Week of June 18th

Just after midnight, a woman about to drive her family’s car does a TV interview. (Iman Al-Dabbagh/For The Washington Post)

On Tuesday, representatives from Russia, Iran, and Turkey met in Geneva to organize a commission aimed at creating a new constitution for Syria. The meeting came after the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in January, which ended with an agreement and call to create a constitutional committee consisting of government, opposition, and Syrian civil society members. With that being said, members of Syrian opposition as well as those within civil society were also invited to the meeting to ensure broader representation of the Syrian people as it relates to establishing their future state. The final statement from Sochi emphasized the desire for Iran, Russia, and Turkey, who have all played major roles in the conflict and are key regional players, to hold preliminary discussions about a new constitution at the UN. So far, the UN-led peace process has outlined four “baskets of reform” that could potentially offer a political solution to Syria, and they include a draft of a new constitution, parliamentary elections, the establishment of a non-sectarian transitional government, and an emphasis on the fight against “terrorism.” So far, discussions have brought little amelioration to the situation and have yet to bring parties to a consensus on the future role of President Bashar al-Assad.

A mental health crisis is gripping the Gaza Strip, experts say, born of repeated wars and the stress of meeting daily needs in this besieged and impoverished Palestinian enclave. This includes suicide attempts by young people going to protests in hopes that Israeli snipers would shoot them. Nearly 2 million Palestinians are trapped in the Gaza Strip, hemmed in by restrictions on travel and commerce imposed by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to pressure the militant Hamas group, which rules the territory. Gaza’s residents get only a few hours of electricity each day, and most drinking water is contaminated. Mental health experts say they have seen a significant increase in symptoms of psychological distress in recent years. In 2017, the number of psychiatric patients visiting government-affiliated mental health clinics rose by 69 percent compared with previous years, according to Gaza’s Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. And in a recent report, the World Health Organization said that the constraints imposed on the lives of Palestinians, including in Gaza, have had a “huge effect” on the mental health of the population, amounting to “much more than simple psychological disturbances.”

It’s been a year since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt launched a blockade against Qatar. The countries were angered by Qatar’s relationship with Iran and accused them of supporting terrorist organizations and working to destabilize the region. The countries cut off shipments from its ports in Qatar, expelled their citizens, and banned Qatari flights from using their airports and airspace. Looking to plug the gaps that were once filled by its Arab neighbors, Qatar turned to Iran and Turkey. Qatari flights were rerouted over Iranian airspace and Turkey boosted its military presence in the country. Rather than deterring a relationship with Iran, the blockade carried out by Qatar’s neighbors and Egypt have only strengthened the country’s relations with Iran, as well as Turkey. The reaction among Qatari citizens has been a surge of nationalism and support for Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

On Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, citing bias against Israel in discussions and proposed investigations. Haley has signaled the U.S. departure from the group for about a year, as she and conservatives in Washington have grown frustrated with not only what they see as an anti-Israel bias, but also the hypocritical nature of some of the council’s members, namely Saudi Arabia and China, who have human rights issues to deal with themselves. Critics of the U.S. move admit that the council is imperfect, but raise concern that the U.S. no longer prioritizes its leadership in the defense of human rights around the world. Without the U.S., the council will continue to move forward with dialogue and human rights inspections, and prepares to discuss Israel and Palestine in light of the events on the Gaza border, at its next meeting in July.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in a pivotal election Sunday, saying voters had “handed him” the presidency. Speaking early Monday, Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said 97.7 percent of votes had been counted and declared Erdogan the winner, according to the Associated Press. The election was one of the most consequential votes in years and saw a revitalized opposition unify to challenge the incumbent president, who has ruled Turkey for a decade and a half. Erdogan will gain the power to issue decrees, appoint public officials including ministers and judges, decide the budget and control the military and the police. By contrast the power of parliament will be diminished and the role of prime minister abolished. His opponents fear that increased presidential power will lead to one-man rule.  Under Erdogan, the government has presided over a far-reaching crackdown on dissidents, activists and the media, jailing journalists and opposition leaders, and shuttering independent news outlets. Since a coup attempt nearly two years ago, Erdogan has placed Turkey under a state of emergency, and observers say that interfered with the integrity of the election — at least one challenger led his campaign from prison. The relationship between Turkey and the United States will likely remain fraught under Erdogan’s continued leadership, for at least the next five years.

After midnight Sunday, Dania Alagili, 47, parks the car after taking her family out for a drive for the first time in the streets of Jeddah. Iman Al-Dabbagh /The Washington Post/Getty Images

On Sunday, women in Saudi Arabia drove cars, legally, for the first time in the country’s history. The Washington Post reported: As women drove for the first time Sunday, drawing delighted gasps from other drivers and encouragement from women who had yet to obtain their licenses, many hailed it as an important step toward greater freedom and control over their lives. It was not yet clear whether large numbers of Saudi women would rush to get on the roads. More than 120,000 women have applied for licenses, the government said Sunday, although the process of issuing licenses has been slowed by the small number of training schools available. Officials have highlighted the ­economic benefits of lifting the ban, including the savings to ­lower-income women who were previously forced to pay drivers. Check out the article to read a touching story about the special bond between an Indian driver and the Saudi woman whose family has employed him for nearly 25 years. There are 1,385,060 expatriate drivers in the country who account for 58 percent of the total number of household foreign workers, according to a 2017 report. A source from the Traffic Department stated that there had not been a single accident caused by women drivers on their first day of driving on Sunday.

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