🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 24
6,500 World Cup Workers Dead, Israel Pays Syria Millions, Saudi Women Join Military, Beirut Blast Judge Removed, Mysterious Oil Closes Israeli Beaches, Korea Releases Frozen Iranian Funds
Morning folks, hope all is well! Daniel had a bad migraine yesterday, so apologies we’re a day late with this week’s Inside The Middle East. Don’t worry, he’s still alive and we have another action-packed edition for you today.
We’ll visit Qatar where The Guardian revealed at least 6,500 migrant workers have died since working on construction for the 2022 Qatar World Cup; to Israel who reportedly paid Syria millions in vaccines in order to finalize a prisoner swap; we stuck around in Israel for the mysterious wash up of oil along its coastline; to Lebanon whose court removed the leading judge in its investigation into what caused last year’s explosion; to Saudi Arabia who announced it will allow women into its military; and to Iran where South Korea agreed to release part of billions of frozen Iranian funds.
Okay, let’s get to it!
Job Corner ✍️
We added another host of jobs this weekend, maintaining our total active posts at around 1,600. New jobs posted include at the likes of Axios, ESPN, the NBA, Newsweek, the Press Association, NPR, Rogers, Sky, The Athletic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Due to a limit on the number of people that can be added to a Google Spreadsheet, I’ve made two versions listing exactly the same jobs, so no need to have access to both. If you’re a paying member, you’ll have access to one of the two below links/buttons… 👇
Preview of the 1,600 jobs active on the job board…👇
Data Corner 🧮
Just the one dataset we referenced today…
Oil Spills: Data on the number of global oil spills since 1970, from ITOPF
Saudi Women to Join Military
We start this week in Saudi Arabia where the country’s Ministry of Defense announced it will open up recruitment to women, a week after well-known women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from prison. The move is part of a series of policy changes by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is set on improving the country’s position as one of the worst nations for women to live, as well as tapping into the potential $90 billion economic impact of women by 2030.
Regardless of gender, applicants must have a clean record and be medically fit to serve, but women must meet several additional requirements. According to Arab News, successful women must be between the ages of 21 and 40, be at least 155 cm (5 ft) tall, cannot already be a government employee, be in possession of an independent national identity card, have at least a high school education, and must not be married to non-Saudi citizens.
Beirut Blast Judge Removed
To Lebanon next where the judge leading the investigation into last year’s explosion that devastated the country’s capital has been removed. Fadi Sawan issued charges of "negligence and causing death to hundreds" to former caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three other former ministers in December. In response, two of those ministers refused to be questioned, and filed official complaints alleging Sawan violated the constitution on grounds of immunity.
More than six months since the blast near Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people and injured around 7,500, the inquiry into how it happened and who is responsible is once again in tatters. Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub tweeted that Sawan’s removal "makes a mockery of justice and is an insult to the victims of the blast”. So far more than 25 suspects including the port’s chief have been arrested, but not a single politician.
L'Orient Today @lorienttodayLebanon’s Court of Cassation has issued a decision to remove Judge Fadi Sawwan from the Beirut port explosion probe, judicial sources tell L’Orient Today. The motion to have him removed was originally submitted by two ex-ministers Sawwan had charged with criminal negligence
Last Time on Inside The Middle East…
Israel Pays Millions in Syria Vaccine Prisoner Swap
We move south to Israel now who has reportedly agreed to pay Russia $1.2m (£850,000) to supply the Sputnik V vaccine to Syria, as part of a prisoner swap. The agreement comes after an Israeli woman crossed the Golan frontier into Syria, and two Syrian shepherds strayed into Israeli-held territory. Israel’s military prohibited the publishing of the $1.2m “concession”, so media reports have relied on anonymous sources to confirm the contents of the deal.
While it’s unknown how many doses Syria will actually receive, the revelation has fuelled more questions than answers. With next month’s general election in mind, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Benny Gantz’s attempts to censor the deal could backfire among the country’s right wing, who are being courted by former cabinet member Gideon Saar. Saar, who recently founded the New Hope party, has already piled on the pressure, saying the “censorship of something that Damascus and Moscow know about, and Israeli citizens don’t, is incomprehensible”.
Mysterious Oil Closes Israeli Beaches
Staying put as Israeli authorities are trying to find the source of a suspected oil spill that prompted the government to close beaches up and down its coastline. Details of one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history are few and far between, due to an injunction imposed by an Israeli judge preventing who or what might be responsible.
The country’s Nature and Parks Authority said 105 of 119 miles of Israel’s coastline has been affected. The oil has even been detected in Southern Lebanon, whose authorities have accused Israel or an Israeli ship of dumping the oil. We’ll stay on this one in the coming days and weeks if and when new details are released…
Israeli beaches hit by mystery oil spill
Korea Agrees Partial Release of Frozen Iranian Funds
We move to Iran now where South Korea has agreed to release part of billions of Iranian funds frozen in its banks because of U.S. sanctions. In January, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker in the Persian Gulf along with 20 crew members, alleging it had breached pollution levels. In reality, the move was likely made to pressure Korea to release the funds. More than a month and a new U.S. administration later, we appear to have a breakthrough, with Iran saying they’ll receive $1 billion of up to $10 billion they have frozen, with the remaining funds to be released in due course.
The timescale of the release of the remaining funds could now depend on what happens between Iran and the U.S., who disagree on who should return to full compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal first, before the two sides meet at the negotiating table. Iran has begun enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels, something Biden has adamantly said must stop for any talks to begin.
6,500 World Cup Workers Dead
We finish today in Qatar where The Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers died in the past ten years, since it was announced that the country would host the soccer World Cup in 2022. The majority of the victims came from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who worked at breakneck speed to make the tournament’s spectacular stadiums ready in time.
The death totals are likely to be even higher, as the investigation left out migrants from other countries such as the Philippines and Kenya, and deaths occurring toward the end of last year. Thirty-seven deaths were directly linked to the construction of the stadiums, but 34 of those were classified by the event’s organizers as “non-work related”. In response, they said “We deeply regret all of these tragedies and investigated each incident to ensure lessons were learned. We have always maintained transparency around this issue and dispute inaccurate claims around the number of workers who have died on our projects.”
Gary Neville In Qatar Documentary
That’s all for today, see you tomorrow for more global news! 👋