Week of October 14

Image: Intense fires in Lebanon’s Chouf region charred vehicles at a garage owned by Damour resident Walid Mansour. Credit: Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera

On Monday, 61-year-old Kaïs Saïed was announced as Tunisia’s new president. Saïd earned 76.90% of the vote and gained an endorsement from the Ennahda party and former president, Moncef Marzouki. Saïed said that his win brings a significant responsibility to change frustration into hope and and that his success signals the start of a new revolution. Nabil Karoui, Saïed’s opponent, earned just 23.1% of the vote. Karoui attributes his loss to the inability to demonstrate his campaign. Just days before the election, Karoui was released from prison after being charged with tax fraud. Karoui reportedly asked to postpone the election but his request was not granted. The North African Post reports that 60% of the 7 million voters came out for the second round of elections whereas only 42% of voters came during the first round. 

As hundreds of forest fires spread rapidly, breaking records for “the worst in decades,” Lebanon asked for international help on Tuesday. At least three people have died and riot police have been deployed to help overwhelmed firefighters. There are reports that due to the intensity of the fires, more and more people are stuck in their homes, and a thick layer of smoke has covered Beirut. Abdel-Rahman, a local, said that the fires were  extending between 66 and 98 feet high. Al Jazeera reported, “…civil defense teams from across Lebanon had managed to contain a number of the blazes by Tuesday night.” Cyprus also helped contain the fires by providing two firefighter planes. Most of the fires are extinguished or contained but an estimated 3,212 – 3,706 acres of land was lost within 48 hours. Ghana has announced it will provide Lebanon with saplings as the Al Shouf Cedar Reserve gave experienced a substantial amount of damage. 

Judge Nemat Abdallah Mohamed Khair, left, is Sudan’s first female chief justice. Credit: Sudan Daily 

On Wednesday, the International Center for Transitional Justice confirmed that Sudan has officially appointed Neemat Abdullah its chief justice, becoming the first woman in the country to hold the position. The Sudanese population has given her immense support and even organized rallies pushing for her selection. Not only is she the first female justice in Sudan, though; she is also the first in the entire Arab world. Sudanese women have voiced their hopes and expectations for Abdullah and anticipate her advocacy for women rights. Other civilians are optimistic that Abdullah will ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Her new position requires her to head the judiciary council and serve as president of Sudan’s Supreme Court.

Smoke rises as demonstrators block a road leading to Beirut international airport during protest over deteriorating economic situation, in Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Since October 17th protests against government dysfunction have been taking place in Lebanon. Confidence in the nation has been at an all time low for some time because of the government’s handling of the country’s extreme debt and crumbling infrastructure. Lebanon currently has the third highest debt level in the world, at $86 billion. For several months the Lebanese government has been trying to levy more taxes in order to try and get the national debt. On Thursday, it announced new taxes on various goods and services, including calls on the social media app, Whatsapp. This proved to be the final straw for the people of Lebanon as they took to the streets in order, in the largest protests since 2015, to demonstrate against these new taxes. Despite canceling plans to tax the popular communication tool, the government seems to have struck a major nerve in the people of Lebanon. Many are calling for the resignation of many members of the government including the prime minister, Saad Hariri, because of their perceived corruption and inefficiency. In its second day the protests had  expanding, extending beyond Beirut to almost every city in every province. Despite the widespread protests AP reported that, “Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan insisted Hariri would not resign, saying that could spark a national crisis more dangerous than the current economic crisis.” The prime minister has called on his allies and enemies in government to come together to come up with solutions for the economic and infrastructure crisis.

And, here are some details about the latest developments in the Turkey/Kurds/Syria/United States upheaval:

Before Turkey invaded Syria last week, numerous political figures and civilians expressed concerns that the Islamic State could regain control of the area. However, the Turkish government dismissed the concerns and proceeded with the attacks. One of Turkey’s stated objectives was to establish a safe zone for displaced Syrians while vowing to take responsibility for the ISIS militants within the safe zone. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar says claimed there are photographs and video footage of YPG fighters freeing the ISIS militants but Kurdish officer rejected the accusation in a press release claiming that “785 IS-affiliated foreigners escaped a camp at Ain Issa.” President Trump decided to throw in his opinion and tweeted on Monday that the Kurdish fighters were possibly deliberately releasing ISIS fighters so that U.S. troops would remain in the area. 

On Thursday, after a week of fighting in northern Syria, the Turkish government agreed to a five-day ceasefire facilitated by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary Mike Pompeo. To agree to the ceasefire, Turkey demanded that the Syrian Kurds remove their troops from the border and disassemble their defensive fortifications. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insists “this is not a ceasefire… we will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists [YPG] to leave…we will only stop the operation if our conditions are met.” The Kurdish forces have reportedly complied and moved back from the border. 

The Turkish invasion of Syria was precipitated by Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northeastern Syria. Despite his claim that the soldiers stationed in Syria were “coming home” it has been revealed that they are instead being redeployed to another hot zone in the Middle East, Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper stated that they would be both defending Iraq and performing anti-ISIS operations. President Trump defended the pullout of U.S. forces by stating that he was trying to put an end to the “endless wars” that have been bogging down U.S. forces for years.  Many thought that those soldiers in Syria would be brought back to the United States but it now seems that their future is in limbo. 

To learn more about what’s going on over there, check out 9 questions about Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds you were too embarrassed to ask.

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