The Ever Given blocks the Suez Canal almost a week after it got stuck sideways in the crucial waterway, March 29, 2021 (AP photo by Mohamed Elshahed).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. Everyone, it seems, has been searching for meaning in the gigantic container ship stuck in the Suez Canal—which was finally freed Monday, six days after blocking one of the most vital shipping routes in the world. For all the memes that have proliferated online, there is also some analysis: for example, that this is a “warning […]

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 13, 2011 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

In mid-March, Turkey and Egypt confirmed they’d had their first diplomatic contact since breaking off relations in 2013. Though the talks were described by Egyptian sources as preliminary, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying, “Contacts at the diplomatic level have started.” The thaw comes after a decade of intense rivalry that saw the countries on opposing sides of the war in Libya, the blockade of Qatar by its neighbors and energy disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean. Relations between Ankara and Cairo quickly deteriorated after the military takeover led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general-turned-civilian president, which toppled […]

The Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is seen in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sept. 9, 2013 (AP photo by Sebastian Scheiner).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. When Israel struck deals to normalize relations with four Arab countries last year, expectations were fairly tempered—at least outside of the Trump White House, which had brokered them, and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where Benjamin Netanyahu was eager to reap the political windfall. Some of that skepticism about whether this really was a new […]

Somali women walk past a destroyed building after a suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, May 22, 2019 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Colin P. Clarke is filling in for Candace Rondeaux this week. Rumors began swirling last fall that al-Qaida chieftain Ayman al-Zawahiri had died of natural causes. With no confirmation, counterterrorism analysts and long-time al-Qaida watchers weighed in with various assessments of what it would mean for the terrorist organization if it had indeed lost its leader. Just last week, al-Qaida’s official media arm, al-Sahab, released a video perhaps intended to quell reports of Zawahiri’s demise, with audio clips of Zawahiri addressing the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. But because those messages failed to reference any […]

Nursing staff administer COVID-19 vaccines to frontline health workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 29, 2021 (AP photo by Eranga Jayawardena).

As wealthy Western countries carefully guard their national stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines, raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism,” China and Russia have moved aggressively in the opposite direction—toward vaccine diplomacy. Moscow and Beijing have used their homegrown formulas as powerful diplomatic tools, enabling them to curry favor with poorer nations that have largely been left out of the race to inoculate the world. Vaccine diplomacy, however, is not the exclusive domain of major powers. Aspiring regional powers, including some smaller countries, are increasingly stepping into the ring too, garnering goodwill by selling or donating vaccine doses. The result is a global […]

Pope Francis, surrounded by shells of destroyed churches, attends a prayer for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square, in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2021 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

Upon his arrival in Baghdad, Pope Francis said he had come as a “penitent pilgrim” begging for peace. It was a historic event in many ways—the first trip overseas for Francis himself and the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. Despite concerns that it would lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, Francis said he had decided to proceed with the visit in order to bring comfort to and show solidarity with the country’s beleaguered Christian minority. This week on the Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Elliot Waldman sat down with Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, who […]

Female soldiers of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic parade near Tindouf, southern Algeria, Feb. 27, 2021 (AP photo by Fateh Guidoum).

Three months after former U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, President Joe Biden’s own policy regarding this long-disputed territory remains undefined. Yet he may be forced into action soon, as there are signs the conflict is heating up: Renewed fighting between Moroccan forces and the pro-independence Polisario Front broke out in November, ending a 30-year cease-fire. Washington seems to be in no hurry, given that the fighting is so far low in intensity. U.N. sources say they have so far only confirmed the deaths of two Moroccan soldiers, though neither side acknowledges any […]

Pope Francis arrives for an open air Mass at a stadium in Irbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

Pope Francis traveled to Iraq earlier this month, his first trip overseas since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the first-ever papal visit to the war-torn country. Francis said he wrestled with concerns that the three-day visit could facilitate the spread of COVID-19, but ultimately deemed it a worthwhile opportunity to encourage and show solidarity with Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority. During his travels, the pontiff also highlighted a number of issues that he has devoted considerable attention to throughout his papacy, including poverty, interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution. Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent and international news editor for the […]

A map of the United States shows cyberattacks in real time at the headquarters of BitDefender, a leading Romanian cybersecurity company, in Bucharest, Romania, March 5, 2015 (AP Photo by Octav Ganea and Mediafax).

Over the weekend, something extraordinary happened. A working group within the United Nations, comprising all 193 of its member states, adopted a consensus report on norms for responsible state behavior in cyberspace. The report itself represents fairly limited progress, in terms of its contents, although there are some shiny objects for the cyber nerds like me who have been following this process closely. What is most significant is that there is consensus among all U.N. member states in a field that has been wrought with division and contention, especially for the past five years. Most surprisingly, this process originated from […]

Thousands of anti-Syrian government protesters mark 10 years since the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, that later turned into an insurgency and civil war, in Idlib, Syria, March 15, 2021 (AP photo by Ghaith Alsayed).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. It is probably the most documented conflict in history. Since Syria’s civil war began following the Assad regime’s suppression of a popular uprising a decade ago, activists, citizen journalists and everyday Syrians alike have uploaded videos and images of the conflict for anyone around the world to see. Reporters may have been widely barred from the […]

Pope Francis, surrounded by shells of destroyed churches, leads a prayer for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square, in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2021 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. “Mosul Welcomes You,” read banners across the city when Pope Francis visited Sunday, the last full day of his landmark trip to Iraq. Most of the banners covered crumbling buildings or hung on walls still pockmarked by bullets and artillery. The pope arrived in Mosul by helicopter, flying over the “the rubble of houses [that] stretched […]

A worker makes crude oil into diesel and other products at a primitive refinery in Rmeilan, Hassakeh province, Syria, April 6, 2018 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

After nearly a decade of conflict, the extensive damage inflicted on Syria’s environment is emerging as another devastating, if less visible, tragedy of its civil war. Polluted soil and contaminated water are exacerbating the already severe suffering of Syrian civilians, undermining their ability to meet their basic needs and jeopardizing the country’s postwar future. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]998013493[/soundcloud] While the war in Syria is far from over, the steep environmental toll will pose significant challenges to the country’s recovery when the fighting does eventually stop. Syrian and international experts are warning that the environmental impacts of war must be […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, and then-Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, now King Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 27, 2011 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. He called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” during the presidential campaign and promised to “reassess” America’s ties with the kingdom once in office. But when that time came—with the public release last week of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had directly ordered the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi […]