🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 4

U.S. Confirms MBS Approved Khashoggi Murder, MBS Criminal Complaint Filed, Landmark Syrian Human Rights Ruling, Lebanese Pound Hits Record Low, Yemen Aid Falls Well Short

Hello folks! Welcome to another edition of Inside The Middle East, where today we have several pieces of explosive news, so we'll get straight to it.

We'll visit Saudi Arabia where a new U.S. report concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman essentially ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; to Germany where Reporters Without Borders filed a criminal complaint against MBS on the back of the new U.S. report; to Syria where a German court convicted a former Syrian secret agent for crimes against humanity; to Lebanon whose pound fell to record lows against the U.S. dollar; and to Yemen whose international funding fell well short of its target and will be a “death sentence” to millions of Yemenis.

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Some of the new 258 jobs we added over the weekend… 👇

Data Corner 🧮

A couple of datasets we used today…

  1. Lebanese Pound: Unofficial currency rate, from Lira Rate

  2. International Aid: Foreign aid received by country, from the World Bank

U.S. Report Sheds New Light on Khashoggi Murder

We start this week in Saudi Arabia with an explosive U.S. intelligence report, which concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved of and likely ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi in 2018. The report claims MBS’ absolute control over his country’s security and intelligence organizations makes it unlikely the operation would have been orchestrated without his authorization.

For more than two weeks after the murder, the Saudi government denied any knowledge of what happened. But as more and more evidence became public, the Kingdom’s staunch denial began to unravel, though MBS was never implicated. While the new report unequivocally links MBS to the killing, the U.S. has refrained from punishing him.

So far the Biden administration has banned 76 Saudi nationals from entering the U.S., and said it will review future arms sales to the Kingdom on a case-by-case basis — the U.S. is by far the largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia. But CNN found that the administration's link to the first report is now dead, and three names were mysteriously removed for a second version of the report. While Biden's administration said the U.S. doesn’t sanction foreign leaders, the lack of punishment shows just how much weight MBS holds around the world.

Read the Full Report

Reporters Without Borders Files Criminal Complaint Against MBS

Bin Salman isn’t off the hook yet, as a criminal complaint has been filed by Reporters Without Borders in Germany. According to The Guardian, the 500-page lawsuit was filed in a German court because its laws give jurisdiction over international crimes committed abroad, even without a German connection.

The complaint accuses MBS and four high-ranking officials of committing crimes against humanity, including “widespread and systematic persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia”, evidenced by the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists and the assassination of Khashoggi. The lawsuit comes days after a German court convicted a former Syrian secret agent of human rights abuses in a landmark decision (more on that next).

World Press Freedom Index

Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 24

🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 17

🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 10

🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 3

German Court Delivers Landmark Syrian Human Rights Ruling

A landmark case for Syrian human rights ended this week, as a German court found a former Syrian secret agent guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. The 44-year-old agent, known as Eyad A., was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for rounding up anti-government protestors in the Syrian city of Douma in 2011, and handing them to a detention centre where they were tortured.

Eyad A. fled Syria in 2013, before spending time in Turkey and Greece and then arriving in Germany in 2018, where he was recognized by his alleged victims. The 10-month case is so significant because it’s the first time a court outside of Syria has ruled on state-sponsored terrorism by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and there’s now hope by human rights groups that the precedent has been set for similar rulings in the future.

Lebanese Pound Hits Record Low

To Lebanon next where things just keep going from bad to worse, as the country’s official currency, the Lebanese pound, plunged further to a record low against the U.S. dollar. The dollar briefly traded at 10,000 pounds on the unofficial market, though the official Lebanese government price remains at 1,520 pounds to the dollar. As Associated Press senior producer and correspondent Dalal Mawad told us last year, because Lebanon’s economy relies so heavily on the dollar, the pound has become practically worthless. The lack of value has lead to fuel shortages, causing power cuts of up to twelve hours at a time.

Amid multiple protests across Lebanon, the government still has yet to form a cabinet five months after Saad Hariri was renamed prime minister, the investigation into who was responsible for August’s explosion has ground to a near standstill, the country's Covid-19 vaccine rollout has barely started, all while many citizens haven’t been able to access their money since late 2019.

Yemen Donor Funding Falls Woefully Short

We finish today in Yemen where just $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion) was pledged in international aid at a UN virtual conference, less than half of the $3.85 billion (£2.76 billion) target, adding to the $1.5 billion shortfall from last year’s conference.

With millions of Yemenis currently in the midst of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, UN secretary general António Guterres said the aid cut was a “death sentence” for civilians caught in the six-year civil war, which has killed more than 230,000 people. The shortfall will mean more than half of the population will go hungry this year. The UK, which has continued selling billions worth of arms to Saudi Arabia who is leading the offensive in Yemen, cut their aid to Yemen by 54 percent.

That’s all for today! See you tomorrow for Picks of the Week 👊