The Middle East Policy Council is pleased to be hosting three remote interns who will be providing vital support to our educational outreach program this summer. As the U.S. grapples with complex social issues. we recognize the challenges of tracking the daily developments in our own country, much those beyond our borders.; however, anti-Black racism and the coronavirus pandemic are transnational problems that necessitate a global lens for understanding. Additionally, MEPC and TeachMideasat remain commited to cross-cultural education particularly during a time when our attention may be diverted from situations in the Middle East. With that in mind, we will be resuming our weekly digest and encourage our readers to stay engaged to the best of their abilitites through these and other stories. Here are some recent events you may have missed:
- On June 9th, officials from the United Arab Emirates confirmed the first Arab space mission to Mars in the hopes of inspiring Arab youth and pioneering scientific breakthroughs. The unmanned probe, named Al-Amal, meaning hope in Arabic, is expected to take flight from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre on July 15. In a statement, Omran Sharaf, the project manager, cited the mission’s symbolic harkening back to the Arab golden era: “The UAE wanted to send a strong message to the Arab youth and to remind them of the past, that we used to be generators of knowledge… put your differences aside, focus on building the region, you have a rich history and you can do much more.” As a sign of warming Arab-Israeli ties, Israel wished the UAE success with their mission and praised the regional cooperation going into making the mission possible. Later in the week, however, the UAE ambassador to the U.S. rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to annex vast portions of the Occupied Palestinian Territories beginning in early July, arguing in a Hebrew newspaper op-ed that such an act would compromise the continued normalization between Israel and a number of Arab states.
- On June 11th, President Trump imposed new sanctions on officials from the International Criminal Court, an attempt to rebuke the court for their investigation of alleged US wrongdoing in Afghanistan. Citing the U.S.’ non-signatory status to the Rome Statute, Trump and other top aides imposed these sanctions to stop ICC officials from carrying out financial and property transactions in the U.S. Trump stated that the ICC “threatens to subject current and former United States Government and allied officials to harassment, abuse, and possible arrest,” while Attorney General William Barr mentioned that the administration is “also concerned that foreign powers like Russia are manipulating” the ICC. While the U.S. has previously supported ICC investigations, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has called the ICC “ineffective and unaccountable. We know there is corruption at the highest levels of the ICC. We will never allow our American soldiers to be subject to it.”
- On June 16th, the Nordic Monitor discovered secret documents that detailed the Turkish military’s plans to invade both Greece and Armenia in 2014. The discovery of this plan to invade Greece comes as President Erdogan continues to use anti-Greek rhetoric, something he has done regularly since 2013. The plan to invade the two countries seems to be related to the Syrian conflict: by invading Greece and Armenia, Turkey would have access to other territory from which to mobilize its troops should the country lose ground in northern Syria. The discovery of these documents incited harsh backlash from Greece, but the Armenian government has not commented.
- On June 17th, the United States imposed the harshest sanctions yet on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to choke off the regime’s revenue and coerce Assad back to UN-led negotiations. The sanctions, dubbed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, targeted those closest to Assad, including his wife, siblings and senior generals, with travel and financial restrictions. These sanctions aim to freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and also hit those dealing with Russia and Iran, Assad’s backbone of support. A senior Trump administration official claimed the Caesar Act is “meant to keep the foreign investors out. Some analysts claim the new legislation will severely impact Lebanon, which has already been struggling with internal conflicts, protests, and an economic downturn. Lebanon and Syria have a long history of informal trading across their border. Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Studies, said that “by making formal trade more difficult, the US sanctions will drive commerce further underground and turbo-charge the smuggling of fuel, wheat and other basic goods.” Since these informal goods are subsidized by the Lebanese government, an increase in smuggling would drain Lebanon’s already-squeezed U.S. dollar supply. Apart from economic impacts, the Caesar Act could also further fracture Lebanon’s political structure, one that is split between Hezbollah and its allies and those who vehemently oppose ties with al-Assad’s regime.
- On Saturday, June 20th, Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) committed to boycotting upcoming Arab League talks on the Libyan conflict. Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala claimed that the League’s executive bloc had not consulted with his government before planning the talks, and asserted that the talks would “merely deepen the rift” between Arab nations regarding the conflict. After the Turkish-backed GNA defeated a yearlong Haftar offensive earlier this month, both Turkey and the GNA called for talks under the aegis of the United Nations, instead of the Arab League, which has many Haftar supporters within its membership. Egypt, along with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, called for a peace settlement after Haftar’s latest defeat, yet many see this as a spectacle to buy time for Haftar’s forces to regroup.
- And, lastly, while the Black Lives Matter protests have exposed the ongoing struggle for racial equity and justice in the United States, the events have prompted global solidarity as well as moments of self-reflection and action in other countries with persistent racism and inequality. On June 17th, an article on Al-Monitor discussed the issue of systemic racism in Tunisia, which abolished the slave trade in 1849, before either the United States or England did so. However, racism is still rampant in the country: Black Tunisians struggle to find houses, taxi drivers hesitate to pick them up, and many Tunisians use racial slurs against their Black counterparts, referring to them as “kahlouch” (meaning “blackie”) or “wasif” (meaning “servant”). Many cemeteries and public transportation systems remain segregated. That said, Tunisia is the second African country to have passed legislation regarding racism, a feat it accomplished in 2018. The government can fine institutions found guilty of systemic racism, but some argue that the country should do more to address the cultural and social barriers that Black Tunisians experience. Check out this Reuters Foundation story, “Black Arab women tackle racist beauty ideals and stereotypes,” to learn about other grassroots efforts to challenge anti-Black racism in the Middle East.