What You Need To Know About U.S. President Joe Biden’s Trip To The Middle East
Plus: Putin to meet with Iran and Turkey, Arabs believe economy is weak under democracy, Saudi dissident killed in Lebanon, ISIS leader in Syria killed in a drone strike, and much more.
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Before diving into the news, take some minutes to read my latest article on Deutsche Welle about how Lebanon’s dollarization of university tuition worsens students’ lives.
By charging students tuition fees in U.S. dollars instead of the local currency, access to higher education in Lebanon is in peril. But universities say it is their only way to survive amid a worsening economic crisis.
U.S. President Joe Biden lands in the Middle East: what you need to know
Joe Biden arrived yesterday, July 13, in Israel, marking his first trip to the Middle East as U.S. President.
He will spend two days in Israel on talks with Israeli leaders, including Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before meeting Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the occupied West Bank.
He will then take an unprecedented direct flight from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – as the kingdom does not recognize Israel’s existence – for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.
The announcement of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia sparked criticism. Despite his campaign pledge to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state, he would end up engaging with the country.
In an op-ed published on The Washington Post, Biden said this trip comes at a vital time for the region and will advance important American interests.
Biden said that oil was not the primary reason for his visit to Saudi Arabia. However, his visit to Jeddah will aim to secure energy resources, such as the need to increase oil supply and mitigate the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Under former U.S. President Donald Trump, Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through the Abraham Accords. While Saudi Arabia and Israel will not announce any formal diplomatic ties during Biden’s trip, other incremental steps could be taken.
Iran is expected to be on Biden’s political agenda of talks with both Israel and Saudi Arabia officials.
A key question will be how to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Biden hopes to rejuvenate the nuclear deal reached by President Barack Obama in 2015 but then abandoned by Trump in 2018.
Putin set to visit Iran next week
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran next week, the Kremlin said Tuesday, July 12, a day after the U.S. warned that Tehran could provide Moscow with drones for its action in Ukraine.
During a trip to Tehran next Tuesday, Putin will attend a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, the so-called Astana format of meetings for Syria-related talks.
Putin’s visit to Iran will follow U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia this week.
Boosting economic ties between Iran and Russia will be the main priority of Putin’s visit to Tehran next week.
U.S. and European sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine have made Moscow need economic cooperation with Iran more than ever.
The White House said Monday, July 11, that it believes Russia is turning to Iran to provide it with “hundreds” of drones, including those capable of carrying weapons, for use in Ukraine.
Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Nasser Kanaani did not deny the U.S. claim in comments on Tuesday.
Arabs believe economy is weak under democracy
Nearly 23,000 people were interviewed across nine countries and the Palestinian territories for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer network.
Across most of the surveyed countries, more than half of respondents, on average, agree with the statement that the economy is weak under a democratic system.
The findings come just over a decade after the so-called Arab Spring protests called for democratic change.
In every country surveyed, more than half also say they either agree or strongly agree that they are more concerned about the effectiveness of their government’s policies than they are about the type of government.
In seven countries and the Palestinian territories, more than half of respondents to the Arab Barometer survey agree with the statement that their country needs a leader who can “bend the rules” if necessary to get things done.
U.S. military: ISIS leader in Syria killed in a drone strike
The leader of the Islamic State in Syria, Maher al-Agal, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Syria, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, July 12.
It said al-Agal was responsible for developing ISIS networks outside of Iraq and Syria.
It would be another blow to the Islamist insurgent group’s efforts to reorganize as a guerrilla force after losing large swathes of territory.
Saudi dissident killed in Lebanon
Saudi political dissident Manea al-Yami was killed “in suspicious circumstances” in Lebanon, the Saudi opposition National Assembly Party (NAAS) and a Lebanese security source said on Sunday, July 10.
Lebanon’s internal security forces said a 42-year-old Saudi citizen had been stabbed to death by his two brothers in a family dispute on Saturday, without publishing the victim’s name.
It said that security forces had arrested the two brothers on Sunday and that they had confessed to the killing.
Yami, a member of the Saudi Shi’ite Ismaili Muslim minority, had been living in Lebanon since 2015 and helped establish NAAS in 2020.
Nine E.U. states refuse ‘terrorist’ label for Palestinian civil society groups
Nine states in the European Union announced they would continue working with the six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel designated “terrorist” associations last year because of a lack of evidence for that claim.
The foreign ministries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden said they had not received “substantial information” from Israel that would justify reviewing their policy.
In October 2021, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz declared six Palestinian civil society groups “terrorist organizations,” accusing them of militant links, in a move condemned by various human rights defenders. The declaration came with criticism from both the United Nations and human rights organizations.
In April, United Nations human rights experts urged the international community to resume funding for the Palestinian civil society groups.
The Middle East’s game of drones
While Middle Eastern countries have traditionally been among the world’s most significant importers of weapons, many are increasingly developing their indigenous military industries, including drone production, which has fundamentally changed the geopolitical landscape and reengineering dynamics within just a few years on regional battlefields.
Israel and Turkey have emerged as undisputed regional leaders in domestic drone production.
Many countries in the region are therefore trying to create their own defense sectors and reduce the pressure on budgets by being able to produce domestic equipment and support allies across the region.
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: Reuters