🌍 Inside The Middle East — Jan. 20, 2021 + New Jobs

Syrian Businessmen Linked to Beirut Blast, First Palestinian Elections Since 2006, Israel Trades Data for Vaccines, Iran Blames Pollution on Bitcoin, Saudi Executions Fall, Nile Dam 50th Birthday

Hello folks! Happy Wednesday and welcome to another edition of Inside The Middle East, where we dissect the most important news from the most important region in the world.

In today’s edition we’ll visit Lebanon where three Syrian businessmen have been linked to August’s devastating explosion in Beirut; Palestine who announced it will hold its first elections in 15 years; Israel whose government will trade private medical data for more Covid vaccines; Iran who is blaming its air pollution and electricity blackouts on crypto mining; to Saudi Arabia where executions took a fell dramatically; and Egypt who’s marking the 50th anniversary since the opening of the Nile Dam.

Below is this week’s job board update including some new datasets we used today, and be sure to join us on Friday for our global round up of this week’s most important and interesting news. Okay, over to you Aina, see ya’ll Friday!

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Job Corner

Another 311 new jobs added over the weekend, including at the likes of BloombergCNNESPNthe Financial TimesITVMLBNational PostNBANPRThe AtlanticThe GuardianThe Independentthe New York TimesThe Times of Londonthe Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post…

Apparently there’s a limit on the number of people you can add to a Google Spreadsheet, so I’ve duplicated the main board. If you’re a paying member, you’ll have access to one of the two below links/buttons.

Job Board: w/c Jan. 18

Job Board: w/c January 18

Preview of some of this week's new jobs 👇


Data Corner

Some datasets used in today’s newsletter…

  1. Cryptocurrencies: Crypto facts and statistics, from Statista

  2. Executions: Global data from the Death Penalty Information Center and Amnesty International


Palestine Announces First Elections Since 2006

We start this week in the West Bank where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the first parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years will take place in May and July, respectively. Abbas previously pushed back against a vote last year, but said he called the ballots to heal divisions. Palestine’s political landscape is split between Abbas’ Fatah and its main rival Hamas, the group that’s internationally regonized as a terrorist organization and which has governed Gaza since 2006.

Hamas welcomed the news as recent surveys suggest a close race, with some predicting a narrow victory for the group. But political obstacles remain as Israel, whose occupation of Palestinian territories is internationally recognized as illegal, will not allow any voting in East Jerusalem, whose some 300,000 Arabs are the majority there. The last time elections were held in 2006, a brief war with Israel broke out after Hamas shocked the nation to win. Another hurdle includes the fact that that 52 percent of Palestinians believe the elections wouldn’t be free and fair.

Mahmoud Abbas 👇


Israel to Trade Medical Data for More Vaccines

Meanwhile, Israel’s government has continued to stoke the fire after saying it had no responsibility to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the occupied Palestinian territories earlier this month. This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to share vast amounts of medical data in exchange for more doses.

Without intentionally including a ‘he said she said’, supporters of the deal say it will provide data that could held other countries, while critics claim major privacy breaches will be made. More than a quarter of Israelis have already received the first dose of the vaccine, by far the highest rate in the world. Some studies suggest that taking the first vaccine can reduce the risk of catching the virus by between 33 and 60 percent, but new data might mean that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine might actually be less effective as first thought.


Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — January 13

🌍 Inside The Middle East — January 6

🌍 Inside The Middle East — December 16

🌍 Inside The Middle East — December 9


Syrian Businessmen Linked to Beirut Blast

Moving north to Lebanon next where three Syrian businessmen with close ties to the Syrian government have been linked to August’s explosion that devastated most of Beirut. Per Al Jazeera:

“Open-source information on the UK website – first aired by Lebanese documentary filmmaker Firas Hatoum on local news channel Al Jadeed on Tuesday – shows that companies formerly directed by Haswani and Imad Khuri have the same stated addresses as Savaro Limited, the company that purchased 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate in July 2013, four months before it entered Beirut’s port.”

They go on to say…

“All three men have been sanctioned by the United States for allegedly aiding and providing services to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They could not be contacted for comment.”

Lebanese Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm said the report should be investigated, and increasing pressure to do so is expected as more details are made public.


Iran Blames Pollution on Bitcoin

Moving to Iran next where authorities are blaming illegal mining of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, for the country’s worsening air pollution and power outages. Crypto mining is the process of unlocking complex number puzzles to find various virtual coins around the internet, and often goes without punishment because of a lack of regulation. Due to the amount of computer power required to mine, several countries with cheap energy sources including Iceland and Venezuela have already jumped aboard.

But there are serious consequences to the fledgling industry. Iran’s cheap electricity rates and high inflation mean crypto mining is extremely profitable, but has exacerbated an already struggling power system due to economic sanctions and ageing infrastructure. The state has seized 45,000 mining machines and will continue to close down more illegal cryptofarms. But opposition say the mining is only a small part of total energy consumption, instead blaming mismanagement of the country’s electricity grid.


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Saudi Executions Fall

To Saudi Arabia next where a change in legislation cut the number of executions in 2020 by 85 percent from a year before. Twenty-seven people were executed last year after a change in law that stops the death penalty given to non-violent drug-related crimes. In 2019, an all-time high 184 people were executed in a country that averaged around 160 since 2015, third in the world behind only China and Iran, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In an effort to change the country’s image, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a driving force behind the litigation, further circumscribing the influence of Wahhabism, the ultraconservative interpretation of Islam many Saudis still practice, including Al Qaeda and ISIS.


Nile Dam 50th Anniversary

We end this week in Egypt, who is celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the creation of the Nile Dam, erected to prevent any more devastating floods. Constructed in the 1950s and 60s under leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the dam finally opened on January 15, 1971. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which is the major waterway connecting trade from Africa and Asia, which generated the funds to maintain the dam and finally shirk imperial control from the U.K., U.S. and France.

Fast forward to today, and Ethiopia is building another dam, this time on the Blue Nile, which is the main tributary of the main Nile. Three quarters complete, Ethiopia hopes its new dam will generate enough electricity to pull millions of its people out of poverty, but Egypt now fears water shortages will have harsh impacts on its people.

Ethiopia starts filling disputed River Nile dam


That’s all for today. See you on Friday for Picks of the Week! 👋