Boris Johnson’s Legacy In The Middle East
Plus: Italy and Turkey seek warmer ties, Hezbollah launches drones towards Israeli gas rig , Tunisia’s proposed Constitution sparks outrage, 1 million Muslims begin pilgrimage, and much more.
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Boris Johnson and the Middle East
On Thursday, July 7, Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister.
In foreign policy terms, he has made much of his involvement in the war in Ukraine and his support for resistance to Russia’s invasion.
But in the Middle East, Johnson’s legacy is a mixed. Having taken up the premiership following two years as foreign secretary, he largely bolstered the UK’s traditional relationships in the region, but several unforced errors have also marked his career.
Johnson’s foreign policy in the Middle East was strictly linked to the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe affair, the British-Iranian aid worker arrested in Iran in 2016, accused of conspiring to overthrow the Tehran government and sentenced to five years in jail.
He had complicated relations with Turkey.
In 2022, Johnson’s government unveiled a plan to put asylum seekers arriving through “illegal” means on a one-way charter plane to Rwanda, where they would expect to seek asylum.
In November 2021, Johnson’s government announced that it would be listing the Palestinian organization Hamas as a terrorist group in its entirety in the UK, having previously only done so for its military wing.
Johnson has largely maintained the UK’s traditional relationships with the Gulf states, which has been criticized by human rights groups, particularly over his government’s continuing support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.
Italy and Turkey Seek Warmer Ties Despite Previous Strains for Peace in Ukraine
Italian Premier Mario Draghi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Ankara on July 5. They said both countries are working to achieve peace in Ukraine, putting behind a diplomatic incident that had strained relations between Italy and Turkey.
Draghi said in April 2021 that Erdogan was among the category of “dictators” that European leaders have to work with, following a protocol incident involving European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her time in Ankara.
The two countries signed nine cooperation deals, including plans for closer ties in the defense industry.
The talks focused on energy issues and deals to support small and medium-sized companies.
Turkey is Italy’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa, with exchanges worth 19.4 billion euros in 2021, according to data released by the Italian government.
Hezbollah launches unarmed drones toward Israeli gas rig in disputed waters
On Saturday, July 2, the Israeli military said it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah heading towards an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea, amid rising tension between Israel and Lebanon.
A source said one drone was intercepted by a fighter jet and the other two by a warship.
In a statement, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement confirmed it had launched drones toward the offshore area.
Kais Saied’s Proposed New Constitution Is Roiling Tunisia
Tunisia continues to reel from the draft constitution that President Kais Saied published last week. The new document grants the president almost untrammeled power, reshaping the parliament into a body largely subservient to his will.
Under the proposed Constitution, the president can appoint a prime minister and then appoint cabinet ministers on the prime minister’s suggestion; that would strip the parliament of much of its current input in government formation. The roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches also appear reduced and would go from being designated as “powers” to simply “functions” of the state. In a further reversal, the government would pivot from being answerable to the parliament to being answerable to the president.
In addition to the predictable howls of outrage from the political parties ousted from the parliament last year, other groups have come out against the draft constitution.
A Hajj closer to normal: 1 million Muslims begin pilgrimage
A million pilgrims from across the globe gathered on Thursday, July 7, in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the initial rites of the Hajj, marking the largest Islamic pilgrimage since the coronavirus pandemic upended the annual event — a key pillar of Islam.
This year, the Hajj is open to just 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, tested negative for COVID-19, and are between 18 and 65 years old. Authorities estimate 85% have arrived from abroad.
While this year’s attendance is far below the pre-pandemic influx of 2.5 million pilgrims, it represents a significant step closer to normal after the kingdom restricted the event to a small number of Muslim residents for the past two years.
World Cup stadium stands will be alcohol-free under Qatari curbs
Qatar’s World Cup stadium stands are set to be alcohol-free, with beer sales outside arenas only allowed before, and after some matches, a source with knowledge of plans for the soccer tournament said.
This year’s World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol.
Russia condemns ‘air aggression’ on Syria
On Monday, July 4, Russia’s foreign ministry called strikes on Syria that have been blamed on Israel unacceptable, and demanded an unconditional cessation of the attacks.
On Saturday, July 2, Syria accused Israel of launching an “air aggression” from the Lebanese city of Tripoli, with several missiles targeting an area to the south of Tartus.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the strikes.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading Inshallah. Share this article and subscribe to be up to date about news from the Middle East every week. It's free.
My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
Check out my work at dariosabaghi.com.
You can follow me on Twitter: @DarioSabaghi
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Cover photo: The National