Week of November 20th

  • On Monday, a video appearing to show African migrants sold as slaves in Libya sparked a global outcry as protests erupted in Europe and Africa, while soccer stars made impassioned pleas to U.N. officials for the abuse to end. Two young men stand in the dark as an auctioneer shouts out prices in the footage published by news network CNN last week, appearing to sell them for the equivalent of about $400 each. Young African men bound for Europe are frequently caught in trafficking networks and sold for labor in Libya, where many migrants are detained, tortured, and even killed, according to the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM).
  • Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon is NOT resigning after all. On Wednesday, he backtracked on his publicly televised resignation with a statement to supporters from his home in Beirut. He returned after a brief stay in France and several weeks in Saudi Arabia, which prompted many to believe he was being held against his will. The unusual events of his time in Riyadh prompted suspicions that Saudi Arabia was exerting unusual amounts of pressure Hariri. “I am staying with you and will continue with you … to be a line of defense for Lebanon, Lebanon’s stability and Lebanon’s Arabism,” he said, according to a translation from Reuters. The confusing affair is related to Saudi Arabia’s continued quest for dominance in a region which is increasingly influenced and powered by Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia will begin issuing tourist visas in 2018. Visas were previously restricted to people traveling to the country for work or to visit its holy sites. Attracting tourists is a central plank of the country’s plan to reduce its reliance on oil. It’s aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016, and it wants annual tourism spending to hit $47 billion by 2020. Some visitors could struggle with the country’s strict dress codes and rules on gender segregation. The kingdom is investing in planned cities, resorts and theme parks, and focusing on its natural and historical wonder to attract tourists. A case in point: in an interview with the New York Times, powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman called Iran’s supreme leader ‘the new Hitler’.
  • On Friday, Moroccans prayed for rain “as a mercy from God” under a royal decree, having suffered from a severe rainfall shortage since the end of the summer. Moroccan university studies show that temperatures have risen by up to 4ºC since the 1960s and annual rainfall has been on the decline. The drought has hit cereal production this season and could force the country of 35 million inhabitants to resort to imports. King Mohammed VI, in his official capacity as “commander of the faithful”, called for prayers in all Moroccan mosques “to implore the Almighty to spread his benevolent rains on the earth”, the ministry of Islamic affairs said. The weather has become a major topic of conversation across the country, 40 per cent of whose population depend on agriculture for their livelihood and where the sector accounts for more than 15 per cent of GDP.
  • Also on Friday, during packed weekly prayers, dozens of men wearing military combat uniforms and armed with automatic machine guns carried out the deadly assault on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai that led to the deaths of over 300 people, Egyptian authorities said. Twenty-five to 30 attackers arrived in five SUVs at the al Rawdah Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed. Some wore masks and at least one was carrying an ISIS flag, the state prosecutor told state-run Nile TV in a statement. They positioned themselves at the building’s entrances and the front of the mosque shortly before the massive gunfire and loud explosions rang out. There has been no claim of responsibility from ISIS or its affiliate in Egypt. However, the attack bears the hallmarks of a strike by ISIS. The group maintains a foothold in the north of the Sinai Peninsula and inspires local Islamist extremist groups despite the efforts of Egyptian security forces. President Sisi has expressed concern recently that ISIS militants fleeing Iraq and Syria would come to Egypt.
  • Back in the U.S., the Trump administration quietly reversed its decision to close the PLO office in Washington over a courts issue, amid concerns the move would jeopardize President Trump’s larger, ambitious effort to achieve Middle East peace. Last week, U.S. officials said the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in the nation’s capital must close, in accordance with a U.S. law related to the Palestinians having tried to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis.
  • On Sunday, much-needed aid was allowed to dock in Yemen’s Hodeidah port in the Red Sea on Sunday, the first after more than two weeks of a blockade by a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi movement, local officials said. Saudi Arabia and its allies closed air, land and sea access to the Arabian Peninsula country on Nov. 6, to stop what it calls a flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired towards its capital Riyadh. Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons. The delivery is the first aid to arrive through Hodeidah port, controlled by the Houthis, after the coalition allowed a flight carrying humanitarian aid workers to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Saturday.
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