🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 22

Syria to Hold Presidential Election Amid War, Iran-Saudi Arabia Talks, Israel and Greece Record Deal, Third Egypt Rail Crash in Month, Yemen Begins Vaccinations, Middle East Dominates Top Executioners

Happy Wednesday folks! Welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom where we dissect the most important news from the most important region in the world.

And as I mentioned in Monday’s jobs board update, if you want a free week’s access to the board, reply to this email and we’ll get you sorted.

Before we get into it, I’m thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Saksha Menezes, who’ll have her eyes and ears firmly on the Middle East to provide us with the best context possible. Saksha is a history and politics undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, and also deputy editor of the Falmouth Anchor. Welcome Saksha!

Today we’ll visit Syria who announced it’ll hold a presidential election in May amid one of the worst civil wars and humanitarian crises ever seen; Iran where media reports suggest leaders met with Saudi Arabia in historic talks between the two enemies; Israel who signed a record defense deal with Greece that will only raise tensions with Turkey; Egypt where a third rail crash in three weeks has the nation demanding answers; Yemen who’s finally begun its vaccination rollout; and we dissect a new report showing how four of the world’s worst executioners are Middle Eastern states.

Jobs and data below… Saksha, over to you!

Job Corner ✍️

We added another 400 jobs to the board over the weekend, now taking our total active positions listed to 1,900! New newsrooms include City A.M.DisneyHBOKaiser Health NewsLaw Business ResearchNational GeographicNational Union of JournalistsThe New YorkerVogue and the World Resources Institute.

Preview of this weeks new jobs… 👇

Data Corner 🧮

A few datasets referenced in today’s edition…

  1. Executions: New report on the number of global executions in 2020, from Amnesty International

  2. Israel Trade: Israel import and export data, from the World Trade Organization

  3. Oil Reserves: Oil production and reserves per country, from Worldometer

Syria to Hold May Presidential Election

Hello guys, Saksha here. We begin this week in Syria where it was announced that a presidential election will be held on May 26. In the second such election since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011, incumbent President Bashar al-Assad will likely remain in power in what critics have called another farce of an election. After 10 years of devastating conflict, it’s thought Assad will use the election to signal the worst in his country is over, but with a humanitarian crisis worsening by the day, a new beginning couldn’t be further from reality.

In order to run, candidates must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years, which rules out exiled opposition figures vying to end 51 years of Assad family rule, and have the support of at least 35 members of parliament, which is dominated by Assad’s Baath party. Syrians living abroad will be able to vote at their respective embassies on May 20, however the almost seven million displaced from Syria because of the war will not be eligible to cast ballots. One positive from the process was the news that the first ever woman has applied to run, though little is currently known about her.

Video: Syria to hold presidential election in May

Reports: Iran Talking to Saudi Arabia

To the Persian Gulf next where media reports said Iran and Saudi Arabia held talks in Iraq earlier this month, though Iran’s foreign ministry denied any meeting took place between the arch enemies, referring to “contradictory quotes” by the Financial Times and Reuters. However, it did emphasize that Iran “has always welcomed talks with the Saudi kingdom and has deemed it beneficial to the two countries’ people and regional peace and stability”. The two foes cut official ties in 2016.

One issue reportedly discussed was the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015, which has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises ever recorded with 24 million people in need of aid. Another topic was the political vacuum taking place in Lebanon, where political and economic problems are quickly worsening and Iran-backed Hezbollah growing stronger.

Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 15

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 8

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 1

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 25

Israel and Greece Sign Record Defence Deal

To Israel next, who signed a record $1.65bn (£1.2bn) defense deal with Greece, further strengthening political and economic ties between the two nations, which includes the creation of a training centre for the Greek air force. The move follows similar moves with Cyprus including an underwater gas pipeline and holding joint naval drills, which both angered regional rival Turkey.

In recent years, Greece has also leased Israeli drones to boost surveillance of its borders with Turkey, primarily in the Aegean Sea after Turkish vessels scouted for oil and gas in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus, which also serve as the main gateway for illegal immigration to Europe. It’s no secret that the trio of allies have deep distrust of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, of whom we can expect a strong response from in due course.

Video: Tensions escalate between Greece and Turkey in eastern Mediterranean

Third Egypt Train Crash in a Month Leaves 11 Dead

To Egypt where there’s public outrage after a third rail accident in three weeks, taking the total killed in that time to more than 30 and number of injured to around 320. The latest accident saw a train north of Cairo derail and was enough for the country’s railway chief to be sacked, after prosecutors found that gross negligence by railway employees was responsible for last month’s crash.

Train crashes are common in Egypt where a long history of poor maintenance of the railway system exists. According to the government’s own data, more than 12,000 railway accidents occurred between 2006 and 2016, and annual rates are still increasing. The government said it launched an initiative which aims to modernise and renovate the current system, but President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the overhaul would cost more than $14bn (£10bn), an amount it likely won’t stump up amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Four of World’s Top Five Executioners From Middle East 

A new report by Amnesty International shows that four of the world’s five top executioners in 2020 were Middle Eastern states. Out of 483 known executions, 88 percent were committed, in order, by Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. China ranked first, though because of the secretive nature of state data, it's unknown just how many executions the Chinese Communist Party carried out.

The silver lining is that last year's global total, down by more than a quarter from 2019, is the lowest in a decade. In the Middle East, the total fell from 579 in 2019 to 437 in 2020, largely driven by an 85 percent decrease in Saudi Arabia and a 50 percent fall in Iraq.

Amnesty’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, said “As the world focused on finding ways to protect lives from Covid-19, several governments showed a disturbing determination to resort to the death penalty and execute people no matter what.”

Download Full Report

Yemen Begins First Vaccinations

We end this week in Yemen, who has finally launched its Covid-19 vaccination rollout in its temporary capital of Aden. The 12-day campaign will aim to administer more than 300,000 doses and reach people across areas under control by the internationally recognised government. The country's health minister added the goal was to administer 12 million vaccines by year’s end.

Yemen has seen a rapid rise in cases since mid-February, further straining a weak health system battered by ongoing conflict. The country has recorded almost 6,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,200 confirmed deaths so far, but the real figures are likely far higher as testing is restricted in the country given the restraints of the war.

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