The Watchlist: Houthi Missile Explodes Above Riyadh

Week of November 6th

Riyadh North Skyline (King Abdullah Financial District), November, 2016. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Kenyan Nurses End Five-Month Strike, University Lecturer Strike Begins

Nurses in Kenya’s public hospitals returned to work this week after a five-month-long strike that had paralyzed the country’s healthcare system. The strike began in response to the government’s refusal to honor a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the nurse’s union and the Kenyan Council of Governors. The government claimed that the pay increases outlined in the agreement were too expensive. the union ended the strike once substantial increases in uniform and risk allowances were approved, provided the CBA is implemented in the next year. Just as the government has made some progress with its healthcare system, their educational system has lurched into crisis. Meanwhile, the University Academic Staff Union is leading a strike, again over the government’s refusal to live up to its agreements. It remains to be seen if the government will respond to the lecturers in the same way as it did to the nurses; first by holding out and then settling on an agreement. Expect the government to address the situation quickly, in an attempt to shore up political support shortly after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s divisive reelection, which his opponent called “a sham.” SEBASTIAN LEDER MACEK


Poor Drainage Led to Floods in Penang: Malaysian Government

A storm caused major flooding on Sunday in Malaysia’s northern Penang state, forcing 3,000 to evacuate and killing at least seven, prompting the government to deploy military forces to aid displaced peoples. Floodwater has hit between 10 and 12 feet with more expected as typhoon-level rain and winds continue to pound the state. The Penang government confirmed that the floods were caused by an inadequate drainage system, according to Channel News Asia. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, are in Kuching, Malaysia as part of their week-long trip to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Malaysia-United Kingdom bilateral relations. Despite the disaster, the couple plan to continue on to Penang later today. WILL FEUER


Venezuela Scrambles to Construct Restructuring Deal Amid Looming Default The Venezuelan government, with nearly $120 billion in foreign debt, is on the brink of bankruptcy. On Friday, the Venezuelan government invited bondholders to discuss the restructuring of its foreign debt. Vice President Tareck El Aissamí maintained a positive attitude as he declared that creditors should agree to a suggested restructuring of debt terms, and that talks about these financial strategies would begin on November 13th. Mr. El Aissamí nation’s $10 billion in reserves is not enough to cover debt obligations. He slammed the United States for what he says is “financial persecution,” since the United States has sanctions that prevent American banks from purchasing new bonds, trading Venezuelan government bonds, or negotiating loan deals with the country. These sanctions stem from a statement made by the Treasury Department saying that Mr. El Aissamí was involved in narcotics trafficking. How exactly this restructuring deal is going to work is unclear, especially with tight U.S. sanctions in place. Even if Venezuela tried to sidestep American sanctions, bonds that are unable to be traded on American markets are not likely to succeed. If Venezuela defaults, oil exports would dramatically decrease. Bondholders could also force the seizure of Venezuelan oil payments in the United States. The only foreseeable upside is that Venezuela would save around $7 billion within the next year, since they would not be required to make debt payments. It remains to be seen what restructuring deal the government proposes, and how investors, the oil companies, and the United States will react. GRACE BRISTOL


Russian Activists Protest Putin “Tyranny”

Police detained over 400 protestors across Russia on Sunday. The activists took to the streets in response to a call from Vyacheslav Maltsev to protest President Vladimir Putin’s regime of “tyranny”. Maltsev, a radical opposition politician who ran for Parliament last year, has been linked to plans for “high-profile extremist actions” set to take place on November 4th and 5th as part of his Artpodgotovka movement. These protests immediately follow Saturday’s nationalist rallies in Moscow with the intention of sparking a new “revolution” near November 7th, the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Supporters of Maltsev’s movement also planned attacks on police and government buildings over the weekend. Police evacuated at least 10,000 people in response to bomb threats at the Bolshoi Theatre and other Moscow landmarks. As Russian elections and centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution near, opposition to the Putin regime is growing stronger under the influence of leaders like Maltsev and the better-known Presidential contender Alexei Navalny. ANNA HAYNES

Middle East

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri Resigns

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, announced his resignation during a Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya broadcast late Saturday evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Citing an unnamed source, the Saudi-owned television channel said an assassination plot was foiled against the Lebanese leader in Beirut days ago. In Lebanon, the Internal Security Forces denied the existence of any information related to such a claim by the Saudis. During his resignation speech from Riyadh, Mr. Hariri alleged that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the assassination attempt and are the culprit of immense instability in the region. Ironically, Hezbollah, an active political party in the Lebanese parliament, with 12 of the 128 seats in, heavily lobbied for the election of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri 11 months ago. For decades, the Saudis have shared strong ties with the Hariri family in Lebanon, but the renewed national unity in Lebanon is seemingly at odds with the divisive Saudi agenda in the Levant. Following a blowing defeat to Saudi proxies at the hands of President Bashar Al-Assad and his allies, the Saudis are desperate to retain their dwindling influence in the Levant. On Sunday, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, called for the Lebanese people to come together, irrespective of religious and political affiliation, to resist instability following the shocking Hariri decision. In the coming weeks, political uncertainty will revive itself in Lebanon, and President Aoun’s leadership will be tested. JALAL H. TALEB

Houthis Attack Riyadh

On Saturday night Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile 800 km over the Saudi Arabian border, where it exploded over Riyadh near the King Khalid International Airport. The Saudi Ministry of Defense reported that they intercepted the missile and that there were no injuries or casualties. The Houthis immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the group told Al Jazeera, “The capital cities of countries that continually shell us, targeting innocent civilians, will not be spared from our missiles,” in reference to a two and a half year long siege on Yemen led by Saudi Arabia, which has killed almost 14,000 civilians and left the nation stricken with cholera. This is the first time Riyadh has been targeted by the Houthis, and the attack represents a major escalation in the conflict between the two forces. A senior Yemeni air force official rejected Saudi Arabia’s report that the missile was intercepted and said, “The Saudi regime cannot hide the heavy fires that was seen by thousands of Saudi nationals.” He went on to warn, “This is not the end. Saudi cities will be a continuous target. We are entering a new phase.” MAYA ZREIK

Saudi Internal Consolidation

The past two days have marked a drastic change in Saudi Arabia’s domestic politics. In a sequence of events, several high-profile princes and businessmen were sacked or arrested in a supposed “anti-corruption” drive led by the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman. Over 17 princes and top officials were targeted by these charges, including the international billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the formal head of the royal court, Khaled Al-Tuwairjri. The reshuffling of the cabinet also led to the replacement of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once a leading contender for the crown. The audacity of these arrests, particularly against such known businessmen and political figures among the Arab world, reflects the new monarch’s revolutionary and ambitious plans. Mohammad bin Salman has spearheaded this campaign against corruption, yet it is ironic that those targeted happen to coincidentally be fellow political figures that could possibly challenge his growing authority. The following steps are part of what many call the new king’s “two-front” campaign, one that advocates for increased regional hegemony through foreign policy, while simultaneously consolidating power back home. This drastic consolidation of power, coming at a time of increased external security threats, will not go by too quietly, particularly due to the notoriety and fame attached to many of those Mohammad bin Salman targeted. One should be on the lookout for increased domestic and regional tensions and infighting. AYAH KUTMAH

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