MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

President Donald Trump did not waste time boasting about his role in the release of Aya Hijazi, Egyptian-American charity worker who had been jailed in Egypt for the past three years.

“Did you see Aya?” Trump asked an Associated Press reporter at the beginning of his interview this week.

“I asked the government to let her out,” he said, “You know Obama worked on it for three years, got zippo, zero.”

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Taiz is the site of the longest-running battle ground in the Yemen war, which began when Houthi forces took over the city on March 25, 2015. Initially, the Houthis were confronted by peaceful demonstrations which they repressed heavily, killing six demonstrators in the process. The situation rapidly developed into armed conflict when the war erupted after the Houthis invaded the south, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to launch a counteroffensive on March 26, 2015. Taiz is centrally located in Yemen, and is the country’s third most populous city. Although large parts of Taiz were reportedly liberated from Houthi dominance, the “Taiz liberation operation” was never launched with serious intent.

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This past Sunday, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Riyadh for an official state visit to the Saudi Kingdom. It comes at a time when many are speculating about the future and current state of Saudi-Egyptian relations, particularly after the furor about the status of the islands off the coast of Sinai. But much of the speculation may be focusing on not quite the most pertinent of things.

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The situation in Libya seems to be simultaneously stalemated and wavering on the brink of collapse. The Presidential Council and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA), which emerged from the UN-led Libyan Political Agreement at the end of 2015, has made little progress in solidifying its authority in the country. The United Nations is increasingly weak in Libya, with no clear replacement for Special Representative Martin Kobler, whose mandate expires soon. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with the House of Representatives in the east and leads the Libyan National Army, continues to refuse to come to a deal with the PC/GNA, perhaps based on the false assumption that he can take control of the country militarily. The recent clashes in the south of the country near Sebha between Haftar’s forces and militias loyal to the PC/GNA are an indicator of the dangers of escalation in the country’s conflict. There is an ever-growing risk of civil war in Libya. Indeed, PC/GNA head Fayez al-Serraj called this week on the international community to intervene in Libya to prevent further destabilization in the south and a possible outbreak of war.

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The dead were buried without a mass.

On April 9, two suicide bombers hit two churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria in Egypt. The next day, the first burial was held for seven of those killed at St Mina Monastery in King Mariout, on the outskirts of Alexandria. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not hold public funeral masses during Holy Week before Easter, so hundreds of mourners attended a funeral and burial without the standard mass service. Some of them had been there before—St Mina is where those who were killed in the blast at Two Saints Church in Alexandria in 2011 lie.

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“My father and I still have headaches and a buzzing sound that has been in our ears since after the attack,” said the 27-year-old Ashraf Ramzy, a survivor of the explosion on Tanta’s St. George’s Cathedral that killed twenty-nine worshippers on Palm Sunday.  

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For the first time since the outbreak of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) conflict, Iraqis across the country will be able to make their voices heard at the ballot box in provincial elections in the fall of 2017. Voters will elect provincial councils in every governorate, and especially in places affected by the Islamic State conflict, the composition and effectiveness of these councils will be important to post-insurgency reconstruction. However, political and social conditions in various provinces do not bode well for the legitimacy and stability the elections are supposed to produce.

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Amidst the anticipation of the first visit of an Egyptian president to Washington DC since 2009, there were a number of articles on Abdal Fattah El-Sisi’s visit to the White House in the first week of April. Much of the analysis was about what the Trump administration should want from Cairo. But the harsh reality may be that the Trump administration has not reached a point to be ready and know what to ask. Certainly, on a broad variety of foreign policy priorities, it is not clear what US president Donald Trump wants either from Sisi in particular, or from American allies in the Arab world, making it rather difficult to gauge if the Egypt-USA relationship was ‘successful’ or not.

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Tensions between Egypt’s religious leadership and its political leadership—represented by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, and Egypt’s President respectively—have reached a point where they can no longer be concealed. The underlying disagreement has become public, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has raised this issue in his public speeches, the most recent of which dealt with verbal divorce, to the point where Sisi told el-Tayeb, “you’ve exhausted me, honorable Imam.”

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After years of condemning and rejecting what it considered an intrusive relationship, Egypt’s state media finally hailed a new era of bilateral relations between the US and Egypt ushered in by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s first meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Monday.

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