Minutes after Turkey's top administrative court, the Turkish Council of State, annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree that turned Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum, President Recep Tayip Erdogan transferred the site's management from the Ministry of Culture to the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which will reconvert it into a mosque. The court ruled that, since Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II gave the Hagia Sophia Mosque Foundation title to the church after conquering Constantinople and the building's deed identifies it as a mosque, the cabinet lacked the authority to designate it as a museum. Erdogan's move received widespread criticism. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-ID) and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) slammed it as "a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site" in addition to being "unnecessarily divisive at a time when we need more, not fewer, efforts to build bridges between Islam and Christianity." State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus stated, "We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia." EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, "Erdogan's decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable." Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni denounced the decision as an "open provocation to the civilized world." Hagia Sophia is Turkey's most popular tourist site, attracting on average 3.7 million visitors per year, and was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1985. Prayers will begin at Hagia Sophia on July 24.
Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution, drafted by Germany and Belgium, to reauthorize for six months two aid corridors, not subject to Damascus's oversight, along the Turkish border. The resolution was a compromise after Russia and China vetoed a similar resolution Tuesday that would have reauthorized the corridors for a year and the Security Council rejected a Russian resolution to reauthorize for six months just one of the corridors. Moscow maintains cross-border aid corridors are unnecessary because aid to rebel-controlled areas can be channeled through government-controlled territory.
At a July 9 news conference, Under-Secretary General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov said more than 700 people died recently at the YPG-run al-Hol and Roj camps, which hold 70,000 people – mainly women and children – linked to ISIS. Voronkov attributed the deaths to food and medicine shortages, but did not divulge either the source of his information or the time period over which the deaths occurred.
America and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) are investigating whether Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar has been trading US dollars for Venezuelan gold in violation of US sanctions on Venezuela. Haftar's private jet has repeatedly visited Caracas. A European security official claimed Haftar wanted gold, which is harder to track than cash, in case international sanctions freeze his bank accounts. Nicholas Maduro's regime this year paid Iran in gold to cover gasoline and other imports.
Egypt's army initiated a large-scale exercise, called "Hasm 2020," on Thursday along the Libyan border in what is widely seen as preparation for military intervention to assist the LNA in Libya's civil war. Last June, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi threatened to intervene militarily to prevent the fall of Sirte and al-Jufra airbase to the Turkish-backed GNA.
Libya's Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC) announced Friday lifting a six-month ban on all oil exports. Most oil fields are controlled by the LNA, which objected to the NOC depositing its proceeds in the GNA-affiliated central bank and have blocked oil exports since January. As most of the international community only recognizes the NOC's right to export oil, Haftar wanted at the very least to deprive the GNA of oil revenue from territory under his control. The NOC statement might signal that the GNA and LNA have reached a revenue-sharing agreement as fighting between the two sides has mostly petered out since June 10.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer released a report Thursday that revealed an Egyptian secret service agent worked as a mid-level employee in Chancellor Angela Merkel's press office for years. The Federal Public Prosecutor said the suspect was charged for suspicion of espionage. According to the report, "There are indications that Egyptian services are trying to recruit Egyptians living in Germany for intelligence purposes through their visits to Egyptian diplomatic missions in Germany and their trips to Egypt." Cairo is recruiting these expatriates to gather intelligence on opposition and Coptic Christian groups. A German government spokeswoman stated Friday the suspect did not have access to sensitive information.
Sudan's Sovereign Council Thursday night ratified a law outlawing female genital mutilation (FGM). Those convicted of performing the procedure will face up to three years in prison. A 2014 UN survey found that 87 percent of Sudanese women between the ages of 15 and 49 underwent FGM. The Sovereign Council also ratified an amendment permitting Sudanese women to travel abroad with their children without their husband's consent.
Eight members of the Progressive Israel Network issued a joint statement Friday endorsing an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting Israel from using US security assistance funds in annexed portions of the West Bank or to further such annexation. The statement's signatories were Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, J Street, the New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T'ruah.
Saudi Aramco raised domestic gas prices Friday, increasing 91 octane grade from 0.98 riyals/liter to 1.29 and 95 octane grade from 1.18 riyals/liter to 1.44. The kingdom links local fuel prices with export prices.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum