Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.
Protests in Israel force the government to backtrack, US attacks Iran-aligned fighters in Syria, and Lebanon’s two timezones. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
After five elections in less than four years, it’s perhaps not surprising that Israel finds itself in yet another political crisis. After coming to power at the end of last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken advantage of his coalition government’s majority in parliament, slim though it is, to try and push through legislation that would weaken the independence of the judiciary, a long-time demand of the political right.
But maybe, just maybe, Netanyahu has misjudged the depth of his opposition’s outrage. They argue that, along with giving the religious far-right an opportunity to impose its views on other Israelis, the new legislation would also give Netanyahu more leeway in his fight against corruption charges (which, for the record, he denies).
After weeks of protests, matters came to a head this week, and Netanyahu’s ability to get the various pieces of legislation through parliament now looks shaky. First, his own attorney general called his actions illegal. Then, his defence minister publically asked him to stop trying to overhaul the judiciary. Netanyahu didn’t like the perceived insubordination, and fired the minister on Sunday. Cue bedlam.
Large demonstrations took place in several cities, and carried on through Monday, eventually prompting the prime minister to backtrack, sort of. While he refused to withdraw his plan for the judiciary altogether, he did suspend proceedings, saying he was “taking a timeout for dialogue”.
It’s been a crisis without precedent. That’s because of the opposition by army reservists, and the fear among some that it could compromise Israel’s military preparedness. Secular Israelis are also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the dominance of religious Jewish voices. There’s even been talk, on Netanyahu’s part, of the risk of a ‘civil war’.
And in the midst of all this, there have been the Palestinians. While there has been a small, anti-occupation bloc within the latest protests, many Palestinians question why the Israeli public has largely failed to show a similar outrage when it comes to the ongoing occupation and treatment of Palestinians. And there are also significant fears over what happens if Netanyahu’s far-right minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, gets his own national guard to command. The founder of one American Jewish peace organisation called the force a “militia [that] will be used to … terrorise Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank”.
US air attacks in Syria
The US military in Syria has had several run-ins with Iran-aligned forces over the past few years, but the latest incident appears to be one of the worst. As many as 19 fighters were reportedly killed in US attacks in eastern Syria, after a US contractor was killed in a drone attack. While both the Iranian and Syrian governments condemned the US, there are few if any signs that the Americans are planning on leaving Syria anytime soon. The US says the presence of its forces is necessary to prevent the re-emergence of ISIL (ISIS).
What time is it in Lebanon?
In parts of Beirut this week you could have asked two people on opposite sides of the street what time it was, and they could each have given you a different answer—and both been technically correct. Just when the Lebanese thought their state couldn’t be any more dysfunctional, the government failed to implement its decision to delay the start of daylight savings time, after the Maronite Church rejected it.
Although the split wasn’t strictly across religious lines, the general impression was that, for a few days at least, Lebanon operated on either “Muslim” or “Christian” time. The government has since backed down, and brought forward the introduction of daylight savings, but the debacle added to the economic crisis, power cuts and depreciating currency by illustrating just how poorly run Lebanon has become.
And Now for Something Different
For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of giving. In Egypt, that continues to be the case — even though inflation has made it harder for many people to donate. But those who can are trying to step up and fill the gap, funding charity tables called ‘mawaed al-rahman’, where people can gather to break their fast.
Sticking to the Ramadan theme — here’s the first of our Fork the System series, where chefs tell us about their favourite recipes for the month. Yemeni American Akram Said shares his (delicious) recipe for chicken zorbiyan, as well as his memory of his mother, and why his journey into Yemeni cuisine is partly a way of coping with her death.
US Congress members voice concerns over Tunisia human rights crackdown | Bus carrying pilgrims crashes in Saudi Arabia, killing 20 | US Senate votes to clear way for repeal of Iraq war authorisation | UN mission accuses EU of aiding crimes against humanity in Libya | Iraqi Parliament passes controversial electoral law amendments | Saudi National Bank head resigns after Credit Suisse crisis | Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers to meet during Ramadan | Sudan’s military leader says he backs democratic transition | Boat sinks off Tunisian coast, killing 19 | Qatari Sheikh Jassim submits new bid for Manchester United | LGBTQ dating app Grindr warns Egyptian users of police-run accounts | UN commission ends hearings on rights abuses in Israel and Palestine | Saudi Arabia and Syria in talks to restore ties | Iraqis still await special US visas 20 years after invasion |
Quote of the Week
“Muslims used to share our joys and sorrows, we were brothers and still are. The monastery guard is Muslim. When we celebrated Mass two days ago, the residents of the area welcomed us very much.” | Ezzat Sami, an Iraqi Christian who moved from Mosul in 2014, after it was taken over by ISIL. He came back to visit this week, and to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Monastery of Saint Michael, being held in the house of worship for the first time in 20 years.