Week of July 23

On Monday, Al Jazeera reported on the International Court of Justice ruling that the United Arab Emirates’ actions following its boycott against Qatar equate to racial discrimination. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar severed diplomatic and trade ties with Doha. As a result, Qatari citizens were expelled from travelling to and around the blockading states. Last month, Qatar stated that such measures were in violation of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD) of which both Qatar and the UAE are signatories. On Monday, judges at the ICJ ruled that Qatari families affected by the UAE’s measures must be reunited, imposing a measure before The Hague-based court hears the discrimination case in full. They also said that students should be given the opportunity to complete their studies in the UAE or to retain records of their studies to be able to continue their education elsewhere. Finally, they ruled Qataris should be allowed access to judicial services in the UAE. “Many Qataris residing in the UAE appeared to have been forced to leave their place of residence without the possibility of return,” the judges’ ruling said. “There is an imminent risk that the measures adopted by the UAE could lead to irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked by Qatar.” Al Jazeera’s Neave Barke added that the “sheer fact that the UAE, out of the four countries that imposed the blockade upon Qatar, is the only signatory to this convention means that it is duty-bound and legally-bound, to uphold all of the details within that convention.” 

On Wednesday, hundreds of Algerian and foreign artists gathered at the annual festival of art and music in the Tiferdoud village, east of Algiers. The festival was launched in 2014 with the goal of reviving the Kabylie region that was ridden by violence during the Algerian civil war in the 90s. The region is inhabited mostly by Amazigh, or Berber, and was among the regions worst affected by the violence and atrocities in the civil war. “I am used to participating in festivals but this one is completely different because everything is improvised,” said Cecile, a French artist. Unlike past festivals, this year’s welcomed foreign artists and writers; more indicated they would have liked to attend but obtaining a visa proved to be difficult. Amar Sadali, a member of the Tiferdoud’s village committee, explained that “the meeting between artists and citizens is aimed at sharing moments of conviviality, joy and exchange to discover the arts in general on a big day.”

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration announced that it would be cutting aid to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from $365m to $65m. On Wednesday, the United Nations reported it had been forced to lay off over 250 Palestinian employees in Gaza and the West Bank and cut services after the United States withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. In addition, about 580 full-time employees will be moved to part-time contracts, and the budget for its community mental health services will be reduced. For the 5 million Palestinian refugees whose livelihoods depend on UNRWA’s programs, the agency offers essential support for shelter, an education, clean water, employment, social services, and healthcare. It has warned that it may have to delay the start of the school year for 526,000 children in the agency’s schools. Amal al-Batsh, deputy chairman of the UNRWA’S staff union, told Al Jazeera,”This is a massacre against the employees. The solution to the crisis should not be at the expense of the staff providing services to the tens of thousands of refugees in the Gaza Strip.” The cut came after President Trump condemned the US’s funding even though “the Palestinians [are] no longer willing to talk peace.” 

Al Jazeera reported on the uniquely Arab Fatih district of Istanbul, Turkey, home to a large number of Syrian refugees since the onset of the conflict in Syria. Dubbed the Syrian or Damascus Bazaar, the Malta Market Street reflects typical street scenes with Syrian food served in restaurants and shop signs in Arabic. Syrian-owned confectioneries, coffee shops and bakeries are scattered around the neighborhood, where Arabic is the primary language of communication. For Syrian refugees living in Istanbul, Fatih feels like home. “I like my life in Istanbul, there is peace here,” Ali Najib, a Syrian restaurant owner in Fatih. Despite the welcoming atmosphere in Fatih, there has been ongoing and increasing frustration among Turkish residents who believe that the Syrians received better financial support from the Turkish government than the country’s own citizens. Moreover, Turkish residents in the poorer parts of the society see the arriving refugees as rivals for low-wage jobs and customers. According to a study conducted by Turkey’s Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management, “incidents of intercommunal violence increased threefold in the second half of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016. At least 35 people died in these incidents during 2017, including 24 Syrians.”

Israel’s recently passed Basic Law defining as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people” has led feelings of betrayal among among Israel’s Druze population. The Druze are an Arab religious minority that make up part of Israel’s twenty percent Arab population. They have been loyal to the state since its inception and are conscripted into the Israeli armed forces unlike other Arab Israeli citizens. The law demotes the Arabic language from an official language to one of special status, and also states that “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” Three Druze members of parliament have already filed a petition within Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the law and over 100 Druze officers of the IDF announced the formation of a forum to fight the law.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted restrictions on $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been frozen since last year in response to Egypt’s dismal human rights record and its relationship with North Korea. Human rights groups have protested Pompeo’s decision, arguing that he threw away the leverage he had over President el-Sisi, especially at a time when his human rights record is only worsening. This move fits into the greater trend of this administration’s foreign policy, which overlooks human rights violations if it means aligning with autocrats who similarly denounce political Islam.

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