The World Cup’s in town, Turkey’s ramping up its strikes on Syria and explosions in Jerusalem. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
If, like me, you have fond memories of the Nigeria team in the 1998 group stage, the Zidane headbutt in the 2006 final, the South African dancing in the 2010 opening match, and England finally winning a penalty shoot-out in 2018 (just me?), then I’m guessing you’re currently feasting your eyes on the festival of football that is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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It’s the first World Cup in the Arab world, and in the Middle East. I won’t go on about what’s happened on the pitch (well done Saudi Arabia and Japan), there’s a whole World Cup newsletter for that, and extensive coverage on our website. But in the stands, Arab fans – especially fans of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia – have created a cauldron-like atmosphere. It’s really brought home how special it is to host the biggest tournament in the world, and at the same time show a different side to the region, a complete departure from the stereotypes that many have of it.
It’s not been without controversy, of course. The process of awarding the tournament to Qatar has been criticised, as has the treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community. FIFA banned several teams from wearing an armband featuring a rainbow, which has led to protests. And yet many, particularly in the Middle East, have accused European countries in particular of being hypocritical and Orientalist in their attacks on the tournament. Qatar itself has reiterated that everyone is welcome.
With the spectacular results during the tournament so far, attention is turning towards events on the field, rather than off it. But I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of the debate surrounding this World Cup — there’s talk that Saudi Arabia wants to host the 2030 edition.
Is Turkey bluffing?
There’s been more fallout from the November 13 bombing in Istanbul, with Turkey launching air raids in Syria and Iraq, targeting the groups it accuses of being behind the attack, the PKK and the YPG. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the attacks in Syria were part of a new military operation, which would involve tanks and ground troops “when convenient”.
So, are Turkish troops about to roll over the border again, with the aim of clearing out the YPG? On one hand, Erdogan has been threatening such an operation for months, only for nothing to happen in the face of opposition from the West, Russia and Iran. On the other, are Russia and Iran now too distracted with their own problems?
It’s hard to tell, but as of this week, there are no major Turkish military movements, and the fighting seems limited to Turkish airstrikes and YPG missile attacks – which are still taking a heavy toll on civilians.
Bombs on the streets of Jerusalem
Two explosions at bus stops in Jerusalem on Wednesday were reminiscent of Palestinian attacks that took place at the height of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, something that hasn’t been seen for years. The bombings killed at least one Israeli, and injured others. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was praised by Hamas. The explosions happened at a time when there seems to be no end to the violence in the occupied West Bank, with Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians during almost-daily raids. Two of the latest victims were a 16-year-old boy, and an 18-year-old on his way to school.
And Now for Something Different
Have you ever heard of Al Baik? If you have, then you know. If you haven’t, it’s like the Middle East’s version of KFC, only better (Al Baik doesn’t sponsor me or Al Jazeera). The fast-food chain is everywhere in Saudi Arabia’s western Hejaz region, but not really available anywhere else (except maybe in the last few years). In fact, the only reason a lot of non-Saudis know about it is because they may have savoured it’s tasty offerings while visiting the Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina. But now, for the first time, and thanks to the World Cup, it’s in Doha. It’s quite clear from the queues that the people love their fried chicken.
Iran attacks Kurdish separatist groups based in northern Iraq – Gas cylinder explosion in Iraq kills 15 – Greece’s foreign minister lands in Libya’s Tripoli, and then promptly leaves after refusing to meet his counterpart – Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s health is severely deteriorating in prison – Morocco arrests its former human rights minister – Israeli air attacks kill four Syrian soldiers – Houthi rebels attack Yemeni oil terminal – China signs 27-year-gas deal with QatarEnergy – Human Rights Watch: More must be done to help children repatriated from camps for suspected ISIL family members in Syria – Egyptian and Turkish leaders shake hands in latest sign that relations are thawing.
Lebanon’s bank holdups
Lebanese banks have been in the news in recent months for a spate of “bank heists” — which actually involve people demanding their own money that banks are not allowing them to withdraw. The attention has come from the methods these people have used, including entering with guns, fake and real. In this opinion piece, Nizar Ghanem, the founder of the movement representing Lebanese depositors, and Alex Ray, an analyst in Beirut, explain why Lebanese are so angry with their banking system, and the dangers this crisis will bring if it continues.
Quote of the Week
“It’s as if we were destined in Gaza to live in more and more pain” – Khitam Abu Rayya, who lost her brother, his wife, their children, and her grandchild after 21 people died in a fire in an apartment in the Gaza Strip. The family had been celebrating a birthday.