New Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa since March 1, 2020. Seven-day rolling average, day by day.

New Covid-19 cases recorded in the Middle East and North Africa averaged 20,176 a day during the past week — the lowest figure for more than a year. Numbers have declined sharply since mid-August when they peaked at 73,000 a day.

Iran, which has been reporting high figures since the…


The OPCW, the international body that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, is facing an unprecedented situation where Russia and Syria — two of its member states, far from upholding the ban on chemical weapons, stand accused of using them. …


In April last year a report by the OPCW, the international chemical weapons watchdog, blamed the Assad regime for two sarin attacks on Ltamenah in northern Syria. …


Detained as a “security threat”: student Patrick George Zaki

Patrick George Zaki, a 27-year-old Egyptian, was studying for a postgraduate degree at Bologna University in Italy. In February 2020 he returned to Egypt for a family visit — only to be arrested on arrival at Cairo airport.

Zaki has been in custody ever since, awaiting a trial which finally…


Chapter 1: Making excuses

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Hundreds of people died — many of them in their sleep — when rockets hit Ghouta, a rebel-held area on the outskirts of Damascus, in the early hours of 21 August 2013. Thousands more were injured and the symptoms of survivors suggested exposure to…


Chapter 2: The ‘propaganda’ professors

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Syria’s vague talk of rebels getting sarin from foreign governments or cooking it up in their kitchens didn’t amount to a credible defence against the accusations of using chemical weapons. Meanwhile Russia’s efforts to counter the UN investigators’ report with spurious claims suggested it…


Chapter 3: A battle of narratives

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Claiming that Syrian rebels had faked the chemical attacks wasn’t simply a case of making excuses for the regime: it also served a political narrative constructed by the regime and its “anti-imperialist” defenders. They sought to portray the conflict not as the result of…


Chapter 4: Reprisals Averted

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Evidence that sarin had been used in Syria presented the United States with a dilemma over how to respond. A year before the Ghouta attack President Obama had warned that chemical weapons were a red line as far as the US was concerned. At…


Chapter 5: Russia’s role

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Russia was a founding member of the Chemical Weapons Convention but when conflict broke out in Syria its relations with the Assad regime took priority. The two countries had pre-existing ties, some of which were economic. In 2010, the last year before the conflict…

Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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