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.
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