🌍 Inside The Middle East — November 11

Full U.S. Election Reactions, U.A.E. Relaxes Islamic Laws, Another Bomb in Afghanistan, Saeb Erekat Dies of Covid-19, UN Refugee Agency Out of Cash

Hello folks, welcome to another edition of Inside The Middle East where we dissect the most important news from the world’s most important region. We finally have a president-elect in the U.S., which means we’ll run through the reactions to Joe Biden’s win from all the top political heads in the region.

We’ll also visit the U.A.E. who has relaxed several Islamic laws in the gulf state; to Afghanistan where yet another bomb has killed multiple people, this time a former journalist; and to Palestine where senior official Saeb Erekat has passed away from Covid-19, and where the UN’s refugee agency has run out of money.

Before we get to it, be sure to listen to yesterday’s podcast with Axios energy and climate reporter Amy Harder. We got into what Biden’s win means for the future of climate change, how much damage the Trump administration did to environmental protections, and we speculate (dangerous, I know) over what might happen in Georgia’s two runoffs for U.S. Senate.

🎧 #87 — Amy Harder (Axios)

And make sure you listen to my conversation (FREE) with Dalal Mawad from last week, who took us inside what it was like covering the huge explosion in Beirut from August for the Associated Press. It was an incredibly moving episode that you honestly won’t want to miss.

🎧 #86 — Dalal Mawad (AP)

Okay Aina, over to you. See ya’ll again on Friday for Picks of the Week!


Job Corner

Another 200+ jobs added to the board with deadlines approaching at the likes of the BBC, Dow Jones News Fund, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Seattle Times. Keep spreading the word!

Job Board — w/c November 9


Data Corner

Just the one dataset used in today’s newsletter…

  1. Journalist Killings: Dataset of all journalists killed or imprisoned, from Reporters Without Borders.


U.S. Presidential Election Reaction

We start this week with a rundown of reactions to the news that Joe Biden will be the next U.S. president, a move that will have major impacts in the Middle East:

Iran: Mixed reactions came out of Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani urging the new administration to make amends for Donald Trump’s policies, while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the election was “an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the US”.

Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Trump’s closest ally in the region, but quickly reminded the world of his “long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years” with Biden. Netanyahu also tweeted his thanks to Trump

Afghanistan: President Ashraf Ghani called on Biden to “help fight terrorism” and to ensure continued aid to the country. Meanwhile the Taliban said it expects the U.S. to stick to the Afghan peace deal with minimal change.

Iraq: Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadimi tweeted that he looked forward to building on common values and strengthening the countries’ strategic alliance. Baghdad remains cautious but hopeful of prosperous future relations.

Saudi Arabia: One of the last countries to congratulate Biden and Kamala Harris, King Salman and his son MBS had close ties with Trump, who covered for them in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden has already announced he’ll reassess U.S. ties with the Kingdom. 

Palestine: Biden will have the tough task of regaining the trust of the Palestinian people after Trump overwhelmingly favored Israel over the past four years. Trump cut aid to the West Bank, and formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas said he looked forward to “achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people.”

Egypt: Another of Trump’s biggest supporters, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi said he looked forward to joint cooperation with the Biden administration. Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition, urged Biden to “reconsider previous policies of support for dictatorships around the world”.

Jordan: King Abdullah II shared a photo of himself with Biden saying he looked forward to advancing their relationship. The pair previously worked together during Biden’s time as vice-president.

Qatar: Emir Tamim Bin Hamad also tweeted that he looked forward to strengthening the state’s friendship with the U.S.

Kuwait: Newly-sworn in Emir Sheikh Nawaf sent separate congratulatory cables to Biden and Harris, and said he looked forward to upgrading his relations with the U.S.

Bahrain: Fresh of his state’s Trump-brokered diplomatic deal with Israel, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa emphasized the more than 120 years positive relations with the U.S. Al Khalifa also has a prior relationship with Biden.

Oman: Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said expressed congratulations to Biden, and now the focus turns to a potential U.S.-brokered diplomatic deal with Israel.

Yemen: President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi said in a statement that he wanted to “strengthen and develop” the relationship between the two countries. Meanwhile the vice-president of the separatist Southern Transition Council said it would work with the U.S. to counter terrorism of all forms.

U.A.E.: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed tweeted that he looked forward to strengthening the gulf state’s “strong historic partnership” with the U.S., months after agreeing to a U.S.-brokered diplomatic deal with Israel.

Lebanon: President Michel Aoun hoped Biden would “restore balance” to the two countries’ ties. Lebanon is of course in the midst of its own several crises.


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U.A.E. Relaxes Islamic Laws

We move to the U.A.E. next whose government announced it will loosen its Islamic laws to boost personal freedoms. The changes include allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, a loosening of alcohol restrictions and the decriminalization of “honor killings”, which previously allowed men to murder female relatives who they felt had dishonoured the family. Approximately 50,000 women are killed via honor killings each year around the world. For the U.A.E., the reforms mark yet another step in the gulf state’s rising influence in the region.


Afghan Journalist Killed in Car Bomb

Moving to Afghanistan next where a well-known former TV presenter was killed in a car bomb that included two other fatalities in Kabul. Yama Siawash was a political anchor for Tolo TV, but had recently begun working for the country’s central bank. Officials blamed the bombing on militants linked to the Taliban, though no group has officially claimed the attack. Siawash becomes the 30th journalist to be killed this year globally, and the 2nd from Afghanistan, according to Reporters Without Borders. A separate suicide bomb in the southern Zabul province killed another two civilians, just a week after ISIS claimed a deadly shooting at Kabul university that killed 22 students and injured many more.

Afghan Artists get together to dedicate video to Yama Siawash


Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — November 5

🌍 Inside The Middle East — October 28

🌍 Inside The Middle East — October 21

🌍 Inside The Middle East — October 14


Senior Palestinian Official Dies of Covid-19

Up next is Palestine where key negotiator Saeb Erekat has died in a Jerusalem hospital, after being diagnosed with the disease last month. Erekat was one of the main players behind the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, which lead to the establishment of Palestinian self-government in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the first time since Israel occupied them in 1967. Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, with whom Erekat negotiated, tweeted her sadness at Erekat’s passing…


Palestinian Refugee Agency Out of Cash 

We stay with and end in Palestine this week where the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA) said it has ran out of money, and won’t be able to pay staff salaries in full this month. The agency has a monthly bankroll of around $50 million/£37 million that covers salaries and services to the 5.7 million refugees it looks after, but will fall short around two thirds of its required funding for November.

The UNWRA was founded in 1949 following the Arab-Israeli conflict, and provides refugees across the region assistance, education and protection. Commenting on the U.S. election result, the agency’s commissioner general tweeted that he hoped to “resume the longtime US tradition of supporting Palestinian refugees”. In 2018, Donald Trump cut U.S. funding, which represents about a third of the agency’s budget.


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