Week of April 9th

The United States, joined by European allies France and England, launched airstrikes on Friday night against Syrian research, storage and military targets as President Trump sought to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus the previous weekend that killed more than 40 people. The coordinated strikes were deliberate and brief, hitting three specific sites believed to be connected to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The American president and Department of Defense and other officials have publicly argued that American involvement in the Syria conflict is solely for the purpose of defeating the Islamic State but this was the second airstrike following reports of alleged gas attacks on the Syrian people by the regime. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Friday night that there were no more attacks planned unless Mr. Assad again uses gas on his own people. Among the weapons used during the assault, U.S. forces fired 66 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 19 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles Extended Range, or JASSM-ER, which made its combat debut in the early morning strikes. The cost of those weapons is an estimated $119 million

Department of Defense Image.

The United Arab Emirates received some good press over the past week. The UAE cabinet approved a bill guaranteeing equal pay for men and women as the Gulf nation strives to bring more females into its workforce. “We don’t want any exceptions to equal opportunities between the sexes,” U.A.E. Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said on Twitter. A 2017 ranking by The World Economic Forum shows the Middle East lags behind other regions on gender equality in its global index — the UAE ranks 120th on a list of 144 countries with Yemen coming last, but it is the best performing country in the region after Tunisia and Bahrain. There are many signs of progress: women make up 66% of public sector workers and constitute 46.6% of the country’s labor force.

The Emirates received more accolades when it was named last week as the world’s largest donor of development assistance in proportion to its gross national income for the fifth year running, according to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. Up to 54 percent of the value of the aid is non-refundable grants that are aimed at supporting the developmental plans of the beneficiaries, which totalled 147 countries, 40 of which are among the least developed in different world continents. The minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation,  H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, credited the country’s leadership for its generous contributions to all international development arenas and, in particular, to sustainable development efforts and humanitarian response to global crises and disasters. The UAE support secured, he said, the lives of millions of people around the world, establishing international peace and security, creating better opportunities and a brighter future for people in developing countries.

According to State Department figures, the United States has accepted 11 Syrian refugees in 2018. By comparison, over the same 3 1/2-month period in 2016, the U.S. accepted 790. National Public Radio reported that arrivals have slowed because of additional vetting measures of refugee applicants, as well as a series of executive orders temporarily barring travel from several Muslim-majority countries and suspending refugees admissions from around the world. Trump administration officials have said that tougher vetting of visitors and refugees was needed because of national security concerns.

As you may know, soccer is a big deal in the Middle East. This Washington Post article explores how violence between different “clubs” of fans — known as Ultas — of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly team and police has escalated over the past several years to the point that spectators have even been banned from matches. Protests and stampedes have resulted in deaths, and attempts at reconciliation have been unsuccessful, though new efforts are underway. The article notes how the Ultras and their clashes with police are a potent example of how soccer and politics mix in Egypt — the Ultras played a key role in the uprising that toppled long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. They fought police for months in street clashes that followed.

We also recommend another fascinating piece on identity politics from the Washington Post that explores the increased participation of Muslim Americans in local politics since the election of President Trump:

More than 90 American Muslims, nearly all of them Democrats, are running for public office across the country this year. Many are young and politically inexperienced, and most are long shots. But they represent a collective gamble: that voters are so disgusted by America’s least popular president on record that they’re willing to elect members of America’s least popular religious minority group. Although their number seems small, the candidacies mark an unprecedented rise for the nation’s diverse Muslim community that typically has been underrepresented in American politics.

See you next week!

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