Week in Review Holiday Edition

Happy New Year! Here’s what you may have missed over your winter break:

On December 24th, protests erupted in Tunisia — often touted as the Arab Spring success story — following the death of a journalist who set himself on fire. He had called for revolt amid the country’s struggling economic situation and high unemployment rate. The death of Abderrazak Zorgui, 32, sparked protests in Kasserine, a town in the country’s west and led to violent clashes and concern across the country, according to the Associated Press. Police reportedly fired teargas on demonstrators who blocked roads and threw stones at the authorities. Zorgui’s death has sparked widespread anger, with the Tunisian National Journalists’ Union calling for action in response to his death and laying partial blame for the suicide at the hands of the state through its failure to tackle corruption. Despite a democratic transition after dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed, the country has been plagued by terrorist attacks, high unemployment rates, and endemic poverty.

An Iraqi Christian woman lights candles after a mass on Christmas at St George Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq December 25, 2018. Credit: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

On Christmas Day, the Iraqi government announced that it was making Dec. 25th a national holiday across the entire country. Christians were commonly targeted by the Islamic State, but now celebrate the holiday openly. “Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis and to all who are celebrating around the world,” the government said in a tweet Monday. “We extend our warmest wishes to Christians in Iraq and around the world for a very happy and peaceful Christmas,” it added in a tweet Tuesday. Reuters reported from Baghdad on Tuesday that Iraqi Christians quietly celebrated the holiday amid improved security a little more

On December 26th, President Donald Trump and wife, Melania, the first lady paid an unexpected visit to American troops stationed in Baghdad, his first visit to one of the war zones he has derided as costly blunders. Trump used the visit to reinforce his views on U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. “If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price,” Trump said at the Al Asad Air Base, where he landed after dark and remained for three hours. “Sometimes that’s also a monetary price, so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers.” Trump greeted troops, posed for pictures and signed autographs before giving his address to about 100 servicemen and women.

After Trump announced the imminent withdrawal of American troops from Syria, Kurdish allies have sought support from questionable partners. The Kurds asked the Syrian government on December 27th to protect them from possible attack by Turkey. The request surprised some American officials and could help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border. The American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border. The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey. The Kurdish militias are regarded by Turkey as dangerous, autonomy-minded insurgents. The United States regards them as valuable partners in helping rout Islamic State extremists from Syria — the original purpose of the American military deployment four years ago. Members of Trump’s administration have since attempted to walk back on his decision, indicating the departure of all American troops in Syria could take months or even years.

On January 1st, the United States and Israel officially quit the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias. The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace. The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit. The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011, when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million. The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

On January 6th, a new law went into effect in Saudi Arabia that mandates that women be informed by text message if they have been divorced by their husbands. The law is seen as a way to end secret divorces and ensure women are fully aware of their marital status. “Saudi courts have started to send such (divorce) notifications … a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients,” the Saudi Ministry of Justice said in a statement on their website. It said women could check their marital status on the ministry’s website or visit the relevant court to get a copy of divorce papers. However, knowing about a divorce does not mean a woman is guaranteed to get alimony or the custody of her children.

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