Prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr among 47 executed in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties to Iran after Saudi missions in Tehran are attacked.
All chemical weapons declared by Syria have been destroyed, OPCW says.
Iraqi army recaptures Ramadi from ISIS, but 80 percent of the city is in ruins.
One million refugees and migrants reached Europe in 2015, UNHCR says.
ISIS attacks key oil facilities in Libya.
The Ten Most Important Developments in Syria in 2015 | By Aron Lund, Syria Comment
I wrote a post for Syria Comment last year listing the top events of 2014 and what to look for in 2015. So here’s another one—a very long one, in fact. It has been compiled in bits and pieces over a few weeks but was finalized only now, a few days after the fact.
In keeping with the buzzfeedification of international political writing, I have decided to make it a top ten list and to provide very few useful sources, just a lot of speculative opinion. I’ll rank them from bottom to top, starting with number ten and moving on to the biggest deal of them all.
The Palestianian Leadership Crisis | By Khaled Elgindy, Markaz
After ten years in power, Abbas presides over a Palestinian polity that is more divided and dysfunctional than ever. In addition to the debilitating split between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank, the Palestinian polity continues to be plagued by endemic corruption, institutional decline, and growing authoritarianism. The Palestinian economy is crippled by recurring budget shortfalls, a massive internal debt, rising unemployment, and an over-dependency on international donor aid. Meanwhile, Abbas’s four-year term has long since expired and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not convened in more than eight years. At the same time, Abbas’s rule has become increasingly repressive and intolerant of dissent, while the absence of a functioning parliament—or even a viable political opposition—has eliminated any meaningful mechanisms of accountability.
Saudi Arabia’s Dangerous Sectarian Game | By Toby Craig Jones, The New York Times
WHEN Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, the country’s leaders were aware that doing so would upset their longtime rivals in Iran. In fact, the royal court in Riyadh was probably counting on it. It got what it wanted. The deterioration of relations has been precipitous: Protesters in Tehran sacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy; in retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties. More severe fallout could follow — possibly even war.
Why did Saudi Arabia want this now? Because the kingdom is under pressure: Oil prices, on which the economy depends almost entirely, are plummeting; a thaw in Iranian-American relations threatens to diminish Riyadh’s special place in regional politics; the Saudi military is failing in its war in Yemen.
In this context, a row with Iran is not a problem so much as an opportunity. The royals in Riyadh most likely believe that it will allow them to stop dissent at home, shore up support among the Sunni majority and bring regional allies to their side. In the short term, they may be right. But eventually, stoking sectarianism will only empower extremists and further destabilize an already explosive region.