Week of February 17

A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus, in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. On Sunday, Iran’s health ministry raised the death toll from the new virus to 8 people in the country, amid concerns that cluster there and in other countries could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. Credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

On Wednesday, Libya’s UN-backed withdrew from peace talks after the capital was hit by rocket fire. As the conflict in Libya continues, peace talks were brought forward only to be halted by rocket fire into the capital. The Tripoli port was reportedly struck, which meant that oil tankers had to be evacuated and talks of a ceasefire halted. As the city has been under attack for almost 12 months, the people have relied on the port to ship in foods and other goods that are needed. However, this is not the only time that negotiations have halted, as it has happened many times during the course of the war. 

At least half of the aid brought in by the UN to Yemen is being blocked by Houthi rebels, according to aid officials and internal documents obtained by the Associated Press. This is a tactic to forcefully try to gain more control over the humanitarian aid and to get a cut of the money flowing in for assistance. The aid agencies have rejected their moves not least because such power could give the Houthis control over who receives aid. The blockage violates many humanitarian principles, and though recently the rebels have backed off from trying to get the money, they haven’t stopped interfering with the flow of aid into the country, which is leading many agencies to reconsider the amount they are sending. The aid is vital in keeping the millions of starving people alive.   

Al Monitor reported on Egypt’s powerful Musicians Syndicate ban on singers of “mahraganat,” a hybrid music genre that combines folk with electronic music and uses colloquialism in lyrics, from pursuing their profession. The genre, whose name literally means “festivals” in Arabic, originated in the Cairo slums in the early 2000s. The ban, announced on Feb. 16,  said that the street musicians’ songs promote “unethical and immoral” behavior in society and “threaten public taste” — a reference to the lyrics of the song that started the controversy on Feb. 14. In the video for “Bint Al-Giran” (The Girl Next Door), which has been viewed on YouTube more than 115 million times since its release in early December, a man threatens to “drink alcohol and smoke hashish” if his lover abandons him. Singers of the genre have been banned from performing at all tourist establishments, cafes, nightclubs and Nile cruises. On Feb. 20, the syndicate said it would ask streaming giants, such as YouTube and SoundCloud, to take down these songs as well. One performer who applied for membership to the syndicate several times but was rejected has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the decision. Censorship has become widespread but Egypt’s prolific performance arts had thus far been spared.

On Sunday, the current leader in the 2020 United States presidential Democratic primary election, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), tweeted that he would not be attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference due to the pro-Israel group’s connection to “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights,” an apparent reference to the current administration of Israel headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Sanders has repeatedly criticized in the past

Sanders, who is Jewish, has criticized both AIPAC and Netanyahu in the past and has referred to Netanyahu as a “right-wing politician” and his government as “racist.” During a town hall event hosted by CNN last year, he stated, “I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly. What I believe is not radical. I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis.”  AIPAC responded to Sanders’ tweet with a statement on Sunday, referring to the comments by the Democratic party primary front-runner as “odious” accusations that were “truly shameful.” Fellow candidates Michael Bloomberg and former vice president Joe Biden have confirmed they will be attending the event in D.C., which will run from March 1st through the 3rd.

Also on Sunday, Iran’s health ministry raised the death toll from the new coronavirus, amid concerns that clusters there as well as in Italy and South Korea could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. There were now 43 confirmed cases of the illness in Iran, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state TV, ,which was an increase from Saturday’s total of 28 confirmed cases and six fatalities, the first to occur in the Middle East. The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days to people in four other cities, including the capital, Tehran. Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates — even one in Canada — have all been traced to Iran, setting off concerns that the region may have be facing an extreme threat of vulnerability. The New York Times highlighted Iran’s status as a major crossroads – with the a steady flow of religious pilgrims, migrant workers, businessmen, soldiers and clerics passing Iran’s frontiers, often crossing into countries with few border controls, weak and ineffective governments and fragile health systems.

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