🌍 Inside The Middle East — May 6

Bin Laden 10th Anniversary, Israeli Stampede, Palestinian Election Postponed, U.S.-Iran Prisoner Swap, World Press Freedom, Birth of Egyptian Feminism

Hey guys, Happy Thursday and welcome to another edition of Inside The Middle East. Another full slate of news today, as well as new jobs, internships and datasets below!

Today we’ll dissect the 10th anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death; the Israeli stampede that killed at least 45 Jewish festivalgoers; Palestine’s postponed elections; a reported U.S.-Iran prisoner swap; the daunting lack of press freedom in the Middle East; and a new book that sheds light on the birth of Egypt’s feminism movement.

Okay, let’s get straight to it!


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Data Corner 🧮

A few datasets referenced in today’s edition…

  1. Afghan War: Monthly casualty reports, from The New York Times

  2. Press Freedom: New 2021 index/report, from Reporters Without Borders

  3. Imprisoned Journalists: Database on the world’s imprisoned journalists, from the Committee to Protect Journalists

  4. Human Disasters: International disaster database, from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters


Israeli Stampede Kills Dozens

We start this week in northern Israel where a human stampede during the holy Lag B’Omer festival led to the deaths of at least 45 people. The day that commemorates two historic events in the Jewish religion turned into one of the worst civilian disasters in Israeli history, rivalling the Haifa forest fire in 2010.

Israel’s first large-scale religious festival with almost all Covid restrictions lifted saw an estimated 100,000 people gather on Mount Meron. But as the crowd of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews began to descend down a narrow, tunnel-like passage at around 1 a.m., people began to slip on a ramp and a domino effect ensued.

Despite the country’s successful vaccination program, health officials still warned against holding the event. The government’s watchdog will launch a criminal investigation into possible misconduct by police officers. The country’s ultra-Orthodox, who have faced pressure over the past year for being allowed to flout Covid safety guidelines, are set for more backlash in the coming days and weeks.

Video: Growing outrage, questions after deadly stampede during Israeli religious festival


Palestinian Election Postponed

Switching to Palestine next where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas postponed next month’s parliamentary election. Abbas blamed the lack of clarity from Israel’s government on whether Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem would be allowed to vote, saying “Jerusalem will not be compromised, and our people in Jerusalem will not give up their right to exercise their democratic rights.” But other Palestinian officials said Abbas was trying to delay the end of his political career.

After 15 years since Palestine’s last election, Jerusalem continues to be the sticking point in any democratic progression. Israel prohibits any political activity in East Jerusalem, home to around 350,000 Palestinians who are once again left without a legitimate path to democracy. Hamas, who are poised to benefit from a splintered Palestinian Authority, strongly opposed the decision to call off the vote. Check out B’Tselem’s thorough explanation of the history and current situation in East Jerusalem below… 👇

East Jerusalem Explained


Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 29

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 22

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 15

🌍 Inside The Middle East — April 8

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Bin Laden 10th Anniversary

To mark a decade since U.S. forces raided a Pakistani compound to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, Joe Biden used the anniversary to reaffirm his decision to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan. Last month the president said all troops would return home by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In a statement, Biden said “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell — and we got him.” He also claimed that bin Laden’s al Qaeda was greatly degraded — largely true — but there was no mention of the Taliban, who remain as strong as ever. Last month alone, at least 89 civilians and 301 pro-Afghan government forces were killed, according to The New York Times.

Video: 10 Years After Bin Laden Was Killed, Leaders Reflect on Raid


U.S. Denies Iran Hostage Swap

Moving to Iran, where the U.S. has denied a report by Iran’s state-run TV that a prisoner swap had been reached. The broadcaster said Tehran would free four Americans accused of spying in exchange for four Iranians held in the U.S., as well as the release of $7bn (£5bn) in frozen Iranian oil funds. The report also claimed that British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be released if the UK paid off a decades-old debt of £400m ($555m).

But in a strange twist, Iran’s foreign ministry didn’t confirm whether any deal was imminent. In fact, the report is not the first to contradict Tehran’s official stance, and Iran’s deputy foreign minister tweeted his criticism of the state’s English-language channel. The news comes amid tense negotiations to return both the U.S. and Iran to the 2015 nuclear accord, which have hit a snag over which country backs down first.


Middle East Press Freedom

The world celebrated World Press Freedom Day this week, so let’s look at the state of affairs in the Middle East. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, the Middle East (with North Africa) again ranks last as they have done since 2013, due to the “use of judicial systems to silence journalists”. The new report also states that journalism is partially or completely blocked in more than 130 countries around the world.

Imprisonment has been an effective way to silence criticism against oppressive governments. By the end of last year, 120 journalists were being held in prison in the region, representative of 44 percent of the world’s jailed journalists in 2020. Aside from traditional intimidation methods, the pandemic was also used to “reinforce their methods for gagging the media and to reaffirm their monopoly on news and information.”

Middle East Rankings (out of 180 countries)

Israel (86th): “Toxic environment”

Kuwait (105th): “Gagging dissent”

Lebanon (107th): “Highly politicized media, free speech under attack”

Afghanistan (122nd): “Press freedom guarantees crucial for peace”

Qatar (128th): “Media caught in information warfare”

Jordan (129th): “Closely watched”

U.A.E. (131st): “No independent media, dissidents persecuted”

Palestine (132nd): “Harassed journalists”

Oman (133rd): “Lack of pluralism”

Turkey (153rd): “Subjugated media”

Iraq (163rd): “Even more dangerous for journalists”

Egypt (166th): “One of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists”

Bahrain (168th): “No let-up”

Yemen (169th): “Appalling situation”

Saudi Arabia (170th): “Cracking down harder”

Syria (173rd): “Unbearable environment”

Iran (174th): “One of the most oppressive countries”


Birth of Egyptian Feminism

We end this week with the birth of Egypt’s women’s rights movement, not typically known to be associated with singers, dancers and actresses. But new book Midnight in Cairo provides a unique view of the rise of Arab feminism during the 1920s. Author Raphael Cormack argues that it was on these stages that early feminists began to assert themselves.

Cormack details the lives of several cabaret stars and club owners, including Badia Masabni, who pioneered the bellydance and was one of the first Arab women to fly in an airplane. Masabni was just one example of many women becoming successful in their own right, managing their own money and taking control of their careers. Cormack added that the battles women faced back then continue to be fought in the region today, because the patriarchy is still willing to fight. 


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