Monday, January 31, 2011

Mubarak bides his time, new showdown expected on Tuesday

Tahrir. (Photo Ramy Raoof)

 Protesters were still camping on Tahrir Square on Monday morning, and people started to move towards this central square, as a general strike is foreseen for Today. The April 6 movement, a movement that grew out of the January 25 protests, called for a 'march of the millions' to be held on Tuesday. On Sunday also Egypt's judges decided to join the protests.
The opposition parties decided to join ranks on Sunday and appointed a committee headed by Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency of The UN. ElBaradei on Sunday apeared among the protesters at Tahrir Square, an apearance which seemed to impress the international press more than the protesters as many Egyptians Twittered. Al Masry al-Youm reported that ElBaradei got a mandate to hold talks with the regime of Mubarak about a peaceful transition of power.  However, it was not yet clear which parties backed the intiative to form an interim government headed by ElBaradei. From some sides it was reported that among others the Muslim Brotherhood participated in the initiative, but this was not confirmed by the Brotherhood itself.
Also it is far from clear how much backing ElBaradei has from the people in the street.  ElBaradei is seen by many  as someone  who has been living too long in the West, with the Egyptian public at large he is rather unkwown. Also he did not play any role in te preparation of the protests. If the current movement has any leaders, then it might be the internet generation, the bloggers, young intellectuals and the people who called for the demonstrations to be held.    

 
 The ,leaders of the 'April 6 movement' at the press conference where they announced that Tuesday will be the day of the 'March of the millions'. (Photo Al-Masry Al-Youm) 

Mubarak, in the meantime, seems to bide his time. Apparently he is trying to rally the support of the army for his regime and hoping  that a hesitant West will help to keep him in power. On Sunday he made another appearance on State tv, where he was seen with his new prime minister, Amed Safiq, and some military men. CNN reports that  he gave a statement that  ''The current stage requires us to reorganize the country's priorities in a way that acknowledges the legitimate demands of the people.' Also he urged those charged with shaping the new Cabinet - specifically, the  newly appointed  Shafiq - to pursue 'a wide range of dialogue with all the (political) parties'. And that would 'achieve the democratic process.
Empty talks for  president who's hours in office are numbered, as few would doubt. Mubarak also resorted to  the same tactics as his deposed Tunisian collegue  Ben Ali in vain tried out, when  he blamed the clashes and looting that took place on Muslim fanatics:  'The citizens and the young people of Egypt have gone out to the streets in peaceful demonstration asking for their right for the freedom of speech. However, their demonstrations have been infiltrated by a group of people who use the name of religion who don't take into consideration the constitution rights and citizenship values, the tv quoted him as saying.


Grafitti on tank: Down with Mubarak, down with the regime. (Photo Ramy Raoof)

The situation  in the streets seems to be under control, in the meantime. The army has increased its presence, and installed checkpoint in several places in Cairo. Yesterday evening at the time the curfew, that was again massively igmored, had to take effect,  F-16's and helicopters flew over central Cairo in an apparent attempt to intimidate, and maybe testifying that also in ten army and airforce there is conusion about what to do. The police is back in the streets in limited numbers and seems to have orders not to shoot. Yesterday evening still some shooting was heard, but teh sources remained unclear. Neighbourhood guards are still on the alert.    

 Burned out headquarters of the ruling NDP party. (Photo Ramy Raoof)


The European ministers of Foreign Affairs Today have a meeting in Brussels where the situation in Egypt will be discussed. Israel has instructed its diplomatic staff to lobby in favor of maintaining the regime of Mubarak, thereby demonstrating that the 'only democracy' in the Middle East is actively trying to keep a dictator in power. In Washington more decision maker seem to rally to the conviction that Mubarak is doomed, but the offcial declarations don't go beyond the demand that 'reform is needed'.  

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A vice-president as a deus ex machina, and more protests to come

The appointment of lieutenant general Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt's mukhabarat (intelligence), as vice-president is not going to change anything. Suleiman (74), a man who among other things is responsible for maintaining the siege of Gaza and who acted frequently as a go-between in the framework of the 'peace process' between Israel and the Palestinians, is very much considered to be one of Mubarak's men. His appointment, Saturday evening, as the first vice-president Mubarak ever chose in the 30 years of his presidency, may be welcomed in the US and Israel - although the Americans made some remarks that 'changing the deck is not enough' and  that real change is needed. For the Egyptians however, Suleiman is just another extension of  Mubarak's regime. In the streets of Cairo the slogans were immediately adapted to the changing circumstances: the people no longer asked for Mubarak alone to go, but included Suleiman as well.
No need of course to say much about the choice of Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister. He is even more Mubarak's man than Suleiman, since he once served in the airforce as a pilot in Mubarak's  squadron. But apart from that,  prime ministers in a system like Egypt's don't mean that much. They are mainly the executive arm of the president and can be replaced by someone else like a pair of shoes.
Of course there were also speculations that the nomination of Suleiman was just a preparation for Mubarak to step down and transfer the power to this deputy. But alsothat would be nothing but a continuation of the regime.
Protesters ride on a tank through Cairo. The military have been greeted by the people when they stepped in, but still it is not completely clear if the army will take sides. (Photo Ramy Raoof)

So the intifada is going to continue. And the prospects are not only good. Amidst continuing uncertainty about which side the army is on, the presence of the military was increased in the streets. Communications are still not fully restored. Also the Egyptian authorities ordered the office of Al-Jazeera, the channel that without any doubt had by far the best coverage of the events till now, to close. A bad omen that more violence might be coming. So far there are well over a 100 dead and far more than a 1000 wounded.
The latest news however is that protesters are again reurning to the streets. As for looting and thuggery the situation seems to be calm by now. There were reports of looting. Among other things the big Carrefour supermaket in the luxury suburb of Ma'adi was plundered. The Egyptian Museum was broken into and two mummies were destroyed and in many quarters shops and property were destroyed.  Many of the looting and thurggery seemed to be the work of government beltagi's (thugs - a well known Egyptian phenomenon in some quarters who are master of their quater or street), but who in this case seemd to be government beltagi's, or rather policemen in civilian clothes and often armed. My friend Noha Radwan, who managed to get back to Cairo Yesterday morning from the US where she teaches at a university, tells me that right now the situation is under control. Committees of armed  civilians that were formed spontaneously, protect property in many quarters, while other civilians are directing traffic, as the police have completely disappeared from the streets. Noha also stresses that the extend of the looting seems to be rather exaggerated by the foreign media, as it in fact took place on a rather limited scale.
Slogan in Cairo: Down with Mubarak and Gamal.
   

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anticlimax - the struggle is not over yet

Egypte has been living through a day of protests on a scale that the country probably has not seen since the months that preceded the revolution of 1952. Like in those days buildings were attacked and property destroyed. In Cairo the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was looted and set on fire. The  same thing thing happend to a number of local  NDP offcices throughout the country. Police stations, and numerous police vehicles were also burned. Also more mundane looting of shops took place.
Fierce street battles were fought in Suez where the number of dead was at least 27, in Alexandria (where the number is believed to be even higher, and in Cairo itself. This Saturday morning 30 bodies were discovered in the Cairo morgue, according to Al-Jazeera English, which added to the five dead that already were known. The known toll  is rising while I write amd may reach tens more.  The number of wounded was over 1000 in Cairo alone.
A dusk to dawn curfew (6 pm till 7 am) was announced for the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez and lateron for the whole of the country, but it was massively neglected. At the same time it was to take effect, the army stepped in, with tanks and APC's (Armoured personel carriers) entering the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. In all three cities the military took positions in the centre (Tahrir Square in Cairo) and around vital positions  (oil installations in Suez, the radio and tv building in Maspero in Cairo). Which role the army is going to play is still not clear. In some instances it intervened in fights between the police and the crowds on the side of the people, elsewhere it chased the crowds away.
The main thing however is the position of the regime. Mubarak finally appeared on tv late last night and gave maybe the most dispappointing speech of  his whole career (which says something for of one who is familiar with the usual quality of his appearances). He said some things about the freedom of the people to demonstrate and express an opinion at the one hand, and talked about the thin line that cannot be crossed towards chaos and anarchy at the other. Under the circumstances his remarks were nothing but butterly insulting. He than went on to announce that he will replace the government.
Of course this is not going to satisfy the people. They were not asking to replace the servants, but demanding that the master himself leave. To quote just one of the many slogans 'Koule shaab ya'oul we yenadi, Hosni Mubarak barra biladi'.  (All the  people say and call: Hosni Mubarak out of my country. - Angry Arab -(professor Asa'ad Abu Khalil)  put a whole collection on his blog. They read like a collection of  beautiful folk poetry).
So, to sum it all up: the protests will go on. As Arabist put it on his blog 'We may be in the middle of a revolution but are not there quite yet'. What and how has yet to transpire. Although some protests still seem to be going on, the real answer to Mubarak's speech is not expected before three o'clock. From that m,oment on,. the situation is expected to be extremely volatile. There is no clarity about the situation within the regime itself. The hours that went before Mubarak finally gave his speech, that was announced at the beginning of the evening, and the fact that Fathi Sorour (speaker of the parliament) at a certain moment was to speak in his place, seem to testifiy to confusion, if not dissent, within the ruling circles. The role of the army also is yet far from clear, with Chief of Staff Sami Enan just only today returning from a visit in the US. And as far as the US itself is concerned, clear signs that the Obama administration may be considering to drop Mubarak, but apparently has not yet made up its mind. An extremely nervous White House spokesman Robert Gibbs yesterday at a press conference said that Egypt might to have to reconsider the assistance it is giving to Egypt if repression of the protests would continue. Also he refused to answer a question whether Obama still 'stands with'  Mubarak. Obama himself in a speech later in the evening remained vague, and only stressed that differences have to be overcome in a dialogue between people and goverment and that the government has to respond to the wishes of the people. We may assume that behind the scenes feverish consultations are going on on what to do with Mubarak, but so far no clarity yet.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

Protests also in Jordan

Friday 28 January. Also in Jordan demonstrations took place after prayers. Several thousands marched in the streets in Amman (picture by Ali Abunimah), several more thousands in the other big cities of Jordan. The demonstrators, among which the Islamic Action Front (political arm of the  Muslim Brotherhood) had a strong presence, asked the government of Samir Rifa'i to step down and shouted slogans against it (economic) policies. After the march the demonstrations dissolved in a quiet manner.    

Egypt - cut off from the world - prepares for the big showdown

Internet is completely dead since midnight on Thursday, telephone lines, mobile as well as land lines,  are cut as well in the whole of Egypt. This is the government's preparation for the big demonstration that is foreseen for today, Friday, after the prayers. Usually millions visit the mosques on Friday and millions are expected to take part. On the internet Yesterday a list of about 30 mosques and churches was circulating, where the protests are to start at about 12.00 Egyptian time.  
Last night, just before the internet was cut off, the news on Twitter from trustworthy sources was that government thugs were setting fire to cars and destroying other property, apparently in order for the government to be able to put the blame on the protesters and give it an excuse to apply the harshest measures in coping with the unrest. Also there was news that some 20 leaders of the  Moslim Brotherhood were lifted from their beds, after the MB made an announcement that its memebers were expected to take part in the protests. Rumors have it that al;so other prominent opponents of the regime were arrested. (Between brackets: the announcemnet by the Brotherhood that its memebers will be present in the demonstration is nothing new. The Brotherhood announced much earlier, already before the start of the protests on 25 January, that it backs the uprising. But the MB as such has kept itself on the sidelines of the protests, which is entirely in the hands of the street and what is called 'the internet generation': people who prepared the ground  for these protest via blogs, Facebook and Twitter.)
The protesters Today can expect the most heavy repression yet from a governement that is fighting for its survival. Water cannons, sticks, rubber bullets, tear gas, but live ammunition as well. War scenes like in this second picture - Yesterday taken in Suez - might transpire in Cairo or other places as well.       

Thursday, January 27, 2011

RCD ministers leave Tunisian cabinet - except prime minister

The minister belonging to the Rassemblement Constitutionel Démocratique (RCD), the party of former president Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali, have demissioned from the Tunisian transition cabinet, after days of pressure from the Tunesian street, the trade union UGTT and political circles. Also on Thursday there wsas a mass protest in the centre of Tunis with thousands participating.
The first to leave the goverment was the minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamel Morjane, who is married to a relative of Ben Ali. Later on Thursday evening, the ministers of  the Interior, Defense and Finance followed.  All in all 12 ministers will be replaced. The changes have the backing of the UGTT. The only remaining RCD-minister in the cabinet is prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.

Egyptian, Tunisians, Yemenis on the street to demand change

EGYPT



 In the picture: Egyptian plainclothes policemen make an arrest. At least a thousand people are in custody after another day of protests, which took place in at least five Egyptian cities, but probably more (there were reports as well from rural areas like Fayoum). In Cairo the protests spread out throughout the city and lasted till midnight. Some burned tires in the streets. The police used water cannon, teargas, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. In some places violent clashes were reported, whereby police and protesters pelted each other with stones. Two people were killed on Wednesday, one of them a policeman in Bulaq, an area of Cairo. The death toll now stands at six, the number of wounded is in the hundreds.

Al-Jazeera did a good job in putting events together.

In the city of Suez the situation went out off hand on Wednesday. Protesters burned down a government building and set fire to an office of the ruling party NDP. Police used live ammunition. Suez, a city which name has a certain connotation in Egypt as it is the place where a fight with the British took place in '52 that was one of the incidents that led to the 1952 revolution, has been cut off from the rest of the world. Also internet and phone lines seem to have been out of order. On Thursday the protests resumed, Al-Masry al-Youm reported, with protesters setting fire to a police station 
In Cairo the protests continued as ell. Several bridges over the Nile in Cairo were blocked and protesters were gathering in more than one place, like the preceding day. The stock exchange was closed after the index fell 6.5 %, after it was reopened it went down 10%.
Pprime minisyer Ahmed Nazif said on Wednesday that the government guarantees the freedom of expression, but only if executed by 'legitimate' means. Demonstrations are not legitimate under the state of emergency which is in vigour since 1981. The American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt on Wednesday to permit demonstrations and not to block social media like Twitter and Facebook. She also said that it was time for Egypt to introduce changes.
Political parties are virtually absent in the protests. The Muslim Brotherjood as a movement, did nottake in the protests so far. This Friday, however, the Muslim Brotherhhood has promised that many of it followers will take part in the protests. Mohammed ElBaradei, the leader of the Movement for Change, returned to Egypt on Thursday from Viennna where he lives, and will also take part. Baradei said that he is ready to lead a government of transition, but but it is not at all clear whether he is going to play an important role in the events to come. Friday will, at any rate, probably be the day of the final showdown between the street and the government. Egyptians are called to go out massively unto the streets after the Friday prayers.


YEMEN
Crowds of several thousands of people were out in the streets of the Yemeni capital Sana'a on Thursday, demanding that president Ali Abdallah Saleh, who rules the country since 1978, step down. There have been smaller protest in the past days in Sana'a. On Saturday  Tawakul Karman, a woman activist (here in the middle of the picture) was arrested which led to more demonstrations the day after. She was released on Monday. Thursday's protest, however, is much bigger than the preceding ones, it is clearly inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt.
Unrest in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been endemic for quite some time. The north has, led by the Shiite Houthi clan, for years been fighting a war against the central government, which was brought to a halt  with a cease fire in February 2010. The situation is still very tense, though. The south, which, like the north, feels it is under represented in the government and neglected by the central government (a feeling it harbors ever since the two countries North and South Yemen united in the 90 ties), has also been the scene of  popular unrest since at least a year, with numerous mass demonstrations and even local rebellions against the regime.     

TUNISIA
 In Tunis several hundreds of protesters were still camping in front of the prime minister's office on Thursday, demanding that the ministers in the government with ties to the former ruling party RCD step down. It was the fourth night of the protsters in front of the building. The UGTT, the trade union which played a big role in the protests that led to the departure of former president Zine al Abedin Ben Ali, has called for a general strike to be held this Thursday. Also there will be a big manifestation in Sidi Bouzid, the place were the revolt began. In the meantime Ahmed Mestiri, a former Justice minister from the era of president Bourguiba, is still trying to have a 'revolutionary council'  installed, that can oversee the transition government and partially take its place. The governement itself on Wednesday issued an international arrest warrant against Ben Ali.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Diary of an Egyptian in the middle of the demonstration on Tahrir


Protester with cartoon by Latuff: Mubarak & a shoe

In the past I have been a correspondent for Dutch radio and the newspaper de Volkskrant in Cairo. For some time there I was helped with translations by  Noha Radwan, who nowadays is an assistant professor of Arabic at the University of California and still a good friend. I am happy and proud that after all this time she 'worked' for me again and sent me the following:
 
This is a faithful and unpolished translation of an eyewitness report that appeared on facebook shortly after Tuesday midnight Cairo time. The writer was one of the last dispersed by the security forces. While it is written in an obviously hasty and simple style, it says a lot about the nature of the Egyptian demonstrations and the make up of the participants. It is also makes it clear that even after the forceful dispersal of the demonstrators, they are still determined to keep working on bringing down the Mubarak regime.

I have just returned home from the demonstrations, tired, hungry and chilled because of the water cannons they used on us. I will write this in colloquial Arabic, don’t even have the energy to write it in proper standard Arabic but what I have seen needs to be told and made known to everyone. What I saw today was a series of great surprises, truly great.
Surprise one: There was a large number of people, as you have seen on TV. Everyone thought that they would be the only one and that the rest would stay at home as ususal but that was not what happened.
Surprise two: Most of the demonstrators were quite young, ‘yuppies of the facebook’. They looked like they were relatively well off. And there were many professionals. I saw people from my university that I had not seen in years. I was surprised that they took to the street despite the fact that they are not suffering as much as many other people.
Surprise three: Although most of the demonstrators were young, there were some really old people who had to walk slower than everyone else. There were also some people who brought their children.
Surpise four: There were many girls, more girls than boys in our group, and they looked like they were raised in gold cocoons and would not know how to cross the streets by themselves but they turned out to be tougher than the guys.
Surprise five: We were a little afraid for the girls, that they may be harassed. They were not. Everyone was very well behaved. This shows that the previous allegations of harassment may have been government provocateurs.
Surprise six: There was no violence at all. Even when some of the guys began to attack the armored cars that were spraying the water, the demonstrators chanted: “non-violent, non-violent”.
Surprise seven: After our sit-in in Tahrir Square, some of the demonstrators began to clean the place of the sit-in to prove that we were civilized.
Surprise eight: When I later looked at the square, it was indeed clean.
Surprise nine: A girl who was in our group kept swearing by the prophet and the Quran [Muslims acceptably do this as proof of sincerity]. Later I found out that she was Christian. No one noticed or cared. Why is it that when we are all chanting for our nation, these minor differences disappear.
Surprise ten: there was a lot of joy and pride that we felt when we shouted out the name of our country. We shouted “Egypt Egypt,” and people clapped. The name of the country you call home and where you want to spend the rest of your life. Now you can declare your love of it without feeling or being accused of sentimentality and foolishness.


Tahrir Square by night

Surprise eleven: When you are afraid of what may happen when the security forces attack the demonstrators, you raise your face to the heavens and find that you and twenty or thirty other people are looking for God’s help, knowing that He will not leave you alone. Thank God!
Surprise twelve: It was great to see some demonstrators who got together for congregational prayers in the midst of all this.
Surprise thirteen: The youths in Egypt are quite all right. They are courageous and noble. They love their country and they are aware. They have God in their hearts.
Surprise fourteen: The strongest chants and slogans that resonated with the people were those against Mubarak. The participants understand very well where the problem is. The other chants were not as effective.
Surprise fourteen: We saw Ibrahim Issa [Chief editor of al-Dostour newspaper who was recently fired] carried on people’s shoulders. Their love for him was obvious and clear. I saw Nawwara Nigm [a regular columnist in al-Dostour] and shook her hand. She was tearing up with joy at what she saw.
Surprise sixteen: We went, with God’s help, all the way to Giza. Every time, they [the security forces] tried to stop, they found that we were too many, and they had to let us go.
Surprise seventeen: Often I felt that I was afraid and did not want to get hurt but then there is no other choice. This is corruption and injustice and we must fight it. God asked us to fight it. He did not create us for nothing, and if He had created us only to worship him, then what good does that do. He wanted us to use his favors and blessings and to fight injustice. He said: your life and your sustenance are mine to control so do not fear others.
Break your fear and join those who defend their rights, the Muslims and the Christians. Don’t you dream of a real homeland for our children? A place where they can have a project or research to undertake in a good university? Or an important book to write? Instead of being consumed with daily life like we are? Doing meaningless work like us. Yes, our work is meaningless. You, doctor, know that you did not get the best education and that others abroad are much better than you are. If you are an engineer like me, you do not dream of doing anything too complex. You do stuff that has been done for the past fifty years. If I wanted money, I can only work in sales and marketing. Maybe you are a professor and know that what you are teaching is not the best, or maybe it is, but it will not help your students secure good jobs. We have no Harvard, NASA, MIT or Cleveland Hospital. Forget it! When I look at my baby boy, I wonder, “if I raise him well, will he turn out like me, suffering the same frustrations I suffer? Will he join some radical group just to diffuse his anger? Should I raise him as a crook so that he can join the ruling party, the NDP? Or will he live aboard and visit only once a year? Then I know that I have to put my faith in good and try to fix my own country.

Last night in central Cairo

                     
Security forces chase the crowd from Tahrir Square.  According to Al Masry al Youm there were about 150 protesters injured, most of them were tranfered to hospitals. The same paper also says that the police dispersed around 11 oçlock in the veening the protests in Mahalla al-Kubra, one of the six major cities were demontrations took place.
For today, Wednesday, new protest are anounced to start at the beginning of the afternoon. The government said i n an communique that no protests are allowed. It says it  broke up the demonstration yesterday evening after its forces were attacked, which is of courtse no more than a pretext if not an outright lie. Twitter is down in Egypt.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mass protests in the whole of Egypt threaten regime of Hosni Mubarak

Cairo, 25 January 2011. the central Tahrir Square taken over by protesters.

Thousands and thousands took to the streets in Egypt on Tuesday, January 25  to demand an end to 30 years old dictatorial regime of President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which is the opposite of democratic.
The demonstrations were held at several places in the capital Cairo, but also in Alexandria, the second city in the country, Assiut and Aswan in the south, Mansoura, Mahalla and Tanta in the Delta and Ismailiyya and Suez in the east. The demonstrations continued even after dark. Thousand of protesters remained at Cairo's central Tahrir (Freedom) square, as well as thousands of the opolice. The crowds were asking for food and blankets. Sources told on Twitter that fast food shops from the area started to feed them for free.
The date of January 25 is Police Day in Egypt, to commemorate the fact that a police station in Ismaeliyya in 1952, six months before the takeover by Nasser's Free Officers, bravely resisted an attack by the British. Some 50 died. The choice of  this day as a day of protest against the government was chosen primarily as a protest against the violent death of Khaled Said, a man who a few months ago was beaten to death by police in Alexandria after he witnessed what presumably was a drug deal between police officers. But in the past week it became gradually clear that the demonstrations was growing out to be a much wider protests against the regime as such,  that has been the source of so much stagnation in the past 30 years. 

Cairo, Sharia Gamaat al dual al-Arabiyya (Street of the Arab nations)
Mehalla el-Kubbra in the Delta

Police initially acted not too violently, apparently not to give the crowds extra reasons to protest. Lateron, however, charges were executed, and tear gas and rubber bullets were fired. In Suez two people were killed. According to the police one who had respiratory problems died after inhalating tear gas, the other was hit by a stone. Hpwever, other sources said they were killed by live ammunition used by the police. In Cairo a policeman died after a stone hit his head. There was an unknown number of wounded, and the police made at least 30 arrests. On twitter it was reported that a group of protesters in Cairo stopped a fire fighter's truck which was to be used as a water cannon against the crowd and that housewives in Alexandria pelted police forces from their balconies with pots and pans. Like in Tunisia, which clearly served as a model for the protesters, the government closed Twitter, Facebook and telephone lines. 
Mass demonstrations like the one this Tuesday have  not occurred in Egypt since at least some 30 years. The country has been living under a state of emergency since1981 and demonstrations are usually strongly suppressed and answered with massive waves of arrests. The fact that large sections of the population - no doubt inspired by the courage of the people of Tunisia - now challenged the Amn al-merkazi (Central Security Forces) is clearly unprecedented. Protests on this scale cannot be stopped. If they, what is improbable, are not going to die out, it means that the regime of  Mubarak and his proxies will fall within days.

Street protests in Lebanon as 8 March candidate Miqati is set to become next prime minister

Najib Miqati


Followers of caretaker prime  minister Saad Hariri staged protests  in Lebanon on Monday and Tuesday after telecom tycoon and billionaire Najib Miqati,  emerged as prime minister designate. Miqati is the choice of the 8 March coalition (Hezbollah and its allies) and his chances of becoming prime minister soared after Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt backed him with seven of his 11 MPs, which gave him a parliamentary majority to attempt to form a new government.

Supporters of  Hariri of the Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, who also leads the the 14 Match bloc, took to the streets in the northern city of Tripoli, the Beqaa region in the east, the southern city of Sidon and some Beirut neighborhoods.  MP Mohammed Kabbara of Hariri’s Future bloc called for 'a day of rage' in Lebanon on Tuesday to condemn what he called Hezbollah’s 'intervention in the affairs of the Sunnis'.

 Protest in Tripoli on Tuesday (Photo AFP)

The protests erupted as President Michel Sleiman was convening with members of parliament to poll them on their choices for a prime minister. The outcome of the first day of consultations showed that 58 lawmakers backed Miqati for prime minister against 49 for Hariri.
Miqati (55), who has been prime minister once during a short period in 2005,  is the 8 March candidate against Hariri who has said that he would seek a new term. He belongs to a four-member independent parliamentary bloc for the northern city of Tripoli. With the addition of his own vote, he has sufficient numbers to ensure him the parliamentary majority of 65 votes. 

Hariri’s national unity Cabinet was brought down on 12 January after  ministers from Hezbollah and its allies  resigned over the dispute over the UN backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the 2005 killing of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah had been pressing Hariri for months to withdraw from the STL. A Syrian -Saudi attempt at mediation failed after the Saudi king withdrew from it under US pressure. When Hariri, during a visit to Washington appeared to stand by the STL, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah withdrew 12 ministers among the 8 March allies from the cabinet, thereby bringing it down. 

Miqati said that he would act as a consensual candidate. He offered to cooperate with all parties, including Hariri, to save Lebanon from its current political crisis. However, Hariri said he would not participate in any government headed by a Hezbollah-backed candidate, raising the stakes in a deepening political crisis.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Senior Tunisian politicians form 'revolutionary council' that will take over tasks from government

Consultations are since a few days underway in Tunisia about the formation of a 'Constitutional Council' that  can oversee the working of the transitional government and adopt a number of it tasks. The talks take place at the initiative of three senior politicians, who started their work after having consulted interim president Mebazaa, Tunisian radio Kalimaat reported.
  The three politicans are Ahmed Mestiri, a former minister of Justice under president Bourguiba, and two other ex-ministers from that periode, Ahmed Bensalah et Mostafa El Filali. The three, who haven't been active in the poltical arena since a long time,  are holding talks with opposition parties, the trade union UGTT, independent politicans, Human Rights organizations, the bar association and others who have been active during the revolt that chased away president Ben Ali.
Reuters adds: Sihem Bensedrine (photo), a prominent rights activist and head of the non-governmental National Council for Liberties, said an announcement on the new council could come any day.'We are negotiating with the transitional government. We had contacts with some ministers in the new government and head of the committee for political reform,' she said, referring to a committee created by the government to revise Tunisia's laws to allow free elections and prevent the rise of a new strongman. "The idea is to create a kind of council for safeguarding the revolution.'
Bensedrine said Ben Ali's rubber-stamp parliament would be dissolved under the new plan, and the council would be given the power to supervise the interim government, which could retain Ghannouchi as prime minister.
The council would issue an electoral code and hold elections for a basic parliament that would rewrite the constitution. It would include Tunisia's powerful labor union, the bar association, civil society groups and political parties including Ennahda, the country's largest Islamist group, which was banned under Ben Ali.
Tunisia's army chief, Rachid Ammar,  on Monday also vowed to 'defend the revolution' that ousted former president Ben Ali. And he warned of a 'power vacuum' that may result if a solution to the subsequent political crisis is not found.
Ammar, who became popular after he was sacked by Ben Ali for refusing to shoot at protsters,  made the comments after clashes broke out in Tunis between people demonstrating outside the prime minister's office, who clashed with the police after they satretd to throw stones. "Our revolution, your revolution, the revolution of the young, risks being lost,''Ammar said. 'There are forces that are calling for a void, a power vacuum. The void brings terror, which brings dictatorship.'

Bombshell which might be the death blow for what is left of 'peace process'

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat (picture) offered Israel "the biggest Yerushaliyam [Jerusalem] in history," documents leaked to the Qatar-based TV network Al-Jazeera reveal.
Al-Jazeera and the newsdpaper The Guardian are releasing 1,676 documents including minutes, emails, reports and maps related to ten years (2001-2010) of  negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the largest leak in the history of the conflict, over a four-day period, in a way that resembles in many aspects the Wikileaks process.
Al Jazeera on Sunday revealed that while publicly condemning settlements, in private Erekat offered to make all of them (except one, Har Homa - Jebel Abu Gheneim) in Jerusalem permanent , giving up the Palestinian claim to much of the occupied city.
"This is the first time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is officially made," Erakat said of the proposal that was never publicly revealed. Israel rejected the offer.
First Palestinian reactions to this 'Palestine papers' leak were one of shock, horror and anger. Israeli criticws of the government in Jerusalem said that it showed that the Israeli's had 'a partner for peace' after all but never  grabbed the opportunities offered to them, which confirmed presumptions that Israel was not serious about achieving a deal. Some people also assumed that the leaks will have consequences for the Palestinian Authority, or at least its chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, and maybe also for what with a euphemism is still called 'the peace process'. 

The Guardian offers a link to the papers (here).
(More about this in the next few days).

'Liberation caravan' travels to Tunis from Sidi Bouzid to ask the government to go

Hundreds of Tunisians have defied a nighttime curfew and travelled hundreds of kilometres in what they call a "Liberation caravan" to join protesters in the country's capital, where anger at the interim government continues to grow.
The protesters entered the capital, Tunis, on Sunday, tore down the barbed wire surrounding the office of interim prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and demanded his government to go. The protesters started their march on Saturday night from Menzel Bouzaiane in the province of  Sidi Bouzid, and walked 50 kilometers before they boarded busses that brought them to Tunis. Menzel Bouzaiane was the place where Mohammed Bouazizi in December set fire to himself, what triggered the protests which ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
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Tunsia's TAP news agency reported on Sunday that allies of Ben Ali - Abdelaziz bin Dhia, Ben Ali's spokesman and chief adviser, and Abdallah Qallal, a former interior minister and head of Tunisia's appointed upper parliamentary house - had been placed under house arrest. The agency said police were searching for Abdelwahhab Abdalla, Ben Ali's political adviser, who has disappeared, It also said that Larbi Nasra, the owner of Hannibal TV and his son have been arrested on suspicion of "treason" for working on Ben Ali's return from Saudi Arabia (where the deposed president currently is currently in exile). Nasra is related to Ben Ali's wife, Leila. 
Canada  announced that the family of Ben Ali is not welcome in Canada. Ben Ali's son in law Sakhr Materi has a villa in Montreal (picture) which he bought two years ago for 2,5 million Canadian dollars.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New protest in Yemen after arrest of prominent women opponent of regime

Protesters in Sanaa carry portraits of Tawakul Karman (photo Reuters)


The arrest of a prominent opponent of the regime of  president Ali Abdallah Saleh has sparked a new wave of protest in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Tawakul Karman, a journalist and member of the Islamist party Islah who was a leading figure in last week's protests in Sanaa, was detained by police early on Sunday and charged with unlawfully organising demonstrations. Her arrest was the sign for  a new wave of student protests in Sanaa on Sunday, days after demonstrations against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke out across Yemen, inspired in part by the recent ouster of Tunisia's president Ben Ali. Later in the day, police in Sanaa arrested 18 other activists, including the heads of two human rights groups, as they left a meeting to discus Karman's arrest.

The arrests of the activists in the capital sparked a protest of several hundred at Sanaa University. The demonstrators, chanting 'release the prisoners' and holding pictures of Karman, tried to march to the state prosecutor's office, who a security source said had ordered her arrest. Riot police carrying batons beat them back. Police also beat up two TV cameramen filming the protests. The students demanded that president Saleh leaves office. ''We demand Ali Abdullah Saleh leave, because we have no other option," said Hani al-Jonid, a Sanaa University student.

President Saleh, in a speech aired on state television, reiterated an offer of dialogue with opposition groups and said it was wrong to link Yemen to the events in Tunisia.'We are a democratic country and not Tunisia which had placed mosques under surveillance and shut everyone's mouth,' he said. The president also announced plans to raise the salaries of government employees and military personnel by $47 to $234 a month.
In the southern city of Aden, the site of frequent protests by separatists, a demonstrator was shot dead by police who were trying to stop a march, residents said. In a separate incident in the restive southern town of Lawdar, a suspected al Qaeda gunmen shot dead a soldier, a local security official said.

Gaza not impressed by Egyptian accusations about Gazan involvement in New Year's bombing in Alex

Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly on Sunday said that a group in Gaza which according to him is linked to Al-Qaeda was behind the suicide bombing that killed 24 Christians and wounded about 100 outside a church in Alexandria on New Years' eve. Al-Adly said 'conclusive evidence' showed that the somewhat shadowy 'Army of Islam' was behind the planning and execution of the attack, which sparked three days of Coptic rioting in Cairo and several other cities.
The Army of Islam itself denied the accusations and said they were false.

The Hamas movement in Gaza called on Egyptian authorities to provide evidence  of the alleged role  of the Army of Islam. Hamas said it was ready to cooperate fully with Egyptian authorities if it provides evidence for the group’s involvement. Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said his government was willing to cooperate with its Egyptian counterpart to identify the culprits behind the attack. Al-Nunu reiterated that the Gaza Strip is free of Al-Qaeda activists, and he assured that Palestinian organizations and resistance movements 'point their weapons towards the Zionist enemy alone'.
In fact the Egyptian minister did not give any evidence that Gazan groups were involved. It would not be the first time that the so called results of Egyptian investigations would be based on nothing but the flimsiest of evidence or will even lack evidence altogether. It will be interesting to see with what the Egyptians will come up to substantiate their accusations.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Police stop demonstration in Algiers

Algerian authorities have stopped a peaceful demonstration on Saturday of the Rassemblement pour la culture et la démocatie (RCD), a largely Berber party led by Saad Sadi. Enormous amounts of policemen blocked the way for the protesters, made it impossible for Saad Sadi to leave party heaquarters and stopped people who tried to join the demonstrations from outside Algiers. The protesters, demanding more freedom and democracy, carried Algerian flags  but also Tunisian ones. Eleven people were wounded, five were arrested. Last week saw demonstrations in several Algerian cities against high prices, low wages and unemployment. Demonstrations are forbidden in Algeria, that lives under a state of emergency since 1992.   

Epidemic

'Cigarettes kill, matches as well,' is what this cartoon says. It is taken from the Algerian daily Al Watan, which wrote that the number of people who followed the example of Mohammed Bouazizi, the man from Sidi Bouzid in Tunesia who set fire to himself and ignited a revolution, now amounts to 30. It was not clear whether Al Watan only counted the numerous people in Algeria who did so, or included cases in other countries (in Egypt some 10 cases, one of which died, on Saturday one case in Saudi Arabia). The headline in Al Watan: 'Je brule, donc je suis' - I burn, so I exist.

Tunisian prime minister promises to leave politics after the elections

Tunisia's prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi pledged Friday to quit politics after elections that he says will be held as soon as possible. In an interview on Tunisian television on Friday he said he will leave power after a transition phase leading to legislative and presidential elections "in the shortest possible timeframe."'
My role is to bring my country out of this temporary phase and even if I am nominated I will refuse it and leave politics,' Ghannouchi said.
Ghannouchi also said that during the transition period all antidemocratic laws would be abolished, as well as the press regulations and the existing election laws. In an emotional statement during which Ghannouchi sometimes was on the brink of  bursting out  in tears he said that under the regime of Ben Ali 'he had been frightened like all Tunisians'. 

Tunisians began three days of mourning Friday, lowering flags to half mast and broadcasting recitations of the Quran to mourn the 78 people who, according to official figures of the ministry of the Interior, died in the weeks of protests. Earlier in the day, about 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Interior Ministry and lateron moved to the courtyard of Ghannouchi's offices. The crowd  chanted 'You have stolen the richess of this country, but you are not going to steal the revolution. The government has to go!'  Fonctionaries of the ministry threw portraits of Ben Ali from the windows and police officers were joining ranks with protesters, mixing with their ranks outside the prime minister's office. Other demonstations were held in Gafsa, Sfax and Tataouine at the cots in the south, Tunisian tv reported.

. The labour union UGTT held a meeting on Friday during which it decided to demand that the government is dissolved and replaced by a government of 'national salvation'. According to Abid Briki, assistent secretary general of the UGTT that would meet the demands of the streets. 

Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa in the meantime told that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of the former president who was reported dead after having been stabbed, is still alive. Trabelsi, who made a fortune in the world of real estate, is in custody and being questioned, said Friaa.
The new central bank president Mustapha Kamel Nabli repeated denials that Tunisian government's stock of gold was taken during the final days of Ben Ali's reign."There has been no change in our stock of gold and its weight has been the same for years," Mustapha Kamel Nabli said at a news conference.Nabli said Tunisia holds 5.3 tons of gold in its own vaults and another 1.397 tons placed with the Bank of England. Nabli replaced Taoufik Baccar, who resigned as central bank head this week following rumors that the ex-president's wife fled with large amounts of gold.
Taoufik Ben Brik (photo), a well known journalist and opponent of the former regime, who at the end of 2009 was imprisoned for six months in what appeared to be a highly politically motivated process, declared his intention to be a presidential candidate in the next elections. Ben Briki (50) is the second to do so after Moncef Marzouki.
Some 1800 political prisoners have been freed. in tte past days. Others are still waiting. Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the islamist An Nahda party who lives in exile in London and wanted to return, has to wait till an amnesty law has been adopted offcially, government circles said. 'After all he got a life sentence for plotting against the state,' one source said.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jordanians march again against government

More than 5,000 people rallied in Amman and other cities after weekly prayers on Friday against Jordan's economic policies, demanding "bread and freedom" and that the government resign. It was the second weekend of protests in Jordan. Thousands took to the streets in a similar protest on Friday last week.
The protesters chanted slogans against prime minister Samir Rifai, ('Rifai out, out!) as they marched from the Al-Hussein mosque to the nearby municipality building in central Amman. Other slogans were "Our demands are legitimate. We want bread and freedom,"
Police handed out bottles of water and juice to the demonstrators. The protest was organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF). In other parts of Jordan people took 
to the streets as well. Some 1,400 people demonstrated in the northern cities of Zarqa and Irbid.
Rifai on Thursday announced a $283m plan to raise salaries of government staff as well as the pensions of retired government employees and servicemen. The plans come down to a raise of $28 a month. Last week a  $169m plan to improve living conditions was launched.The current minimum wage is $211 a month.
However, the Islamist opposition and others say the new measures are not enough as poverty levels are running at 25 per cent in the kingdom, whose capital is the most expensive city in the Arab world. 'These measures are designed to drug people, nothing more. We need comprehensive reforms,' said prominent unionist Maisarah Malas.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Car bombs aim at Shiite pilgrims in Kerbala, more than 50 dead

Grieving survivors of one of the blasts in Kerbala.

At least 51 people have been killed in twin suicide bomb attacks near the holy city of Karbala which appeared to target Shia pilgrims. Some 180 people were injured in the blasts, with the death toll likely to rise.
The first attack struck Karbala's northern outskirts, while the second blast occurred about 15km south of the city, the AFP news agency reported. The blasts occurred on two routes being used by pilgrims travelling to the city to take part in the Shia festival of Arbaeen, which marks the 40th day after the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein.
Earlier on Thursday, a roadside bomb was detonated among a crowd of Shia pilgrims at the Al-Rasheed vegetable market in southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding nine, while another such blast in a central Iraqi town killed one and injured three, an interior ministry official told AFP.

In another incident, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car outside a police office in Baquba, central Iraq. Police say three people were killed including a traffic policeman. It was th second bomb against a police office in Baquba in as many days. The second bomb on Thursday, blew up just a few blocks away from the site of a large suicide car bomb attack against another security agency on Wednesday

All RCD ministers in Tunisia quit party

Wednesday's demonstration in Tunis against the RCD presence in the government. (PhotoNasser Nouri. Al Ahram)

Updated.Tunisian television reported on Thursday morning that all ministers belonging to the Rassemblement démocratique constitunionel (RCD), the ruling party of former president Ben Ali, have left the party. This follows another day of street protests against the strong presence of the old guard in the government of 'national unity' in Tunis and other places like Sidi Bouizd, Regueb and Kasserine.
Yesterday evening, interim president Fouad Mebazaa appeared on televison to assure the Tunisians that the government would break with the past. 'I commit myself,' Mebazaa said, 'to make sure that this transition government will make a complete rupture with the past.'  One day earlier Mebazaa and prime minister Ghannouchi quit the governning party, a move that now has been followed by the other RCD-ministers of the government. The central committee of the RCD was dissolved, the Tunisan tv reported.
Trash. 

It was not enough to convince the Tunisian street, however. Today another minister resigned from his post. Zouheir M'Dhaffar, minister of state in the prime minister's office, was the fifth to do so. Meanwhile protest demonstrations were continuing, demanding that all fomer RCD-ministers leave the government and that not only the central committee of the RCD was dissolved, but that the whole party be disbanded. During one of the protests in Tunis, in front of the RCD-headquarters, police in vain fired shots to disperse the crowd. Other demontrations against the RCD were held in Sousse, Sidi Bouzid,   Zarzis, Kairouan, Jendouba, El Kef and Hamma.
The government held a meeting Thursday afternoon. It decided to allow all parties to register, including also the ones that had been banned in the past. Also it adopted a general amnesty law. Earlier already some opponents of the former regime had been released from prison. Among them journalist Fahem Boukadous, who was convicted to a prison term of four years in July.
The Tunisian tv on Wednesday evening showed some of the gold and the jewels of Ben Ali and his wife, which as experts said, is only a fraction of what the ex-president owns, his total possessions amounting to an estimated five billion dollars. An investigation has been opened to establish which possessions have been appropriated illegally, the Tunisian tv announced. It also reported that by now 33 members of Ben Ali's family clan have been arrested. The Swiss government announced that his accounts in Swiss banks have been frozen. The EU in principle agreed to do the same as soon as it receives a list of of the accounts concerned. Saudi Arabia said that it has told Ben Ali who found refuge in the kingdom, to refrain from political acitivity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ten more executions in Iran

 

A gruesome picture from the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Iran Human Rights reports that ten people were executed in Tehran’s Evin prison early this morning Wednesday January 19th. All of them had been convicted of drug trafficking and they were sentenced to death by hanging in Tehran’s revolution court.
According to the official reports 74 people have been hanged in Iran since December 20th.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tunisian trade union does not recognize new government, four ministers resign

Updated: Tunisia's main trade union, UGTT,  has decided 'not to recognise' the new Tunisian government of 'national unity'. The union (best known by its French name Union générale des travailleurs tunisiens) decided this on Tuesday at an extraordinary meeting near Tunis. The reason was the make-up of the government, in which no less than eight ministers of the Rassemblement Constituniole Démocratique (RCD), the party of fomer president Ben Ali kept their posts, which apart from the prime minister, include the key portfolios of the Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs and Finance. The UGTT advised its three representatives in the new government to resign.
People with signs 'RCD out'  and 'RCD dégage' in a street in Tunis.

As a consequence the ministers Houssine Dimassi (Labour), Abdeljelil Bedoui (without portfolio) and minister of state for Transport Anouar Ben Gueddour gave up their seats  in the cabinet. Lateron also minister Mustafa ben Jaafar of the ´Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés´ left the government, one day after he had been installed as minister of Public Health.
Prime minister Ghannouchi and president Fouad Mebazaa gave up their membership of  the ruling RCD- party in the course of the day. However,  the Ettajdid party threatens to leave the governement as well, if not all RCD ministers sever their ties with the party. If they fail to do so, also a fifth minister, Ettajdid- minister Ahmed Ibrahim of Higher Education, will quit.    
The UGTT, which played an important role in the protests that led to the fall of president Ben Ali, was not the only one force that voiced its opposition to the make-up of the new government. Demonstrations took place throughout the country to protest the continued strong presence of the RCD. Several demonstrations were reported in the capital Tunis. Police used teargas and charges to disperse crowds in more than place. In one case a crowd  of about 1000 people was dispersed, which according to the Algerian newspaper Al Watan waqs attended by  Sadok Chourou of the islamist An Nahda party. In other places people held signs with - see picture (taken by Ayman Mohieldin of Al Jazeera) -  texts like ''RCD dégage'' and 'RCD out'. Big demonstrations against the new government took also place in Sfax (5000 people), Gabès, Bizerte, Sidi Bouzid, Erregueb and Monastir.   
Police disperse a demonstration in Tunis

Moncef Marzouki, medical doctor, human rights activist and leader of the ´Congres pour la Republique´ party returned on Tuesday from, exile to Tunis. He was met by a crowd of his supporters at Tunis airport, who sang the national anthem, yelled and shouted 'Al-tajamaa ala barra' (The Rassemblement out). For a video of this emotional moment: click here
 Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the islamist party An Nahda who lives in exile in London, however, was told that he  cannot yet return. He has to wait until a new law on the amnesty for political opponents of the former regime is adopted that will nullify a prison sentence against him that apparently is considered  to be still valid.

Suicide bombers kill tens of Iraqi police officers and recruits in Tikrit and Baquba

A suicide bomber wearing a vest filled with explosives attacked Iraqi police recruits on Tuesday in former dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing at least 42, but possibly 60, and wounding over 100, officials said.
Ahmed Abdul-Jabbar, deputy governor of Salahuddin province, said the attack took place outside a police recruiting center where Iraqi men were lining up hoping to get a job. "Who else would it be but al Qaeda, who keep on slaughtering us," said Abdul-Jabbar. "They are the terrorists."
Abdul-Jabbar put the death toll at 42. Raed Ibrahim, head of the health department in the province, said 45 were killed and more than 150 wounded, while Interior Ministry sources in Baghdad said 50 people had died.
Salahuddin province, home to Saddam's family, continues to suffer frequent attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents opposed to the Shi'ite-led authorities in Baghdad. Tikrit is primarily Sunni.

Update On Wednesday a suicide bomber used an ambulance to attack a police compound in Baquba in central Iraq, killing up to 14 people, in the second attack on police officers in as many days. Scores more were wounded, among them a number of children of a nearby kindergarten. According to one report two attackers were involved. One stepped out of the ambulance and opened fire on guards at the entrance of the city's special security police centre before the vehicle was driven into the compound and detonated. Both Baquba - 65km north-east of Baghdad - and Tikrit are within what is known as the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of Iraq's insurgency.

Sudan arrests opposition leader Turabi

Sudanese security forces on Tuesday arrested opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi and eight other officials of his Popular Congres Party after they called for a ´popular revolution´ if Khartoum did not reverse price rises.
Turabi's arrest comes at a politically sensitive time for the government of President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who stands to lose control over the oil-producing south which last week voted in an independence referendum.

Sudan's opposition threatened on Sunday to take to the streets if the government did not remove its finance minister and dismantle parliament over the decision to raise prices on a range of goods.

Al Turabi had earlier said, in an interview with AFP, that  an uprising in north Sudan, similar to recent developments in Tunisia, was ´likely´ and that ´this country has known popular uprisings before.´What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan ... If it doesn't, then there will be a lot of bloodshed. The whole country is armed. In the towns, it will be a popular uprising, but in Darfur, and in Kordofan as well, they have weapons.´ Turabi (78) has been imprisoned in 2003, 2004 and 2009, since he left President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling party in 1999/2000.

Unrest in Libya had to do with housing shortages


The Libyan leader, ´brother colonel´ Muammar Qadhafi, during his televised speech in which he lectured the Tunisians that they had made a mistake to chase Ben Ali away.

Libyan citizens occupied hundreds of homes at the end of last week that are still under construction and ransacked the offices of foreign contractors that are building them, online newspaper Oea reported.
Libya has been struggling to meet a rapid rise in housing demand from younger citizens who are embracing modern lifestyles and (many of whom, not all of them) no longer want to live with their parents.
Oea said housing projects under construction in several cities had come under a “wave of occupation” late on Thursday and early Friday. Some were looted and in a number of cases occupiers sold on the houses for giveaway prices. The newspaper said security forced had arrested “criminal groups” that had robbed the offices of foreign firms executing the projects.
The report comes as the neighbouring country Tunisia was still dealing with the aftermath of the ouster of president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Friday after almost four weeks of unrest. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said on Saturday that Tunisia was suffering bloodshed and lawlessness because its people were in too much of a rush to get rid of Ben Ali, whom he praised for developing Tunisia.
A Reuters reporter in Tripoli said that the situation in the capital was calm on Monday and that there was no significant deployment of security forces. A government authority in charge of religious affairs urged preachers in Libya’s mosques to warn their worshipers against the kind of rioting seen at the housing projects.“The riot caused by these citizens has nothing whatsoever to do with our Islam and Islamic values. The next sermon will urge all citizens to stick to Islamic teachings that call for tolerance, order and not attacking fellow Muslims,” Oea quoted the authority’s secretary, Ibrahim Adeslam.

Update: Copies of the video's lateron (on Wednesday) reappeared. They are to be found on the site Why we protest. Here one of them:


Oea did not say what might have sparked the wave of occupations. But a witness told the paper: “Thugs took over the apartments by force and sold them to well-off buyers in fancy cars.” The government pays public sector employees a housing allocation and authorities have pledged to build 250,000 new houses by the end of 2014. But some projects appear to be facing delays. One Internet user said he had been waiting since 2004 to get his home.
The riots at the end of the week were accompanied by an all out attack on Libyan internet sites. Also YouTube was banned in Libya and video´s of the disturbances that had been circulating on Sunday, disappeared from the net. But on Monday most of the sites that had been banned returned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Opposition gets posts in new Tunisian government but old guard retains the power

Mohammed Ghannouchi, Prime Minister of the deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali, announced on Monday the formation of a government of national unity, including  three opposition leaders. But six ministers from the cabinet of the time of Ben Ali retain their positions. Among them are the the key positions  of Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Interior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Ghannouchi, speaking to reporters at the government palace, gave a list of 19 ministers of the 'unity government' in charge of running the country until the holding of presidential and legislative elections. Contrary to what had been said earlier these elections will not be held in 60 days, but in six to seven months.

Among the newcomers in the cabinet figures Ahmed Najib Chebbi, founder of the oppositional Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), as minister of regional development. Opposition leaders Ahmed Ibrahim (Attajdid, former communists) was named minister of higher education and Mustafa ben Jaafar (Forum démocratique pour le travail el les libertés, FDTL) got the health ministry. Two of these parties have no representatives in parliament.
Representatives of civil society are also included in this government. One of them is blogger Slim Amamou (twitter @Slim404) who was detained briefly during the revolt. He himself twittered the news that he becomes secretary of state for Youth and Sports. Another was the filmer Moufida Tlatli, who will be Minister of Culture. Ghannouchi also indicated that the Ministry of Information, accused of censoring the freedom of the press and expression in the country, has been abolished. Another measure is that in the future all parties will be independent from the state, a measure which - for what it is worth - aims at cutting the (many) ties between the ruling Rassemblement constitutionel démocratique (RCD) and the state.  All political prisoners will be released and all political parties that request to be registered will be admitted. 

Furthermore three commission will installed. One will investigate the corruption of the past periode, one will look into human rigjhts abuses of the era Ben Ali and one will advise about political reforms. 
Monday morning, before the announcement of the new government, a demonstration was held in Tunis of several hundred people who demanded that the ruling RCD party will be abolished altogether, as it is the party that has been as responsible for the repression and corruption of the past years as Ben Ali himself,  and that moreover is interwoven with each and every state organ or institution.
The same point was made by  Moncef Marzouki, exiled human rights activist, former presidential candidate and leader of the party he founded , the Congrès de la Republique. Marzouki dismissed the new government as a 'masquerade'. He told French media: 'Ninety dead, four weeks of real revolution, only for it to come to this? A unity government in name only because, in reality, it is made up of members of the party of dictatorship, the RCD.'
Marzouki nevertheless announced that he will be a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. His party  is one of thee parties that was left out of the 'unity government. The others were the islamist An Nahda party and the communist PCOT of Hama Hammami.
What will happen in Tunsia in the near future is difficult to predict. At the one hand the fact that the RCD keeps so much power looks like a bad sign, at the other the fact that the opposition has been partly included in the new government and the fact that - in principle - political repression has been abolished, might be interpreted as a clever compromise whereby old and new cooperate in establishing real democracy. I, The Pessoptimist, remain sceptical. We'll just watch and see.. 

Update:  The French newspaper Le Monde reports that, according to information the French government has, ther family Ben Ali has fled the country with about 45 million euros worth of gold. The gold was taken from the Tunsian Central bank by Ben Ali's wife Leila at the end of December, according to Le Monde. The paper also confirm that the chief of staff of the Tunsian army, Ben Ammar, who refused to fire on demonstrantions and was fired by Ben Ali, was in fact the one who told the president that he had to leave the country.