The Week of October 30th, 2017

This past week was especially eventful in the Middle East, demonstrating just how interconnected and messy the region remains. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of (most of) that went down:

On Monday, Israel blew up a tunnel leading into the country from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 7 Palestinians including members of Hamas and an Islamic Jihad commander. An Israeli military spokesman called the tunnel a “grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty”. The incident occurred as the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah attempt to fulfill a reconciliation deal signed earlier this month aimed at ending a decade-long rift.

On Tuesday, a renowned Jordanian cartoonist, Emad Hajjaj, was questioned by the general prosecutor of Amman after his work offended Christians and Muslims alike. The cartoon depicted Jesus Christ criticizing the Greek Orthodox Church for selling land in Jerusalem to Israeli developers. Hajjaj could face charges of insulting religion and inciting sectarian strife and if convicted could be sent to prison for up to three years.

Wednesday was the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration in which a British foreign secretary committed his country’s support for an Israeli homeland in the area of Palestine which was at that time, 90% Arab. In his letter to a prominent British Zionist, Balfour noted that it must be “understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The letter became the legal basis for the existence of the state of Israel, although it was not established until 1948. British Prime Minister Theresa May hosted her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, at a dinner celebration to mark the occasion.

That same day, the Birthright Israel program that provides expense-paid trips to Israel for young Jews across the world, announced that it would no longer include conversations with Arab Israelis in its itinerary. The program added the meetings to its itineraries two years ago to provide the young adults participating with a wider view of Israeli society. Birthright explained that the “results of [an] initial evaluation have shown that there is a need for further analysis of this module in the context of the educational trip as a whole.” Critics claimed the meetings were needed to expose participants to multiple segments of Israeli society.

On Friday, the Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles. The city is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production. The army, backed by Russian bombers, Iran and Shiite militias, is advancing toward the last significant town held by Islamic State in Syria – Albu Kamal – which is located on the western bank of the Euphrates.

On Saturday, arguably the week’s most newsworthy day, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said that he had quit his post, blaming Iran for interference in Arab affairs and throwing his country into further uncertainty. The move was widely seen as having been orchestrated the Saudis, Mr. Hariri’s patrons, to isolate Hezbollah by collapsing Lebanon’s national unity government, which included both it and Mr. Hariri’s Sunni faction. Saudi Arabia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to curb Iran’s growing dominance in the region. Following the announcement, Bahrain ordered its citizens to depart from Lebanon and cautioned against citizens traveling to the Mediterranean country. Hariri claimed his decision was based on fears of assassination by Iranian influences. 

Meanwhile, in Iran, thousands of demonstrators marched with a missile in Tehran to mark the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover by Iranian student revolutionaries   The 1979 event triggered a 444-day hostage crisis and sparked the decades-old rift in U.S.-Iranian relations.  The former embassy compound is known locally as the “den of espionage,” and protests take place in front of it annually. The Qadr, one of Iran’s most powerful missiles, was displayed along with anti-U.S. and anti-Israel signs and chanting.

Yemeni rebels targeted the King Khalid international airport in Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, with a ballistic missile, according to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry. The missile was intercepted over northeast Riyadh according to the the Saudi Ministry of Defense and the airport was not affected. Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of states against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who toppled Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015.

But, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman once again stole the show on Saturday. The ruler-in-training caught the world by surprise after a midnight blitz of arrests ensnared dozens of the country’s most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what by Sunday appeared to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades. The arrests, without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. Those arrested included both the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most potent remaining rival to the crown prince’s power: Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah. Whether the shakeup is part of bin Salman’s ambitious reform plans or is more indicative of his plan to consolidate power in his favor, or a combination of the two, is yet to be determined.

We will go ahead and stop there. Stay tuned for more developments!


The Week of October 23rd

On Monday, Iraq and the United Nations launched a campaign to vaccinate nearly one million livestock in the Mosul area over fears the animals may be carrying diseases, as they have not been vaccinated since Islamic State seized the city in 2014.  The diseases that could spread include brucellosis, a bacterial disease transmitted to humans through contaminated or unpasteurized milk of infected animals, and foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease affecting hoofed animals but not a direct threat to humans. Some 12 million Iraqis – about a third of the population – live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods with cattle, goats and sheep raised for meat, wool, milk and skin production, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

On Tuesday, a security consultancy, the Soufan Group, said at least 5,600 IS fighters from 33 countries have returned to their home countries after spending time in IS-controlled territory in both Syria and Iraq. The potential return of unknown numbers of foreign fighters represents a huge challenge for law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, the extent to which displaced fighters will “wish to regroup, resurge, recruit and recreate what they have lost, is as yet unknown.”  More than 40,000 foreigners flocked to join IS from more than 110 countries both before and after the extremists declared a caliphate in June 2014. It said they included 5,718 from Western Europe, more than 8,700 from the former Soviet Union and 439 from North America.

In addition to the June 2018 lifting of the ban on women driving, Saudi Arabia will also for the first time allow women to attend sports events, preparing special sections in three selected stadiums from early next year in another step toward opening public spaces to women. The stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh will be set up to accommodate families from early 2018, said the statement from the General Sports Authority, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency late on Sunday.

The next round of Astana talks on the Syria conflict  will take place on Oct 30-31 in Kazakhstan, as part of a Moscow-led push to end the six-year conflict. The two-day meeting, which will take place in the Kazakh capital, will be the seventh round of negotiations this year that are co-sponsored by regime backers Russia and Iran, and rebel supporter Turkey. The meeting is expected to call for a cessation of hostilities between anti-government groups and forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, for a period of at least six months. The plan, which has not yet been published, will call for all aircraft to be banned from flying over these areas, rendering them no-fly zones. Sources have said the meeting will also discuss the release of hostages, prisoners, delivery of food and aid to besieged areas, the transfer of dead bodies and the search for missing persons.

On Sunday, Israeli officials announced the government has delayed a bill that would connect a number of West Bank settlements to Jerusalem. The bill aims to solidify the city’s Jewish majority, but stops short of formal annexation, making the practical implications unclear. The bill says the communities would be considered “daughter municipalities” of Jerusalem. Israel’s hard-line government has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s more sympathetic approach to Israel and the draft bill is part of a series of pro-settler steps the government has taken in recent months. Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to remain in President Donald Trump’s good graces and claimed Israel needs to coordinate the bill with the U.S.: “The Americans turned to us and inquired what the bill was about. As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth (to continue) talking and coordinating with them. We are working to promote and develop the settlement enterprise.”

The Week of October 16th

Israeli lawmakers want to tighten a ban on the employment of underweight models and on the undeclared digital slimming-down of fashion images, amid concern that the measures are being routinely flouted even as they are adopted abroad. The fashion industry’s use of wafer-thin models has long been the subject of heated debate worldwide. Critics say the practice promotes an unhealthy body image among women, which can contribute to triggering anorexia and other eating disorders and a preoccupation with unrealistic measures of perfection. Israel in 2012 became the first country to pass a law requiring advertisers explicitly to identify pictures with photoshopped people and prohibiting the use of models below a certain body mass index (BMI), a measure which expresses a ratio of weight to height.

On Monday, a press release from a Thomas Reuters Foundation international poll shared that Cairo is the most dangerous megacity for women. Women’s rights experts in the country say the treatment of women in the Egyptian capital has worsened since a 2011 uprising seeking social change. Cairo came out worst when pollsters asked experts on women’s issues in 19 megacities how well women are protected from sexual violence, harmful cultural practices, and about access to healthcare and finance. Women’s rights campaigners and commentators said women in Cairo faced daily harassment while a weakened economy and high unemployment since the uprising had eroded economic opportunities for women and seen health services deteriorate. “The economy has become so bad in the last two, three years that we are suffering a setback in the thinking that women’s issues are not a priority,” said Omaima Abou-Bakr, co-founder of Women and Memory Forum, a non-government organisation set up to fight misconceptions of Arab women.

On Thursday, a Kurdish female militia that took part in freeing the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group said it will continue the fight to liberate women from the extremists’ brutal rule. In a highly symbolic gesture, Nisreen Abdullah of the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, made the statement in Raqqa’s Paradise Square — the same place where IS fighters once carried out public killings. She said the all-women force, which is part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battling IS, lost 30 fighters in the four-month battle to liberate Raqqa. Raqqa was center stage of IS’ brutality, the de facto capital of the militants self-proclaimed “caliphate.”

“We have achieved our goal, which was to pound the strongholds of terrorism in its capital, liberate women and restore honor to Yazidi women by liberating dozens of slaves,” Abdullah said. The success of the predominantly-Kurdish SDF poses a challenge to a post-ISIS Syria; remaining in Syria to protect its Kurdish allies risks embroiling the United States in possible future conflicts between Arabs and Kurds, and between Turkey and Kurds.

Suicide bombers struck two mosques in Afghanistan during Friday prayers, a Shiite mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in western Ghor province, killing at least 63 people at the end of a particularly deadly week for the troubled nation. Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a counterterrorism and support role. Local residents believed Afghanistan’s IS affiliate was behind the Shiite mosque attack, but no group immediately claimed responsibility for either attack.

U.S.-backed forces seized control of Syria’s biggest oil field on Sunday, in an indication of the coming race between the Syrian government, and its Russian and Iranian allies, and opposition forces to claim valuable territory left behind after the ongoing defeat of ISIS. Kurds and Arabs fighting under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces captured the al-Omar oil field in Deir al-Zour province after charging about 60 miles through the desert and launching a surprise assault, according to U.S. military and SDF officials. Deir al-Zour is where most of Syria’s oil is located, and it is emerging as a key front in the wider war for influence in the Middle East. The capture of al-Omar gives the Kurdish-led SDF control over a vital strategic asset that could serve to give it leverage in any future negotiations over the status of Kurds in Syria. It also risks triggering a confrontation with the Syrian government, potentially drawing the United States into a fight with Syria, Russia and Iran.

The Week of October 9th

On Monday, both the United States and Turkey suspended all non-immigrant visa services for travel between the two countries, after the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee in Istanbul the previous week. With some exceptions, the move effectively blocks Turks from travel to the United States, and vice versa, indefinitely. “Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of U.S. mission and personnel,” the statement by the U.S. mission in Ankara said. The Turkish embassy said the measure, effective immediately, would “apply to visas in passports as well as e-Visas and visas acquired at the border.” The U.S. move, meanwhile, means that Turks will not be issued visas to visit the United States unless they plan to move there.

On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. In an agreement brokered by Egypt, the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as a terrorist group by Western countries and Israel, signed a reconciliation deal in which Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza to a Fatah-backed government a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction. One point of concern was how the 25,000 strong Hamas police force would be integrated into a Fatah-led government. The agreement calls for Abbas’s presidential guard to assume responsibility of the Rafah crossing on Nov. 1, and for the full handover of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government to be completed by Dec. 1.

Also on Thursday, the State Department announced that the United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year to stop accumulating unpaid dues and make a stand on what it said is anti-Israel bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization. . The announcement was followed a few hours later by news that Israel was also planning to quit the financially struggling cultural and educational agency. In a statement Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, welcomed the US move saying: “This is a brave and moral decision, because Unesco has become a theatre of absurd. Instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

On Friday, news of the discovery of Arabic characters that spell “Allah” and “Ali” on Viking funeral costumes in boat graves in Sweden raised questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia. The grave where the costumes were found belonged to a woman dressed in silk burial clothes and was excavated from a field in Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm, in the 1970s, but its contents were not cataloged until a few years ago, according to a textile archaeologist who was working on an exhibit when she discovered Kufic characters of Arabic. Analysis of the material, the weaving techniques and design indicated a combination of Persian and Central Asian origins. Trade was common between the Vikings and the Arabs in the 9th century but the findings in the graves point to the possibility of a deeper cultural connection and shared worldview.

Also on Friday, the World Health Organization shared a press release about the destruction of tens of thousands of vaccines in Syria. WHO received reports of an attack on medical facilities that destroyed the only vaccines cold room in al-Mayadeen district, Deir Ezzor Governorate. More than 100,000 doses of measles vaccines and 35,000 doses of polio vaccines were stored in these facilities, alongside equipment, syringes, and stocks for all vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. If confirmed, this would set back the efforts of WHO and health partners to protect the children of Deir Ezzor from preventable childhood diseases, including polio.

Lastly, as part of Amman (Jordan) Design Week, local curators organized an exhibit on traditional food preservation practices and benefitsTaking the visitors on a journey through the history and customs of food preservation used in Jordan, the exhibit featured some of the main conservation techniques including salting, pickling, sugaring, drying, fermenting and roasting. “Most of those techniques originate from the Levantine region, where locals needed to preserve their harvests from going to waste,” the organizer noted, citing the intrinsic link between food preservation and crafts. ADW was launched in 2016 by Queen Rania; this year field visits and mobile experiments were used to reach more members of the public.

The Week of September 25th

Some needed positive news came from the Middle East on Wednesday when King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced that the country will allow women to drive cars beginning in June 2018. The prohibition is considered a social issue in the kingdom, as there is no actual law or religious edict that prohibits it. For years, the topic has been the center of extensive debate in government, media and social circles. The bold move marks the latest in a string of social and economic reforms underway in the country.

The Palestinian Authority has been allowed to join Interpol, the international police organization despite significant diplomatic pressure from the United States and Israel. Israel argued that Palestinian inclusion in Interpol would endanger Israeli military officials and politicians, who could face arbitrary international arrest orders, and would put at risk classified intelligence shared among the organization’s 192 member states, allowing it to be transmitted to Palestinian terrorists. Israel argued that the Palestinian Authority does not meet Interpol’s requirements to qualify as a state. In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly elevated the Palestinian Authority’s observer status from “entity” to “non-member state,” similar to the Vatican.

Israel’s leadership is likely to also be unhappy to learn that the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner began sending letters two weeks ago to 150 companies in Israel and around the world, warning them that they are about to be added to a database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The letters alleged that said these firms were doing business in the “occupied Palestinian territories” and could thus find themselves on the UN blacklist for companies acting in violation of “internal law and UN decisions.” The letters, copies of which also reached the Israeli government, request that these firms send the commission clarifications about their business activities in settlements. Of the 150 companies, 30 are American, and a number are from countries including Germany, South Korea and Norway. The remaining half are Israeli companies. Companies contacted include Caterpillar,, TripAdvisor and Airbnb. The Trump administration is trying to work with the UN Commission on Human Rights to prevent the list’s publication.

Several people have been arrested in Egypt on charges of debauchery and  “promoting sexual deviancy” after photographs emerged of fans holding up a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila performance last week. The Lebanese band is known for its anti-establishment positions on a range of issues which has led to its being banned from a number of Arab & Muslim countries. The display of the flag was a rare public show of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the conservative Muslim country. The crackdown has since expanded to include activists and others not present at the concert.

And, on Friday, in a surprise compromise, the top United Nations human rights body decided to establish an international team of experts to examine abuses in the Yemen war and seek to identify those responsible. The decision capped an intense spate of diplomacy that spared Saudi Arabia, which has led a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen for more than two years, from a formal panel of inquiry like the one investigating the war in Syria. The 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted the decision by consensus after three weeks of day-and-night negotiations over one of its most fiercely contested resolutions. Saudi Arabia had successfully blocked Dutch calls for an international inquiry into the war in Yemen last year. There were unconfirmed reports that the Saudis had threatened to retaliate against states that supported the Dutch position.

The Week of September 18th

In the week leading up to a referendum vote by the Kurdish Regional Government’s on support for an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, neighboring countries Iran and Turkey stepped up their military presence on their respective borders to express their opposition to the separatist bid. Turkish tanks carried out drills at the Iraqi border on Monday. Government officials in Ankara called the  referendum a threat to its national security. The exercises came as Turkey, the central government in Baghdad and their shared neighbor Iran all stepped up protests and warnings about the looming plebiscite in semi-autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq. A rough estimate by the CIA Factbook has Kurdish populations of 14.5 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, about 5 to 6 million in Iraq, and less than 2 million in Syria, which adds up to close to 28 million Kurds in Kurdistan and adjacent regions. The controversial referendum was expected to pass but KRG president Masoud Barzani says the vote is only meant to be a symbolic catalyst for negotiations rather than a call to action. The referendum has little international support with the exception of Israel.

On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that America will pay a “high cost” if US President Donald Trump makes good on his threats to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Speaking in an exclusive interview with CNN in New York, Rouhani said: “Exiting such an agreement would carry a high cost for the United States of America, and I do not believe Americans would be willing to pay such a high cost for something that will be useless for them.” Rouhani said such an action by the Trump administration “will yield no results for the United States but at the same time it will generally decrease and cut away and chip away at international trust placed in the Unites States of America.” Talks began in 2013 between Iran and the P1+5 (China, France, Russia, UK, US plus Germany) the EU, and the agreement was implemented in January 2016. The US extended sanctions relief for Iran last week as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which Trump has described as “the worst deal ever.” Other signatories of the agreement oppose any movement to end the deal.

Israel and the U.S. inaugurated the first American military base on Israeli soil on Monday, which will serve dozens of soldiers operating a missile defense system. The move comes at a time of growing Israeli concerns about archenemy Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Together with the U.S., Israel has developed a multilayered system of defenses against everything from long-range guided missile attacks from Iran to crude rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The base’s opening is largely symbolic and isn’t expected to bring operational changes. The Israeli military says that along with other measures, it sends a message of readiness to Israel’s enemies.

Saudi Arabia has allowed women into the national stadium for the first time as it launched celebrations to mark the 87th anniversary of its founding with an unprecedented array of concerts and performances. The festivities are part of a government bid to boost national pride and improve the quality of life for Saudis timed to coincide with Saturday’s national day. The events are part of the government’s Vision 2030 reform program launched two years ago to diversify the economy away from oil, create new sectors to employ young citizens and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.

A growing girl scouts movement will soon receive official recognition in Syria where the program has thrived in spite of the unique challenges of operations in a war zone. Six years of vicious conflict have devastated the country and left 45% of the population displaced. But throughout, girl scouts have continued to work in government-controlled areas, running camping trips as well as sessions on citizenship and self-esteem. This week, Scouts of Syria will become an official member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, while Arabic could become the organisation’s fourth official language – following English, French and Spanish. As well as playing games and singing, girls are taught about issues such as body confidence and preventing violence against women. Sessions on gender-based violence also include boy scouts. Scouts of Syria also works closely with the UN and Red Crescent to provide psycho-social support to traumatized young people.

Saudi Arabia’s education minister has apologized for the production of a school textbook in which the Star Wars character Yoda is seen superimposed on a photograph of the late King Faisal. Ahmed al-Issa said a committee was looking into the “unintended mistake.” The image, which shows the diminutive Jedi Master sitting beside King Faisal as he signs the UN Charter in 1945, was created by the Saudi artist Shaweesh. He told the BBC it was not yet clear how it had ended up in the textbook; however, he stressed that he had meant no offence to the king, who helped transform Saudi Arabia into a modern state and an actor on the world stage. A senior education official and several supervisors have since been fired and the textbooks withdrawn. Besides the photo-shopped image of Yoda, the dismissals were also prompted by other errors in various textbooks, including history, chemistry, English language and religious education.

The Week of September 11th

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the current government arrangement allowing for mass exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. The ruling redraws the battle lines over an issue that has long roiled Israeli society. The policy of open-ended deferment dates to 1949 when Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, exempted 400 religious students from military service in an effort to restore the tradition of yeshiva scholarship, which had been nearly destroyed during the Holocaust. The issue has since become tendentious, with the number of those who have been exempted by now amounting to tens of thousands. Those who support wholesale deferment and exemption for Torah students in seminaries argue that Israel needs spiritual preservation as much as physical protection. Critics protest that the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox minority, known in Hebrew as Haredim are not contributing enough to the country’s economy or security, leaving others to bear an unfair burden. Ultra-Orthodox politicians strongly denounced the ruling and vowed to fight it, but given the yearlong time frame for amending the law, the stability of the governing coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Yesh Atid, the party supporting the end of the exemption, did not appear to be in imminent danger.

Diplomats from Qatar and the four states boycotting it exchanged heated words at an Arab League meeting on Tuesday. Tensions flared after Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad al-Muraikhi discussed the boycott in his opening speech despite the Gulf dispute not being on the agenda. He called the Gulf monarchy’s critics “rabid dogs”. “Even the animals were not spared, you sent them out savagely,” Muraikhi said, referring to the thousands of camels left stranded on the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after borders were closed. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, suspending air and shipping routes with the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, which is home to the region’s biggest U.S. military base.

A Turkish consular official in Geneva announced a rare, ancient sarcophagus depicting the 12 labors of Hercules was to be shipped home to Turkey on Wednesday.. The sarcophagus sat for years in Geneva’s customs-office warehouse before being seized by Swiss customs officials in 2010. Ending a legal battle, the Geneva prosecutor’s office in 2015 approved the restitution. Consul Levant Ceri says the hulking relic will eventually be displayed in the Antalya Archaeological Museum. The second-century marble coffin shows scenes like Hercules strangling the Nemean Lion and killing the Hydra. It has been traced to the ancient Roman city of Dokimeion, believed to be in today’s Antalya province. Experts believe it is one of only 12 in the world. Read more about the 12 labors of Hercules here.

Tunisia has abolished a decades-old ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims. The announcement comes a month after President Beji Caid Essebsi called for the government to scrap the ban dating back to 1973. Until now a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Tunisian woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof. Tunisia is viewed as being ahead of most Arab countries on women’s rights, but there is still discrimination particularly in matters of inheritance.

The New York Times reported on Iran’s attempt to address the challenge of alcoholism in a country where it has been banned since 1979. Taboo in Islam, alcohol use in Iran has nonetheless flourished. Since 2015, however, when the Health Ministry ordered addiction treatment centers to care for alcoholics, dozens of private clinics and government institutions have opened help desks and special wards for alcoholics. The government has also allowed a large and growing network of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, modeled after those in the United States. President Rouhani, who came to power in 2013, has been trying to insert realism into Iran’s often strict ideology. The decision to open more alcohol treatment clinics came from his Health Ministry, and reflects the way many social changes are introduced in Iran: quietly ordered and carried out by local governments under the radar.

In the Kingdom of Jordan, the Judicial Council recently announced some notable new appointments, including that of Ihsan Zuhdi Barakat, the Amman Court of Appeal judge who has been promoted to the supreme court, becoming the first Jordanian woman to ever reach the highest position in the judiciary. According to the Jordan Times, Barakat has already made huge strides as a woman in the field of law, as she was the first woman in the kingdom to serve as Amman’s attorney general, the first to chair the West Amman Court, and the first to be appointed as an inspector at the Judicial Inspections Directorate. As of 2016, when women constituted 18% of the judiciary, Barakat was one of 176 other female judges in Jordan.

The Week of September 4th

On Tuesday, data from the World Health Organization and Yemen’s health ministry showed that Yemen’s cholera outbreak has infected 612,703 people and killed 2,048 since it began in April. Some districts are still reporting sharp rises in new cases despite beliefs that the epidemic had already peaked at 400,000, meaning it should be on its decline but new infections have surged in certain areas of the country. Save the Children, a charity running cholera treatment centers, said that suspected cases in Hodeidah governorate had jumped by 40 percent over the past three weeks amid heavy rains and a heatwave, and in some districts weekly caseloads were double their previous peaks. The United Nations has said the epidemic is man-made, driven by a civil war that has left 15.7 million people without clean water or sanitation. Cholera is spread through contaminated food and water.

On Wednesday, the U.S. military in Afghanistan apologized for distributing leaflets featuring an image “highly offensive” to Muslims. The leaflets dropped Tuesday night over parts of Parwan province showed the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, printed on the image of a dog, an animal viewed by many Muslims as unclean. The image shows a lion chasing a white dog that is meant to represent the flag of Taliban insurgents, which is white with the Shahada printed at the center. “Get your freedom from these terrorist dogs,” reads the Pashto-language text. “Help the coalition forces find these terrorists and eliminate them.” Maj. Gen. James Linder, a U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged in a statement that “the design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam. I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide.” Linder said the U.S. military was investigating how the leaflet was produced, and would “hold the responsible party accountable.” The mistake is of particular concern considering the length of time the United States has been in Afghanistan and therefore exposed to the country’s cultural norms and practices.

Subsequently, on Wednesday evening, a suicide bomber blew himself up just outside the U.S.-controlled Bagram military airbase, causing “a small number of casualties,” Afghan and U.S. officials said. The attack occurred at an entrance to the airbase, located in Parwan province about 60 kilometers north of Kabul, and was being investigated, said a U.S. military statement. The Taliban swiftly took credit for the violence, saying a suicide bomber riding a motorbike carried out the attack to take “revenge” on “American invaders” for insulting Islam through the leaflets.

A recent poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza indicates that a majority do not believe American President Donald Trump is genuinely interested in finding a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A total of 79.3% of Palestinians believe Trump is either somewhat or very unserious about renewing the negotiations, whereas 11.9% hold that the American president is either somewhat or very serious about reviving them. Since Trump entered the White House on January 20, he and a number of his aides have met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas many times, with the stated goal of achieving “a historic peace deal,” but they have yet to achieve a significant breakthrough with the two parties. Interestingly, the survey also found that a majority of Palestinians prefer peace talks to armed conflict with Israel. Other questions dealt with domestic Palestinian politics and who is to blame for the ongoing struggles in Gaza.

Women in Morocco can soon start authorizing marriages, divorces and a number of other legal contracts as well as assist judges, as part of judicial reforms starting in October, The New Arab reports. The marriage registrar, known as ma’zoon in Arabic, is traditionally a man, as Moroccan law forbade women from officiating marriage and divorce contracts. However, a recent decision to push for profound reforms to the justice system in Morocco – initiated by former minister of justice and liberties Mustafa al-Ramid – may see women starting to officiate marriage contracts for the first time in Moroccan history. The move comes against the backdrop of criticism from ultra-conservatives in the country who argue that the role of a ma’zoon is conditioned on “masculinity.” One male supporter of the changes, however, said, “Including women in the judicial system, and in positions such as marriage registrars, should only be based on their qualifications and experience, other than that, there are no reasons to prevent them from apply for such positions, and the constitution must defend their rights to work. Religious law does not stipulate the condition of ‘masculinity’ for officiating marriages, which confirms that Moroccan women can carry out the tasks just like men.” The new law will require the marriage registrar to be a Moroccan Muslim, have no criminal records and be in good health to carry out his or her duties.

Several prominent Saudi clerics were detained over the weekend in an apparent crackdown on potential opponents of the conservative kingdom’s absolute rulers amid widespread speculation that King Salman intends to abdicate in favor of his son. The three arrested are popular Islamists outside of the state-backed clerical establishment but have large online followings. The al-Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest internal threat to its rule over a country in which appeals to religious sentiment cannot be lightly dismissed and an al Qaeda campaign a decade ago killed hundreds. In the past two years, Crown Prince Mohammed has launched radical reforms to foster economic diversity and cultural openness, testing the kingdom’s traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus.

On Saturday, Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said it will file an “urgent complaint” against Israel with the United Nations Security Council. Lebanon said in a statement Saturday that Israel violated its air space when it conducted an airstrike against a Syrian government installation on Thursday. Israeli jets struck an installation that former Israeli military and intelligence officials said was producing weapons possibly bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Israel’s chief rival in the region. The Syrian army said at the time that two soldiers were killed.

The Week of August 28th

Jordan’s relations with Israel remain strained after an Israeli security officer shot a delivery driver at the embassy in Amman in July. The Jordanian government is reportedly refusing to allow the return of the Israeli ambassador to the country. Additionally, Ynet news reported that no visas are being issued to the respective country’s citizens, meaning that “thousands of Jordanians and Palestinians [who are] living in Jordan cannot enter Israel through the Allenby crossing” and “163 passports of Jordanian citizens waiting to receive a visa to Israel have been held in a safe of the Israeli embassy in Jordan.” Jordan wants assurances that the security guard will be prosecuted for the Jordanian’s death. Israel expects to assign a new ambassador to overcome the impasse.

More positive bilateral relations could be found elsewhere in Jordan. Signally further progress of the imminent defeat of the Islamic State, Iraq’s main international border crossing with Jordan and a key trade route, officially reopened Wednesday after being officially closed for three years. Privately-owned U.S. security firms, along with Iraqi ground and air forces, will be responsible for safety along the 500-kilometer route from Baghdad to Amman, which goes through Iraq’s Anbar province. Iraqi forces have cleared areas near the highway of Islamic State militants in recent months, and parts of the route, including a number of bridges and overpasses, were rebuilt or repaired. The Iraqi parliament agreed to allow U.S. security firms to oversee the highway, after a long and heated debate.

Also on Wednesday came a public acknowledgment from the Pentagon that the United States has about 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, confirming suspicions that the total forces there are higher than formally disclosed in recent years. Previously, Defense Department officials had said 8,400 troops were in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission. An additional 2,000 American troops, which military officials have not publicly acknowledged, are in Afghanistan to help local forces conduct counter-terrorism missions. The new count includes covert as well as temporary units, defense officials said. The disclosure came after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed frustration with how troops in war zones were counted. To get around Obama-era restrictions on the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders sometimes resorted to ad hoc arrangements.

School playgrounds across Syria are being transformed into vegetable gardens where children whose diets have been devastated by six years of war can learn to grow – and then eat – eggplant, lettuces, peppers, cabbages and cucumbers. “The ongoing crisis in Syria is having a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of an entire generation of children,” Adam Yao, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) acting representative in Syria, said on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the new school year. FAO is helping some 17 primary schools in both government and opposition-controlled areas to plant up 500 meter-square fruit and vegetable plots in war-torn areas. So far the primary schools, which began planting in May, have produced 12 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. Another 35 schools are expected to start transforming their playgrounds soon in Aleppo and in rural areas around Damascus.

An Afghan refugee who was personally affected by the years of harsh gender restrictions completed her education abroad and return to Herat to open Afghanistan’s first all-female coding schoolCode to Inspire. With $20,000 raised on IndieGoGo and 20 laptops, the school opened its doors in 2015 to 50 girls between the ages of 14 and 25, offering free two-year-long after-school courses. One is an introduction to coding for young high school girls and teaches basics like HTML, JavaScript, CSS and WordPress. Another is focused on graphic design for mobile apps and games. Another focuses on game design. Ultimately, CTI helps the girls build the necessary skills to empower them financially and socially.

Finally, in an attempt to avoid being added to the U.N.’s Child Rights Blacklist for its role in the death of civilians in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has devoted enormous time and effort in recent days to emphasizing how much aid their kingdom has given to the country’s war-ravaged population. In at least three events last week at the United Nations, the Saudis stressed that they are, by far, the top donors of food, medicine and money to their neighbor. The effort to overcome negative perceptions comes follows a letter campaign to the UN Human Rights Council by 57 human rights organizations calling for the creation of an independent body to look into violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

The Week of August 21st

President Trump outlined a revised vision for the U.S. war in Afghanistan on Monday, pledging to end a strategy of “nation-building” and instead institute a policy aimed more squarely at addressing the terrorist threat that emanates from the region. “I share the American people’s frustration,” he said. “I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and, most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.” Trump provided few specifics about his policy and how much the U.S. military commitment in the region would increase as a result, insisting that conditions on the ground would determine troop levels and strategy.

Voter turnout was low in recent elections in Jordan but there were some surprises.  In addition to electing members of more than 100 municipalities across the kingdom, voters were asked to select the members of 12 newly formed governorate councils. The aim of the councils is to decentralize government decisions and empower local representatives to plan and approve projects and services at the governorate level. At the end of the day, only 31% of the 4.1 million eligible voters had cast ballots. Islamists made significant gains under a broad coalition know as the National Alliance for Reform — the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced that its candidates had won 76 seats across the kingdom. Islamists also claimed 25 seats in the governorate councils. One analyst claimed a demoralized public declined to participate in elections as basically “an act of protest against the state … where a group of people subconsciously sees itself outside the state and its institutions.”

Media giant YouTube has reinstated thousands of videos documenting violence in Syria that were removed “mistakenly”. Several videos were flagged as inappropriate by an automatic system designed to identify extremist content. Groups monitoring the conflict in Syria say such videos document the war and could be used in future war crime prosecutions. YouTube said removing the videos, which was often a decision taken by human reviewers, had been “the wrong call”. “We have a situation where a few videos get wrongly flagged and a whole channel is deleted,” said Eliot Higgins, founder of citizen journalism website Bellingcat. “For those of us trying to document the conflict in Syria, this is a huge problem.”

Egypt reacted angrily Wednesday to the Trump administration’s decision to cut or delay nearly $300 million in military and economic aid over human rights concerns, a surprise move given the increasingly close ties that have bound the two allies since President Donald Trump took office in January. Hours after the U.S. announcement, Trump’s Middle East envoy, son-in-law Jared Kushner, arrived in Egypt as part of a Middle East tour to try to revive Arab-Israeli peace talks. He met with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and later conferred with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry before leaving for Israel. In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Cairo regretted the U.S. decision, saying it “reflects a lack of careful understanding of the importance of supporting the stability and success of Egypt, as well as the size and nature of the security and economic challenges faced by the Egyptian people.”

Qatar said Thursday that it has restored diplomatic relations with Iran, marking a further break with Arab nations that have closed ranks against Qatar for its links to Islamist groups and others perceived as regional threats. The decision ignores demands by Qatar’s neighbors — led by Saudi Arabia — to limit ties with Tehran and threatens to deepen the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades, which has complicated Washington’s policies in the Middle East. Qatar hosts U.S. warplanes at a major air base and serves as a logistical hub for Pentagon operations.

On Sunday, Lebanon’s army has announced a ceasefire in its offensive against IS fighters at the country’s northeast border with Syria. The ceasefire took effect at 7 am local time (04:00 GMT) in order to determine the fate of Lebanese soldiers who are in IS captivity, the military statement said. Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom said that the ceasefire was a significant development in Lebanon, given that “the army seemed very confident just a couple of days ago that they were going to rid those areas of the last remnants of IS fighters. Now, the Lebanese government is sending out a message that they care for their soldiers, and are trying to ensure that these soldiers can be released as quickly as possible,” he said. The fate of nine soldiers that the Islamic State took captive then remains unknown.

The Week of August 14th

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia and Iraq announced a plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990, when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, local Saudi media reported. Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the haj season. The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties. “This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

Another announcement about the resumption of a vital bilateral partnership was made on Tuesday – this time in reference to the United States and Egypt. The US military will take part in a biennial joint military exercise with Egypt called Bright Star 2017 — marking the first time the United States has participated in the joint exercise since the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The joint exercise dates back to the early 1980s, following the signing of the Camp David Accords during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Bright Star was carried out every other year since — until 2012, when the exercise was canceled due to instability in Egypt after Mubarak’s ouster. A US defense official told CNN that about 200 US troops would participate in the exercise. The last time Bright Star was held, in 2009, some 1,300 US soldiers and Marines took part.

Archaeologists from the University of Toronto have uncovered the 3,000-year-old remains of a large statue in Turkey that they say may challenge the traditional thinking of the role of women in ancient society. “The discovery of this statue raises the possibility that women played a more prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities than the existing historical record might suggest,” said Timothy Harrison, director of the Tayinat Archaeological Project in a press release. “Her striking features include a ring of curls that protrude from beneath a shawl that covers her head, shoulders and back,” Harrison added.  Tayinat, previously known as Kunulua, was the capital of the Iron Age neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina, located about 46 miles west of Aleppo, Syria.

Qatar has been isolated by neighboring countries in a heated diplomatic standoff. On, Thursday, however, Saudi Arabia announced that it plans to open its border to allow pilgrims from the tiny Gulf country to make the annual hajj to Islam’s holiest sites. The announcement comes after a meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani. According to a report in the Saudi state news agency, both men spoke about the “brotherly feelings” between the two nations — a marked change in tone from the highly public spat in which Saudi Arabia has accused Qatar of funding terrorist organizations and has blockaded the country. The Saudi crown prince said the country would open the Salwa border crossing to Qatari citizens who wanted to perform the hajj, without requiring them to obtain electronic permits.

In response to this overture, however, the Qatari government expressed concern about the safety of its citizens in Saudi Arabia following the reopening of the countries’ border enabling Qataris to attend the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said during a visit to Norway that Saudi authorities had yet to respond to queries from the Qatari Ministry of Islamic Affairs regarding the security of Qatari citizens during haj. It’s worth noting that the Qatari royal family member who met with the Saudi crown prince does not hold an official government position and his “branch of the family was ousted in a place coup in 1972,” The Associated Press reports. He is not an official representative of the family and does not have the authority to broker such an agreement.

Every summer for 55 years, a typical summer camp takes place in Northern California – except at this summer camp all the kids are Muslim. Muslim kids, teens, young adults and parents gather in these woods to learn about faith and have fun. It is the oldest camp of its kind for young Muslims in America. But today the camp has a different meaning for this new generation. It’s a momentary respite for the campers in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising sharply. The late Marghoob Quraishi, originally of Pakistan, and his wife founded it to help new American Muslims find a sense of community. The camp is steeped in American camp tradition — hiking, swimming, s’mores — mixed in with prayer and classes. Annual themes vary depending on social and cultural attitudes. This year, in almost all the classes, bullying comes up. Camp security is taken seriously as well – the camp’s address is given to people only once they register. There are also sessions with campers on how to deal with anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Afghanistan has been in the spotlight recently as President Trump announced a planned increase in U.S. troops to combat the Taliban but the Afghan people are fighting a different battle all on their own. The government has been handing down significant fines and prison sentences for the country’s most elite and powerful members in several anti-corruption trials. Last week, Gen. Mohammad Moeen Faqir, the former commander of embattled Helmand province, and Abdul Ghafar Dawi, the director of a large fuel company and other businesses, chafed in silence as prosecutors in an anti-corruption court charged them with embezzlement and abuse of authority. Together, the cases are part of an accelerating campaign, headed by Attorney General Farid Hamidi, to convince the Afghan public and Afghanistan’s foreign backers that the government, plagued by a raft of other problems, is making significant progress in efforts to end an entrenched culture of impunity and entitlement among the country’s military and civilian elites. “When we started out, everyone was skeptical. Now they are starting to believe,” said Hamidi, who was appointed 18 months ago by President Ashraf Ghani. “These cases show that money and power are not a guarantee. We face many difficulties, but we are committed. We still do not have complete justice in Afghanistan, but we no longer have complete impunity.”

The Week of August 7th

NPR reported that Carla Del Ponte, a top former war crimes prosecutor, has quit the U.N.’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, over what she described as the Security Council’s lack of political will to hold the perpetrators of war crimes accountable. “I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” Carla Del Ponte said in comments to the Swiss publication Blick, as quoted by The Associated Press. “I can’t any longer be part of this commission which simply doesn’t do anything.” She has previously called for an international tribunal for Syria, or as the BBC reports, for referring the matter to the International Criminal Court.  The U.N. commission was established in 2011, with a mandate to investigate potential human rights violations by all participants in the war in Syria. Del Ponte joined as a commissioner in 2012, and she has been working with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of Brazil and Karen Koning AbuZayd of the U.S. “We have had absolutely no success,” she proclaimed. “For five years we’ve been running up against walls.”

NPR also shared a story on the growing numbers of Syrian refugees returning home in 2017.  More than 600,000 have gone back in the first seven months of this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. The U.N. migration agency says that number is comparable to the number of returns spanning the entire year in 2016. State media has been posting photos and accounts of such returns. However, NPR reports that the rate of new displacements during the beginning of this year was significantly higher than the number of returns. According to the IOM, “an estimated 808,661 people were displaced, many for the second or third time, and over 6 million in total currently remain displaced within the country.” Most of those going home – 84 percent — were displaced within Syria.

A recent report published by the International Journal of Public Health (IJPH) shows that ten times more people are dying from murder and suicide than in warMurder and suicide accounted for 1.4 million deaths across 22 countries in the eastern Mediterranean – which have a combined population of 600 million people, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen whereas the violence of war was directly responsible for another 144,000 deaths over the same period. The data showed a 100 per cent increase in suicides and 152 per cent increase in murders over the course of 25 years, compared to a respective rise of 19 per cent and 12 per cent in the rest of the world, the study’s lead author told the AFP – a knock-on effect of the psychological scars of war.  The areas studied, particularly those mired in conflict, also suffer from a severe shortage in mental health professionals.

Up to 50 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were “deliberately drowned” when a smuggler forced them into the sea off Yemen’s coast, the U.N. migration agency said Wednesday, calling the drownings “shocking and inhumane.” International Organization for Migration staffers found the shallow graves of 29 of the migrants on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol, the agency’s statement said. The dead were buried by those who survived. The passengers’ average age was around 16, the agency said. A third of them are estimated to be women. Despite the fighting in Yemen, African migrants continue to arrive in the war-torn country where there is no central authority to prevent them from traveling onward.

Following newly imposed sanctions by the United States, the Iranian parliament reacted by approving on Sunday a bill to boost spending on Tehran’s missile program and the elite Revolutionary Guard in retaliation. The Islamic Republic has also been taking part in a power grab in chaotic, neighboring Afghanistan, attempting to add to its list of proxy wars. Beyond its typical geopolitical meddling, however, Iran has also received attention for recently banning for life two players on its national soccer team from playing for their country on Thursday after they participated in a match with their club team in Greece against an Israeli team, an Iranian governmental official said. The Iranian government does not recognize the state of Israel, and has no official ties with the country. A longstanding rule by the country’s Islamic government prohibits Iranian athletes from competing against Israeli athletes in any contest or tournament, including the Olympics.

The Week of July 31st

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are expected to stay in Lebanon’s eastern border region for the near future, as a multilateral effort to resettle several thousand of them ran into further delays on Tuesday. Some 9,000 Syrian refugees and gunmen were waiting to leave Lebanon’s Arsal region to a jihadist-dominated corner of Syria in accordance with an agreement between Lebanon, Syria, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and a Syrian affiliate to al-Qaida. But tens of thousands of others still have no plans to leave, for fear of finding war, hardship, and oppressive militant rule waiting for them in Syria’s  northwestern province of Idlib, said Khaled Raad, a member of the Arsal Refugees’ Coordination Committee of the Lebanese government. Many Syrians have calculated it is better to stay in Lebanon, despite the sweeping restrictions on movement and employment in the tiny Mediterranean country, he said. Further, according to the recently conducted, ninth annual Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which looks at the hopes, concerns and goals of young Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, more than half of young Syrian refugees don’t plan to return home permanently unless the war in their country comes to an end and ISIS is eliminated.

Also on Tuesday, Jordanian lawmakers voted to abolish a law that lets rapists off the hook if they marry their victims, rights campaigners said. They hailed the move – which comes a week after Tunisia scrapped a similar law – as an important step toward ending impunity for sexual violence. Campaigners have said such laws, which exist in a number of Middle Eastern countries, condemn girls to a lifetime of sexual violence and domestic abuse at the hands of their rapist.

Israel plans to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office, stop transmitting its broadcasts and strip the Qatar-based channel’s journalists of their credentials, the country’s communications minister said Sunday. Ayoub Kara accused the broadcaster of “incitement” as he announced the plans for shuttering the station’s operations. “Freedom of expression is not freedom to incite,” he said, according to a ministry statement. “Democracy has limits.” Al Jazeera denounced the decision “made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East.’” Prime Minister Benjamin ­Netanyahu tweeted his support for the move, having publicly vowed to close down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau last month. He has been attempting to rebuild his following among right-wing voters after agreeing to remove metal detectors at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem last month. The announcement also came just days after Netanyahu’s former chief of staff agreed to testify against him in relation to allegations of fraud and breach of trust, throwing his continued tenure into jeopardy.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, talked with NPR on Thursday about conditions in the one city in Yemen.  The ongoing war has been overshadowed by other regional conflicts and U.S. domestic issues. In 2014, rebels from the Iranian-backed Houthi movement stormed Yemen’s capital and ousted the government, which was backed by Saudi Arabia. Then Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab countries responded with a massive campaign of airstrikes with support from the U.S. Since then, the fighting has continued. Rounds of U.N. peace talks have failed, thousands of people have died, millions are internally displaced, millions more don’t have enough to eat, and the country is in the middle of the world’s largest outbreak of cholera. He reports on the scenes in besieged southwestern city of Taiz: “Destroyed building, destroyed infrastructure, civilian infrastructure in particular. You see hospitals which have been attacked and are only half if at all functional. Trash removal is not existing. This is basically the condition under which epidemics like cholera and others are spreading quickly. It’s a particularly difficult situation because this has been the poorest country in the region for many years. And the poorest country got one of the most violent and modern tech warfare at the same time. And the two together lead to the destruction and disruption of life.” Listen to the complete interview here.

Israel has stripped an Arab Israeli man of citizenship, claiming he “removed himself from society” by launching a car-and-knife rampage that left four people injured last year.  Activists claim the ruling, believed to be a legal first, will leave Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud “stateless” and may violate international laws. But a judge said the move was a “suitable and proportional” response after Zayoud ploughed a car into a female Israeli soldier before stabbing three civilians near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, northeast of Hadera, in October 2015. Zayoud was convicted of four counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years in jail following the “nationalistically motivated” attack, which came during a spate of stabbings and shootings in Israel.  On Sunday the court’s deputy president Avraham Elyakim approved the request, stating, “We cannot allow an Israeli citizen to impact the lives and dignity of other Israeli citizens and whoever decides to so in acts of terror, removes himself from the general society of the country.”  The decision was criticized by Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, who tweeted: “Israeli court today revoked citizenship for first time ever; Palestinian Alaa Zayoud left stateless, a violation of int’l human rights law.”

The Week of July 24th

Germany’s federal prosecutor heard witness testimony in a landmark case filed by the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) this week. Several Syrian ex-detainees, including two Syrian lawyers, who say they were victims of torture in the regime’s cells, are accusing six high-ranking Syrian officials close to President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Assad has denied claims of torture in Syrian prisons, saying in an interview in February of this year that the allegations had “not a shred of evidence.” The ex-detainees, however, detail brutal beatings, sexual violence and systematic torture in three Damascus prisons — branches 215, 227 and 235 — between October 2011 and July 2015 in their witness testimonies.

Libya’s two main rival leaders met for diplomatic talks in France this week and have agreed to call a ceasefire and hold elections early next year. French President Macron hosted the talks and commended the two leaders, Libya’s UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and Khalifa Haftar – the military strongman whose forces control large tracts of land in the east of the country – for agreeing that a political solution is the only way to settle the dispute over Libya. On paper, the agreement represents a step towards a political settlement to end years of violence, but previous peace deals since the 2011 fall of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi have not been honored, and the absence of a specific date for proposed new elections will be seen as a diplomatic disappointment. The communique calls for all militia to be brought under the reins of a national army under political control, but the clause is contingent on Sarraj’s ability to persuade all Tripoli’s powerful militias, many opposed to his rule, to lay down their arms. Furthermore, the ceasefire does not cover efforts either by Haftar or Sarraj militias to counter terrorism, a phrasing that will leave both sides free to interpret legitimate targets.

The Week of July 17th

On July 17th, Jordanian air force sergeant Ma’arik al-Tawayha was given a life sentence for killing three U.S. green berets in November 2016. Just this week, now that the trial has ended, the Jordanian military has released footage showing the shooting, which appears to indicate that Tawayha deliberately shot the soldiers. The video undermines original reports that Tawayha had made a mistake, or was acting in response to the troops not following protocol for entering King Faisal Air Base. The footage was allegedly released to appease protests from Tawayha’s influential tribe, the Howeitat. Though the intent of the crime is still unknown, U.S.-Jordan relations remain good.

Also in Jordan, the shooting at the Israeli embassy in Amman over the weekend was the result of an argument over furniture delivery deadlines, Jordan’s public security directorate has said. According to the security directorate, a Jordanian carpenter attacked and wounded an Israeli security guard following an argument on Sunday. The guard then shot the Jordanian worker and the embassy building’s Jordanian landlord standing next to him, the public security directorate said. The carpenter, who was in the embassy compound for routine furniture replacement, attacked the security official from behind by stabbing him with a screwdriver, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday. Israel said the security official was slightly wounded but defended himself. The two Jordanian men later died in the hospital. The diplomat was transferred back to Israel.  Tensions between Jordan and its neighbor had soared over the last week after Israel installed metal detectors outside the entrance to one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. The Kingdom of Jordan has been the official guardian of the Noble Sanctuary since 1919. Israel’s Ministry of Justice has since announced that the State Prosecutor’s Office has requested the opening of a preliminary investigation the shooting.

Nine animals that had been kept alive at a damaged zoo on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, were evacuated and taken to a rehabilitation center in Turkey on Friday. The animals — three lions, two tigers, two bears and two hyenas — were trucked from Aalim al Sahar, or Magic World, zoo after months of uncertainty. They had been sustained by a few locals who, though they also had barely enough food to survive, took it upon themselves to feed and care for the animals. The zoo’s owner fled during the battle. Some animals were killed by bombs or shells, while others were left to starve in their cages. The animals will be evaluated and treated by sponsoring organization Four Paws International before being rehoused. Further animals await rescue from the zoo in Aleppo.

The Week of July 10th

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that physical education for girls in public schools would begin this coming academic year. The announcement did not detail what activities would be offered, but said they would be introduced gradually and “in accordance with the rules of sharia,” or Islamic law. Although schools remain segregated by gender, recent decades have seen a boom in university attendance as all-female faculties have popped up across the kingdom. Saudi Arabia formally allowed sports for girls in private schools four years ago, although girls whose families permitted it have played sports in private settings for much longer. The education ministry said the decision to offer gym class for girls is part of the Saudi Vision 2030. The plan, which aims to diversify the Saudi economy and make life in the kingdom more enjoyable for citizens, calls for getting 40 percent of Saudis to exercise at least once per week. The current figure is 13 percent, according to data in the plan.

The six teenage girls who make up Afghanistan’s robotics team at the first global robotics competition in the U.S. were granted visas to attend the competition, after several rejections and a number of other obstacles. When the girls’ initial rejection became know there was a global outcry, not least because U.S. administration’s have heralded women’s rights as a key reason for US forces’ continued stay in Afghanistan. Only teams from Afghanistan and the Gambia were denied visas for the competition, neither of which is among the six Muslim-majority countries subjected to Donald Trump’s travel ban. However, Afghans often struggle to get US visas. In May, only 112 Afghan applicants received the B1/B2 visa to the US that the girls applied for. In addition to the stymied visa process, the girls’ equipment was also affected. The equipment they needed to build their robot was held by customs for over three months, leaving the girls with only two weeks time to finish building their robot.

Two of the most prominent soccer starts in Iran are calling for a change to the law that bans female audiences from attending soccer matches. The law has been in place for over 38 years – since the Iranian Revolution. “This is the demand of millions upon millions of female fans who’d like to watch soccer matches and other events up close,” Ali Karimi, a former midfielder and current coach of one of Iran’s most popular teams, told Iranian news agency ISNA this week. Karimi’s comments follow ones made last month by current Iranian national team star Masoud Shojaei, who in a video shared by Radio Farda and other sites insinuated that women being allowed in stadiums would benefit the sport because of the larger audiences each match would be able to draw. The ban on women at soccer stadiums comes from conservative ideologues who do not think it appropriate for men and women to mix in large crowds. The ban previously applied to all sports, but in 2015, the Iranian government made a small exception to the law by allowing a limited number of women to attend men’s volleyball matches, where the atmosphere is generally less rowdy.

The Week of July 3rd

Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts store, has become the subject of a lawsuit concerning 5,500 artifacts that may have been looted from historical sites in Iraq. The evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East and in 2009 they began to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. In 2010, as a deal for rare cuneiform tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned its executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law. Despite the warning, Hobby Lobby purchased the artifacts for $1.6 million in December 2010. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn filed a stipulation of settlement with Hobby Lobby that requires the company to return all of the pieces and to pay a fine of $3 million, resolving the civil action. Over the years, Hobby Lobby has undertaken numerous efforts to promote evangelical Christianity, producing films with biblical themes, operating a chain of Christian bookstores and creating the Museum of the Bible, set to open in Washington D.C. in November this year.

The Afghan version of Sesame Street, Baghch-e-Simsim, has introduced a new character with the hope that young people will see educated girls in a positive light. The new character is the younger brother to the program’s first ever female character, Zari. Zari is a 6 year-old girl who is very bright and studious. By giving her a younger brother who looks up to her and admires her for her knowledge, the producers hope that young people in the country will be influenced by the positive attitude towards girls attending school. Baghch-e-Simsim is the only television show in Afghanistan dedicated to children, so the program has the potential to influence a lot of young people, although, far from every household has the ability to tune in every day. Massood Sanjer, who heads the television network that broadcasts Baghch-e-Simsim, believes that introducing a boy character who not only respects his school-going older sister, but actually wants to be like her, will “indirectly teach the kids to love their sisters.” Currently in Afghanistan only about 15 percent of the female population receives a formal education, and the literacy rate among women is one of the lowest in the world.

Chinese students from the Uighur ethnic minority living in Egypt are being detained by Egyptian police, with detention requests reportedly coming from Beijing. The Uighurs are a traditionally Muslim group, and many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination by China. To justify the detentions China has pointed to unrest in Xinjiang in western China, the homeland for most Uighurs, claiming that Uighur separatist groups are responsible for bombings and vehicle attacks. Lucia Parrucci, a spokeswoman for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization advocacy group, said in a statement that: “We have learned that many of the students have been arrested directly at the airport upon their return and sent to re-education camps. None of them have been able to see family members and no information was provided to their families about their whereabouts.”

The Week of June 26th

After the fall of Islamic State-held Mosul on June 29th, many in Iraq, including Prime Minster Abadi, have declared the end of the caliphate. However, although the defeat of Mosul is a significant setback to IS, it does not indicate yet an end in sight to the proto-state; IS still controls parts of the Old City of Mosul, in addition to various other cities like Raqqa, its Syrian-stronghold. Many assert that Abadi and the Iraqi government forces will have to continue to destabilize and further weaken IS in order to ensure continued defeats, and its eventual phasing out completely. Additionally, Iraq and its international allies will face the immense challenge of post-conflict reconstruction, where the restoration of basic infrastructure such as electricity and roads will prove to be expensive–estimates for how much it will cost to rebuild Mosul have reached $700 million.

A team of archaeologists have found at least three human skulls with deeply cut grooves at Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe site. The site is known to have hosted human civilizations for about 10,000 years. The hunter-gatherers who worshiped at Göbekli Tepe, one of the oldest known ritual centers in the world, carved up human skulls in a style not previously seen, although collections of human skulls modified in other ways have been found at several sites from around the same time. These skulls of the recently deceased were carved for use in ceremonies to worship them as ancestors, the researchers propose. It’s also possible that the skull incisions marked deceased individuals who had been especially revered or reviled while alive. The archaeologists who made the discovery are from the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin.

The eastern Saudi Arabian town, al-Awamiya, has long been an area plagued by sectarian tensions that are now on the rise. The Saudi Arabian government has initiated demolition processes for around 500 Shiite homes in the historic province of 25,000 residents. The destruction of property has sparked shootouts in the streets between Saudi security forces and Shiite gunmen, causing several civilian casualties. The Shiites who live in the area have complained of discrimination at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative Sunni clerics for decades, and the tensions seem to have gotten worse over the past few weeks. Many speculate that the tensions are on the rise due to increased Saudi Arabian fear of Shiite-led Iran, which is also part of the rationale behind their recent diplomatic break with Qatar.

The Week of June 19th

On Monday, June 19th, the Israeli government announced that it would cut electricity to the Gaza Strip, leaving the area with about three hours of electricity a day. The cuts coincide with the 10-year anniversary of Hamas’ takeover of the Strip, and according to the Israeli Parliament they were asked to limit the supply by the Palestinian Authority. The president of Palestine and the Fatah political party, as well as chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, views Hamas as political rivals and wants them to relinquish control of the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year the PA cut government salaries in the Gaza Strip and drastically reduced the amount of medical aid supplies allotted to the region. A spokesperson for Hamas said in a statement that Israel would “bear responsibility for the consequences of the reduction”, however, since their policies are seriously affecting the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this month, Sudan’s Ministry of Health confirmed 265 deaths, and more than 16,000 infected cases due to “acute watery diarrhea”; however, medical professionals and community activists alike have long diagnosed or identified these cases as cholera. Cholera, a waterborne illness spread spread through poor water treating and remediation, is likely due to the government’s lack of attention given to increasingly declining infrastructure in Sudan. Now, the use of the word “cholera” in describing the epidemic has been publicly banned in Sudan: authorities have fired health specialists and arrested journalists and activists for use of the word–one journalist was charged with defamation. The prohibition of the word cholera is another development in the long-standing policies of censorship by President Bashir.

In a surprise move, the king of Saudi Arabia has revised the country’s ruling succession, replacing now former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef with his son, Mohammed bin Salman. The decision, reported on June 21st, has upended decades of monarchical tradition: if Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, does take the throne, he will be the first king who is not a son of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The 31-year-old MBS is not only closer in age to most Saudis (Saudi Arabia has a median age of 27), but also shows promise of a progressive rule: so far, he has been involved in Saudi Arabia’s forward-thinking Vision 2030 plans for less economic dependency on oil, and has vocalized support for increased inclusion of women in the workforce. The move, though, has come with skepticism. King Salman’s decision has already slighted the aging princes who hold the extensive foreign policy and governance experience, in addition to western education, that MBS lacks. However, a young successor means the prospect of one king ruling for many years, if not decades–something Saudi Arabia has not seen in half a century.

The fallout of the diplomatic break between Qatar and Saudi Arabia continues to unfold this week with Saudi Arabia announcing it is deporting 15,000 Qatari camels. The camels were stuck at the border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for days, lacking water and food. After photos of the haggard-looking camels appeared in a Qatari newspaper on June 19th, Qataris became furious. The authorities sent out caravans with provisions to relieve the situation, and the animals have now been set up in temporary shelters. The break between Qatar and several Arab countries came amid heightened tensions over the Saudi-led war in Yemen, heavily criticized in Qatar and by its media, and counter-accusations that Qatar is financing terrorism. One camel owner criticized the social implications of the diplomatic crisis, however, saying: “We just want to live out our days, to go to Saudi Arabia and take care of our camels and go back and take care of our family”.

The Week of June 12th

In Jordan a fund for women’s entrepreneurship has been engaging women to start their own businesses for over 20 years. Since the launch of Microfund for Women (MFW) in 1996 nearly 1 million women have been able to secure a loan to start their own businesses and enter the workforce. The MFW was initiated by Save the Children, and encourages women to become self-sufficient breadwinners for their households and communities. A total of $408,290,039 has been provided in loans so far. Manal Obeid is one of the many women who have benefited from the fund. She started a home-based business for food supplies five years ago and has been working since then. “My project has encouraged me to go further.” she says. “Although I was just starting, it has empowered me and enabled me to pay my daughter’s university fees,” the mother of two told The Jordan Times.

Also in Jordan, for the second consecutive year, the government has banned Lebanese band, Mashrou’ Leila, from playing in Amman. As in the 2016 case, the group initially received a permit to perform which was then retracted by officials, raising about the authorities’ conflicting and fluctuating decisions. The concert was scheduled to take place on June 27th. The group is known for its support of the LGBT community as well as its criticism of authoritarian governance. Those some positions, however, have drawn the ire of more conservative elements across the Middle East. Although Jordan is recognized as a more tolerant country, dissent and difference are not expressed openly. Amman Governor Khaled Abu Zeid cancelled the band’s performance at the historic Roman Theatre last year because “some of the band’s songs contain lyrics that do not comply with the nature of Jordanian society”.

According to reports from a Kurdish official, Iranian-backed militias have captured a corridor of territory stretching all the way from Iran to the Mediterranean, through Iraq and Syria. The road link appears to give Iran direct, uninhibited access to Damascus and the government of Bashar al-Assad, which the Iranians have been supporting since the uprising began there in 2011. The new land route will allow the Iranian regime to resupply its allies in Syria by land instead of air, which is both easier and cheaper. The development is potentially momentous, because it would bind together a string of Iranian allies, including Hezbollah, in Lebanon; the Assad regime, in Syria; and the Iranian-dominated government in Iraq. Those allies form what is often referred to as the Shiite Crescent, an Iranian sphere of influence in an area otherwise dominated by Sunni Muslims. The Iranians have sought to create such a sphere since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, in 1988, which they saw as a Western-backed effort to destroy their regime.

On Sunday, Syrian loyalist forces attacked U.S.-backed fighters (known as the Syrian Democratic Forces) southwest of Raqqa, which prompted the U.S. to shoot down a Syrian government fighter jet. This marked the first time a U.S. jet has shot down a manned hostile aircraft in more than a decade, signalling the United States’ sharply intensifying role in Syria’s war. The incident is the fourth time within a month that the U.S. military has attacked pro-Syrian government forces, and Russia and Turkey are taking note. Russia condemned the attack and suspended its military hotline to D.C. in response to the news of the aggression toward the Russian-backed Assad regime.

Also on Sunday, Israel revoked the permits of 200,000 Palestinians to enter Israel that were approved for the holy month of Ramadan following two near simultaneous Palestinian attacks on police that killed a young female officer near Jerusalem’s Old City. The Islamic State group took responsibility for the attacks but two Palestinian militant groups, Hamas and People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine quickly retorted the three attackers were their members and accused IS of trying to undermine their efforts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that preparations are underway to destroy the homes of the Palestinian attackers and tighten security at the entrance to the Old City, home to sensitive holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The Week of June 5th

On Monday (June 5th) Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated effort. They were later joined by Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives. Behind the move is the accusation that Qatar supports extremist groups, including Islamist militants and Iran. The main source of tension stems from Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation which Saudi Arabia views as a political enemy and has labelled a terrorist organization. Riyadh also accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in the restive, largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated eastern Saudi region of Qatif, as well as in Bahrain. Qatar’s response has been to deny interfering in the affairs of others, and the Qatari foreign ministry had this to say in a statement: ”The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications”. Qatar imports roughly 80% of its food supplies from other Gulf states, and the fear that these supplies would run short until the diplomatic crisis is resolved caused a surge of customers at the supermarkets, buying up food and hoarding it in their homes. 

Zeinab Mokalled, an 81-year-old Lebanese woman has inspired communities to recycle after she founded an all-women recycling initiative to combat her town’s trash problem. Mokalled developed the household recycling program after witnessing trash accumulate in the 1990s during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, and realizing that the government would not respond to the issue. Her recycling organization, Call of the Earth, maintains an all-female team to reach out to women of households in a culturally sensitive way, and also works to educate school children on environmental remediation. The Lebanese government has stated it wishes to burn waste and generate electricity from it, but residents remain dubious of the plan and worry of its potential to create toxic waste. Therefore, Mokalled and women of surrounding villages continue to take it upon themselves to keep their communities clean.

A raid on a restaurant that was found to be serving food during Ramadan has sparked debate on the Jordanian Penal Code, and whether Jordan is an Islamic or “civil” state. Since 2014, the Secular Movement in Jordan has demanded the decriminalization of those who eat in public during Ramadan. Some have brought up that the Jordanian Penal Code–which criminalizes actions which violate the sanctity of Ramadan–violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, since eating in public often results in arbitrary arrest, something forbidden by the covenant. Support and backlash alike in response to the restaurant raid has revealed that there is much to be debated in Jordan over issues of privacy, secularization, and human rights.

Top government officials for Iraq’s autonomous region Kurdistan have agreed to hold a referendum on independence on the 25th of September this year. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have played a major role in the US-backed campaign against ISIS, and through their battle of expelling ISIS fighters from northern Iraqi regions they have been able to reclaim traditionally disputed territories, which they view as belonging to Kurdistan. It is not the first time the Kurds have called for an independence referendum, nor is it the first time they have taken advantage of fighting within Iraq or between Iraq and external powers to further their goal of independence. Moves towards independence have historically been opposed by the governments of neighboring Iran, Turkey, and Syria, as well as by the United States. It is not certain that a “yes” vote through this referendum would mean the Kurds will have their own independent nation, but by hosting a referendum the region will have a stronger foundation for their future aspirations of independence, especially once ISIS has been expelled from Iraq.

European and Moroccan scientists have found fossils from what could be the earliest recorded remains of Homo sapiens. The fossils were found in an area of Morocco called Jebel Irhoud, and are believed to be 315,000 years old. At the excavation site the scientists found stone tools and charcoal, which indicates that these ancient humans used fairly sophisticated tools and fire. Until this discovery, the oldest known bones widely recognized as Homo sapiens were from people who lived in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. The new discovery in Morocco would push the date for the emergence of our species back another 100,000 years.

The Week of May 22nd

A Beirut-based restaurant chain launched a braille menu on Tuesday to aid customers who are visually impaired. Casper & Gambini’s Beirut branch worked with the Lebanese Society of the Blind and Deaf (LSBD) to create the menu, which it hopes will allow all customers to make orders independently. The braille menu was initially launched in Casper & Gambini in Egypt, where it proved a hit with many. “It is extremely rewarding seeing everyone get behind this initiative, and how this simple goal of complete inclusion brought the entire online community together,” said Rina Moussa, marketing manager at Casper & Gambini.  The restaurant said it seeks to promote full integration of all members of the community, particularly those who may be overlooked due to their disabilities. The franchise hopes to see all its branches in the Middle East take part in the initiative. In 2010, Beirut-based Cafe Younes released the city’s first ever braille menu.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said that a U.S.-led airstrike carried out on a building in Mosul, Iraq, resulted the deaths of more than 100 Iraqi civilians. An unclassified summary of the U.S. military investigation into the March 17 incident determined that the 500-pound bomb used in the strike set off additional explosives that were placed in the building by the Islamic State, causing the collapse of the structure. The strike is probably the single deadliest civilian casualty incident in the nearly three-year-old air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Following the public outcry from the strike, the U.S.-led coalition sharply decreased the number of sorties over Mosul in April, according to data analyzed by the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars. It remains to be seen how the findings of the investigation will affect rules of engagement in Mosul where Iraqi troops are relying heavily on U.S.-led air and artillery strikes to destroy any Islamic State threats before they advance. As Iraqi forces advance on the final militant bastions in Mosul, there are an estimated 200,000 civilians remaining in an area that is roughly four square miles.

In restive Al-Hoceima, Morocco, where demonstrations demanding state support for the economically devastated region have been ongoing since last October after the death of fishmonger who was crushed inside a garbage truck while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by the police, the critical fishing industry continues to face obstacles. Catches have fallen in recent years and many fishermen blame El Negro, or “the Black One” in Spanish — the dark gray bottlenose dolphin, a species protected by a regional conservation agreement. “He sees us coming and knows exactly when and how to attack the fishing net,” said boat-owner Said Shaib, 44. “When he attacks, we are sometimes left with only 10 to 20 sardine boxes” from a catch that can reach 400 boxes a day—”and each time huge damage to the nets. It gets very expensive,” said Shaib, with fuel expenses and time wasted on shore fixing nets. However, overfishing is most likely a major factor, according to government officials. The dolphins have defied various deterrence efforts and fisherman have resorted to relocating or using other methods such as the prohibited and lethal drift net to increase their hauls. They complain that the state has not done enough to protect their livelihoods. “The state has done nothing against El Negro,” said fisherman Abdelhamid. Protests in the city on Friday led to the arrest of 20 people following violent clashes.

On Saturday, the interior minister of Jordan issued a public rebuke to those who engage in shooting live ammunition during weddings and other social events, a celebratory practice that has claimed many innocent lives over recent years. “Festive firing” has “crossed all limits,” according to the minister, who has vowed to take all the necessary legal, social, educational and religious measures to eliminate the practice. The minister stressed the role of religious, cultural, social and educational civil society institutions, as well as media, in spreading awareness about the dangers of festive firing. In 2015, a total of 35 people were arrested and 33 weapons seized in cases of festive firing, according to official figures. Individuals convicted of causing death by festive firing can receive up to 20 years in prison, and in cases of multiple fatalities, the shooter can be sentenced to life in prison.

A Saharawi man, born and raised in a refugee camp in southern Algeria, has been constructing disaster resistant homes using discarded plastic bottles. 27-year-old Tateh Lehbib Breica has a master’s degree in energy efficiency after participating in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) scholarship program. Temperatures in the area can spike to 113 degrees  and sandstorms often damage refugee shelters in five camps near Tindouf, Algeria, where people live after fleeing conflict in the Western Sahara over 40 years ago. The dispute between the Saharawi people and the Kingdom of Morocco over the territory is ongoing. The area also faces destructive rainstorms – in 2015 heavy rains wrecked thousands of homes. Initially setting out to build a rooftop garden using the bottles, Breica found that the circular shape of the energy efficient home he was building posed a challenge to that idea. Wondering what he could do with the bottles instead, he recalled a documentary on building with plastic bottles he’d seen during his time at university. The plastic bottle homes can better withstand storms than adobe, mudbrick, or tent homes, and are water resistant. The homes have thick walls, and partnered with their circular shape, stand up better to sandstorms. Breica built the first bottle home for his grandmother, who was hurt while being carried to a community center to hunker down during a sandstorm. Working with UNHCR, Breica has built 25 homes so far.

The Week of May 15th

The Azraq refugee camp, in northern Jordan, is home to 36,000 Syrians refugee and is now the first clean energy refugee camp in the world. Each family in almost 5,000 shelters in the desert camp will be able to use electricity generated by a solar plant to light their homes, charge their phones and chill their food. “Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement; it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihoods opportunities, and gives children the chance to study after dark,” a UNHCR representative said in a statement. The switch to solar power will save UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency – $1.5 million per year and function even if funding dries out. The money saved will be invested elsewhere, and could be used to improve sanitation, shelters or organize activities around the camp.

On May 16th, protesters gathered at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC, were met with violence by members of President Erdogan’s security forces as well as his supporters. Erdogan was in town to meet with President Trump. The demonstrators, a diverse set of Erdogan critics were left bloodied, battered and bruised, while Washington police officers attempted ineffectually to stop the violence. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring criminal charges against the perpetrators of the attacks in a letter on Wednesday.  A total of 11 people were injured. Instead of the attackers, two protesters were arrested. The Erdogan camp had a different story of the day’s events: According to Turkish pro-government media, terrorist sympathizers and Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) supporters had started to create trouble; therefore, Erdogan’s bodyguards decided to intervene due to the ineffective response of the U.S. police. The New York Times did a careful analysis of several videos to try to pinpoint the perpetrators of violence and their connection to Erdogan. Warning: violence. 

On May 18th, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group it hit pro-Syrian government forces near the border with Jordan that “posed a threat” to U.S. forces and rebel groups in the area. According to a released statement, the coalition hit the pro-Syrian government forces after warning shots, a show of force and apparent Russian attempts failed to dissuade those troops from moving into the “de-conflicted area” around Tanf, where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet. Coalition forces have been operating in the area “for many months training and advising vetted partner forces” in the battle against IS. Though there was no immediate word from the government, Iranian troops or Hezbollah militants on any casualties, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with activists on the ground, said the strike destroyed vehicles and killed eight militiamen. A Syrian official insisted that no other power has the right to decide in which areas the army can carry out operations. The airstrikes mark the first time that the U.S. military deliberately hit the regime out of a perceived threat for American troops, which have steadily increased in numbers in recent months throughout Syria. Another U.S. missile strike last month was in response to a chemical attack by the Syrian government.

Also on Thursday, thousands of Moroccans marched in a northern town to protest against injustice and corruption, seven months after a fishmonger was crushed inside a garbage truck there while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by the police. Waving banners proclaiming “Are you a government or a gang?” and local protest flags, the march made its way peacefully through the center of Al-Hoceima, located in the aggrieved Rif region, packing the main square under the watch of police and gendarmerie checkpoints. The anger over Fikri’s death, which shocked even staunch supporters of King Mohamed VI, was a reminder the broader resentment at the establishment over joblessness and the gap between rich and poor that partly drove the 2011 pro-democracy protests.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Trump made a $110 billion arms deal during the latter’s recent visit to the kingdom. The agreement marks a 180 degree turn from the anti-Saudi rhetoric of his campaign when he described the Saudi government as “people that push gays off buildings,” and said they “kill women and treat women horribly.” Whereas in the past Trump attributed 9/11 to the Saudi government and supported investigation into the country’s role in the attack, Trump has agreed to supply the Saudi defense forces with more U.S.-made tanks, planes, helicopters, ships, bombs, and other weapons systems. Trump considers the deal a victory for the American economy, believing it will bring jobs to the country. Concerns regarding how the deal will affect humanitarian conditions in the several violent conflicts where the kingdom is actively engaged in fighting, such as Yemen, have been expressed. For example, Senator Chris Murphy (CT), a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the deal could make the U.S. complicit in war crimes: “There’s a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen that’s caused by the Saudi bombing campaign. The Saudis simply could not operate this bombing campaign without us. Their planes can’t fly without U.S. refueling capacity. They are dropping munitions that we’ve sold them. We are standing side by side with them often when they are reviewing intelligence about targets.”

And, lastly, Lebanon became the first country in the Arab region to host a gay pride week though organizers met several setbacks when event venues cancelled due to threats of violence by Islamists or other social and commercial concerns. The LGBT community in Lebanon has gained greater acceptance over the last several years and the country is known for its diversity and tolerance, but Article 534 in the Lebanese penal code says sexual acts that contradict the “order of nature” can mean up to a year in jail. Polls show the vast majority of Lebanese reject homosexuality but Beirut is taking steps towards decriminalization, with a court ruling this year in which a judge conceded homosexuality is not a crime but personal choice.

The Week of May 8th

In parts of eastern Afghanistan, school teachers are encouraged by Taliban members to give good grades to mediocre students who spend more time on the battlefield than at their desks. Militants intimidate teachers to let older boys who fight with the Taliban pass exams despite lackluster performances, according to education experts working in the region. They say insurgents also pressure teachers not to record the absences of students engaged in warfare. Facilitating this system are teachers who themselves active members of the militant group, “swapping chalk for Kalashnikovs after completing the day’s lessons. They take their salary from the Afghan government, whose armed forces they then fight on the battlefield.” The Taliban do not issue their own curricula, but inspect and adapt government course material. In Logar province they have reportedly torn pages from books that portrayed historical figures in a light they disagreed with, casting progressive leaders as heroes and conservatives as foes. Like armed groups in other conflict zones such as ISIS in Syria and Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban have taken control of several services — education, health, religious study, and security — which forces loyalty, and fear, from the local communities. In districts under Taliban control girls are seldom allowed to attend school beyond sixth grade. Teachers whose merit for employment is affiliation with the Taliban are rarely actually qualified to teach, aside from Islamic subjects.

The American role in the wars in Syria and Iraq have received greater scrutiny in recent days. Recep Erdogan, president of erstwhile partner and NATO ally, Turkey, has been increasingly vocal about his opposition to the U.S. support of Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State in northern Syria. The Trump administration claims that arming the YPG group is the most effective way to re-claim Raqqa, IS headquarters. Erdogan has implored the United States to cease supporting what he considers to be the partner of an internationally recognized terrorist group, the PKK. The United States disputes any linkage between the two groups and claims is has taken measures to ensure that Turkey’s sovereignty is not threatened by Kurdish separatists. The issue will continue to plague the charged relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, and their respective leaders.

Meanwhile, how  the American military keeps track of the number of civilian deaths resulting from airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is in the news. A review by the armed forces, amid mounting criticism from victims and human rights and aid groups about the procedures, found that the military failed to report 80 civilian casualties from airstrikes during the last two years. Independent reporting suggests there may be more casualties the coalition has overlooked. The Pentagon is finding it difficult to determine how many innocent people are dying in conflict zones where there are few U.S. troops directing fire from the front lines and commanders rely instead on drone surveillance and reports from allies. One problem is that the coalition’s two-person team investigating civilian casualties from airstrikes is conservative in its estimates, requiring confirmation from more than one source. The coalition investigates civilian casualties based on reports from its staff, the news media, social media, local and international monitoring groups. It does not require investigators to visit the scene of strikes, speak with victims or other witnesses. In light of the latest report, the coalition is starting to consider the findings of independent groups, such as Airwars, engaged in meticulously monitoring civilian deaths. This new resource-sharing partnership could give a more comprehensive picture of what’s happening on the ground.  Airwars sends the military allegations to review each month. Military officials, in some instances, have given Airwars precise bomb geo-coordinates­ to ensure they aren’t ­double-counting attacks.

An expected attack on the Yemen port city of Al Hodeida by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition would displace up to 400,000 civilians, says the International Organization for Migration. The port is currently held by Iran-backed Shia Houthi group who use it as a way to smuggle arms to its fighters. As a result, aid groups such as the Red Cross have been unable to provide relief and support through this major access point. The plan to liberate the city from the rebels risks lives and threatens the aid lifeline for millions of people in desperate need of food and emergency healthcare. In Washington, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to reconsider his support for the seemingly imminent attack in a letter, stating, “In the face of Yemen’s senseless humanitarian tragedy, where 19 million people need emergency support, we are committed to using our Constitutional authority to assert greater oversight over U.S. involvement in the conflict and promote greater public debate regarding U.S. military participation in Yemen’s civil war, which has never been authorized by Congress.” Since Hodeida is densely populated, and the port is surrounded by the bustling city, an assault could take weeks, if not months, and lead to a mass exodus of residents as well as the tens of thousands of internally displaced people sheltering there. Disaster continues to affect those caught up in the conflict across the country: famine is widespread, and a state of emergency was declared by authorities on Sunday as a cholera epidemic continues to sicken and kill scores of people because of contaminated water sources and a lack of supplies.

To wrap up on a more positive note, The Washington Post published a fascinating story about Egypt’s unexpected ballet scene that defies both odds and stereotypes. The author writes: Ballet is in its own bubble in Egypt, removed from the surrounding society. The elite Western art form is far from Egypt’s own rich traditions of classical Arabic music and dance, let alone the electro-beat sweeping the Arabic pop music scene. The country has grown more conservative, and in the eyes of some Muslims, ballet is outright “nudity.” Social pressure to conform is overpowering, so the idea of someone dancing on stage in tights strikes many Egyptians as just plain odd. Consequently, the female dancers in Egypt tend to come from Europe, bringing a unique diversity to this small community. The young men who found their passion dancing ballet are hardly isolated elites. They’re firmly rooted in the middle and lower-middle classes, managing to carve out their own Bohemian zone of diversity and creativity. Read more about the dancers’ commitment to their craft, plurality and their country.

The Week of May 1st

On May 4th, Turkey, Russia, and Iran negotiated a six-month de-escalation memorandum for Syria that establishes 4 weapon-free “safe zones.” The largest de-escalation zone includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The other three zones are in northern Homs province, the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital Damascus and along the Jordanian border in southern Syria. The guarantors will finalize maps of the de-escalation zones by June 4, and the agreement can be extended automatically if the three guarantor states agree. The purpose of the zones is to establish areas free of hostilities by any of the multiple actors involved in the 6-year conflict. The signatories of the agreement hope these conditions will enable the resumption of humanitarian access and medical assistance as well as the return of displaced civilians to their homes and the restoration of damaged infrastructure. Syria’s armed opposition rejected the proposal, calling it a threat to the country’s territorial integrity, claiming it would not recognize Iran as a guarantor of any cease-fire plan, and saying Russia has been unwilling or unable to get President Bashar al-Assad to respect past ceasefires. Peace talks are ongoing in Kazakhstan, and another round is expected to resume in Geneva in the next week. Rebels suspended their participation in the latest round of talks in Kazakhstan last Wednesday to protest against ongoing air raids in the war-torn country.

81% of Americans cannot identify the Arab world on a map according to a wide-ranging Arab News/YouGov poll. The survey of 2,057 people in the US revealed an alarmingly low level of awareness about the Middle East and North Africa, but also a desire for more media coverage of the region. More than a fifth of respondents said Agrabah — the fictional city from “Aladdin” — is a real part of the Arab world. An even higher proportion — 38 percent — would be happy with a US travel ban on citizens of Agrabah should they be proven a threat. Almost eight in 10 of the respondents said they follow international news, but of those only 24 percent tune into news about the Arab world. The “The Arab Image in the US” poll, conducted March 17-21, found that 65 percent of respondents admitted to knowing little about the Arab World, with 30 percent of American having no interest in understanding the region further.

Only 35% of eligible Algerians participated in last Thursday’s parliamentary elections, amid soaring unemployment and a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues. The elections were heavily boycotted due to high levels of apathy, despite impassioned pleas by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal who called for a “massive vote” and urged women to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and “drag” them to the polling stations.  The boycott was buoyed by a social media campaign with hashtag #mansotich (a play on words which essentially means “I will not vote”) trending. The calls were made as many had little faith in the ballot box aligning their affairs and believed the outcome of the vote had already been decided. The low number of voter turnout means the National People’s Assembly (NPA) of the 4 May elections is the worst elected in the history of multiparty elections. Infirm and rarely seen in public, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been Algeria’s ruler since 1999.

President Trump continued to engage with Middle Eastern leaders as he met with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Wednesday, and announced on Thursday his first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia and Israel to reaffirm ties with important US allies. The president has expressed confidence that he can help the Israelis and the Palestinians negotiate a peace agreement. The maiden foreign trips of U.S. presidents often take on broader symbolic import, and by choosing the Middle East as his first stop, Trump will highlight his lofty promises to eradicate Islamic State insurgents and bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump cast his trip as an effort to build cooperation and support between Muslims, Christians and Jews for fighting terrorism. He has now met in Washington with Abbas, Israeli PM Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and Saudia Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Through determined to facilitate a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, Trump has not articulated a strategy and has argued that the players should decide their own fate.

A flare-up of Turkish-Kurdish violence in northern Syria threatens to undercut the US-backed campaign by Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State in Raqqa, the extremist group’s main stronghold in the country. Since Turkish air strikes and shelling killed dozens of Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq on 25 April, clashes have been ongoing along Syria’s northern border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now says he may order “at any time” and without warning an intervention against Kurdish groups in Syria he considers terrorists. Referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition and its main constituent, the People’s Defense Units (Kurdish acronym: YPG), a new report from the International Crisis Group warns: “more extensive Turkish military action could seriously hamper a US-backed SDF offensive on Raqqa city by forcing the YPG to divert resources toward its own defence”. The United States has called the air strikes “unacceptable” and deployed special forces to the border region, but the violence has yet to stop. American calls to stop the violence appear to have fallen on deaf ears. At the root of the disconnect lies Washington’s and Ankara’s irreconcilable views of what the YPG is and how it should be treated. Turkey claims that the YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are Syrian offshoots of the PKK, whose brutal, decades-long insurgency has been fuelled by the harsh anti-Kurdish policies of successive Turkish governments. Turkey considers the growing influence of YPG and PYD forces within the SDF in northern Syria a major national security threat, but the US refuses to acknowledge ties between the PKK, which it calls a terrorist organisation, and the YPG, its primary ally against the jihadis in Syria. How far he will push the envelope is anyone’s guess, but Erdogan likely hopes to have improved his bargaining position on a range of bilateral disputes before he heads to his first meeting with US President Donald Trump on May 16.

The Week of April 24th

Desperate Syrian refugees have resorted to selling their body parts to organ traffickers in Lebanon in order to survive. BBC News profiled a security guard turned organ broker who admits to exploiting people but claims the transaction if beneficial to all sides. With high costs of living and limited opportunities for legal, or any, work, individuals are opting to give up kidneys or eyes for up to $8,000 in order to escape debt and support their families. Across the Middle East there’s a shortage of organs for transplant, because of cultural and religious objections to organ donation. Most families prefer immediate burial. With the influx of refugees, brokers have seized this lucrative opportunity.

On Monday, Israel marked its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day with a two-minute siren that across the country that brought Israelis to a stop for a moment of reflection on the 6 million Jewish victims. Pedestrians stood in place, buses stopped on busy streets and cars pulled over on major highways — their drivers standing on the roads with their heads bowed. The annual remembrance is one of the most solemn days on Israel’s calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment shut down, and radio and TV programs are dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and somber music. The Israeli flag flew at half-staff. Israel was established in 1948, just three years after the end of the war, and hundreds of thousands of survivors fled there. Some 160,000 elderly survivors remain, with a similar number worldwide.

On Saturday, in an effort to fend off growing unrest. Saudi Arabia reinstated financial allowances for civil servants and military personnel after better-than-expected budget figures. In September, Saudi Arabia cut ministers’ salaries by 20% and scaled back perks for public sector employees in an unpopular and drastic measures to save money after tumbling oil prices. King Salman issued a royal decree restoring “all allowances, financial benefits, and bonuses” following calls for protests in four Saudi cities over the weekend, adding a two-month salary bonus for forces fighting in the kingdom’s intervention in Yemen.

On Sunday, Morocco and Algeria summoned each other’s ambassadors after Moroccan officials accused Algerian authorities of allowing 54 Syrians to “illegally enter” Morocco to stir tensions on their mutual border. The North African neighbors share a 970-mile border and are often in dispute, particularly over the Western Sahara area. In this latest development, Morocco said the Syrians attempted to enter Morocco through the border town of Figuig, an area surrounded by mountains, between April 17 and 19. It accused Algeria of forcing them to cross into Morocco. “Algeria must assume political responsibility and morality concerning this situation,” a government statement on MAP state news agency said. “It is immoral and unethical to manipulate the moral and physical distress of these people [and] to sow trouble in the Morocco–Algerian border.” Algeria responded with its own barbs accusing the Moroccans of trying to dispatch  a group of Syrians over the border from Morocco into Algeria. Such diplomatic tussling has become increasiingly common as the two countries attempt to shift responsibility for the hundreds of refugees that have entered Morocco through the relatively porous Algerian border, with many aiming to reach European shores.

Also, on Sunday, Israel’s housing minister, Yoav Galant, and the Chinese vice minister of commerce, Fu Ziying, signed an agreement for Israel to employ 6,000 Chinese workers, with a catch — they will not be working in Israel’s controversial West Bank settlements. Israel’s Foreign Ministry claimed the decision to exclude work in the settlements “is based on the concern for the safety and security of the workers” and not politics. However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a briefing to reporters in January that “China’s position on the Palestine-Israel issue is consistent, clear and unchanged. We oppose building Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem and West Bank.” The agreement came after several years of negotiations over allowing Chinese laborers to work in Israel, with talks stalling over the Chinese demand that the workers not work in the settlements. Israel reportedly needs the laborers in order to provide more housing, thus lowering housing prices by increasing supply. The agreement allows Israel to save face by saying the workers would only be allowed to work in areas agreed to by Israel and China from time to time, according to newspaper Haaretz.

And, over the weekend, the tightening grip of Erdogan’s authority was on display yet again as Turkey fired 4,000 officials, blocked Wikipedia and banned television dating shows. The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year. More than 150 news outlets have been shut down by decree since July, according to one estimate. The government justified the Wikipedia ban by claiming that the site’s articles constituted “a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena,” according to a statement published by Anadolu Agency, the state-owned news wire. The ban followed Wikipedia’s refusal to remove content that the Turkish government found offensive, the government said.

The Week of April 17th

There has been a privatization of security that is linked to Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank that many organizations rarely notice. Private companies are used to staff checkpoints, which continue to increase in number; provide security in Israeli prisons; and safeguard Israeli settlements. According to critics, this is another strategy that Israel uses to cement its status quo and reduce the chance of Palestine becoming a state. Israel has developed various forms of military bases in its borders with Palestine. Government support has aided in this development.The use of civilian guards has been discussed to be more professional, one that meets standardized conditions, and a shift in Israel’s view of the profession. However, the privatization is disadvantageous because it causes language barriers and a source of violence that result in the deaths of Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers.

The new Saudi envoy to the United States is a former F-15 fighter pilot in his late-20s. Prince Khaled bin Salman is a son of current King Salman, and younger brother of influential Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Khaled graduated from Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and has participated in the international coalition to combat ISIS as well as the Saudi coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. The young prince replaces Prince Abdullah bin Faisal, who had served in the post for over a year when he was appointed in October, 2015. The new ambassador trained extensively with the US military both in the United States and in Saudi Arabia, including at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. A back injury forced him to stop flying, he worked as an officer in the office of the minister of defense. He is the 10th Saudi ambassador to the U.S. since 1945.

Back in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is planning to make shopping mall jobs available only to Saudi nationals. Menial work is often performed by foreign employees who provide cheap labor and fill undesirable positions. But, the country is making efforts to diversify it’s oil-based economy and ease its reliance on export profits. Nonetheless, Saudi nationals will still make up a minority of the unskilled labor force relative to foreign workers. The labor ministry has realized that of Saudi businesses fail to hire Saudis in favor of the cheaper foreign labor. The aim of the initiative is that the private sector increase opportunities for Saudi citizens. Although the timeline for the restriction has not yet been set, Saudi has a vision 2030 that aims at creating over a million jobs for its nationals. This strategy will help to solve the issue of unemployment in a country with a huge population under 30-years-old.

Two Algerian Islamist parties received widespread criticism after blanking out female candidates’ faces in posters for the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for May 4th. Most of the country seems ambivalent about the election and generally anticipate the continuation of the ineffective status quo. The posters likely gained greater attention than polls will. The faceless posters upset state authorities who ordered the parties to show the faces or be barred from the ballot.The dispute reflects fear among many Algerians of any revival of political Islam in a country that balances religious conservatism with searing memories of its 1990s war against armed Islamist groups that killed 200,000 people. The ultra-conservative Salafi strain of Islam, with its roots in Saudi Arabia, preaches religious purity and argues that their faith bans the faces of women being portrayed in public. The debate spilled into social media, with conservatives arguing the Salafist position that Islam forbids exhibiting women’s faces in public, even in posters. Others on social media have mocked the “ghost women” candidates. Algerian electoral law states that each list of candidates must include a minimum of 15 percent of women, a condition that aims to boost female participation in politics. “How can these candidates reach out to their voters without being visible?” the Collective for Rights and Dignity of Algerian Women said in a statement. “One cannot tolerate such a drift that undermines the dignity of Algerian women.”

The Week of April 10th

Israeli soldiers have been accused of frequently using force even among children. In the year 2016 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a total of 32 Palestinian children were reportedly killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or private security guards, with another 82 injured, said Defense for Children International – Palestine. 2016 was the deadliest year for Palestinian youth in over a decade; the year was marked by increased violence in the region that escalated in October 2015, amid heightened tensions over access to holy sites in Jerusalem, and continued through 2016. Families of the victims who report the Israeli actions have been subjected to reprisals and additional violence. Human rights groups have stepped up pressure on UN Secretary General to include the Israeli military on a blacklist of children’s rights violators in his first annual report. The Israeli army was kept off the 2015 blacklist after the United States and Israeli governments lobbied the UN and threatened to withhold funding from certain programs if Israeli forces were included on the list.

The United States military dropped a huge 21,000-pound powerful munition, one of its most powerful bombs, in Afghanistan on Thursday. The weapon was referred to as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka the mother of all bombs. This bomb targeted an ISIS tunnel complex, and it was the first time this weapon has been used. The tunnel was the deemed a suitable target because the area is remote and the was a minimal risk of civilian casualties. To defeat terrorism, President Trump has given more authority to the Pentagon to take direct action in conflict areas.  The blast could be seen and heard from miles away, and allegedly result in over 90 IS deaths. The giant bomb was also meant to impact the militants psychologically and supporters of the decision claim it was a major turning point in the battle against terrorism.

Bombings at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt resulted in the president calling a three-month state of emergency in order to address alleged tremendous security lapses. ISIL took responsibility for the bombings. The Egypt constitution demands that state of emergency has to be approved by the House of Representatives within a seven day period. During this time, the freedom of movement of the people is usually limited. During the last few months, the number of attacks on Egyptian Copts has increased significantly. Consequently, fear, tension, and anger have increased in the country.

Iran is expected to purchase its first jetliner since the year 1979 in 2018. Although the aircraft was initially ordered by Turkey, the air travel slowdown caused by decreases in tourism led to Turkey’s decision to rescind its purchase order. Iran has since expressed interest as it has an aging commercial fleet that needs to be replaced. The plane is to have great economic benefits between Iran and the U.S; however, American policymakers have had a mixed reactions to the news. Critics argue that Iran intends to use the plane for malevolent purposes. They say that a comprehensive study needs to be conducted to determine the intended use of any purchased aircraft. Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation that would put Iranian  airlines that continue to engage in illicit activities on behalf of terrorist groups or rogue regimes back on sanctions lists. Rep. Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote to President Trump that “as the main benefactor of [Syrian president] Bashar Al-Assad – whose regime has once again used chemical weapons to kill scores of men, women and children – Iran has consistently used commercial aircraft to transport the weapons and troops that have fueled the conflict in Syria which has claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 people.” There are also demands to cancel licenses that allow U.S. companies such as Boeing to do business with these Iranian airlines.

Also in Iran, a surprise announcement came from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner who served as president from between 2005 to 2013 for two terms. Defying recommendations from the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad has registered as a candidate in next month’s presidential elections. The move has shocked the entire nation for it will change the whole presidential race that includes more than a hundred contestants, some of whom are clerics and women. Although the supreme leader had warned against such a move, saying it was not for the country’s best interest, Ahmadinejad disregarded the advice. Though it is unusual for any individual to go against the supreme leader in the nation’s political establishment, it is still constitutional for the former leader to run again. The bid angers the supreme leader because it may impact the likelihood of candidate Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and close ally of the supreme leader, from clinching the presidency.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has achieved victory in a historic referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will grant him sweeping new powers. The yes campaign won 1.25 million more votes than the no campaign, with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted, meaning that expanded presidential powers had been approved. Opposition groups have called for a recount citing irregularities. The result of the referendum sets the stage for a transformation of the upper echelons of the state and changing the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic, arguably the most important development in the country’s history since it was founded after the decline of the Ottoman Republic. Among other anticipated changes, Erdogan has said he will immediately discuss reinstating the death penalty in talks with the prime minister and the nationalist opposition leader.

The Week of April 3rd

In an effort to boost cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the UK will be sending military trainers to Jordan to help the country’s air force in the fight against so-called Islamic State, the prime minister announced. Theresa May will set out measures to boost cooperation between the UK and Jordan to tackle extremism on a visit to the capital Amman on Monday. She will also be visiting Saudi shortly in an effort to maintain ties throughout the Brexit process. May said that “to tackle the threats we face from terrorism and from geopolitical instability, we must meet them at their source.”

Al Jazeera reported that a new pyramid had been discovered in Egypt that “dates back to the 13th Dynasty, some 3,700 years ago.” The remains were located about 40 km south of Cairo in the Dahshur royal necropolis and north of King Sneferu’s pyramid. The head of the Dahshur necropolis, Adel Okasha, said “that the remains belong to the inner structure of the pyramid, including a corridor. Other remains included blocks showing the interior design of the pyramid.”

The Trump administration provided a warm welcome to Egyptian President and strongman, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi. Senior White House official stated after the meeting that Trump “wants to use President Sisi’s visit to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met.”  The pair boast similar personalities; at Trumps inauguration he had a military parade in his honor while Sisi once had a 2.5 mile long red carpet for his motorcade to drive on. Ha Heller from the Royal United Services Institute explained that “both leaders are energised by a focus on security, both see their countries and administrations as being unfairly targeted. Both also rode into power from outside the political elite on the back of an angry populism which seems absent of a clearly thought-out ideology.”

Saudi Arabia announced plans on Saturday to build a 334 sq km “entertainment city” south of the capital Riyadh, to feature sports, cultural and recreational facilities including a safari and a Six Flags theme park as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform program to increase jobs and stimulate the economy. Breaking ground in 2018 with the hopes of being finished by 2022 the three parks will cost between 300 and 500 million with their main investment coming from the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.  The Vision 2030 reform program contains plans to shed the kingdom’s austere reputation, wean the economy off oil and create jobs for young Saudis. But developing a leisure sector is fraught with difficulties in the Islamic kingdom, which adheres to a strict social code where women are required to wear loose-fitting robes, cinemas and alcohol are banned and public spaces are gender-segregated.

The Week of March 27th

Since the attempted coup last summer, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has cracked down on journalists in the country. According to a VOA article, Amnesty International reports that “Turkey now jails more journalists than any other country. One third of all imprisoned journalists in the world are being held in Turkish prisons.” U.S. Department Spokesman Mark Toner responded, saying that “We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trail guarantees, judicial independence and other essential freedoms. We also firmly believe in freedom of expression and that any freedom of expression, including for speech and the media – and that includes also speech that some may find controversial or uncomfortable – only strengthens a democracy and it needs to be protected.”

Due to the border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan has decided to build a fence to safeguard the territory. Clashes between the two are triggered by Pakistani militants based in Afghanistan. Both countries accuse each other of not tackling the their respective issues with violent extremists and each country is said to support militant groups from the other country. The fencing focuses on the high-threat zones in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, highlighted in red below), which border the eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar; there is also technical surveillance in these regions. Pakistan hopes these tactics will ensure that their borders are peaceful and secured because they prevent militants from crossing the regions, and avoid reduce cross-border skirmishes. 

The American University of Afghanistan reopened on March 28th after being closed for 7 months following a deadly terrorist attack that caused 13 casualties and injuries to over 35 people. Parents and students are happy young Afghans can continue their studies at the prestigious institution, which had been the target of militants for some time before the attack. The intentions of the extremists has been to deter learning and to cut ties between the scholars and the outer world. New measures have been put in place to increase security at the university and prevent additional terrorist attacks. Afghan leaders and people have rallied in support of the university and most of the students have returned, though some of them continue to have security concerns. 

Tens of thousands of visitors flocked to Saudi Arabia for the popular annual King Abdulaziz camel festival north of Riyadh. The one-humped dromedaries are considered the “ships of the desert” as they have traditionally provided nomadic Bedouins with food, clothing and transportation. More than 50,000 camels are participating in what has become known as the “Miss Camel” competition. The camels range from the al-Wadah white camel and the al-Majahateer dark camel to the al-Homor reddish, brown camel. The most beautiful among the thousands of competitors are judged on various features, including the size of the camel’s head, whether the lips cover its teeth, the length of the neck, the roundness, height and placement of the hump, the size of its eyes, how long the lashes are, how the nose droops and whether the ears stand back.

The Week of March 20th

The U.S. directive banning the use of electronics larger than cell phones in airplane cabins during flights originating from 10 Middle Eastern countries has been puzzling at best. The ban has raised questions about the safety of storing large quantities of device batteries in the cargo areas of large aircraft carriers while the selection of countries included in the ban is reminiscent of President Trump’s embattled travel ban. Many believe the ban is financially motivated; many airlines in the Middle East are highly subsidized giving them an unfair advantage in price wars with American carriers. The decision will force frequent flyers to look at other, American-affiliated carriers that can circumvent the rules. Royal Jordanian Airlines, however, seized the moment as a prime marketing opportunity, attempting to find humor in the situation through social media posts featuring poems and alternate in-flight entertainment options.

Egypt has suspended the distribution of its school lunches nationwide after 1000s of schoolchildren across Egypt have fallen ill from tainted food in the past several weeks. The ministry of education had reportedly announced earlier this year that it had contracted the military’s production arm, the National Services Projects Organisation (NSPO), to provide the meals The lunches and packets of snacks are part of a project launched to enhance the students’ nutrition and carried the logo of the military-owned al-Nasr for Services and Maintenance and the phrase “long live Egypt,” a slogan popularized by leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a career military officer who overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammad Morsi to become the country’s 6th president in 2014.

Khalid al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, expressed his anticipation for the repeal of a controversial law that seeks to make states responsible for citizens’ acts of terror. The law known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act was passed in 2016 and allows families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia for the role of its civilians in the attacks, Faith stated, “we believe after due consideration by the new Congress and the new administration, that corrective measures will be taken.” Trump is regarded highly amongst the Saudi officials due to his harsh views of Iran. Trump met with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman this past Tuesday to discuss future business between Riyadh and Washington.

What did the UN apartheid report expose in reality?, posed Al Jazeera last week. The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia report calling Israel an apartheid regime was criticized harshly by supporters of Israel who succeeded in getting the report removed from official UN websites. The report used the term “Apartheid” as defined in the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which labels it as: inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime. The authors stated that through Israel’s state-sponsored support of illegal settlements, denial of the right of return of refugees, and the separation of the Palestinian people into disconnected jurisdictions (Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel proper), the country qualifies as an apartheid regime whose administrative system segregates Palestinians due to their ethno-religious affiliation. Therefore, use of the term “apartheid” not withstanding, the report exposes the manner in which the Palestinians have been controlled by the Israelis both in their country and outside their boundaries.

The Week of March 13th

In a follow-up to last week’s news about a massive statue recently unearthed in Egypt and thought to depict Ramses II, one of the country’s most famous pharaohs, the country’s antiquities ministry announced that is likely a representation of a later ruler, Psamtek I, a little known pharaoh from the 26th dynasty who ruled Egypt between 664 and 610 B.C. The size of the statue — with an estimated height of some 9 meters (26 feet) and a weight of seven tons — was typical of Ramses II’s era, but the hieroglyphs discovered at the statue’s back-pillar after it was unearthed showed that it was of Psamtek I. There is a slight possibility that Psamtek I reused an older statue of Ramses II who ruled some 600 years prior to Psamtek I.

On Tuesday, over 3,300 children were hospitalized in southern Egypt after an outbreak of food poisoning at several state-run primary schools. The mass poisoning, in the impoverished Upper Egypt province of Sohag was one of the biggest food-safety cases to hit the country in years. Officials suspect that school lunches may have been contaminated, and they have opened an investigation. Samples from the lunches, consisting of processed cheese cubes, dry sesame paste bars and loaves of bread, were being analyzed, they added. “It is ridiculous how this keeps on happening,” one official said. “It is not hard to store biscuits and look at the expiration date.” This is not the first instance of food contamination in schools in the region.

Team Israel ended a surprise winning streak at the World Baseball Classic competition on Wednesday with a loss to Japan. Israel entered the tournament ranked 41st in the world, the lowest ranked and last team to qualify. In quick succession, however, the Israelis beat third-ranked South Korea 2-1 in extra innings in the opening game before topping fourth-ranked Taiwan 15-7 and ninth-ranked the Netherlands 4-2 to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record. Back in Israel, though, the achievement was insignificant. It is not a popular sport and this particular team consists almost entirely of American pros of Jewish descent who have limited if any connection to the country. Even local sportscasters undermined the effort. Gil Barak of Sports 5 TV Channel, said he couldn’t name a single player on the team, and Israelis just couldn’t identify with such a group.  “No one knows anything about the game and this is entirely alien,” he said. “It’s a sport that has no past here, has no future and has no present.” The team mascot is “The Mensch on the Bench,” seen posing in a team photo above.  

A senior U.N. official quit on Friday after being asked to remove a report calling Israel an “apartheid regime” from a UN website. The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which comprises 18 Arab states, published the report on Wednesday and said it was the first time a UN body had clearly charged that Israel “has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, of Jordan, stood by the report in the face of criticism by the current administrations of Israel and the United States, its ally, which expressed outrage and demanded it be withdrawn. In her resignation letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, she stated, “I do not find it surprising that such member states, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims.” In response, a UN spokesperson claimed the report was removed because it was published without consultation with the UN secretariat; however, there was no official response to the report’s conclusions. 

On Sunday, a Hamas military court sentenced two Palestinians to death for drug dealing, in the first-such case since the militant group seized the Gaza Strip a decade ago. Hamas has issued and implemented capital punishment mostly against people found guilty of murder or of collaborating with Israel. These verdicts were the first against drug dealers. The Interior Ministry says Sunday that one would be killed by a firing squad; the other defendant was sentenced in absentia. Security forces seized $2 million in illicit drugs in January of this year, which was equivalent to what was seized in all of 2016. Most of the seized drugs were narcotics and cannabis.

As desperate Syrians flee the devastating war in their country, some are finding refuge in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, where approximately 1,000 have settled, and Somalia, with a small cohort of 300. In contrast to the millions living in camps in Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors, the Syrians here find themselves relatively free. “I think what makes Ghana different is the fact that we have a very generous asylum policy,” said Tetteh Padi, program coordinator for the Ghana Refugee Board. “They are free to move about. They can go out, look for work. I know for a fact that is not the case in other countries. In some countries, refugees are not even allowed to leave the refugee camps.” However, poverty in the region means that governments are unable to provide housing, employment or other types of support.

The Week of March 6th

On Monday, the Trump administration released a revised executive order after which a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security stated “there’s going to be a very orderly process … you should not see any chaos so to speak, or alleged chaos at airports. There aren’t going to be folks stopped tonight from coming into the country because of this executive order.” However, the American Civil Liberties Union referred to the revised ban as “scaled-back version that shares the same fatal flaws.” The organization also stated that “the only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban. Instead, President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people.” The new order removes Iraq from the list of countries from which immigrants to the United States are banned and also relaxes some of the restrictions placed on Syrian refugees.

Also on Monday, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed into law a bill barring entry into the country to those supporting a boycott of the Jewish state. Israel has been faced with a boycott movement over its nearly 50-year occupation of the West Bank but it has lately intensified the diplomatic and legal fight against it. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement campaigns for a global boycott of Israel until, among other demands, the country withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories. Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of antisemitism – a claim BDS denies.

On Tuesday, sports-apparel giant, Nike, launched its new Pro Hijab women-empowering initiative in support of female Muslim athletes. The effort to design competitive Islamic sportswear began after a veiled runner took the field at the 2012 London Olympics. With more women engaged in physical activity and an ongoing demand for fashionable Muslim dress in the Middle East, this market will continue to expand and gain attention. Arab athletes were involved in the research and development of the Pro Hijab and a number of notable figures applauded the effort to make sports and athleticism more inclusive. Zahra Lari, an ice-skater in the UAE, stated that people might think or tell veiled athletes that they cannot do certain things, “but I’m going to show them you (athletes) absolutely can,” she said. “I am covered, I am Muslim, I am from a desert country and I’m doing a winter sport. It’s fine to do what you love. My family is behind me, my country is behind me — and there’s no reason why I can’t achieve what I want to achieve.”

On Wednesday, the State Department approved a resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia that critics have linked to the kingdom’s bombing of civilians in Yemen, a potential sign of reinvigorated U.S. support for the kingdom’s involvement in its neighbor’s ongoing civil war.  The proposal from the State Department would reverse a decision made late in the Obama administration to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh, which leads a mostly Arab coalition conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Tom Malinowski, who served as the top human rights official at the State Department under President Barack Obama, disagreed with the decision, stating “Urging the Saudis to end the war while continuing to provide the weapons they’re using is like trying to persuade a friend not to rob a bank while driving his getaway car.”

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, had its first live music event since the early 1990s on Thursday night as legendary Arab singers Rashed al-Majed and Mohammed Abdu performed to a Riyadh audience, marking a major social shift in the conservative kingdom. The concert drew 2,000 men who paid which sold out in minutes. Saudi Arabia began introducing entertainment despite opposition from Muslim hardliners. Although conservatism prevails, there is pressure for change in a country where more than half of the population is younger than 25 and people are connected to the wider world through the internet. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pushing for social reforms as well as diversification of the oil-reliant economy; the entertainment industry is one focus of his efforts, partly out of an economic motive to get Saudis spending at home rather than elsewhere in the Gulf.

Finally, archaeologists in Egypt discovered a massive statue in a Cairo slum that may be of Pharaoh Ramses II, one of the country’s most famous ancient rulers. The colossus, whose head was pulled from mud and groundwater by a bulldozer, is around 26 feet high and was discovered by a German-Egyptian team. Egyptologist Khaled Nabil Osman said the statue was an “impressive find” and the area is likely full of other buried antiquities. “It was the main cultural place of ancient Egypt. Even the Bible mentions it,” he said. “The sad news is that the whole area needs to be cleaned up. The sewers and market should be moved.”

The Week of February 27th

Former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has been acquitted of charges related to deaths of protesters during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Cairo. According to Al Jazeera, “it has been six long years. Mubarak has stood so many trials in front of various courts. He’s been tried mainly for two things. First in his role in killing protesters in the 18 days of the January 25 revolution. He was also tried for corruption. Egyptians were closely watching the trial for involvement in killing protesters.In 2012, he was found guilty and was sentenced to life. He appealed against that ruling. He was found innocent today.” While Mubarak prepares to leave captivity, many of the civilians arrested during the demonstrations remain in jail, some without charge, 6 years after the revolution occurred. There are about 60,000 activists in jail today but the most senior leaders of the Mubarak regime, who people revolted against, have frequently been found innocent because of a lack of evidence.

In downtown Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs face off over shesh besh, the local name for backgammon. The gathering is the latest in a series of events organized by Double Yerushalmi, a group trying to build closer ties between Arabs and Jews through cultural activities like singing, dancing and the increasingly popular backgammon championship. The events have occurred six times in recent months in both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, and their popularity has grown steadily. “The city is segregated in many ways, so we wanted to create some crossover between neighborhoods,” said one of the organizers. “Politics is not at the center of this, but it’s around.” With a history that some trace back 5,000 years to the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, backgammon is a mainstay in the Middle East, the clatter of the counters ringing out in the souks of Cairo, Istanbul, Casablanca and Damascus for centuries. The leaders of the initiative are organizing a Mediterranean championship later this year, with players coming from Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and across Europe.

After a long struggle to oust ISIS from its last major stronghold in Iraq, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army units took control of all main roads leading to western Mosul, effectively trapping any remaining ISIS fighters. This is a major gain for the Iraqi army which in January liberated the eastern part of the city after 100 days of fighting. Iraqi forces took control of some of the buildings in western Mosul, which it considered a sign of hope and “symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city.”

The UNHCR held its 34th session in Geneva, Switzerland, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke of the necessity for a two state solution. He brought up the Jewish-only settlement outposts that were legalized this past month on private Palestinian land claiming that the Israeli government was moving towards an “apartheid solution.”  Abbas also stated, “Palestine will remain the litmus test for this council … and whether it succeeds or not, will be crucial for the credibility of the human rights system throughout the world.”

Two friends from Dubai created an emoji app called “HALLA WALLA,” which translates to “hi, there” in Arabic.  The women created the app to introduce people to Arab culture. Co-creator Yasmine said that “It’s been a cultural and social experiment for us . . . We actually started this because we were jumping between cities, and people were asking us, ‘Okay, so what is it like in the Arab world?’ [We] were trying to explain what the culture is like, the beauty and the richness of it.” Partner Eriko explained that “we really wanted to capture how fun-loving people are here – [some] are quite liberal, but also wear traditional dress . . . our friends are mixed – we have some covered, some non-covered. So we really just wanted to capture all of that – to show that there’s such a diversity here, especially in our generation.”

The Week of February 20th

Iranian authorities on Monday blamed neighboring Iraq for a sandstorm that knocked out power in an oil-rich southern province and sparked protests against local officials. A vice president in charge of environmental affairs called on Iraq to implement an agreement to prevent dust storms by spreading mulch over 3,500 sq. miles of desert, state TV reported. The sandstorm temporarily cut off power and water to much of the Khuzestan province, and reduced oil production by 700,000 barrels per day. A local health official stated that 218 people were hospitalized for respiratory problems because of the storm.

A new deposit of seeds from the Middle East into the Global Seed Vault deep inside the Arctic circle will contribute to global food security. It currently holds around 880,000 samples from almost every country in the world, duplicating the samples of grains and vegetables held in a network of regional seedbanks around the world. Until 2015, the vault had only ever been accessed to deposit more seeds. However, that year the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) became the first organisation to ever make a withdrawal, when it took some 38,000 seeds from the facility. Today, the first of those seeds have been replaced, with 15,420 samples deposited for long-term conservation. The withdrawal was necessary because of the Syrian civil war. ICARDA’s genebank of seeds was held in Tel Hadya, on the outskirts of war-torn Aleppo, in northern Syria. Although the store itself was under no immediate danger, staff couldn’t access the seeds in it so they couldn’t be distributed for use and new samples couldn’t be regenerated. With no end to the war in sight, ICARDA moved its headquarters to Beirut and set up two new growing sites, in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and close to Rabat in Morocco.

A British Museum scheme aims to equip Iraq archaeologists the with digital and excavation skills necessary to salvage artifacts and rebuild ancient sites that the Islamic State has attempted to destroy. The archaeologists are trained in the UK before working on-site at various locations in Iraq. The participants are being taught to spot booby traps while excavating, as well as learning digital techniques like geophysical surveys, remote sensing, and how to use a multi-station – equipment that helps with mapping and measurements.

UNHCR member states urged the international community to defend the two-state solution in fear that Israel is moving towards an “apartheid solution” and neglecting the rights of Palestinians as dozens of new Jewish-only settlements are legalized in private Palestinian land. This follows the comments made by Donald Trump who stated that he “could live with either one” in regard to a one or two-state solution. He also cautioned states to not move their embassies to Jerusalem, the divided city, in place of Tel Aviv.

The Week of February 13th

The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Trump on Monday. This is their first official visit since Trump’s inauguration. According to the Times of Israel, Trump said in an interview that Israel’s settlement-expansion was not ‘good for peace,’” in a Pro-Netanyahu Israel daily Hayom. This meeting will be a test for Netanyahu to see how the settlements will play out in American policy in the future.

Hamas has a new leader in the Gaza Strip. Yahya Sinwar spent 20 years in Israeli jail before being released in 2011 due to a prisoner swap. According to Al Jazeera he was sentenced for “tracking and killing Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.” Known as the founder of the group’s military wing, Sinwar will be a key decision-maker for Hamas and a member of its executive leadership that draws up policies, including towards Israel. The Gaza branch of the Palestinian organization has yielded greater clout in the last decade with the organization leader, Khaled Mashal, in exile, and Hamas acting as the governing authority in the Strip since 2007.

By 2117 the United Arab Emirates hopes to have human settlements on Mars. This new project is in collaboration with the UAE government and international researchers with the goal of creating a habitable settlement on the Red Planet. The Emirati Research team is exploring new and faster ways to travel back and forth from the planet as well as how life will function in terms of food and energy on Mars.

Egypt has sworn in 9 new cabinet ministers and 5 governors, one of which is the first female governor in the country. Nadia Saleh will take upon a role that is normally presented to those who are retired police or military officials. The cabinet reshuffle follows weeks of discussions with Prime Minister Sharif Ismail who had trouble finding candidates who would be willing to leave profitable jobs in the private sector to work in his cabinet.

Also in the Gaza Strip, heavy wind and rains caused severe flooding late last week, leading to an evacuation of residents from low-lying districts. According to local sources, the rain has overwhelmed the territory’s beleaguered sewage system and forced at least eight families to evacuate from their makeshift homes in the northern Gaza Saftawi neighborhood. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education in Gaza closed all schools due to the persistent bad weather and even some area universities suspended classes.

The Week of February 6th

Iran carried out a ballistic missile test on Sunday, resulting in international disapproval as many feared it could be in violation of a UN resolution adopted in 2015 prohibiting ballistic missile tests designed to deliver a nuclear warhead. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded that missiles are not a part of the nuclear deal and that the country’s missiles are “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead”. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has imposed new sanctions on individuals and businesses involved in Iran’s missile industry.

President Trump’s press secretary articulated a slight shift in the new administration’s outlook on the Arab-Israeli issue, leaving many uncertain about what to expect moving forward. While denying that settlements are an impediment to peace, the administration did indicate that “the (Israeli) construction of new settlements” may not be helpful towards achieving peace with Palestine and arriving to a two-state solution.

Morocco has been readmitted to the African Union more than three decades after it left when the continental body recognized the independence of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Some people believe that the membership will provide a platform to revisit the issue. Morocco controls 2/3rd of Western Sahara which is regards as part of its historic territory. Algeria and a handful of other African countries are supportive of the Saharawi independence movement but a majority of AU members welcomed the kingdom’s return to the regional body which began in 1963 as the Organisation of African Unity.

Heavy snowfall in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the weekend has resulted in dozens of deaths from avalanches and collapsing roofs. Much of mountainous Afghanistan has been crippled by up to 8 feet of snow in some areas making them inaccessible to emergency vehicles. The government declared Sunday, normally a part of the work week, a national holiday due to the weather’s effects on infrastructure and roadways.

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, which is responsible for over 60,000 students attending universities around the United States sent a warning to them on Saturday to “avoid joining any political and religious discussions and to avoid making statements to the media that could harm them in the wake of President Trump’s controversial Executive Order. Though Saudi Arabia is not one of the seven states included in the order, the mission has cautioned Saudi students to avoid areas deemed dangerous or suspect and to avoid large crowds of protests at all costs. The statement also advised students to abide by the rules and regulations while studying in the US to avoid any problems to their I-20 visas and to remove any sensitive content from their social media accounts.

Week of Jan 23, 2017: 

Two days of talks over the Syrian civil war concluded on Tuesday with an agreement by Iran, Russia and Turkey to monitor and enforce a fragile partial cease-fire. The talks, held in Astana, Kazakhstan, did not result in any tangible progress but highlighted the significant influence the three foreign powers have in the war. Neither the Syrian government nor the rebel fighters — who briefly met face to face for the first time in nearly six years of war — signed the agreement. UN-hosted negotiations on the conflict planned for February 8 in Geneva have been postponed until the end of that month.

The effects of an executive order by new American president, Donald J. Trump, banning entry to the United States of the citizens of 7 Muslim-majority countries on Saturday were instantaneous. Several federal judges blocked the order, claiming it violates the U.S. constitution. The executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” bars citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya for 90 days. Refugees from any country are restricted from entering the country for 90 days while Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely. Chaos ensued across the country at airports where security officials arbitrarily applied either the executive order or the judicial holds without explanation. There were cases of individuals with legal residency (green cards) being turned back upon arrival, with limited access to legal counsel. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States, according to an analysis of terrorism immigration risks by the Cato Institute.

Some 16,000 children in the eastern part of Mosul have returned to school for the first time in two years after Iraqi forces reclaimed a large portion of the city from the Islamic State group. Most children had stayed at home during the period; some students continued to attend schools that were taken over by IS forces and were given instruction according to the group’s radical ideology that included bomb-making and indoctrination on appropriate gender roles. School infrastructure has been heavily damaged as many  were re-purposed as prisons or graveyards; UNICEF is supporting the Iraqi authorities in their efforts to rehabilitate, equip and open schools as the security situation has improved. Addressing the trauma experienced by both students and educators will be a key factor in achieving some sort of normalcy after such prolonged upheaval.

Some positive news came from Egypt where its Museum of Islamic Art reopened to visitors for the first time since it was damaged by a car bomb directed at a police station across the street in January 2014. Home to one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic artifacts, it reopened last week after a two-year restoration program funded by the United Arab Emirates and UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nation, as well Switzerland, the United States and Italy.

Week of Jan 16, 2017: 

On Monday, an Egyptian court ruled against the government’s attempt to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The decision to transfer the uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir, announced alongside a Saudi aid package last year, sparked the largest protests of el-Sissi’s two-and-a-half-year rule as people saw the decision as a bribe for the wealthy gulf state’s continued patronship. The deal was signed last April during a visit by Saudi King Salman, who announced billions of dollars in Saudi loans and investment. The government insists the islands always belonged to Saudi Arabia and were merely placed under Egypt’s protection in the 1950s. However, the Supreme Administrative Court, in a unanimous verdict, upheld a lower court’s ruling that the move was unconstitutional. It said the islands were Egyptian and that the government provided no documents to prove otherwise. Saudi Arabia has recently ceased providing fuel subsidies to Egypt because of disagreements between the two countries on the Syria crisis. The court decision is seen as a huge embarrassment for El-Sissi.

Fuel from Qatar arrived in the Gaza Strip on January 16th, helping ease a crippling power shortage that sparked rare demonstrations against the territory’s Hamas rulers who responded with a crackdown on protesters. The recent shortage had limited daily power availability to four hours a day. Gaza’s power authority said the Qatari-bought diesel would double the amount of power provided to Gazan households. Hamas ally, Turkey, is expected to supply Gaza with more fuel.

An American team has embarked on a project in Lebanon to determine how climate change affects the livelihood of two communities.  The Lebanon Reforestation Initiative is a project funded by U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service. The team is Studying the  Bkassine Pine Forest that fuels the local pine nut industry as well as the hillsides of El Mhaidthe, where herbs and other plants that grow on public lands are collected by local residents and made into teas and jams that are sold through a food cooperative. The research will make a link between climate change and local resources and economies; one researcher noted, “In the Bkassine Pine Forest, there’s a fairly substantial landslide happening where they’re losing about 10 pine trees per year. That adds up to a lot of money because each pine tree produces over a kilo of finished product.”

Iran’s centuries-old windmills in the village of Nashtifan may soon stop turning due to disrepair and a lack of potential successors to assume control of their maintenance from the currently- elderly keeper of the tradition. Made of natural clay, straw, and wood, the windmills have been milling grain for flour for an estimated 1,000 years. With the area’s ample winds, the devices can readily glean enough power from the wind to turn a stone. But, if they were hooked up to a generator they would produce only a small amount of electricity, possibly not even enough for a light bulb. Today’s power-harvesting turbines have more efficient designs that take advantage of lift to attain higher speeds, and therefore produce much more power. In 2002 the windmills were recognized as a national heritage site by Iran and they have become a tourist destination, but their future remains uncertain.

Week of Jan 9, 2017: 

On Wednesday, the government of Morocco banned the manufacture and sale of the full-body garment known as the burqa which is more common in conservative Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ostensibly, the new rule has been made out of security concerns and some have criticized the move as a suppression of civil and religious freedom. However, the ban does not apply to the wearing of the burqa which is not actually a part of the Moroccan culture anyway; there is a diversity of sartorial choices in the kingdom as some women do not use any veil, others use the headscarf, and still  fewer opt for the niqab which covers the face with the exception of the eyes. Thus, the announcement is more of a political  statement that will have little tangible impact on society. The majority-Muslim country and former French protectorate where the influence of Western secularist ideals remains, has been trying to foster more moderate expressions of Islam and subtly warn Islamists not to go too far, though acts of extremism remain rare.

Ride sharing apps have been making a mark across the Middle East on both economic and social fronts. The use of Uber as well as the regional company, Careem, has surged, resulting in conflicts with the status quo. In Morocco, for instance, Uber was banned a month after it was first introduced but remains active in Casablanca. It has recently found itself the target of increasingly brash protests organised by owners of Casablanca’s 18,000 cabs who denounce the apps as “unfair competition.” In one protest last month, dozens of taxi drivers posed as would-be passengers, flooding the app with requests before forcing the Uber drivers from their vehicles, much to the bemusement of onlookers. Meanwhile, women have been using the service as more affordable and reliable means of transportation in Saudi Arabia where it is illegal for them to drive. Women often are forced to rely on costly drivers, male relatives or shabby taxis to get around. The high female engagement with such apps also reflects how social attitudes are evolving in the conservative kingdom. Traditional social norms dictate local women cannot interact with men to which they are not related. However, the ride-hailing scenario has jumped ahead of such restrictions, aided by a zero tolerance policy for driver complaints operated by Uber and Careem. The government invested in the companies in an effort to boost its economy; Uber and Careem say they will create up to 200,000 jobs for Saudi men in the next two years. Further, by offering women a way to get to work, it should also help meet the Vision 2030 economic reform plan’s goal of increasing the female workforce by five percentage points in the next five years to 28 percent.

A 3,400-year-old graveyard with family crypts has been unearthed in southern Egypt at the site of Gebel el Silsila by a team from Sweden’s Lund University, Egypt’s antiquities ministry has announced. The tombs range in size from large crypts that may hold the bones of complete families to smaller tombs that are sometimes little more than shallow graves with a few stones on top. Children and infants were found in some of the simpler graves. The condition of the skeletal remains indicated that the individuals were involved in difficult manual labor work but that they were well-nourished and had access to high quality medical care.

And in today’s Egypt, the country’s floundering economy has had a profound impact on drug supplies. As a result, Egyptians are skipping trips to drug stores and instead turning to traditional herbal remedies to treat every-day illnesses.Apothecaries say there has been a roughly 70-80 percent increase in sales of their wares since a series of harsh economic reforms hit supplies of conventional medicines and increased the cost of some generic and even life-saving drugs. The government said on Thursday those price rises could reach as high as 15 percent for domestically-produced medicines and 20 percent for imports.

A peace conference held in Paris over the weekend had no tangible impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Spearheaded by French President Francois Holland, the conference was missing representatives from either Israel or Palestine who attributed their decision not to attend to the anticipated futility of the meeting.  The 70 participating nations had their opportunity to invoke the mantra of the two-state solution and acknowledge as did President Holland, that only the parties themselves can make peace. The  forum also served as an opportunity for world leaders to collectively denounce President-Elect Donald Trump’s vow to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  

Week of Jan 2, 2017: 

Reuters reports that former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died on Sunday at the age of 82. He had been described as “a pillar of the Islamic revolution”. His pragmatic policies – economic liberalization, better relations with the West and empowering elected bodies – appealed to many Iranians but were despised by hardliners. Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University, said his death could not have come at a worse time, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office. “With what is happening in the U.S. and the possible instability that is going to come in U.S. policy you needed a voice of reason and pragmatism that had some heft to it. He was that voice. Losing that voice is going to make it more likely that any mishap or miscalculation by the Trump team will beget a more unreasonable, more radical, more potentially destructive response by the Iranian regime.”

12 people have been taken to court in Jordan over online abuse of Istanbul attack victims.  A judicial source told the agency that offences against the victims include, libel, insult and slander to Jordanian victims and families of the terror attack. Two Jordanians and a number of other Arab nationals were killed in the attacks; several victims were maligned for visiting a western-style establishment where drinking and socializing between men and women occurred.

Sidi Ifni in Morcco is an arid area with annual precipitation of less that 130 mm. What it does have, however, is an average of 143 days of fog each year, which is caused by a unique microclimate. Warm air driven by ocean currents makes landfall on Morocco’s Atlantic coast around the town of Sidi Ifni; as the humid air rises, it hits the natural barrier of Morocco’s Anti-Atlas mountains, which start just 35km east from the coast and rise to more than 2,500m. From there, the air turns into blankets of thick fog, particularly between December and June. For years, the community saw this as a bad thing: they believed the fog prevented rainfall, turned fields to mud and made people ill. Over the past 10 years, vast mesh nets have been erected to capture the moisture at an altitude of 1,225m in what is now the largest fog-harvesting project in the world. Roughly 6,300 litres of water can be harvested daily. The benefits have been significant, particularly on rural girls and women who previously were burdened with time-consuming task of fetching water from area wells. This population can now seek education and additional sources of income.

Coptic Christians in Egypt observed a sober Coptic Christmas on January 7th in the wake of a devastating attack on a major church in December that killed over two dozen people, including a 10-year-old girl. The attack was claimed by Islamic State. Egypt’s Christians make up 10 percent of the country’s 94 million people and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Under the Coptic calendar, the birth of Jesus Christ falls on Jan. 7, when Christmas is also celebrated in Eastern Orthodox nations such as Russia. Usually the most festive religious holiday for the community, the occasion was used by many to mourn the recent losses and maintain bedside vigils for those still in critical condition.

Israel has vowed to cut $6 million from UN dues in protest over the resent resolution condemning the country’s continued construction of settlements on occupied land. Israel’s UN mission said the amount represented the portion of Israel’s contribution to the UN’s regular budget totaling more than $40m allocated “to anti-Israel bodies”. It named the UN agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA, the Division for Palestinian Rights, the committee investigating Israeli practices affecting Palestinian human rights, and information programs on “the Question of Palestine”. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, claimed, ““It is unreasonable for Israel to fund bodies that operate against us at the UN.”


The Week of December 12th, 2016

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump considers moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a “very big priority,” said senior advisor Kellyanne Conway in a radio interview on Monday. According to a report in Israel’s Channel 2 news, the president-elect is looking into where to place the new US embassy, considering in the Diplomat Hotel in the center of the city as a possible site. “It’s something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, Israel would appreciate. And it’s something that a lot of Jewish Americans also have expressed their preference for that,” Conway said. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would reverse decades of U.S. foreign policy.

On Sunday, Pakistani politician Imran Khan stated he would no longer allow anyone to hunt houbara bustards, a migratory species of bird. This defies the country’s longstanding policy of giving hunting licenses to regional allies, as Arab sheikhs will no longer be allowed to access the swaths of habitat used by the houbara bustards. In recent years, there has been growing public and judicial criticism over the special dispensation given to rich and powerful Arabs to hunt the birds. More than 30 permits were issued in 2014 to visitors including presidents, ambassadors and ministers, but last year, the Pakistani supreme court ruled that no more hunting licenses would be issued, banning even the most rich and powerful allies from obtaining them.

Malnutrition among Yemen’s children is increasing at an alarming rate, with nearly 2.2 million in need of urgent care, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday. There are millions on the brink of famine, and the number of people suffering from malnutrition has seen a drastic increase of almost 200 percent in the last two years. In Yemen, one child dies every ten minutes due to malnutrition, diarrhea, or respiratory tract infections, UNICEF reported. On Monday, UNICEF acting representative Meritxell Relano called for assistance, saying: “we call on parties to the conflict to give us unhindered access to children in need across the country so we are able to deliver nutrition supplies, treat malnourished children and support Yemen’s health services.”

A Christian church was bombed in Cairo on 11 December, killing at least 25 worshipers. Police have already arrested four accomplices to the suicide bomber who detonated a vest inside the church, and are searching for two more. President Sisi is now scrambling to reassure Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority of their safety and protection–the Copts are among Sisi’s staunchest supporters.

Qatar is coming under increasing fire for its treatment of migrant laborers. Although the Gulf nation passed new labor laws, many human rights groups say the provisions will not remedy the slave-like conditions under which the men work. The Qatari government released a statement denouncing a report by Amnesty International, saying the new laws are “fit for purpose.”

Gunmen in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar opened fire on a van carrying female airport employees on Saturday morning, killing five women and their male driver, officials said. The Afghan government has been struggling to expand opportunities for women in the work force, but that effort has been hampered by strict conservative customs about the role of women in society and security threats posed by the conflict with the Taliban.

The Week of December 5th, 2016

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held their 37th summit on Wednesday. Discussing a number of the region’s most pressing issues, the GCC member states released multiple statements throughout the summit. On Iran, the leaders expressed rejection of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the GCC countries and the region, stating that “Iran must change its policy of harboring the terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, supporting terrorist militias and triggering sectarian strife in the region.” Additionally, the Council called on the U.N. Security Council to make an urgent intervention in Syria and supported efforts exerted by those attempting to find a political solution to the crisis. Furthermore, they condemned the recent U.S. Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and called on Washington to rethink this legislation. The concluding statement from the summit affirmed the Council’s support of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

During a speech on Tuesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel called for a national ban on full-face veils. “The full veil is not appropriate here, it should be forbidden wherever that is legally possible. It does not belong to us,” she said at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) gathering. Germany is not the only country to call for a ban on full-face veils, but other countries around the world, including France, Belgium and Switzerland, have proposed, partial, local or national bans on such Islamic dress in public places. While the laws have been criticized by religious freedom advocates, supporters see the Islamic veil as demeaning to women and inconsistent with secularism.

Last week, an Israeli biomedical company announced that it had successfully transplanted artificially grown human bone into a group of patients suffering from bone loss. “For the first time anywhere in the world, a quick, and effective and safe bone rehabilitation using a single injection of a living, growing graft transplanted inside a human bone has been completed successfully,” the company said. This breakthrough is important, because injectable bone grafts could significantly change the way doctors relate to orthopedic problems and bone repairs.

On Friday, young Iraqi women cycled around Baghdad city in defiance of traditional gender roles. Although there is not a ban on women bicycling in public spaces, women typically do not do so because their society frowns upon it. The woman heading the group of cyclists, Marina Jaber, has been documenting the varied reactions on Instagram–some smiled at her as she passes, and others glared. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, 15 women, mainly teenagers, are among 50 members of Kabul’s first freestyle cycling club. Cyclists gather three times a week at a concrete playground in the capital, using metal tables, wooden crates and boxes to perfect stunts they have seen performed on YouTube, Facebook and other social media. For members, male and female, the club offers a much-needed escape from violence, which has worsened over the past year due to a resurgent Taliban.

A Lebanese chef named Barbara Abdeni Massaad decided to create a soup cookbook for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon after seeing the plight of the many refugees living in camps across the country. She created a book full of traditional Middle Eastern recipes with contributions form international food luminaries like Anthony Bourdain. Barbara also hands out soup to refugees each weekend; the author is a refugee herself, and lived in the United States for eight years when escaping the Lebanese Civil War. The profits from the cookbook have reached $300,000, and Massaad plans to donate all of the money to the refugee effort. Massaad says she is working so hard to help the refugees because “they have the same basic needs. They need food, they need shelter, they need dignity, they need love, they just want a sense of being, they want to build the future for their children.”

The Week of November 28th, 2016

Fatah re-elected Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the party at the first session of congress in seven years. The vote was a formality, as Abbas ran unopposed. At 81 years old, Abbas is still vital to Palestinian politics. The Fatah party is at a difficult point as of late, with the looming Trump administration policies poised to be much more Israel-friendly and peace negotiations at a standstill. Reform is on Abbas’ agenda, as he hopes to make progress despite the current political climate.

After the 2011 uprisings in Tunisia that overthrew President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, foreign investment in the Middle Eastern nation has plummeted. To combat this, an event was held in Tunis called Tunisia 2020. It invited representatives from other countries and international organizations to come invest in Tunisia or offer aid packages to stimulate the depleted economy. Billions of dollars will soon enter the Tunisian economy thanks to loans and investments from Qatar, the European Investment Bank, Kuwait, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

A young woman born in a refugee camp in Kenya, who now lives in Minnesota, made history by competing in the Miss Minnesota pageant in a burkini. Halima Aden decided the pageant would be a great way to showcase her Somali heritage and Muslim faith, and she received a lot of encouragement from family, friends, and other young Muslims whom she had never met. She tried to dispel any negative misconceptions about Islam by competing in the pageant, and although she thought this would be her only pageant, she received so much positive feedback that she is open to competing in another.

Last Thursday, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced its discovery of the remains of a 5,000-year-old city near Abydos, Egypt. An ancient cemetery and several houses have been unearthed at the site, and inside the houses, archeologists have discovered pottery and stone tools used during that time period. While the size of the city is still unclear, the Ministry stated that the city dates back to the early dynastic period when the first pharaohs ruled over Egypt. As the site continues to be excavated, this discovery could provide better insight into what life was like in Egypt 5,000 years ago.

In an interview with Gulf News last week, NASA announced its intentions to collaborate with the UAE Space Agency, undertaking a project that will add communication capability to the UAE’s Mars probe Hope. In an interview to Gulf News during her visit to the UAE last week, Dr Gale Allen said the development is part of a recently signed “umbrella agreement” for collaboration between the two agencies. The UAE is the first in the region to undertake a mission to Mars. The UAE Space Agency is also working on the development of an astronomical camera network that would monitor debris in space which could benefit space agencies around the world.

In Morocco’s Fez, world’s oldest library holds gems. The Qarawiyyin library, built in 9th century, is home to priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine. Years of delicate restoration are close to being finished. “All that’s left to be done are a few finishing touches and the electricity,” says Boubker Jouane, the library’s deputy director. “A house of science and wisdom,” according to its founder Fatima Al-Fihri, the Qarawiyyin library was one of the Arab world’s largest centers of learning. Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Al-Qayrawan in Tunisia, established the library, the university that originally housed it and a mosque in 859 CE. The collection is particularly valuable during a time when extremists have increasingly targeted early relics of Islam. Islamic State burned thousands of rare manuscripts last year at the Mosul library in Iraq, and in 2013 Islamists torched countless early writings from the Islamic world and Greece in Mali’s Timbuktu.

The Week of November 14th, 2016

On Monday and Tuesday, Iran shut schools after its cities were hit by choking levels of air pollution. A blanket of brown-white smog descended on the capital Tehran, forcing many of its 14 million residents to retreat indoors or don face masks in the street. The pollution in Tehran hit 156 on the Air Quality Index of deadly airborne particles, over the 150 considered “unhealthy” for the general public. Every year, Tehran suffers some of the worst pollution in the world when cool autumn temperatures cause an effect known as “temperature inversion”. The phenomenon creates a layer of warm air above the city that traps pollution from some 10 million cars and motorbikes.

A class of around 200 female nursing students will soon graduate from their programs in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, an amazing feat in a country where most girls have not completed elementary school. These students will return to their poor villages in the countryside to combat the high maternal mortality rate that plagues the country–a lack of female health workers in poor areas means that women do not get adequate care when giving birth. The program is run by the United Nations Development Program and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, and is the first of its kind.

Egypt-Israel relations are at their highest point in history according to analysts. Under Sisi, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was reopened, and Egypt and Israel cooperate militarily. There are several reasons for this out-of-character alliance–the two states have the same enemies, the Sinai insurgency and Hamas, and they both have the same economic opportunities in the form of large gas reserves. The relationship is so good that, reportedly, Egypt has allowed Israel to carry out drone strikes in the Sinai Peninsula. The relations will have broader impacts for the region. There is talk of an unofficial alliance between all of the United States’ backed countries, who are pitted against Syria, Iran, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. One analyst said this alliance could make regional divisions even worse.

The United Arab Emirates has issued a new law giving federal government employees three months of paid maternity leave.  Most government employees around the country typically have 60 days of paid maternity leave under current laws. According to Article 53 of the amended Law 11, reports Khaleej Times, women will also be granted two hours a day to breastfeed their newborns until they’re four months old. One of the hopeful outcomes is that such measures will encourage woman to stay in the workforce after having children.

The Egyptian Court of Cassation overturned Mohamed Morsi’s life sentence on November 22, and instead ordered a retrial for the deposed head of state, who last week also had a death sentence overturned. Morsi has been charged with several offences, including escaping prison in 2011, and sharing state secrets with foreign powers, but his lawyer said “the trial … failed to come up with any evidence to substantiate the charges.” The trials were heavily criticized by human rights groups who said they were unfair. Now, Morsi remains in jail on a separate espionage conviction and awaits his new trial.

The Week of November 7th, 2016

Egypt says Saudi Arabia has halted fuel shipments indefinitely in a sign of lingering tensions following a conflict regarding differences over the Syrian conflict and over Egypt’s unwillingness to send ground troops to join a Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has provided Egypt with billions of dollars in aid and credit since Sisi overthrew Morsi in 2013, but Egypt announced in October that it had invited tenders to meet its refined oil products needs after Aramco halted the delivery of 700,000 tons. “In November we’re buying from the world market,” said an Egyptian ministry official, adding they have not been informed when Aramco would resume shipments. Economic turmoil is hurting Egyptians. Cairo floated its currency last week and cut fuel subsidies, leading to across-the-board price hikes in the Arab world’s most populous country.

Rabat urges nations that ratified Paris agreement to commit amid threat of Donald Trump winning the United States presidential vote. Morocco’s foreign minister said on the eve of United Nations talks in Marrakesh said there is “no turning back” from a global accord to combat climate change. Earlier this year, Morocco opened Noor 1, a solar power plant in the Sahara so enormous it can be seen from space. And that’s just the plant’s first section—by the time parts two and three of the $9 billion project are finished in 2018, it will likely be the biggest solar plant in the world, providing energy for at least a million people with a 580 megawatt capacity. It’s all part of a push to generate 52% of its energy from renewables by 2030. Morocco’s renewable energy drive is spurred by the unsustainably high proportion of energy it imports from abroad. In 2013, that figure was at 90%, according to the World Bank.

As the CEO of Kurdistan’s very first airline, Zagrosjet, Moffak Hamad is dedicated to investing every minute of his workdays into making this project a symbol of success. However, he finds himself spending most of his time caught up in the political punchup between Erbil and Baghdad. With that in mind, Hamad continues working hard to boost Zagrosjet to the next level by cooperating with flagship airlines to fly to regions that require high standards of safety regulations, such as the European Union. He has more than just his own company’s best interests in mind. With Zagrosjet, the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region is attempting to take greater control over its own airspace. The Iraqi Kurdistan region is not fully independent, and must get Baghdad’s authorization before every take-off and landing, which can damage Zagrosjet’s credibility. But in spite of the difficulty in establishing a successful airline in such a tense geopolitical region, seated at his desk at Zagrosjet headquarters, with his left hand steady by the phone, Hamad seems battle-hardened and determined to steer Kurdistan’s first airline towards a prosperous future.

The number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has skyrocketed to 1,410 within three weeks of an outbreak being declared, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Eighteen months of war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition backing the Yemeni government has destroyed the majority of health facilities and clean water supplies in the country.Yemen’s health ministry announced the outbreak in early October, when WHO officials said there were 24 suspected cases and the disease was not spreading. On Friday, though, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a news conference that, as of Thursday, there were 1,410 suspected cholera cases in 10 out of Yemen’s 23 governorates. The conflict has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions. Cholera is only one of several risks to civilians in the war-battered country, but a rapid advance of the disease would add a new dimension to an unfolding humanitarian disaster.

A Taliban suicide bomber dressed as a laborer blew himself up at the NATO air base at Bagram north of the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday, killing four Americans and wounding at least 17 people in one of the bloodiest attacks against U.S. forces since President Barack Obama took office. The American included 2 military service members and two contractors.

And, in the wake of the surprise election upset of Donald Trump over Washington veteran, Hillary Clinton, the leaders of the Middle East had mixed reactions to the news, with notable jubilation among some. Egyptian strongman, President el-Sisi, was eager to share that he was the first to reach the president-elect on the phone with his congratulations, while far-right Israelis heralded the hopeful arrival of much more sympathetic treatment, including the demise of a possible Palestinian state.

The Week of October 31, 2016

Moroccan fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death by a garbage truck after officers confiscated his illegally-caught fish in the northern city of Al Hoceima on Sunday. This event has sparked mass protests against corruption and police violence all over the country. Protesters shouted “Criminals, assassins, terrorists!” and “We are all Mouhcine!” in massive crowds as far south as Marrakesh in outrage over Fikri’s death and other injustices. Although the tragedy is being likened to the 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi and the following outcry, a human rights activist from the area around Al Hoceima says the protesters are seeking justice for Fikri’s family, not a “destabilization of Morocco.”

About a decade ago, one of the hallmarks of the United States intervention in Afghanistan was the creation of over 10,000 miles of roads through much of the country. Currently, however, the roads are in a state of irreparable damage in what is seen as one of the tangible symbols of the failure of US efforts. For years, US officials stuck to the claim that the highway would bring economic prosperity and modernization to the impoverished country, even as they were becoming too dangerous to traverse. Travelling along the roads now means dodging craters from roadside bombs and stopping at militant checkpoints.

As companies struggle to keep pace with a rapid slide in the black market value of the Egyptian pound, business is grinding to a near-halt in Egypt. Since the 2011 revolution, the pound has been falling on the black market. The uprisings drove away tourists and foreign investors, vital sources of hard currency in an economy that relies on imports of everything from food to luxury cars. The problem continues to get worse, as black market traders were buying dollars at 17.5-17.85 pounds on Monday and selling them to importers at 18-18.2, representing a two-pound slide in a single week and five-pound slide on the month. The pound is now worth half as much on the black market as it is in the banks. Additionally, foreign reserves have dwindled from $36 billion before 2011 to about $19.6 billion in September, despite Egypt receiving tens of billions of dollars in aid from Gulf Arab allies. Government officials have repeatedly assured Egyptians that the state and army would step in to ensure that basic goods are in ample supply and that prices would be kept in check. But past approaches to the economic problems in the question have the population wondering whether the government has the political will to forge ahead with reforms.

Lebanon’s parliament ended a more than two-year deadlock around its presidential vacancy Monday, electing as president a former general supported by Hezbollah in a move that gives the powerful Iranian-backed militia even wider clout in Lebanese affairs. Michel Aoun, 81, secured the Lebanese presidency by winning the support of 83 members of Parliament, well above the absolute majority of 65 needed to win, according to a tally of votes read out in a televised broadcast from parliament on Monday.

The country had been without a head of state for 29 months after Michel Suleiman stepped down as president at the end of his term in May 2014. Since then, 45 sessions to elect a new leader have failed due to a lack of consensus. Aoun will be Lebanon’s 13th president since the country gained independence from France in 1943, and he will reside in the presidential palace in the southeastern Beirut suburb of Baabda.

On Thursday, an opinion poll revealed that almost half the population of the Middle East and North Africa would abstain from voting in next week’s U.S. presidential election if given the right. According to the survey carried out by Saudi daily Arab News and British pollster YouGov, 47 percent would abstain, and among those who said they would vote, 44 percent said they would opt for Clinton, while only nine percent would choose Trump. “There is little enthusiasm for either candidate but 78 percent believe Clinton would be better for the Arab world if elected as president versus 22 percent for Trump,” said YouGov’s chief Stephan Shakespeare.

The Week of October 24, 2016

Poverty is hitting hard in Egypt, as reports show much of the population is unable to afford basic necessities and is struggling to make ends meet. While official findings of Egyptians living under the poverty line is at 28 percent, the figure is as high as 60 percent in Upper Egypt, and seems to be on the rise. Soliman Bakar, a father of three and a government employee in Egypt, notes, “…no matter where you turn you’re faced with more and more difficulties. The price of gas, electricity, water, petrol, everything went up suddenly. Now that food went up, the pound took a hit too…Medicine has quadrupled in price – that’s if you can even find it.” In 2011, as thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demanding that Mubarak step down, the people had three demands: “bread, freedom and social justice.” Five years later, freedom and social justice are eroding quickly, and the cost of basic necessities is growing beyond reach for many. As faith in the government dwindles, unrest in the street is becoming more and more pronounced, and there have recently been calls for a “Revolution of the Poor” to take place on 11 November.

As fighting in Iraq continues, the release of toxic fumes from a burning sulphur plant near Mosul last Saturday has left at least two Iraqi civilians dead and nearly 1,000 in need of treatment for various breathing problems. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Erbil, said there was confusion over who was responsible for the blaze at the plant. “Nobody really knows what is going on, whether it was a coalition air strike, Iraqi armour, or ISIL suicide bombing,” he said. Most patients have been given oxygen and told to stay away from neighborhoods with high sulphur concentration, but fighting continues in the area.

Filmlab, a Palestinian film organization has launched a new cinema award in an attempt to stimulate the Palestinian filmmaking industry and promote cinema culture in the territories. The local nonprofit is backed by European partners and hopes the “Sunbird Prize” will grow to become the Palestinian version of the Oscars. “Most of the cinema houses in the Palestinian territories have been closed for either political or economic reasons,” said Hanna Atallah, Filmlab’s artistic director. “We are trying to bring the movies to people in cultural centers for free to enable them to see them and slowly get back to cinema culture.” Reflecting the immediate concerns of Palestinians, both of this year’s winners, “Izriqaq (Blued)” and “Ambulance,” dealt with Palestine’s conflict with Israel.

On October 20, 2016, thousands of women packed the street in front of Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem. These activists from the ‘Women Wage Peace’ organization marched at the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site by the Jordan river near the West Bank, calling for a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Women Wage Peace was founded during the 2014 war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. It describes itself as a “broad-based grass roots movement with a core of nearly 10,000 Israelis and 23,000 supporters worldwide…it is a uniquely nonpartisan movement that promotes public support for a diplomatic agreement.” Many of the Arab women attending the rally said they had come to show their support for peace.

The Week of October 17, 2016

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fought their way into two villages near Mosul on Monday as the offensive to retake the extremist-held city entered its second week, but they faced questions over a suspected airstrike that hit a mosque, killing 13 people. When the city is liberated, as many as 5,000 ISIS militants will be driven out of the stronghold. This could pose a serious threat to the European Union, officials warn, because the fighters may return to Europe and carry out attacks once Mosul falls. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the liberation could take weeks or months. Mosul has been crucial in the saga of the Islamic State: it is there that the leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in June 2014.

With thousands of people fleeing the turmoil in Aleppo, resident Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel noticed a sharp increase in the homeless cat population in the city. In response, Aljaleel, who has always loved cats, built a small garden for the animals. Aleppo’s newest cat sanctuary started small — an area outside of Aljaleel’s house where the hungry animals could come to find food. Now, around one hundred cats sleep in the house every night. Additionally, as many schools across the city are closing, Aljaleel decided to address this problem by adding a playground to the cat sanctuary in an effort to offer children the opportunity to play and escape the everyday hardships of life in Aleppo.

Food shortages in East Aleppo are worsening after the U.S.-Russian ceasefire fell through. Besieged residents are subsisting mostly on leftover aid, but the supply is quickly dwindling. A farmer named Salim Atrache and his “Red Team” are working hard to distribute their crop for the lowest price possible to Aleppo residents. Atrache grows upwards of ten different crops on his 37-hectare (90-acre) plot of land on the outskirts of Eastern Aleppo, and has already harvested eggplants and parsley. This development could be the start of a larger urban agriculture movement as the prospects of more aid getting into Aleppo is slim.

The Week of October 10, 2016

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the country is searching for ways to involve the International Criminal Court in an investigation into Russia’s and Syria’s bombings of Aleppo which the French allege are war crimes. Since the negotiations for a ceasefire halted in September, Russian and Syrian forces have barraged the besieged Syrian city with indiscriminate bombs. The prospects of the ICC having jurisdiction over the case are slim: one of the the only ways they would be able to take the case is if an alleged criminal had the citizenship of an ICC member, and the complaining country must also be an ICC member for a case to move forward to prosecution.

Afghanistan, a country with over 1.2 million internal refugees, is facing another wave of displaced citizens after the northern city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. As many as 10,000 Kunduz residents have fled to Kabul and surrounding towns, placing a massive burden on the already impoverished families who have offered to house them. The Afghan Red Crescent Society has identified the primary needs of these host families as food and clothing. One Kunduz resident told Reuters “if the government does not act swiftly to clear up Kunduz from the Taliban … winter and cold weather will kill a lot more Kunduzi people than the Taliban.”

Jordanians participated in a protest last week to make clear their disagreement with a recent gas deal with Noble Energy, an American company with a large stake in the Israeli Leviathan gas field. Residents of several Jordanian cities, including Amman and Mafraq, turned off their lights and marched in the streets with candles to raise awareness. Jordanians reject the deal on the basis that it would “normalize relations with a Zionist entity” and make them “dependent on Israel.”

Israel cut ties with the United Nations cultural branch, UNESCO, after they passed a stinging resolution on Israel’s actions at al-Aqsa Mosque compound. UNESCO referred to Israel as an “occupying power,” and condemned police aggression and restriction of Muslim access to the holy site. Israel claims the report ignores the fact that Israelis have a strong connection to the site, too. The United States was one of six states to vote against the resolution, saying  it was “strongly opposed.” The al-Aqsa compound is the third-holiest site in Islam, and has been under Israeli control since they annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.

The Week of October 3, 2016

On October 4th, the Palestinian government made the decision to postpone municipal elections for up to four months. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in a statement that the decision came “in consultation with President Mahmoud Abbas.” The high court decided that only the West Bank would be able to participate in the elections, leaving out the almost 2 million residents in the Gaza Strip. Elections have not been held at the same time in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2006, after the Hamas victory nearly caused a civil war in Gaza. Hamas dismissed the decision as “political,” and asserted that this further divided the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United States announced on 3 October that it has abandoned diplomatic talks to negotiate a political end to the civil war in Syria. The statement, which came after repeated warnings from the State Department, was met with Russia’s withdrawal from a nuclear agreement to dispose of plutonium. The latter was a political move that further signaled the abysmal state of US-Russian relations. After the ceasefire agreement, put into effect on 9 September, fell apart, the United States fiercely condemned Russia’s repeated bombings of Aleppo. Suspension of the talks means there is no international strategy to stop the violence in the besieged city.

On 5 October, an all-women crew en route to the Gaza Strip was stopped in international waters by the Israeli Navy. The yacht set sail from Barcelona on 14 September with the goal of reaching the Gaza Strip to break the years-long blockade on the territory. Israeli officers boarded and searched the ship about 100 nautical miles from the shore of Gaza before being redirected to Ashdod, an Israeli port. Israeli officials say the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the occupied territory. The crew knew the likelihood of reaching Gaza was almost nonexistent; they attempted to do so in order to raise international attention to the issue.

Two years after graduating from Water Smart Homes’ plumbing training course, a group of women are planning to open an all-female plumbing business in Amman, Jordan. Thirty women have graduated from the training course, and some of the graduates are expected to be hired by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, which announced last month its plans to open a center to train women on in-house plumbing in an attempt to increase the number of women pursuing plumbing careers, an industry that is traditionally male-dominated in Jordan.

On October 7th, Morocco held legislative elections which was led by the country’s incumbent, moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party. It will look to form a new coalition government as strong gains were made by its main rival which,could impede an economic agenda opposed in parts by largely rural voters. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) hopes to reverse economic reforms enacted by the PJD, which have included government hire freezes and pension cuts that have failed to ameliorate Morocco’s high unemployment rate. The division between the two parties is chiefly one between the countryside and the cities; the growing power of the PAM, seen as close to the monarchy, will limit the substance, amount and pace of reforms the Islamists can move forward without compromise.

On October 8th, the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015 has been sharply criticized by the UN, the US, and others for striking a funeral gathering in Sana’a that killed over 150 civilians and government officials. The Arab coalition initially denied any role in the funeral attack, attributing the carnage to “score-settlement” between Houthis and Yemeni allies but has since reversed course, vowing to investigate the incident and allow the involvement of the 14-nation group known as the Joint Incidents Assessment Team. The military coalition is seeking to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government but its indiscriminate targeting of civilian-heavy areas, as well as hospitals and schools, has earned it widespread censure. The United States intends to conduct “an immediate review” of its support for the Saudi-led coalition, with possible adjustments “to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests,” according to a statement from Ned Price, the National Security Council spokesman.

The Week of September 26, 2016

Shimon Peres, former Israeli statesman and peace advocate, died on Wednesday. Peres is widely known for his pragmatic efforts during the Oslo Peace accords, for which he earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Peres suffered a stroke earlier in the month and seemed to be recovering, but quickly deteriorated Tuesday. Many world leaders attended his funeral on 30 September, including President Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. Bill Clinton gave a eulogy highlighting Peres’ historic attempts to broker peace in the Middle East, saying Peres “started off life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher, and ended up its biggest dreamer.”

A criminal court hearing was scheduled for a Jordanian writer after posting an inflammatory comic online that insulted Islam. Before entering the courthouse for his hearing, however, an angry ultra-conservative shot him dead. Nahed Hattar, a well-known and controversial author from a Christian family, took down the comic from his Facebook page as soon as the backlash began, but many were furious at the provocative image which mocked the religiosity of ISIS fighters. A spokesperson for the Jordanian government responded to the incident, saying “the government will respond with an iron fist to anyone who uses this as an opportunity to spread hate speech in society.” Jordan struggles to maintain the delicate balance between jihadis, Palestinians, refugees, and several tribes that all populate the small Middle Eastern country sandwiched in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Syrian civil war.

Congress overturned President Obama’s veto on a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government in US courts. Critics of the bill warn it compromises the long-standing precedent of sovereign immunity; the bill allows courts to sue foreign governments for their involvement in “acts of terrorism,” but because that term is so loosely defined, it could be used to prosecute the US for acts like drone strikes in Yemen. However, the bill’s supporters say these kinds of unintended consequences may never come to fruition. Terry Strada, a key player in the bill’s proposal, says as long as the US “[isn’t] funding terrorist organizations and killing people, [there is] nothing to worry about.”

The International Criminal Court prosecuted its first case of war crimes for the destruction of cultural heritage sites. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a jihadist from Mali, was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to destroying Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. The centuries-old structures have since been rebuilt with money from foreign donors. International law is conforming to the belief that destroying a group’s history as an act of war should be prosecuted as a crime against humanity or a war crime.

The Week of September 19, 2016

Fifteen of the Arab world’s top chefs competed on the Arabic-language equivalent of “Top Chef” earlier this week, showcasing their talent and highlighting the region’s diverse cuisine. Competitors from all over the MENA region create innovative plates based off traditional dishes. Bobby Chinn, a TV personality, chef, and judge on the show, said that the highly-anticipated competition was sure to live up to viewer’s expectations. This is the second season of Top Chef Middle East; the first premiered in April of 2011.

The United States allowed two of its airline giants, Boeing and Airbus, to begin selling planes to Iran. This is good news for both companies and for Iran, which until now has been unable to purchase aircrafts from the West. Iran is enjoying the economic boom that came from the removal of sanctions from the US government as a result of the nuclear deal reached last year, and has shifted to a more internationally focused foreign policy plan. The purchase of just under 200 planes will help make air travel safer for Iranians, who have been forced to fly in aging and under-maintained planes. Some members of the US Congress oppose this deal and cite examples of Iranian commercial aircrafts being used to transport soldiers and guns into Syria as a reason the deal should not have been reached.

Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his role in hit TV series “Mr. Robot.” Malek beat out Kevin Spacey among other notable names. The second season of “Mr. Robot” is currently airing and the critically acclaimed series has been a springboard for Malek’s career. “I am honored to be recognized with such a distinguished and accomplished group of actors,” Malek said tonight. “I’m honored to stand here and represent my family… I’m honored to work with a pure visionary in (Mr. Robot creator) Sam Esmail.”

Despite a low turnout, women and Islamists made gains in Jordan’s parliamentary elections. Women increased their political representation by taking 20 out of the 130 seats of parliament. Jordan reduced the ranks of parliament this election to 130 from 150 previously, of which only 18 had been women. Tuesday’s vote featured 252 female candidates, the highest number in Jordan’s history, with 15 seats reserved for women. Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood also gained a foothold in parliament after ending a decade-long boycott and returning to the fray. As Jordan’s largest organized political grouping, the Islamic group had shunned previous elections in protest at a system that skews representation toward thinly populated rural areas dominated by tribal politics, rather than the cities, where the Brotherhood is stronger. Although Jordan has no ruling party, its government, appointed by King Abdullah, has for years faced little or no opposition from a parliament dominated by pro-government tribal leaders, businessmen and ex-security officials, often elected on promises to address local rather than national concerns. The national turnout for this election was low, at a mere 37 percent, and analysts agree that it would have been even lower if the Islamists had not taken part.

On Wednesday, President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for what is likely to be their last time as leaders of Israel and the United States. For all the bitterness that has characterized their relationship, over issues from the Iran nuclear deal to the peace process, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu were able to end things on a harmonious note after signing a 10-year $38 billion U.S.-Israeli aid deal. Both held it up as proof of the enduring, unbreakable bond between the two countries. Obama said the aid package would give Israel the ability to defend itself at a perilous time in the Middle East. Mr. Netanyahu said the security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States was broader and deeper than most people understood, and he thanked Mr. Obama for his role in furthering that. Military cooperation has been a lone, steady bright spot in this otherwise rocky relationship.

The Week of September 12, 2016

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres suffered a stroke on 14 September. The 93-year-old politician is in intensive care near Tel Aviv, and his family reports he is responsive and awake. Peres is a key player in Israeli politics: he twice served as prime minister, and was elected president from 2007-2014. In 1994, Peres, along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, won the Nobel Peace Prize for the reaching of the Oslo Accords. Peres has been hospitalized several times recently, most notably in January of this year for a minor heart attack.

State Department Spokesman Mark Toner acknowledges the ceasefire agreement reached by Russia and the US on Mondayhas not been perfect, but officials are remaining “optimistic” that it will bring much-needed humanitarian aid to besieged areas. The ceasefire represents a diplomatic achievement for the U.S. and Russia, who have never before negotiated a ceasefire on the grounds of providing humanitarian assistance. The ceasefire renews every 48 hours for 7 days so long as there are no major violations; after the initial week, Russian and US forces will coordinate a united attack on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al Nusra Front.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) made clear its concern over the U.S. Congress passing a bill that would allow the families of victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to sue the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia is the most influential member of the GCC. The statement released by the organization stated its “profound worry” over the implications of the bill, saying it violates Saudi Arabia’s “sovereign immunity.” If the bill were passed into law, 9/11 survivors and victims’ families would be able to take up cases against the Saudi government in U.S. courts. If the Saudi government were to be linked to the attacks, the victims would be entitled to monetary compensation. President Obama has expressed his disapproval of the bill, and the White House has hinted it will veto the legislation.

President Obama signed a memorandum of understanding on 14 September that will provide Israel with “the single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.” The memorandum pledges $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the span of 10 years, including $5 billion in missile defense funds. This agreement differs slightly from previous pledges to Israel in that more of the aid money must be spent on U.S. companies. Israel can’t use any of the U.S.-pledged money on fuel, meaning that more of the money will be spent on defense manufacturers in the U.S. Israel Defense Forces are skeptical of this pledge because of its implications for defense contractors within Israel. More money spent in the United States means less for Israel, and Israeli Defense officials worry about quality control and what is sure to be a big hit to the Israeli contractors.

The Week of September 5, 2016

Jordan kicked off its first-ever design week festival in Amman on 1 September. With nearly 100 participating workshops, exhibitions, speeches, and food showcases all over the city, the festival highlights the rapid urbanization and modernization Jordan has seen in recent years. One exhibition, made entirely of stacks of ripe watermelons that are a hallmark of a Jordanian summer, made a topographic map of the hills of Amman. Jordan is home to a tight-knit design community, brought together by the changing landscape of the Middle East. The designers hope to draw attention to the merging of a rich cultural history and modern daily life with pieces like a “heritage collection” jewelry exhibit.

Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage required of all able-bodied Muslims in their lifetime, began on the 9th of September. Problems have plagued this annual event in the past, including the deaths of over 2,100 pilgrims last year due to stampedes. The casualties surrounding hajj increased tensions between the already hostile countries of Iran and Saudi Arabia. This year, on September 5th, Ayatollah Khamenei released a statement alleging the Saudi government intentionally kills pilgrims. Saudi Arabia responded by saying that the leaders of Iran are “not Muslims.” The feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia stems from both countries’ claims that they practice the purest form of Islam–Saudi is a proponent for the conservative branch of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism, and Iran bases its leadership and laws around Shia Islam.

Obama nominated the country’s first Muslim-American federal judge on Wednesday. In a statement, he said that Abid Riaz Qureshi will “serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.” Qureshi earned his degree from Harvard Law in 1997 and has since gone on to serve as the global chairman of the Pro Bono committee of Latham & Watkins LLP. Since 2015, he has served on the District of Columbia Bar Association’s legal ethics committee. An organization called Muslim Advocates hails Mr. Qureshi’s historic nomination, saying that his “profound commitment to the rule of law makes him an exceptional nominee.”

Relations between Rabat (Morocco) and Stockholm (Sweden) have been strained since 2015, when Sweden was considering the possibility of recognizing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the pro-independence Polisario Front. After this, in September 2015, Morocco blocked a grand opening of the kingdom’s first IKEA store, saying it lacked a “conformity permit”, but local media later confirmed that the move was in retaliation for Stockholm’s position on the disputed territory. Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallström held talks with her Moroccan counterpart in Rabat this past Wednesday as a sign of eased tension after a year-long quarrel over the Western Sahara. These talks forecast a brighter future for Rabat-Stockholm relations.

Finally, in more art and design news, satellite TV giant, MBC will launch its latest reality show, “Project Runway Middle East”, on September 17th. The show consists of 15 contestants from across the Arab world competing with each other to create the best clothes. The catch? They are restricted in time, materials and theme. Their designs are judged by a panel consisting of two renowned Arab designers, as well as a third celebrity judge that will rotate weekly, with one or more designers being eliminated each week. Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab remarked at a recent party celebrating the launch, “Back in the day there were no classes or fashion schools in the region, and so with this program, I am keen to teach and open the doors for future generations in order for them not to experience the difficulties and challenges that I had.”

The Week of September 5, 2016

Jordan kicked off its first-ever design week festival in Amman on 1 September. With nearly 100 participating workshops, exhibitions, speeches, and food showcases all over the city, the festival highlights the rapid urbanization and modernization Jordan has seen in recent years. One exhibition, made entirely of stacks of ripe watermelons that are a hallmark of a Jordanian summer, made a topographic map of the hills of Amman. Jordan is home to a tight-knit design community, brought together by the changing landscape of the Middle East. The designers hope to draw attention to the merging of a rich cultural history and modern daily life with pieces like a “heritage collection” jewelry exhibit.

Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage required of all able-bodied Muslims in their lifetime, began on the 9th of September. Problems have plagued this annual event in the past, including the deaths of over 2,100 pilgrims last year due to stampedes. The casualties surrounding hajj increased tensions between the already hostile countries of Iran and Saudi Arabia. This year, on September 5th, Ayatollah Khamenei released a statement alleging the Saudi government intentionally kills pilgrims. Saudi Arabia responded by saying that the leaders of Iran are “not Muslims.” The feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia stems from both countries’ claims that they practice the purest form of Islam–Saudi is a proponent for the conservative branch of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism, and Iran bases its leadership and laws around Shia Islam.

Obama nominated the country’s first Muslim-American federal judge on Wednesday. In a statement, he said that Abid Riaz Qureshi will “serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.” Qureshi earned his degree from Harvard Law in 1997 and has since gone on to serve as the global chairman of the Pro Bono committee of Latham & Watkins LLP. Since 2015, he has served on the District of Columbia Bar Association’s legal ethics committee. An organization called Muslim Advocates hails Mr. Qureshi’s historic nomination, saying that his “profound commitment to the rule of law makes him an exceptional nominee.”

Relations between Rabat (Morocco) and Stockholm (Sweden) have been strained since 2015, when Sweden was considering the possibility of recognizing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the pro-independence Polisario Front. After this, in September 2015, Morocco blocked a grand opening of the kingdom’s first IKEA store, saying it lacked a “conformity permit”, but local media later confirmed that the move was in retaliation for Stockholm’s position on the disputed territory. Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallström held talks with her Moroccan counterpart in Rabat this past Wednesday as a sign of eased tension after a year-long quarrel over the Western Sahara. These talks forecast a brighter future for Rabat-Stockholm relations.

Finally, in more art and design news, satellite TV giant, MBC will launch its latest reality show, “Project Runway Middle East”, on September 17th. The show consists of 15 contestants from across the Arab world competing with each other to create the best clothes. The catch? They are restricted in time, materials and theme. Their designs are judged by a panel consisting of two renowned Arab designers, as well as a third celebrity judge that will rotate weekly, with one or more designers being eliminated each week. Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab remarked at a recent party celebrating the launch, “Back in the day there were no classes or fashion schools in the region, and so with this program, I am keen to teach and open the doors for future generations in order for them not to experience the difficulties and challenges that I had.”

The Week of August 29, 2016

A Russian airstrike killed prominent ISIS leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani in the Syrian province of Aleppo on August 30. Adnani, who had a $5 million bounty on his head, was known for recruiting ISIS members and coordinating attacks all over the world. His death comes in a long line of defeats for the Islamic State, and represents a huge loss for ISIS’ propaganda and attack-planning branches. Now, self-declared leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the only well-known leader alive, and many experts say this could mean ISIS’ demise.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan issued a statement on September 1 banning all non-state media coverage of the royal family. Jordan, ranking in the bottom quarter of countries on the press freedom index, has recently been criticized for its curtails on the press’ commentary on controversial topics, namely the detainment of a Muslim scholar charged with “putting the security of the kingdom at risk.”

Women in Saudi Arabia are campaigning to end male guardianship, a system by which women have to obtain permission from their male relatives in order to travel, work, or make any other major decisions. A twitter hashtag in both Arabic and English, as well as support from Human Rights Watch, has helped the campaign go viral. Saudi women have used social media in the past to gain publicity for their movements, and they have had success: in the December 2015 elections, women were allowed to vote and run for positions for the first time.

The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza are arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities. Human Rights Watch documented five cases in which security forces arrested or questioned journalists and political activists. While representatives of the Hamas government in Gaza denied the allegations of physical abuse and told Human Rights Watch that security forces do not arrest people based on their opinions, but rather only if they break laws against defamation or incitement to violence, four of those arrested say that security forces physically abused or tortured those who criticized authorities. Directly violating obligations that Palestine recently assumed in ratifying international treaties protecting free speech, there were 192 documented incidents in 2015 in which Palestinian authorities infringed on journalists’ right to free expression through summoning and interrogation, arrests, physical assault, detention, and, in Gaza, forbidding journalists from reporting on certain issues or stories.

Iran has announced the completion of the first phase of its plan to operate a “national internet”. The state news agency IRNA said the initiative would offer “high quality, high speed” connections at “low costs”. The government says the goal is to create an isolated domestic intranet to promote Islamic content and raise digital awareness among the public. The first phase of the rollout involves providing access to e-government services and domestic web pages, while a second phase, due in February 2017, will add domestic video content, and a third phase, due in March 2017, will introduce further services and provide support for companies involved in international trade. While British human rights campaign group Article 19 warns that the National Internet Project may pave the way for further isolation as well as surveillance and information retention, local reports state that users’ privacy will be respected.

Yemen’s past is being erased one air strike at a time, as the country’s vibrant heritage and centuries-old architecture are among the victims of the Yemeni Civil War. Saudi bombers have not merely targeted civilians, but have struck time and again at the country’s thrilling architectural heritage, inflicting untold destruction. The trail of destruction encompasses ancient cities, museums, mosques, palaces and ancient archaeological strikes. The Saudi-led coalition seems to be targeting Yemeni heritage, and the loss to the world of parts of Yemen’s priceless architectural heritage are just one part of the developing calamity facing this tragic, but beautiful, country.

The Week of August 22, 2016

The prestigious American University of Afghanistan in Kabul was attacked by militants who bombed and stormed the campus on August 25th, leaving 16 people dead and 53 wounded. The attack on the country’s most modern university, established and run by Americans, is bound to cast doubt on its future viability here, especially coming so soon after the kidnapping of two foreign professors on August 7th, which prompted the school to cease operating for several days.

The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have led to marked decreases in life expectancy in several Arab countries. Most dramatically affected is Syria, where the average life expectancy for men dropped from 75 to 69 between 2010 and 2013; for Syrian women, that figure went from 80 to 75 in the same period. The upheaval of the Arab Spring era resulted in political instability, damaged infrastructure, massive migration, and disruptions to essential services and supplies. Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt — all sites of regime change or collapse — also lost around three months in life expectancy.

Swimwear has become an international topic of debate as authorities in several French cities have instituted bans on full-body bathing suits worn by Muslim women observing certain Islamic codes of modesty. Women wearing the outfit, sometimes referred to as a “burkini” (a reference to the Afghan burqa), have been fined for violating the French tradition of secularism. After international outcry, France’s top court made a ruling suspending the ban, which many mayors have pledged to ignore arguing that Muslims should adopt the French way of life. Critics claim the ban is a form of oppression against women’s freedoms of choice.

The last 15 residents of a privately owned zoo in Gaza, Palestine, have been relocated to sanctuaries in Jordan and South Africa by an international rescue group. The menagerie, which included a tiger, several monkeys, and a pelican, was originally home to about 200 animals but economic hardship and ongoing battles between Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian militias had left the zoo in deplorable conditions. The proprietor had stuffed 15 of the animals that died, including a lion and a chimpanzee, and put them on display in what Gaza residents called the “Jungle of the South”.

The Week of August 15, 2016

Citing risks to national security, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has rejected calls by aid agencies to restore access to a border area where tens of thousands of Syrians are stranded. Earlier this month Jordan allowed a delivery of desperately needed food and hygiene supplies after an appeal by the United Nations. Jordan declared the area around the Rukban border crossing a “closed military zone” in June, after a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS killed seven soldiers near a makeshift desert camp where more than 100,000 Syrians are stuck. In comments published by the semi-governmental Addustour newspaper on Monday, the king cited fears of “extremist elements” among those stranded, many of whom come from areas controlled by IS.

On August 15th, 15 prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center were sent to the United Arab Emirates in the single largest release of detainees during the Obama administration. The transfer of 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans to the UAE comes amid a renewed push to whittle down the number of detainees held at the U.S. prison in Cuba that President Barack Obama aims to close.

Partial remains of the Middle East’s oldest human were found in Saudi Arabia. The middle section of a middle finger was found in the Tayma governorate in the Tabuk region of Saudi Arabia’s northeast. Scientists have put the age of the bone at 90,000 years old.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI delivered a historic televised speech that included an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism committed in the name of Islam movements on Sunday, August 22nd. On the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of Morocco’s independence, he spoke specifically to the Moroccan diaspora, members of which have been found responsible for attacks in Europe and elsewhere, demanding they reject Islamist extremism. The moderate monarch rejected links between terrorist attacks and legitimate Islam: “Naturally, I strongly condemn the killing of innocent people. Killing a priest is forbidden by religion; murdering him inside a church is unforgivable madness, for he is a human being and a religious man – even if he is not a Muslim. Islam commands us to take good care of the people of the Book [Jews and Christians]. Those who engage in terrorism, in the name of Islam, are not Muslims. Their only link to Islam is the pretexts they use to justify their crimes and their folly.”

The Week of August 8, 2016

Athletes from the Middle East were in the spotlight at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio this week, garnering both applause and consternation. Female Arab athletes made history when Tunisian fencer, Ines Boubakri, right, became the first African woman to medal in fencing, while Egyptian Sara Ahmed became the first Arab woman to win a medal in weightlifting, and the first Egyptian woman, ever, to reach the winners’ podium. Boubakri dedicated her bronze medal to “the Tunisian woman, the Arab woman … who has her place in society”. On the other hand, historic grievances were reignited when the Israeli and Lebanese Olympics teams became involved in an unfortunate incident about access to a bus to the opening ceremony. Both sides acknowledged that Israeli athletes were blocked by the head of the Lebanese delegation from boarding a bus packed with the Lebanon team on Friday but they are at odds over the reasons for his actions. It is a decade since Israel was embroiled in a month-long war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon that killed about 1,200 Lebanese, including hundreds of civilians, and about 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The border between the two countries has been largely quiet since then but an adversarial relationship persists.

As battles wage on between Syrian military forces and rebel groups for control of the northern city of Aleppo, routes used to deliver food and aid supplies have been cut off, leaving residents without resources, vulnerable to attack, and completely inaccessible. The city was without running water for several days, a situation only compounded by consecutive days of sweltering heat with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The eastern, rebel-held part of the city, with 275,000 residents, has faced particularly extreme hardship. Positive news came from the city of Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, however, which was liberated after two years of Islamic State control by rebel forces on August 12th. According to photos taken by Reuters journalist Rodi Said, residents reacted emotionally to their liberation: men cut off their beards and one woman was photographed as she smoked a cigarette. Both activities had been prohibited under Islamic State rule.

The Saudi Arabian-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen received international condemnation after airstrikes hit two schools in the north of the country Saturday killing at least 14 children. Saudi Arabia claimed it was targeting militia training camps and that Houthi recruitment of kids in the conflict was to blame for the fatalities. Victims ranged from 6 years of age. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon condemned the attack Monday and called for a swift investigation. Children have made up a disproportionate number of fatalities in the controversial campaign that began in March 2015.

Reports concerning the discovery of the skeleton of a 7,500-year-old man found almost intact in Iran have been translated. A team dispatched by the National Institute for Conservation and Restoration of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has been working on the recovery of the skeleton which was located 6 meters before the surface of the earth, and its subsequent transfer to a museum for further research and fortification, after which it will be on display to the public. The man was found buried squatting and probably facing the sun, with a turtle shell and a heater; according to excavators, the heater was supplied because people at the time believed that life continues after death.

Egyptian Christians and their supporters staged a rare protest in Cairo on August 13, demanding greater rights and protection. Interfaith disputes are common in the countryside. Most often they arise over mixed-faith love affairs or the building of churches. Many confrontations result in violence perpetrated against Christians or their property, and are resolved by extra-judicial councils of local elders that favor the Muslim side. Lawmakers say that parliament is currently drafting a new law to criminalize actions that undermine national unity such as religious-based discrimination and violence, as well as a law that eases regulations over the construction of churches, which are severely restricted.

Photos of French-born Algerian popular Rai singer, Cheb Faudel, bowing to a portrait of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI at a festival on August 6th have allegedly stirred controversy in Algeria. During a press conference, prior to his performance, Faudel had expressed his pride in being a Moroccan citizen holding up his Moroccan ID card to show the audience that he now has Moroccan nationality. He had also praised the monarch, saying “Our King Mohammed VI, May God bless him and prolong his life – he granted me many things – he is the King of Africa.” Algeria and Morocco have been at odds for decades offer the territory of the Western Sahara, to which Morocco has laid claim. The countries’ borders have been closed since 1994.

The Week of July 25, 2016

Thousands of Indian nationals are stranded in Saudi Arabia after losing their blue collar jobs due to decreases in oil prices and cuts in development projects. Construction firms in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which employ a large number of cheap foreign laborers, have been badly affected as governments cut back spending on infrastructure projects. Lacking funds and necessary exit visas, the migrant workers have been dependent upon fellow compatriots and embassies or consulates in Saudi Arabia for food.

A 23-year-old student activist in Tunisia and founding member of a movement called Manich Msamah (“I will not forgive” in Arabic) has been plastering “wanted” posters in public places across the country in response to a bill being debated and voted on in parliament. If adopted, the bill would grant amnesty to corrupt businessmen and public officials under investigation for acts related to financial corruption and misuse of public funds, in exchange for repayment of the embezzled money. The posters feature members of the regime of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who led the country for 23 years before fleeing it in 2011. Ben Ali was the first leader ousted in what became known as the Arab Spring uprisings. Sana Shili says the bill betrays the ideals of the revolution while the president and supporters of the bill say it would allow for the recovery of lost state assets that could be reinvested in the economy.

The Week of July 18, 2016

UNESCO has named Iraqi marshlands once ravaged by dictator Saddam Hussein as a world heritage site, a bright spot for a country where jihadists have repeatedly sought to wipe out history. Iraq has been seeking world heritage status for the marshes since 2003, and its government hailed the move. The marshlands once stretched across some 7,700 square miles, but they were devastated after Saddam ordered them drained in the 1990s to stop them being used as hideouts by Shia guerrillas opposed to his regime.

Morocco has sent a representative to the African Union (a supranational organization that facilitates intercontinental unity) in order to petition for membership. Morocco left the Union 32 years ago after the African Union recognized the Western Sahara as an independent state, making Morocco the only African country not to take part in the African Union. Morocco has stated that it wants to join the African Union “without any preconditions,” though the African Union has reiterated that it is firm in its commitment to Western Sahara’s sovereignty. This moves comes in the same week that Morocco allowed UN Peacekeepers to return to the Western Sahara.

The Week of July 11, 2016

Turkish President Erdogan’s government survived a botched coup attempt last June 15. In what was a confusing unfolding of events, a faction within the army attempted to overthrow the government in Ankara. They took control of state media; bombed the parliament with tanks, helicopters and jets; bombed the police headquarters; and took the head of the army hostage. In response, Erdogan addressed his supporters via Facetime on CNN Turk, calling on them to flood the streets in resistance to the coup. Tens of thousands protested against the coup, halting the coup’s momentum and allowing Erdogan to return to Ankara. 290 people were killed in the coup attempt. Nearly 20,000 members of the police, civil service, judiciary and army have been detained or suspended since Friday for alleged complicity in the coup, prompting international and domestic concern over opportunism from Erdogan to consolidate power further. Besides targeting soldiers and judges, Erdogan has accused former ally Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup. Gulen has lived in Pennsylvania for the past 15 years in self-imposed exile and firmly denies any involvement. The U.S. is investigating any ties Gulen might have had with the attempted coup in response to a Turkish extradition request of Gulen.

Lebanon’s parliament failed to elect a president last week, marking the 42nd time it has done so since President Sleiman ended his term in May 2014. While the Lebanese parliament is directly elected, the president is chosen by the parliament. However, in order to hold a vote, 2/3 of members must be present. Only 37 of the 128 members showed up for this vote. Much of the gridlock has been attributed to what could be described as a confrontation between pro-Saudi and pro-Hezbollah leadership, as well as the complex confessional system that attempts to balance the competing religious interests. The president of Lebanon must be a Maronite Christian. As it stands, the two most likely candidates are Michel Aoun and Sleiman Frangieh, both of whom are pro-Hezbollah.

A Russian airstrike hit the northeastern border of Jordan, falling directly on a Syrian refugee camp and killing 12 and injuring many more. The strike’s proximity to the Jordanian border was a first, and does fall outside the scope of Russia’s commitment to aiding the regime in “fighting terrorism,” but fits with the pattern of Russian targeting of any Syrian opposition. The amount of refugees clustered on Jordan’s border closed after an ISIS suicide bombing last month.

The Week of July 4

On July 4ththree suicide bombings rocked Saudi Arabia. The bombings occurred in Medina near the Prophet’s Mosque (one of the holiest sites in Islam), the Northern city of Qatif, and near a U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. The only casualties were in Medina where four security guards were killed approaching the bomber. Seven other security personnel were injured in the bombings, but none of the attacks were considered successful. The attacks are suspected to have been coordinated by ISIS, though no group has officially claimed responsibility.

Several mosques across London were sent envelopes full of “suspicious white powder,” drawings of crossed out mosques and profanity. The mosques were immediately closed for the day and security services examined the powder, which later turned out to just be chalk. Some security officials suspect that this incident was used as a dry run for a real attack and called for wariness. Islamophobia is on the rise in Britain, as anti-Muslim hate crimes rose over 326 percent in 2015.

Jordan has agreed to increase the number of work permits to Syrian refugees in Jordan in exchange for an influx of international aid. As it stands, most Syrians are unable to work in Jordan because of its restrictive work-permit system. This has led to difficulties within refugee communities as they struggle to make ends meet, pushing many to the unregulated informal sector. As a solution, Jordan has pledged up to 50,000 work permits to the refugees. Many Jordanians are concerned that Syrian refugees would either push down wages or increase competition for already scarce jobs. Government officials responded by insisting that Syrian refugees would not be paid below the monthly minimum wage and pointed out that most Syrians would take jobs in sectors that Jordanians typically don’t (like construction). The prospect of huge infusions of cash could do much for Jordan’s flagging economy.

World-renowned Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, died on July 5th at age 76 in Paris. He had produced over 40 films and had won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme D’Or, for his movie Taste of Cherry, which follows a man trying to find someone to bury him after his planned suicide. His filmography was not only recognized in Iran, but across the world, with Martin Scorsese saying he was: “A very special human being: quiet, elegant, modest, articulate, and quite observant. (…) truly one of our great artists.”

The Week of June 27, 2016:

The worst terror attack since 2007 struck Baghdad last week. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which left over 200 dead and 225 wounded. The suicide bomb’s blast was massive, gutting a mall and engulfing the entire area in flames. The bombing comes right at the end of Eid, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which only seemed to have strengthened ISIS’ resolve to commit violent acts. Many in Iraq have called for Prime Minister Abadi’s resignation in the wake of the attack.

Israel and Turkey repaired relations in a mutual agreement finalized on June 27th, after a six year diplomatic freeze following the 2010 Gaza Flotilla raid. The Flotilla raid was an incident in which Turkish activists attempted to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to bring aid and food to the population there. Israeli commandoes boarded the ships and in the ensuing violence ten Turkish activists were killed. Israel has apologized for the incident and payed Turkey $20 million in compensation. Restored relations between Israel and Turkey could be a bigger part of a larger charm offensive that Turkey is embarking on as Erdogan’s authoritarianism and actions in Syria isolate Turkey.

Turkey suffered bombings Wednesday at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, leaving 45 people and hundreds dead. ISIS was behind the attacks and has since followed the Istanbul bombings with attacks in Bangladesh, Baghdad, and Saudi Arabia as part of a run up to Eid al-Fitr (the festivities signaling the end of Ramadan). Turkey has arrested 17 suspects since and have identified the three suicide bombers responsible as from Central Asia and the Northern Caucasus region of Russia. This attack comes amidst a worsening security relationship in Turkey, badly impacting its tourism sector and providing fuel for President Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism.

The world’s oldest library reopened after being closed for repairs since 2012. The library is located in Fez, Morocco, as part of a university and was founded in the 9th century by a woman named Fatima El-Fihriya. Originally a mosque, the site grew into a center for learning over the years, eventually turning into al-Qarawiyyin University. Today the library still houses ancient texts dating back to the 7th century, ranging from subjects like law to astronomy. True to its roots, the library repairs were done by a female architect, Aziza Chaouni.

Morocco has banned the use, import, creation and distribution of plastic bags within the country, in a move to clean up the country’s natural landscape. Morocco is the world’s second largest consumer of plastic bags and has long-faced environmental pollution because of the resulting waste. Though the ban is officially on the books, many local groups say that consumer habits will make implementation slow-going. This ban takes place in the context of a larger effort to go green, which has included the creation of the world’s largest solar power farm in the world earlier this year.

The Week of June 20, 2016: 

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for car bomb attacks that killed seven members of the Jordanian security forces and wounded 13 others on June 21st at a border crossing that contains two sprawling refugee camps currently hosting 65,000 Syrian migrants. Following the attacks Jordan sealed its last entry point for Syrian refugees as the pro-Western kingdom’s faces growing vulnerability from the conflict next door.

In a rare display of rebellion against the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a Cairo court voted to annul his decision to transfer sovereignty of two islands to Saudi Arabia. In April, Sisi previously awarded the two islands to Saudi Arabia in a highly controversial deal during a visit to Egypt by King Salman, which also coincided with the signing of oil deals and development packages from the Gulf kingdom. Sisi’s announcement of the deal led to widespread protests and subsequent arrests and prison sentences.

Opponents call new legislation “dangerous” and “anti-Arab”, citing attack on civil liberties due to increase in the range of punishable offences to include sympathizing with, encouraging and failing to prevent terrorism. According to legal experts, it gives Israeli police sweeping new powers to arrest suspects and deny them access to lawyers. Courts will be required to hand out long jail sentences. The law will be applied in Israel and occupied Jerusalem.

In Algeria, the government blocked access to Twitter and Facebook after allegations that students’ baccalaureate test questions were leaked to the popular social media platforms. More than 550,000 Algerian students will have to retake their exams, according to news reports.

Bahrain has stripped its most prominent Shia cleric, Isa Qassim, of citizenship this week, following last week’s disbanding of the opposition Wefaq party. Wefaq was banned for “undermining the national security of the country.” Bahrain asserts that Qassim was calling for allegiance to the clergy and the establishment of a theocracy. Though Bahrain is Sunni ruled, its population is majority Shia, a reality that has led to ongoing political tension and that was a primary impetus for the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement.

On June 26, it was reported that CIA supplied arms had been stolen en masse by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold on the black market. This came after a shooting of five in Amman, two of which were Americans, was discovered to have been done with American supplied arms. The weapons were supplied by the CIA and were to be funneled through Jordan to U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces, like the Syrian Democratic Forces. Not to be mistaken with the disastrous Pentagon-run training program of Syrians meant to fight ISIS, the CIA program has trained thousands to fight against Assad forces (though the exact details of the program are classified).

The Week of June 13, 2016: 

Last week, a State Department memo signed by 51 officials calling for “judicious use of standoff and air weapons” against the Assad Regime became public. The criticism of the Obama administration’s policy on Syria echoed with Democrats and Republicans alike and reflected a greater frustration with U.S. inaction in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry, who in the past has advocated for military action in Syria, reacted quite stoically saying, “it’s [the memo] is an important statement,” perhaps signaling his private approval of the memo’s message.

The answers to Egypt’s national public exams leaked on Facebook this week, well before the testing date. The test is taken by 570,000 students in Egypt to determine placement into national universities. The leak drew widespread criticism of the Egyptian government and the perceived corruption of the Sisi regime. As one well-publicized Facebook said, “The regime can’t protect a couple of papers. Excuse me, but how are they supposed to protect a country?” The government has arrested an 18-year-old for the leak, but many are doubtful that he is the true perpetrator. 

Israel approved twenty million dollars in new funding for settlements in the West Bank, reportedly to construct hotels and boost tourism to the areas. This funding adds to already-existing funding for the settlements and is illustrative of the far-right orientation of Israel’s government. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and draw much criticism of Israel by the rest of the world. For its part, the Obama administration calls settlement construction, illegitimate.” 

Testing is beginning on the flight recorder of EgyptAir MS804, the flight that crashed in the Mediterranean in May. Though officials still don’t know the cause of the crash, many Egyptian officials have publicly stated their suspicions of it being a terror attack. Testing may take several weeks to complete. 

The Week of May 30, 2016: 

Diplomats and international monitors have begun to worry that Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is becoming irreversible. Foreign ministers from 20 countries meet in Paris this week to discuss the revival of Middle East peace efforts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel voiced support for the Saudi peace plan that would grant Israel recognition if they withdrew their settlements, but many fear that even if this agreement were reached, the settlements have stretched too far for too long to be drawn back now.

A combination of Sunni police forces, Iran-backed Shiite militias and U.S.-allied Iraqi army forces are closing in on the city of Fallujah, which has been under the control of ISIS for two years now. A true offensive has yet to launch, while the different forces weigh how to extricate the 50,000 Iraqi civilians trapped in the city. In the meantime, ISIS attacks the Iraqi forces daily with snipers, booby-trapped houses, and road-side bombs.

As food prices skyrocket in Damascus before the holy month of Ramadan, Syrians have flocked to social media to express their outrage. A video clip of peaceful scenes at a food market in Syria’s capital went viral after users zoomed in on the food prices and saw that some items were five times more expensive than last year. Under a picture of the price of lemons, one user commented, “A kilo of lemons for 1000 Syrian pounds? Did you pick them from the White House garden?” Meanwhile, Syrians in other parts of the country face starvation because of government-backed sieges.

The Palestinian National Museum opened this month in Ramallah, the culmination of almost two decades in planning. The museum is exquisitely built- however, it does have one key element missing: exhibits. The museum itself is empty; the planned exhibit on Palestine’s refugee history stalled when the museum director resigned last month. Museum officials argue that Israel’s border controls made museum construction and imports difficult. Regardless of the cause, the empty museum seems to provide an apt analogy for the people without a state.

The Week of May 23, 2016: 

MasarUP, The Arab Entrepreneurship Company, held its founding meeting in Haifa, Israel on Sunday. The company’s goal is to promote start-ups amongst the Arab population in Israel. MasarUP will help facilitate start-ups through networking and consultation. A study by New Wave Research showed that, among the 500 Arabs surveyed, only 20% know someone who works in high-tech or entrepreneurship.

An EgyptAir jet plane was downed over the Mediterranean Sea on its way from Paris to Cairo. All 66 people on board were killed. A French naval vessel is currently exploring the crash site to see if any information can be gleaned from the black boxes of the downed airline. Although no evidence of foul play has arisen, Egyptian officials cited terrorism as a possible cause.

Dystopian fiction has become the latest subject matter for Middle Eastern writers trying to cope with and frame the aftermath of the failed Arab Spring revolutions. Authors in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere are writing novels centered around an apocalyptic post-revolutionary society that has to deal with the crushing forces of authoritarianism. This is a dramatic shift away from poetry, which has long been the region’s most popular literary medium.

The Week of May 16, 2016: 

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt warned on BBC News World on the Move Day that the current refugee system is breaking down. She specifically highlighted Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan as countries at the center of the refugee crisis that need greater international aid. Other speakers at BBC News World on the Move Day will address forced migration and the effect it is having on the global community. 

The Turkish army and U.S.-led coalition forces attacked Islamic State fighters in northern Syria on Sunday using artillery strikes. Twenty-seven militants were killed and seven were detained, including an ISIS executioner. 

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. and other world powers are willing to provide arms to the UN-backed Libyan unity government to fight against the Islamic State. ISIS has established a stronghold on the northern coast of Libya, and Western powers fear that ISIS will continue to expand its territorial gains if left unchallenged. 

The Week of May 9, 2016:  

Gaza held its second annual Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival over the weekend. It featured “The Idol”, a film about the Arab Idol winner who was forbidden from entering the contest by Hamas because his music was un-Islamic. Perhaps ironically, Hamas forces forbade the winner, Mohammed Assaf, from attending the festival, ordered that the lights be kept on to avoid any “hanky-panky” in the seats, and edited the films to remove any profanity or kissing.

A solar panel project in the West Bank is the first of its kind to be financed by a group consisting of both Jews and Muslims in the United States, and to have Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews on its technical team. The solar panels provide farmers in the area with a reliable and affordable source of energy. A caveat for the project was that the community and donor organizations be free of any connection to the Israeli settlements scattered across the West Bank.

The Afghan government is expected to finalize a peace deal with notorious militant insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami within days, according to a representative of the group whose leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is designated a global terrorist by the United States. The deal is largely symbolic as the group has been inactive for years but Afghan officials have said a peace agreement with Hezb-i-Islami could encourage Taliban fighters to come to the negotiating table as well.

The Week of May 2, 2016:  

An American serviceman was killed on Tuesday in Iraq in an attack by the Islamic State. The attack occurred only two or three miles from Mosul; the front line between Iraqi forces and ISIS. This symbolizes how U.S. forces have grown, not only in size, but in proximity to the fighting in the last two years. What started out as a contingency of 275 “advisers” has increased to 4,087 military personnel on the ground.

Hundreds of protesters stormed the Parliament building in Baghdad in the restricted-access Green Zone on Saturday, but quickly dispersed on Sunday. This protest by loyalists of the popular Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was seen largely as political theater. The ease with which the protesters broke into the building, the lack of property damage and violence, and the speed with which they vacated indicate that the protest was probably condoned by the Iraqi government.

New York Times journalist Declan Walsh is providing exclusive on-the-ground reporting in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Although Damascus has been spared the worst of the violence, he describes a city whose residents have been touched in every way by the six-year-long civil war.

The U.N. envoy for Syria met on Tuesday with Russia’s foreign minister to discuss restoring the cease-fire that was brokered in February. This cease-fire has largely collapsed after government air raids on a hospital and health clinics in Aleppo last week. The United States hopes that Russia will play a crucial role in pressuring the Assad regime to de-escalate the violence. 

After a photo went viral of a five-year-old Afghan boy playing soccer in an improvised Lionel Messi jersey made from a plastic bag, the international star sent Murtaza Ahmadi a signed jersey bringing his family unwanted attention. The family began receiving threats from local gangs and tribes who believed they might have made lots of cash amid the boy’s international popularity. As a result, the family has been forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan. In this region of central Afghanistan, security is fragile and kidnappings are common.

Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister for the past two decades, was ousted last week in a move by King Salman to modernize the Saudi economy and cut dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil has become fraught with uncertainty as global oil prices plummeted in recent months. The appointment of a new oil minister, Khalid al Falih, is intended as a step towards diversifying the economy and transforming the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco into an industrial conglomerate.

The Week of April 25, 2016: 

The United States plans to send 250 more military and Special Forces operatives to Syria, raising the total number of U.S. military personnel there to 300. President Obama stated that they would not be leading the fight, but would provide training and assistance to local forces to further push back the Islamic State.

An agreement between the European Union and Turkey has majorly restricted the migration of Syrian refugees into Europe. Now, Syrians who find themselves unable to move beyond southern Turkey face increased hardships such as poverty, detentions and deportations. In exchange for restricting the passage of refugees to Greece, Turkey receives billions of dollars and incentives, including renewed talks of joining the EU and relaxed visa requirements for its citizens traveling to Europe.

Women’s sports programs in Afghanistan have all but collapsed, due to corruption and a withdrawal of funding from Western donors. The American government is one of the main sponsors of women’s sports in Afghanistan, and they have recently cut large swaths of funding. Corruption charges are also commonplace as conservative Afghans rebel against the idea of women playing sports in general.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced an economic plan for the kingdom on Monday that aspires to reduce its dependence on oil, stimulate the private sector and reduce government subsidies. This plan comes as a reaction to falling global oil prices and a youthful Saudi population that will add pressure to the job market in the coming years.

Twenty-eight previously classified pages of the 9/11 intelligence report could be declassified in June. This comes amidst speculation that Saudi Arabia backed the men who hijacked the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Seventeen women were elected to parliament in Iran’s run-off elections on Friday. This is the largest number of women to serve in parliament since the 1979 revolution. Only 16 hardline clerics were elected, which means the new parliament will include more women than religious leaders.

The Week of April 18, 2016: 

Radio Alwan, broadcasting in secret from Istanbul, has created a radio soap-opera meant to reach listeners in war-torn Syria. It’s a love story between a man and a widow who lost her son to ISIS gunmen. Meant to relay deeper messages about love, loss and the destruction of one’s homeland, the radio broadcasts in secret since it portrays unfiltered messages and news about the Syrian conflict.

The new U.N.-backed Prime Minister of Libya, Fayez Seraj, has begun moving his unity government into Tripoli in the hopes of restoring peace and security to a country in chaos. Both Western allies and the Libyan people are eager to put an end to the violence that has engulphed Libya since Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the United States would send 200 more troops to Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in the fight against ISIS. The new U.S. troops will consist of advisers, trainers, aviation support crew, and security forces, who will hope to build on recent successes by the Iraqi Army in winning back ISIS-controlled territory.

Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif plans to sign an ambitious commitment to cut carbon emissions at the UN climate meeting in New York on Friday. Many Iranians view this move with skepticism as Iran attempts to boost its economy following the relief of sanctions due to the nuclear deal. The fossil fuel industry is a large money-making sector of the Iranian economy, and cutting carbon emissions could depress this sector, further harming the economy.

Monday’s peace talks, supposed to end the Yemeni civil war, failed before they could begin today, when the delegates for the Houthi rebels refused to attend. The UN special envoy for the conflict, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the talks were merely “delayed” and scolded the Houthis for failing to show up. Meanwhile, both the Houthis and the ousted Yemeni government reported infractions on the truce, mostly airstrikes in the eastern provinces, and massive secessionist rallies in the southern city of Aden took place.

The Week of April 11, 2016: 

During Thursday’s Democratic debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders championed the Palestinian cause by saying that they deserve peace and respect, and that “there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.” This was a departure from typical campaign-trail speech which tends to laud the United States’ unrelenting support for Israel and its policies.

In response to the recently resumed talks in Geneva over the future of Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel will never relinquish the occupied Golan Heights territory to Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, although this move has never been sanctioned by the international community. This is an attempt by Netanyahu to lay the groundwork for Israeli policy concerning the future of a Syrian state that has been wracked with civil war for five years.

President Obama travels to Saudi Arabia this week during a time of rising tensions between the two long-time strategic allies. Disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal, the civil war in Yemen, and the fight against ISIS culminated in a scathing interview given by Obama to the Atlantic, in which he described the Saudi allies as “free riders”. It remains to be seen whether this meeting with smooth over tensions or further exacerbate them.

The Week of March 28, 2016: 

Saudi Arabia and Yemen have swapped prisoners as a gesture of good faith by both Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi forces seek an eventual conclusion to the crippling, year-long civil war. The New York Times writes, “The main combatants have agreed to a cease-fire starting April 10, and the United Nations plans to revive peace talks a week later. Saudi Arabia is said to be looking for a way out of the war, but whether Saudi leaders and the Houthis can agree on a political solution remains a big question.” The conflict has resulted in over 6,000 deaths.

Greece braces for turmoil as the agreement to return its migrants to Turkey goes into effect beginning April 4, 2016. Some 750 people are to be sent back to Turkey in the initial transfer, but Greek official says majority of EU personnel to oversee operation have not arrived. The highly contested agreement allows Greece, overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, to deport migrants who are denied asylum status back to Turkey; in exchange, for each migrant it absorbs, the EU countries will absorb one of Turkey’s. The United Nations opposes the deal.

A Turkish news agency run entirely by women prioritizes gender equality and press freedom in an embattled region where neither is guaranteed. The Jin News Agency (JINHA) is completely staffed by women, offering news coverage of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria in English, Turkish, and Kurdish languages (“Jin” means “woman” in Kurdish). The agency highlights women’s voices and focuses on the particular effects of conflict and events on women.  

A suicide attack in Lahore, Pakistan killed 69 people and wounded 341 on Sunday. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attack, saying that it was targeted against Pakistani Christians who were celebrating Easter in the park, although the majority of people killed were Muslims.

On Thursday, April 1, renowned architect Zaha Hadid passed away at the age of 65. The Iraqi-born, British designer is recognized for her application of hypermodernism, using sweeping and dynamic lines, as exemplified by the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan (photo). Foreign Policy said of Hadid, “Her lavish futurism afforded the Middle East an image of itself wholly divorced from its problematic past and present, while the deep pockets of the area’s builders gave Hadid the lifting power to realize her outsized ambitions. She became, for good and ill, a one-woman cultural conduit, an ambassador of contemporary architecture to the region.”

After Syrian forces reclaimed Palmyra from the Islamic State last week, a mass grave was discovered containing the bodies of 42 civilians and soldiers executed by the IS.  IS is believed to be responsible for the murder of at least 400 people in Palmyra in May 2015. The ancient Syrian city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been devastated by the extremist network.

The Week of March 21, 2016: 

Yemenite Jews, a dwindling minority in the troubled country, have been accepting offers of resettlement and citizenship in Israel. The departure of the Arabic-speaking Jewish community, due to conflict as well as increasing isolation, will leave a gap in Yemen’s cultural landscape. The diplomatic arrangements were made secretly to avoid fueling sectarian tensions. CNN reports, “Yemen’s Jewish population dates back some 2,300 years, according to some estimates, with most Yemenite Jews living in Sana’a, the ancient capital of Yemen. For centuries, Jews in Yemen lived amongst a Muslim population, maintaining a devout lifestyle. Most of Yemen’s Jewish population fled after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. In Operation Magic Carpet, Israel airlifted about 50,000 Yemenite Jews from Aden to Israel once the Imam of Yemen allowed Jews to leave.” There are approximately 50 Jews left in Yemen. 

A refugee camp in Jordan, housing over 80,000 Syrian refugees, has become a technological hotbed. Faced with sordid living conditions, some of the camp’s inhabitants have been working on various technological inventions to make day-to-day life easier. One man constructed an electric bicycle to help the disabled travel on their own. A start-up in Amman, Jordan recruited refugees to work on a 3D printing project which makes affordable prosthetic limbs for refugees who have suffered amputations as a result of the war in Syria.

The fall in global oil prices has forced oil-rich Kuwait to reevaluate its lavish spending and luxurious way of life that its citizens are accustomed to. Oil revenues in the past allowed the Kuwaiti government to provide its citizens with interest-free housing loans, free education and healthcare, and food and fuel subsidies. Now Kuwait and the other Gulf countries are forced to confront a reality where these benefits are no longer sustainable.

Terrorist attacks in Brussels killed dozens on Tuesday, with two explosions in the main international airport and another in a subway station. These attacks come on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Paris, which raised fears that other areas of Europe would be targeted by ISIS and other radical groups. The city is in the highest state of emergency as all transit and mobility are shut down until the terror threat passes.

President Netanyahu of Israel addressed AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., on Tuesday and urged the United States to reject any U.N. Security Council move to back the Palestinian plea for statehood. After many stymied attempts to coordinate a two state solution between the Palestinian government and Israel, Palestine has turned to the U.N. to seek recognition. Vice President Biden responded harshly, saying that Israel’s continuation of settlement building on Palestinian territory harmed efforts towards a resolution.

The Middle East news channel Al Jazeera announced that it would be cutting 500 jobs worldwide and that most of the layoffs would be in Qatar, where the news network is based. This follows a similar trend to the worldwide media industry, which is also curbing its workforce in the face of a changing media landscape.

The Syrian army recaptured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra from ISIS, which had occupied the city for almost a year. This was an important strategic victory for the Syrian army, who has steadily recaptured territory seized by ISIS. It was also a victory for President Bashar Al Assad, who has continually said that he stands as the bulwark against ISIS and the greater Middle East. The photo at left shows the ruins in prior to their destruction by ISIS.

The Week of March 14, 2016: 

The U.N. condemned Saudi-led airstrikes against civilian inhabited areas in Yemen, including a recent attack on a public marketplace that killed 106 people, including 24 children. The Saudis are backing the current government against the Houthi rebel fighters who are loyal to the former Yemeni government. Saudi Arabia claims that the Houthis are backed by Iran – making the situation in Yemen another Saudi-Iranian power struggle in the region.

A U.S. Marine was killed on Saturday in an ISIS attack on a U.S. base in northern Iraq. This is the second death of an American service personnel in combat since the U.S. first attacked ISIS in 2014.

Amidst the turmoil and violence in Syria, one lone children’s magazine, Zayton and Zaytonah, is still being printed and distributed. The magazine was created by artist Diala Brisly, who had to flee Syria for Beirut in 2013. The goal of the magazine, she says, is to remind children what it’s like to be a human being, and to discourage them from becoming militant fighters.

The Middle East launched a new comedy program, “Saturday Night Live” in Arabic, inspired by the U.S. comedy late night show last month. Based out of Cairo, it features comedy sketches on a variety of topics – but notably lacking are any sketches dealing with politics, sex or religion. Satirizing the current president of Egypt or hinting at religious tensions in a region under siege by ISIS would lead to the show’s shutdown and potential jail sentences.

The Week of March 7, 2016: 

In the latest refugee crisis development, Turkey offered to take in even more Syrian refugees in exchange for “more money, accelerated membership talks and faster visa-free travel for its citizens” from the European Union. This would create an option for refugees who are denied asylum in Europe to return to Turkey.

Recent reports have revealed the intense indoctrination tactics that the Islamic State uses on children, to ensure a second generation of Islamic State fighters. The report says that traditional rehabilitation strategy for child soldiers will not be sufficient for children who return from or escape ISIS. From an early age they are desensitized to violence and indoctrinated with the strictest Islamist ideals.

Islamic militants stormed a town in Eastern Tunisia near the Libyan border on Monday. The militants attacked a Tunisian military base and several police posts. ISIS has recently set up camp in Libya, and this attack creates fear that the Islamic State’s expansion could be moving into Tunisia.

The Week of Feb 29, 2016: 

The Turkish government seized control of Turkey’s most popular newspaper, Zaman, on Friday. This is the latest example of an increasingly unstable Turkey, as it fights off Kurdish separatists, attempts to contain the war in Syria on its border and struggles under the increasingly strict impositions of its Islamic President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Iranian officials extended an invitation to Boeing to discuss a business deal to improve Iran’s commercial aircraft fleet. This would be the biggest business arrangement with a U.S. company after more than three decades of estrangement. This reconnecting of economic ties is one of the first inroads after the historic nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. took effect in January.

Political rivalries are stalling an imminent attack on Mosul by Iraqi security forces determined to win the city back from the Islamic State. The security forces are comprised of many groups including U.S. forces, Iran-backed militias and Kurdish fighters, who all have their own objectives when it comes to Mosul. Unless these objectives can be reconciled, the offensive against Mosul may take much longer than expected.

The Week of Feb 22, 2016: 

Iran is in the midst of parliamentary elections, set to conclude on February 26th. In an unprecedented shift, election interest has turned to environmental conservation. The general public has shown a keen interest in candidates who address issues like dwindling water supplies and deteriorating air quality. Image at left: An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters for upcoming parliamentary elections, Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images.

The international import of weapons to the Middle East has risen dramatically in the last five years, with Saudi Arabia at the forefront with a 275% weapons import increase. These weapons are largely being supplied by the U.S. and Europe. Weapons imports spiked dramatically before the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen began last year.

A women’s bicycling club, which started in December in Gaza, has received considerable backlash from conservative Muslims in recent days. The club was formed by Palestinian women to protest against the nearly decade-long rule of the Islamic Hamas movement. In Gaza, women are forbidden from playing sports in general, so the sight of women bicycling has incited jeers, taunts and harassment from Gaza residents.

A ceasefire was negotiated this week between the Syrian government and certain Syrian opposition groups. Moderated by the United States and Russia, these talks have yielded little in terms of actual progress, and hopes remain low for the impending ceasefire as ISIS continues to make territorial gains in Aleppo, Syria.

The Week of Feb 15, 2016:   

Young Saudis now fear for their employment and financial security as the Saudi economy, previously propped up by high oil prices, takes a hit. Oil prices in Saudi Arabia have dropped to $30 a barrel from their previous price of $100 a barrel in 2014. Riyadh has hosted three job fairs in the last two weeks, where nervous Saudis queue up to interview for jobs, something their parents never faced due to generous government subsidies and ubiquitous job opportunities that now seem endangered.

It was revealed this week that the U.S. had a cyberattack plan in place in case Iran’s nuclear program ever incited a military confrontation between the two countries. The plan was devised to disable Iran’s air defenses, communications systems and crucial parts of its power grid, but was shelved after a nuclear agreement was reached with Iran in July.

The first of several international aid convoys reached a besieged Syrian town this week. This is part of an effort by world powers to provide much-needed aid to parts of Syria that have been completely isolated by war and terrorist efforts. The aid relief is being sent to towns that lack basic survival supplies such as the diesel needed to turn on the water pumps that supply drinking water.

Muhammad Heikal, Egypt’s most renowned journalist died at the age of 92 this week. Heikal was a prominent journalist during Egypt’s Nasser era, and a staunch proponent of his pan-Arabism ideals. He was jailed briefly during Anwar Sadat’s reign due to his opposition of Sadat’s peace overtures with Israel. The Washington Post described him as “the voice of Egypt”.

The Iraqi government orchestrated the release of three U.S. prisoners that were captured and held hostage last month by Shiite militiamen. This kidnapping is part of an increase in Iran-backed Shi’a uprisings from Iraqis that are beyond the control of the central government.

The U.S. authorized air strikes in Libya on Friday to attack an ISIS training camp, highlighting growing concerns that Libya is becoming the new ISIS stronghold. As the war in Syria worsens, ISIS has urged many of its affiliates to travel to Libya to create a more unified home base. The United States wants to thwart this with strategic airstrikes and by strengthening the fledgling unity government in Libya.

The Week of Feb 8, 2016:  

kindergarten in Jaffa, Israel is pushing for equal education by promoting their school that integrates Christian, Jewish and Muslim children. The kindergarten opened three years ago with only 38 students and has now expanded to include 140 students of various religious backgrounds.

NATO will deploy ships to begin monitoring the waterways of the Aegean Sea, in a bid to stem human trafficking of migrants from Turkey to Greece.  NATO will also be providing intelligence to the European Union which has taken the lead in mitigating the refugee crisis. The New York Times reports: The operation puts the military alliance in the position of conducting what amounts to a law enforcement operation in the middle of a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis.

The body of Italian student Giulio Regeni was found on the outskirts of Cairo last week, prompting outrage from the Italian community and accusations that he was killed and tortured at the hands of Egyptian police. Regeni disappeared on January 25th, when Cairo was teeming with police officers to suppress any protests to commemorate the 2011 Arab spring uprising. During this time, dozens of dissidents were questioned and detained, leading many in the international community to suspect Egyptian security services of orchestrating Regeni’s murder.

ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack on a police officer’s club in the Syrian capital of Damascus. This was the first attack in Damascus, which has been relatively peaceful throughout the course of the Syrian civil war, to be claimed by the Islamic state.

The United Arab Emirates created a minister of state for happiness, and a minister of state for tolerance, as part of a major government shake-up. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum voiced that the people of the UAE “want a young and flexible government that will fulfill our youth’s aspirations and achieve our people’s ambitions.”

As economic conditions continue to worsen in the Gaza Strip, many young Palestinians are turning to crowd-funding websites to meet their financial needs. More than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza graduate from universities each year, and many of these students have financed their tuition through crowd-sourcing websites, where they present their stories to the world in the hope that people see them and donate to help them reach their goal.

A gym in Jordan called SheFighter, which was created in 2012 to provide specialized self-defense classes and martial arts training for women, is continuing to expand its reach to Jordanian women. The gym was commended in a speech by President Obama last year. 

The Week of Feb 1, 2016:  

Iraq hosted the Baghdad International Marathon, the first international race in living memory. Two-thousand participants, including 32 runners from Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, came to represent their countries and partake in this historic event. For many Iraqis, this was a revitalization of Baghdad in the 1970s and 80s, when organized competitions were common, and Iraq was not yet a war torn country.A popular Egyptian cartoonist was arrested for running a website without a license on Sunday. This is the latest in a string of crackdowns on free speech by Egyptian President el-Sisi since the military uprising that removed former president Hosni Mubarek from power.

Saudi sculptor, Abdulnasser Gharem, has set up a studio to showcase emerging talent in Saudi Arabia. Saudi youth are eagerly trying to find new ways to express themselves against the strict backdrop of Saudi culture through artistic means and through Twitter, where usage rates are amongst the highest in the world.

An Instagram account that posts pictures of Iranian imams, or Islamic scholars, in everyday situations has become a social media success with over 12,000 followers. The Instagram, “Talabah Today”, attempts to break down the stereotypes about ultra-conservative, fear-mongering Imams yelling “death to America”, by showing them leading normal lives; playing basketball with schoolgirls and posing with Christmas trees to wish season’s greetings to Christians.

The Israeli military is preventing non-residents from entering the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, after a Palestinian policeman was killed after an attempted attack on three Israeli soldiers. This is the latest development in an onslaught of stabbings and shootings between Israelis and Palestinians since October.

When President Xi Jinping of China traveled to the Middle East last month, he kept his meetings strictly about building closer economic and infrastructure ties, rather than focusing on the recent uptick in turmoil in the region. Visiting both Saudi Arabia and Iran, where ties have been more strained than usual after the Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric, President Jinping focused on support for China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan, an initiative that intends to increase the integration between Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Despite a suicide attack in Syria on Sunday that killed approximately 70 people, peace talks continued on Monday as the United Nations mediator in the Syrian war met with members of the opposition. The two sides have yet to talk directly, but the mediator, Staffan de Mistura, also met with Syrian government representatives on Friday.

Week of Jan 25, 2016: 

Week of Jan 11, 2016: 

The Israeli Ministry of Education banned a book about an Israeli-Palestinian love story from high school reading lists. In response, Time Out Tel Aviv published a viral video to YouTube which depicts couples, friends and strangers, one a Jew and one an Arab, kissing on camera. When asked how it felt to kiss a stranger on camera, one of the men in the video says that it’s “less strange than the [Arab-Israeli] conflict.”

Nawal al-Hawsawi is being called the “Rosa Parks” of Saudi Arabia because of her campaign against racism. Al-Hawsawi is a black Saudi woman, a certified pilot, and the wife of a white American. She has garnered a lot of positive and negative attention due to her Twitter campaign where she posts about the importance of racial diversity and marriage equality.

Iran reported Monday that it dismantled its only heavy-water reactor, a key step to implementing its nuclear agreement with the United States and other world powers. Today an Iranian nuclear official called this report “baseless” and stated that Iran planned to sign an agreement with China to modify the reactor. Analysts viewed this, not as an intentional move by Iran to keep their nuclear program in place, but as a shifty move to appease hard liners in the country that are hesitant to acquiesce to the United States, while working as quickly as possible to adhere to the nuclear agreement.

suicide bomber killed at least 10 people and wounded 15 in Istanbul on Tuesday. A deputy prime minister of Turkey said the bombing was carried out by a Syrian man, while President Erdogan of Turkey blamed both the Islamic State and Kurdish separatists for endangering Turkey’s security.

Week of January 4, 2016:

The Israeli Ministry of Education banned a book about an Israeli-Palestinian love story from high school reading lists. In response, Time Out Tel Aviv published a viral video to YouTube which depicts couples, friends and strangers, one a Jew and one an Arab, kissing on camera. When asked how it felt to kiss a stranger on camera, one of the men in the video says that it’s “less strange than the [Arab-Israeli] conflict.”

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was set ablaze by protestors. The burning of the Saudi Embassy was in response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This execution sparked outrage among the entire Shi’a community across the Middle East, including Shi’a dominated Iran. The Sheikh was an outspoken critic of the Saudi and Bahraini regimes and had been jailed since 2012.

42,000 Syrians are currently trapped and starving in the Lebanese-border town of Madaya, where Syrian government forces surround the rebel-controlled area. This is part of a Syrian regime tactic to starve out rebel-led towns until they surrender. This intentionally plays on the divide between the UN’s political and humanitarian branches – with the political branch refusing to make concessions, leaving the humanitarian branches unable to deliver much-needed aid.

The shooter who attacked a Philadelphia policeman last Thursday pledged his allegiance to the Islamic state while being questioned by detectives. He also traveled to Saudi Arabia for the hajj – the Muslim pilgrimage – and to Egypt in the last several years.


The Week of Dec 28, 2015: 

The Iraqi army recaptured the city of Ramadi from ISIS fighters that had controlled the city 55 miles west of Baghdad since May. There are still pockets of ISIS resistance in the city, but the reclamation of the city center was a major territorial blow for ISIS.

Saudi officials announced the end of a weeks-long ceasefire in Yemen between Saudi-backed government forces and Houthi rebels who seized power in March. Saudi Arabia claimed that the Houthi forces violated the ceasefire by killing and detaining Yemeni civilians and attacking Saudi border posts and aid operations.

The Week of Dec 21, 2015: 

Tests on the black box of the Russian war plane that was downed by Turkey last month came back unreadable. This stymied Russia’s efforts to prove that the plane was not in Turkish airspace when it was shot down. Turkey argues that the plane, deployed to Syria in support of President Bashar al Assad, received several warnings to exit Turkish airspace before it was shot down.

The U.N.-brokered peace talks aimed at bringing an end to the nine-month war in Yemen ended with no sign of a resolution to the conflict. The talks were meant to broker an accord between the official government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels, but Saudi-led airstrikes against the rebels continued unabated over the weekend in response to Houthi actions, stymieing any hope for peace until the next round of talks in mid-January.

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies conducted a survey of 18,000 Arabs from 12 countries that showed overwhelming opposition to the Islamic State. They also found no correlation between those who expressed some support for the Islamic State and religiosity. In other words, any favorable views of ISIS were prevalent among religious and non-religious responders.

Saudi Arabia announced the creation of a 34-nation coalition to combat Islamic extremism in the Middle East. While this could be construed as a response to the international call for Arab unity in fighting terrorist threats such as ISIS, many see this coalition as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to boost its standing in the region and counter Iran, rather than a legitimate attempt to address the violence.

Amnesty International declared that Russia may have committed war crimes during its three month air raid in Syria. The rights group said there is evidence that Russia covered up attacks on a field hospital and a mosque, and is using cluster bombs in civilian areas which have led to the death of hundreds of civilians in Syria. Amnesty International called for independent investigations to verify these claims.

The Week of Dec 14, 2015: 

Israeli and Turkish diplomats have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to restore normal diplomatic relations, which were suspended in 2010 after 10 activists were killed by Israeli troops boarding a ship, the Mavi Marmara, that was trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Under the terms of the agreement, Israel will establish a fund to provide compensation to the families of the dead activists and Turkey will drop criminal charges against Israeli officers. Turkey has also agreed to cooperate with Israel to prevent a senior Hamas operative from entering the country.

President Obama has pushed for a reconciliation agreement for years and an administration official called the arrangement “a welcome step.” Israeli opposition politicians have already criticized the agreement, saying that the “damage has already been done” and that it “must not give Erdogan a foothold in Gaza.”

Turkey announced that 102 Kurdish militants were killed in a major military attack over the weekend. This is part of an ongoing offensive against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is labeled as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Iraq hosted its first beauty pageant in over four decades, choosing green-eyed Shaymaa Qasim, from Kirkuk, to win the title and the chance to represent Iraq at the Miss Universe pageant. Many celebrated this as a unique cultural emancipation for Iraq. Certain concessions were given to the candidates based on cultural sensitivity, including the removal of the swimsuit portion and a requirement of more modest evening dresses.

For the first time in the nearly five-year-old Syrian civil war, the UN embraced a plan for a ceasefire agreement on Friday. The month-long ceasefire discussions were led by the U.S. and Russia, but it is far from clear what the parameters of the ceasefire will be, especially while the two nations are at extreme odds over the best policies to end the conflict.The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that China and Egypt imprisoned record numbers of journalists in 2015. Egypt is second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2015. Worldwide, the number of journalists behind bars for their work declined moderately during the year, but a handful of countries continue to use systematic imprisonment to silence criticism. A CPJ special report by Elana Beiser.

The European Union revived the possibility of Turkey’s membership on Monday, reversing its position to cease EU expansion. Failing states, war, Islamist militants and a refugee crisis has brought to light the benefits of pushing countries towards market economies. Turkey has also promised to stem the flow of Turkish migrants into Europe in exchange for cash, visas, and renewed talks on joining the EU.

The German TV station, DW, is now broadcasting Arabic-language channels so that refugees can watch programming in their native language. The channel will focus on information, understanding and cultural exchange, including German language courses in television format.

On Thursday, December 17th, the World Trade Organization formally approved Afghanistan’s membership in the WTO (ReutersBusiness StandardPajhwokTOLO News). The approval occurred at a ministerial conference in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and follows eleven years of talks regarding the possibility of Afghanistan joining the organization. Afghanistan has until June 30 to ratify the agreement and officially become a member of the WTO.

The Islamic State has surpassed Al Qaeda as the most violent and disruptive force in war-torn Yemen. After nine months of conflict between the Saudi-led military coalition and rebel forces bent on seizing power, ISIS is attacking mosques, planting car bombs and executing members of Yemen’s Shiite minority. There is also significant evidence that ISIS in Yemen is highly coordinated with the main branches in Syria and Iraq, making their threat in Yemen more significant and long-term.

Monday morning, President Obama attended a meeting of the National Security Council at the Department of Defense to discuss the offensive against the Islamic State. While current policy is unlikely to change because of this meeting, President Obama’s attendance shows his determination to stay up-to-date on the issues and proactive in his policies to combat the Islamic State. This increased attentiveness comes in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and the shooting in San Bernardino, CA.

Iranians are hosting impromptu charity drives around the country to provide warm clothing for the homeless during the winter months. This involves setting up “walls of kindness”, which consist of hooks nailed into the outer walls of buildings with a sign that reads “If you don’t need it, leave it. If you need it, take it”, prompting donations of coats, trousers and other warm clothing.

The Week of Dec 7, 2015:

Two recent London film festivals have featured films that explore the Arab world and issues such as gender, migration and exile. The Green Caravan Film Festival showcased films by directors from Iran, Kuwait and Bahrain that touched on human rights and social issues. The BBC Arabic Festival was hosted by Eddie Izard who grew up in Yemen, and featured a film set in the UAE that explored topics of gender and sexuality.

At least 33 people in Iran have died from an outbreak of swine flu. The country’s deputy health minister warned that the outbreak was likely to spread to other parts of the country, including Tehran.

The Knowledge Summit kicked off in Dubai on Monday with a presentation on the Arab Knowledge Index, which is meant to help experts and researchers implement development policies for building knowledge societies. The goal of the summit is to promote and discuss knowledge-based economies in the Arab world, which focus on development, innovation and the transfer of knowledge in fields such as education, scientific research and information technology.

The Syrian government claimed on Monday that the United States was responsible for an airstrike on a Syrian military base that killed 3 soldiers. This is the first time that President Bashar al Assad’s government has accused the United States of bombing a Syrian military facility since the U.S. began airstrikes in Syria over a year ago. U.S. Government officials denied the claim and stated that a Russian warplane seemed to be responsible.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about banning all Muslims from entering the United States was widely condemned around the world on Tuesday. Representatives from Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan and Paris, which recently suffered a devastating terrorist attack at the hand of radical Islamists, all spoke out condemning Trump’s comments as “hate rhetoric”.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia held elections that allowed women to both vote and run for office. More than a dozen women won seats on local councils, but women still make up less than 1% of the elected council members nationwide. This is part of Saudi Arabia’s gradual social transition in a society which often oppresses women’s rights. These changes have come in the wake of growing female empowerment in Saudi Arabia, with more women working in the public sphere and increased access to the rest of the world.

Week of November 30, 2015:

NATO spoke out in solidarity for a future national unity government in Libya, but remains opposed to any military intervention in the war-torn country. This followed an announcement by the warring factions in Libya that they had reached an agreement to end the political deadlock that has gripped the country since former President Muammar Qaddafi was removed from power.

ISIS announced publicly on Saturday that the couple responsible for the shooting in San Bernadino, CA were followers of the Islamic State. Prior to the attack on the corporate holiday party which killed 14 people, one of the attackers, Tashfeen Malik, posted her allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook.

Week of November 9, 2015:

Former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Riad Sattouf spoke on NPR about a series of graphic memoirs that he is publishing in the aftermath of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in France. He intends to narrate the story of his cross-cultural childhood; growing up in Libya, Syria and France with a French Catholic mother and Syrian, Sunni Muslim father. The first volume is already a bestseller in France and has been translated into English. Sattouf’s memoir is called “The Arab Of The Future: A Childhood In The Middle East, 1978-1984.”

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting at the White House on Monday to ease tensions in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal and to discuss ongoing Middle East strategy. The talk between the two world leaders was described as productive and pragmatic. Among the topics discussed was a 10-year, multi-billion dollar package of military aid for Israel.

In a rare act of clemency, Egyptian rights journalist Hossam Bahgat was released after being arrested on Sunday for “publishing false information” in an independent Egyptian newspaper. His release followed criticism from Amnesty International, citing his arrest as “yet another nail in the coffin” for freedom of speech in Egypt.

The Israeli Association of Baseball is launching a program to bring American baseball players to Israel for five months in the hopes of elevating the sport within Israel. The American players will play in the Premier League and go into communities around Israel to develop and promote the game.

International and domestic airline traffic is empowering Middle Eastern growth. Travel to and from the region has quadrupled in the last decade, and now 90% of the world’s population can connect in the Middle East. Aviation currently supports two million jobs and $116 billion in GDP in the region.

Oct 31, 2015: An ISIS Ally, the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, has emerged as the most recent suspect in the bombing of the Russian charter jet that exploded in midair over Egypt last week, killing all 224 people on board. The Sinai Province is an Egyptian terrorist unit that pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State and has grown increasingly violent in its attacks. Photo: EPA.


The Week of September 21, 2015:

Over 100,000 people gathered for an anti-terrorism rally in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday, September 20th, to protest a recent string of attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been denounced as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited he Parchin military site in Iran to collect information on nuclear research that may have been conducted there in the 2000s. Iran is allowing access to this site for the first time in nearly a decade, adhering to parameters set forth under the P5+1 nuclear agreement reached in July.

Fifty-eight defectors from the Islamic State have risked persecution and gone public with their testimonies in the past year, according to a report by the International Center for the Study for Radicalization at King’s College London. Many cite grievances with ISIS’s treatment of moderate Sunni rebels, indiscriminate killings of civilians and hostages, and coerced suicide bombings.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to coordinate military activity in Syria so as to avoid accidentally trading fire. This is meant to synchronize Russia’s reinforcements to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Israel’s bombings of arms shipments to Hezbollah.

UNESCO historical sites in Yemen are under threat as Saudi warplanes launched airstrikes around Old Sana’a this past weekend. This follows an attack in June of this year that ravaged three historical sites in Sana’a’s Al Qassimi quarter.

The e-commerce (online commercial transactions) market of the Arab World is worth $7 billion, according to a study released this week. The United Arab Emirates accounts for the biggest portion, and there is an increasing trend amongst young shoppers aged 26-35 who use social media to locate online goods.

Sept 4, 2015: Sesame Street is returning to the Arab world. Originally launched in Kuwait in 1979, Sesame Street, or Iftah Ya Simsim, underwent a twenty-five year hiatus but is now being re-launched in Abu Dhabi.