Week of April 22

Afghanistan’s population has the highest rate of depression according to one study. Image credit: Our World in Data

According to Our World in Data, a non-profit website that brings together the data and research on global trends, people in Afghanistan suffer from the highest rates of depression of any country on earth. The data comes from the study “Burden of depressive disorders” (by Ferrari et al.), published in 2013. The study shows that just over 4 percent of the world’s population is clinically depressed — but that rate varies greatly per country. According to Big Think, which wrote an online article on the finding, Afghanistan’s abnormally high rate of depression can be attributed to decades of armed conflict and economic hardship, which can have lasting effects on the mental health of a population. The author is alarmed at the high number of Middle-Eastern countries – including some that are relatively stable and affluent – on the top ten list, including Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait. Libya and Palestine also make the list at numbers 2 and 4, respectfully, making the region the most represented in the world.

Egyptian officials count the ballots at a polling station in a school of the village of Shebin El Kom in the northern Nile delta province of Menoufia, on April 22, 2019, after the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments. Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed, AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, USA TODAY reported that voters in Egypt approved constitutional amendments allowing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to remain in power until 2030. Critics fear the changes will cement his authoritarian rule eight years after a pro-democracy uprising. El-Sisi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his rule in 2013 and has since presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. Thousands of people, including many pro-democracy activists, have been arrested by authorities. Freedoms won in 2011, as part of the Arab Spring series of protests and revolutions, when mass protests ended President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule, have been rolled back. The changes also allow the president to appoint top judges and include language declaring the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he intends to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights after Donald Trump. Netanyahu said the move would honor Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in March. Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. Aside from the U.S., the move has not been recognized elsewhere in the world. Syria said Trump’s decision was “a blatant attack on its sovereignty.” Netanyahu, who has secured a fifth term in office in the recent Israeli elections, stated in a video message: “All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. I intend to bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J. Trump.”

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that for the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents. The information comes from the UN’s quarterly Reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Pro-government forces were responsible for 53 percent of civilian deaths. The UN reported 581 civilians killed and 1,192 wounded during the first quarter, a 23 percent decrease in overall casualties compared with the same period in 2018. Other quarterly numbers may reflect an increasing reliance on airstrikes – when attacked, Afghan forces often call for airstrikes by the American-trained Afghan Air Force to respond to Taliban fighters. Aerial operations were the third-highest cause of civilian casualties (after ground engagement and IEDs), killing 145 civilians and wounding 83 during the quarter — a 41 percent increase for those type of casualties compared with the same quarter in 2018. The report attributed almost all of those casualties to American airstrikes. The latest figures provided by the United States military show that American warplanes dropped 790 bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan in January and February.

The area near Midan as Sa’ah, featuring an Ottoman clock tower, is still thriving commercial district within the Old City. Credit: ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives

And, for something slightly more hopeful, in the midst of a mounting civil war in the Libyan capital, a businessman opened an art gallery and cultural center in Tripoli’s old city, left, hoping to draw attention to the long-neglected area in need of revival. One of the best preserved in North Africa with monuments going back to the Romans, Tripoli’s old city has been rundown for years, with garbage filling the narrow streets and its ancient white buildings in dire need of repair. Most Libyans who can afford it have long moved out of the old city to more modern districts of Tripoli, home to 2.5 million. But Mustafa Iskandar bought a derelict house close to a landmark Roman arch, investing one million dinars ($720,000) to refurbish it as a gathering point for artists. Though the Romans, the Ottomans and later Italian colonialists, all once inhabited the old city, today the area mostly is home to West African workers and poor Libyans. A group of young people organizes walks to explore sites and build ties with the residents, and have made some rehabilitation of the area with their own funds. “We are trying to raise awareness of the heritage of the old city ” said Hiba Shalabi, founder of the #SaveTheOldCityofTripoli campaign.

According to Haaretz, a progressive, Israeli media outlet, the Trump administration and the Palestinian Authority are caught in a battle over how the Arab world will respond to the administration’s Middle East peace plan. Both sides are trying to convince key Arab countries to accept their views on the plan, which could be released after the Muslim month of Ramadan ends in June, with the U.S. administration seeking to have a clear separation between the Palestinian reaction and that of the Arab world. The assumption in the White House, according to Arab and European diplomats who have spoken with Haaretz, is that the Palestinians will reject the plan. The administration hopes, however, that some Arab countries will agree to accept it as a “basis for discussions.” The main concern in the White House is over Jordan and Egypt, both of which have stated through official channels many times that they will only support a peace plan that includes a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ main concern is that the U.S. administration will convince some Arab leaders to change their view of the plan by offering economic and security incentives.


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