Iran Loses Vote At The UN Over Unpaid Dues. Again
Plus: Saudi princess released from prison after three years, Turks to lose trust in Erdogan, mass protests in Lebanon, and much more.
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After three years in prison without charge, a Saudi princess and human rights advocate has returned to her home in Jeddah home. Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 57, a fervent critic of her cousin and Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS), was released on Saturday, January 8, along with her daughter, Souhoud Al-Sharif, arrested with her in March 2019. Saudi dissidents and rights activists say Basmah had been incredibly vocal about a crackdown on dissent and consolidation of power led by MBS. She had also been critical of the kingdom's treatment of women. Read the full story on The Guardian.
On Tuesday, January 11, Iran, Venezuela, and Sudan lost their right to vote at the United Nations due to unpaid dues, U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres said. In total, 11 countries are behind in their payments, of which eight have lost their right to vote in the U.N. assembly.
Under the U.N. charter, if a member's overdue payments are equal to or exceed the amount of the sum of the preceding two full years, the member loses its voting rights.
Iran must pay just over $18 million. In January 2021, Iran lost its vote over unpaid dues. After months of negotiations, the country was granted an exemption and got back its vote in June.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said the country is committed to "full and timely payment of membership dues," but that it has not been able to do pay "due to the oppressive and illegal U.S. sanctions." Read more on Deutsche Welle.
United Arab Emirates
According to several experts, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is overhauling laws that regulate a wide array of business, cultural and social norms. Most of the new rules apply to both Emiratis and foreigners. They decriminalize consensual premarital sex and allow unmarried couples to live together; they legalize alcohol consumption without a license. The reforms also toughen punishments against sexual harassment and rape and cancel the courts' leniency in dealing with so-called "honor killings."
Experts say such reforms reflect the already existing reality, but changes recognize how much of the population doesn't subscribe to the conservative beliefs of many Emiratis.
These reforms also seem an attempt by the UAE to burnish its international image. The UAE competes with Saudi Arabia to attract foreign investors and remain a leading global financial hub for the Middle East region. The UAE has recently shifted to a Monday-to-Friday workweek — instead of following the Sunday-to-Thursday schedule that's commonplace in many Muslim countries, to fit global markets better. Read the complete analysis on NPR.
More Turks currently believe an opposition alliance is better suited than President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party (AKP) to end the economic turmoil that has engulfed their country, according to a slew of opinion polls published this month.
Surveys by Metropoll Research show the approval rating for Erdogan, who has led Turkey for 19 years and faces elections by mid-2023, is its lowest since 2015, at 38.6%. His popularity trails that of three potential presidential rivals, they show. Other polls published in recent days reflect similar trends.
Inflation has jumped to a 19-year high of 36%. The Turkish government has introduced fiscal measures to ease currency volatility. However, the Turkish lira is still 46% weaker than a year ago, and Erdogan, who wants to boost exports and credit, has refused to change course despite growing public discontent. Read more on Reuters.
A group of international NGOs, including Oxfam and NRC, have pressured the government to bypass pandemic labor protections. News website Middle East Eye revealed this week that 31 NGOs have for months been privately pressuring the government - with the help of 15 foreign ambassadors - for exemptions to a law protecting workers from dismissal during the Covid-19 pandemic. They argue that they are being forced to keep paying employees on fixed-term contracts who would be released when their project ends. Read the full reporting on Middle East Eye.
For the first time since the Syrian civil war, UK Home Office has told a Syrian asylum seeker he can return to the country he fled during the war because it is safe. Until now, the UK has not returned refugees who opposed President Assad's regime because of the dangers still present in a nation torn asunder by the continuing civil war. The charity Refugee Action expressed alarm at the Home Office's decision. No other European country, except Denmark that has been detaining some Syrian refugees who refuse to return to their home country voluntarily, is forcibly returning refugees to Syria because it is a conflict zone. Read more on The Guardian.
Protesters throughout Lebanon blocked roads today out of anger with the country's abysmal economic situation. Local news media outlets report demonstrators are blocking squares and a highway all over the country. The Lebanese lira has hit a new historic low of 33,600 to the dollar in recent days. For years, the pound traded at 1,500 to the dollar. As a result, Labor unions, including land transportation unions, are going on strikes with their "day of rage." The strikes aim to pressure the government to improve the working conditions as fuel prices continue to increase amidst the escalation of an unprecedented economic crisis. On January 12, clashes broke between protesters who had gathered in front of Banque du Liban (BDL- Lebanon's central bank) in Beirut to protest the depreciation of the Lebanese lira.
U.S.'s foreign policy in the Middle East
President Joe Biden is nominating Army Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, according to multiple defense officials and nomination paperwork sent to Congress.
Kurilla, who was seriously wounded in a gun battle in Iraq in 2005, previously served as chief of staff to Gen. Joseph Votel. The latter commanded CENTCOM during the Obama and Trump administrations.
During the Obama administration, Kurilla also served as the assistant commanding general and director of operations at the Joint Special Operations Command, specializing in the U.S. military's counterterrorism efforts. Before that, he served for two years as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division after holding several other notable posts in the military. Read more on CNN.
The United Nations, on Tuesday, January 11, launched its biggest ever appeal -- for over $5 billion to help 22 million Afghans whose country is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse as well as 5.7 million Afghan refugees in five neighboring countries.
The U.N. said a pledging conference would follow the appeal in mid-March. Several nations announced new funding, including an additional $308 million from the United States and $500,000 from Israel. There were indications that more funds would be coming from other mainly Western nations. The Taliban takeover of the country has complicated the issue of helping the Afghan people in August as U.S. and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years. The Taliban initially promised tolerance and inclusiveness toward women and ethnic minorities. Still, their actions so far have been met with dismay by the international community, including many donors. Read more on AP.
That's all for this week. The main goal of Inshallah is hosting the best of journalism to give you the sharpest information about what is happening in the Middle East and not let you behind.
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My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
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Cover photo: Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) - Majid Takht RavanchiAtılgan Özdil/Anadolu Agency