Week of June 17
Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, died in a Cairo courtroom on Monday. Morsi was in court facing espionage charges when he suddenly collapsed in the glass cage used to hold prisoners in Egyptian courts. He was the first freely-elected president in the Arab world, voted into office on June 17, 2012, after the Arab Spring protests. Many Egyptians had hoped Morsi’s administration would put an end to Egypt’s history of autocracy under former president Hosni Mubarak. However, Morsi became preoccupied with the Muslim Brotherhood, was largely ineffective, and struggled against a “hostile security establishment”. He was ultimately ousted by his defense secretary, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, following protests in 2013. Since then, Morsi had been imprisoned and held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, a practice that the UN defines as torture. In 2018 a panel of British politicians and lawyers stated that Morsi was receiving “inadequate medical care, particularly inadequate management of his diabetes and inadequate management of his liver disease.” Amnesty International is calling for an investigation into Morsi’s death as a result of gross mistreatment and Human Rights Watch called the former president’s death “entirely predictable” because of the government’s “failure to allow him adequate medical care.” The conditions of Morsi’s death speak to the insecurity and repressive nature of the el-Sisi regime and highlights widespread human rights concerns in Egyptian prisons.
On Wednesday the United Nations issued a 101-page report on the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The evidence compiled strongly suggests that Saudi officials at the highest levels of government planned and ordered Khashoggi’s killing and that there was an ensuing cover-up to conceal the murder from the international community. The report states that Saudi agents referred to the journalist as a “sacrificial animal” and discussed plans to dismember him just 13 minutes before he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The UN also established that “credible evidence” warranted an additional probe into Saudi Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman’s role in the murder; the CIA had previously concluded that the prince ordered the killing. As a result of his perceived guilt, the report called for personalized sanctions against the prince’s assets “until and unless evidence is provided and corroborated that he carries no responsibilities for this execution.” The Saudi government disputes the CIA and UN’s claims.
After the first episode of Netflix’s first Arabic series, Jinn, aired last week, it caused an uproar lasting well into this week. Jinn is a supernatural drama following Jordanian high school students; the first episode depicted students on a school field trip to the ancient city of Petra and showed teenagers drinking, smoking marijuana, and kissing. While the show’s content was tame by global standards, many Jordanians condemned it as offensive to Jordanian values and morals. Jordanian lawmakers called an emergency session to address the controversy and the attorney general directed the country’s cyber-crimes unit to “take immediate, necessary action” to remove the show from Netflix. One Amman resident said that Jinn will “encourage teenagers to use indecent language in the streets, with their families,” and one mother said the show “contradicts our morals, society and our religion, it contradicts everything.” However, other Jordanians say that the reaction to Jinn demonstrates that Jordan is not as progressive as the glamorous and western King Abdullah II and Queen Rania would like the world to think. While Jordan is often considered by the west to be the paragon of a moderate and progressive Arab country, the nation has a significant conservative population that influences policy and legislation.
The United States and Iran came perilously close to an armed conflict late Thursday night following Iran’s shooting down of an American drone. Iran asserted that a Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk drone had entered Iranian airspace and ignored warnings, promoting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to shoot it down. The U.S. insisted that the drone was in international airspace, with President Trump tweeting that the strike on the drone was a “big mistake.” An American retaliatory strike was apparently planned and in the early stages before it was called off late Thursday night. However, President Trump’s account of the crisis left many confused as he claimed that he’d nixed the strike at the last minute in order to save lives, while administration officials said this was not the case. On Friday morning, a senior U.S. defense official stated that the U.S had navy assets ready to strike in the Gulf. The confusion left Americans unsure if a major crisis had just been averted or if the U.S. and Iran really are on the brink of war. The drone strike is only the most recent escalation in a series of incidents in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks.
On Saturday, the Trump administration unexpectedly released the details of the economic half of its long-awaited Middle East “deal of the century,” which has been widely criticized since its inception. The plan, headed by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has no prior diplomatic experience, calls for $50 billion in investments to Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, with the goal of creating an independent and prosperous Palestinian economy. The central points of the investment plan call for increased economic interaction between Palestine and Egypt, infrastructure support in Gaza, a land link between the West Bank and Gaza, and investment in tourism in Palestine. The plan, which, among other criticisms, was called “99% doomed” weeks before details were released, has been widely rejected by Arab states. Critics consider it futile, if not insulting, to approach Palestine with an economic revitalization plan that includes no political foundation or attempt to bolster its sovereignty. The Trump administration plans to release the political vision of the peace plan in the coming months, but it will likely receive a similarly chilly reception.
On Sunday, Turkish President Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) suffered one of the biggest blows to its authority since the Gezi Park protests that broke out in 2013. After the AKP demanded a rerun of the March 31 mayoral elections, the country’s largest city Istanbul re-elected Ekrem Imamoglu, the main opposition party CHP’s candidate over Binali Yildirim, AKP’s candidate and a close friend of Erdogan. Winning the support of 54% of the city’s 15 million population, Imamoglu is the first mayor to challenge the AKP’s 25-year rule over Istanbul. Imamoglu had a lead of 775 000 votes, a sharp increase from the 13,000 he received in the earlier election. Imamoglu’s ability to expand his voter base beyond the typical CHP populace has played a significant role in his victory. He has gained the support of a number of traditionally conservative, pro-AKP provinces, and the pro-Kurdish HDP’s endorsement of Imamoglu’s campaign is also believed to have drawn in Kurdish voters. Upon his victory, many CHP-supporters are hopeful that this election will mark the start of AKP’s decline nationwide, yet all eyes are on Imamoglu as his performance as Istanbul’s mayor will play a crucial role in what happens next. The AKP still has the majority in the municipal council and Erdogan has suggested that he may put limitations on Imamoglu’s authority during his term as Istanbul’s mayor.