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.”
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