Trade wars and new political tensions this month added to the challenges already faced by a region still blighted by warfare in Yemen and Syria.
The nosedive of the Turkish lira that began in April accelerated this month as the US announced 50 per cent and 20 per cent taxes respectively on Turkish steel and aluminium products. Since the start of the year the lira has lost around half its value against the US dollar. Various long- and short-term concerns over the sustainability of the current Turkish economy have contributed to this decline. But, without a doubt, the current US-Turkey standoff over many issues, not least the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the US decision to bring sanctions against particular Turkish ministers for not releasing him, have played a part. Following intense pressure from the Trump administration, Brunson was released from jail and placed under house arrest, but the US is demanding his freedom and return to the US. It seems the Christian pastor has become a pawn in a clash between two strong-willed leaders and countries. Please pray for him and for the protection of other Christians and ministries in Turkey.
A currency that faces an even deeper crisis is the Iranian rial. As the US started to implement the first round of new sanctions against Iran and foreign companies began pulling out of trade deals, the rial tumbled and Iranians feared inflation would soar even higher than it has already. There have been dozens of sporadic protests across the country this summer, driven by frustration over economic conditions, water shortages and economic mismanagement. SAT-7’s Persian language audience relations team has also been inundated with an unprecedented number of requests for prayer as people struggle to put bread on the table. Meanwhile, the European Union decided to oppose the new US sanctions and vowed to protect European companies that might face losses through US legal action against them. The UK has backed the EU on this and opposes both the US unilateral decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear enrichment deal and renewed sanctions.
Now in its fourth year, the savagery of the war in Yemen was brought home by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a bus full of school children. In a conflict in which thousands of civilians have already been killed, a mass burial took place on Monday. Of the 51 who died, 40 were children and another 56 children were injured. There has been growing condemnation of bombing campaigns by Saudi jets that have repeatedly hit markets and civilian areas. Its blockade of the country – not helped by Houthi rebel restrictions on aid distribution – also continues to cause massive food shortages and the collapse of health care and medical aid. While the new Saudi Crown Prince evoked hopes of change by symbolic steps such as lifting bans on women drivers and on cinemas, the campaign in Yemen and their response to criticism raise serious concerns. This was apparent in the fierce reaction when Canada requested the release of two jailed human rights activists. Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian Ambassador, cancelled trade deals, stopped flights and ordered Saudis studying in Canadian universities to return home within a month.
In Egypt, strange news emerged with the murder of a respected bishop at the Saint Macarius monastery in Wadi Natrun. The body of Bishop Epiphanius was found under suspicious circumstances. While one defrocked monk was arrested and charged with murder, another monk attempted to kill himself by throwing himself from a rooftop. Amid much speculation as to what happened, Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, called for an end to rumours and misinformation, banned monks from using social media and halted the recruitment of new monks for a year. The deceased Bishop was said to be close to the Pope. Coptic Christians had another shock when a bomber detonated his suicide belt outside a church in Mostorod, north of Cairo, after being turned away by security forces. Thankfully, there were no other casualties.
In Iraq, disputes over May’s national elections continue. A manual recount of the votes resulted in a similar outcome to the results declared before, with former Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr maintaining his lead position. Meanwhile, the current Iraqi PM, Haider al-Abadi, faced strong criticism from Iran, after saying, reluctantly, he had no choice but to abide by US sanctions. In reply, Iranian authorities cancelled his visit to their country this month. Although Iran has substantial influence over Iraq’s Shia-dominated government, Abadi’s decision, together with al-Sadr’s opposition to Iranian involvement show that Iraqi Shiites are not simply under Tehran’s control.
The rebel-held province of Idlib in Syria is threatening to provoke conflict between Turkey and Russia despite their otherwise deepening ties. The Syrian forces that have long benefited from Russian air support have been gathering for an expected assault on this last opposition stronghold. But Turkey has vowed to oppose this, given its hostility towards the Assad government and its fear of a new flood of refugees fleeing another brutal regime onslaught.
Almost three months after the elections, Lebanon has yet to form a government. Saad al-Hariri remained as prime minister and started the process of forming a unity government across ethnic and political lines. All groups warn of the risks of the current limbo on the fragile country. Yet there seems to be no agreement on which of Lebanon’s elected groups will take which ministry nor any shared agenda on issues, ranging from the economy to electricity and waste management. Many Lebanese despair over the country’s divided and irregular political structures and the paralysis caused by interest groups and corruption.