Jan. 6 Saudi Arabia: In an effort to protect women’s rights, a new law effective as of Jan. 6 will allow women to be informed by Saudi courts of their divorce through text message, as reported by The Telegraph. Previous to the new law, men could file for divorce without informing their wives, a practice known as secret divorce. While the law has been praised as “a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients,” by the Saudi Ministry of Justice via Al Jazeera, critics argue the new law does nothing in ensuring alimony or custody of children.
Jan. 8 Tornillo, Texas, United States: The Baptist Child & Family Services detention center in Tornillo will close by the end of January. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Jan. 8 via VICE after CEO Kevin Dinnin refused to accept any additional minors. The detention center, built to hold only 400, was over capacity at 2,800 by December. Dinnin sent a letter to HHS on Dec. 17, stating, “We as an organization finally drew the line. You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them.” While the HHS denies they were closing the facility as a punitive measure, the agency moved to close their operations shortly after Dinnin’s letter.
Jan. 8 British Columbia, Canada: The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a radio telescope located in British Columbia, has detected a “mysterious repeating radio signal from distant space,” the Huffington Post reports. The fast radio burst repeated a signal six times in what is only the second FRB to be recorded. “Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB,” said a member of CHIME Ingrid Stairs through Science Daily. “With more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles—where they’re from and what causes them.” The discovery was announced on Jan. 8 in the scientific journal Nature.
Jan. 8 Manila, Philippines: During a speech to local officials, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suggested kidnapping and torturing auditors within his administration, claiming they “always make things difficult,” as reported by Al Jazeera. The Commission on Audit is tasked with closely tracking government expenditures and has previously questioned the president’s financial decisions.
Jan. 9 Egypt: Ahmed Douma, a leading activist in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution denouncing former President Hosni Mubarak, was sentenced in a retrial to 15 years jail time and a fine of $335,000, Middle East Eye reports. Douma was originally sentenced in 2015 to 25 years in prison. However, in 2017 the courts overturned the ruling, calling for a retrial. Douma was one of three founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement, an activist group which denounced the rule of Mubarak as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and the current military rule.
Jan. 9-11 Bangkok, Thailand; Canada: Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Canada under asylum granted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Jan. 11 after fleeing her abusive family, as reported by Al Jazeera. Al-Qunun, who claims she feared for her life, boarded herself inside an airport hotel in Thailand’s capital after her passport was apprehend by authorities on Jan. 5, Sky News reports. Her father and brother arrived in the country in an attempt to see her on Jan. 8, and on Jan. 9 she was granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner.
Jan. 10 Budapest, Hungary: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave his support during a press conference for the formation of a right-wing, anti-immigrant alliance in European Parliamentary elections scheduled for May, Deutsche Welle reports. Orbán denounced French President Emmanuel Macron and German politicians, while praising right-wing Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for preventing immigration into Italy, which includes denial of entry to asylum seekers stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. Orbán said recently in an interview, “We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” referring to the influx of refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
Jan. 10 Venezuela: Despite the continued economic fallout in Venezuela and what was widely regarded as a sham election by the international community, President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for another six-year term. According to The Economist, the ceremony would normally be conducted before the National Assembly, however due to the rift between Maduro and the opposition-controlled Assembly surrounding the elections, Maduro was sworn in front of the Supreme Court instead.
Jan. 10 Sri Lanka: Major General Shavendra Silva was appointed to Sri Lanka’s second highest military rank by President Maithripala Sirisena, despite allegations by the UN of being a war criminal during the country’s 37-year civil war. Al Jazeera reports Silva is accused by the UN of commanding a division which intentionally conducted attacks against hospitals, food distribution centers and Internally Displaced Person camps. A statement released by the International Truth & Justice Project claimed these attacks resulted in “tens of thousands of civilian deaths in a matter of months.”
Jan. 10 Cairo, Egypt: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a keynote speech at the American University in Cairo calling for increased military efforts to combat Iranian forces in Syria as part of the Trump administration’s Middle East vision. However, he also ensured the U.S. was keeping with its plan of withdrawing troops from Syria. “In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid about asserting ourselves when the times—and our partners—demanded it,” he said as quoted by NPR while referring to policies under former President Barack Obama.
Jan. 12–13 Paris, France: Hundreds of rescue workers responded to a gas explosion at a central Parisian bakery on Jan. 12 which left dozens injured and at least four killed, Deutsche Welle reports. Two firefighters and a tourist visiting from Spain were originally among those killed by the explosion, but a fourth victim was found Jan. 13 as more than 30 firefighters searched for others who may have been injured or killed. The blast destroyed the building housing the bakery while damaging 12 others and leaving dozens of people temporarily without homes.
Ongoing – Serbia: Protests continue across Serbia for the sixth consecutive week as demonstrators denounce President Aleksandar Vucic. Deutsche Welle reported around 40,000 people protested in the most recent demonstrations on Jan. 12, calling for journalistic freedom and governmental transparency. Protesters carried a banner showing a shirt stained with blood as a reference to the November assault of Borko Stefanovic, leader of the leftist party Levica Srbije, which, while the case remains unsolved, is largely believed to be the work of the Vucic Serbian Progressive Party. The popular slogan “one in five million” (#1od5miliona) was adopted after Vucic said he would continue to denounce protesters “even if there were five million people in the street.”
When I first came to PSU, I was a Chinese major, having studied three years prior in high school alongside French and Japanese. After the first year, I took a hiatus. I don't believe in going to college straight out of high school, but it's what was expected. I returned a few years later to study Japanese at PCC and Arabic at PSU. I am now a junior majoring in International Studies: Middle East and Arabic. In the future, I would like to work as a journalist or humanitarian aid worker in the region, helping people who lack economic and political backing and media exposure.