Meet the powerful Iranian cleric looking to unseat Rouhani

Ebrahim Raisi emerges as the conservative consensus candidate in Iran’s upcoming May presidential elections.
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 Rohollah Faghihi for Al-Monitor Iran Pulse on February 21

Pro-Kurdish HDP leader kicked out of Turkish parliament

In Turkey’s latest salvo against the pro-Kurdish bloc, the parliament has expelled Peoples’ Democratic Party co-leader Figen Yuksekdag, who remains in jail with fellow leader Selahattin Demirtas and at least nine other HDP deputies while the ruling party continues its legal assaults ahead of the presidential referendum.
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 Amberin Zaman for Al-Monitor on February 21

Why Israel's ultra-Orthodox are fighting fur ban

A move to ban the sale of fur in Israel is being blocked by Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are hanging on to the tradition of wearing expensive fur hats on the Sabbath and other holy days.
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 Mordechai Goldman on February 21

Who are real losers of US veto at UN against former Palestine PM?

The United States' blocking of Salam Fayyad as an envoy to the UN secretary-general has reminded the world of the former Palestinian prime minister's applauded reputation.
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 Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor on February 21

Is Jordan's state security court a threat to freedom of expression?

As the Jordanian authorities arrested about 20 activists and referred them to the controversial State Security Court, some have been voicing criticism against the use of loose charges to silence peaceful opposition voices.
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 Mohammad Ersan on February 21

Trump's warm embrace of Netanyahu nothing for Jews to celebrate

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revels over his meeting with President Donald Trump, US and Australian Jews are uncomfortable with his warm relations with a volatile and anti-Muslim leader.
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 Akiva Eldar on February 21

Why Moscow now sees value in Syrian local councils

Russia has come to realize that some opponents of the Syrian regime are actually moderates rather than terrorists and that a move to empower local governments could help resolve the conflict.
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Anton Mardasov for Al-Monitor on February 20

Saudi clerics keep mum about concerts in the kingdom

The new open-minded tendencies of the Saudi Royal Court are causing controversy with the conservative religious establishment in the kingdom, especially concerning concerts.
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 Ibrahim al-Hatlani on February 20

Sisi’s call to annul verbal divorce sparks controversy

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for new legislation to limit verbal divorce, raising the ire of Egyptians who believe the president should prioritize economic issues.
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 Sarah El Shalakany on February 20

Why Iranian government’s debt problem isn’t going away

Despite the Iranian government’s decision to repay billions of dollars owed to local banks, in the broader picture, it will remain saddled with problematic debt until it turns to bonds rather than loans for financing.
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 Alireza Ramezani for Al-Monitor Iran Pulse on February 21

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