🌍 Inside The Middle East — Jan. 6
Lebanon Passes Landmark Sexual Harassment Law, Gulf Diplomatic Crisis Ends, Iran Seizes Korean Oil Tanker, Facebook Sues Israeli Spyware Firm, Israel Leads Vaccine Race but Leaves Palestine Behind
Hello folks! It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for our very first edition of Inside The Middle East of 2021! And exciting news: We’re going to be spinning off into a separate newsletter in the coming weeks, so we can focus even more on the most important region in the world!
Until then, join us as we visit Qatar who ended its diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt; Iran who seized a South Korean oil tanker; Israel who is leading the global vaccination race, and where Facebook and human rights groups are suing spyware company NSO; Palestine who is being left behind in Israel’s mass vaccine program; and Lebanon where a landmark sexual harassment law has passed.
Be sure to join us on Friday for Picks of the Week, where we look at the most important news from around the world. For those after job board updates, you can find everything you need below!
The job board currently has 1,128 jobs across the U.S., UK and Canada. We’ll be driving that number up to 2,000 in the coming weeks. Until then, here’s a preview of some of this week's new jobs… 👇
2020 Data Corner: All 58 datasets we used last year, from yours truly
Domestic Violence: Historical data on abuse against women per country, by OECD
Oil Tankers: Marine traffic data, from Marine Traffic
Vaccine Race: Covid-19 vaccines administered per capita, from Our World In Data
Qatar Diplomatic Crisis Ends
We start this week in the Gulf where Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain will reopen their airspace and borders with Qatar. The restoration is the first part of an agreement that’ll end a three-and-a-half-year boycott, after the region descended into diplomatic crisis in 2017 over Qatar's ties to Iran and accusations they were funding organized terrorism.
The Qataris will now withdraw all lawsuits filed against its three neighbours, and all four will halt defamatory media campaigns. The U.S.-brokered deal is another blow to the Iranian government, who continues to be estranged in the region and is running out of allies it can rely on. In a separate deal, Egypt followed suit and reconciled with Qatar.
The Qatar crisis explained
Iran Seizes South Korean Oil Tanker
Meanwhile, Iran has seized a South Korean oil tanker, which will only increase tension with its arch enemy the U.S., near the one-year anniversary of the fatal U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards say the vessel violated pollution rules, but the ship’s operators deny those accusations. Side note: Iran is the world’s seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The more likely reason for the capture was voiced by an Iranian spokesperson, who said the South Korean government $7 billion worth of frozen Iranian funds, which is currently held in two South Korean banks. The assets were frozen in September 2019, after the U.S., a key ally of South Korea, ended a waiver for imports of Iranian oil. South Korea has prepared a warship unit while it sends a delegation to negotiate with Iranian officials.
Last Time on Inside The Middle East…
Facebook, Human Rights Groups Sues Israeli Spyware Firm
We get our tech on next as a number of human rights groups have joined Facebook’s lawsuit against NSO, an Israeli-based firm that develops and sells spyware that is owned by European private equity firm Novalpina Capital. Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporter Without Borders have filed a brief supporting Facebook’s accusation that NSO uses WhatsApp to hack into phones, and comes just a few days after other tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Dell and Cisco submitted a similar brief. A 2018 study found that NSO software Pegasus was being used in 45 different countries. Another side note: Facebook is angry at a company spying on people.
Israel Leads Global Vaccine Race
Staying in Israel next who is leading the global vaccine race against Covid-19. Granted, Israel only has a population of around eight million meaning it isn’t facing the logistical challenges of, say, the UK or U.S., but more than 14 percent of Israelis have already received the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, the highest percentage per capita in the world.
Israel’s vaccination program started on December 19, but will stop for two weeks because of a dosage shortage, meaning it could be months before even half of the country is protected. Meanwhile, the country will head to the polls in March for the fourth time in two years.
Palestinians Excluded From Israeli Vaccine Rollout
While Israel races ahead with its vaccine program, human rights groups are asking when Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will start theirs. Israel, who continues its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, has denied responsibility of vaccinating the almost five million Palestinians living in these two areas, instead only providing vaccines to Jewish settlers.
Palestinian authorities also don’t have a vaccination program in place, so it’s left up to private entities to fill the void. The Israel Builders Association has asked the government to vaccinate a large percentage of the 100,000 Palestinians that commute to Israel for work, in hopes that the $43 billion construction industry can start to recover. The Israeli Health Ministry declined to comment on the builders’ request. Palestine’s hopes thus lie with the Gavi Alliance, a group of 92 low-income countries backed by WHO and the Gates Foundation that aims to distribute two billion vaccines by the end of the year.
Lebanon Passes Landmark Sexual Harassment Law
We end this week with the news that Lebanon has passed a landmark sexual harassment law, which could see offenders spend up to four years in prison and pay fines as high as 50 times the minimum wage. Parliament also endorsed amendments to a 2014 law, which defined domestic violence narrowly as “an act, act of omission, or threat of an act committed by any family member against one or more family members... related to one of the crimes stipulated in this law, and that results in killing, harming, or physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm.”
Despite the improvements, gaping holes in the country’s equality still remain, including the fact that women are barred from passing on their nationality, marital rape remains legal, and hundreds of thousands of mostly non-Lebanese female domestic workers are excluded from the most basic labour protections.
That's all for today, see you Friday for our first Picks of the Week of 2021! 👋