Here are some of the news highlights from both Western and Middle Eastern media sources over the past week:
- On Monday, President Trump welcomed embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, DC, where the latter was scheduled to give a keynote address at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting. At their meeting, Trump shared that the U.S. plan to open its interim embassy in Jerusalem by May until a billion dollar new complex is built. Netanyahu has heaped praise upon the American president for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as the embassy move which have served to reinforce Netanyahu’s uncompromising Israeli nationalism. Of Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “This will be remembered by our people through the ages. Others talked about it. You did it.” There was no discussion during their open meeting at the White House of their respective struggles – Netanyahu faces corruption allegations while Trump’s personal affairs and unorthodox leadership style continue to garner uncomfortable scrutiny. “We have, I would say, probably the best relationships right now with Israel that we ever had,” Trump said. “I think we’re as close now as, maybe, ever before.”
- On Wednesday Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, issued a decree establishing a public prosecution and specialized judicial departments to handle crimes against domestic workers. This is a result of years of criticism from the international society towards the government for not taking enough action against the exploitation of foreign labor. Together with a new law adopted in 2017, which for the first time served to protect domestic workers, global rights organization Human Rights Watch considers the bill a step forward.
- Also on Wednesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in London for a state visit that included a lunch with Queen Elizabeth and a dinner with Prince Charles and Prince William. The state visit was criticized by those who disagree with Saudi Arabia’s role in regional conflicts and the UK’s role as a key military supplier to Saudi Arabia; arms exports have grown remarkably since a Saudi-led coalition began fighting Shia rebels in Yemen three years ago. The visit turned into a PR battle between a Saudi advertising firm that launched a vigorous media campaign welcoming the prince and lauding his achievements, and various organizations who expressed their opposition through protests and signs that, among other criticisms, accused Mohammed of being a “war criminal.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir went on the defensive in an interview with BBC, insisting that the Saudi presence in Yemen is justified: “I believe [opposition group’s] positions are based on misunderstanding and not knowing. They criticize us for a war in Yemen that we did not want, that was imposed on us. They criticize us for a war in Yemen that is a just war, that is supported by international law. They criticize us for the casualties in Yemen when it was imposed on us by the Houthis.”
- On Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, declared he will not negotiate with the West on the republic’s military presence and activity in the Middle East. This comes after France’s foreign minister visited Tehran with hopes that Iran will pull back its missile program and influence in the region. The supreme leader issued a statement claiming the West should stay out of affairs in the Middle East and that Iran will only negotiate with its neighbors in the region, not the United States or other European countries.
- A Moscow-based security firm, Sofacy, was accused Friday, March 9, of being behind attacks on government, military, and scientific technologies in the Middle East. The Department of Homeland Security recently banned the federal use of Sofacy cyber security projects because of their connection with the Russian government and potential influence in the 2016 election. As new reports claim the group has utilized their operations for hacking entities in the Middle East, the security firm is now considered a global cyber-security threat because it employs cyber warfare in addition to other types of technological services.
- The Qatari market is expected to become self-sufficient in dairy products by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in about two months. In an effort to overcome the Gulf crisis that has resulted in an air, sea and land blockade imposed on it by four Arab countries since June 2017, Qatari dairy firm Baladna imported thousands of cows from Europe and the US and is now in a position to fulfill the demand of the local market.
And, if all the troubles in the world sometimes gets you feeling a bit low, perhaps the United Arab Emirates has found the solution. On Saturday, the country announced that it will be holding a five-day Journey of Happiness beginning March 15th, culminating with the celebration of the International Day of Happiness. This phase of the Journey of Happiness is inspired by the legacy and values of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the Emirates. The initiative aims to support the UAE’s efforts in achieving a better quality of life for the community by establishing happiness and positivity as a way of life and thinking. The Journey of Happiness focuses on five themes: Mental Health, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Food and Arts. So, take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of your week.