Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore diplomatic relations, Lebanon’s currency takes another dive, and boat tragedies in the Mediterranean. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
Things can change very quickly in the Middle East. Just days before Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to patch things up and restore diplomatic relations, there had been talk that it was actually Israel that was edging closer to Riyadh. In fact, much of the friendlier relations, shall we say, between Israel and several Gulf countries can be tied to their mutually shared animosity towards Iran. And yet, seven years after Iran and Saudi Arabia had severed ties, here they were in the same room, announcing a deal to reopen embassies in their respective capitals within two months.
The consequences of this arrangement won’t just play out in Iran and Saudi Arabia, of course, but across an entire region riven by fault lines previously created by the rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh. Will their diplomatic coming together further ease the way for the rehabilitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the eyes of other Arab leaders? Will Lebanon, dominated by Hezbollah, now receive more Saudi investment? Will Saudi Arabia feel secure enough to disengage from the war in Yemen, where Iran has supported rebel forces? And will Iran’s own regional isolation, if not end entirely, then at least ease substantially?
The other interesting thing to note is where the announcement was made, namely China. Is this a further sign of a “changing global order”, as one analyst put it? China’s role in the Middle East and North Africa has often been seen as one focused on business, but with this agreement it appears as though China is trying to position itself as an alternative arbitrator to the United States. Washington itself has tentatively welcomed the deal, but behind closed doors there will be questions asked about what this means for US influence in a still vitally important region like the Middle East.
Lebanon’s Increasingly Worthless Currency
In 2019, you could get about 1,500 Lebanese pounds for one US dollar. Then, an economic crisis hit, one that hasn’t gone away. By January of this year, it cost you 60,000 Lebanese pounds for that solitary dollar on something called the parallel market, an unofficial exchange tolerated by the authorities. But then this week, it hit 100,000. Yet, for millions of Lebanese, wages have barely risen. So, instead, people have been plunged into poverty, and the country has fallen even deeper into crisis.
Last year, Lebanon’s government turned to the IMF for a bailout, and an agreement was signed that would give the country $3bn in loans, as long as it carried out a series of reforms. The only problem: Lebanon is pretty much leaderless, with no president, and only a caretaker government with limited powers. The governor of the central bank has himself been charged with corruption.
So, instead of waiting for a solution from a seemingly non-existent government, lots of businesses have been pricing their goods and services in dollars, a practice the economy minister has encouraged. Whatever’s going on, it’s not sustainable.
And Now for Something Different
Fans in the stands cheering. Tense competition in the sports hall. This is Libya’s robotics championship, where schoolchildren compete in teams to design their own robots, and then have them compete against each other. One of the event’s organisers said the youngsters had to “work towards inclusion, unity and peace”. In a country like Libya, that’s an important message to spread, given all the suffering caused by the on-again, off-again conflict since the overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Quote of the Week
“All Iraqi mothers’ hearts are broken because of their sons who disappeared. With all the time that passed since 2003, we should have found a solution. Why are people still disappearing? | Nadia Jasim, whose son, a combat medic, was in Camp Speicher, in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, when ISIL attacked in 2014. The group massacred as many as 1,700 Iraqi soldiers at the site in one of the most horrifying incidents in the country’s history. But Jasim’s son’s name was never added to the list of victims, and his body has never been found. Iraq has an organisation dedicated to finding the thousands of disappeared, from both before and after the 2003 Iraq war. But with bodies regularly turning up in mass graves, it’s a hard task.