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Monday, June 24, 2013

Sectarian Clashes Spread in Lebanon

In the bloodiest instance of Syria’s civil war seeping across the border to Lebanon, the Lebanese army battled hard-line Sunnis in Lebanon’s third-largest city, Sidon. Tensions have been rising ever since the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah sent fighters into Syria to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This bout of clashes started Sunday, when security forces detained a follower of extremist Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir and his supporters retaliated by opening fire on an army checkpoint. (Assir believes the Lebanese army is secretly helping Hezbollah.) The army stormed the mosque where Assir’s supporters had holed themselves up. By the evening, the army reported that while Assir’s whereabouts are unknown, most of his supporters had been captured or killed. At least 16 soldiers and 20 Assir supporters were killed. Hundreds more were wounded.

Supreme Court Rules on Affirmative Action and Workplace Harassment

The United States Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions policy on Monday. For now, its programs and similar ones across the country can remain unchanged. The justices also sent the case back to the lower courts, however, with orders to take a fresh look at affirmative action policy using a more demanding standard than is currently required. Specifically, the courts must “verify that it [racial classification] is necessary… to achieve the benefits of diversity.” In his opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy instructed them to investigate whether “a university could achieve sufficient diversity without racial classifications.” The court also narrowed the circumstances under which an employee could sue an employer for racial or sexual harassment, ruling that someone does not count as a supervisor unless they have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline” the employee.

Rifts Widen in Egypt

As the one-year anniversary of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s inauguration nears, secular opposition groups are planning major anti-government protests asking Morsi to step down. At pro-government rallies over the weekend, speakers threatened to “crush” the opposition, heightening fears that the protests will become violent. Egypt’s military chief General Abdel Fattal al-Sisi released a statement saying that the army would not allow Egypt to fall into a “dark tunnel” of violence and pledging to uphold the “will of the people.” It is not clear what he believes that will is. On Sunday, 3,000 people attacked the home of a local Shi’ite family, dragged four men out into the street and beat them to death with cries of “infidels.” Although Morsi condemned the “heinous crime,” opposition forces accuse him and the Muslim Brotherhood of tolerating ultraconservative Salafists’ inflammatory anti-Shi’ite rhetoric in exchange for their votes.

Qatari Emir Announces Transfer of Power to His Son

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani told members of the ruling family of his decision to step down as Qatari emir in favor of his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Sheikh Hamad has ruled Qatar for eighteen years, beginning its transformation into a fantastically rich modern state with disproportionate regional and global influence for its small size. The surprising decision comes at a time when Qatar sits at the center of the Middle East’s most difficult and intractable conflicts – supporting rebels in Syria and Libya, backing the militant group Hamas and hosting the Taliban embassy as a site of peace negotiations. His son has focused almost entirely on domestic issues, with a small international profile, causing many to wonder if this move signals Qatar taking a step back from its place on the world stage.

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