Middle East round-up: President Xi’s trip to Riyadh

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

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How close can Saudi Arabia and China get, Iran’s morality police get suspended and a Palestinian killed by an Israeli soldier on camera. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

For the first time in six years, Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Saudi Arabia. That’s fairly significant because a) Xi has only recently started travelling abroad again after suspending all trips because of the COVID-19 pandemic; and b) because of the welcome he’s received in Riyadh, one that noticeably included more fanfare than US President Joe Biden received a few months back.

A sign of the times? Maybe. Certainly, Saudi relations with the US can be described as frosty at the moment, what with Biden in October saying Riyadh would face “consequences” for cutting oil production. Saudi Arabia – under the de facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is definitely looking to expand its partnerships. And China is certainly trying to expand its influence in a region that is vital for securing its own energy future. But as Giorgio Cafiero and Shehab Al-Makahleh explain, when push comes to shove, Saudi Arabia is expected to still look west for help, rather than east – for now at least.

INTERACTIVE - Saudi Arabia and China bilateral trade
(Al Jazeera)

Has Iran abolished its morality police?

A lot of people have been confused over whether Iran has abolished its morality police. Has it? Well, the short answer is no.

Since September, the force has been far less visible on the streets after becoming a lightning rod for popular anger — anger directed at them after its members detained 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s dress code for women. Her subsequent death while in their custody is what has led to the last three months of protests.

The reporting on this one has admittedly been a bit fuzzy. A number of news outlets seized on comments by Iran’s prosecutor general. He was quoted on Saturday as saying that the morality police had been “shut down”. That, in turn, was perhaps understandably taken to mean that the force had been abolished.

And what’s more, the authorities were considering scrapping mandatory hijab laws, too. But, as our Iran correspondent Maziar Motamedi explains, the comments made by the prosecutor general have not been confirmed by the police, nor did he mention whether the shutdown would be indefinite.

Since then, there have been more protests, and on Thursday Iran carried out the first execution linked to the demonstrations.

‘Executed’ on camera

A video of the last moments of 23-year-old Ammar Mufleh’s life has outraged Palestinians. The sequence shows him being shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at point-blank range. Palestinians have called the killing an execution, while Israeli police said the soldier was defending himself.

And now for something different

As the World Cup enters its latter stages, there’s only one team left from the Arab world and Africa: Morocco. On Tuesday, the Atlas Lions eliminated the 2010 world champions, Spain, on penalties, sparking a party in Morocco, and other parts of the Arab world, Africa and Europe that I’m not quite sure has finished yet. They’ve now set up a quarter-final clash with another Iberian football superpower – Portugal.

Morocco’s matchwinner, Achraf Hakimi, was actually born in Spain, and his backstory typifies that of many of the Moroccan diaspora in Europe, as well as the intriguing – and sometimes maddening – question of national identity that often raises its head during the World Cup.

In brief

The Israeli army kills three Palestinians in Jenin – People flee from authorities after Morocco-Turkey plane lands in Spain due to an apparently staged emergency on board the flight – US court cites MBS immunity in dropping Khashoggi lawsuit – Al Jazeera asks ICC to investigate the killers of its own journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh – Incoming far-right Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir calls for expulsion of Al Jazeera from the country over request for ICC to take Abu Akleh case – Turkey sets two-week deadline for SDF withdrawal from northern Syria – Israeli President Isaac Herzog visits Bahrain and the UAE – Rare anti-government protest turns deadly in southern Syrian city of Sweida – US Navy says trawler carrying arms from Iran was bound for Yemen – Tunisia’s main trade union says it no longer accepts President Kais Saied’s agenda ahead of elections – Paraglider suspected of being a refugee or migrant crosses border between Morocco and Spain – Yemenis use the World Cup to try to forget the war

The ‘33rd nation’ at the World Cup

One of the most common flags in the stands at the World Cup represents a country that isn’t even taking part — Palestine. Dima Khatib, managing director at AJ+, argues that’s because Arabs from different countries, given the rare opportunity to gather in one space, have chosen to give Palestine an opportunity to take centre stage.

Quote of the Week

“We negotiated with them [the military] before. We gave them many chances. But what did they do in the end? A military coup.” — Dania Atabani, spokesperson for a resistance committee in Khartoum, reacting to the news of a deal between the Sudanese military and leading political parties. The deal is aimed at ending months of unrest following a coup in October 2021, but protest groups have rejected the deal, saying it ignores issues such as transitional justice.

Source: Al Jazeera