Week of February 4

Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb sign the Document on Human Fraternity. Credit: Vatican Media

On Monday night,  Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning — Al-Azhar University in Egypt, urged the Middle East’s Muslims to “embrace” local Christians when he and Pope Francis addressed a gathering of religious representatives after signing a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together“. The document calls on leaders of the world to work together to “spread the culture of tolerance” and to “intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline the world is presently experiencing”. Al-Tayeb also called on Muslims in the West to integrate into their communities while maintaining their identities. The pope, on his first official visit to the Arabian peninsula, called for a halt to wars in the Middle East and said the “fateful consequences” of violence could be seen in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. The following day, Pope Francis conducted an outdoor Mass for some 135,000 people at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi.

On Monday, Iraq’s President Barham Saleh rejected Donald’s Trump’s suggestion that the United States would maintain a military presence in Iraq in order to watch over neighboring Iran. On February 3rd, Trump told CBS, “We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.” Saleh responded: “Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues. The U.S. is a major power, but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.” The Al Asad airbase, located northwest of Baghdad in Anbar province belongs to Iraq but currently allows American troops who have assisted in the fight against ISIS under an agreement. Saleh noted that under 2008 US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, Washington had agreed not to use Iraq “as a launching or transit point for attacks against other countries.” Iraq and Iran share religious, cultural and economic ties, which has been a point of contention for the Trump administration that wishes to isolate Iran as much as possible.

On Thursday, Moroccan government officials announced the country has stopped taking part in military action with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s war, and has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Tensions have been mounting between Morocco and Saudi Arabia, amid international concerns about Saudi actions in the Yemen war and other issues. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said in an interview last month with broadcaster Al-Jazeera that Morocco’s participation in Yemen had “changed,” and hinted Moroccan leadership had reservations about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent tour of other Arab countries, following the death of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul last October. According to one source, Morocco declined to host the Saudi crown prince in an unusual snub, citing the Moroccan king’s “busy agenda.”

Inside the Triq Al-Sikka Detention Center in Tripoli, Libya, in 2017. Credit: CNN

On Friday, Canada announced it will take in 750 refugees from Libya, some rescued from migrant detention centers. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a statement that Canada had already resettled more than 150 people, with another 600 anticipated to arrive in the next two years. Two years ago, CNN revealed video footage that showed migrants being sold into slavery in Libya, some for as little as $400 each. It caused an international outcry, with the UN Security Council condemning the sale of migrants as “heinous abuses of human rights.” Libya is a major transit point for migrants from Africa on their way to Europe, but they are vulnerable to exploitation, abduction, detention and torture. There are an estimated 4,900 refugees and migrants still held in Libyan detention centers, including 3,600 in need of international protection, according to UNHCR. “They’re enduring nightmarish conditions,” said a UNHCR spokesman. Last year more than 2,000 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

On Saturday, Algeria’s ruling party, FLN, announced that it had picked President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as its candidate for the April 18 presidential election. Bouteflika, 81, who has been in office since 1999 but has been seen in public only rarely since suffering a stroke in 2013 that confined him to a wheelchair, is likely to win a fifth term as the Algerian opposition remains weak and fragmented. Bouteflika’s poor health had led to months of uncertainty about whether he would stand for election again. His reelection will provide short-term stability for the elites of the FLN, the army and business tycoons, and postpone a potentially controversial succession, but the octogenarian must find a way to connect with the North African country’s young population, almost 70 percent of which is aged under 30. He remains popular with many Algerians, who credit him with ending the country’s long civil war by offering former Islamist fighters amnesty. The opposition says he is not fit to run again and several candidates, including a retired general, have said they will challenge Bouteflika.

Abdurehim Heyit, a Chinese Uighur musician at the heart of a human rights row between Turkey and China

Turkey has called on China to close its internment camps for Muslims, saying the camps which reportedly hold a million ethnic Uighur people are a “great shame for humanity.” Last week, rights activists urged European and Muslim nations to take the lead in establishing a UN investigation into China’s detention and “forced indoctrination” of up to 1 million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, and other Muslims in Xinjiang province. “It is no longer a secret that more than 1 million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Saturday. Turkey’s response follows the alleged in detention of Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit (pictured right), which Aksoy said was a tragedy that had “reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion toward serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region. We expect this legitimate response to be taken into account by the Chinese authorities.” Chinese state media have since released a video dated February 10 appearing to show Heyit stating that he is in “good health.” Read more about this issue here – China Uighurs: All You Need to Know on Muslim ‘Crackdown’

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