Lebanon forms government

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On 15 February Tammam Salam, a Sunni Muslim (the Lebanese Prime Minister is by convention always a Sunni Muslim) from a prominent family and son of former Prime Minister Saeb Salam, announced the formation of a government split equally between the two rival coalitions, March 8 led by Hizbullah and March 14 led by Saad Hariri's Sunni party. …

Iraq

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The independent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his retirement (at the age of 40) from political life on 16 February. Building on his status as the heir of one of ’s grand ayatollahs the populist Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (and the son in law of another leading Shia cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr – both were murdered by Saddam Husain), he was …

Iran: nuclear talks

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A first round of discussions between the 5+1 (permanent members of the Security Council and Germany) and Iran in Vienna went well, as confirmed in statements by Catherine Ashton on behalf of the 5+1 and Abbas Araqchi on behalf on Iran. Catherine Ashton said that in three very productive days all the …

Saudi Arabia: some problems shared

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We thank former British ambassador Tom Phillips for the article below published in The World Today which pulls together a number of questions about the internal and external problems facing Saudi Arabia, some of which have been addressed in recent WAND postings. Labour
A problem shared in various degrees with the other oil-rich Arab states …

Saudi Gazette appoints woman editor

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Sumayya Jabarti has become the first woman editor-in-chief of a Saudi national newspaper, the English-language Saudi Gazette. She was previously deputy editor, and before that was at the rival Arab News. Speaking to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiyya she said “There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be …

Palestine: water and propaganda

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Shortage of water is an increasingly acute problem throughout the Middle East, with population growth and rapidly increasing per capita use of water, and is inevitably on the Israel/Palestine agenda. Its emotional content combined with technical complexity make it a prime topic for propaganda exchanges.It is however striking that the analysis below draws almost exclusively on Israeli …

Algeria: April election a turning point?

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Presidential elections are due on 17 April. It is not yet clear whether President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika will stand for re-election, or even whether he will be fit to stand; he is 76 and had a stroke last year. The ruling FLN party have declared that he is their candidate, and he is backed by …

Libya: the coup that never was

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On 14 February General Khalifa Hafter announced a coup d'état on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, which added that communications and the internet had been cut in Tripoli (which was not the case). General Hafter was a senior commander in the Chad war in the 1980s who reportedly spent 20 years in exile in America …

Bahrain: anniversary disturbances

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Yesterday Friday 14 February, the third anniversary of protests in Bahrain, there were clashes in Manama and outlying Shia villages between some hundreds of protesters and security forces reportedly using teargas and "birdshot". The BBC reports several marches seeking to reach the old Pearl Roundabout, which was a focus of protests in 2011. According to officials speaking anonymously …

Syria: talks continue

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The news from Syria is grim, but not entirely unmixed. According to opposition activists the rate of killing has increased since the Geneva talks began as both sides have sought to shore up their bargaining positions by gaining territory. Evacuation of civilians (1,400 so far) and delivery of aid has continued during a truce at Homs, "baby steps" …