Week of March 4

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, a photojournalist known as Shawkan, center, is hugged by his parents at his home in Cairo, Egypt on March 4, 2019. Credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil

After five years of detention on anti-state charges, prominent Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid was released and returned to his family Monday. Zaid, popularly known as “Shawkan,” said he would continue his work as a journalist, despite harsh conditions to his release, which include “police observation” for five years: he will have to appear at a police station every day at sunset and will will also be prohibited from managing his financial assets and properties for the duration of those five years, according to news reports. CPJ honored Shawkan with its International Press Freedom Award in 2016. He had been imprisoned since August 14, 2013, when he was arrested while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The nonprofit group Recycle Lebanon has opened the doors of the what it claims is the first zero-waste store in the Middle East. EcoSouk is a new concept for Beirut, both for locals eager to reduce their carbon footprint and for producers who want to help make that possible. EcoSouk sells only eco-friendly products, which they define as “designed to not harm the environment whether in their production, use or disposal.” According to the store’s Instagram feed, the store already stocks products from over 40 producers and artists who are dedicated to fighting the global waste crisis. There’s also a refill station so customers don’t have to thrown out plastic bottles every time they run out of dish soap, laundry detergent, or shampoo. Can the effort abate Beirut’s infamous garbage problem? Landfills and dumpsites have mushroomed across Lebanon since the 1990s as the ineffectual government has struggled to provide basic services.

The U.S. military has deployed its most advanced air and missile defense system to Israel for the first time, according to both U.S. and Israeli military sources. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is intended to test the U.S. military’s ability to rapidly deploy such weapons around the world. The move comes amid increased tensions between Israel and Iran over Israel’s bombing campaign in Syria and comments in which Iran’s foreign minister said he could not rule out the possibility of military conflict between the two countries. The U.S. military said the decision to rapidly move the THAAD system to Israel was intended “as a demonstration of the United States’ continued commitment to Israel’s regional security.” U.S. European Command said in a statement, “THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that U.S. forces are agile and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time.”

The United States lowered the flag on Monday at the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians, merging the mission with the new U.S Embassy to Israel in the contested city. The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it shifted long-standing U.S. policy in December 2017 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, voiced anger at what they see as Washington’s latest move against them. Whereas previously the consulate reported on Palestinian matters directly to Washington, its staff have now been re-purposed in the embassy as a “Palestinian Affairs Unit” under the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem had dated back 175 years, to when the city – holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims – was under Ottoman rule.

On Wednesday, the Center for Human Rights, an activist group in Iran reported that a prominent human rights lawyer who defended protesters against Iran’s mandatory headscarves for women had been convicted of numerous charges and faces years in prison. Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, was convicted in absentia after she refused to attend the trial before Tehran’s Revolutionary Court as she was unable to select her own counsel. The Revolutionary Court conducts closed-door hearings over alleged threats to Iran’s government. The charges range from her membership to a human rights group to “encouraging corruption and prostitution.” Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, wrote on Facebook on March 11, 2019, that his wife has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. In January 2019, Khandan was sentenced to six years of prison for illicitly posting updates about his wife’s case on Facebook, but he has yet to be imprisoned on that charge

On Sunday, the Algerian president flew home after spending two weeks in a Swiss hospital, state television said. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, arrived to a country where tens of thousands from all social classes have been demonstrating unrelentingly for three weeks against his decision to stand in April’s election. He has ruled for 20 years but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. His opponents said they did not believe he was fit state to run the country and suspected he was being kept in place to protect the grip of the military and business elite. The following day, bowing to popular pressure, Bouteflika abandoned his bid for a fifth term in power. A national conference will oversee the transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections. It should finish its work by the end of 2019, with elections to follow.

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