The effects of unrelenting warfare on civilian populations continue to be felt from Syria to the Yemen. Only in Iraq does the fighting raise brighter hopes as so-called Islamic State are pushed out.
Syria’s relentless war continues. A French draft resolution to the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo and a no-fly zone to end the bombing of Eastern Aleppo by Russian and Syrian forces. Russia vetoed this and proposed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Al-Nusra militants without any restriction on bombings. This was supported only by China, Venezuela and Egypt. Russia and the US have now agreed to meet again to discuss the previous ceasefire agreement they brokered. As the US and UK condemned Russia’s ongoing bombing of civilian areas, the UN Envoy for Syria warned of disastrous conditions in the country. Meanwhile, President Assad pledged to regain full control of Syria and rid it of all armed opposition.
There has been better news from the coalition struggle against so-called Islamic State (IS). The brutal organisation has sustained substantial loss of territory, funds and man power. Iraqi and coalition forces are now readying to retake Iraq’s second city of Mosul although many questions remain given the numerous actors with competing agendas. Last week the Iraqi government demanded Turkey withdraw its increasing number of soldiers from a base it has established nearby; the Turkish president reacted with outrage. Neither Iraq nor the US want Turkey to take part in a Mosul offensive but Turkey wants to stop possible Kurdish advances there. The (Shiite) Iraqi government is also under pressure from Iran and Shiite militias to oppose Turkish involvement. Sunni groups are more divided, some supportive and others critical of Turkey’s aims.
Ill at ease in Turkey
The mood in Turkey itself since the failed July coup remains tense and fearful. The “state of emergency” continues. Close to 100,000 civil servants have been affected, with many still detained and awaiting formal charges. Any slight allegation against someone can result in loss of job or freedom. The media front has seen the closure of several Kurdish TV channels. Meanwhile, clashes with the outlawed Kurdish PKK group continue. Last weekend ten Turkish soldiers and eight civilians died in a car bomb attack at a military checkpoint in Turkey’s south-east by suspected PKK members.
Worryingly, last week there were also reports of pressure against Turkish Christians, including a church being ordered to shut down its operations. There was relief, though, when the 28 September saw the case against five young men who murdered three Christians in Malatya conclude after more than 100 sessions and nine years of waiting. The five were found guilty and received life sentences. However, Christians and human rights activists voiced deep concern that the court had failed to identify the wider network behind the murder. SAT-7 TÜRK Broadcasting Manager Gökhan Talas, a former colleague of the victims, said, “Christians in Turkey still do not feel safe”. Do pray for believers there in these chaotic days.
It is now 18 months since war broke out in Yemen between Houthi rebels and backers of the former president and forces loyal to the current government with support from a Saudi-led coalition. Over three million people have been displaced from their homes, 14 million people are going hungry including 370,000 children close to death from severe acute malnutrition. Last week footage that appeared to show Saudi jets bombing a funeral with reports of 140 dead brought swift demands by the UN for an impartial investigation. Saudi Arabia is a strategic but difficult ally for Western powers; the kingdom’s acts pose serious challenges for North American and European governments including the UK, a major arms supplier to Saudi.
Peaceful elections in Morocco and Jordan
Two other countries, rarely mentioned in Western media, saw peaceful elections recently. In Morocco (31 September) and Jordan (20 September) these were judged, by and large, to be free and fair. The result in Morocco was a victory for the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (JDP) taking 125 seats in the House of Representatives. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI devolved more power to parliament after popular protests in 2011. Its control remains limited, however: the winners cannot form a single government but must enter into a coalition and it remains the king’s prerogative to choose someone from the leading party as prime minister.
Jordan, too, is a constitutional monarchy with a king, government and parliament; ultimate power being held by the king. The Muslim Brotherhood had boycotted the last two elections but took part through the Islamic Action Front (IAF) this time round. The IAF joined non-Islamist candidates in the National Coalition for Reform (NCR). Nevertheless, the NCR secured only 10 seats out of 130. Voting patterns in Jordan are complex with many tribal and regional variations, and quotas in place for Circassians and Christians. Some 20 women gained seats, the highest number in Jordanian elections to date. However, the main issue was the low voter turnout at around 37 per cent. Commentators suggested that many stayed away out of belief that parliament has too little influence on government policies.
Iran flexes its muscles
Iran is now benefiting from the easing of US economic sanctions, particularly on the use of US dollars in trade. On the military front, its assistance to Syria is proving effective as Assad forces take ground from rebel groups. However, Iran’s arch rival, Saudi Arabia, continues to pose a challenge. The Saudi navy held a large exercise in Gulf waters, which Iran saw as provocation and warned Saudi vessels not to enter Iranian waters. The Gulf is the world’s busiest oil shipment route and Iran continually claims it belongs to them.
Meanwhile, there have been further court cases against Christians in Iran. Three out of five who were arrested at a picnic in August were released on payment of bail equivalent to US$33,000 each but two continue to be held. Four others face accusations of “acting against national security”, three of whom have also been sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine. Although drinking alcohol is a crime only for Muslims in Iran, the authorities there view Muslim background believers not as Christians but as Muslim apostates.
Egypt memorial denied
In Egypt, Christians remembered the 9 October anniversary of the Maspero massacre which claimed the lives of 27 Copts in 2011. Thousands of Copts were peacefully protesting for equal rights outside the Maspero building that houses state television. The deaths occurred when protesters were fired on by security forces or crushed by armoured vehicles. Those responsible have still not faced justice. This year, requests from Coptic activists to hold a public march and memorial were denied.
The Briefing is provided by an independent Middle East analyst and does not necessarily reflect the views of SAT-7 UK Trust.