Taliban ban student girls from returning to school
Plus: Syrian President Assad visits the UAE, real estate in Yemen, U.S. still needs Saudi Arabia, Israel rejected Ukrainian request to use Pegasus spy tool, and much more.
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Before we jump into the news, you can read my latest article on Politics Today about how the Ukraine war can impact food security in the MENA region.
While Europe is trying to reduce its dependency on Russian gas, the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries could experience a severe food crisis due to their high dependence on Ukrainian and Russian wheat and other grains.
On Wednesday, March 23, the Taliban backtracked on their announcement that high schools would open for girls, saying they would remain closed until they find a way to let student girls return to school according to Islamic law.
The international community has made girls' education a key demand for any future recognition of the Taliban administration, which took over the country in August as foreign forces withdrew.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Taliban's decision was "a profound disappointment and deeply damaging for Afghanistan."
Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad made a historic visit to UAE since the Syrian civil war began 11 years ago. Bashar al-Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Friday, March 18.
The leaders reportedly discussed how the UAE could provide political and humanitarian support for Syria and promote economic trade between the nations.
Along with most Arab states, the UAE broke ties with Syria soon after the civil war erupted.
But in recent years, relations between the two countries have gradually improved, with the UAE spearheading efforts to bring Syria back into the Arab fold despite protests from Washington.
Seven years of war have severely disrupted Yemen's business environment, causing the country and its people considerable economic loss.
However, multiple businesses, including real estate, continue to expand. With land and residential prices skyrocketing, the industry is increasingly becoming an attractive investment opportunity in Sanaa.
The war had not ruined the real estate business, and land and house prices have continued to rise.
In recent years, the Israeli government rejected requests from Ukraine and Estonia to purchase and use Pegasus - the powerful spyware tool - to hack Russian mobile phone numbers.
Israel feared that selling the cyberweapon to adversaries of Russia would damage Israel's relationship with the Kremlin.
Israel's Ministry of Defense refused to grant licenses to NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, to sell to Estonia and Ukraine if the goal of those nations was to use the weapon against Russia.
Israeli officials in August 2021 rejected a request by a Ukrainian delegation to purchase Pegasus when Russian troops were massing at the Ukrainian border.
U.S. President Joe Biden seems to be forced to rethink an unfriendly approach to Saudi Arabia due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the U.S. struggles to curb soaring oil prices. Russia's aggression has been described as a paradigm-shifting event that changed how the U.S. looked at Saudi Arabia.
The two sides were trying to arrange a call between Biden and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time, but strains were now so deep that it would take time.
Biden set himself up for a serious challenge after taking office in January 2021 by promising to reorient his foreign policy away from the Middle East and make human rights a greater priority.
However, the U.S. relies on Saudi Arabia for 7% of its oil imports, and the kingdom is also an essential regional counterbalance to Iran.
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In an interview published on Sunday, March 20, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Russia and Ukraine were nearing an agreement on "critical" issues.
He was hopeful for a ceasefire if the two sides did not backtrack from the progress achieved so far. Cavusoglu, who also traveled to Russia and Ukraine last week for talks with Lavrov and Kuleba, told Turkish daily Hurriyet that there had been "rapprochement in the positions of both sides on important subjects, critical subjects."
Israel - Palestine
The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories has submitted a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), concluding that the situation in Israel and the occupied territories amounts to apartheid.
In a 19-page report submitted to the body on Tuesday, Michael Lynk said Israeli Jews and Palestinians lived "under a single regime which differentiates its distribution of rights and benefits based on national and ethnic identity, and which ensures the supremacy of one group over, and to the detriment of, the other."
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted Israel's prime minister and the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates on Monday, March 21.
The parties shared concerns over Iran, and the three leaders held discussions that covered the consequences of the war in Ukraine.
Germany and Qatar have reached a long-term energy partnership as it seeks to become less dependent on Russian energy sources.
German economy minister Robert Habeck has launched several initiatives to lessen Germany's energy dependence on Russia since it invaded its neighbor Ukraine.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met Habeck on March 20. The two discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations, particularly in the energy sector.
A spokesperson for the German economics ministry in Berlin confirmed on Sunday, March 20, that the two parties reached a deal.
Iraqi authorities said Sunday, March 20, that they had exhumed the remains of 85 Islamic State group fighters and their relatives from a mass grave in the northern city of Mosul.
The remains of 35 people killed between 2016 and 2017 were dug up on Saturday, March 19, while 50 were found on Sunday, and "work is ongoing."
This is the first announcement of a mass grave of I.S. fighters killed during the 2016-2017 battle to recapture Mosul, the extremist group's former stronghold.
Egypt displayed this week a series of recently discovered, finely decorated ancient tombs at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside the capital Cairo.
The five tombs, unearthed earlier this month, date back to the Old Kingdom (1570 B.C. and 1069 B.C.) and the First Intermediate Period that spanned more than a century after the collapse of the old kingdom, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The tombs were for senior officials, including regional rulers and supervisors of the palace in ancient Egypt.
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: BBC