Fears for democracy as barely anyone turns up for Tunisia’s elections, the World Cup has vacated the building, and Jordan’s fuel protests turn deadly. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
Over the past decade, Tunisians have repeatedly packed polling stations, queuing for hours, to exercise their hard-won right to vote, in one of the region’s few truly democratic systems. They fought bravely for that right, earning it only after managing to overthrow their long-time leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in 2011.
On Saturday, they were ostensibly voting again, this time in parliamentary elections. But the reality was that barely anyone showed up, with the turnout announced as an embarrassingly low 11.2 percent. The reason appears to be that lots of Tunisians have had enough of President Kais Saied, and his decisions to rule by decree while curtailing the powers of parliament over the last 18 months.
Saied rode to power in 2019, on the back of popular anger during an economic crisis. But in July 2021, he unilaterally sacked the government and suspended an opposition-controlled parliament before staging a referendum (30 percent turned out) that put most of parliament’s power in his own hands. None of that has improved the economy. If anything, it’s gotten worse, with food shortages the norm. For now, Saied doesn’t seem to care. So, is Tunisia’s democracy dead? Or is it just biding time?
The World Cup runneth over no more
It’s over. It’s really over. One gloriously glutinous month of often daily football was topped with the greatest final in World Cup history (there, I said it, no need to qualify the statement), with Lionel Messi finally getting a well-deserved World Cup winner’s medal with Argentina in his fifth and final try. But now, Doha feels emptywithout Argentina fans singing their Muchachos song every five minutes on random street corners.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) December 21, 2022
Messi’s triumph is inevitably the biggest headline to be taken from the tournament, but there were many others, too: The first Arab World Cup, the rise of teams from Africa and Asia, the political controversies and issues over human rights. You can read more about my thoughts in this piece. And I really recommend this podcast, from The Take, which compiles reactions to the games from various journalists who covered the World Cup. I’m in there, and as you can probably tell from my comments, I’m still bitter about England losing.
And then, of course, there was what I have now taken to calling Bisht-gate: The backlash over the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, gifting Messi a traditional Arab cloak, known as a bisht, during the trophy presentation ceremony. That moment will undoubtedly be one of the abiding memories of this tournament. It already is. Intended as an honour, it was immediately met with incredulity from some of the more cynical members of the media, who ultimately have sought to paint so much about this tournament in a negative light — sometimes justifiably, often not. In this case, a lot of that criticism went well beyond the mere questioning of whether it was the appropriate time for Messi to be given a bisht, and instead veered headlong into a disparagement of Arab culture. Unfortunately, entirely predictable.
Petrol protests in Jordan turn ugly
While Jordan is widely viewed as an island of stability in the Middle East, the economic problems there often lead to major protests every few years.
Last week, demonstrations against high fuel prices, a result of limits on subsidies imposed by the IMF, spread across towns and cities in Jordan, particularly outside of the capital, Amman. They turned deadly in Maan, where a police officer was killed on December 15. That led to a raid and an exchange of gunfire on December 19, when police tried to capture the suspected killers. Three police officers were killed, as well as one of the suspects.
And Now for Something Different
‘Tis the season to visit Bethlehem. Tourist numbers are finally rebounding after the COVID-19 pandemic, with people, particularly Christians, choosing to visit during the Christmas holidays. The Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank is regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, and as the photos in this gallery show, sites like the Church of the Nativity are packed once again — spreading, hopefully, a little sorely needed peace and goodwill to all.
Palestinian prisoner with cancer dies in Israeli custody – Israel’s Netanyahu says deal agreed with far-right to form government, but what role will Religious Zionists play? – Iran’s IRGC says four members of security forces killed in attack near Pakistani border – Sweden’s top court blocks extradition of Turkish journalist – Palestinian American detained by Israel for trying to enter Jerusalem, underscores double standard imposed by Israel against Americans of Palestinian descent – Qatar says Belgian probe into corruption in European Parliament based on “inaccurate” information – At least eight reportedly killed in explosion near Iraq’s Kirkuk – Two Palestinian brothers killed after being run over by Jewish settler – Iran arrests actress Taraneh Alidoosti for expressing solidarity with executed man – Erdogan says Istanbul mayor and his presidential rival, Ekrem Imamoglu, can still appeal guilty verdict, prison sentence for “insulting officials” – IMF approves $3 billion package for Egypt – France normalises consular relations with Morocco after last year’s visa cuts – Libya PM admits role in transfer to US of Lockerbie bombing suspect
Palestinian views on Ukraine
For many Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the parallels to the Ukrainian experience with the Russian invasion are obvious. But according to Adnan Abu Amer, head of political sciences at the University of the Ummah in Gaza, the Ukrainian government and its Western allies have failed to see the link. Instead, argues Abu Amer, there has been nothing but unconditional support for Kyiv while simultaneously pretending there is “no equivalence with Palestine’s situation”.
Quote of the Week
“Death to this and death to that … Imagine your children growing up in a culture that glorifies death. What kind of future will we have? What kind of generation are we creating?” — “Najat”, quoted in a powerful essay about journalist Afrah Nasser’s return to Yemen after 11 years in exile. After so much war, and the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, the home she left no longer exists.