Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tunisia votes in presidential election

Beji Caid Essebsi

Polls opened Sunday in Tunisia's first presidential election since the 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a ballot set to round off the transition to democracy. Twenty seven candidates are vying for the post and the favorite is former premier Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran whose anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party won the parliamentary elections last month.
Other candidates include outgoing President Moncef Marzouki, left-winger Hamma Hammami, several ministers who served Ben Ali, business magnate Slim Riahi and a lone woman, magistrate Kalthoum Kannou.
Some 5.3 million people are eligible to vote, with tens of thousands of police and troops deployed to guarantee security amid fears Islamist militants might seek to disrupt polling day.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bahrain to the urns in election boycotted by the opposition

Bahraini protestors hold signs calling for a boycott of the parliamentary elections, during a rally in the Shiite village of Diraz, west of Manama on November 21, 2014
Protesters against the elections in the Shi'ite village of Diraz, west of Manama (Photo AFP)

Bahrainis voted on Saturday in the first parliamentary elections since 2011 when large crowds, most Shi'ites,  took to the streets demanding more democracy. Some 419 candidates are running, 266 for parliament and 153 for municipal councils in the kingdom. But the elections were boycotted by the Shi'ite Muslim opposition over accusations that constituency changes would still favor the Sunni Muslim minority which is represented by the royal family of Al-Khalifa.
The opposition maintains that the new parliament will not have enough power and that voting districts still favor Sunnis despite some recent electoral changes. The opposition wants a "real" constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister independent from the Al-Khalifa family. But the Saudi-backed Sunni dynasty that rules over the majority Shiite kingdom has rejected the demand.

70th beheading of this year in S-Arabia

Saudi Arabia beheaded on Thursday a Turkish man convicted of drug trafficking in Riyadh, the interior ministry said, in the latest execution in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.
Ali Agridas was convicted of receiving a "large amount of drugs," the ministry said in a statement.
His execution brings to 70 the number of Saudis and foreigners beheaded in the kingdom this year, according to an AFP count, compared with 78 people in all of 2013.
Rape, murder, apostasy, drug trafficking and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic sharia law.
Moreover, Saudi judges have this year passed death sentences down to five pro-democracy advocates, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, for their part in protests.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Eight Egyptians missing, five wounded after attack on navy vessel

Eight Egyptian navy personnel are missing following an attack by militants on an armed forces boat in the Mediterranean, the army has said. Five injured navy personnel have been transferred to hospital, while searches are ongoing to locate another eight, a military spokesman said late on Wednesday.
Military forces destroyed four boats used by the assailants and arrested 32 suspects, he added.
A military naval boat was performing a combat exercise in the Mediterranean, 40 nautical miles north of Damietta port, when a number of boats fired at it on Wednesday.
This is the first attack on naval forces.
No information has been released on the identity of the assailants.
The army has been combating a decade-long jihadist insurgency in Sinai, with attacks increasing over the past year and expanding into Cairo and the Nile Delta. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed, while the army says it has killed and arrested hundreds of jihadists. Civilians have also been caught in the violence.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Yemen gets new cabinet, president ousted from his party

The new prime minister Khaled Bahah

Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was ousted as leader of his own political party, the group said on Saturday, according tot Reuters. The General People's Congress (GPC) accused Hadi of backing U.N. sanctions against its influential former chief, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years before resigning in 2012 following mass street protests.
Hadi's dismissal as party chief came the day after he moved to end Yemen's latest political crisis by naming a new power-sharing government in the country. It is a 36-member government, which was formed  under a peace deal agreed when Shiite Huthi rebels, who seized the capital on September 21.

The new government includes four women, one of whom takes the information and culture portfolio. Four members of the outgoing cabinet were reappointed and three more changed portfolios.
On November 1, the main political parties signed a new agreement, sponsored by UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar, for the formation of a government of technocrats. Under the accord, representatives of the rebels and their rivals, the Sunni Al-Islah (Reform) Islamic party, mandated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to form a government and committed to support it.
On October 31, the Houthis -- also known as Ansarullah -- increased pressure on Hadi by giving him 10 days to form a new government or face the creation of a "national salvation council". With the exception of the October 13 appointment of Khalid Bahah as premier, the September 21 deal with the rebels had remained a dead letter. Under the accord, the Houthis were to withdraw from Sanaa and disarm once a neutral prime minister is named.
The ousting of president Hadi from his own party was preceded on Friday by a protest march of thousands of supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Shiite rebels against the threat of UN sanctions against Saleh and insurgent chiefs. Saleh, who stepped down in early 2012 after a year of Arab Spring-inspired protests, is seen as the main backer of the rebels. His General People's Congress (GPC) party called for the protests, warning that any sanctions would exacerbate the crisis in Yemen.
The UN Security Council was set to endorse a US-drafted proposal to slap a visa ban and assets freeze on Saleh and two of his allies, Shiite Houthi rebel commanders Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim.The ousting of Hadi robs him of an important power base and makes the situation in Yemen even more volatile.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gunmen kill well-known Yemeni politician

Unknown gunmen assassinated a senior Yemeni politician, rights activist and author, Dr. Mohammed Abdulmalik Al-Mutawakil, on Sunday in downtown Sanaa. The authorities said two gunmen carried out the shooting, using a motorbike in Al-Adl Street.
The incident happened as the Houthi Militant Group are continuing its control of the capital and other provinces. Al-Mutawakil was a supporter of the Houthis but against violence and attempts to incite chaos by force. Al-Mutawakil held several posts within Yemeni governments, including minister of supplies in 1976. He furthermore worked as a college professor, was a founder of the Nasserite Party and established and participated in several human rights, democratic and freedom organizations.
Yemen has been facing a series of targeted killings mostly against military and security commanders, politicians and activists since 2011. Most incident have been carried out by motorbike attackers most of whom are still at large.

Israel adopts new law that prohibits exchange of prisoners convicted of murder

Israel's parliament has passed a law that could block the release in any future peace negotiations of Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder, a spokesman said Tuesday. The 120-member Knesset voted late Monday 35 to 15 in favour of the bill, which was initiated by a far-right politician and approved by the cabinet in June, a parliament spokesman told AFP.
The law gives judges the power to convict murderers under a new category of "extraordinarily severe circumstances" which would prevent the government from releasing them in any future deals.
Israel freed 78 Palestinian prisoners during failed US-backed peace talks between July 2013 and April, including many who had been convicted for murdering Israeli civilians. In 2011 it released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been held for five years by the Palestinian  group Hamas.
The releases angered hardliners such as Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party who initiated the new law earlier this year. But left-leaning politicians have said the law would tie Israel's hands in future talks, with Zehava Gal-On of the Meretz party accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "capitulating to the extreme right and supporting a demagogic law."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cairo court: three years for eight men who took part in ''gay-wedding''

Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanour Court on Saturday sentenced eight men to three years in prison on charges of "debauchery", and to three years probation after their release.The men convicted were shown appearing to take part in a Nile boat wedding celebration featuring two men as the celebrants. The video went viral on social media sites.
A man who said he was one of those who appeared in the video denied the allegations in an interview with privately-owned Rotana Masriya television channel in early September. He said he was holding a birthday party for his friend and got him a silver ring as a birthday gift. Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat watched the video and confirmed that the footage was of two men getting married, a statement from the prosecution said. The defendants have been detained since early September as per an order from Egypt's prosecutor-general to investigate charges of debauchery and spreading acts that violate public decency.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Egypt's El-Sisi cracks down on university students
Riot police in actionm at the Azhar university in Cairo (March 2014)

A good story by Reuters press agency: 
Hundreds of police surround its walls, patrolling in armoured vehicles with sirens blaring, while muscle-bound security guards man metal detectors, searching all who enter.
But this is not a military barracks or police station, it is Cairo University, where the government has tightened security as it seeks to avert another year of unrest on university campuses, among the last bastions of protest and dissent in Egypt.
The government has cracked down on critics since July 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was banned, thousands of its supporters were locked up and hundreds were killed when police broke up two protest camps last year. The net has since widened to include secular activists who played a leading role in the 2011 uprising that toppled long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak and ignited hopes for deeper change.
As the noose tightened around activists and the government banned unlicensed demonstrations, Egypt's state universities emerged as one of the few remaining spaces to express dissent.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Egypt creating buffer zone along border with Gaza

October 26, 2014
Egyptian border seen from Rafah.

Egyptian authorities are set to create a buffer zone along the shared border with Gaza following an attack that killed 30 soldiers on Saturday. Egyptian military sources told Ma'an that all houses and farmland 500 meters deep along the 13-kilometer (eight-mile) border will be evacuated, with the exception of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.
AP reported that the buffer zone, which will include water-filled trenches to thwart tunnel diggers, will be 500 meters wide and extended along the 13 kilometer border. Army officers spoke to the affected residents in person and initially gave them a 48-hour ultimatum to l eave, but put that on hold after they protested, officials said. Residents groups are now negotiating with local officials to see if they can extend the deadline.
Ma'an says that the decision was taken by the Egyptian Defense Council and all work will likely be completed by the end of 2014.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Egyptian judge orders te re-arrest Alaa Abdel Fattah and 19 others

The Cairo Criminal Court has ordered the detention of 20 defendants in the Shura Council case, including activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, until the next trial date of November 11. Monday’s court session was the first since the judge presiding over the case stepped down in September and released Abd El-Fattah and two other defendants from prison on bail.
The defendants face charges of organizing an unauthorized protest last November outside the Shura Council. They are also accsued of having attacked a police officer, stolen a walkie-talkie, hooliganism, having blocked the road adn crowded in a public place plus the destruction of public property.
My release is a ‘conspiracy’: Alaa Abdel Fattah (AFP File Photo) Last June, the 25 defendants were sentenced to 15 years jail in absentia and a LE100,000 fine. However,Abd El Fattah, Mohamed Noubi and Wael Metwally were arrested outside the Police Academy at Tora prison on the morning of the trial.Twenty-one defendants demanded a retrial, two were sentenced in absentia and the remaining two did not file for a retrial. With the exception of Metwally, all of the defendants were present during Monday’s court session along with their lawyers and family members.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Three years for 23 Egyptian activistst who demonstrated against anti-democratic anti-protest law

The 23 convicted protestres . Sana Seif and Yara Allam are the second and third fro the left on the top row. (Ahram Online)

An Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced 23 pro-democracy activists to three years in jail for organising illegal protests, the latest in several verdicts against political activists in recent months. They included activist Sana Seif, sister of prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah, rights activist and lawyer Yara Sallam, photojournalist Abdel-Rahman Mohamed of Al-Badil news website and photographer Rania El-Sheikh.
The 23 have also been fined LE10,000 (approximately $1,390) and will be placed under police surveillance for three years after having served their jail time.
The 23 were arrested on 21 June during a demonstration calling for the appeal of the protest law which bans demonstrations without police authorisation and punishes violators with imprisonment.