Last week across North Africa and the Middle East, a far-right march reignited tensions in East Jerusalem, prompting clashes between primarily far-right Israelis and Palestinians. In Israel, ultra-orthodox (Haredi) civilians protested against the sale of non-Kosher cell phones. The House of Representatives in Egypt approved a new draft law that further curtails the rights of members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In Iraq, a mob in Baghdad burned down a liquor store in the first such attack since April. In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities expanded their directive on gender-mixing in schools to include private schools. Finally, in Iran, government repression of minority religious groups continued in the days leading up to the presidential elections on 18 June, as one Baha’i woman was sentenced to prison and a Catholic nun was asked to leave the country.
In East Jerusalem, tensions reignited once again around the holding of the annual flag march in Jerusalem. This right-wing Jewish march was originally planned for last month as part of ‘Jerusalem Day’ festivities on 9 May, but was canceled due to the start of the 11-day cross-border conflict between Hamas and Israel (CNN, 15 June 2021). The march was postponed to 15 June, when it took place as planned.1More information on the events surrounding Flag Day marches will be included in ACLED’s next data release, and will be discussed in the following regional overview. Clashes broke out on 10 June between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police, as far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir marched to Damascus Gate, the main entry to the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Ben Gvir waved an Israeli flag at the site, over his denial to carry out a flag day parade through the Muslim Quarter to reach the Temple Mount (Times of Israel, 10 June 2021).
In Israel, Haredi civilians demonstrated in Bnei Brak city and demanded the closing of a cell phone store in the city, which is selling phones that are not under the supervision of the Rabbinical Committee for Communication Affairs, making them non-Kosher phones (The Yeshiva World, 10 June 2021). Kosher phones have restricted capabilities and are primarily used to conduct phone calls. These phones are designed to ensure that the Haredi community is protected from “improper content” (Rosenberg, Blondheim & Katz, 13 May 2019).
Last week in Egypt, the Legislative and Constitutional Committee of the House of Representatives approved a new draft law permitting the “non-disciplinary dismissal of civil servants” (Egypt Today, 6 June 2021). This new draft law defines the conditions in which “civil servants and state employees with proven links to the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist-designated organisations will be automatically dismissed” (Ahram Online, 7 June 2021). It builds upon two previous laws, approved earlier in the year, targeting the Muslim Brotherhood. The draft law sets a legal precedent in Egypt “by way of imposing the penalty of dismissal from work due to political affiliation” (Raseef 22,19 May 2021). Finally, it would further tighten the state’s hold on the Muslim Brotherhood and any sleeper cells within Egypt.
Also in Egypt, an economic court sentenced a female social media personality to three years in prison in Cairo. She had been found guilty of “violating society values and principles” by creating and posting allegedly “indecent” content on the Tik Tok video-sharing platform. She was also fined EGP 100,000 (nearly 6,000 USD) (Ahram Online, 8 June 2021). Her arrest and subsequent sentencing constitutes the latest in a string of arrests by Egyptian state authorities, who began targeting dozens of female personalities on Tik Tok last year for alleged violations of morality and ‘family values.’. In other morality-related reports last week, in Iraq, an angry mob of residents of Al Maalif neighborhood in Baghdad attacked and burned down a liquor store while shouting religious slogans (Ahad TV, 7 June 2021). Attacks on liquor stores in Iraq have gone down significantly since February, when at least one attack was reported per week. Conflicting accounts of the perpetrators’ motivations were reported.
Additionally, in Baghdad, dozens of Shiite demonstrators protested near the statue of the eighth century Caliph Abu Jaafar Al Mansour, demanding the removal of the statue. Shiites believe that Al Mansour killed the sixth Imam of Twelver Shiites, Jaafar Al Sadiq in the eighth century (Al Sumaria, 11 June 2021). Protesters called for its removal because it represents a provocation to the sentiments of the Shiite sect. Also in Yemen, the pro-Houthi Ministry of Education issued a new directive targeting gender-mixing in schools across Houthi-controlled territory. The new directive expands on a previous one, which only targeted public schools to now include private schools (Al Mashhad Al Yemeni, 6 June 2021).
Moreover, over the past couple of weeks, pro-Houthi forces have been concerned with the creation of ‘sectarian summer camps’ to allegedly train students to become pro-Houthi fighters. While these schools in the past often targeted boys, pro-Houthi Zainabiyat forces were instructed by Houthi authorities last week to ‘attract’ girls to these schools, in hopes of them also joining the group (Al Mashhad Al Yemeni, 6 June 2021). Teachers were also forced to attend compulsory pro-Houthi courses for 10 days (Al Asimah, 11 June 2021). Pro-Houthi forces are reportedly aiming to target 50,000 new fighters from these schools in the first phase of their launching (Al Mashhad Al Yemeni, 9 June 2021).
Finally, in Iran, the repression of minority religious groups continues unabated in the lead up to presidential elections, scheduled for 18 June. One week after the granting of prison leave to prominent Sunni cleric Fazlur Rehman Koohi, the Special Clerical Court summoned him, without providing any reasons (HRANA, 3 June 2021). Meanwhile, an Iranian court sentenced a Baha’i woman, who is one of the pioneers of women’s motocross in Iran, to eight years in prison, with a three-month probationary period at a psychiatric center, and a two-year ban from leaving the country (HRANA, 8 June 2021). Additionally, a 75-year-old Catholic nun, who has served in the leprosy hospital in Tabriz for nearly three decades, was asked to leave Iran by authorities for unspecified reasons (Mohabat News, 5 June 2021).
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