Week of January 27

Credit: AFP

Prominent Tunisian human rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, one of the heroes of the 2011 revolution, died in the early hours on Monday after a long battle with Lupus. A cyber-dissident, Ben Mhenni became well known for her “A Tunisian Girl” blog and using her real name at great personal risk, documenting human rights abuses under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In response, Ben Ali’s government banned her blog in 2007. But in the 2011 uprising that toppled the longtime autocrat, Ben Mhenni began blogging once again, becoming a vital source of information through her documentation in English, French and Arabic of the violent crackdown on protesters by police, particularly in Sidi Bouzid, Regueb and Kasserine. Her blog soon gained international recognition. In 2011, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and received the Best Blog Award at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Germany’s Bonn. Tunisia’s culture ministry expressed “great sorrow” at Ben Mhenni’s death while many others mourned her loss via social media. She was 36 years old.

U.S. defense officials suspect some sort of mechanical failure caused a military communications plane in a Taliban-controlled region of Afghanistan to crash on Monday. The plane, a Bombardier E11-A equipped with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), went down in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, killing the pilot and co-pilot. Word of the crash first spread Monday on social media in Afghanistan, and Taliban forces were among the first to arrive at the scene, posting video of the wreckage online. Taliban officials initially claimed their forces had shot down the specialized U.S. communications aircraft, and suggested a higher death toll. Both claims were rejected by U.S. officials.

New research shows women are increasingly becoming breadwinners in Omani families, reflecting a dramatic shift in homes and workplaces in the Gulf state over the past decade.  About 40% of working married women in Oman have a higher income than their husbands and are the primary source of income for their families, according to a study by Oman’s Ministry of Social Development. The 2019 study showed a dramatic shift in Omani homes and workplaces, and socio-economic experts say it also indicates that Omani women are now more educated and are in better career positions than their husbands.

On Wednesday, Palestinians protested against President Trump’s proposed Middle East Peace Plan. During the demonstrations, Israeli border guards fired tear gas into the crowds, resulting in the hospitalization of three civilians. The proposed plan, drafted without Palestinian representatives present, favors Israel and allows the state to further occupation in the West Bank, an act that is considered illegal under international law. The plan also gives Israel control over Jerusalem while dismantling the Palestinian dream of creating an autonomous Palestinian state. Although the plan doesn’t allow the erection of a Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the plan provides a “pathway to a Palestinian state.” Netanyahu went on to state there would be a Palestinian capital outside of Jerusalem in the Abu Dis village. Palestinian leaders have spoken against the proposed plan, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, referred to the plan as a “conspiracy” that deserved no consideration. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, civilians have also spoken out against the plan. United States’ allies in the region have not endorsed the plan.  

On Thursday, the Iraqi military released a statement indicating that joint military operations with the U.S.-led coalition to counter the Islamic State group have resumed after a nearly three-week pause. The pause in joint anti-IS operations came amid heightened tensions after a Washington-led airstrike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad. The statement said joint operations had resumed in light of the continued threat posed by the Islamic State. Militants belonging to the group are present in parts of northern Iraq. The statement also implied that Baghdad was standing by intentions to reorganize Iraq’s military relationship with the U.S. “In light of continued activities by the terrorist group (IS) in many areas of Iraq and for the purpose of making use of the remaining time of the international coalition before organizing a new relationship … it was decided to carry out joint actions,” the statement said. 

Credit: AFPTV

Lastly, demonstrating that need is a prime driver of invention, Business Insider published a story on how mushrooms have become a vital source of nutrition in Syria. Mushrooms were once an uncommon food in the country but since 2016 a Syrian nonprofit organization has been cultivating them and distributing them for free in one refugee camp where families are unable to afford meat, the price of which has skyrocketed 650% in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011. Other residents harvest their own mushroom crops, keeping enough to feed their own families while selling the remainder to neighbors. Around 9 million Syrians needed emergency food assistance in 2019 — nearly half of the country’s population. The fungus is relatively cheap and simple to produce but formerly, mushrooms were not consumed outside of high end restaurants; one displaced woman shared, “To be honest, meat and poultry are better. But we cannot afford meat and poultry so we buy mushrooms, and we cook it for the kids because it’s nutritious.”

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