Social progress in 'unrecognized' Somaliland

The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament on Jan. 8 voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—which was actually a groundbreaking move in the region. Forty-six of the 51 MPs present in the lower house approved the law, which must now go through the upper house before being signed by the president. Convicted rapists may now face 30 years in prison. (AFP) Until now, a victim's family would often force her to marry her rapist to avoid being "shamed." Once again, the stable, secular and unrecognized government of Somaliland outpaces in social progress the unstable, reactionary and basically fictional "official" government of Somalia. As BBC News sadly notes, "There is still no law against rape in Somalia."

Supreme Court to review Trump travel ban

The US Supreme Court on June 26 agreed to review (PDF) the Trump administration's travel ban, partially lifting the temporary injunction that had blocked the ban's enforcement. The administration sought review of decisions issued by the US Courts of Appeal for the Fourth and Ninth circuits last month. The Supreme Court's order permits execution of the travel ban, but it "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

US troops for Libya, escalation in Somalia

The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)

Middle East may become uninhabitable: FAO

New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.

Pirates or protesters in Somalia sea stand-off?

The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."

Saudis behind Somali refugee massacre: reports

More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed when an Apache helicopter fired on a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen March 17. A coast guard officer in the Hodeidah area, controlled by Houthi rebel forces, told Reuters the refugees, carrying UNHCR documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb strait. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency accused the Saudi-led coalition of being behind the attack. The coalition immediately released a statement denying responsibility. While the International Organization for Migration said 42 bodies have been recovered, the death toll may be much higher. The UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. 

Federal judges again block Trump travel ban

Two federal judges—one in Maryland on March 16 and another in Hawaii the day before—issued temporary restraining orders (PDF, PDF) against President Donald Trump's new 90-day travel ban. Finding that the state had established a strong likelihood of success on the merits, Hawaii District Judge Derrick Watson issued an opinion permitting continued travel from six predominantly Muslim countries listed on Trump's order. Trump responded to the order, calling it "the bad, sad news," and "an unprecedented judicial overreach." The new order, which dropped Iraq from the banned countries list, would have barred entry for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, and completely banned entry of refugees for 120 days.

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