Day of reckoning for a dictator: Omar al-Bashir, once Sudan's strongman, is now living the nightmare. Like a Shakespearean king who has long known he'll pay the price of all usurpers, Bashir went on trial on Tuesday, along with alleged accomplices, for his role in the 1989 military coup that toppled an elected government and brought him to power. His 30-year reign was first jeopardized in 2018 by large protests against austerity measures imposed on his people. When a military crackdown only made the crowds larger, the army agreed to oust him in April 2019. If convicted, Bashir could be executed, though Sudan's new government — a council composed of both civilian and military officials — has promised that he'll also face genocide charges at the International Criminal Court over his role in the still-unresolved Darfur conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands since 2003. This trial marks the first time in the modern history of the Arab world that a leader has faced justice for a coup that brought him to power. The trial has been adjourned until August 11.
UK ends ban on Saudi arms sales: The UK is ready to resume weapons exports to Saudi Arabia after a one-year moratorium. In June 2019, a British court ruled that those sales were unlawful if the arms would later be used against civilians in Yemen, where the Saudi military has been fighting Houthi rebel forces since 2015. The UK government said it is now confident that the Saudis will not use British-made weapons in Yemen in any way that violates international humanitarian law. The decision to end the ban has raised ethical concerns about the UK's involvement in this war, where thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed by Saudi strikes. Prior to the ban, the UK was the second top arms seller to Saudi Arabia after the US. Meanwhile, the war in Yemen — considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis right now — continues this week with a fresh Saudi campaign against the Houthis, following a short-lived ceasefire due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Saudis got bad news this week: Their taxes are going up and the housing allowance the state provides for government employees will be cut. (Most Saudis work for the government.) The need for belt-tightening is obvious. Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago, despite a new Saudi production cut meant to prop them up, and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. The state has ordered a full lockdown across the kingdom from May 23-27 at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Tenuous cease-fire in Yemen: The Saudi-UAE led coalition that has been battling Houthi rebels in Yemen announced Thursday a unilateral ceasefire, responding to a UN call for a halt in hostilities as coronavirus threatens one of the poorest countries in the world. Details are murky but the measure is to last for at least 14 days. The coalition's Houthi insurgent opponents, for their part, seem to have agreed to a cessation of hostilities but only if the Gulf states lift a yearlong air blockade. While there are potentially crossed signals, the ceasefire itself is still the most significant step towards peace in a five year civil war that's already killed some 100,000 people and left millions exposed to disease and starvation. Though no COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Yemen (likely because of a lack of testing), the country's decrepit medical system could not withstand a serious outbreak of disease. The UN hopes this lull in fighting will pave the way for broader peace talks. Past attempts at halting the conflict have failed, and recent months actually saw increased fighting in a war that is largely viewed as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Will the specter of a pandemic finally bring these bitter rivals to the table?
North Koreans bearing gifts? – What kind of present will North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un leave under the tree for President Trump this year? US spooks are worried it could be a missile test: Talks over the North's nuclear arsenal have stalled since a summit between the two leaders broke down in February, leaving Pyongyang chafing under US sanctions. Testing a new ICBM that could reach the US would be one way for Kim to get Trump's attention, but it might provoke the US to seek even tighter financial curbs against the North. China, South Korea, and Japan have engaged in a flurry of diplomacy in recent days to try to tamp down rising tensions.