Weekly News 15 – 19 October 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 15 October 2018

Affaire Khashoggi: Turkish investigators were permitted to search Saudi Arabia’s consulate on Monday, 13 days after journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished while visiting the mission, as President Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the case with King Salman, the Saudi ruler. As pressure mounted on Saudi Arabia to disclose what it knows about Khashoggi’s fate, U.S. officials began predicting over the weekend that the Saudis would inevitably admit complicity in the death of Khashoggi and claim a “botched operation,” said one person familiar with the discussions. (Washington Post)

Turkey: Forced marriages are still being reported in Turkey, along with the phenomenon of underage brides with 25% of Turkish women who wed when they were minors, a percentage that rose to 32% in rural areas, according to the first report on Turkey drafted by Grevio, a group of anti-violence experts of the Council of Europe, which was set up when the Istanbul Convention came into force. (ANSAmed)

Morocco: The inauguration of the new legislative cycle in Morocco has kicked off under a current of criticism and sarcasm, after photos and videos distributed online showed MPs outside of the parliament building with take-away bags of sweets and gourmet foods that were left over from the banquet held for the October 12 occasion.  Men in white djellabas, the traditional formal dress, whose faces aren’t portrayed, are shown leaving the parliament building with bags that leave no room for doubt. Some MPs have distanced themselves from the spectacle and condemned it as shameful, while others blamed it on the waiters, but various images are still making the rounds on social media. Meanwhile, just a few hours later, a video began circulating online showing a close-up of Driss Jettou, the head of the Court of Auditors, as he responds to a citizen who was likely asking him for a favor: “Go see him and tell him Jettou sent you”. Although the phrase was taken out of context and doesn’t reflect the 73-year-old magistrate’s impeccable record, the one phrase was enough to cause a social media firestorm with its very own hashtag: #jettousentme. (ANSAmed)

Syria: Syria’s main crossing points with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have both been reopened for the first time in several years. A Syrian businessman living in Jordan was the first person to pass through the Nassib border post between Jordan and Syria when traffic resumed. Syrian government forces recaptured the crossing from rebel fighters in July. UN vehicles were also seen crossing into the Israel-occupied Golan near the Syrian town of Quneitra on Monday. The news came as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem discussed “speeding up” the reopening of the country’s border crossings with Iraq at a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus. (BBC)

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

 France: The promotion of Christophe Castaner from ruling party chief to France’s interior minister on Tuesday is viewed as a sop to leftists unhappy with French President Emmanuel Macron’s perceived rightward slide. The suspense lasted exactly two weeks following the October 2 resignation of political veteran Gérard Collomb as France’s interior minister. On Tuesday, Macron finally announced Collomb’s resignation. Castaner, the 52-year-old head of the ruling Republic on the Move party (LREM) and an early Macron loyalist, will now replace Collomb. (France 24)

Morocco: At least seven people died and nearly 80 were injured after a shuttle train linking the Moroccan capital to a town farther north on the Atlantic coast derailed Tuesday, authorities at the accident site said. The train derailed about halfway between Rabat and the town of Kenitra, near the city of Sale. (Washington Post)

Algeria: Algeria wants to have a new energy law ready by the first half of 2019 and might use Mexico’s legislation as inspiration, the CEO of state energy firm Sonatrach said on Tuesday. The North African OPEC member has been preparing changes to its hydrocarbon law in a bid to attract foreign investors that have stayed away in recent years, citing bureaucracy and tough terms. (Reuters)

Tunisia: Tunisia’s parliament voted to criminalise racial discrimination, in a vote activists hailed as historic in the North African country, where unofficial estimates say 15 percent of the 11.5 million population identify as black. Under the new legislation, those convicted of racist speech face one month in prison and a $350 fine, while incitement to hatred, making racist threats, or belonging to an organisation that propagates racism can result in one to three years in prison and fines ranging from $185 to $1,110. The law makes Tunisia the first Arab country, and the second in Africa, to outlaw racial discrimination. (Al Jazeera)

Libya: Eastern Libyan authorities have resumed an investigation into the unexplained killing of a top rebel commander in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, a case that could reopen old wounds. The unsolved killing of Abdel Fattah Younes by suspected fellow fighters in 2011 caused deep rifts inside the rebel camp of the kind that have marked the turmoil and violence gripping Libya ever since. The investigation risks stirring new tensions between eastern Libya, controlled by the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, and a United Nations-backed administration in the capital of Tripoli. (The Daily Star)

Egypt: Egyptian Intelligence Officials Meet With Hamas Leaders in Gaza in a ‘Last Effort Before Escalation’. Talks described as preparations for Egyptian intelligence chief’s upcoming visit to Gaza and the West Bank as officials in Jerusalem and Gaza trade combative threats (Haaretz)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree to sign “a comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation agreement at the highest level” with Egypt, Russia’s Sputnik reported yesterday. Putin’s announcement coincided with the beginning of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s three-day visit to Russia earlier today. (Middle East Monitor)

European Union: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Italian media on Tuesday (16 October) that he could not accept the extra spending budgeted by the Italian government because other member states would “insult” the institution if it did. Juncker sought to tone down the war of words between Brussels and Rome, following the submission of Italy’s draft budgetary plan for next year, but he insisted that commitments made by Italy to reduce its massive public debt of 132% of GDP “must be respected”. (EurActiv)

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Israel: A rocket fired from Gaza struck a home in the city of Beer Sheva in southern Israel early Wednesday, according to the Israeli military and Israel police. Footage from Israel Channel 10 showed damage to the fence and yard of the home. No injuries were reported. A second rocket landed off the coast of central Israel, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said. Israel’s air force began striking targets in Gaza a few hours after the rocket launch, according to a statement from the Israeli military. (CNN)

Israeli fighter jets attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the military said, hours after a rocket fired overnight by militants in the territory struck a house in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, a sharp escalation after months of simmering tensions along the Israel-Gaza border. The residents of the house — a woman and her three young children — were treated for shock, according to the Israeli emergency services, and the Israeli military said a second rocket fell into the sea after it was fired overnight toward the crowded coastal area of central Israel. (The New York Times)

Tunisia: the former president of the Free Patriotic Union party (Upl), businessman Slim Siahi, has been appointed secretary general of modernist party Nidaa Tounes. The decision was announced after a meeting between Riahi and Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the executive director of Nidaa, during which the new leadership was discussed after Upl and Nidaa Tounes merged. (ANSAmed)

Greece: Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias resigned on Wednesday after reports of a clash with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos over the agreement made with neighboring Macedonia for a name change. Saying he would take over his top diplomat’s portfolio, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also said he was determined to safeguard the deal he signed with Macedonia agreed last June. (Deutsche Welle)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Serbia: Around one-fifth of Serbian citizens want to emigrate in search of a better life and better-paying jobs, according to a new survey. Most of them are young people and almost all of them want to go to the West. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Brexit: Prime Minister Theresa May and other EU leaders voiced renewed confidence on Thursday they could secure a Brexit deal, saying they were working hard to overcome the hurdles that only days ago brought the talks to a halt. (Reuters)

European Union: Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel sought to defuse bilateral tensions at an EU summit on Wednesday (17 October) after Flemish and Spanish authorities traded accusations over Spain’s handling of Catalonia’s illegal declaration of independence and imprisonment of separatists. Flemish president Geert Bourgeois called on Belgium’s federal government to summon the Spanish ambassador after Madrid decided to withdraw diplomatic credentials to Flanders in response to continued criticism over the management of the Catalan crisis. (EurActiv)

Morocco: “Morocco is not well treated in terms of the aid granted by the European Union—for the fight against illegal immigration,” Josep Borrell said Wednesday. The Spanish minister addressed his statements to Spain’s joint parliamentary committee for the EU, Maghreb Arab Press reported today. Borrell contrasted the support the EU has given Turkey, €6 billion, with Morocco, which has received only about €50 million. (Morocco World News)

Algeria: Algerian authorities on Thursday banned women from wearing full-face veils, or niqabs, at work, citing reasons of identification for the decision. The country has been split between moderate and more radical forms of Islam since it was plunged into years of civil war in 1992, when a military-backed government canceled elections that an Islamist party was poised to win. Most Algerian women do not wear the niqab, a custom imported from more traditionally conservative Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, but the decision is likely to criticized by Algeria’s Salafists minority. (Reuters)

Italy: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has attempted to open a dialogue with the European Commission in an attempt to calm things down over Italy’s “unprecedented” breach of fiscal rules, but has also warned that there will be no step back on the draft budgetary plans. (EurActiv)

Friday, 19 October 2018

Kosovo: Kosovo took the first steps towards creating its own army, ten years after it declared independence, despite fierce opposition from the ethnic Serb minority and Serbia itself which called the move “a threat to peace”. Since the end of the 1998-1999 war between Serbia’s armed forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerillas, NATO-led international forces (KFOR) have been tasked with security in Kosovo. (EurActiv)

Turkey: A first-of-its kind summit with the participation of leaders from Turkey, Russia, Germany and France will be convened in Istanbul on Oct. 27 in which recent developments in Syria with a special emphasis on Idlib, as well as projections for a political settlement will be discussed in depth. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the four-way summit. (Hurriyet daily news)

Turkish police are searching a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul and a city near the Sea of Marmara for remains of a Saudi dissident journalist who disappeared two weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate, two Turkish officials said. (Reuters)

Bulgaria: A Bulgarian man said on Friday he attacked Viktoria Marinova, a television journalist whose murder drew international condemnation partly because it initially appeared that it could have been politically motivated. (Reuters)

Greece: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ruled out an early election on Friday, following the resignation of his foreign minister this week. Tsipras, who will take over the foreign ministry portfolio, said that his left-led coalition government enjoys the full support of the parliament’s majority. (Reiters)