Monday, October 31, 2011

Arab League asks Syrian government to hold talks with opposition in Cairo

 Homs on Saturday (still taken from video)

The Arab League has handed Syrian officials a plan for ending seven months of increasingly violent unrest against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, Reuters reports. The Arab League committee put its plan, involving talks in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents, to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Assad, on Sunday in Qatar.
The League had previously set a two-week deadline for the start of such talks, which expired on Sunday. The committee said it hoped for a Syrian response to its plan by Monday. "More important than a dialogue is action... This committee has given a very strong response to the recent killings," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, whose country presides over the committee, told reporters in Doha.
Syrian objections to holding a meeting regarding what they consider domestic affairs outside Syria was one of the points of disagreement between the two sides.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday that he would co-operate with the opposition even as he had earlier warned in another interview of an "earthquake" if the West intervenes in his country. In an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said international involvement risked transforming Syria into "another Afghanistan". He also stressed Syria was key to keeping the peace in the region. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans? Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region," he said.

Opposition sources said 61 civilians and 30 soldiers had been killed in the latest clashes over the previous three days. On Sunday, security forces and pro-Assad militiamen killed at least 10 civilians, mostly in Homs, 140 km (85 miles) north of Damascus, bringing the total in the last 72 hours to 61, activists and residents said.
Homs province, which borders Lebanon and is home to one of Syria's two oil refineries, is emerging as a center of armed resistance to Assad's rule after months of peaceful protests that often drew a violent response from security forces.One activist group said fighters thought to be army deserters had killed 30 soldiers in clashes in Homs city and in an ambush in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday.

Egyptian army detains prominent blogger

Alaa Seif Abdel Fattah (Photo Hossam al-Hamalawy)

Egyptian military prosecutors have ordered the prominent Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah  to be detained for 15 days and another bailed pending investigations into accusations that they incited violence. Alaa was detained in court on Sunday after refusing to be interrogated by a military prosecutor. His co-defendant, Bahaa Saber, was allowed to post bail.
Mona Seif, Abd El Fattah's sister, told Al Jazeera that he was detained after both activists had refused to answer the army prosecutor's questions. "He was arrested because the military are trying to find someone else to blame for the massacre that happened on the ninth of October," she said."The truth is that we are actually accusing the military of causing the deaths of at least 27 people and the wounds of more than 100 peaceful protesters."
She was referring to teh massacre that happened during the protest of Mainly Christians on 9 Octber at Maspero.Alaaa Abdel Fattah told Reuters on his way to the prosecutor that the army is trying to blame him and others for what happened at Maspero. ''They committed a massacre, a horrible crime and now they are working on framing someone else for it. This whole situation is distorted. Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood," he said, adding the military was using the "incitement" card to shift the blame away from its own officers.''
Al Ahram on line published a portrait of Alaa from which I take the following: 
Abdel Fattah is considered one of Egypt’s pioneer bloggers, along with his wife, Manal Hussein. Since 2004, both have been publishing their political opinions in well-known blog Originally, as a software developer and activist, Abdel Fattah has supported initiatives that promote social media, freedom of expression and political activism. In 2005, Alaa and Manal won the Special Reporters without Borders Award in Deutsche Welle's Best Blogs competition.
It is not the first time Abdel Fattah finds himself facing allegations by the state. In May 2006, he was arrested while participating in a peaceful protest in solidarity with Egypt’s free judiciary movement. His arrest caused an international uproar, as it was seen as an attempt to crack down on blogging activity in Egypt by targeting one of its most influential bloggers.
Born in 1981, Abdel Fattah was brought up in a family of leftists with a long history of political activism. His father, Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamed, is a prominent lawyer and human rights activist who used to run the Cairo-based Hisham Mubarak Law Centre. Ahmed Seif El-Islam was arrested in the 1980s and imprisoned for five years for his political activity. Abdel Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, is a professor of mathematics at Cairo University, while his aunt is Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist of international renown. Alaa’s sister, Mona Seif, meanwhile, is one of the founders of the “No to military trials for civilians” campaign. Abdel Fattah’s wife, Manal, also comes from a family with a long activist pedigree. Manal’s father is Bahi El-Din Hassan, a founder of Egypt’s contemporary human rights movement and current head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies. The couple moved to South Africa in 2008, but returned to join the Tahrir protests in January.

PS I forgot to give a link to Arabist's blog, for a translation  of  a beautiful piece by Alaa, one of his last. Here it is.

HumanRights Watch reports terrror from anti-Qadhafi squads

 The deserted town of Tawergha. (Photo Daniel Etter)

Militias from the city of Misrata are terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata, Human Rights Watch said today. The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) should bring central command and control, as well as accountability, to the more than 100armed groups from Misrata, Human Rights Watch said. Anyone abusing Tawerghans, or preventing their return, is committing a criminal offense.
The people of Tawergha mostly fled in August to the Jufra region, south of Misrata, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which put the number of displaced Tawerghans there at 15,000. Local officials in Hun, a town in Jufra, said 4,000 Tawerghans had sought shelter in three camps there as of early October, and an unknown number are in the town of Sokna and nearby agricultural settlements. Since then, at least 5,000 Tawerghans have moved from Jufra to Benghazi and Tripoli, and other groups are in Tarhuna, Khoms, and the far south.

Human Rights Watch also reported that 53 people, apparent Gaddafi supporters, seem to have been executed at a hotel in Sirte last week. The hotel is in an area of the city that was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.  “We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings. “This requires the immediate attention of the Libyan authorities to investigate what happened and hold accountable those responsible.”
  Anti-Gaddafi forces are organized in brigades whose primary loyalty is to their city of origin. Many Libyan cities have numerous brigades, small groups of fighters who operate semi-independently during battles. More than 100 brigades (katiba) operate in the city of Misrata alone. On the walls of the Hotel Mahari, Human Rights Watch saw the names of five known Misrata-based fighting groups, who had apparently based themselves in the hotel. At the entrance, as well as on the inside and outside walls, was prominently written the “Tiger Brigade” (Al-Nimer). In numerous places on other walls were written the “Support Brigade” (Al-Isnad), the Jaguar Brigade (Al-Fahad), the Lion Brigade (Al-Asad), and the Citadel Brigade (Al-Qasba). There is no direct evidence that these five brigades were involved in the executions, but their apparent presence in the hotel requires immediate investigation, Human Rights Watch said.
“The evidence suggests that some of the victims were shot while being held as prisoners, when that part of Sirte was controlled by anti-Gaddafi brigades who appear to act outside the control of the National Transitional Council,” Bouckaert said. “If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution.”
Bodies in the garden of the mahari Hotel. Local people put them in body bags. (Photo HRW)

At a separate site in Sirte, Human Rights Watch saw the badly decomposed bodies of 10 people who had apparently also been executed. The bodies had been dumped in a water reservoir in District 2 of the city. The identity of the victims was unknown, and it was not possible to establish whether Gaddafi forces or anti-Gaddafi fighters were responsible. From the state of decomposition of the bodies, it appears they were killed prior to October 12.
Medical officials in Sirte told Human Rights Watch that pro-Gaddafi forces had carried out executions in the city. They said that medical teams and anti-Gaddafi fighters found at least 23 bodies, their hands bound, between October 15 and October 20.

The executions at the Mahari Hotel came to light just days after the still unexplained deaths of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi while in the custody of fighters from Misrata. Both men were captured alive in Sirte on October 20.
At the site where Muammar Gaddafi was captured, Human Rights Watch found the remains of at least 95 people who had apparently died that day. The vast majority had apparently died in the fighting and NATO strikes prior to Gaddafi’s capture, but between six and ten of the dead appear to have been executed at the site with gunshot wounds to the head and body.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Olivier Roy: Ennahda n'a pas gagné en tant que partisan d' un État islamiste

Olivier Roy
The Algerian newspaper Al Watan interviewed the French expert on Islam and Islam politics Olivier Roy about the suces of the islamist Ennahda party at the Tunisian elections. I give some excerpts (and below a shortened translation)  

Professeur à l’Institut universitaire européen de Florence où il dirige le Programme méditerranéen, le politologue français, Olivier Roy, nous donne sa lecture de la victoire du parti islamiste Ennahda en Tunisie et analyse la situation dans les pays voisins, connaissant, eux aussi, des changements majeurs sur la scène politique. 

- Vous avez déclaré la fin de l’islamisme politique et souligné l’absence de slogans idéologiques et des islamistes pendant la Révolution. Pourtant, c’est bien le parti islamiste qui a remporté les élections. Pourquoi ?

Ennahda ne gagne pas en tant que parti islamiste porteur d’un projet d’Etat islamiste et d’une révolution islamiste. Il gagne en tant que parti conservateur, de droite, qui tient un discours sur les valeurs, dont les valeurs religieuses certes, mais aussi les valeurs de la famille, de l’authenticité, de la culture, etc. Un discours qui plaît à une société qui est quand même très conservatrice. Concernant son score, il n’a fait que 40% ! Certains parlent d’un raz-de-marée alors que 60% des Tunisiens n’ont pas voté Ennahda. Ensuite, je crois que c’est également l’échec de la gauche qui explique la victoire d’Ennahda. La gauche laïque a perdu sa crédibilité. Elle a tenu un discours essentiellement contre le parti islamiste. Or, ce discours n’est pas du tout positif ni porteur d’un projet politique. La gauche est apparue divisée et élitiste, posant essentiellement la question du voile et de l’alcool, mais pas les grandes questions de société. Il faut remarquer que les deux partis de gauche, qui ont fait dans les 15%, sont des partis qui n’excluaient pas du tout, au contraire, de faire partie d’un gouvernement de coalition avec Ennahda. Cela prouve que la majorité des électeurs est pour un gouvernement de coalition, ce qui va donc contre les partis de gauche qui estimaient qu’on ne pouvait pas négocier avec Ennahda.

- N’y a-t-il pas un risque de «salafisation» de l’islamisme ? Vous privilégiez le scénario turc ?
Il y a une surenchère salafiste. Les salafistes font pression sur les islamistes pour que l’islam soit en tête de l’agenda politique. Cette pression est forte mais je pense qu’en Tunisie, Ennahda est capable de résister.


- Prédisez-vous une victoire des Frères musulmans en Egypte également ?
Oui, je pense que ce sera un parti dominant à l’Assemblée. Mais la situation est différente de la Tunisie. D’abord, en Egypte, il y a l’armée. Elle fera pencher la balance dans un sens ou dans un autre. Aussi, le mouvement des Frères musulmans est divisé sur une base générationnelle. Il y a des tensions entre les jeunes et le leadership. D’autre part, le leadership est beaucoup moins moderne que celui d’Ennahda. Mais comparé à ses homologues égyptiens, Ghannouchi est un libéral. La pression des salafistes est d’autre part encore plus forte en Egypte. Donc, nous avons là un champ plus diversifié, des mouvements moins homogènes, une armée qui a un poids, la situation est plus volatile en Egypte.

 - Dès la proclamation de libération de la Libye, le CNT a déclaré l’instauration de la charia et a rétabli la polygamie, abolie par l’ancien régime. Est-ce une manœuvre pour rassurer les islamistes et les pousser à déposer les armes ou assiste-t-on à l’arrivée de l’islamisme au pouvoir en Libye aussi ?

Il n’y pas d’équivalents d’Ennahda et des Frères musulmans en Libye. Les islamistes sont des activistes qui n’ont pas d’expérience de combat, et ils l’ont montré. Ils vont certainement jouer un rôle, mais il n’y a pas de partis politiques structurés. Je crois que la référence à la charia est plus de la rhétorique démagogique qu’un programme de gouvernement. La charia peut être déclarée source de droit sans que rien se passe. Tout dépend de ce qu’on fera concrètement après. Comment va-t-on définir la loi ? C’est l’affaire d’une Constituante et on verra bien ce qui se passera. Il est clair qu’il y aura des tensions, mais en Libye, je crois que ces tensions apparaîtront plus sur une base régionaliste que sur une base idéologique.

What Roy says is that essentially Ennanhda did not win as a an islamist party that campaigned for an islamist state, but that it was more its conservative nature, its clinging to the family values and authentic cultural values that appealed to the Tunisians. Apart from that it was not a landslide, Ennahda got 40% which meant that 60% did not vote for it. According to Roy it was also as much a defeat for the leftist parties, which lost their  credibility by putting much more emphasis on campaigning against Ennahda than bringing a mesage of their own. He points to the fact that the two runners up are parties that from the beginning said they were willing to consider entering a coalition with Ennnahda, which could be interpreted as a sign that a majority of Tunisians is in favour of a coalition in which Ennahda takes part.

Roy concedes that salafism poses a risk in that the salafists put pressure on Ennahda to keep islamism on the agenda, but he thinks Ennahda is stron enough to deal with this pressure.

As far as Egypt is considered, Roy is less optimistic. Also there the islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood in this case, are poised to win. But the leadership of the Brotherhood is much more rigid than Ennahda's leader Ghannouchi, who is a liberal in comparison to them. And though it is true that there are differences of opinion between the leadeship and the younger guard, also the pressure of salafist movements is much stronger in Egypt. And there is also the army that can tip the balance to one side or the other. In short: the situation in Egypt is much more volatile than in Tunisia.

As for the question asked concerning Libya, where according to al-Watan the NTC (Transitional Council) announced that the sharia would be reinstated and polygamy reintrodued, Roy points to the fact that although there are islamist activists in Libya, they are less organised than elsewhere. There are no islamist parties, nor a Muslim Brotherhood. Maybe the NTC-declaration means that the sharia will be declared a source of legislation. He thinks it it is more rethorics than political practice, and in any case what exactly that is going to mean, has yet to become clear. Islamists, he thinks, will certainly play a role in the Libya of the future. But whether they will constitute a problem remains to be seen. At the moment regional divisions are much more apparent in Libya than ideological ones.   
  (For the whole article - in French - click here)

Syrian government troops again kill some 30 people

 An Arab delegation spoke Wednesday with president Assad. Delegates included the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Nabil al-Arabi, the head of the Arab League and was led by the Prime Minisytrer of Qatar, Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani.It is not known whether anything was achieved during the talks.

Syrian security forces opened fire Friday on protesters and hunted them down in house-to-house raids, killing about 30 people in the deadliest day in weeks in the country's 7-month-old uprising, activists said, according to AP.
Much of the bloodshed Friday happened after the protests had ended and security forces armed with machine guns chased protesters and activists, according to opposition groups monitoring the demonstrations. Authorities disrupted telephone and Internet service, they said.

The Syrian opposition's two main activist groups, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordinating Committees, gave figures for the protesters killed on Friday ranging from 29 to 37. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, some 15 peoplewere killed.
Most of the victims fell in the cities Hama and Homs, which both have been at the front line of the pro-democracy protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad that have rocked Syria since mid-March.

Security forces forces encircled mosques before and after Friday prayers and made arrests, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said. UN estimates more than 3,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the violence.
A mass demonstration took also place in Kafr Nabl, a town in Idlib, near the Turkish border, demanding the imposition of a no-fly zone. That call was echoed in Homs, the focus of military raids in recent weeks. Large protests were reported in Deir Balaa and Hama, where clashes took place between suspected army defectors and members of the regular army and the security forces. Troops also raided the northwestern town of Kafruma, arresting 13 people.In Maaret al-Numan, also in Idlib, the funeral of a soldier who defected and was shot dead on Thursday by security forces turned into a rally demanding the fall of Assad's regime, and demonstrators further east in Deir ez-Zor also came under fire as they streamed out of mosques, activists said.

Friday, October 28, 2011

And again a victim of torture in Egypt

And again a man was tortured to death by Egyptian security forces. This time it was the prison authorities at Torah prison in Cairo who killed a 24 year old man, Essam Ali Atta Ali. He died Thursday night at Qasr El-Eini hospital in Cairo.
Essam Atta was sentenced to two years in jail by military court on 25 February for a common crime. He was awaiting a revision of his verdict. According to his cellmates, prison officials attempted to punish him for apparently smuggling a mobile SIM card into the ward. Prison officers reportedly pushed hoses into Ali's mouth and anus, which led to bleeding. An officer from Torah prison dropped Ali yesterday in a critical condition at the hospital. Attending physicians immediately noticed liquid secretions emitted from Ali's mouth and suspected foul play.
Activists and supporters of Ali's family wasted no time and set a facebook page to demand justice for the 24 year old man they called Egypt's latest martyr."We are all Khaled Said", one of Egypt's most popular facebook pages, and one that played a key role in organising for the uprising against ousted president Mubarak, called on doctors at the hospital to come forward and tell the pblic what they saw as they examined Essam Ali Atta Ali. News of Ali's death at the hands of the police comes only hours after judges in Alexandria sentenced two police sergeants to 7 years in prison for their role in the murder of 28 year old Khaled Said. Many in Egypt consider this too lenient a punishment.

Ennahda officially winner of Tunisia's elections with 41,5%, will form coalition

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi

The Islamist Ennahda party was officially declared the winner of Tunisia's election, setting it up to form the first Islamist-led government in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Ennahda got  41,5% of the votes. Election commission members said it had won 90 seats in the 217-seat assembly. This assemblee will draft a new constitution, form an interim government and schedule new elections, probably in 2013.
The Islamists' nearest rival, the secularist Congress for the Republic (CPR) of human rights capaigner Moncef Marzouki , was in second place with 13.8 per cent, representing 30 seats, and Ettakatol (Forum démocratique for le travail et les libertés of Mustafa Ben Jafaar) third with 9.7 per cent or 21 seats.
After Ennahdha was officially declared the winner, its leader Rachid Ghannouchi said: "We will continue this revolution to realise its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone."

Ennahda, which was banned before the revolution of January, is now expected to broker a coalition with two of the secularist runners-up. The party has already said they will put forward Hamadi Jbeli, the deputy of party leader Rachid Ghannouchi and a former political prisoner, for the post of prime minister. The party is moderately Islamist. Ghannouchi points at the approach of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party as a model. Secularists say the Islamists will try to impose an Islamic moral code on society but Ghannouchi has denied this. His officials say there will be no restrictions on foreign tourists -- a big source of revenue -- drinking alcohol or wearing bikinis on the country's Mediterranean beaches.
Ennahda has also reached out to anxious investors by saying it will not impose Islamic banking rules. It says it is inclined to keep the finance minister and central bank governor in their posts when it forms the new government.
The announcement of the results was slightly overshadowed by riots in Sidi Bouzid, the place where the revolution originated after fruit seller Mohammed Bouazzizi set fire to himself in December. Protesters there were angry that election officials had canceled seats won by the Popular List, a party led by businessmen Hachmi Hamdi, over alleged violations of the restrictions on the financing of the campaigns. Hamdi's party is popular in Sidi Bouzid. The Popular List was running in fourth place in the election, according to preliminary results, before its seats were canceled. The party's leader used to support Ben Ali and during the election ran a populist campaign heavily promoted on the British-based television station he owns.
More than 2,000 young people marched on the Sidi Bouzid headquarters of Ennahdha, burned tyres and pelted security forces with stones. Protests spread to nearby Menzel Bouzayane where more than 1,000 people demonstrated, union official Mohamed Fadhel said. In Meknassy, 50km from Sidi Bouzid, demonstrators set fire to Ennahda's party office, Fadhel said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New victory for BDS, Alstom looses contract bid in S-Arabia

 Jerusalem light rail

The BDS National Committee (BNC) has declared a long sought-after victory as Alstom lost the bid for the second phase of the Saudi Haramain Railway project, worth $10 billion US dollars, after pressure from the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In 2008 the BNC, the largest Palestinian civil society coalition, with partners in Europe and Israel, launched the Derail Veolia and Alstom campaign, due to the two companies’ involvement in Israel’s illegal Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR) project, which explicitly aims to “Judaize Jerusalem,” according to official Israeli statements, by cementing Israel’s hold on the illegal colonial settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in and around Jerusalem. Since then, Veolia has lost more than $12B worth of contracts following boycott activism in Sweden, the UK, Ireland and elsewhere. Alstom, too, suffered substantial blows when the Swedish national pension fund AP7 excluded it from its investment portfolio, after having been excluded from the Dutch ASN Bank due to the company’s involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and has recently announced its intention to withdraw from the project. The decision is in line with a decision adopted by consensus at the Arab Summit held in Khartoum in 2006 which condemned in the JLR project and called on “the two French companies [Alstom and Veolia] to immediately withdraw from the project,” and demanding that punitive measures be taken against them “if they don’t comply.” In 2009, BNC member organizations, Stop the Wall and the Civic Coalition to Defend Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem, have produced in-depth research about Alstom’s involvement in Israel’s illegal JLR project. Copies were sent to Saudi officials, prompting Palestinian leaders to address Saudi authorities urging them to exclude Alstom from their contracts. Jamal Juma’a, Stop the Wall coordinator and BNC Secretariat member commented on the news saying: “This huge victory will be celebrated in the BDS campaign worldwide. We are hopeful that this will be the first of many decisions to kick Alstom out of the Arab world and beyond, sharply raising the price of its collusion in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tunisia: Ennahda may have won over 40% and wants party secretary-general as PM

 Tunisia's Ennahdha has said it will nominate the party's secretary-general Hamadi Jbeli as its candidate for the post of prime minister, now that the moderate islamist party is on course to be the dominant force in the country's constituent assembly. Al Jazeera reports..
Hamadi Jbeli
Said Firjani, a member of the party's communications office, confirmed the choice to Al Jazeera, but said the final decision rested with the constituent assembly. He also confirmed Ennahdha would not be seeking the post of president, possibly paving the way for Beji Caid Sebsi, the interim prime minister, to stand for the post.

With 87 seats of the 217-seat constituent assembly announced on Tuesday, Ennahdha had won 37 seats. The Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) had 14, Aridha Chaabia 11, Ettakatol 10 and the Progressive Democratic Party five seats.
In a statement, Ennahdha claimed that it won 'over 40 per cent' of seats. It also repeated what it said earlier, that it wishes  to co-operate with all parties without any exclusion. 'We are open to all political parties inside the assembly and outside it, as well as civil society bodies such as the great Tunisian trade union and other unions,' the statement said. 'We are in talks in order to form alliances based on a shared economic, social and political programme.'
The party's leader and founding member, Rachid Ghannouchi made a brief appearance on Tuesday night.but he did not speak to the crowd, telling Al Jazeera that he would not give a victory speech until the electoral commission had announced the full results.

Egyptian cops who killed Khaled Said and thereby helped to spark the revolution, as yet sent to jail

Pictures of the living and the dead Khaled Said...
AFP reports that an Egyptian court in Alexandria sentenced two policemen to seven years on Wednesday, after convicting them for their role in the 2010 death of Khaled Said. who became an important  symbol of the Egyptian revolution. 
In June last year, the two policemen, Mahmud Salah Mahmud and Awad Ismail Suleiman of the Sidi Gabr police station dragged Said out of an Internet cafe and severely beat him on a busy street in Alexandria. Said's death sparked protests around the country.  Actvist Wael Ghoneim, an executive at Google, launched a Facebook page  -- 'Kulena Khaled Said -We are all Khaled Said' -- which played an important role in mobilizing protesters against the reign of president Hosni Mubarak.
...were carried by protesters during the revolution.
The murder of Khaled Said was initially played down by the government. Although pictures of his dead face clearly showed that he had been beaten, the government's chief coroner at the time said he died after ingesting a bag of marijuana. Consequently the prosecutor closed the case. It led to widespread protests which in turn prompted a new investigation in September. That one concluded that Said died of asphyxiation after he was beaten, and a bag had been placed in his mouth after he fell unconscious. It lead to a reopening of the case.
One of the reasons Said's case sparked such nationwide outrage, was that police abuse and torture routinely used to be negelected by the state prosecutors.Unfortunately the revolution did not (yet) end this practice. Human rights groups in Egypt as well outside the country, like Amnesty International, say that detainees are still being subjected to torture, now at the hands of military personnel.

Yemeni president fakes another ceasefire to fool international community, 15 killed in San'a and Taiz

 Wounded man is carried away by friends from Taghyir (Chang) Square in Sana'a. (AFP)

A government announced ceasefire came to an end after government forces attacked protesters and opposition positions in Sana’a and Taiz. The Yemen Post reported that government officials announced Tuesday afternoon that a truce had been agreed upon by the opposition and president Saleh. The ceasefire was meant to take place at 3pm, but residents in Taiz said the shelling was still ongoing well passed 4.30pm. Several families in Taiz were seen fleeing the war zone to neighboring villages, too terrified at the idea of spending another night in the city, where residential areas were randomly shelled.
In Sana'a, the truce also failed to take hold. Tribal sources said at least one man was killed and nine people were wounded when shelling rocked the northern Al-Hasaba neighborhood. Altogether at least 15 people were killed, AFP reported, quoting medical officials and tribal sources in both cities.
According to the official announcement the cease fire was between the government and dissident general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. Tribal forces in Al-Hasaba led by powerful chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who is just like general Mohsen on the side of the opposition, also agreed to the ceasefire, sources in his office told AFP. The government statement said the truce went into immediate effect, But Sadiq's brother, Sheikh Hemyar, told AFP that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's troops continued to attack the Ahmar family's homes. Eyewitnesses said that no real ceasefire took place but the strategy was a tactic by the government to fool the international community and act as if it calls for peace. AFP reported that according to the American State Department Saleh told the US ambassador in Sana'a on Tuesday that he is committed to a plan brokered by Gulf states that calls on him to quit 30 days after signing the deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tunisie: grande participation aux élections, Ennahda nettement en tête

 En attendant de pouvoir voter...

Selon Atlas Info le mouvement islamiste Ennahdah arriverait en tête de plusieurs circonscriptions aux élections tunisiennes, d'après les premières estimations, alors que le taux de participation au scrutin a atteint dimanche 90%.
Les résultats définitifs ne sont pas attendus avant lundi soir ou mardi, mais le secrétaire général de l'Instance supérieure indépendante pour les élections (ISIE) Boubaker Bethabet a précisé que plus de 90% des 4,1 millions d'électeurs se sont rendus aux urnes dimanche.
Selon radio Mosaïque FM, le mouvement islamiste Ennahdah serait largement en tête. D'après d'autres sources, le Congrès pour la République (CPR) créerait la surprise se situerait en deuxième position, devant Ettakatol de Mustapha Ben Jaâfar et le Pô le démocratique progressiste (PDM), une coalition de plusieurs formation de gauche. Autre surprise, l'effondrement du Parti démocratique progressiste (PDP) donné initialement comme l'un des favoris.
Le directeur de la campagne électorale d'Ennahdha, Abdelhamid Jelassi, annonce que son parti aurait également remporté la majorité des 18 sièges attribués à la communauté tunisienne à l'étranger.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Security Council adopts toothless resolution against Ali Abdallah Saleh

Update from the Yemen Post, Saturday evening. 
As soon as the Media announced the adoption of a UN resolution on Yemen, the regime immediately resumed its shelling campaign on Hasaba, a stronghold of Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar, Saleh's main tribal and political opponent, proving to many of his detractors that he never had any intention of stepping down from the presidency. As loud explosions were heard across several northern districts of the capital, protesters in the Square also suffered Saleh's wrath as the latter unleashed his elite units, the Republican Guards, onto unarmed protesters. As fights raged all through the night between troops loyal to Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar and the government forces, news licked that the tribesmen were gaining ground against Saleh, many eye-witnesses confirming that the Republican Guards bodies were piling up in Hasaba, while the tribe had only lost 5 of its men. Defected General Mohsen's military base north of Sana'a was also under attack as Saleh's loyalists started pounding the base with mortar shells and RPGs. After a brief respite at dawn, clashes resumed in new areas of the capital, leading residents to fear that an all-out war in only hours away.
(end of update)

Tawakkul Karman, winner of the Nobel Prize, with U.N. Secetary general Ban Ki Moon. 

The UN Security Council on Friday has passed a resolution calling on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to end deadly attacks on anti-government protesters and step down. The resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the 15 members, "strongly condemns" government violence against demonstrators and backs a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) peace plan under which Saleh would end his 33 years in power.
At least a thousand people have been killed since protests against Saleh erupted in January.
The resolution called on Saleh to keep a promise to immediately sign the GCC plan, paving the way for a peaceful power transition "without further delay". Following the resolution, the United States called for the transfer of power to begin "immediately".

Saleh on Wednesday agreed to sign a Gulf peace deal calling for a transfer of power, but only if the United States, Europe and Gulf Arab states gave him unspecified guarantees. "Now that the president has returned, they say there is no need for the vice president to sign. Fine, I am ready to sign," Saleh said in a broadcasted meeting with party leaders in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday. "But provide guarantees to implement this initiative. We want Gulf guarantees, first, second, European guarantees and third American guarantees," he added. Under the plan, Saleh would transfer power to his deputy until elections could be held and be immune from prosecution. Saleh made promised to sign three times earlier, but always backed out.
The resolution of the Security Council is less than what was demanded in New York by Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month. Karman was outside the Security Council for the vote. Karman met on Wednesday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, and other top diplomats to reiterate her demands for international pressure on Saleh. On Friday, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of the Yemeni capital to demand the resignation of Saleh.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tunisia is going to the polls

 Tunisia: looking at election posters

Tunisie goes to the polls on Sunday. The country where the Arab spring originated is also the first to vote in a democratic election. The assemblee that is going to be elected has as its main task to write a new constitution. I wrote a post (here) at the beginning of the campaign, earlier this month, in which I mentioned the large number of parties (some 110) that are taking part and the amount of candidates (some 1500). All of them get three minutes on state tv to make themselves known, which altogether is good for many hours of  television.
Pomed (Project on Middle East Democracy) did a useful paper about the most important parties and the expected outcome of these first elections in a democratized Tunisia, for which a huge amount of publicity was done.

The site Naawat, which was one of the most important sites during the revolution in December - January, wrote a post (in French) about the importance of being aware that this is a different Tunisia, where people are not - as was the prevailing discours under president Ben Ali - are all pro-European liberals, but really different from each other, something most people don't so far to have grasped. He is what Nawaat wrote - forr a shortened translation, look below):
Avant la révolution, les tunisiens étaient de deux genres : les “khobzistes”, ces opportunistes tout lisses qui renonçaient à leurs convictions pour plaire à l’Etat, et les passifs, ces êtres creux qui préféraient ne croire en rien et suivre la mouvance. Aujourd’hui, on voit encore beaucoup de “khobzistes” et de passifs, mais on voit également des communistes, des salafistes, des laïcistes, des humanistes, des athés, des conservateurs etc. et la liste est longue.
Les tunsiens, de tous bords, semblent à peine découvrir le vrai visage de leur pays, sans le fard et loin des clichés mauves de la propagande de Ben Ali qui prétendaient que les tunisiens formaient un bloc monolitique et homogène composé de citoyens tolérants, modérés, ouverts sur l’occident, attachés à leur tradition et laïques…Les tunsiens, pour une bonne part, découvrent aujourd’hui leur société sous ses différentes facettes : du religieux radical, au laïque radical, en passant par une large frange composée de conservateurs et de modérés.
Les médias étangers, mais également pas mal de nos médias, semblent aussi être dans le même état de torpeur face à l’enchaînement rapide des évènements, et ne s’intéressent, par fénéantisme, qu’aux plus bruyants. Au lieu de chercher à comprendre les motivations profondes des uns et des autres, et leur réel impact dans la société, on nous ressort une bonne vielle recette benalienne éprouvée : la montée dangereuse de la fièvre salafiste qui menace tout le pays…et qui pourrait rapidement justifier tous les abus et les dépassements.
Les choses sont pourant un peu plus compliquées que cela, et la Tunisie n’est ni laïque et progressiste dans sa majorité, ni subitement envahie par les salafistes et par le voil intégral. C’est le fait de minorités, qui sont beaucoup plus visibles aujourd’hui, et determinées à s’exprimer et à réclamer l’espace qui leur a été confisqué. Quoi de plus normal dans ce cas que de voir des barbus et des conservateurs resurgir, à chaque fois que l’occasion s’y prête, en gardiens du livre et de ses règles sacrées? Ils sont dans leur rôle, comme leurs contradicteurs sont dans le leur quand ils défendent leurs propres convictions.
Women at an election rally of the islamist Ennahda Party. Ennahda is projected to bewocm ethe biggest party with 20-30% of the votes. (AP) 

(Short) translation:
Before the revolution there were two kinds of Tunisians, the 'khobzistes' (derived from the Arabic word for bread - khobz), opportunists who sacrificied their principles to please the state, and passive people, who prefered to follow the lead and not pay attention. Nowadays both tendancies still exist, but apart for them there are also communists, salafists, protagonist of a separation of religion and state,  humanistes, conservatives and much more. Most Tunisians still seem to have trouble to recognize their country, freed as it is from the clichés of the Ben Ali-era, which pretended that the Tunisiians were a homogenous lot, who were moderate, tolerant, open towards the West, not in need of a religiously oriented state and attached to their traditions. Nowadays the Tunisians discover that their society is much more varied: fanatical salafists at one end, fanatical believers in an non-religious state, and a bvariety of moderates and conservatives in the middle between the two.
The media, the Tunisian as well as the foreign media, don't seem to be able to understand very well what is happening and are using stereotypes from the ben Ali periode, talking as they are about the dangers of the rise of the salafist fever. However, things are a bit more complicated than that and the country is neither in majority progressive and in favour of a separation of religion and state, or all of a sudden in the grip of salafists and the (complete) veil. It is just that the minorities tak advantage of the possiblilities that were robbed from them for so long, to make themselves visible and claim their own space. What is more normal than that conservatives and bearded men use the opportunities to defend the rules that are sacred to them? And that others, who oppose them, do the same?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The end of Kadhafi

We could have waited for this picture. Kadhafi was a clown, a frightening clown, but he wasn't a coward. I don't take part in the joy about his death. Let's hope the situation in Libya will improve now that he has gone. I have my doubts. Countries would better not be freed with the help op NATO.  

During my time as a Middle East correspondent I met Kadhafy only once. That was at 2 o'clock in the morning after the conclusion of an Arab summit in Casablanca in 1989. Kadhafy gave a press conference. In a black abaja he positioned himself in a pious  pose, hands folded, behind a table, his eyes quasi distractedly focusing on the something somewhat above his head. He told the audience (mainly consisting of admiring black African journalists of countries that Kadhafy used to give a lot of money to), that - although he almost never visited Arab summits before and also never regretted his absence after he had been been informed about what they had achieved -  this time had been very different. This time, he said, was really remarkable, because of the decisions taken and the declarations isssued.  Then he studiously took a roll of paper from one of his pockets, and started to read aloud - in Arabic - one of the decions of the summit. The one that comdemned the American aggression  on Libya in the Gulf of Sirte of earlier that year. 'This was,' Kadhafy said, 'really a remarkable text.'  He then gave the floor to questions.
Not without  problems I succeeded in asking him one question. I had to jump over two or three rows of chairs and to literally wrench the microphone from a collegue from Tchad who was asking his third or fourth long, boring and admiring  question.  I said that as a correspondent in Cairo I understood that Egypts' president Mubarak, after a time of bitter disputes between the two countries -  recently decided to open up the frontier which had long been closed - for airplanes. But only for planes and not for terrestrial traffic, because over land there remained a risk that Kadhafy would try and smuggle bombs. I said we had heard Mubarak saying this, but that nobody had heard Kadhafy's   comment.
The African collegues gave me strange and sowewhat frightening looks, but Kadhafy himself stayed very calm. After a while he gave a reaction through an interpreter. 'I  could not understand,' he  said, 'why he would allow only airplanes to pass and not also camels.'

PS There is evidence that Kadhafy was captured alive and killed afterwards. The story that he died from a headwound he sustained in the crossfire of the fight before he was taken from his hideout in a drianage pipe, does not correspond with the wounds that can be seen in the footage below of his corpse b(and that of his nson Mutassim). Bad news that apparently after he said 'Don't kill me sons,' the ragtag army that caught him did just that. Let's hope the new Libya eventually will be more disciplined than that. 

Ibrahim Issa, editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Tahrir felt the same, He wrote the following editorial in al-Tahrir (22 October):
The Libyan Rebels Must Issue an Apology.
"What the Libyan revolutionaries did to Kaddafi the day before yesterday was monstrous, lowly and inhumane. It hurts the Arab revolution. It even tarnishes the image of the Arab people. It gives the idea that when Arabs rebel against their oppressive rulers, they become as monstrous as the ruler and as lowly as any executioner working for any tyrant! There is no justification for this, the worst scene in the history of the Arab revolution... There must be an apology for this shameful scene, to be given immediately by the Libyan revolutionaries to the Arabs, to the people in quest of freedom and dignity, not rage, revenge and mutilation of the enemy."
(Thanks Noha Radwan).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kurdish PKK kill 24 Turkish soldiers

 Turkish troops patrolling in Hakkari. 

Twenty-four members of the Turkish security forces were killed and 18 were injured in the southeastern province of Hakkari early on Wednesday in simultaneous attacks carried by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the private Cihan news agency has reported. Cihan said terrorists attacked several military and police buildings in the Çukurca district and Hakkari's city center and that 24soldiers and police officers were killed. At least 18 soldiers were also wounded when the terrorists opened fire on military outposts in Çukurca and Yüksekova districts in Hakkari province on the border with Iraq, the sources said. The attacks reportedly occurred simultaneously. Hakkari Governor Muammer Türker confirmed the attacks in the predominantly Kurdish province of Hakkari but gave no further information about casualties. Earlier, the sources said 21 soldiers had been killed but later raised the toll. Turkey's armed forces could not be immediately reached for comment. The PKK did not immediately claim responsibility for the attacks. Reuters said citing military sources that Turkish commandos crossed into northern Iraq in hot pursuit of the terrorists after the Hakkari attacks.
The attacks come only a day after five policemen and three civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, were killed in a roadside bomb attack planted by the PKK in nearby Bitlis province.   
 Wednesday's attacks also come only days after Turkish President Abdullah Gül visited troops in the region to boost morale in an area that has seen increased violence in recent months.    
Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and force commanders travelled to Hakkari after the news of the soldiers' deaths. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was scheduled to leave the country on Wednesday for an official visit to Kazakhstan, cancelled his trip. There are reports that Erdoğan will also go to Hakkari.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also cancelled a planned trip to Serbia on Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

American drone also kills Awlaki's teenage son

Abdel Rahman al-Awlaki
The Yemeni paper Yemen Post reports that an American drone has also killed the 17-year old son of the muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was supposedly a member of Al-Qaedi of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Anwar al-Awlaki was killed on 30 September. The Post reports that according to the al-Awlaki family back in Sana'a, Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki, the cleric's son would have run away from home after news of his father's death in a desperate bid to find him.
The 17 year-old was killed subsequently in an American air raid this Friday.  Outraged, his family is now speaking out against what they call a murder. "To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaida militant. It's nonsense," said Nasser al-Awlaki, the boy's grandfather and former Yemeni agriculture minister. "They want to justify his killing, that's all,' he added.
Anwar al-Awlaki

Time reported Abdul Rahman's death also - on 27 October:  According to his relatives, Abdulrahman left the family home in the Sana'a area on Sept. 30 in search of his fugitive father who was hiding out with his tribe, the Awalak, in the remote, rugged southern province of Shabwa. Days after the teenager began his quest, however, his father was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Then, just two weeks later, the Yemeni government claimed another air strike killed a senior al-Qaeda militant. Abdulrahman, his teenage cousin and six others died in the attack as well. A U.S. official said the young man "was in the wrong place at the wrong time," and that the U.S. was trying to kill a legitimate terrorist — al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim al-Banna, who also died — in the strike that apparently killed the American teenager. Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki who was like his father a U.S citizen, was killed with his cousin, also a 17 year-old, in an American led Drone attack, which the U.S is justifying by claiming they were after alleged al-Qaeda militants. Since the death of the 2 underage boys, the U.S has been trying to spin the story by issuing a statement describing Abdu Rahman as a 20 year-old al-Qaeda militant, when indeed he was only a boy searching for his father. U.S officials have said that they were still assessing the details of the attack.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What did SCAF have in mind when it ordered to crush the demonstration at Maspero?

One of th armoured vehicles on 9 Otober near Maspero.

 Guest author: Noha Radwan
It should not take long for anyone who looks at the footage and the eye-witness testimonies to believe that the army personnel that were stationed near the state television building in the Cairo neighborhood Maspero on Sunday October 9, 2011, should be held fully responsible for the bloodbath that happened that evening. This responsibility for the murder of 26 and the injury of over 300 people who were taking part in a protest march, becomes even more incriminating when one considers that the underlying causes for the march to be called in the first place, were the brutal and oppressive measures that SCAF has been undertaking against Egyptian citizens since February. SCAF’s escalating brutality therefore becomes part of the narrative of the Sunday events before we even begin to parse the specific actions that led to the Sunday bloodbath.
A website, Maspero Testimonies that was started by a young Egyptian has so far collected over thirty personal accounts from people who were present between Maspero and Tahrir Square during the onslaught and/or shortly before and after. The witnesses include both Muslims and Christians, men and women, participants in the protest and onlookers who chanced to be at or near its location.
 One of the more comprehensive testimonies is that of Lobna Darwish, a 25 year old woman whom I had personally known while she was working on her BA in sociology at UC Davis last year. Darwish was taking part in the march from the time it started in the Shubra neighborhood at 3 p.m. She noted “large numbers, whole families; children with parents and grandparents. At 4:30,” she continues, “I tweeted: The priest who is speaking to the marchers is confirming that this is a non-violent march and honoring the Muslims participants… At 5:30, the march was out of Shubra and on its way to Maspero when a number of people began throwing rocks at it from atop a flyover in the area. Some marchers responded with hurling rocks but the majority were calling for restraint and that the march continued peacefully on its way.”
At 6:00 p.m., the march had reached Maspero. Darwish’s estimate puts the number of participants at about 25, 000, who at that point were in high spirit, as they met up with the protestors who had stationed themselves outside the television building. She herself felt confident that the army and police personnel who were there in huge numbers “could not be crazy enough to open fire on a march full of women and children.” Her testimony continues: “Then the shooting began. I saw rows of Central Police Forces rushing towards us and shooting in the air. Then their shots lowered to our body level. I ran to the Nile side of the TV building to look for my friends.The shooting continued. Everyone was running, especially those who were accompanying children and elderly people. No one was prepared for violence….''
''Next I was near the Hilton Ramses where it overlooks the Nile. I was in the middle of the street trying to get a look at what was going on, when I heard people screaming at me to get on the sidewalk. I saw two armored vehicles driving at a mad speed down the street that was full of people. At first, I thought that they were driven by some stupid soldiers who were going to kill the people out of their stupidity. Then the vehicles began going at the same mad speed up and down the street. They were going in a zig-zag, chasing after those trying to escape and even climbing up the sidewalk to crush people. I could not believe my eyes. I was terrified. The two other vehicles joined the first one and did the same thing. The people ran in the direction of the Central Police Forces, and the vehicles dashed away from the scene. One of them was slower than the other two and the marchers tossed rocks, and hurled a street light that had been broken and had caught fire at it. The vehicle was caught in the flames. The rock volleys continued and I saw the soldier inside climb out. The people at this point were divided. Some wanted to beat him up. Others wanted to save him. In the end I saw him walk away in the company of two elderly men.” Darwish’s account continues with a description of her shock as she found herself in the middle of the carnage until a point where she writes:“ I cannot continue to tell.” What happened was too painful to narrate, let alone to witness from nearby.

Another account, given by Bishoy Saad, confirms Darwish’s. Saad adds that he thought that this march was going to go well because it had “more Muslims than the two previous ones.” He quotes the words of one of the priests who addressed the marchers using a loud speaker, first after the rock tossing incident near the flyover and again as they approached Maspero. In the first speech, the priest said: “ This demonstration of ours is non-violent, and no matter how many provocations or skirmishes it meets, it should remain so. We do not want anyone to lose their temper please. Not even with verbal abuse. We do not want to ruin the image of this march.” 
At Hilton Ramses, he talked to the crowds again. He said: We are here to deliver a message, and we leave right away. Whatever happens, our march will remain non-violent. We are not here to fight or go to war. We call upon God and say Kiryalysoon (may God have mercy). If anyone should get hurt or die, I tell you that he would be counted a martyr in the name of Christ.”
Saad then continues with his account of what happened right after that. “ It was as if the priest had a premonition of what would happen in half an hour. The people were all fired up and we marched towards Maspero. I stopped to buy a can of Pepsi and call my mother, tell her that I was all right. This took about ten minutes My group had gone on without me and I was near the tail end of the march. Suddenly I heard the sound of gunshots. Those in the front began running and screaming: ‘They are firing at us!’ I thought that the army was just shooting in the air to scare us. Then suddenly all the street lights were turned off. I could hear the sound of a vehicle gritting the earth. I saw an army vehicle coming from the distance at a crazy speed. There was a soldier on top of it with a machine gun firing in all directions. People were running like mad and the vehicle was crushing everyone who comes its way. There was very little light at the time… I ran for shelter and saw two other army vehicles running the same way. They ran to the end of the street, then turned around and ran down once more crushing more people. Imagine the terror of the people! The march was full of women and youngsters.
I ran with others to a side street. It was pitch dark. Sounds of weeping and screaming were everywhere. I ran until I arrived at the Hilton Ramses. I was shocked at the sight of the carnage filling the place. About ten minutes later, the young marchers began to lift the bodies. I cannot describe the horror of the bloody scene I witnessed. I saw two people lifting a third whose lower half was missing. I looked at his face and recognized him. He was the one marching and chanting next to me from the time I joined the march until I stopped to buy the Pepsi. If I had not stopped, I could have been in his place. I saw many whose bodies were riddled with bullets. Their blood was flowing down the street.” 
Saad ends his account by begging people not to believe a word of what is being said on Egyptian state television about the Sunday events, and to pray, be they Muslims or Christians that this “military nightmare ends before Egypt comes to a complete ruin.” 
Wouneed portester carried away by friends
Two more testimonies that are included in the same file as those of Darwish and said can be found in English translation at big pharao and Al-Masry al-Youm, but I would like to now go on to a speculation about possible explanations of the military’s onslaught on a march that, according to these two and many other testimonies started out as non-violent with several thousands participants intent on keeping it that way. From the outset, let us dismiss the claim that the Egyptian state television is circulating that the drivers of the vehicle that crushed the marchers were not army officers but infiltrators and saboteurs from the crowd. This is not only because it contradicts the eye-witness reports that confirm that an army soldier climbed out of the vehicle when it caught fire. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, because I do not want to entertain the thought that the SCAF stationed such helpless poor trained personnel at this extremely strategic location, especially since the march was announced beforehand. Every member of the Egyptian military, like the rest of the Egyptians and scores of others, must have seen the footage of the vehicle with the diplomatic license plate and the police vehicle that rolled over several of the demonstrators on the 28th of January last. Assuming that the SCAF believes the official claims that those vehicles were also stolen, I am sure that they would not let their army vehicles be involved in a repeat of that scenario. Let us also dismiss SCAF’s own claims in its Thursday press conference that the soldiers in those vehicles were freaked out. All eye-witness reports confirm that the vehicles were intent on plowing into the protestors. So now we are back to the question of what could have possibly happened? Could the soldiers stationed at Maspero have received orders to shoot at the march? Could the soldiers inside the army vehicles have received orders to run over the marchers? To me, this seems to be almost certainly the case. But the question that remains is, what could have the expected outcome of that have been? Here, one is confronted with two possibilities. One is that SCAF was aspiring to crush the demonstration, put an end to the Coptic unrest that ensued after the destruction of the church in Aswan the week before, and get away with an act of brutal repression because it is directed at a religious minority in a country riddled with economic and other problems and plagued by a discourse of sectarianism that has assumed a louder tone in the last few months.
The second possible explanation is that SCAF was counting on its repression of the march not to put an end to the Coptic unrest, but to provoke it further. The provocation was meant to incite the Copts to attack the army and fuel a sectarian strife. This would explain why the state media was broadcasting news of Copts attacking the military and calling upon Muslim citizens to go defend the army. Let us pause for a moment and consider the bitter irony of this farcical call, calling upon citizens to come out defending, armed with nothing stronger than their anger and hate of a religious minority to defend the mighty army that has ordained itself the protector of the revolution. 

Funeral of victims (Reuters)
 But why would SCAF wish for a sectarian strife? Some voices in Egypt have been remembering that the ousted President Mubarak told the revolutionaries this would happen when they insisted he steps down. Others are talking about a possible pretext for foreign — read: American — intervention. Most immediately, however, it might also serve as a justification for the prolongation of the notorious emergency laws and laying the ground for a SCAF controlled round of parliamentary election.
I do not claim to know SCAF’s ulterior motives, but I know that whatever they are, a united resistance without sectarian prejudices still has a strong chance and the power to foil them.

Dr Noha Radwan is Ass. professor of Arabic and compartive literature at University of California Davis.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Several Egyptian political forces ask SCAF to step down

 In a press conference on Wednesday two army generals did their best to deny that it was the army that killed the Maspero protesters. Major-General Emara (pictured here) said that:  We can not confirm or deny the army vehicles crushed protesters because this incident is still under investigation.' He also said that army regulations forbade to use miliytary vehicles  to crush people and that nobody could habve been shot by the army as the military police was not equipped with live ammunition. The press conference was ridiculed by many.

 Several post-revolution political forces in Egypt called on Wednesday on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to relinquish executive power to a civilian authority, Al-Ahram online reported. The groups issued a statement after a meeting about the Maspero-killings of last Sunday, that left 25 people dead and more than 300 wounded.
"The SCAF has failed to administer the transitional period and has pushed the situation from bad to worse," according to the statement, that was signed by the Free Egyptian Movement; the Socialist Popular Alliance Party; the National Front for Justice and Democracy; the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement; the Revolutionary Socialists; the Democratic Workers Party; the Popular Committees for the Defence of the Revolution; the Lotus Revolution Coalition; the April 6 Youth Movement (Democratic Front); the Beginning Movement; and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
A number of the signatory parties and groups held a press conference on Thursday afternoon at which several eyewitnesses to the Maspero clashes delivered their testimonies of the attack on the Coptic march.
In the statement the groups demanded that:
1. Those responsible for the killing at Maspero will be prosecuted, including Major-General Hamdi Badeen, head of military police; and Minister of Information Osama Haikel, as well as Governor Moustafa El-Sayad of Aswan, (who failed to respond to the events in the village Merinab where part of a church and some houses of christians were burnt down by Muslims).
2. The purging of state media outlets of people who participated in deceiving the public about what happened at Maspero, and the abolition of the Ministry of Information; as well as the elimination of restrictive state regulations governing the media.
3. The resolution of longstanding Coptic grievances by passing legislation that unifies laws governing the construction of houses of worship; stiffening penalties for those found guilty of violating the sanctity of houses of worship; and the prosecution of those found guilty of involvement in past attacks on houses of worship.

Update: Al-Jazeera English has the folliwing report that gives a good impression of how the tension is building up:

Justice the Israeli way

In January 2007, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 10-year-old Palestinian girl on her way home from school.  Abir Aramin lived in Anata, a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem. The pathologist who performed the autopsy found that Abir was hit in the head by a rubber bullet. However, an Israeli police investigation found the soldiers innocent, claiming there was no proof that gunfire killed Abir. 
(...) Four and a half years later, Israel’s highest court found the Israeli soldiers responsible for killing Abir, and ordered the state to compensate the family. However, this is as far as justice goes in Israel. The court refused to order the police to reopen the criminal investigation. Those who killed Abir  continue to “serve” as soldiers and officers in the Israeli army.
Abir's father, Bassam Aramin, who  is president of the Al Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue and co-founder of Combatants for Peace, wrote an open letter which was published on the Israeli site +972 . A bitter account of how the Israeli judiciary claim to dispense 'justice'.

Abir Aramin
By Bassam Aramin
 The Israeli play has come to a conclusion – the protagonist, whom we shall call Y.A., a soldier serving in a unit of Israeli border guards, the playwright, Y.S., head of the investigation, and the talented director Dorit Beinisch, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The setting: the Israeli High Court of Justice on July 10, 2011, roughly four and a half years since the assassination of the ten-year-old child Abir Aramin by a bullet to her head, in front of her school in the town of Anata on January 16, 2007, at the hands of Y.A., the protagonist.
The decision of the High Court panel headed by Justice Beinisch and filled out by Justice Edna Arbel and Justice Ayala Procaccia is clear and unmistakable, and it comes after the investigation file was closed many times by the Israeli public prosecutor under the familiar provision – or rather, pretext -  “lack of sufficient evidence.”
But this time was different.  This time, Justice Beinisch actually agreed with the decision of the lower court.  She agreed that the responsibility for the killing of the child Abir lies with the soldiers involved in the incident and that the opening of fire was unjustified and the result of negligence.  She sharply criticized those who carried out a belated and incomplete investigation, despite immediate legal action taken by the family to ensure that any investigation would be properly conducted. But then, Justice Beinisch performed a perfect about-face.  She concluded that, due to the incompleteness of the investigation and the passage of four and a half years, neither the solider who fired the shot nor the soldiers or commanders of his unit could be brought to trial – though she did say that the mother of the slain girl had the right to know the identity of her daughter’s killer.
This is the Israeli justice that I have awaited for four and a half years: the closing of the case “according to Israeli law.”  The closing of the case of young child’s killing by the High Court of Justice could not happen without a legal basis supporting such action. However, no one can tell me what this legal basis is.  No one has studied it in the Israeli law schools except, it seems, Justice Beinisch and her fellow justices.  Even Michael Sfard, the family’s lawyer, who holds a doctorate in law, could not explain the legal basis on which Beinisch’s decision rested.
But Justice Beinisch and I, we know the legal basis for her decision.  So knows the Israeli public, and so too do the victims of the Israeli occupation – the Palestinians.  Yes, we know well that when it is applied to Palestinians, Israeli justice is a mirage, always just out of reach.
Could Iron Lady Beinisch rule that an Israeli Jew is guilty of slaying Palestinians?  Would she dare tarnish the reputed purity of Israeli arms?  How could she accept that a soldier of “the most moral army in the world” would engage in the killing of a ten-year-old child?  How could she look at the Palestinian child Abir as a victim, when she is surrounded by six million corpses of Jews who fell as victims of the Nazi Holocaust?  Who is this child, and how could she take up any room in a heart already turned into stone by the horrors that Jews experienced during a long history of persecution and discrimination and murder?  For this is the history that is always present in the consciousness of Beinisch, and that drives the system of the Israeli occupation.
In the middle of the year 2007, during a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, I asked a question of Gideon Ezra, who was at that time the Minister of Public Security.  I asked him what his reaction would be if someone killed his ten-year-old daughter.  His answer was no less provocative than the question: he said, Hamas also kills Jewish children!  The minister was talking to the wrong Palestinian.  I wonder, however, if Mr. Ezra were one day to be confirmed as Minister of Justice, would he be in favor of exonerating Hamas on the spurious legal basis of the passage of time?
(Click here for the rest of the letter)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gilad Shalit deal, Hamas won big but did concessions

 In the meantime a hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, now in its third week, continues. The picture shows a solidarity demonstration in front of the Israeli Ofer prison, a few days ago. The portrait on the poster left is of PFLP-leader Ahmed Sa'adat. He is one of the top-leaders who remains in prison under the Shalit-deal.

 So the Gilad Shalit deal is finally there. At first sight a huge victory for Hamas, 1027 prisoners for one soldier is not a bad price. Hamas-leader Khaled Meshaal hailed the deal as a 'national achievement' and put it in the famework of working towards national unity. In Gaza the news was celebrated in the streets.
But if we look a second time we see that some key demands Hamas originally had, have not been fulfilled. According to the chief of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, will remain in prison, as well as Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. Bad news for those who had pinned hope on Marwan Barghouti as the man who might revive the ailing Fatah movement. (And good news for Mahmoud Abbas, who otherwise would have had to fear for his position). Bad news also for Sa'adat, who is the Palestinian equivalent of Gilad Shalit. He was kidnapped from a Palestinian jail in Jericho in 2006 and is being kept in solitary confinement since 2007. In a briefing with reporters, the Shin Bet chief indicated that also some senior West Bank operatives of Hamas will not be set free – among them Abdullah Barghouti, Ibrahim Hamed, Abbas Sayed, and others
 Still, 1027 is quite an achievement. Shalit will be transported to Egypt, which facilitated the deal together with a German envoy,  in the next few days. In the same time 450 Palestinian prisoners, including 280 with life sentences, will leave their prisons. Among them 110 prisoners will be able to return to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; 55 of them belong to Hamas, the rest is Fatah of belong to other Palestinian groups.
According to the deal, 131 Gaza residents will be released back to their homes,  many of whom are reportedly Hamas operatives. Another 203 prisoners will be expelled from the West Bank, 40 of whom will be deported overseas and the rest to Gaza. In addition, 6 Israeli Arab prisoners who have been serving for many years will also be released to their homes. The deal also specifies the release of 27 female inmates: among them Ahlam Tamimi and Amna Muna who are considered to be top-terrorists by Israel  and will be deported. 
After this first wave of 450 a second wave of releases will take place in two months time, at which point Israel will release 550 prisoners of its choosing.
So still, Hamas must have won back a lot of the popularity it lost over the past year or two. I'm curious to see how this will be reflected in the polls. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Egyptian state TV blamed for stirring up tension during Sunday's clashes with Copts

 Coptic mass funeral (Al-Masry al-oum)

The question marks over what exactly caused the bloodbath during the Coptic demonstration in Cairo on Sunday, will surely remain in place for quite some time. One may hope that the commission of inquiry, that the government installed in the meantime, will shed some light on how it was possible that the army reacted in the outrageous way it did, running over unarmed protesters with heavy armoured vehicles. Also should be examined how it was possible that it did not keep mobs from attacking the marching Copts in Shubra in the first place, as that, accoing to many reports,  seems to have ignited the riots.
It seems quite obvious that something is completely wrong with the way the army handles security matters in Egypt. Although prejudices against the Copts, which are widespread in salafist circles as well as in the predominantly Muslim army, certainly seem to have played a big role, one should also remember that it is not the first time that attempts by the army to handle security matters went completely out off hand. One has only to remember the utter chaos that broke out on 9 September when protesters went from Tahrir to the Israeli embassy and took apart the wall that had been erected in front of it.  (see also here, in Dutch). That day ended aslo with several dead and no less than over the 1000 wounded. 
This time, however, it seems that not only the army  was to blame. Also the Egyptian state television came severely under fire. Al-Ahram Online reports that the TV is heavily criticized because it not only failed to calm matters, but actually played a role in aggravating the situation. Broadcasters on state television at one point called on the Egyptian public to head en masse to Maspero to defend Egyptian soldiers from what they described as 'angry Christian protesters'.
It seems that these calls were heeded as indeed later in the night vigilante mobs with swords and machetes attacked demonstrators who fled the scenes where the army was using bullets and tear gas. Call-ins to state TV from viewers, meanwhile, where not very helpful either. 'Armed Christians clashed with and killed military police,' one call-in viewer claimed. State television also aired footage of injured military police officers, but failed to carry images of flattened corpses of killed demonstrators which were circulating virally over internet sites.
 In this context it is noteworthy that Egyptian state television is one of those media where the staf still lagely consists of the old guard from the days of Mubarak, because only a handful leading figures were replaced. One cannot help but ask one self to what extend the remaining staff might still be familiar with the habits of the former government, which used so frequently to turn the Copts into scapegoats.
In the meantime it became clear that some 25 protesters, mainly Copts, were killed as army tanks ran over several people and shot rubber, and live bullets. State TV reported that there were also three dead among the military police, but had later to admit that it made this up. The Egyptian ministry of health confirmed that at least 329 people were injured.

Meanwhile on Monday the Egyptian authorities executed a man who was sentenced to death for the killing of five Copts and a Muslim watchman in January of last year in Naga Hammadi in Qena Governorate. The murder by Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, who was better known by his nickname al-Kammouny, was considered to be one of the worst sectarian killings in recent years in Egypt.