Africa: Al-Shabaab kill 15 people in car bomb attack in Somali capital; Libyan National Army claim to have made significant territorial gains in central Benghazi.
Americas: US Supreme Court partly upholds Trump’s appeal against two federal circuit courts of appeal rulings against his controversial travel ban; Mexico and European Union begin trade talks.
Asia-Pacific: Former Indian Navy officer being held by Pakistan as a spy files for a stay of execution; Vietnam deports dissident blogger to France after stripping the dual national of Vietnamese citizenship.
Europe and Central Asia: French president’s party secures 61-seat working majority in elections for national assembly; Mongolia holds presidential election.
Middle East and North Africa: Egyptian president ratifies controversial deal to transfer sovereignty of islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia; Saudi-led bloc delivers list of demands Qatar must meet to end its isolation.
At least 15 people were killed on 20 June in a car bomb attack in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility for the attack on a police headquarters in the Wadajir district of the capital. Despite significant territorial losses, al-Shabaab has increased its attacks in recent months. The attack on the police headquarters comes only a week after an overnight siege at a restaurant and hotel in the capital in which over 30 people were killed. Islamic State also represents a significant threat following its first attack in the country on 24 May. The United States has increased its support to Somalia, including support for air strikes, and the African Union has renewed its AMISOM peacekeeping force. The international efforts are welcomed by Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was elected in February with a mandate to work towards securitising the state.
Forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar claim to have made significant territorial gains in central Benghazi. The latest advance in the Souq al-Hout neighbourhood on 25 June, is the most-recent victory for the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which has been engaged in sporadic fighting in the area with forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report published on 24 June identifies the UAE as a primary funder of Haftar’s militia. His forces have made a series of gains in central and eastern Libya in the past few months, including strategic gains in the oil crescent.
On 26 June, in the last session of its term, the US Supreme Court considered an emergency request submitted by the president, Donald Trump, to reconsider his controversial travel ban. His executive order had proposed a 90-day ban on people travelling to the United States from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the United States. The Trump administration was appealing the rulings of two federal circuit courts of appeal that the president did not have the legal authority to implement such a ban. The supreme court decided to partly lift their injunction. The justices stated that the travel ban could not be enforced against foreign nationals who have existing ties to the United States, but that all other foreign nationals may be subject to the provisions of Trump’s executive order. The court also ruled in favour of the 120-day ban on all refugees to the United States, again provided that they do not have bona fide relationship with the United States. This constitutes a clear political win for the US president; however, it is important to highlight that the ruling only permits a temporary travel ban – the supreme court indicated that it would consider whether the policy should be upheld or not during its next official session in the autumn. The White House will likely now be closely monitoring the rumours that Justice Anthony Kennedy wishes to retire from the supreme court. Kennedy’s departure would offer Trump the opportunity to appoint a new justice sympathetic to some of his policy agenda, including possible future executive orders on immigration.
Mexico and the European Union began trade talks on 26 June. The talks are aimed at updating the understanding reached in 2000. The discussion takes place against the backdrop of tense relations between each of the parties and the United States under Donald Trump. Mexico sees the talks as an opportunity to manage the economic risks presented by the Trump administration’s long-standing animosity towards the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), especially as that discussions on possibly renegotiating NAFTA are due to take place during the summer. Similarly, the EU sees the talks with Mexico as an opportunity to hedge its bets, as the EU-US trade deal reached under the Obama administration has been on standby since Trump came to office. Mexico will likely seek to compromise in order to reach a rapid agreement with the EU in order to have leverage ahead of the NAFTA talks.Mexico and European Union seeking to offset poor relations with the United States during their trade talksClick To Tweet
On 22 June, a former Indian Navy officer being held by Pakistan filled a stay of execution on the grounds of mercy and compassion. Kulbhushan Jadhav has faced the death penalty since he was arrested by Pakistani officials in Balochistan on 3 March 2016 on the charge of ‘espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan’. India denies the charge. The UN has appealed to Pakistan to delay any execution in order to allow India to work through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the issue. Pakistan has released a statement claiming that Jadhav has sought forgiveness for his actions after a video was released in which he ‘confessed’. What Pakistan does next may significantly influence Pakistan-India relations over the short- to medium-term.
Vietnam has deported the dissident blogger Phạm Minh Hoàng to France after it stripped the dual national of his Vietnamese citizenship. Hoàng was imprisoned in 2011 following articles that ‘blackened the image of the country’ according to the judge at his trial. Hoàng admitted that he was a member of the US-based pro-democracy group Viet Tan – which Vietnam considers a terrorist organisation – but denied that he aimed to overthrowing the government with his articles. It is rare for people with dual nationality to be stripped of the citizenship of their country of origin. The Vietnamese authorities are increasingly charging democracy activists with subversion, with the courts handing down long sentences for those found guilty. If the government continues to exile dual nationality dissidents by removing their Vietnamese citizenship it would be a worrying development that goes against the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and right to nationality.
Europe and Central Asia
The French president’s movement, En Marche!, ran in legislative elections on 18 June under the banner La République en marche (LREM) together with the Democratic Movement (MoDem). The coalition won a total of 350 of the 577 seats in the national assembly. The previous ruling party, the Socialist Party of François Hollande, fell dramatically from the 284 seats it held in the previous national assembly to only 30 seats in the new one. LREM’s working majority of 61 seats will give the president, Emmanuel Macron, significant room to enact his manifesto through the lower house, including controversial measures, such as the labour law reform bill. Macron is considering the highly-unusual step of convening a joint congress of the national assembly and the senate at the palace of Versailles. With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, one of Macron’s central policy agendas is reviving the EU, and he is working closely with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to try and secure the EU’s future. Domestically, Macron will likely seek to enact his plans to cut corporation tax, reform the economy and boost job creation.
Mongolia held a presidential election on 26 June. The candidates were the parliament speaker and former prime minister Miyegombo Enkhbold of the Mongolian People’s Party, businessman and former MP Khaltmaa Batulgaa of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and former MP Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of Democratic Party. The incumbent, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party, cannot run for re-election, as he has already served two terms. This election is key for the country’s future given Mongolia’s considerable debt ($23 billion, which amounts to double of its economy), its low growth rate (which fell from 17.5% in 2011 to 1% in 2016) and its difficulty attracting foreign investment. However, Mongolia’s youth are disillusioned with the perceived corruption of the country’s politicians, and it is likely that the turnout will have been low. At least 50% of eligible voters must cast their ballot for the election to be valid. There will likely be a second round even if this threshold is crossed, as it is unlikely that any candidate will secure an absolute majority, despite a possible lead for Batulgaa. Whoever is eventually Mongolia’s new president will need to ensure that the country makes effective and accountable use of the recently-secured $5.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Middle East and North Africa
The Saudi-led bloc that is attempting to isolate Qatar issued a list of 13 demands to end the crisis on 23 June. The bloc demands that Qatar sever ties with Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, close Al Jazeera, distance itself from Iran, and close a Turkish military base, among other stipulations. The UAE has threatened a permanent end to its relationship with Qatar if the latter does not agree to the demands. Qatar had been given 10 days to formally respond. The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had asked that a list of demands be both reasonable and actionable, and has admitted that certain points on the list will be difficult for Qatar to agree to. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a number of other countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. They cut diplomatic ties with the Gulf state on 5 June and implemented a blockade that includes air traffic and imports/exports. Turkey and Iran have helped mitigate Qatar’s isolation by flying food supplies to the Gulf state. Qatar continues to deny that it supports terrorism.Qatar unlikely to be able to meet all 13 of the demands made by the Saudi-led bloc in order to end its isolationClick To Tweet
The controversial deal to transfer sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia was ratified by the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, on 25 June. This followed the Egyptian parliament giving its approval on 14 June. The agreement was announced in April 2016, and has led to widespread protests across Egypt, as many view the transfer as a threat to national sovereignty. The decision to hand over the islands has faced a number of challenges, including a supreme court ruling on 21 June, which halted all decisions on the case until the constitutionality of the deal has been decided. Two previous rulings have stated that the transfer of sovereignty is invalid. The islands are uninhabited and have been under Egyptian administrative control since the 1950s.