Weekly News 7 – 11 January 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 7 January 2019

Jordan: Recent violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces mark a serious shift in the country’s wave of social unrest, sparked by economic and political concerns. It has been a year marked by an unprecedented wave of street protests over harsh economic conditions for Jordan, 2018 saw the return of scenes from the Arab Spring wave that hit the region back in 2011. Protesters are also calling on the government to cancel the country’s cybercrime law, which imposes harsh penalties on social media activists, and for the release of detainees who took part in previous protests. (Middle East Eye

Serbia: Thousands of Serbian protesters gathered again on Saturday in Belgrade for new anti-government protest, warning that they will not give up their demands. Protesters also demand an investigation into the attempted murder of Serbian website Zig Info journalist Milan Jovanovic whose home was torched in the Belgrade suburb of Vrcin on December 12. (Balkan Insight)

Saudi Arabia: An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend has left Bangkok airport “under the care” of the UN refugee agency, the head of Thailand’s immigration police says. Thai immigration officials had tried to return Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to Kuwait, where her family is. But she refused to board a flight on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room. She said she feared her family would kill her as she had renounced Islam. (BBC)

Sudan: Government said on Monday it had detained more than 800 people since protests began nearly three weeks ago in the most persistent challenge to President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule. The figure, the first given by authorities since the unrest erupted, was far below the assessment of a leading human rights activist who said about 2,000 people were detained. In a report to parliament, Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman added that 381 demonstrations had taken place, 127 police officers were injured during the demonstrations, 14 police bases and more than 100 police cars had been burned around Sudan. Authorities say 19 people, including two security officials, have died, while global rights group Amnesty International said on Dec. 24 it had credible reports 37 protesters had been killed by bullets from security forces. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Syria: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly rejected US calls for his country to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria. Erdogan said such statements made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton at the weekend were “unacceptable”. Mr Bolton was in Ankara to seek guarantees that a Kurdish militia battling the Islamic State group would be safe after US troops pulled out. Turkey regards the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist group. (BBC)

Lebanon: A severe winter storm hitting Lebanon is adding to the misery of Syrian refugees. At least 170,000 of the one million refugees registered with the UN are particularly vulnerable, living as they do in informal shelters. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen: Lack of specific orders results in continued fighting around Red Sea port city of Hodeidah as 21-day deadline expires. The UN’s peace deal for Hodeidah, in war-ravaged Yemen, is unravelling because the text lacked specifics on how rebel forces should vacate the Red Sea port city, the British charity Oxfam says. “The UN should have made clear these basic issues that go to the heart of the agreement: who needs to hand over what and to whom.” Under the terms of the UN-brokered deal, the Houthis were expected to hand over control of the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa, to “local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law”. (Al Jazeera)

France: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced plans to punish people who hold unsanctioned protests after seven weeks of anti-government unrest. He said 80,000 members of the security forces would be deployed for the next expected wave of protests. Protesters smashed down the gates to a government office this weekend. In other chaotic scenes in Paris, demonstrators fought riot police, and cars and motorbikes were burnt. (BBC)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Saudi Arabia: The cases of Saudi stand-up comedian Fahad al-Butairi and his wife, Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s right-to-drive activist, who were arrested in 2018, has resurfaced debate on kingdom’s crackdown on dissidents following a Twitter thread detailing their disappearance. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have hatched a plan with Israel to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League to marginalise the regional influence of Turkey and Iran, Middle East Eye can exclusively reveal. The diplomatic initiative was agreed at a secret meeting held in a Gulf capital last month which was attended by senior intelligence officials from the four countries including Yossi Cohen, the director of Mossad, Gulf sources with knowledge of the meeting have told MEE. (Middle East Eye)

Spain: The demands made by the far-right party Vox in exchange for supporting a center-right government in Spain’s southern Andalusia region have been described as “unacceptable” by other parties. Vox has a list of 19 demands that include the repeal of regional legislation affording special protection to women and LGTBI groups, and the creation of new laws to protect bullfighting, hunting and “popular culture and traditions.” It also wants to deport 52,000 undocumented migrants and eliminate public subsidies for “supremacist feminism” and for “Islamic associations”. (El País)

France: A former French boxing champion who was filmed punching police officers during a gilets jaunes protest has received more than €100,000 in public donations online, angering the government. The online fundraising platform Leetchi received €114,000 for Christophe Dettinger before the site closed the donation page after politicians expressed outrage on Tuesday. The 37-year-old, a French light-heavyweight champion in 2007 and 2008 who retired from the sport in 2013, said in a video that he had “boiled over” after being teargassed with his wife on his eighth Saturday protest. (The Guardian)

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Egypt: In a speech at the American University in Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dispensed with a U.S. diplomatic tradition of avoiding public airing abroad of domestic disputes by blasting Barack Obama at the site of a landmark 2009 speech by Trump’s predecessor aimed at improving relations with the Islamic world. Pompeo accused Obama of sowing chaos by abandoning the Middle East to Islamist militants and Iranian influence in a blistering critique of the former president’s policies even as Pompeo’s boss, President Donald Trump, moves to pull American troops out of Syria. (Reuters)

UK: A no-deal Brexit would have profound economic consequences with GDP shrinking by up to 8%, putting thousands of jobs at risk, the Confederation of British Industry is to warn. The business body is urging MPs to back Theresa May’s deal, describing it as a “solution” businesses can work with as it delivers a transition period and avoids a “hugely damaging cliff edge”. It says if parliament does not agree, it must immediately outline its plan to avert no deal and secure British jobs. (The Guardian)

France: Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network, the interior minister has said. Christophe Castaner said the wilful damage was a threat to road safety and put lives in danger. Some protesters feel speed cameras are solely a revenue-generating measure which takes money from the poor. But the extent of the damage was unknown until Mr Castaner’s statement on Thursday. He said the devices had been “neutralised, attacked, or destroyed” by members of the protest movement. (CNN)

Friday, 11 January 2019

UK: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stepped up calls for a general election “at the earliest opportunity” to “break the deadlock” over Brexit. In a speech, he said a new government would have a fresh mandate to negotiate a better withdrawal deal with the EU. (BBC)

Hungary: Hungary’s Viktor Orban hopes a right-wing alliance can help gain an anti-migrant majority in the European Parliament to counter France and Germany. The alliance was pitched by Italy’s Matteo Salvini, whom Orban described as a “hero.” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said during a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday that Italy and Poland should join forces in a euroskeptic alliance. Orban on Thursday pledged his full support for an Italian-Polish initiative to form a right-wing alliance for European Parliament elections due in May. (Deutsche Welle)

Gaza: Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian woman during Gaza border protests on Friday, medics said, and the military said it opened fire in response to grenade and rock attacks and breaches of the frontier. Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said 25 other Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire during the mass demonstration, a weekly event along the border since March 30. (Reuters)