Greater Middle East

Egypt: top court halts Red Sea islands transfer

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government agreed to transfer the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated by a lower court in Cairo, but that decision was overturned by another court. Egypt's parliament last week agreed to go through with the plan despite public protests. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The protesters, however, assert that Egypt's sovereignty over the islands was established before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Syria: popular uprising against al-Qaeda rule

Under the slogan "The People Are Stronger Than You," thousands of local residents have repeatedly taken to the streets of Ma'arat al-Numan, a town in Syria's northwestern Idlib governorate, to oppose the rule of jihadist forces that have seized control there. The protests broke out after the Qaeda-affiliated militia that controls the town, Hayat Tahrir a-Sham (HTS, an offshoot of the Nusra Front) raided the local headquarters of the Free Syrian Army's Division 13, killing and detaining several FSA fighters on June 8. The biggest reported protest came on June 11, when thousands of residents and civil resistance activists waving Free Syrian flags mobilized to demand the release of the detained fighters.  "We will continue to resist [HTS] in the same way that we peacefully resisted the Syrian regime, and endured its crackdown on protests," Khaled al-Hamid, a 22-year-old protest organizer, told independent news site Syria Deeply. (More at Global Voices)

Syria slides closer to Arab-Kurdish ethnic war

Fierce clashes broke out between Syrian rebel factions and Kurdish fighters in Aleppo province this week, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to battle ISIS in Raqqa. Fighting erupted in Derat Ezza in the western Aleppo countryside on June 13, after Kurdish fighters attempted to take a rebel base in the area, opposition media reported. The assault was thwarted after the rebels regained the positions with support from Turkish artillery. At least 32 fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups were reported killed in the clashes, as well as dozens of Kurdish militants. (The New Arab, June 14)

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)

Yemen: hospital bombed amid cholera outbreak

Cholera has spread at an alarming rate in Yemen over the past month, from a few thousand cases to roughly 70,000. There have been over 600 deaths, and most areas of the country are affected. UNICEF now warns that cases could quadruple in the next month to 300,000, with regional director Geert Cappelaere calling the situation "incredibly dire." (NYT, Al Jazeera) Amid all this, Saudi warplanes on June 4 struck a hospital in Qahza, Sa'ada governorate, where cholera patients were being treated. Several were said to be killed in the strike, and the building destroyed. But, too tellingly, for reports on the Qahza strike we must rely on sources such as Iran's Tasnim News Agency and  Venezuela's TeleSur.

UN to Bahrain: investigate protester deaths

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on June 2 called on the government of Bahrain to investigate the deaths of five protesters that occurred during a security operation last month. The protesters were killed and 286 individuals were arrested when security forces were conducting an operation against a sit-in held by supporters of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the highest Shi'ite authority in Bahrain, in his home village of al-Diraz. Those who died were buried without their families' consent and without customary funeral traditions, an act which the High Commissioner called "disturbing." Al Hussein also called for the release of those being detained for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly," and for them to be "treated with full respect for their rights, including due process."

Bahrain: 'total suppression' of human rights

A Bahrain court on May 31 dissolved the major opposition political party, an act that Amnesty International said is a step toward the "total suppression of human rights" in the Persian Gulf monarchy. The National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) was ordered dissolved after Bahrain's Ministry of Justice accused the group of "advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness." Amnesty called the allegations against Wa'ad "baseless and absurd." Wa'ad had criticized the Bahraini constitution in February, and condemned the execution of three men in January. Wa'ad was the last major opposition party in Bahrain, although two smaller opposition groups still exist in the country.

Turkey: 200 on trial over coup attempt

A trial over the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey began at a prison courtroom in Sincan on May 22. Two hundred of the 221 defendants in the case were marched into the courtroom before a group of pro-government protesters, some of whom threw nooses and demanded the death penalty. Many of the protesters had lost relatives during the coup, which resulted in 240 deaths, primarily civilians. Most of the defendants are former military personnel, with ranks ranging from captains to generals. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the defendants, who they are accused of "commandeer[ing] tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government." US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, named as the number one defendant in the case and accused of orchestrating the coup, will be tried in absentia.

Syndicate content