Weekly News 28 January – 1 February 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 28 January 2019

Egypt: French president Emmanuel Macron has said that he told his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a visit to Cairo that stability and security could not be separated from human rights. The two leaders met on Monday in the capital, Cairo, to oversee the signing of around 30 deals between Egypt and France worth several hundred million dollars. Rights groups and activists have urged France and other Western powers to halt weapons sales to Egypt, a major purchaser, until it improves its human rights record. But Macron dismissed suggestions that French weapons in Egypt were being used against civilians, saying they had only been used for military purposes. (Al Jazeera)

Sudan: On Sunday, al-Bashir travelled to Egypt on a one-day work visit and met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi. Speaking at a joint press conference with al-Sisi following their meeting, al-Bashir acknowledged that his country is facing a problem, saying however it is not as big as described by some media platforms. He accused unnamed organisations of seeking to destabilize security in the region, saying he briefed al-Sisi on the true situation in Sudan. (Sudan Tribune)

Afghanistan: President Trump’s headway in Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban raises worries. A hasty American withdrawal would erode the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan government, raising the risk that the Taliban could recapture control of the country. Short of that, it could consign Afghanistan to a protracted, bloody civil war, with Taliban fighters besieging the capital, Kabul, as they did in the 1990s. These scenarios now seem possible because of the progress in direct talks between the United States and the Taliban. The chief American negotiator Khalilzad said Monday that American and Taliban officials had agreed in principle to the outlines of a deal in which the insurgents would guarantee that Afghan territory is never used by terrorists, setting the stage for a total pullout of American troops. (New York Times)

Tunisia: Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and supporters split from ruling Nidaa Tounes to form Tahya Tounes or ‘Long live Tunisia’. Political leaders formerly associated with Tunisia’s ruling party have announced the formation of a new movement that will compete in this year’s general elections. The formation of the new party, called Tahya Tounes was announced in the coastal town of Monastir on Sunday. “Our goal will be to have a strong party that will lead economic reforms and return hope for frustrated Tunisians, we seek to lead the nation and compete with the Islamists” Zohra Idriss, a lawmaker and member of the new party, told the Reuters news agency. (Al Jazeera)

United Arab Emirates: Pope Francis will arrive in the UAE for the first time on Sunday. He will celebrate a public Mass at Zayed Sports City in the capital on Tuesday, February 5, at 10.30am. The response on the first day of tickets being allocated had been overwhelming. More than 10,000 people descended on St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai last night to collect their tickets to see Pope Francis during his coming visit to the UAE. (The National)

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

UK: Theresa May immediately hit a brick wall in Brussels after being backed by MPs to reopen the withdrawal agreement, as Donald Tusk, with the backing of Emmanuel Macron, said the EU would not renegotiate. Within minutes of the Commons backing the prime minister’s plan to replace the Irish backstop, a spokesman for the European council’s president insisted Tusk would not permit any changes to the deal already agreed with Downing Street. Tusk instead urged the prime minister to explain her next steps, claiming the agreement negotiated over the last 20 months “remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”. (The Guardian)

Israel: International observers, who have documented division, displacement and violence in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank since 1997, are going home. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to extend the agreement for the monitoring mission, calling it an international force acting against Israel. Netanyahu’s critics say he’s getting rid of the observers to try and win votes. (Al Jazeera)

United Arab Emirates: That might sound unlikely at an awards ceremony to promote gender equality, but it’s exactly what happened in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the vice-president of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, presented prizes to award winners at the Gender Balance Index 2018 in three categories, all of which were collected by men. (CNN)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Palestine: The UN has said it is “deeply concerned about the protracted and extremely violent attack” on Palestinians in the village of al-Mugheir in the occupied West Bank. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN office for the high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR), issued a statement on Tuesday, where he said a group of up to 30 Israelis – some of them armed – attacked Palestinian farmers in their fields and then descended on the village where they used live ammunition to shoot at the villagers and their houses. Six Palestinians were shot and wounded with three of them in a serious condition. It remains unclear whether any settlers were also injured. Colville noted that Israeli security forces were stationed near the village and were immediately alerted to the attack, but witnesses said that it took around two hours for them to intervene. (Al Jazeera)

Iran: President Trump lashed out at the nation’s intelligence agencies on Wednesday, accusing them of being “passive and naive” about the dangers posed by Iran, and defending his handling of Afghanistan, North Korea and the Islamic State. A day after the agencies issued their annual assessment of global threats – warning of malefactors like China and the Islamic State – Mr. Trump reignited a long-simmering feud with his own government, reacting as if the report was a threat to him personally. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” he declared on Twitter in an indignant early morning post. (New York Times)

Lebanon: Beirut takes unprecedented measures to safeguard devaluing lira that threatens to worsen country’s economic crisis. Lebanon’s currency, the lira, is under pressure. There are fears that without much-needed reforms, it could lose its value even more, worsening an already bad economic situation. The Central Bank has dismissed those fears, but for the first time, it is taking measures to safeguard the lira. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine: Israeli forces kill 16-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl at a checkpoint between the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli forces have shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian girl after she allegedly attempted to stab a border policeman at a checkpoint between the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, according to local media and police reports. Israeli border police opened fire on Samah Zuheir Mubarak, a student from the West Bank city of Ramallah, at the al-Zaeem checkpoint, which separates an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank from a neighbourhood that lies in occupied East Jerusalem. (Al Jazeera)  

Mediterranean: New figures from the UN’s refugee agency show a rising death rate for people trying to reach Europe’s southern shores. The UNHCR estimates that 2,275 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2018. That’s the equivalent of one death for every 51 arrivals last year. For comparison, the death rate was one for every 269 arrivals in 2015, when more than one million migrants attempted the perilous crossing. The UNHCR report, released Tuesday, says the higher death rate is partly the result of cuts to search and rescue operations on the Mediterranean. It also points to political standoffs between countries over who bears responsibility for migrants rescued at sea. (CNN)

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has ended an anti-corruption drive launched in November 2017 that saw senior princes, ministers and prominent businessmen rounded up. The Royal Court said a committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had recovered $107bn (£81bn) in settlements including property, companies and cash. A total of 381 individuals were summoned by the commission. Eighty-seven agreed to settle, eight refuse and 56 were denied settlements because of already existing charges. (BBC)

European Union: On Thursday, the European Parliament voted, in a non-binding resolution, to recognise Mr Guaidó as interim president until fresh elections can be called. The parliament has no foreign policy powers but urged the European Union and its member states to follow suit. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said it had agreed to create a contact group with Latin American nations aimed at resolving the crisis, but had set a 90-day deadline to find a political solution. (BBC)

Syria: The World Health Organization (WHO) agency appeals for unhindered access as 29 children and newborns have died mainly from hypothermia at camp in Syria, over eight weeks, has said. The camp’s population increased significantly after about 23,000 people fleeing fighting in Deir Az Zorbetween the ISIS group and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance have arrived at al-Hol camp during the period, WHO said on Thursday. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: sentenced to death a 39-year-old woman from the Philippines after she was found guilty of a murder committed in 2015. Saudi Arabia is ranked among the top five executioners in the world. In 2018, the Gulf kingdom executed 143 people, according to the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights. (Al Jazeera)

European Union: The EU will establish an international contact group to mediate the Venezuelan crisis, but it will leave the decision to member states as to whether they should recognise Juan Guaidó as President, EU28 agreed on Thursday. The EU will not follow the European Parliament’s decision to recognise Guidó by default, as “the authority to do so is not in the European Union, it is in the member states,” High Representative Federica Mogherini said after meeting Foreign Affairs ministers in an informal gathering in Bucharest. (BBC)

Iran: Preparations are under way in Iran to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution on Friday. The Islamic Republic of Iran was created after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile. In the weeks that followed, Khomeini’s followers overthrew the Shah of Iran’s dynasty. (Al Jazeera)   

Israel: Five Israeli soldiers were charged with beating two handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees, according to an indictment filed in an Israeli military court on Thursday. The soldiers, whose names were redacted from the indictment, are charged with abuse and aggravated assault. According to the indictment, on a day in early January the soldiers punched, slapped, kicked and beat the two detainees, hitting them in their head, face, chest, legs and more. The detainees were arrested as part of a military sweep following the killing of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian gunman at a bus stop in the West Bank in December. (CNN)

Friday, 1 February 2019

Lebanon: Prime Minister Saad Hariri to head new government formed eight months after the elections. announced the formation of a government on Thursday ending over eight months of wrangling amid heightened fears of a major economic collapse. The Western-backed Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who will head a 30-member cabinet, now faces a big challenge in delivering the reforms needed to address dire public finances and unlock billions of dollars in pledged aid and loans to boost growth. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has ceased all assistance to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, according to a US official. The decision announced on Friday was linked to a January 31 deadline set by new US legislation under which foreign aid recipients would be more exposed to anti-terrorism lawsuits. It was unclear how long the cessation would be in effect. (Al Jazeera)

Iran: Britain, France and Germany on Thursday launched a trade mechanism to bypass US sanctions on Iran, drawing praise from Tehran – and a warning from Washington. Brussels hopes the long-awaited special payment system will help save the Iran nuclear deal by allowing Tehran to keep trading with EU companies despite Washington reimposing sanctions after President Donald Trump abruptly quit the accord last year. (Euractiv)

Italy: Italy’s economy tipped into recession at the end of last year, according to latest figures. In the final three months of 2018, the economy shrank by 0.2%, following a 0.1% decline in the third quarter, the Istat statistics office said. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the contraction was likely to continue into 2019. Meanwhile, figures from the EU showed economic growth in the 19-country eurozone still languishing. Growth in the euro area remained at 0.2% in the final quarter of 2018, the same as the previous quarter and in line with analysts’ expectations. The figures, issued by the Eurostat agency, showed that in the 28-nation EU as a whole, fourth-quarter growth was 0.3%. (BBC)

Syria: ISIS has been reduced to 1.5 square miles in Syria. This is its final stand. On a remote stretch of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria, the so-called Islamic State is fighting its last stand. A realm that once stretched from western Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad is, according to a senior SDF commander who spoke to CNN on condition on anonymity, a mere four square kilometers. (CNN)

Italy: The migrant rescue organization Sea-Watch has accused Italian authorities of inventing irregularities to block its ship from leaving the port of Catania, delaying its return to patrolling the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian Coast Guard said Friday that the ship would be prevented from leaving until it rectified “safety of navigation” faults and other issues. On Thursday, after waiting for nearly two weeks for the Italian government’s permission to come ashore, Sea-Watch 3 disembarked 47 migrants in Catania. The impasse ended after five European countries offered to take in the migrants — an ad hoc solution that has become increasingly common since Italy’s hardline Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, closed the country’s ports to migrant boats last June. (CNN)

Europe: A revision of the European Parliament’s rules of procedure, which was adopted on 31 January, increases transparency obligations for meetings between elected officials and lobbies, despite the EPP’s attempts to scupper the amendment. (Euractiv)