Greater Middle East
Yemen

Yemen: secret torture centers revealed

In an exhaustive report, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen’s more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: “enforced disappearances,” torture, and killings at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen’s war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Houthi rebels are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Greater Middle East
NEOM

Tribesman killed for resisting Saudi robot city?

Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing official accounts alleging that a tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti, from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a “wanted terrorist” who opened fire on State Security agents who arrived at his home. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept relocation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, accused the government of a policy of “forced displacement.” The project at issue is the NEOM, a planned “special economic zone” for high-tech industry, to cover an area bigger than Belgium, where robots will outnumber human residents. (Image via NeoScribe)

Greater Middle East
KSA

Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging, execution of minors

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses such as extramarital sex and breach of the peace. The ruling came along with a royal decree ending the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes when they were minors. These reforms follow unprecedented international criticism that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

Greater Middle East
Yemen

Yemen’s southern separatists declare self-rule

Yemen’s southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden,which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat. (Map of Yemen before 1990 unification via Wikipedia)

Planet Watch
Oilsands

Negative oil prices slow tar sands production

Despite a new agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US and Canadian oil benchmarks have now fallen below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has already started slashing oil sands output. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.5 billion in aid to the industry, and Trump is now also pledging a bail-out. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Middle East
Yemen

Ceasefire confusion as COVID-19 arrives in Yemen

Yemeni government officials reported the country’s first case of COVID-19, shortly after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced that it would be observing a two-week unilateral ceasefire, in part to help confront the pandemic. The move was welcomed by the UN, and the office of Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was working with the warring parties on a “comprehensive initiative” to end the five-year war. But a Houthi rebel spokesperson said coalition air-strikes have continued after the truce’s onset, and dismissed the initiative as a “political and media manoeuvre.” The past weeks have seen an increase in violence, including Saudi air-strikes on the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana’a, and the shelling of a prison in the province of Taiz that killed at least five women and one child. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Planet Watch
Aleppo ruins

UN calls for ‘global ceasefire’ in response to COVID-19

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives… Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Planet Watch
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krüg)

Greater Middle East
Jamal Khashoggi

Death sentences in murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found. (Photo: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Greater Middle East

Egyptian revolution rebooted

Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting “rise up, fear not, Sisi must go” and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, “the people demand the downfall of the regime.” Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police. (Photo via Twitter)

Iran
Iran

Oil shock, wider war after Saudi refinery attack?

With some some 5% of the daily global supply wiped out by the drone attack on Saudi facilities, a new oil shock now appears imminent—putting paid to the conventional wisdom that such spikes are a thing of the past due to increased US domestic production. The Persian Gulf reserves remain determinant in global political power. How realistic is the fear of a new shock—or Western military confrontation with Iran? (Map: myket)

Greater Middle East

Yemen: now a three-way war —or four?

Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. UAE-backed forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government. Hadi’s government had been based in Aden since Iran-backed Houthi rebels sezied the capital Sanaa in 2014. Aden had been the capital of South Yemen before it united with North Yemen in 1990. In addition to Hadi’s government, the STC and the Houthis, militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to wage an insurgency in the south. (Map via  Perry-Castañeda Library)