Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yemen ... all out war?

Sound of the fighting in Sana'a early this Tuesday morning.

The truce that existed between the Hashed tribes of sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar and the government forces of president Ali Abdallah Saleh broke down Tuesday nmorning and consequently Sana'a is again the stage of heavy fighting. Jane Novack (blog Armies of Liberation) reports: 
All international calls from cell phones are blocked. Cutting the phones is standard procedure for the Saleh regime; the tactic was used in years past during the Saada War and in Dhalie, (and during the civil war of 1994, TP). The electricity is off in broad sections of Sanaa and Yemen is further interrupting communications. And there’s sounds of gunfire and bombing throughout the capital. They always attack at night. It was 3 am when they set the tents ablaze in Taiz. The protesters there are still facing live fire when they try to re-enter the square.
All sorts of large explosions are being reported in Sanaa. Armed forces are clashing in various locations including near the presidential palace, Hasaba and various streets. I’m not sure if its many locations or everyone is describing the same area differently. al Masdar gives some locations and says unusually large explosions were heard. Also troops deployed from Ibb heading toward Taiz. Five days of truce ended when the al Ahmar compound was attacked again. The concern is the butcher will send his forces to Change Square to massacre the protesters, like he did in Taiz yesterday.

 Apart from fighting in Sana'a serious clashes are also reported from Zinjibar in the Abyan governorate, where Saleh withdrew.half of the government forces on Saturday in order to allow islamists and Al-Qaeda focres to take over the town. Fighting between the islamists and remaining government forces seem to take place, while Zinjibar also is repoietd to have been bombarded from the air (some seven times) and from the sea. At least 11 people seem te have been killed, Al-Jazeera Arabic reported.
 In Taiz also chaos reigns, after security troops and thugs opened fire of the protesters camping on Freedom Square and subsequently destroyed the encampments. The number of deaths resulting from this butchery now stands at 57 (some of them burned alive in their tents) and there are some 200 injured. The numbers will rise, however, as at least one of the local hospitals was invaded by the thugs who took away all the wounded and as firing on and around Freedom Squere was still going on on Tuesday.
Apart from these places fighting seems to take place also in Aden, as well as in Dhalie and Radfan and Nehm not far from Sana'a. Details however are scarce. It seems that Saleh got the chaos he promised. It also seems that the only way to get rid of him will be through war.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saleh's forces cause bloodbath in Taiz

Update Monday evening: What could be feared alkready from the appallingt pictures is now confimrd; the number of deaths in Taiz as a result of the çleansing operation'' of Freedom square in Taiz is at least 50. This is what the Yemen Post wrote:

At least 50 protesters were killed in Taiz today in continuous attacks by government security forces, medical sources in Taiz confirmed. Bushra Maktati, a leading human rights activist in Taiz said that freedom square has basically disappeared after bulldozers took down all the tents and burnt everything down.
She added that over half a million Protesters were always at freedom square and now it is empty. "More than 52 have been killed among them 15 burnt alive while the were sleeping in thier burning tents," said Maktari.

Incredible cruel and graphic pictures from the city of Taiz inYemen. Republican Guards and armed thugs caused a bloodbath when they broke up a camp that protesters since four months maintained on Freedom Square. The first video shows clearly how thugs and army snipers were shooting at the crowd. AFP reported on Monday that some 20 people were killed. Earlier reports spoke about 90 - 120 wounded.
The second and third video show the chaos  in a hospital in Taiz and the burning of tents and other possesions of the protesters. Jane Novack reported on her blog that also many things like telephones, laptops etc.- were stolen. She wrote that even the exact number of deaths is unknown, as also many bodies were taken away from the streets or even stolen from hospitals.

Taiz was not the only city were people were killed. Also in Zinjibar, in the governorate of Abyan,  at least six people died when the city was taken over by islamists and forces that are believed to belong to AQAP (Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula). I mentioned the takeover already briefly in my posting on Saturday. It is now more clear than ever that the whole thing was orchestrated by president Ali Abdallah Saleh in order to show . The newspaper Yemen Post got a confirmation form the ministry of Defense that half of the government forces in Zinjibar had received orders to leave the city before the take-over. The opposition parties, united in the Joint Meeting parties JMP, issued a statement in which they blamed president Saleh for the take-over. The statement said that the militants in question work for Saleh and are made up by him to use against the people when he wants. "He uses these tactics to show the international community what risks Yemen would pass through if he leaves office," said the JMP statement. A senior opposition JMP official said that Saleh promised this week that Yemen will enter a civil war and Abyan will be taken over by al-Qaeda, and that is what is happening now.

In the capital Sana'a sporadic fighting seems to take place, in spit of a  truce in the Hasaba district. The truce was reached on Friday between president Saleh's men and the forces of the Hashed tribes of sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar. AFP quotes Abdel Qawi al-Qaisi, the head of Al-Ahmar's office, who said that the truce included an agreement, reached during talks on Saturday, that Al-Ahmar's men will evacuate the ministries and other public building they occupied during tha figfhting and that the presidential guard and Saleh supporters will leave their positions around the residence of Al-Ahmar. 
Other news from Yemen is that again a high ranking officer of the presidential guard went over to the opposition. In this case it was general Ali Abdallah Aleiwa, a former minisyer of dfense. He was followed by some lower ranking officers.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Second Day of Rage on Tahrir Square, May 27

Day of Rage II, a compilation by Jadaliyya

Egyptian have held a second Day of Rage (or a day to save the revolution) o Friday 27 May. One of these demonstrations, but not really comparable to the hectic and passionate days at the end of January/ early February, when it was really against the old Mubarak-regime. This time it was against - ehh, against what exactly?
There were three main themes that were more or less shared between the people who called for ths manifestation: The formation of a presidential council, consisting of civilians, instead of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces .(SCAF) that is now the de facto power in the country. The second one was for a new constitution to be written before elections take place in September (and not after e new parliament is in function). And the third a more effective fight against corruption (by which is meant among other things a speedy trial of the Mubaraks and their allies, but also a clean up of police, security, judiciary, press and other organisms that played a decsive role in aintaining the old regime), and last - but certainly not least - an end to the way the military maintain order and to military processes.
Text: No to the military government. We want a presidnetial council consisting of national, revolutionary civilians

These demand were grosso mode supported by the April 6 Movement, the Popular Committees to Defend the Revolution, El Baradei's Association for Change and the (Coptic) Maspero Revolutionaries. But certainly not unanimously by all movements. For example the Muslim Brotherhood decided to stay away because they are quite happy with the prerformance of the military (the Muslim Brotherhood's youth, however,  did participate)  and among the members of the diffierent movement there was no unanimity either about all demands.

First a Constitution.
Nevertheless tens of thousands turned up at Tahrir. Al-Ahram at one point estimated that there were some 100.000 people on the square. And we have to realize that also big demonstration took place in Mansoura, Suez and Alexandria, to name a few places.
The site Jadaliyya did a great job in compiling a video (see on top) and publish some interviews and pictures. Take for instance this fragment - an interview with a woman journalist:   
Bassam: What are you here for? Ghada: I am here because there are a lot of things I am not ok with. I am afraid for the revolution. I feel like it is being hijacked. The corruption continues in all the institutions of the state, in the municipalities, in the governorates . . . in the media--and specifically in the national newspapers. Nothing has changed, [it is] as if January 25th had not happened. The slowness [of the prosecutorial process] and the leaking of information about the possibility of a pardon for the deposed president is what we do not accept after the blood that spilled in Tahrir Square and all the governorates of Egypt. There is a need to prevent all forms of external interference, whether it is from Saudi Arabia in order to prevent the prosecution of the deposed president or from the United States or from Israel. There is a need to activate all the demands of the Youth of the Revolution Coalition. There needs to be a cleansing of the judiciary, as it remains to be viewed as a fortress whose decisions and rulings are not subject to critique. This is scary because have fears in regards to some of the judges that are presiding over financial corruption cases as well as those of the spilling of Egyptian blood by the members of Husni Mubarak's government. There is a need to stop sectarian strife, that we notice is becoming more active in a hysterical way to undermine the revolution. We have confirmed information--I am a journalist--that indicate that the Mossad and--here in Egypt--the remnant of the National Democratic Party (NDP) are active in undermining the revolution through national strife . . . There is also a need to save the revolution from being hijacked by any movement with an eye for a non-civilian state. We will not accept this. The masses of tolerant Egyptians will not accept this and will offer their blood for the sake of a civilian state; a completely civilian states for all, and not for one group or movement.
Bassam: What does a civilian state mean?
Ghada: The civilian state is one that I can be a part of with my religion, with my beliefs, with the freedom of what I wear and [the freedom of] manners, movement, thought, writing, and achievement without interference in the name of religion, irrespective of which religion; whether it is the religion of the majority or the religion of the minority. We do not what a religious state, irrespective of the religion, and certainly not a military state. The state that Egyptians martyred themselves for in this square on January 25th, that they have been fighting for for years, and that blood has been spilt for for many many years can only be a civilian state.
Also the pictures are telling. I here 'quote' a few which are telling about the aims of this second day of rage:
 Tree with revolutionary wishes.

Left 'The Attorney General: the private lawyer of State Security." Right: 'The Public Prosecutor: the private prosecutor of the corrupt.' (The columns furthermore provide information about these allegations).

Yemeni tribes take over military bases

Thousands took to the streets in Sana'a on Friday, against the background of fighting between the tribes and  president Saleh's Republican Guard, to stress the unity of the people and the peacefull character of the revolution. 

The fighting in Yemen has spread to outside the capital.Tribes in Nehm, some 50 kilometers northeast of Sana'a on Friday took over bases of the Republican Guard. The Yemen Post reports that the fighting started after the RG attacked a village killing two tribesmen. The governmental forces were forced to evacuate three military position after the clashes. "We fight to defend ourselves and the majority of military positions in Nehm are now under our control," said a tribal leader in the area. Seven republican guards and five tribesmen were killed in the clashes, while more than 30 were injured according to tribal sources. Eyewitnesses said that at least one thousand republican guards fled the area after the tribes took over the military compounds.

Locals in Nehm said that the government lateron attacked the villages with Mig 29 warplanes. Nehm tribal leader Sheikh Saleh Najeed said that the government forces destroyed more than 120 homes in Nehm with the air attacks. Two helicopters landed in villages of Nehm, after their crews refused to attack the tribes and ewent over to the other side. A third helicopter crashed, killing among pothers the commander of the local brigade of the RG. The death toll from Nehm tribes rose to 18, while more than 65 are injured. The tribes confirmed that they have taken 9 tanks from the republican guards.
The tribes in Nehm belong to the confederation of the Bakil tribes, the second in importance in Yemen, so that the two most powerful tribal confederations are now united against president Saleh.

Jane Novack  reported on her blog that a base of the Republican Guard in Dhammar, some 60 kilometsr south of Sana'a,  went over peacefully to the side of the opposition. She also reported that in Sana'a the fighting was renewed in the Hasaba quarter, starting at 2 a.m in the morning, This came after a day of relative calm, with thousands taking part in a march which stressed the peacuful character of the revolution in Yemen. Similar manifestation took place in other cities in Yemen, like Taiz, Hodeida, Dhammar and Ra'ada.

Demonstration in Taiz on Friday

The protesters in Sana'a released white pigeons. The march had also the character of a funeral pocession as the bodies of some 30 people killed in the recent figfhting were carried around. (It is estimated that the total death toll of last days fighting must be about  140). During the demonstration  Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the leader of the Hashed tribe, appeared on Taghir Square (Change Square) in Sana'a to tell them that again mediation was underway. (Which apparently broke down again in the early morning).
Burned building in Zinjibar
In the meantime there were reports that in the southern governorate of Abyan armed bands took over banks and government buildings in the city of Zinjibar and set fire to prublic buildings and created chaos. Also it was  reported that the airforce bombed the radiostation of the governorate. It is unclear who the arnmed bands are, some say al-Qaeda, others suggest government involvement. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yemeni's fear another day of heavy fighting

Sana'a by night. This picture of the fighting was taken during the nght of Wednesday to Thursday.
The situation in Yemen remains extremely volatile after another day of heavy fighting in Sana'a, the capital. Reuters reported that more than 40 people were killed in street battles in Sanaa on Thursday, the fourth day of the clashes, that broke out after president Saleh on Sunday for the third time refused to sign an agreement whereby he would step down.Residents were streaming out of the city by the thousands to escape the violence. Others stocked up on essential supplies and waited with trepidation for what the day might bring.
Reconciliation in the battles that pitch Salehs presidential guard against the forces of the Hashed tribal confederation seems out of the question, after Saleh's forces attacked the mediation committee on Tuesday night, while they were on the phone with Saleh himself. The tribes seem to have declared Saleh's 'blood for free' after that incident (which means that they excommunicated him). They called upon other tribes to follow their lead and join the fight against Saleh. The leader of the Hashed, sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar told Reuters on Thursday that there was no chance for mediation with Saleh anymore. He called on regional and global powers to force him out before the country would plunges into full scale civil war. 'Ali Abdullah Saleh is a liar, liar, liar,' Al-Ahmar said. 'We are firm. He will leave this country barefoot.'
Saleh said on Wednesday he would not bow to international 'dictates' to step down and leave Yemen. He also issued an arrest warrant for Sadeq al-Ahmar and his nine brothers, rather an empty gesture under the circumstances.
Jane Novack on her blog Armies of Liberation saw a sign of hope in the fact that one of the top commanders of the presidential guard (whose top-commander is Saleh's son Ahmed), one colonel Ali Shaddadi Ahdillat released a video in which he called Saleh a 'butcher' and  urged his brother collegues to no longer follow his orders.
Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar
Novack also quoted general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar of the 1st divison (who earlier went over to the opposition) who told Mareb Press that Saleh would not ony leave Yemen barefoot, but that 'he would not even have a figleaf to cover himself'.  Ali Mohsen accused Saleh to have been the one who was behind the killing of the vice-governor of the Maarib province, Jaber al-Shabwani and his bodyguards in May last year, when he was on a mission to mediate with leaders of al-Qaeda in that province. Shabwani, whose death caused a short uprising by the tribe of which he was one of the elders, was killed by an American drone in what was believed to be a mistake. But according to Ali Mohsen it was Saleh who misled the Americans, much like he once, during the war against the Houthis in the north, gave the coordinates of Ali Mohsen's camp to the Yemeni airforce.... 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Heavy fighting continues in Sana'a, at least 63 dead

 One of the scarce video's of the clashes taken inside the Al-Ahmar compound,
 And another one taken by The Guardian's Tom Finn:

The clashes in th Yemeni capital Sana'a continued overnight and spread out to the north, where the members of Al-Ahmar's Hashed tribe took over the airport. Flights were redirected to Aden. More heavy fighting was also reported from the Hasaba district, where the Hashed reportedly took over more ministries and other public buildings. Ali Abdallah Saleh's forces meanwhile attacked the opposition television station and newspaper Suhail. The broadcasting stopped.
Thousands of inhabitants of Sana'a left the city where the fighting more and more threatened to escalate into a full blown civil war. Th United States has ordered its personel to leave Yemen. 
According to the Yemen Post newspaper the casualties of last night's fighting amounted to at least 63.
The head of office for Sadeq Ahmar, Abdul Qawi Qaisi said that more than 50 people were killed and 110 injured in last nights clashes between Hashed tribes and republican guards. Clashes continued for more than eight hours near Sana'a International Airport and in Hasaba zone of Sana'a.
The Defense Ministry announced earlier today that four more were killed yesterday evening by Hashed tribes.
Tribes in Arhab confirmed that nine tribesmen were killed in clashes between Arhab tribesmen and republican guards last night. The government has not yet announced its casualties from soldiers, according to the paper.
The Yemen Post newspaper also reported that Wednesday massive demonstrations were held in some provinces including the capital to affirm that the youth-led uprising in the squares of change and freedom is peaceful and had nothing to do with the battles between the government forces and the tribes. They chanted slogans such as: 'our revolution is peaceful', ' no to war', and 'the people want to oust the regime'.
No incidents were reported as month-long street sit-ins continued in most of the Yemeni cities.
Two Al-Ahamar brothers, left Hamid (leader of the Islah-party, the second in the country) and right Sadeq, the leader of the Hashed tribe. Their father, Abdallah al-Ahmar, who died in 2007 (he is pictured under amidst his ten sons), was an ally of president Saleh and the seond powerful man of the country. He was leader of Islah, speaker of the parliament and leader of the Hashed (to which also Saleh's tribe belongs). The sons however broke with Saleh whom they accused of running the country as a family business, and of mismanagement and treacherous conduct in the conflict with the Houthi's inteh north among other things. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New round of fighting takes 38 lives in Sanaa

Smoke above the Hassaba quatrer of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital 

The toll of  another day of fighting in the Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, between  forces of the Hased tribal confederatioon and security forces and supporters of president Ali Abdallah Saleh was 38 dead on Wednesday morning, 24 members of the tribes and 14 of the security forces. It seems that some 20 members of the security forces are missing. 
The renewed fighting broke out on Tuesday after attempts by some influential tribal sheikhs to mediate a ceasifire during the night of Monday to Tuesday failed. According to several sources when the sheikhs were on the telephone with president Saleh. Even when they were talking mortars were fired at the house of sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, were many sheikhs were gathered for the mediation effort. The attack was a clear violation of tribal customs which demand that during mediation a cease fire is maintained and were therefor broken off. It was a repetition of the night before, when also the house of Al-Ahmar was attacked during a mediation attempt. 
The fighting on Tuesday was heavier tha the day before when it was most automatic weapons that were used with sporadic use of heavier weapons. On Tuesdaqy both sdes used also artillerie, mortars and rockets. According to Mareb Press the forces of Al-Ahmar took possession of at least five ministries, among them the Education ministry and the ministry of the Interior. The day before the building of Yemenia, the aerial company of Yemen went up in flames and had to be evacuated, while also the Yemeni newsagency Sana was targeted. The Hassaba quater of the city was transformed into a 'no go zone' where only ambulances entered from time to time. Many tribal people entered the city to reinforce the rangs of the Haseb tribe, before the arnmy blocked all the roads. There were frequent power cuts, some quarters of had only electricity during a limited number of hours.      
From several sides fears were voiced that the student protesters at the university or the 1st army division of general Ali Mohsen, who has taken sides with the opposition, might be the next to be attacked. That has not happened yet. And as long as the army and Ali Mohsen's forces don't participate in the clashes it is not a full blown civil war yet. But the dangers are huge.Sheikh Hassan Ghalib Alajda, one of the sheikhs involved in the mediation efforts, said that it was president Ali Abdallah Saleh who wrecked the attempts. In an interview with Al-Arabiya televison he said that Saleh 'will plunge the country into a civil war like he has threatened many times'.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saleh's forces attack residence of rival tribal leader, Yemen on brink of civil war

Sadeq al-Ahmar
At least 18 people, (ten governmental security forces, six Ahmar tribesmen, and two Somali by passers) have been killed on Monday in clashes between Ahmar tribes and Central security forces and other forces belonging to the camp of president Ali Abdallah Saleh, according to eyewitnesses. More than 40 injured from both sides have been reported, in the clashes during which all kinds of weapons (also heavy weapons) were used.
On Tuesday the fighting continued. In the afternoon at least another six people had been killed in battles in several quaters of the city. The government accused Ahmar's men of igniting the clashes by firing on a school and the headquarters of state news agency Saba. Al-Ahmar's office said, howevere, that government forces opened fire when his guards prevented them from entering a school where Saleh loyalists were stockpiling weapons.
Early on Tuesday, tribal mediators were holding talks in the Ahmar house to try to bring an end to the clashes, a source in Sadeq al-Ahmar's office said. Saleh is also from the Hashed federation. He has chosen the side of the opposition. The clashes raged Monday for several hours. Armed gunmen backed by central security forces also attacked the Ahmar residence.
The Yemen Post Newspaper reported that local people said that they expetected this to happen after president Saleh had threatened the people the day before with a civil war if he was pushed to abdicate. 'And the members of the Ahmar family are his biggest rivals,' a store owner next to the Ahmar residence was quoted.
Headquarters for Yemenia airways in Sana’a caught on fire after tens of armed gunmen shot directly at the building, eyewitnesses said. In addition also Saba News Agency was beleagered.
 Eyewitnesses and confirmed sources said that Ahmar tribes have seized the Commerce and trade Ministry building in Sana’a.
The newspaper The Nation reported on Tuesday that the Yemeni capital yesterday bore all the hallmarks of a city careening towards more bloodshed. Thousands of armed pro-Saleh supporters set up road blocks to search cars and question drivers, and the main roads to the provinces were closed. Fearing looting, most shopowners shut their doors. Uniformed police and security forces were seen looking on as the fighting raged outside Sadeq al-Ahmar's home. Police had orders no to interfere. 'We have orders not to interfere when the gunmen are in the streets,' Mohammed Jameeli, a police officer assigned to the capital's central security forces said.
The opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) condemned the attack.The armed men in civilian clothing were not loose rabble, said Ahmed Bahri of the JMP. 'The gunmen are under control, and this is a message from President Saleh: It's either him as ruler, or chaos and war,' Bahri said.
Ahmed Soufi, Saleh's media adviser, denied that the violence was choreographed by the government, saying supporters of the president have the right to express their support. Saleh, he said, faces a dilemma. "If he signs the GCC proposal, his millions of followers will reject it and use arms to insist he stays in power,' Soufi said. 'If he does not sign, he angers the international community. It's very difficult for the president.'
The GCC-backed deal signed by the JMP but spurned by Saleh on Sunday would have required him to leave office within 30 days, rather than in 2013 when his presidential term ends. It also would have given him immunity from prosecution. He refused to sign it after the opposition defied his call for them to be present at his palace to witness it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

President Saleh of Yemen again refuses to sign abdication deal

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign an agreement on Sunday to step down, the third time such a deal has fallen through at the last minute, despite pressure from Gulf Arab and Western mediators.
Saleh has said al Qaeda militants could fill a political and security vacuum if he is forced out and, in a televised speech on Sunday, blamed the opposition for the deal's collapse.

The deal would have given Saleh immunity from prosecution, ensuring a dignified exit after nearly 33 years in power. If he had signed it, he would have become the third long-entrenched Arab leader ousted by popular protests since January.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc of Yemen's oil-rich neighbors and Western powers have exerted intense diplomatic efforts to secure a deal and end the violence in which more than 170 Yemeni demonstrators have been killed.
The GCC called for "a swift signing by President Ali Abdullah Saleh ... and a peaceful transition of power."
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Saleh needed to "follow through on his commitment to transfer power." European diplomats have also leaned on both sides to agree on a deal. But in a move likely to infuriate the Gulf and Western countries, gunmen loyal to Saleh surrounded the United Arab Emirates embassy on Sunday, trapping inside Gulf and Western ambassadors working to resolve the crisis and preventing them from going to the presidential palace to see Saleh. The UAE urged Yemeni authorities to secure its embassy, and the diplomats were later reported to have left by helicopter.
Yemen's opposition coalition, including Islamists and leftists, had already signed the deal on Saturday after indications from Gulf mediators that Saleh would sign on Sunday. But diplomats said Saleh had demanded the opposition go to the presidential palace to sign the agreement again in his presence. The opposition said it had already signed and would not go.
The opposition is under pressure to avoid further compromises from youth-led street protesters, including students and tribesmen, who seek Saleh's immediate exit and who have vowed to continue daily rallies until Saleh quits."The opposition did not want to go to the palace because it knows that the revolution leaders in Sanaa will be very angry," Hakim al-Masmari, editor of Yemen Post, told Al Jazeera. "It will make Saleh look victorious, like a person who is leaving power with honor and dignity, rather than a person who has killed hundreds of Yemenis over the months of the Yemen revolution," Al Jazeera quoted Masmari as saying on its website.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

North Sudan occupies Abyei, S-Sudan:calls it 'act of war'

Northern Sudan has occupied a contested border region on Saturfay night after several days of haggling and fighting. Northern forces with tanks occupied the disputed town of Abyei on Saturday night, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit, southern officials and a UN spokeswoman said. Khartoum-based state television cited unnamed military sources who said the army was in full control of the situation in Abyei.The northern action raised fears that a peace agreement between North and South might as yet be jeopardized.
South Sudan called the northern action an act of war. 'We didn't declare war,' southern army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer siad. 'The [ruling Sudanese] National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces declared war on us.'
Both north and south claim the fertile region, which lies near several important oil fields.Deadly fighting and recriminations have flared in Abyei since January, when the district was due to vote on its future, alongside a referendum in the south that delivered a landslide for secession. The plebiscite was postponed indefinitely as the north and south disagree on who should be eligible to vote.
Southern Sudan fought the north for more than two decades in a brutal war that claimed more than 2 million lives and forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes. A peace deal in 2005 offered the south the chance for independence and it overwhelmingly voted to secede in a January referendum. It is due to become the world's newest country in less than two months. But the Abyei violence threatens to further destabilize an already volatile region. Abyei's future is the most sensitive of a raft of issues that the two sides are struggling to reach agreement on before the south is recognised as an independent state in July. 

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a statement the entire population of Abyei fled Saturday morning after the bombing raids, gunfights and mortaring. One mortar exploded in a UN compound but there were no casualties.
There were at least 15 northern tanks in Abyei, UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang said Saturday night.
The massive escalation in the most volatile spot along Sudan's contested north-south border came as the United Nations Security Council began a four-day visit to Sudan. The Council's scheduled visit to Abyei has been canceled because of the violence but they are due to make a public statement in Khartoum later on Sunday.
The US condemned the offensive on Saturday, saying Thursday's attack by southern forces on a UN was deplorable but the north's response "disproportionate and irresponsible."
"The actions being taken by the government of Sudan are blatant violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and threaten to undermine the mutual commitment of the CPA parties to avoid a return to war," the White House statement said.
The south is mainly animist and Christian and its people are linguistically and ethnically linked to sub-Saharan Africa. The north is overwhelmingly Muslim and many members of the government consider themselves Arabs. Most of Sudan's oil is in the south but the pipeline needed to export it runs through northern territory to a northern-held port.

Some 55 killed during weekend of protests in Syria

Update Sunday 22/5:
The total deth toll on Friday appeared to be 44. On Saturday again 11 people were killed. Al-Jazeera English had the following video:

Tanks around the Syrian town Arida near the border with Lebanon. (Reuters)

Syrian security forces shot dead at least 30 demonstrators on Friday during protests that broke out across the country in defiance of a military crackdown. Activists reported demonstrations across Syria, from Banias and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast to the oil producing region of Deir al-Zor, Qamishli in the Kurdish east and the Hauran Plain in the south.
"No dialogue with tanks," said banners carried by Kurdish protesters in Qamishli who shouted "azadi," the Kurdish word for freedom, rejecting promises by the authorities for a national dialogue, a witness said.
Protests also erupted in Damascus suburbs and the capital's Barzeh district, where two witnesses said security forces fired at protesters and chased them in the streets.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said at least 831 civilians had been killed since the uprising against autocratic rule erupted in the southern city of Deraa nine weeks ago. It said at least 10,000 people had been arrested, including hundreds across Syria on Friday.
Human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouna said at least 30 peole were killed on Friday. Twelve in the town of Maaret al-Numan, south of Syria's second city Aleppo, another 11 in the central city of Homs and seven others in Deraa, Latakia, the Damascus suburbs and Hama.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Emperor Obama is still wearing the same 'new clothes'

Obama during his speech

Another missed opportunity. That seems to be more or less the consensus in the Middle East about the speech U.S. president Obama's held on Thursday. Not that the expectations were that  high after Obama failed so miserably to follow up on the promises he made in his 2009 Cairo speech. One of the first things that could be said about it, was that  it took Obama no less than five months before he even adressed the Arab world about the so called 'Arab Spring', a spring that - let's put it politely - was not really welcomed all that enthousiastically by the Americans when it started in the first place. In fact it is still rather doubtful to which extend the U.S is ready to embrace the changes that are taking place. The big question mark after all is, whether the U.S. is prepared to switch from the comfortable situation that it had faithfull client-leaders in most places who were used to act upon most of Washington's wishes, to a policy whereby it eventually will allow the peoples of the Middle East to make their choices themselves.

Obama did not take away the doubts.His remarks about the U.S. attitude in past and present were just too shallow and did not indicate a clear break with the past. This is what he said 

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel's security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.
We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America's interests are not hostile to people's hopes; they're essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda's brutal attacks. We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.
Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world. 

 He also said that the U.S. supports the changes, but was too less specific to convince:
The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.
And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.
Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world's largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place. 

As far as actual policy was concerned, he mentioned the killing of civilians in Libya, the situation in Syria, where president Assad is 'faced with a choice between reform or make way', Yemen where president Saleh 'should follow through on his commitment to transfer power', and Bahrain about which he said that 

  ..... we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens, and we will -- and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. 

That was a slap on the royal Bahraini wrist (which is certain not to have pleased the king), but apart from this Obama failed to come up with more concreet steps concerning the actual situation. No plans to withdraw the Fifth Fleet from Bahrain, no shifting of aid packages for Yemen, no mention of other countries like Oman or
What he did do was offereing economic assistance for Egypt and Tunisai. But Egypt was less than pleased with his offer to wave debts in the order of $ 1 one billion  and another one billion in the form of loan garantees. In Cairo it was said that Egypt had expected much more. Also Egyptians and Tunisians alike were somewhat unpleasantly surprised that Obama seemed to tie American assistance to plans for plans to speed up economic growth, which smelled of a call to further 'liberalise' their economies. And liberalizing, meaning more privatisations, open up their markets even more for global trade and thereby risking further devaluations of their currencies with all that entails for the cost of living for their for the most part rather poor citizens, is not what most Egyptian or Tunisian economists see as a solution for the short term. 

But what was universally denounced in the Middle East was the total absence of any new steps to end the current impasse in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the fact that the 'set of universal rights' and freedoms that the U.S. was supposed to support as far as other Middles Eastern peoples were concerned, were  conspicuously absent when he spoke about the Palestinians. He went even further than that and said that  
 For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state...  by which he effectively signaled that the U.S.will block both peaceful protests which are linked to BDS,  as well as attempts by the Palestinbian Authority to gain recognition at the U. N.
About Hamas and the reconcilitaion between Hamas and Fatah Obama said:
 ..... the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse...
by which he made it clear that he follows the Israeli lead and will refuse to deal with a PA that includes Hamas, unless Hamas subjects itself to the qualifications that the Quartet has set.

One point, however,  that drew some attention was his remark that
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
This was somewhat remarkable because the U.S. administration - as we know from the leaked so called 'Palestine Papers' - refused to allude to the 1967 borders during the last rounds of talks that were led by George Mitchell, although the 'green line' had always been the 'point de départ' in the universally recognized Resolution 242uncil. But attention was also drawn to this remark because Israeli prime minister Netanyahu reacted angrily from his plane on the way to Washington, and let Obama know that he 'expected' the U.S. President to stick to a letter George Bush sent in 2004 to the then Israeli prime minister Sharon, in which Bush expressed support for the position that Israel would annex the 'population centers' beyond this border, i.e. the settlement blocs. Netanyahu's reaction seemed the upbeat for aa stormy meeting with Obama, whose administration never went so far as to adopt Bush's stand in this respect. But then, at the same time, Obama's formulation about 'mutually agreed swaps' provided  ample room for a most flexible handling of the subject.
After all also this is hardly more than a storm in a glass of water, or rather the ususal way in which Netranyahu seems to make clear who is the one who dictates the order of the day in meetings like this one between the U.S. and Israel with which it shares an unshakable bond. So that it  might be appropriate to conclude with some remarks from an editorial by The National, a quality paper in Abu Dhabi, which seems to express the common feeling in the rehion rather well: 
In the Middle East peace process, where the US truly can lead - where Washington has named itself mediator - it has been unwilling to act. In this speech, Mr Obama made it clear that the United States would not be a neutral broker and it would block international pressure on Israel.

He reaffirmed the 1967 borders as the outlines of two states, and that Jerusalem and the right of return need to be resolved, but refused to acknowledge why two years of negotiations have been meaningless: Israel has declined every overture while building every roadblock it could. Mr Obama's demand for renewed talks simply resets to the "status quo" that he said was untenable.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Assad target of US sanctions; Yemen's Saleh again refuses to sign deal

IA - U.S imposes sanctions on Assad  
The United States has imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for human rights abuses. The US and EU had already imposed sanctions on other senior figures close to Assad, i.e. his brother Maher, his cousin and an intelligence chief, but this time also Assad himself has been targeted specifically by the international community for his government's crackdown on protesters.
The order signed by president Obama punishes Mr Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses
The others named are:  Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar, Defence Minister Ali Habib, Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, the head of Military intelligence and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, the head of the Political Security Directorate. The new measures freeze any assets they have in US jurisdiction and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them.
Syria condemned the sanctions, which it said were part of a US effort to impose its policies in the region.

YEMEN - Saleh again refuses to sign transition of power deal 
Last-minute diplomatic wrangling has derailed a deal on a transition of power in Yemen despite growing U.S. pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to the Gulf-brokered plan and relinquish power.
The deal had been expected to be signed on Wednesday. It would have granted Saleh immunity from prosecution and allowed him a dignified exit from power. But the agreement broke down after a dispute over who would sign for the opposition, and the leader of a bloc of Yemen's wealthy oil-exporting Gulf neighbors left Sanaa without securing a deal on Wednesday. Sources close to the talks have told Reuters that Saleh wanted the rotating head of the coalition, Yassin Noman, a leftist, to sign the deal. The opposition preferred Mohammed Basindwa, tipped as a possible interim prime minister.The opposition agreed to have Noman as the first opposition signatory, but also wanted Basindwa to be on a list of signatories. Saleh refused and the deal fell through, the sources said. Political analysts doubt whether the deal will actually be carried out after two previous near-deals also fell through at the last minute.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Obama blames Syria for Israeli killings at the border on the Golan

Israeli's 'guarding the border' at Majdal Shams on the Golan.

Israeli troops have kille dat least 15 people un Sunday who were participating in demonstrations at its borders to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba of 15 May 1948. Ten people were killed at the Lebanese border and 112 wounded, four at the Syrian border and tens more wounded on the Golan Heigfhts that Israel captured in 1967, and one teenager was killed and 82 people were wounded when the Israeli's opened fire from a tank at the border with Gaza (in fact it seems  that also a 16th person was killed over there, who according to the Israeli's 'was preparing to lay an exploive device').
So, 15 dead, more than 200 injured, and what is the comment of the U.S. president? According to Reuters he had this to say:

The White House accused the Syrian government on Monday of inciting deadly border clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators, saying Damascus was trying to distract attention from its own violent crackdown on protests.
White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed regret for the loss of life in confrontations on Israel's frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday but said the Jewish state "has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders."
"We urge maximum restraint on all sides," Carney told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to Tennessee. (..) He said the administration was "strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights. Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country. It seems apparent to us that this is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protest by the Syrian people, and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people."

Lets's compare this with an example from the recent past. Let's imagine that France stationed troops at the border with Italy and shot 15 Libyan refugees when Italy tried to get rid of them. Would Obama in that case also have said that France has the right to protect its borders? Of course not. Obama's pro-Israel stance is really bordering on the absurd.

Killing Bin Laden was clearly unlawful

Benjamin Ferencz
When Osama bin Laden was killed I was in France, without an internet connection, so I had to let this event pass. But I was struck by how much the way he was executed ressembled what Israeli's call targeted killings, the unlawful execution of Palestinians they suspect of having committed attacks in the past or being able to execute those in the future. Also it fits into a trend of what the Americans are doing quite regularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen  nowadays: killing by unmanned drone. I was happy to stumble on a piece where Glenn Greenwald (Salon.com) quotes the former prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, Benjamin Ferencz, who was very outspoken about the fact that killing Bin Laden in stead of taking him prisoner, was clearly a violation of international law and against the spirit and letter of Nuremberg. 
And another point that Ferencz made: by giving the order to kill him, president Obama wasted the opportunity to question Bin Laden openly, in a court of law, about the way the attack on the Twin Towers was done and the reasons behind it.          

Benjamin Ferencz is a 92-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, American combat soldier during World War II, and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he prosecuted numerous Nazi war criminals, including some responsible for the deaths of upward of 100,000 innocent people.  He gave a fascinating (and shockingly articulate) 13-minute interview yesterday to the CBC in Canada about the bin Laden killing, the Nuremberg principles, and the U.S. role in the world.  Without endorsing everything he said, I hope as many people as possible will listen to it.
All of Ferencz's answers are thought-provoking -- including his discussion of how the Nuremberg Principles apply to bin Laden -- but there's one answer he gave which I particularly want to highlight; it was in response to this question: "so what should we have learned from Nuremberg that we still haven't learned"?  His answer:

I'm afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed, unfortunately.  The world has accepted them, but the U.S. seems reluctant to do so.  The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression -- that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense -- is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war.  And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.
These lessons were hailed throughout the world -- I hailed them, I was involved in them -- and it saddens me to no end when Americans are asked:  why don't you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression?  And the response is:  Nuremberg?  That was then, this is now.  Forget it.
Click here to read the rest of Greenwald's piece

Saturday, May 14, 2011

No reason for optimism in Syria

Some days ago I posted a piece about Syria under the above titel. Today, to my shock, I discovered that it had disappeared. It is the first time something like this has happened on this blogspot blog. It must have been during the technical difficulties the whole blogspot system seems to have experienced on Friday, wehen also my entrance to it was blocked. I've tried to reconstruct what I wrote, while at the same time updating it somewhat:
This Friday was relatively less bloody than many Fridays before it in Syria. 'Only' six people got killed during demonstrations all over the country, after it was reported that Bashar Army himself gave the order not to shoot. 
It was a Friday that followed after a week in which tanks shelled a residential district in Homs on Wednesday (six dead), as well another one in Hara not far from Deraa (13 dead). Also the army kept Baniyas at the cost, Homs more to the north under military occupation as well as large parts of the south after it rolled more southward. House to house searches and mass arrest were going on in many places, including in suburbs of Damascus the past days. The United Nations put the overall death toll at at least 850. The Human Rights organisation Insan said the number of arrests might be above 8000, of wich some thousands had been verified, while others wer still in  process of being verified. 

What tranpired more clearly than ever before during this last week, was that the regime is not able to deal with the demands for more freedom other than by  brutal repression and by pointing fingers at armed bands which undermine the social fabric of Syrian society or plots hatched outside. .
In an earlier stage the regime seemd to be prepared to liberalize. It lifted the more than 40 years old state of emergency and made some promises of reform. But the lifting of the state of emergency was alsomost immediately replaced by a new draconian decree that deemed all demonstrations illegal unless they had been granted permission. And at the present stage nothing is mentioned anymore about revising the constitution or the introduction – even gradually – of more freedoms.
Many have raised the question why the events have taken this turn. After all president Bashar al-Assad is not known to be a ruthless person. People who know him would rather call him the opposite. He is  a westernized, western trained ophthalmologist who studied in London before he was called by his father, Hafez al-Assad, to take the place of his elder brother Basil who had been groomed to take over the helm, but who had been been killed in a traffic accident. His wife Basma, who grew up in London, is even more westernized than him. People who know Bashar say that he is the kind of person that loves to liked. He might have been willing to modernize and liberalize Syria. But the key to understanding what is happening, is most probably that Assad is not really the one who has the last word in everything. Unlike his father Hafez al-Assad, who was alays the one who - mostly after long deliberations - took all decisions, Bashar seems to be much more dependent on his enveronment. Although he, when he took over, did away with many of his fathers trusted generals and aides in order to create a power base for himself, he still seems to be less the primus inter pares than someone who relies on others. In the first place these are his brother Maher who is the commander of the Presidential Guard and the elite Fourth Division of the army, and Assaf Shawqat, their brother-in-law, who heads military intelligence.

 Key players: Freom left to right Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawqat and Bashar al-Assad during the funeral of Hafez al-Assad sr in June 2000.

But it is not on them alone that Bashar depends. It seems that also a larger number of family members and people associated with them take part in the decision making process. Rami Makhlouf, Bashar's and Maher's maternal cousin and the richest and most influential business man in Syria (he owns the mobile telephone company Syriatel and has stakes in bbanking, oil and gas and a lot more) revealed that in an interview with the New York Times' Anthony Shadid In it he more or less confirmed that it is not so much Bashar who decides everything but very much this ruling family and their associates as a whole. However, he also said something else: that was that the Assads and the people who are close to them are determined to 'fight this to the end'.

And that is exactly what most Syria watchers have come to fear. Apparently the ruling family has come to the conclusion that reform bears too many risks for them and that the only possible answer is the use of force. Maybe they fear to loose their priviliges and wealth, maybe the possibility that one day they might be brought to justice. Maybe it is even fear that the whole Alawite community might suffer when the regime would disappear, so that they see no alterative than to maintain an iron grip. After all their position is a strange one. Their community consists of a minority of 15%, but  has been in command for some four decades now, as an heritage of the French colonial period, during which the Frenchy, faithfull to the principle of divide and rule, gave most leading positions in the army to Alawite officers. And most leading positions in the army and the Baath party they occupy to this day. 
Rami Makhlouf
But  fighting to the end is a frightful prospect. The regime may well pretend - through the mouth of Assads media specialist Bouthaina Shaaban - that it got the upper hand and is winning the battle, but the facts seem to point in a different direction. The demonstrations don't abate. And a short while ago it might still have been possible for this small ruling elite to become the guardians of a peaceful, gradual transformation of the system towards more participation of other groups. Assad himself might even have remained president for another period, before transferring power to a newly elected successor.But now, after so many dead, after so much intimidation and repression, that seems to be no longer feasible  The slogans which at first only demanded freedom and the lifting of the draconian state of ermergency, have been replaced by demands for removal of Assad, the regime, the Baath and everything they entail.
And that raises two questions. One is: can the regime possibly win this battle? To which the answer most probably should be: no, most probably it can't in the end. And the other is: what after Assad? Because gradual tansformation from dictatorship to more freedom, democracy and free elections would doubtlessly have been a much better option than regime change. The country is a patchwork of miniroties. Apart from es the Alawites and the Sunni majority there are aslo the Christians, the Druze and the Kurds, which are not necessarily so much used to live peacefully together and respect each others rights, in spite of the slogans about national unity which were raised during the demonstrations of the past few weeks.
Also there is a total absence of political culture. The opposition is totally unorganized. Syria is no Egypt, where political parties maybe weren't allowed to oparate freely but at least led a dormant exeistance and where a kind of freedom of expression existed, at least to a certain extend. In Syria there is nothing of the kind. It was the Baath and only the Baath and a state press that was as unfree as a bridled press can be.
And it is not the only thing. Parts of Syrian society are not really keen on removing the Assads at all. Particularly the Sunni bourgeoisy and business communities of Damascus and Aleppo prefer the relative stability that the Assad family used to guarantee them over a completely unknown future without them. It was not without reason that Damascus and Aleppo sofar stayed largely out of the protests. Also there is the question mark over the role armed gangs played in the protests. The regime kept talking about them and  claimed that some 100 security personel had been killed so far. It all was taken with a pinch of salt. But the footage of furerals of these security men and the interviews with their families that the Syrian state tv showed were realistic enough. And I'm afraid that all these things together do not really give much reason for optimism, right now in Syria.      

Bahrain destroyed Shiite mosques, fired 2000 employees

Al-Jazeera English has this report in the famework of a special report bout the uprising in Bahrain. According to the oppositional organisation Al-Wefaq, the government destroyed some 30 Shiite mosques:

Al Jazeera also reports that more than 2,000 private sector employees, most of them Shia, have either been sacked or suspended in an expanding Bahraini crackdown on anti-government protests. The General Federation of Bahrain's Trade Unions puts the figure at 1,300, but Bahraini rights groups report that hundreds more have been suspended from their government jobs.
The International Labour Organisation says that the number of people dismissed or suspended currently stands at over 2,000.
The turning point for this side of the crackdown came when labour unions called a general strike on March 13. Under Bahraini law, companies are within their rights to terminate the employment of staff members who miss days of work above and beyond a specified period of unexcused leave.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Guy Ryder, the deputy director-general of the ILO, said that there were two contradictory discourses at play. "The discourse of the government is that it has had, in fact, no role whatsoever in the dismissal of workers. That dismissals have taken place by decision of companies and in accordance with labour legislation prevailing in Bahrain. So the government has very much a hands-off discourse on this matter. That version is contradicted by the trade unions in Bahrain, who say that employers, in fact, have been subjected to political pressure to dismiss people who the government perceives as having been active in the ... protest movement," he said.
The Bahraini economy, meanwhile, continues to reel from both the earlier mass protests, and now mass dismissals of employees. Analysts say the sackings do not inspire confidence in the business community.
In March, foreign assets in the country's offshore banking sector fell 10 per cent, hitting their lowest levels since 2005.

Update Monday 16/5 
The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights released a statement Sunday saying it was “deeply concerned” the country’s leading university had started requiring students to sign a pledge to support the embattled government of King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa. The state-run University of Bahrain in Sakhir distributed the pledges when students returned to class Sunday. Students who refuse to sign the pledge might have to withdraw, the group says.
University officials added metal detectors, surveillance cameras and stationed security guards at each of the school’s colleges this week, according to the leading opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat. They also have suspended many students who joined anti-government demonstrations or posted anti-government views on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Violence in Cairo

 Firmen try to put out the fire at the Mar Mina church in Embaba (AFP).

The more things change, the more they stay the same ( 'Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’), the saying by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr seems quite apt to describe what happened last weekend in Egypt. Over the years I have so often had the feeling that what happens in Egypt can be described in terms of  events, facts, numbers even, but that the actual 'why?' and 'how' usually remains somehow completely in the dark. And now that we have had this revolution, and are in the midst of a process of transformation that may change virtually t everything, some things apparently stay the same. This weekend there was this clash in the very 'baladi', poor and underdevelopped quarter Embaba in Cairo, which left 12 dead, more than 200 injured, two churches, several shops and a cafe burned down or damaged, and 190 people arrested. 
And also this time it was as it always used to be: we know the facts and the numbers, but what was the course of events remains in the dark.
Not that the cause of the fight was an unknown phenomenon. Tensions between Christians and Muslims (Salafists in this case) tend to flare up from time to time. Even the spark that ignited the fire sounded strangely familiar: a story about a Christian woman from Assiut in Upper-Egypt, who left her husband some years ago for a Muslim and converted to Islam in order to be able to divorce and marry him, would have been abducted and hidden in the Mar Mina church in Embaba by Christian zealots. It sounds very much like the story of Kamilla Shehata, also from Upper-Egypt, who was married to a priest and after a fight with him left, and according fto the story converted, after which she was abducted and hidden in a monastery. Also that story left its traces of blood and destruction. Stories of compelled conversrions have trhis effect of stirring the emotions to the maximum. 
In the case of the woman in the church in Embaba, a certain Abeer, the word was spread trough Twitter and Facebook. Salafists gathered in front of the church and wante to search the building in order to free her. But what happened after that remains totally in the dark. The army came, and some shots were fired after which it all went loose. Was it Christian neighbours of the church who fired the first shots in the air, as some say, in order to disperse the crowd? Which had the opposite effect? Was it the army? The Salafists? It remains unclear, as can be concluded from the accounts here, by blogster Zeinobia, or by the journalist Sarah Carr.
What IS clear, however, is that clashes like this happen in a kind of vaccuum that has been left after the repressive security agencies of the Mubarak era have been dismantled or at least severely weakened. The army has stepped in to fill the gap, but is apparently not very suited to the task. And what is extra worrisome, is that many suspect that forces from the ancien regime are behind these flare-ups in order to sow unrest in the hope it will provoke calls for a return to a regime more reminiscent of the past with its relative calm and 'law and order'. And it is not only incidents as in Embaba. It is more widespread, as becomes clear from this beautifully written blog by Wendell Steavenson of the New Yorker. Let's hope that it is a phenomenon that will pass with the consolidation of the Egyptian revolution.