Week of November 11

An American ISIS suspect stands in no-man’s land between the Turkish and Greek borders. Credit: Associated Press

On Monday morning, Turkey started sending detained foreign IS fighters back to their home countries. According to the New York Times, one of the deported detainees is an American who requested to be sent to Greece rather than the United States. Upon arriving in Greece, the former fighter was denied entry and sent back to Turkey; he later returned to Greece and was again denied entry. The Guardian identifies the fighter as Muhammed Darwis B and reported he had been at the Turkish border for two days as of Tuesday morning. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “[The deported ISIS fighters] are no concern to [the Turkish government].” When the EU threatened Turkey with sanctions over unauthorized gas drilling, President Erdogan threatened to release more ISIS fighters. The Turkish Interior Ministry has started the process of deporting 18 Europeans from France and Germany as well as others from Ireland and Denmark. Many of the detainees are women and children who escaped from a camp in Syria. Most countries are reluctant to take back anyone who has connections to the Islamic State or were in the region. Tuesday night, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and France agreed to take back their citizens, including the wives and children of the IS fighters. On Friday morning, the IS fighter was deported to the U.S.

Photo credit: Amr Diab’s Facebook page

Culture can be overlooked with the overabundance of geopolitical developments, but culture certainly informs civil society. Billboards featuring Egyptian mega star Amr Diab popped up last week in New York City’s Times Square, in honor of his achievement in topping the most listed Arab singers on Spotify in the United States and Europe, according to an official statement released by Spotify on Tuesday. Diab is the first Arab singer to have his billboards displayed in the square. This recognition came as a part of Spotify’s global cultural initiative, aiming to promote Arabic music outside the MENA region. Marking the occasion, Spotify’s MENA managing director stated that: “Experiencing Amr Diab’s devotion to Arabic music for nearly four decades straight and witnessing his fanbase expand across the world is beyond incredible. Today we are celebrating Diab’s legacy and we are proud to see him shine so brightly – literally – on the global stage.” Take a listen to one of his dozens of hits.

On Tuesday morning, the Independent reported that Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant Islamist group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and several other countries, had fired an estimated 200 rockets into Israel. The attack came after Israel launched an airstrike in Gaza, killing Islamic Jihad leader, Bahaa Abu el-Ata, and his wife, Asma Mohammed; at least three other civilians were also killed. Islamic Jihad says other leaders of the movement were targeted in Syria. The group has said the Israeli government has “crossed all red lines,” and fighters will be “going to war.” Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that Abu el-Ata was planning an attack in Israel that would’ve been carried out within the next few days. As of Wednesday, 24 Palestinians had been killed and an estimated 70 wounded. Israel has not reported any deaths due to the rocket fire. Islamic Jihad is smaller in size but substantially more hostile to Israel than the ruling Hamas party. Both organizations receive funding from Iran, whose ongoing political influence and interference in the neighborhood has made Israel more assertive in regional conflicts.  

A Syrian man who is on trial for alleged terrorist activities arrives at the Metropolitan Court in Budapest. Credit: EPA/Zsolt Szigetvary Hungary Out

An ISIS military leader’s trial started on Wednesday in Hungary. F. Hassan is believed to have ordered around 25 killings, including the beheading of an imam, women, and children in a Syrian town near Homs. The defendant and his lawyer claim that Hassan was not in Syria when the murders were committed and maintain that he is not the individual in the video evidence. The prosecutor on the case said that in Syria, Hassan and other fighters created a “kill list” and went door to door searching for their victims. After having gained refugee status in Greece, Hassan was detained at an airport in Budapest last December when he and a female companion were found to have forged personal IDs.

On Thursday, three major parties in Lebanon nominated Mohammad Safadi to become prime minister. The nominators consisted of “outgoing” PM Saad al Hariri, and representatives from the Shia Hezbollah and Amal parties. According to a Hariri-owned news website, the type of government has not been decided. It is also unclear what kind of position Hariri’s political party will have in the new government. Hariri continues to act as the caretaker prime minister despite his resignation. Although the new leader of Lebanon must be a Sunni Muslim, Lebanon’s Christian party, Free Patriotic Movement, the party of current president, Michel Aoun, has also approved Safadi’s nomination. As a prominent businessman and member of parliament, Safadi seems to have the support and qualifications to lead the country. However, Lebanese protesters have demanded an entirely new government. Protesters immediately rejected his nomination and continued demonstrations, in turn, shutting down parliament. Update: On Saturday, Safadi withdrew his nomination for PM and stated, “It is difficult to form a harmonious government supported by all political sides that could take the immediate salvation steps needed to halt the country’s economic and financial deterioration and respond to the aspirations of people in the street…” 

On Thursday, Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab parties’ Joint List political group, was among Time magazine’s picks for its debut “100 Next” listing of “rising stars who are shaping the future” in various fields. In its profile of Odeh, Time wrote that “Ordinarily, it’s difficult for a non-Jewish politician to break through in Israeli politics. Arab Israelis may account for every fifth resident of the country, but in its parliament, the Knesset, they are routinely relegated to a corner. All of which makes Ayman Odeh, the head of Israel’s Arab parliamentarians, all the more extraordinary. As the contest for leadership of the self-declared Jewish state teetered between right-wing and centrist factions, Odeh emerged not only as a possible kingmaker but also as a stirring new voice for equality and inclusion.” The “100 Next” list debuted this year in recognition of a recent trend in the more famous list – the year’s 100 most influential people. Many of the recent honorees haven’t come from traditional power structures in the business world or politics, but have emerged from the margins. Others included in the list were Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor who is one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, and environmental activist Varshini Prakash, who heads a movement advocating for a Green New Deal in the United States.

And, lastly, while speaking to Russian news agencies on Friday, Syrian President Bashar Assad stated that the American presence in Syria will eventually create an armed Syrian resistance that will force U.S. troops out of the country. He made the comments following the U.S. announcement that about 600 American soldiers will remain in Syria to counter any threats posed by ISIS. President Assad explained that Syrians will consider the American forces occupiers and he further predicted that some kind of armed group would launch attacks against them. He invoked the experiences of the American troops during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and stated that “Syria will not be an exception.” 

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