Middle East Weekly Roundup: Lebanon’s new leader, Egypt’s currency crash, the battle for Mosul
The Egyptian pound lost nearly half its value as the Egyptian government decided to let the currency float. The devaluation was a key condition for Egypt to receive a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. In the short term, the devaluation will mean big price increases for Egyptian consumers, but it is hoped that floating the Egyptian pound will limit inflation in the long run.
Iraqi forces have entered the ISIL-held city of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, more than two years since its capture by the terrorist group. The anti-ISIL forces were able to penetrate Mosul’s eastern border just two weeks after launching the offensive to take the city. On Saturday, Iraq’s federal police and military also attacked the ISIL-held town of Hammam al-Alil, located south of Mosul. Iraqi forces are advancing from three fronts towards this town in an effort to surround ISIL and prevent its fighters from escaping.
Three American military trainers were killed on Friday, and a Jordanian officer injured, outside Prince Faisal airbase in the city of Al Jafr, They were shot when a vehicle carrying the men refused to stop at a security checkpoint, although the exact circumstances of the incident remain unclear. According to Reuters news agency, US officials “could not rule out the possibility of a deliberate attack.”
An electoral commission to evaluate candidates for the National Assembly deemed 46 candidates unqualified to run for parliamentary positions. According to Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida, some of the candidates faced outstanding criminal charges, while others failed to correct their status. One candidate, Sheikh Malik Al-Sabah, was disqualified due to a law forbidding members of Kuwait’s ruling family from running for parliament.
After two and a half years with no president, Lebanon’s parliament finally selected a leader last week. The country’s new president is Michel Aoun, a former general and an ally of Shia political party and militia Hezbollah. The breakthrough in Lebanon’s presidential deadlock came after Saad Hariri, a political rival of Aoun, shifted course and endorsed him. Many hope that filling the vacant presidency will help Lebanon solve the major problems it is facing, including an influx of Syrian refugees, terrorism, and a garbage crisis.
Two Italians and a Canadian were released from captivity in southern Libya and flown to Italy this week. The three men had been kidnapped in September while working as technicians at the airport in the southern Libyan city of Ghat. It is unclear which of the many criminal or extremist groups operating in the region was responsible for the kidnapping. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been without a strong central government, and much of the country has been ruled by tribes and militia.
Protests have continued over the death of a fishmonger in the northern Moroccan city of Al Hoceima. On Tuesday, the Ministry of the Interior arrested 11 people in connection with the death of Mohcen Fikri, who was crushed to death in a trash compactor. Tens of thousands of people marched in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the passing of one week since his death, with many holding banners reading “murder”.
Two teenage Moroccan girls were arrested earlier this week for kissing each other atop a rooftop in Marrakesh. Under Moroccan law, which prohibits “licentious or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex,” the girls face between six months and three years in prison. Human rights activists have repeatedly called for the repeal of the law, which discriminates against homosexuals.
Syrian and Russian forces declared a ten-hour ceasefire in rebel-held East Aleppo, describing it as a final opportunity for both rebels and civilians to safely leave the war-torn area. However, according to opposition activists, no one left. Fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch – reportedly prevented people from leaving the area during the ceasefire. Approximately 250,000 people are believed to be living in besieged East Aleppo.
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed fired his minister of religious affairs, Salem Abd El Jalil, for telling the Saudi ambassador to the country that its Wahhabi form of Islam causes “terrorism and extremism.” Although Tunisia is one of the more secular countries in North Africa, a disproportionately high number of Tunisians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIL and other jihadi groups.
ISIL claimed responsibility for a bombing on Friday in the southeast Turkish city of Diyarbakir, which killed at least nine people and wounded more than 100. In response, the Turkish military struck 71 ISIL targets in Syria. In addition to its own military strikes against ISIL, Turkey is also supporting anti-ISIL fighters in northern Syria as part of its “Operation Euphrates Shield.”