Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in "free-fall," and predicted to lead to the largest "annual contraction in history." Bloomberg reports that oil traders fear that demand "may contract by the most ever this year, easily outstripping the loss of almost 1 million barrels a day during the great recession in 2009 and even surpassing the 2.65 million barrels registered in 1980, when the world economy crashed after the second oil crisis." (OilChange)
Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced Dec. 23 that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found.
Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt Sept. 20, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting "Rise up, fear not, Sisi must go" and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, "the people demand the downfall of the regime." Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police.
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. Last week, the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government.
Last week we were treated to the perverse spectacle of the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China's "re-education camps." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (whose hypocrisy on this matter we have noted before) on July 18 called China's treatment of the Uighurs the "stain of the century," and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. (Reuters) At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. (SCMP)
So Iran shot down a US Navy Global Hawk surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz June 20, with the two sides at odds over whether it was within Iranian airspace. Trump now tweets that he was on the verge of ordering retaliatory strikes on Iranian bases when he called it off the following day due to concern about the likely death toll of some 150. We are again expected to believe that Donald "bomb the shit out of 'em" Trump is a hippie pacifist at heart. The same guy who just weeks earlier vetoed a Congressional resolution calling for the withdrawal of US military forces from Yemen, and whose bombing campaign against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq jacked up an horrific toll in civilian casualties.
Russia, joined by China, blocked a bid at the UN Security Council on June 4 to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and to issue a pressing call for an immediate halt to the violence, diplomats told AFP. Russian deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the proposed statement was "unbalanced" and stressed the need to be "very cautious in this situation." According to the latest update by the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, over 100 people were killed by militiamen of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who stormed the sit-in site in Khartoum the previous day and opened fire on the protesters. (Sudan Tribune)