Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state authorities announced decisions regulating religious and non-religious practices amid heightened tensions ahead of upcoming Christian, Islamic, and Jewish holidays. In Israel, an exchange of attacks between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank has set the stage for a tense period going into the religious holidays of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter, all co-occurring in April. In Iraq, the Kurdistan regional government announced restrictions to non-religious practices during Ramadan. In Egypt, state authorities relaxed some coronavirus restrictions regulating religious practice during Ramadan. In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities shut down a women’s Quran memorization center and a mosque, under the pretext that they do not teach the lecture of Houthi Movement leader Hussein Al Houthi.
Last week in Israel, an attack by an armed Palestinian man in the Haredi neighborhood of Bnei Brak in Tel Aviv left five people dead — the third such attack in Israel within a week. The attack was claimed by Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah movement — which said it was in response to the Negev summit (CNN, 30 March 2022). During the Negev summit on 27 March, Israel hosted foreign ministers from four Arab countries — the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, and Bahrain — and the United States to further the normalization efforts between Israel and the Arab states. Heightened tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank come ahead of the co-occurrence of the holidays of Islamic Ramadan, Jewish Passover, and Christian Easter in April. Last year, rising tensions in Jerusalem around the same time led to the break out of the 11-day exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas.
Meanwhile, state authorities announced decisions to regulate religious and non-religious practices in Iraq and Egypt during Ramadan. In Iraq, Kurdish authorities issued new restrictions regulating non-religious practices in Duhok and Erbil governorates. These restrictions include prohibitions on eating or drinking in public during the daytime, the closure of all liquor stores and restaurants during the daytime, and the prohibition of concerts and artistic events. These instructions are similar to those laid out last year ahead of Ramadan. In Egypt, the Supreme Committee for the Management of the Epidemiology and Health Pandemic Crisis agreed to ease some previously approved restrictions for confronting the coronavirus during Ramadan. Under eased restrictions, mosques will be permitted to open their event halls, hold religious lessons after prayers, and host tarawih1During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims perform special prayers called tarawih after every evening’s last daily prayer (isha).Tarawih prayers are only performed during Ramadan; for the entire month, Muslims line up at night to observe a number of optional prayers and listen to and reflect on the recitation of the Quran (Gulf News, 13 April 2021). prayers. In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities shut down a women’s Quran memorization center and mosque in the center of Ar Radmah district last week for not teaching the lectures of the Houthi Movement’s founder, Hussein Al Houthi. During Ramadan last year, Houthi forces increased their targeting of women’s Quran memorization centers and mosques as part of their specific targeting of the Sunni practice of tarawih.
Additionally, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish Security forces arrested a Kurdish politician last week for a post on his Twitter account that was deemed insulting to Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ali Al Sistani. The tweet ignited a wave of unrest across Iraq, and prompted a mob of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) supporters to storm the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Baghdad and to set it on fire. The KDP denounced the tweet, stating that the person who published it was no longer affiliated with their party (Barrons, 28 March 2022). Also, in Baghdad, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square to oppose the nomination of Iraqi-Kurdish politician Rebar Ahmed Khalid for the Iraqi presidency, accusing Kurdish authorities of overstepping Shiite religious authorities in their decision making.
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