is crucial to prevent temperature increases, oxygen depletion and salinity spikes.”
The Al Mijar Al Kabeer district and surrounding areas, previously brimming with aquatic life and a crucial source of income for locals, now starkly resemble a graveyard. Dead fish now carpet the riverbanks as far as the eye can see. This calamity has had a catastrophic impact on the local fishing community and businesses it supports, with boats now unable to ply the once-bustling waterways.
“Ninety per cent of the local population depend on fishing. With the fish now gone, this has affected everyone from fishermen to associated businesses like ice sellers, boat repairers, truck drivers, and wholesale and retail traders,” Nima noted. Not to forget the cattle breeders who have relied on these rivers for generations, and who now find themselves in dire straits.
Dr Bassim Oraibi, the General Director of Maysan Veterinary Hospital, revealed that the oxygen content in the water has fallen to a mere 25 per cent of the minimum requirement. Pollution levels have soared, with industrial waste, untreated sewage, and agricultural run-off making the water toxic, decimating aquatic life.
While the immediate disaster is severe, it’s the long-term environmental consequences that have scientists and environmentalists worried. The river’s rising salinity levels, exacerbated by drought and overuse of water resources, coupled with uncontrolled pollution, suggest the perfect storm of environmental neglect and climate change.
These findings have led to an urgent call for immediate action. Environmentalists and concerned citizens are urging the government to restore freshwater supplies and implement stringent pollution control measures. More than ever, there’s a pressing need for robust waste management systems and sustainable agricultural practices.
Once known as Mesopotamia or the Land Between the Two Rivers, Iraq finds itself in the grips of an escalating water crisis, worsened by climate change, mismanagement, and pollution. Today, the United Nations classifies it as the fifth most vulnerable country globally to climate change.
With an ongoing water crisis that has been worsening for decades, 39 per cent of the country is affected by desertification, and 54 per cent of its agricultural land has been degraded, primarily due to soil salinity.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq’s main water sources accounting for over 90 per cent of the country’s freshwater reserves, have been on a significant decline. Construction of dams and water diversion upstream in Turkey and Iran has only added to the crisis, l