Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad's cousin and a billionaire who has bankrolled the Baathist regime, posted a video on Facebook Sunday accusing the government of arresting his employees as part of pressure campaign for him to relinquish control of his many businesses. Makhlouf posted another video on Facebook last Thursday in which he appealed directly to President Assad for help after a government order to seize his assets and impose fines. Many hypothesize that Assad appropriating Makhlouf's assets is part of a broader shakedown of Syrian businessmen to reimburse Russia for its intervention the civil war.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces regained control of a Hasaka prison, which houses between 3,000-5,000 ISIS terrorists, through negotiations with the inmates after two days of rioting. A riot at the same prison in March enabled the escape of four inmates who were later recaptured.
Relatives of two former rebels, who were executed by regime forces in Daraa province Sunday, abducted and killed nine regime policemen on Monday.
The Afghan government is investigating reports that Iranian border guards last Friday drowned at least seven Afghans crossing the border to seek work. According to the Afghan Human Rights Commission, the guards threatened to shoot those who did not jump into the Harirud River along the Afghan-Iranian border. Herat province governor Sayed Wahid Qatali tweeted: "Our people are not just some names you threw into the river. One day we will settle accounts."
With Moody's downgrading Saudi Arabia's sovereign outlook from stable to negative last Friday and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) predicting a 3.2 percent contraction in GDP this year, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said Saturday that the government "must reduce budget expenditures sharply." MUFG also forecasts public debt rising to 31.6 percent of GDP and foreign exchange reserves falling by up to $47 billion. Despite the recent decline in the kingdom's foreign exchange reserves, as of March 2020, it still had almost $500 billion, ensuring that the Saudi central bank can keep its promise Monday of continuing to peg the riyal to the U.S. dollar.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok issued a statement Monday saying the country will establish a gold bourse. Despite being Africa's third largest gold producer, Khartoum collected little tax revenue from the industry because, until January 2020, all gold exports had to go through the central bank, which bought the metal at a discount, resulting in an estimated 70-80 percent of it being smuggled abroad. One reason that the January reform did not immediately generate a boom in gold exports is exporters have to sell their foreign currency earnings to the central bank at the official exchange rate. The black market exchange rate in January was 88 Sudanese pounds to the U.S. dollar, while the official rate was 45 pounds to the dollar.
The U.S. on Monday approved the first Sudanese ambassador in 23 years. Khartoum tapped Nour Eddin Satti, formerly Sudan's ambassador to France, for the position.
United Arab Emirates
The General Assembly of the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) approved the UAE's request to postpone Dubai Expo 2020 until October 1, 2021- March 31, 2022 because of COVID-19. Dubai aimed to attract 25 million tourists to the exposition and hoped it would boost GDP by $33.4 billion.
Kuwaiti police dispersed a riot by Egyptian workers in a group shelter demanding repatriation. Authorities have not acknowledged the number of arrests. However, the state-run Kuna news agency reported that Cairo later this week will dispatch planes to retrieve their foreign workers in Kuwait desiring to return home while Kuwait will waive fines and prison terms of Egyptians who overstayed their visas if they agree to leave on those flights.
Egypt Sunday released Egyptian-American citizen and single mother Reem Desouky, who returned to the United States. She was arrested at the Cairo Airport last July for running a Facebook page critical of the Egyptian government and held without trial until her release.
The Interior Ministry announced that the military killed 18 ISIS fighters Sunday during a raid on a home in the northern Sinai city of Bir al-Abed. Ten Egyptian solders died last Thursday outside Bir al-Abed when an armored vehicle hit an ISIS explosive device.
32 former Democratic foreign policy officials sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee lamenting how past party platforms have "been nearly silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution" and urging that the 2020 platform "include clear opposition to ongoing occupation, settlement expansion and any form of
unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank." Some of the letter's signatories include President Clinton's National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense George Little, and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
Jordan Sunday lifted all restrictions on economic activity imposed to contain COVID-19. Full public transportation service will resume with some safety guidelines.
Four days after Prime Minister Hassan Diab sought an IMF loan for Lebanon, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in a Monday speech said his party would support the loan as long as its conditions do not infringe on Lebanon's sovereignty or harm the country's poor.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum