Posted: 1 February 2023
Posted: 1 February 2023
In January 2023, political violence spiked in Saada and Taizz governorates. Saudi cross-border fire in the northwestern Saada province almost tripled compared to the month prior. Civilians — especially migrants — were disproportionately impacted, representing around 90% of the victims; the violence resulted in at least 11 reported fatalities and over 100 injuries. Notably, authorities in Riyadh denied these charges.1Saudi Gazette, 22 January 2023 Meanwhile, clashes erupted in the central province of Taizz between Houthi forces and the Internationally Recognized Government, causing a nearly three-fold increase of political violence events in the governorate. Both Saada and Taizz are hotspots in the ongoing back-channel talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to renew the nationwide truce in Yemen, with Riyadh reportedly demanding a buffer zone along the northern border and the lifting of the Houthi blockade on Taizz.2Associated Press, 17 January 2023 Despite these spikes in violence, negotiations saw positive developments in January, with the visit of an Omani delegation and the United Nations Special Envoy to Sanaa.3Yemen News Agency, 12 January 2023; Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-general for Yemen, 16 January 2023 Increased diplomatic efforts might prelude an imminent agreement between the Houthis and Riyadh.
In Iraq, fighting between Turkish forces and Kurdistan Workers Party militants significantly declined in January 2023, following the end of Operation Claw-Lock. On 31 December 2022, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar declared the operation “completed” after achieving its objectives.4Sozcu, 31 December 2022 In a further development, Turkish forces withdrew from at least eight outposts in Duhok province around 11 January. Since the completion of Operation Claw-Lock, violence in Iraq decreased by around 40% compared to the monthly average between April and December 2022. Concurrently, the lethality of political violence events nearly halved.
Meanwhile, in Syria, violent activity steadily declined across all frontlines, coinciding with the rapprochement between the Damascus and Ankara regimes.5Al Jazeera, 28 December 2022 On 5 January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he was open to meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of the reconciliation process, while al-Assad hosted the Russian envoy to discuss the normalization of relations with Ankara.6Al Jazeera, 5 January 2023; Al Monitor, 13 January 2023 Political violence marked a decrease of nearly 20% compared to the month prior, with direct confrontations between Turkish forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) dropping by more than 50%.
In January 2023, the repression of popular demands for civil rights sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini continued in Iran. On 7 January, Iranian authorities executed two men convicted of killing a Basiji during a demonstration.7Global News, 7 January 2023 On 10 January, the regime issued new penalties for women not complying with the hijab dress code,8Al Monitor, 10 January 2023 and arrested three female journalists in late January.9Time of Israel, 23 January 2023
After months of continued repression, the number and geographical coverage of Mahsa Amini demonstrations significantly declined in January 2023. Demonstration events decreased by more than 60% compared to the month prior. Several arson and Molotov cocktail attacks were carried out by rioters against government buildings, Basij paramilitary forces, and the clergy, yet without causing any casualties.
In January 2023, political violence resulted in at least 38 reported fatalities in the West Bank, the highest monthly number since May 2021. Tensions escalated due to the continuation of Operation Breakwater, a campaign that commenced in late 2022 after a series of deadly attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.10The Guardian, 26 January 2023 On 26 January, the Israeli army raided the Jenin refugee camp to arrest Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members and clashed with Palestinian militants from different factions, reportedly killing nine Palestinians, including at least one civilian, four PIJ militants, and one militant from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.11Maan News Agency, 26 January 2023 This is the highest daily number of reported fatalities in the West Bank since May 2021.
The raid sparked protests in the Gaza strip, while PIJ retaliated by launching two rockets into Israel on 27 January. On the same day, a Palestinian attacker killed seven civilians near a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, with a further two civilians injured in another attack in East Jerusalem on 28 January. In response to these attacks, Israeli forces arrested 42 Palestinians while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “strengthen settlement” in the West Bank.12CNN, 29 January 2023
On 21 January, far-right activists burnt a copy of the Quran in Sweden during a protest held in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.13Al Jazeera, 21 January 2023 The incident elicited Ankara’s immediate reaction, with President Erdogan stating that Sweden should not expect Turkey’s support in its bid to join NATO.14Al Jazeera, 23 January 2023 Meanwhile, the United States (US) alleged that the Quran-burning stunt could be a Russian ploy to fracture NATO and keep Stockholm out of the Atlantic alliance.15Al Arabiyya, 24 January 2023
The desecration of the Quran sparked demonstrations among Muslim communities across the globe. In the Middle East, a large number of protests occurred in Turkey and Yemen, with peaceful protests also recorded in Lebanon, Jordan, and Bahrain. In Iraq, hundreds of supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed with police when they attempted to storm the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, leaving one policeman and seven demonstrators injured.16Kurdistan 24, 24 January 2023
Luca Nevola is Middle East Regional Specialist at ACLED and has been in the organization since November 2018. He was originally hired as Yemen and KSA researcher and subsequently worked as Senior Researcher in MENA Religion and Repression. He currently produces analysis and coordinates research across the Middle East desks. Luca holds an MA and a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Milano-Bicocca. He has conducted extensive fieldwork research in Yemen and works as a Yemen analyst for several research institutes focusing on elite politics, political Islam, minority groups, and tribal dynamics.
Emile Roy is an ACLED Researcher. He has covered political violence and protest in Yemen and has also contributed to the ACLED-Religion pilot project tracking religious repression and disorder in the Middle East and North Africa.
Matti Suomenaro is a Syria and Iraq conflict researcher from Finland. His research interests are violent non-state actors and third-party interventions in civil wars.
Rob Scherer is a Middle East Researcher at ACLED and has worked with the organization since July 2021. He has over 8 years of experience working as a researcher and intelligence analyst focusing on the Near East and Central Asia, in capacities ranging from military to civilian government to non-profit research. He has a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Maryland, and his interests include geopolitics, ethnography, demography, and Near East religious history. He is professionally proficient in Farsi, Portuguese, French, and Spanish, and has limited proficiency in German, Hebrew, and Pashto.