🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 1

Watchdog Investigates UK Government, U.S. Gives Palestine $15m for Covid-19, Iran and China Sign Historic Deal, Jerusalem Celebrates Easter and Passover, Suez Canal Unblocked

Hello folks, happy Thursday and April 1st! Hope everyone continues to be safe and well. It was another busy week in the Middle East, so we’ll get straight into it…

Today we’ll visit Palestine where the U.S. donated $15 million in aid to help fight Covid-19; Iran who signed an historic cooperation agreement with China; Jerusalem where Christians and Jews are celebrating Holy Week and Passover; Egypt where the cargo tanker blocking the Suez Canal is finally free; and the UK whose government is being investigated over the number of women it has stripped of their citizenship due to joining ISIS.

Be sure to check out yesterday’s Data Corner where we gathered 40 Covid-19 datasets and made them available to access via an open spreadsheet. Please do get in touch if there’s a dataset we can add.

And keep an eye out for tomorrow’s newsletter where Sophie and Daniel will dissect Future Today Institute’s 2021 Tech Trends Report, authored by friend of the podcast Amy Webb.

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Iran Signs Historic Deal With China

We start this week in Iran who signed a 25-year cooperation deal with China that will aim to boost both countries’ economies amid the Covid-19 pandemic and crippling U.S. sanctions. The deal has been in the works for years, but was signed on the 50th anniversary of the two countries officially establishing diplomatic relations, and also marks the first time in 20 years Iran has signed such a lengthy agreement with a major world power.

Though specific details are yet to be made public, one of the major tenets of the agreement will be Iran’s oil reserves. Harsh U.S. sanctions ordered by Donald Trump led to Iran’s oil output plummeting almost 90 percent and completely drying its economy, meaning China will be a much-needed customer. The deal also further weakens the impact of the U.S.’ sanctions, of which Iran has begun to pull away from altogether, and is a powerful move in the region’s game of chess, especially as Joe Biden distances the U.S. from traditional ally Saudi Arabia.

UK Investigated Over Women Stripped of Citizenship

Watchdog Rights & Security International is investigating the UK’s Home Office over its refusal to disclose how many women have had their citizenship stripped after leaving the country to join ISIS in Syria. The investigation comes after the high-profile case of Shamima Begum, the British-born woman who fled the UK when she was 15 to join the terrorist group. Begum lost her citizenship in 2019, and her appeal to be tried in a British court was denied last month, meaning she cannot legally enter the UK.

The human rights watchdog said the Home Office’s secrecy makes it impossible to assess whether there’s been unfair discrimination or a gender-related focus. According to UK law, it’s legal to strip someone of their citizenship if it’s deemed “conducive to the public good,” but forbidden if the person isn’t eligible to another nationality and would otherwise be rendered stateless. It’s estimated that about 15 British women with 35 children are being held by Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, with no assistance by the UK government and nowhere to go.

Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 25

🇸🇾 10 Years of Syrian Civil War — March 18

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 11

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 4

U.S. Gives Palestine $15m to Fight Covid-19 

We visit Palestine next where the U.S. will give $15 million (£10.9 million) to help healthcare services and vulnerable communities in the West Bank and Gaza fight the pandemic. The money is much needed after Palestinian authorities have struggled to vaccinate its five million people, and have received limited help from the Israeli government who said it will vaccinate Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, but postponed inoculating 100,000 Palestinian workers that commute to Israel.

The move is another step toward complete reversal of Donald Trump’s one-sided support to Israel, who cut almost all aid to Palestinian territories. U.S. ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced the decision, saying the aid is “consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide”. Palestine’s vaccination rollout began only last Sunday, with the first of COVAX’s 61,400 doses being administered.

Jerusalem Celebrates Easter, Passover

Plenty of pomp and festivities are being enjoyed in Jerusalem and around the world this week, with two major religious festivals being celebrated. Christians in Jerusalem are celebrating Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter that remember Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection. The annual celebrations, which begin on Palm Sunday, were severely disrupted last year due to Covid-19, but with more than half of Israel being inoculated with two vaccine doses, small groups have been allowed to gather.

Meanwhile at the Western Wall, thousands of Jews returned to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), after their celebrations were also limited last year due to pandemic restrictions. Also a week-long festival, Passover remembers the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, and is typically celebrated with the Seder Plate that combines religious rituals, food and storytelling.

Video: Christians gather in Jerusalem for Holy Week

Video: Passover in Israel

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Suez Canal Cargo Ship Freed After One Week

We end this week in Egypt, where the all-important Suez Canal has finally reopened after a cargo ship ran aground and blocked the entire waterway for nearly a week. The Ever Given was on its way from Taiwan to Rotterdam, but it’s thought that strong winds blew it off course, leaving it stuck for several days.

The Suez Canal is one of the world’s busiest trade routes, providing the shortest maritime route between Europe and the Subcontinent and East Asia. Though the canal is now clear, it could take several more days for traffic to return to normal levels, with almost $10 billion of trade waiting to pass through every day. The past week’s events have prompted plans for a second Suez Canal, which will reduce the risk of such bottlenecks from happening again, while also boosting the overall shipping capacity.

Video: Suez Canal reopens after stranded ship is freed

That’s all for today, see you tomorrow for a special Picks of the Week! 👋