World roundup: July 24-25 2021
Stories from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Tunisia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 23, 1952: Egypt’s 23 July Revolution
July 24, 1534: French explorer Jacques Cartier erects a cross, bearing the message “Long Live the King of France,” on the shore of what is now known as Gaspé Bay in Quebec. Cartier thereby claimed the region (the “region” was later defined as all of modern Canada and a bunch of what is now the midwestern United States) for France, marking that country’s big foray into American colonialism.
July 24, 1923: The Treaty of Lausanne formally ends the Turkish War of Independence and establishes the borders of the Republic of Turkey. The treaty superseded the World War I Treaty of Sèvres, which partitioned Anatolia and was so punitive that it motivated the remnants of the Ottoman/Turkish military to resist.
July 25, 1139: An army under the future Afonso I, then Count Afonso of Portugal, defeats the Almoravids at the Battle of Ourique. Details of this battle are extremely sketchy, but it was apparently such a glorious victory that in its aftermath Afonso declared Portugal’s independence from the Kingdom of León and thereby gave himself a promotion from count to king. Later legends had Afonso being visited on the eve of the battle by, variously, Saint James the Great (whose tomb is held to lie in Santiago de Compostela), Saint George, or even Jesus himself, guaranteeing victory despite the fact that Afonso’s army was badly outnumbered.
July 25, 1799: The Battle of Abukir
As of this writing, Worldometer’s coronavirus figures show 194,825,130 total cases of COVID-19 worldwide to date, with 4,175,080 reported COVID fatalities. According to the New York Times vaccine tracker, over 3.83 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide, or roughly 50 for every 100 people.
At least two Turkish soldiers were killed Saturday when their vehicle was ambushed in Turkish-controlled northwestern Syria. Turkish artillery forces retaliated against what they termed “terrorists”—which probably means they were members of the Kurdish YPG militia—and claimed to have “neutralized” seven of them.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said its forces shot down three Houthi drones heading toward Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Saudi airstrikes, meanwhile, are believed to have killed at least 21 Houthi fighters in Yemen’s Baydaʾ province late Friday and into Saturday. The coalition has been making some recent advances into Houthi-controlled Baydaʾ, possibly to relieve pressure on the forces defending Maʾrib city from an ongoing Houthi offensive.
An apparent explosive drone struck the Harir military base in Iraq’s Kurdistan region early Friday, causing neither casualties nor damage. An Iraqi militia was presumably responsible as those groups are increasingly showing a preference for drones over rockets.
Some element within the militia movement also seems likely to have been responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Ali Karim, whose body was found outside Basra on Saturday, one day after his abduction. Karim was the son of Fatima al-Bahadly, an Iraqi activist whose organization is involved in women’s rights and in efforts to keep young people from joining armed groups. Iraqi activists are frequently targeted for violence, in most cases probably my militia groups though the perpetrators are rarely identified.
A group of influential Lebanese Sunni leaders, including former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, has reportedly coalesced around another former PM, Najib Mikati, to head a new cabinet. Hariri ended his bid to form a government earlier this month after failing to come to an agreement on the makeup of his cabinet with President Michel Aoun. Lebanon has been operating under an acting government since former/interim PM Hassan Diab tendered his resignation following the Beirut port explosion last August. Aoun will convene party leaders on Monday to designate a new PM candidate, and while he’s under no obligation to choose Mikati a candidate who doesn’t have the endorsement of these Sunni leaders (especially Hariri) is unlikely to be successful.
The Lebanese and Iraqi governments concluded a deal on Saturday that may help Beirut ameliorate an ongoing fuel shortage. The agreement would see Lebanon receive one million tons of heavy fuel oil from Iraq in exchange for unspecified “services” that are believed to include health care assistance and agricultural consulting. Lebanese power plants cannot use the type of fuel Iraq will be providing, so Beirut would resell the Iraqi product and use the proceeds to buy more suitable fuel. Obviously this is a stopgap solution at best for Lebanon in terms of its fuel shortage, but it could serve as a template for similar sorts of “in-kind” arrangements with other states in the Arab world and maybe beyond.
More incendiary balloon launches out of Gaza prompted Israeli officials to slash the enclave’s legal offshore fishing zone from 12 to six nautical miles on Sunday. The balloons reportedly sparked a couple of brush fires in southern Israel but no serious damage and no casualties. The typical Israeli response to balloon launches has been airstrikes plus some kind of punitive measure like restricting fishing, but so far at least they seem to have skipped over the airstrikes in this instance.
Iranian state media is reporting that “armed bandits” killed four Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers in a clash late Friday near the Pakistani border in Sistan and Baluchistan province. The identity of the “bandits” is unclear and could mean anything from Sunni extremists to Baluch separatists to smugglers (including drug traffickers). Iranian authorities usually go with “terrorist” to describe Sunni militants rather than the more mundane “bandit,” so that may indicate something though I’m just speculating.
US Central Command boss General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that the US military is “prepared to continue” airstrikes against the Taliban in an effort to blunt that group’s recent advances. McKenzie made these remarks amid reports that heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces has displaced some 154,000 people in Kandahar province over the past month and came a day after the Afghan government imposed nighttime curfews across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces. The Taliban moves around at night and the curfew, from 10 PM to 4 AM, could give government forces a freer hand to target them without risk to civilians. That in turn could restrict Taliban movements.
Notably, McKenzie refused to say whether or not the US air campaign will end after the final withdrawal of US ground forces from Afghanistan on August 31. US officials have played a little coy about the possibility of continuing airstrikes against the Taliban, as opposed to targets affiliated with the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, post-withdrawal, but McKenzie’s refusal to commit to an end date was perhaps a bit more conspicuous than previous statements on the subject. It’s probably bluster, an attempt to scare the Taliban into peace talks. Probably.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party appears to have won a regional assembly election in Pakistani Kashmir, coming in with at least 24 seats in a 45 seat legislature. That’s not terribly surprising, as Kashmiri elections tend to favor Pakistan’s ruling party. It’s also of less concern for our purposes than the two people who were killed in a clash between supporters of PTI and the rival Pakistan People’s Party during the vote. Four Pakistan soldiers working on election security also died when their vehicle went off the road and into a ravine. There’s no indication that was anything other than an accident.
Former Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has reportedly conceded, finally, to Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s victory in April’s parliamentary election. Tuilaepa has pulled out a number of stops in an effort to reverse Fiame’s win and hang on to power, but his luck ran out on Friday when the Samoan Court of Appeals ruled that the informal inauguration ceremony Fiame held in May could legally be considered her official inauguration. She is now the first woman to serve as Samoan PM. Tuilaepa has been under international pressure to concede, particularly from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Coincidentally, or not, Fiame is expected to chart a more neutral foreign policy course than the China-friendly Tuilaepa, which should be welcome news to Morrison and in Washington.
Tunisian Prime Minister Kais Saied fired his cabinet on Sunday, including Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and suspended parliament. His moves prompted an outpouring of support in Tunis, where protesters who had been demonstrating against Tunisia’s ongoing economic and political dysfunction hailed the new developments. At the same time, parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi—whose Ennahda party has been the target of considerable public ire—accused Saied of carrying out a “coup against the revolution and constitution.” Saied and Mechichi have been feuding with one another for months, so his sacking isn’t unexpected, but given how splintered the Tunisian parliament is it’s unclear whether Saied will be able to get a more amenable PM candidate confirmed.
Sunday saw the first direct commercial flights from Israeli to Morocco since those two countries agreed to normalize relations last year. So that’s nice. It’s still not entirely clear that their normalization deal is going to hold—the Trump administration recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in return for its participation in the agreement, and the Biden administration has said it intends to review that decision. Presumably if it decided to backtrack on Western Sahara the Moroccan government would be compelled to do likewise.
The man who apparently tried to assassinate interim Malian President Assimi Goïta on Tuesday has plum up and died in government custody in what I’m sure is a total fluke. Malian authorities say the man’s health “deteriorated” during their “investigation,” and they say they’re trying to determine the cause. Maybe he got COVID or something. Whatever it was I’m sure it was completely natural, simple, and believable.
The kidnappers who abducted dozens of students from the Bethel Baptist High School in Nigeria’s Kaduna state earlier this month released 28 of them on Sunday, leaving 81 still in custody. That’s the second group of 28 the kidnappers have released since the abduction. Elsewhere, the kidnappers who carried out another mass abduction from a school in Niger state in late May have reportedly kidnapped a man sent by the parents of those students to deliver a ransom payment. Apparently they decided the ransom payment was too low.
At least six Cameroonian soldiers were killed early Saturday when their outpost in the northern part of the country came under attack, probably by Islamic State West Africa Province fighters. ISWAP has been escalating its activities in northern Cameroon as it tries to move into areas that had previously been within Boko Haram’s purview. As that organization collapses, ISWAP is moving to fill the vacuum.
Authorities in Ethiopia’s Amhara region put out a general call for “all young people” to help defend the region against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Having retaken control of most of Tigray, the TPLF has in recent days moved into the neighboring Afar region and its fighters now appear to have entered Amhara, capturing the town of Adi Arkay. At least that’s what the TPLF itself is saying—Ethiopian and Amharan officials have not commented on the claim. TPLF officials have said they intend to continue fighting until they’ve reclaimed disputed regions in western Tigray that have been seized by Amhara forces. Regional forces from across Ethiopia are mustering to support the federal government against the TPLF, which didn’t exactly cover itself in popularity back when it was the dominant faction in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Somali authorities announced on Sunday that they’re postponing the country’s next election cycle, which was to have begun on Sunday. It seems that regional officials are simply not prepared to begin the electoral process, which involves the appointment of regional committees that then elect a parliament, which in turn elects a president. Only one of Somalia’s five regions, Jubaland, was deemed ready to proceed. Somalia has been operating under an interim political arrangement since April, when disputes between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and several regional leaders threatened to escalate into violence until they agreed to hold a new election.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congolese military forces killed at least eight people in an operation in the eastern DRC’s Kahozi-Biega national park on Friday. The operation targeted members of the Hutu CRND militia.
The British military on Saturday detonated a hitherto unexploded 500 pound World War II bomb that had been discovered two days earlier in the British port town of Goole. The disarming operation required the evacuation of several homes in the vicinity, the closure of part of the M62 roadway in east Yorkshire, and the imposition of a no-fly zone over the town. Other than that I’m sure it was all good fun.
Protesters calling for President Jair Bolsonaro’s impeachment took to the streets of cities across Brazil on Saturday. Unhappiness with Bolsonaro’s mismanagement of the pandemic has been exacerbated by fears that Brazil’s intrepid leader is laying the groundwork to cancel next year’s presidential election.
Nicaraguan authorities placed opposition leader Noel Vidaurre under house arrest on Saturday, making him the seventh potential candidate in November’s presidential election to be detained over the past two months. Several other journalists and opposition figures have also been detained, including one commentator who was also put under house arrest on Saturday.
Senior Guatemalan prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval fled into El Salvador late Friday, hours after he’d been sacked by President Alejandro Giammattei. Sandoval had won plaudits from the United States and United Nations for his anti-corruption work but apparently ran afoul of Giammattei after investigating several figures in his government.
Well, it turns out that a planet going haywire doesn’t behave in linear ways that are easy for real estate agents or ultrarich doomsday preppers to predict. Yes, a warmer world means California’s temperatures become more like Mexico’s, and Oregon’s a little more like California’s. But it’s also true that everywhere turns upside down. The Pacific Northwest isn’t adapted to the kind of heat that is commonplace in Southern California and Nevada, and the lack of air conditioning is the least of it. Salmon — our region’s keystone species — need cool water to survive, and young salmon grow up in bodies of fresh water that this summer have warmed up like hot tubs. Scientists fear that many of the young fish will not make it.
If salmon populations collapse, that will trigger a cascade of loss reaching well beyond the commercial fishery. These animals are sacred to every Indigenous culture in the region; they are critical food to iconic (and vulnerable) marine mammals including orcas and Steller sea lions; and they are integral to the health of temperate rainforests, not only to the bears and eagles who feed on them but also to the carbon-sequestering trees they fertilize.
As for the idea that Californians should move north to escape fire, that dream has obviously gone up in flames. Last summer, deadly wildfires forced evacuations just east of Portland, Oregon, and as I write, smoke from the state’s Bootleg fire is contributing to the plume that blotted out the sun as far away as New York City. So, no, Oregon is not safe. New York is not safe. Germany is not safe. Nowhere that imagined itself safe is safe.