Middle East round-up: Egypt economy pounded

Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.

(Al Jazeera)

Egypt has to make hard economic choices, the death toll keeps rising in the occupied West Bank, and the execution of an Iranian official threatens further isolation. Here’s this week’s round-up, written by Danylo Hawaleshka.

The Egyptian pound has certainly seen better days. In less than a year, the currency has lost almost half its value against the dollar. But that’s mainly been a result of meeting the stipulations of a loan issued by the International Monetary Fund to bail out the Egyptian economy to the tune of $3bn. The IMF generally pushes for less economic intervention by government, and in this instance that means allowing the Egyptian pound to fluctuate according to market forces.

At the same time, Egypt has also agreed to privatise state-owned businesses, including ones owned and operated by the military, as well as slow down public investment in national projects like the building of the New Administrative Capital, and major weapon purchases from Germany and Italy. The day after the IMF announcement, the pound’s value against the dollar dropped 10 percent.

Then there’s inflation, which is running at more than 20 percent. Grocery stores are emptying out. You can’t find many imported products, stores are running out of frozen chicken, and staples such as eggs and cooking oil have doubled in price.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi blames the war in Ukraine. In the weeks after the Russian invasion, foreign investors couldn’t sell their Egyptian treasury bills fast enough, resulting in a $20bn outflow. But many analysts also blame el-Sisi for keeping the value of the Egyptian pound artificially high for years. As one analyst put it, “They cooked the numbers way too long.”

Turmoil in the Occupied Territories

The number of Palestinians killed last year shot up dramatically, as Israel ramped up its raids in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, killing more than 170 people. But so far this year has already been worse, with one Palestinian killed almost every day.

On Saturday, Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinian men during a raid in the West Bank. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Ezzedine Bassem Hamamreh, 24, and Amjad Adnan Khaliliyeh, 23, were killed during an assault on the village of Jaba, south of Jenin. Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the two men were members of the group, and died while trying to intervene against the “occupation forces, which were carrying out a cowardly assassination operation”. The next day, 45-year-old Ahmed Kahla became the 13th Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces in 15 days when he was shot near the West Bank city of Ramallah. According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, witnesses said Kahla was shot after a scuffle with Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Then, on Monday, the Israeli army shot 14-year-old Omar Khaled Lutfi Khmour in the head during a raid in southern West Bank. A day later, Hamdi Abu Dayyeh, 40, was killed by Israeli fire in Halhul, a town on the outskirts of Hebron. Palestinian media outlets reported that Abu Dayyeh was shot dead while carrying out an armed attack against Israeli forces at a checkpoint.

Against that violent backdrop, the new Israeli government, said to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has been getting to work on implementing its far-right agenda. Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the nationalist-religious government wants to weaken the Supreme Court and annex the West Bank. Justice Minister Yariv Levin plans to increase government control over the judicial system, and limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws.

Over the weekend, Israeli media, citing police, estimated that 80,000 protesters marched in Tel Aviv in opposition to the government’s plans. Demonstrators called Netayahu the “crime minister” with one person accusing him of “destroying Israeli democracy”. But columnist Yara Hawari calls that nothing new, seeing as “there has been no Israeli prime minister that hasn’t been a criminal with hands stained with the blood of Palestinians, and there has been no Israeli government that has actually upheld democracy.”

Israel protest
Israelis protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition and its proposed plan to reduce the powers of the Supreme Court [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Iran Hangs Former Deputy Minister

ran has executed a former deputy defence minister, Alireza Akbari, a British-Iranian dual national who was convicted of spying for the UK. Akbari was hanged on Saturday for “harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence”, a charge his family denies. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it a “callous and cowardly act carried out by a barbaric regime”, and it’s only likely that the execution will further isolate the Iranian government after months of protests.

In Brief

Jordan summons Israeli ambassador after police obstruct envoy’s Al-Aqsa visit – UN envoy for Yemen says chances for renewed truce improving – Police in Lebanon question people related to 2020 explosion victims after protest turned ugly – Iraqi PM backs continued US military training in fight against ISIL – Qatari endurance driver wins 5th Dakar Rally title – Turkey sets deadline to ratify Sweden, Finland membership in NATO – Erdogan effigy incident in Sweden prompts Turkish investigation – Iran welcomes Syria-Turkey talks brokered by Russia – Tunisian anti-government protesters mark 12th anniversary of Arab Spring – Iran’s foreign minister expresses hope of restoring ties with Saudi Arabia – CIA chief makes rare visit to Libya after Lockerbie suspect handed over – Macron says France will not seek forgiveness from Algeria over colonialism

And Now for Something Different

Hassan al-Kontor once spent seven months stranded in a Malaysian airport, unable to leave. His ordeal was another example of the barriers faced by Syrian refugees trying to reach a safe haven. And he may have been forgotten in the airport if he hadn’t started uploading videos of his life, struggling to get by, with no one willing to help him out. That was until Canada stepped in, and allowed him to travel there in November 2018. Last week, he finally received citizenship in a place he can now call home.

Quote of the Week

“Don’t forget the last colony of Africa, Western Sahara. Let us fight to free Western Sahara from oppression.” — Mandla Mandela at the opening ceremony of the African Nations Championship in Algeria, eliciting an angry response from Morocco, which had already pulled out of the tournament after Algeria refused to give the team clearance to fly directly from Morocco.

Source: Al Jazeera