Greater Middle East

State of emergency lifted in Egypt —charade?

The ending of Egypt's nearly four-year state of emergency, announced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Oct. 25, was hailed by international human rights groups as a positive step. But Sisi is now trying to make permanent a more recent, and officially temporary, national security law that would give the military powers normally used during a state of emergency. The amendments to the national terrorism law, which were approved by the House of Representatives on Oct. 31, would give the president the authority to take "measures necessary to preserve security and public order," including the ability to impose curfews. It would also expand the purview of military courts, giving them power over any crimes concerning "public infrastructure." A related measure passed by the House would impose penalties for conducting "research" on the military.

Looming oil spill off Yemen coast portends disaster

A prospective massive spill from an abandoned oil tanker in the Red Sea could lead to catastrophic public health effects in war-torn Yemen and neighboring countries unless urgent action is taken, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The FSO Safer is one of the world's largest tankers and is anchored five nautical miles (approximately nine kilometers) off the coast about 60 kilometers north of the port of Hodeidah, a key lifeline for aid supplies to much of Yemen's population. It holds 1.1 million barrels of oil—more than four times the amount spilled in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez. Abandoned since 2015 due to the conflict in Yemen, the dilapidated vessel is increasingly likely to leak oil due to deterioration of its hull, or to catch fire through the build-up of volatile gases or through a direct attack.

Yemen: mass displacement in battle for Marib

Yemen's Houthi rebels have launched an offensive on the central province and city of Marib, where fierce fighting has forced hundreds to flee their homes. Some newly displaced people have reportedly been unable to reach camps, and are taking shelter under trees. Marib province has already swelled by some 2 million over the past years, as those displaced from elsewhere in Yemen have taken refuge there. On Oct. 3, the Houthis came under harsh criticism from international rights groups after  three missiles struck a house in the provincial capital, killing three children and injuring some 30 people. The house was in al-Rawada neighborhood, which hosts thousands of internally displaced people. Marib is a hub of Yemen's oil industry, and its fall could prove a turning point in the seven-year civil war. (ReliefWeb, AFP, TNH, Arab NewsThe National, UAE)

The Syria war's unknown toll

For the first time since it stopped attempting to count Syria's dead back in 2014, the UN has released a new casualty number. The UN Human Rights Office now says 350,209 people were killed in the war between March 2011 and March 2021—but cautions that because of the strict methodology used, this figure is "certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings." And it doesn't include those who died from causes that would likely have been more easily treatable were it not for the ongoing violence, such as hunger or COVID-19, which is now barrelling through northwest Syria, spreading quickly in displacement camps and overwhelming healthcare facilities.

Syria unsafe for refugees to return: UN report

The latest report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stated on Sept. 14 that Syria is "not fit for safe and dignified returns of refugees." The report found that between July 2020 and June 2021, armed conflict increased in the country. The report documented 243 civilian deaths, but estimated that the total number of fatalities is actually far greater. The report also stressed the humanitarian crisis and ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Conditions were also found to be precarious for the 6.7 million displaced persons within the country.

Turkish drones decisive in regional wars

The Turkish military is unveiling a new upgraded "unmanned combat aerial vehicle," the Bayraktar Akıncı, developed by private drone manufacturer Baykar Defense, which is owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar. The Akıncı, which is Turkish for "raider," is a more advanced version of Turkey's iconic Bayraktar TB2, able to fly higher and stay in the air longer as well as carry more missiles. The TB2, developed in collaboration with another Turkish defense contractor, Roketsan, has been used by Ankara against Kurdish PKK guerillas in northern Iraq, and against Syrian regime forces in Idlib provice. Turkey is said to have 75 of the TB2 drones in its own fleet.

French firm charged with abetting ISIS atrocities

France's highest court on Sept. 7 overturned a lower-court decision to dismiss charges of complicity in crimes against humanity by cement company LaFarge, which is accused of paying ISIS and other militant groups at least 13 million euros to keep its factory in northern Syria running. The ruling by the Court of Cassation marks a major setback for Lafarge, which contested its responsibility for acts committed with funds it provided to the extremists.

Podcast: 9-11 and the GWOT at 20

In Episode 88 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg revisits his predictions from 20 years ago and from a month ago about what the world would look like on the 20th anniversary of 9-11. The attack, and Dubya Bush's Global War on Terrorism, did not lead to a wave of new attacks within the US, as the jihad has proved more concerned with the struggle within Islam. But this has meant an invisible catastrophe for the Muslim world. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen get at least some international media attention. There are many more nearly forgotten wars and genocides: the serial massacres in Pakistan, the insurgency in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the Boko Haram war in Nigeria that is now spilling into Cameroon, the mounting massacres in the Sahel nations. Even the insurgency in Somalia, where the US has had a military footprint, wins little coverage—despite the fact that it is spilling into Kenya. The insurgency in Mozambique has now prompted an African-led multinational military intervention. The insurgency on the Philippine island of Mindanao has been met with air-strikes. All waged by entities claiming loyalty to either al-Qaeda or ISIS. The new imperial doctrine appears to be that this violence is acceptable as long as it is not visited upon the West—as now admitted to by the elite global management.

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