Week of October 7

Southern separatist fighters have made gains in controlling Aden in recent months with the help of the UAE. Credit: Fawaz Salman/Reuters

Over the past few years, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a secessionist movement focused on gaining independence for South Yemen, has attempted to mediate peace talks warring factions in the country in order to bring an end to one aspect of the conflict. On Monday, Reuters announced that Saudi Arabia “has been hosting indirect talks for a month” between the government led by self-proclaimed president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the STC. The Hadi government in Sana’a was overthrown by Houthi rebels in 2015, and forced to flee to Aden, where the separatist forces also rejected their rule. Hadi has been living in exile in Saudi Arabia since March of 2015. With the new talks, the Hadi government is considering a plan that would allow Saudi troops to take control of the temporary capital city, Aden, which was seized by the separatists affiliated with the STC in August, in order to establish a “neutral security force in the city.” Meanwhile, the Houthis, the Shia separatist group in control of northern Yemen, have extended a truce offer to the Saudi coalition; the Saudi government says that it is “positively” viewing the proposal. With the numerous peace talks underway, the United Nations could initiate political discussions to bring the Yemen civil war to an end.

Iraqi protests continue to disrupt the country. Demonstrators claim Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has failed to fulfill campaign promises. They say say rampant corruption has resulted in a widening gap between elite and ordinary citizens, who believe Abdel Mahdi has shown favoritism to the wealthy elite responsible for his political success. On Wednesday, CNN reported that the country is experiencing an internet blackout that prevents citizens from sharing what is happening, underscoring citizens’s claims of media suppression. Along with the internet blackout, outside media sources are being intimidated. Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned TV station, claimed that masked men had beaten their employees and smashed equipment.

An Iraqi protester gestures in front of security forces during a demonstration on October 2. Credit: CNN

The government response to the protesters has been widely criticized; Abdul Mahdi has acknowledged the use of excessive force after over a hundred people have been killed, while the military has claimed it only shoots when fired upon. In a statement on Saturday, Abdul Mahdi said an inquiry panel will investigate and bring to justice soldiers who acted illegally and will include representatives from the armed forces, parliament, the human rights commission and the judiciary. The government has taken steps towards ending the protests by initiating a curfew but people continue to come out to voice their frustrations with the lack of jobs, ongoing electricity outages, and limited access to potable water.

On Thursday, Amnesty International informed its readers that the Moroccan government has been using malicious spyware on human rights activists. Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui have allegedly been targeted since 2017. when received text messages with a link included, which, when opened, installed software on their mobile devices. The Pegasus software gives the sender “near-total control of the phone.” The international human rights organization also noted that its own staff have been victims of similar spyware attacks in the past. Monjib and Bouchattaoui were arrested in the past for “online comments criticizing the conduct of security forces towards protesters” and “threatening… internal security.” Israel’s NSO Group created the spyware, which it only sells to governments for lawful uses such as counterterrorism. NSO Group has not denied selling the spyware to the Moroccan government. The group recently released a human rights policy in September 2019 with a statement that the company intends to do “a thorough evaluation throughout the company’s sales process” to curb the potential “misuse of NSO products including…governance standards of the country involved.” Amnesty claimed that “the latest evidence makes it clear — NSO is not currently able to” follow through with their policy and preventing abuse of human rights. According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, NSO Group is responsible for avoiding and preventing or mitigating “adverse human rights impacts…and address such impacts when they occur.”

On Friday at the opening of Morocco’s autumn session of parliament, King Mohammed VI insisted that procrastination become a thing of the past. He stressed the roles of members of parliament just days before cutting government jobs to “ensure coherence and better efficiency.” Morocco’s leader is aware of the demands being made by protesters in other countries and claims to be working to ensure that the Moroccan people are provided access to necessities. In multiple speeches, he has called upon government representatives to open up political parties to the youth to help address the 22% (youth) unemployment rate. Mohammed has called for economic reform and the implementation of development processes. For two years, the government has been slow to enact substantial changes, which led to the king’s decision to cut jobs based on performance. The new government is the smallest in Morocco’s history with only 23 ministers; the king admonished them to be efficient in their work, expedite decisions, and remain transparent. 

The United States added Sudan to the state sponsors of terrorism list in 1993 when terrorist organizations hosted training camps in the country. On Sunday it was announced via twitter that Saudi Arabia is actively trying to have Sudan removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list. Because of its place on this list, Sudan is unable to receive debt relief and expand its agriculture. In order to lose the designation,  Sudan would need to meet certain standards regarding the new government’s commitment to human rights, freedom of speech and humanitarian aid access. Prime Minister Hamdok believes that a decision will be made soon and has a positive outlook on what’s to come. While Saudi Arabia’s investment in Sudan’s removal may seem arbitrary, Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in creating numerous investment projects in Sudan as well as providing food, medical aid and petroleum products. If Sudan were to be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list and receive aid from Saudi Arabia, both states would be in a position to benefit economically. 

Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters sit inside military vehicle near border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, on Saturday. Credit: Reuters

On Saturday, pro-Turkey Syrian rebels attacked Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. During the attacks, an estimated nine civilians were killed, including a female Kurdish party official, Hevrin Khalaf, and her driver. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces, Khalaf was “taken out of her car during…[the] attack and executed by Turkish-back mercenary factions.” The Syrian National Army is known to group Syrian rebel factions. The Army released a statement saying that their forces had not made their way to the location of Khalaf and her driver’s execution. The statement continued by denying any involvement in the shootings of civilians as well, despite video evidence. To further combat the accusations, the Syrian National Army (SNA) ordered commanders to supervise combatant to prevent any abuse. The army vowed that any perpetrators of possible violations “would face the most severe sanctions and be brought to justice for military disobedience.” The New York Times reported that “the killings of two Kurdish captives by Arab fights — a possible war crime — is an indication of the ethnically-tinged hatreds flaring in the wake of” Trump’s removal of forces in the area.

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