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Oil prices rise on Middle East tensions; crude stock build caps gains

Oil pump under the blue sky with beam pumping unit in the oil field.

Zheng Zaishuru | iStock | Getty Images

Oil prices rose towards $71 a barrel on Thursday on rising Middle East tensions, while fresh movement restrictions imposed by countries to counter a surge in COVID-19 cases threatened the demand recovery.

Brent crude oil futures rose by 98 cents, or 1.4%, to $71.35 per barrel, after earlier dipping below $70 for the first time since July 21.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 98 cents, or 1.4%, to $69.12 per barrel. Both benchmarks fell by more than $2 a barrel on Wednesday.

Israeli jets struck what its military said were rocket launch sites in Lebanon early on Thursday in response to two rockets fired towards Israel from Lebanese territory, in an escalation of cross-border hostilities amid heightened tensions with Iran.

The exchange came after an attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman last Thursday, which Israel blamed on Iran. Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed. Iran denied any involvement.

Asked if Israel was prepared to strike Iran, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz told YNet news on Thursday "yes."

The growing tensions come as nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers that would ease sanctions on Tehran's oil exports appear to have stalled.

"With tensions brewing amongst Iran and world powers over last week's drone attack, it seems nuclear deal talks will be lengthy and unlikely to provide imminent sanction relief for Iran," said Edward Moya, senior analyst at OANDA.

Offsetting the Mideast tensions, concerns over the recovery of global oil demand grew amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Japan is poised to expand emergency restrictions to more prefectures while China, the world's second-largest oil consumer, has imposed curbs in some cities and cancelled flights, threatening fuel demand.

"China is now facing its most challenging COVID-19 crisis since the initial outbreak was brought under control," analysts at consultancy FGE said in a note on Thursday.

In the United States, the world's biggest oil consumer, COVID-19 cases hit a six-month high with more than 100,000 infections reported on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Analysts at investment bank UBS, however, said they expect oil prices to resume their upward trend despite pandemic concerns, projecting Brent crude will trade between $75 and $80 per barrel in the second half of 2021.

Source: Oil prices rise on Middle East tensions; crude stock build caps gains

Study of Middle East DNA Reveals Complex Human History in the Region

a cliff next to a brick wall: The 2,600-year-old rock-cut tombs of Al-Khuraiba, in Saudi Arabia. © Image: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP (Getty Images) The 2,600-year-old rock-cut tombs of Al-Khuraiba, in Saudi Arabia.

A team of geneticists has sequenced 137 modern human genomes from the Middle East, shedding new light on how humans arrived in the region and how those populations changed as areas dried up.

The research goes a long way in a region where precious little is left of a fossil record. The recent aridification of the Arabian peninsula, especially, means that bones can get so brittle they can simply disintegrate when archaeologists pick them up, as Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Human History, recently told Gizmodo. Genetic evidence is easily lost to time. The team’s results draw on modern samples from eight different groups in the Levant, Iraq, and Arabia. Ancient genomes that had previously been constructed were also included in their analysis, which is published this week in the journal Cell.

“The Middle East is an important region to understand human history, migrations, and evolution: it is where modern humans first expanded out of Africa, where hunter-gatherers first settled and transitioned into farmers, where the first writing systems developed, and where the first major known civilizations emerged,” said Mohamed Almarri, a geneticist at the Sanger Institute in England and lead author of the study, in a Cell press release. “However, despite this importance, the region has been historically understudied in genomic studies.”

Expansions out of Africa, agricultural developments, and even climatological events can be interpreted from the genomic data, Almarri’s team said. Looking at ancient genomes from past Middle Eastern populations, the team determined that populations were able to grow as people began to settle down and started farming. 

a close up of a garden: A Palestinian farmer on the West Bank in June 2020. © Photo: HAZEM BADER/AFP (Getty Images) A Palestinian farmer on the West Bank in June 2020.

The researchers used a relatively new sequencing approach, called linked-read sequencing, that allowed them to reconstruct population histories as far back as 100,000 years ago. Geneticists can use the approach to analyze more of the genome, in this case identifying millions of genetic variants unique to Middle Eastern populations.

The researchers found that Middle Easterners descend from a population that left Africa between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. That makes a mini-mystery of the 88,000-year-old human finger bone found at a prehistoric lake site in Saudi Arabia; it may be that bone belonged to a human group that dispersed early and did not contribute to the modern gene pool in the region. Many anatomically modern humans left Africa earlier, but these genetics suggest that modern Middle Eastern populations descended from the group that left Africa around 50,000 years ago.

“Our study fills a major gap in international genomic projects by cataloguing genetic variation in the Middle East,” said co-author Chris Tyler-Smith, also a geneticist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, in the Cell release. “The millions of new variants we found in our study will improve future medical association studies in the region. Our results explain how the genetics of Middle Easterners formed over time, providing new insights, which complement knowledge from archaeology, anthropology, and linguistics.”

map: A satellite image of Saudi Arabia and environs in June 2007. © Photo: NOAA (Getty Images) A satellite image of Saudi Arabia and environs in June 2007.

Almarri and his co-author Marc Haber, a geneticist at the University of Birmingham in England, said in an email that a benefit of the research is being able to connect archaeological and ancient climate data with shifts in local population genetics. Population bottlenecks in Arabia 6,000 years ago and in the Levant 4,200 years ago point to moments when the verdant east began to dry up, the study authors said, with rapid aridification causing decreases in population sizes.

Based on when different groups mixed thousands of years ago, the team also evaluated how Semitic languages might have spread beyond the Levant, specifically pointing to the Bronze Age as a major point of intermixing, based on coincident timing between some of the genetic variations and previously determined dates for language divergence and evolution. The researchers also noted that Arabian populations have a much lower amount of Neanderthal ancestry than other Eurasians, indicating there was less admixture between our extinct close relatives and Arabian humans.

“It is exciting to see so much new genomic data from a crucial part of the world. It is interesting to see the genetic coherence of recent social groups, and, as the authors say, for things like understanding modern health, it is important to have good sampling of people around the world,” Huw Groucutt, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who wasn’t involved with the recent study, said in an email. He added, however, that there are limitations to genomic studies and that the recent team’s interpretations should be considered just that.

The team intends to follow up the research with a look at adaptation signals in the dataset, which could indicate how populations in the Middle East learned to survive in their environments when the region dried up. The recent discovery of a trove of animal bones, including human remains, in a Saudi lava tube will likely help in efforts flesh out this genetic portrait of the Middle East.

More: Hyenas Left a Massive Pile of Bones in a Saudi Arabian Lava Tube

Source: Study of Middle East DNA Reveals Complex Human History in the Region

Progress and Stagnation in the Middle East and North Africa

Why were some, but not all the Arab mass social protests of 2011 accompanied by relatively quick and nonviolent outcomes in the direction of regime change, democracy, and social transformation? Why was a democratic transition limited to Tunisia, and why did region-wide democratization not occur? After the Arab Uprisings offers an explanatory framework to answer these central questions, based on four key themes: state and regime type, civil society, gender relations and women's mobilizations, and external influence. Applying these to seven cases: Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Valentine M. Moghadam and Shamiran Mako highlight the salience of domestic and external factors and forces, uniquely presenting women's legal status, social positions, and organizational capacity, along with the presence or absence of external intervention, as key elements in explaining the divergent outcomes of the Arab Spring uprisings, and extending the analysis to the present day.

  • Draws on political science, political sociology, feminist theorizing, and Middle East studies for a cross-disciplinary approach
  • An accessible and organized study of the causes, course, and outcomes of the Arab Spring for undergraduate and postgraduate students
  • Uniquely presents women's legal status, social positions, and organizational capacity as key elements in the Arab Spring
  • Read more Reviews & endorsements

    'In their sweeping comparative analysis of the divergent outcomes of the Arab Spring, Mako and Moghadam not only highlight the importance of women's activism; they prove it was a fundamental determinant of those outcomes. This is a novel and powerful analysis that will be essential for understanding MENA since 2010.' Jack A. Goldstone, George Mason University

    'A brilliant multi-level and cross-national study of why the Arab Spring resulted in dramatically different outcomes for the Arab countries involved. Fine-grained top down and granular bottom up analyses of the causes of violent versus nonviolent responses to legitimate protests. Critical insights into lessons for democratic possibilities /or authoritarian regime pathways in a vital and contested region of the world. Must read for students of history and the Middle East.' Suad Joseph, University of California, Davis

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    × Product details
  • Date Published: July 2021
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108429832
  • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
  • weight: 0.582kg
  • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction and Overview2. Pathways to Democratization: The Arab Spring in Comparative Perspective3. States and Political Institutions4. Civil Society5. Gender and Women's Mobilizations6. International Connections and Interventions7. Findings and Conclusions.

    Look Inside
  • Index (118 KB)
  • Copyright Information Page (58 KB)
  • Table of Contents (32 KB)
  • Front Matter (246 KB)
  • Marketing Excerpt (117 KB)
  • Authors

    Shamiran Mako, Boston UniversityShamiran Mako is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University. A political scientist specializing in state formation and statebuilding, civil wars, ethnic and identity politics of the Middle East and North Africa, she is an editor of State and Society in Iraq: Citizenship under Occupation, Dictatorship and Democratization (2017) and her work has appeared in the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, International Journal of Minority and Group Rights, and Transitional Justice and Forced Migration: Critical Perspectives from the Global South (2019), among others.

    Valentine M. Moghadam, Northeastern University, BostonValentine M. Moghadam is Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Northeastern University where she specializes in the sociology, political economy, and gender politics of the Middle East and North Africa. She is the author of four books, including the award-winning Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Movements (2005), along with nine edited volumes and numerous journal articles and book chapters. In addition to her academic career, she has been a Senior Research Fellow at the United Nations University's WIDER Institute in Helsinki, Finland, and a section chief in the Social and Human Sciences Sector of UNESCO, Paris.

    Source: Progress and Stagnation in the Middle East and North Africa

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