Middle East Weekly Roundup: Turkey media crackdown, climate summit in Morocco, Syrian rebels’ reversal
Bahrain hosted counter-terrorism drills for the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Bahrain as well as Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. According to Bahraini Interior Minister Rashid al-Khalifa, “the exercise sends a message that the six GCC states support each other against any threat.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $12-billion bailout loan to Egypt, after its government devalued the country’s currency and made big cuts to subsidies. Egypt’s economy has struggled since the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, and the bailout aims to reduce public debt and inflation. Although anti-austerity protests had been planned for November 11, large demonstrations did not materialize due to a heavy security presence that included riot police and armored vehicles.
Iran has boosted its oil production, despite Saudi Arabia’s calls for member states of the OPEC cartel to reduce their output. The Iranian oil ministry reported that oilfields near the Karoun River, in western Iran, had nearly quadrupled production from 65,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 250,000 barrels a day now. Iran’s oil production has risen substantially since international sanctions on the country were lifted in January.
Iraqi forces recaptured the ancient city of Nimrud from the Islamic State (IS) on Sunday. Nimrud, home to many Assyrian ruins, was taken by IS fighters two years ago. In 2015, IS released video footage showing its fighters destroying the city’s pre-Islamic relics, which they consider to be idolatrous.
Israel turned down a French invitation to a Middle East peace conference later this year, saying it would only carry out direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it “told the French envoy in a clear and unequivocal manner that Israel’s position to promote the peace process and reach an agreement will only come through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” Previous talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, supported by the United States, broke down in 2014.
Leaked audio recordings appeared to show United States support for Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan general who has been battling Islamist groups in eastern Libya. The recordings were conversations between a control tower at Banina air base, in Benghazi, and what seemed to be US pilots. Haftar, who was captured by Chadian soldiers in Libya’s war against that country in the 1980s, later spent time in the US state of Virginia, where he was believed to have close ties with the CIA.
Es Sider, Libya’s largest oil export terminal, could re-open next week, according to an official at the National Oil Corporation. Instability in Libya has crippled the country’s oil sector, with production falling from 1.6 million barrels before Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, to just 660,000 barrels at present.
Marrakech, Morocco is hosting the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP), the annual UN climate change summit. Participants are discussing the implementation of the Paris climate accord, which was signed last year and aims to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. The conference is being held just after the election of Donald Trump, whose vow to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement has concerned many at the talks.
Districts of Aleppo seized in a recent rebel offensive have been recaptured by government forces. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday that the Al-Assad and Minyan areas of western Aleppo had been retaken. According to the organization, 508 people on both sides were killed in the fighting.
Akin Atalay, the chairman of the influential opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, was detained by Turkish authorities upon landing in Istanbul’s airport from Germany. Nine other employees of the newspaper were taken into custody two weeks ago. Since a failed coup attempt in July, the Turkish government has cracked down on domestic opposition and dissent.