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The Middle Eastern mud house

A view of a snow-covered refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon on 10 January 2019 [Jihad Muhammad Behlok/Anadolu Agency]
A view of a snow-covered refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon on 10 January 2019 [Jihad Muhammad Behlok/Anadolu Agency]

Two days ago, I attended to a seminar on the legal background and implications of the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) by President Mahmoud Abbas. Two of the renowned Palestinian experts – Dr Ahmad Al-Khaldi and Dr Anis Al-Qasim – concluded that Abbas' decision has legal grounds. Al-Khaldi, who is considered to be the father of the Palestinian Constitution, said it is not possible to change the reality created by Abbas by legal means. Instead, the only way to confront popular discontent with the Palestinian authorities' aggression is political, an idea reiterated by Al-Qasim. Mohammad Najib Al-Rashdan – a top Jordanian lawyer who was taking part in the seminar – said that this is very typical of Arab regimes, which often deal with the law and constitution selectively and interpret it in their favour.

Outside, snow was falling for the first time this year in Istanbul. I had mixed feelings about it. Where I grew up, snow was not a frequent visitor, so we used to celebrate its coming with joy. Yet, since the beginning of the Syrian tragedy in 2011, snow has brought death to those refugees stuck in the Lebanese mountains or near the Turkish border. Thousands of refugee tents were submerged in liquid mud when the snow melted, morphing into an angry river that pulled the rest of Syria with it. My friend Hossam Al-Ghali, who is in charge of a Lebanese coalition of NGOs serving Syrian refugees, sent me appalling news on the condition of hundreds of families who were struck by Storm Norma this week.

When Pakistani channel Indus TV asked me about my assessment of the previous year and my predictions for the current one, a sensitive cord was pulled in my soul. I said I was optimistic that this year will bring freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. I said this despite the fact that last year was full of violence and gloom. It is not violence that you could understand and live with; rather, it is a kind of violence which leaves you bewildered and stunned. After all, killing a dissenter is not an unfamiliar incident in our region, but killing Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic building, dismembering his body and dissolving him in acid, before pouring the remains down the drain is really beyond our wildest imagination.

READ: US: Saudi version of Khashoggi's killing still not credible

Just two days ago, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi threw a rock in a stagnant pool with his interview with CBS' 60 Minutes program, in which he confessed that he cooperated with Israel to target Egyptian citizens in the Sinai Peninsula, in the east of the country. Al-Sisi did not deny ordering the Rabaa Massacre in 2013, in which over 1,000 protestors against his military coup were killed. He also denied reports by many human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, that Egypt has more than 60,000 political prisoners languishing in its prisons. During the interview, Al-Sisi was unrelaxed and sweating, causing many social media activists to liken him to a student in an examination hall. Worst of all, Egyptian authorities askedCBS not to air the interview, a request which was subsequently used by the channel to attract more viewers and prompted a debate over Al-Sisi's legitimacy, even before anybody could see the interview.

While Gulf states run towards Israel, they are beating the drums of war against neighbouring Iran and imposing a blockade on Qatar – one of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members – leaving us to wonder the meaning of cooperation. The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos Bin Said – who is rarely seen in the media – was finally seen last year showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, around his palace. Meanwhile, Sultan Qaboos' subordinates claim that Oman is doing so for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

READ: Oman grants Israel permission to use air space says Netanyahu

The only incident which could have made us happy was the supposed end of the war in Yemen. Both the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government held peace talks and decided to de-escalate the situation in Yemen, but nothing happened on the ground. After a month of stalling, drones belonging to the Houthis attacked a military parade in the southern province of Lahaj on Thursday, killing several people.

Sudan is trapped between demonstrators – who want the government to resign over mismanagement and corruption charges – and supporters of the government, who claim the deterioration in living standards is due to external conspiracies. Government supporters also claim that those who took to the streets are foreign agents and collaborators who want Sudan to surrender to chaos and despair.

In Syria, almost eight years of civil war, half a million deaths and 50 per cent of the population displaced, the international community has recognised Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as the legitimate ruler of Syria and renewed his legitimacy. Turkey, for its part, is about to interfere militarily against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, after US President Donald Trump declared that the US is to withdraw its troops from the country. Suddenly, the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, accused Turkey of planning to commit massacres against the Kurds, while President Trump declares once again that his troop withdrawal will take longer than anticipated.

Even in Israel, the prime minister dissolved the parliament and triggered elections amid charges of corruption and is battling through the mud to stay alive. Mud reminds me of a short story by Anton Chekhov, about a young maid who works hard and does not get enough sleep. While she was nodding off, screams prevented her from enjoying the liquid mud in her dreams. Finally, she discovers the source of that noise is the baby she has been entrusted with caring for. She kills the baby and settles into a deep sleep.

READ: Gantz gains ground on Netanyahu in Israel election poll

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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