Saturday, June 30, 2012

West and Russia agree on plan to form transition government for Syria

Foreground left to right: Ban Ki Moon, Annan and Lavrov. 

The Syrian crisis will be resolved by a transition government consisting of the current authorities and opposition leaders. The proposal was announced by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan after talks in Geneva.
The unity government should be formed on the basis of mutual consent, said Annan. The Syrian-led transition should take place within a fixed period of time.
Annan, announcing the official communiqué of the international meeting in Geneva, called on the Syrian regime and opposition groups to start implementing his six-point peace plan immediately, without waiting for the other side.
The envoy stressed several times that it is up to Syrians to determine their political future.
Earlier, the Official UN envoy to Syria had proposed a plan for a unity government in Syria excluding political figures that compromise the country’s stability, effectively calling for the removal of President Assad. But Russia had refused to back such a provision.

Morsi takes the oath one day after taking it symbolically from the people in Tahrir

Morsi at the Supreme Constitutional Court just before officially taking the oath. (Nile tv)

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first elected civil president, Saturday has taken the oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo. One day earlier he took tha same oath in a symbolic way from the people of Tahrir. He did that during a historic 30 minute speech for a crowd of hundreds of thousands and millions more who watched him on television.
 Morsi paid tribute to "the square of the revolution, the square of freedom," and addressed the people of Egypt, brothers and sisters... Muslims of Egypt, Christians of Egypt." Also he hailed the achievements and hardships opf the revolution. "We have showed the world what Egyptians can do, what revolutionaries can do. We stand here in the square of freedom thanks to the blood of martyrs." But he implicetly  gave as well credit to the long struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood: "We have reached this far as a result of a long, hard struggle that lasted decades from the twenties to the thirties, from the fourties to the fifties and sixties - and you have no idea how hard the sixties were until we finally reached January 25, 2011."
Morsi on stage on Tahrir
Morsy is expected to officially take the oath in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in the coming days. But in order to stress that he will not surrender any presidential powers to the ruling military council, he stressed that the people are the main source of legitimacy. "The people's power is above everything and everyone else, the police, the army, and the government. There's no power above this power. You bestow power unto those you choose. You deny power to those you reject. Revolution is led by its aims, and it will continue until it achieves all of its goals. You are the source of legitimacy and power, above all.''
Morsi said that he is not afraid:  "I have come here not wearing a bullet-proof vest, and I don't fear anyone but God.' And he vowed to free all civilians who were tried in military courts since the beginning of the revolution. Also he promised to fight for the freedom of the famous blind-imam Omar Abdel Rahman who serves a life sentence on terrorism charges in the United States.

 A big question mark hangs over as to why Morsi mentioned the blind sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who is in prison in the United States since the nineties. Sheikh Abdel Rahman once was  the spiritual guide of the radical Islamist Gama'a al-Islamiyya. As a refugee from Mubarak in Sudan he got a visa for the United States, presumably because previously he had been working for the CIA by recruting fighters for Afghanistan when that was Russian dominated. He became an imam in New Jersey and in 1993 people from his congregation were caught planning to blow up the World Trade Center in New York (an  attempt that almost succeeded in 1993). Sheikh Abdel Rahman was convicted of complicity. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Israeli Mossad believed to be behind killing of Hamas operative in Damascus

A Hamas member was killed Wednesday in a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, a senior member of the group told AFP, adding that they suspected Israel's spy agency of being behind the attack.
Participants Mossad operation in Dubai
The victim was Kamal Hussein Ghannaje, one of the deputies of Mahmoud Abdel Raouf Al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander who was killed in a Mossad operation  in a Dubai hotel in 2010.
"A group of people entered his home in Qudsaya ... where he was liquidated," the official said. "According to our information, Mossad was behind the assassination." Investigators there said they believed Mossad was behind that murder.
AP adds: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to confirm or deny Israeli involvement in the Ghanaja killing in interviews with Israeli radio stations on Thursday.
The murder of Mabhouh, in 20101,  got much coverage due to the fact that  the police in Dubai managed to collect portraits and videotapes of the more than 20 people involved in this Israeli operation, which was executed with falsified passports of several Western countries. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Egyptian court overrules decree that empowered military to arrest civilians

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are having a sit-in in Tahrir for the eighth day today, with demands that the the supplementary Constitutional Declaration made by the Supreme Council of the Army (SCAF) will be cancelled and the decision to dissolve Parliament be rescinded.

The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court on Tuesday has blocked the recent decree that enabled military police to arrest civilians.  It was greeted by various politicans and human rights advocates as a positive step that limits somewhat the almost unlimited powers of the military,  after the recent abolishment of parliament and the addenda the SCAF issued to the constitution.
 Prominent human rights lawyer Gamal Eid was relieved over the latter verdict. "The ruling put the military where it belongs - back in the barracks. It was issued with the intention of serving the military only, '' he told Al-Ahram Online. 
The Supreme Administrative Court put off four rulings, which covered the fate of the new constitutional addendum, the defunct People’s Assembly, the Shura Council (the parliament’s upper house) that might well be dissolved on the same grounds that saw the other parliamentary chamber dismantled, and the Constituent Assembly which is jeopardised as a result of the parliament’s being un-constitutional. The decree that empowered military police to arrest civilians, however, was overruled. Three of the postponed cases will be judged next month. The the trial of the Constituent Assembly, however,  was adjourned until 4 September, which might give the assembly’s members a respite to fulfil its task. The Assembly held its third meeting on Tuesday. It has yet to agree on its work methodology.

Morsi meeting Coptic bishops
 Other news is that president Morsi intends to have a woman and a Copt as his vice-presidents. Ahmed Deif, a policy advicers to Morsi, told CNN: One of the first decisions will be appointing different vice-presidents. One of them will be a woman, for the first time in Egyptian history.  Also, he has decided to appoint a Christian vice-president.' Morsi also made it known that he will break with the habit that all government offices are required top post his portrait. He himself, meanwhile is meeting possible candidates for governemnt positions. He says he aims at a broad based non-political governement.
On my Dutch blog I posted an item about rumours and false rumours and accusations that accompany his apearance on the stage.  The 'interview' Morsi supposedly gave to the Iranian news agency Fars in which he said that he wanted to restore ties with Iran, was almost certaintly  fake (click here for evidence given by Radio Free Europe). Also the website of Fox News smeared him by posting a video of the radical cleric Safwat Hegazy calling for 'millions of martyrs to march towards Jerusalem', while suggesting that it was actually Morsi who said so. 

Bashar al-Assad admits: 'We live in a state of real war'

President Bashar Assad of Syria has admitted that the country lives in a state of war. During the ceremony of swearing in a new government on Tuesday, the President underlined, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA, that 'we live a state of real war, and when we live a state of war, all our policies, directives and all sectors will be directed in order to gain victory in this war'.
Assad taking the  oath from ministers one by one (SANA)
 Not only the president, also the news agency itself lately began to pay more attention to the fighting, which it till now largely used to ignore. On Wednesday it reported that that same morning three journalists and workers were killed during an attack by an armed group on the headquarters of the Ikhbaryia satellite tv. The 'terrorists planted explosive devices following their ransacking and destroying of the Satellite Channel studios, including the newsroom studio which was entirely destroyed', according to SANA.
The news agency also said that government forces on Tuesday clashed with "armed terrorist groups" in Al-Hama, in the Damascus area, some eight kilometers from the capital. "The armed groups attacked citizens and law enforcement forces and blocked the Old Beirut road to use it as a smuggling route for weapons," according to SANA. 'Dozens of terrorists were killed' and weapons were seized, acccording to the agency.
Destruction at the Ikhbariyya tv-station. (SANA).
SANA did not report, however, about what appeared to be the most important battlefield on Tuesday, an attack by the rebels on Republican Guard in the Qudsaya suburb of Damascus. According to Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London, 28 people were killed in and around the capital, including 15 people in Al-Hama and 11 in Qudsaya during shelling by regime troops. According to Abdel Rahman the shelling in Qudsaya was "the first time that the regime used artillery so close to the capital."
The Observatory reported that all in all on Tuesday 116 people were killed across the country, 68 civilians, 41 soldiers and seven rebels. Five people were killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor  as the army pounded neighbourhoods; three were killed elsewhere in the province. Thirteen civilians were killed in army shelling in the province of Idlib, as well as two rebels. On Monday 95 people were killed, including 61 civilians, as the army pounded rebel strongholds and other towns and cities, according to the Observatory.

Monday, June 25, 2012

So it is Morsi after all

Morsi's first speech to the Egyptian people (in classical Arabic).  

So it was Morsi after all. After all those days that we had been waiting, during which as it seems some wrangling and arms twisting was going on by the army, presumably to get some assurances from the Muslim Brotherhood that they would go along with a number of steps taken by the army, the announcement came as a relieve. Threats by government sources that Shafiq was going to win with 50,7% appeared to have been just that: threats.  The horror scenario of a Shafiq win with all that it would have entailed, was staved off. Shafiq who promised to 'restore order within a month' would have been comfortable with the old security and intelligence apparatus that is still largely in place in Egypt. Also Shafiq would have been hands in glove with the military. There could have been a unified, streamlined return to the old days of Mubarak. But that is not what is going to happen. Not that Morsi and the Ikhwan are ideal, but now at least there's some opposition from within to a complete military takeover.
The past week must have been a lesson for many. For days already we knew that Morsi stood at 52%. But apparently the time was needed for some lessons. A lesson for the military about how to deal with a president from the Brotherhood. And vice versa: for the Ikhwan to know how to deal with a presidency without a parliament in a system whereby SCAF has bestowed almost all powers of the state on itself. We don't know the outcome of these deliberations yet. It may be that a deal between Brotherhood and SCAF has been made, it is as well be possible that the Ikhwan will try to make the most from the one influential position that is left to them and will mobilise their followers and seek the confrontation.
One more lesson of the past days during which it became apparent that the military is there to stay a little longer than was hoped for, was for the opposition that is has to unite. Several meetings - with or without the Muslim Brotherhood - were going on in the past days,and it may be hoped that something will result from it. It is probably the only hope for a real process of democratization coming off the ground.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sudanese protesters call for the toppling of Bashir

Things are heating up in Sudan. CNN reports:
Sudanese police cracked down on protesters Saturday after days of demonstrations against government austerity measures and calls for the president's ouster.
The head of Sudan's police force told his officers Saturday how to deal with riots, groups targeting property, and arbitrary road closures by protesters "in accordance with the laws," state television reported.
At the same meeting with Gen. Hashim Osman Hussein, police called on residents of Khartoum to "cooperate with the police in doing its job to enforce the law aimed at securing the homeland and its citizens," state TV reported.
Growing numbers of protesters have rallied in the capital against government spending cuts and other measures. The protests have in some cases turned violent, with people throwing stones at police, burning tires and police trucks, and cutting off roads.
After Friday prayers, crowds called for the toppling of President Omar al-Bashir.
"Leave, Bashir, leave!" they chanted. "Khartoum, people, please revolt against humiliation and dictatorship."
Police and security agents intensified their crackdown Saturday, detaining a number of opposition figures and surrounding the buildings of two of the country's main opposition parties.
Officers used batons to disperse the demonstrations and police vehicles patrolled throughout the capital.
In a televised speech on state media last week, al-Bashir urged citizens to understand the new harsh austerity measures, which lifted fuel subsidies and cut the Cabinet by half to reduce expenses.
Sudan has faced soaring inflation since it separated with South Sudan a year ago -- taking with it more than 70% of Sudan's oil reserves.
The nation's inflation has gone up by 30%, according to Sudanese Finance Minister Ali Mahmud.
Protesters have vowed to hold mass rallies June 30, when the ruling party celebrates 24 years in power. Organizers are also calling for mass action using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, where they are posting pictures and details of upcoming protests.
The government has described the weeklong protests as small and urged citizens to avoid them. Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
In similar protests in January last year, students vowed to replicate the Arab Spring that has swept over the Middle East.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Egypt in the middle of.. eh in the middle of what?

A well known spectacle: massive  payers at Tahrir Square. A huge crowd participated this Friday in protests against the additions to the constitution and the shutdown of parliament. (Al-Ahram Online/Mai Shaheen).

 Uncertainty, that is probably the one word that comes to mind when thinking about Egypt this Saturday evening. On Friday a new massive demonstration was held at Tahrir against. A protest against SCAF, against the new additions it introduced to the constitution whereby it gave itself the last word in almost everything and certainly in matters pertaining to the army, and against dissolving the parliament. Also it was a demonstration fór Mohammed Morsy as president. It was quite clear that most of the protesters belonged top the  Muslim Brotherhood.
In the meantime tension, uncertainty and suspense are on the rise. Who is to become the first elected Egyptian president after Mubarak? Morsi? Shafiq? All unofficial counts put Morsi in the lead with about 52%. But Shafiq's camp continues to claim that it's not Morsi but their man who is the winner. And a spokesman for SCAF (which as everybody knows, has much more sympathy for Shafiq), heightened the tension by declaring - unofficially of course - that in the end Shafiq will turn out to be the winner with 50,7%.  Strange, for sure, but we have just to wait a little more. The publication of the final results, originally scheduled for Thursday, have been delayed until Sunday 15.00 p.m.
And delayed for what reason? One theory (or probably it is more than just that) exposed in Al Ahram Online, is that the time in between was needed by SCAF to try and reach a deal between them and the Ikhwan, whereby the Ikhwan will bend and go along with a few demands of the military. Demands like giving up their opposition to the dissolution of parliament. The message that Ahmed Shafiq was up for a winning position with these 50,7%, was, according to this story, no more than a threat, meant  to increase the pressure on the Ikhwan.
And the Brotherhood itself, meanwhile, is rapidly learning from its mistakes. No longer is it doing it alone, or trying to have its own deals with SCAF as it used to do in the past. Talks have been held, if we may believe Al Ahram Online, with the 'secular' opposition to get them on their side, in order to have a unified stand in the face of the threat of a prolonged military rule, and several deals are in the make or have already been made.
Tomorrow we'll know more. Tomorrow will be a big day. But be sure that many more big days are here to come.

Turkey says it 'will take steps' after downing of fighter plane by Syria

The downing of a Turkish F4 fighter jet is likely to further escalate tensions between Turkey and Syria. Turkey said its air force jet that disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea on Friday was shot down by Syria, in an action likely to worsen already strained relations between the two countries.Turkey's military provided no details on the plane's mission, but some Turkish TV reports said it was on a reconnaissance flight.
A statement following a two-hour security meeting led by Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said the warplane that went missing near Syria was downed by Syrian forces and that the two Turkish pilots remain missing. It said Turkey "will determinedly take necessary steps" in response, but it did not further specify.
After a cross-border shooting by Syrian forces earlier this year Turkey said it would not tolerate any action that it deemed violating its security.
 Erdoğan said the plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea about 8 miles (13 kilometers) away from the Syrian town of Latakiya. Four Turkish gunboats and three helicopters were searching for the pilots and wreckage of the plane.
Earlier Friday in Lebanon, Hezbollah's Manar TV reported that Syrian forces shot down the Turkish plane, citing unidentified Syrian security sources. Hezbollah is closely allied with Syria.
The relations between the two countries are strained since Turkey joined other nations in calling for President Bashar Assad to step down and because Turkey  has set up refugee camps on its border for more than 32,000 Syrians.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'No to military law'

Tens of thousands demonstrated on Tuesday at Cairo's Tahrir Square and the nearby building of the parliament against the new amendments to the constitution that were issued by the military and  against the closure of parliament. The participants were mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, but also liberals took part, according to Al Ahram Online. The red banners - issued by the Salafists - read -'The law of the revolution, no to military law' and 'down with military rule'. 
Meanwhile a confrontation may loom over who has won the presidential elections. Unofficial results show that Mohammed Morsi stands at 51,89% and Shafiq at 48,10%. However, not only Morsi, also Shafiq has claimed victory. Official results will be published on Thursday.  (Picture Al-Ahram Online/Mai Shaheen).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Egyptian generals issue amendments to the constition that expand their powers considerably

Even as the voting in the second round of the election of Egypt;'s next president was still under way, the ruling military council SCAF issued a number of additional amendments tot the constitution whereby it expanded its powers considerably.  The SCAF replaces parliament, now that the Supreme Constitutional Court has annulled its existence. An amendment to Article 56 gives the SCAF the right to assume the responsibilities of Parliament until a new one is elected. The previous interim constitution allowed the SCAF to issue and overrule legislation.
SCAF also retains the last word on all matters concerning the armed forces, delivers the minister of Defense and is the only authority that can declare war (articles 53 and 53/1). Also it can maintain the order in the country and has itself the last word on it (art. 53/2).
Furthermore SCAF has the right to form a new Constituent Assembly with the task to write a constitution, and it is one of the bodies (together with the president, the prime minister, the supreme council of the judiciary, or a fifth of the assembly) that can ask for a revision of drafted articles, which in case of stalemate in the assembly will be referred tot the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The generals of  the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF (Photo Reuters) 

Al Ahram Online translated the following articles of the new constitutional declaration:

Article 53: The incumbent SCAF members are responsible for deciding on all issues related to the armed forces including appointing its leaders and extending the terms in office of the aforesaid leaders.  The current head of the SCAF is to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defense until a new constitution is drafted.

 Article 53/1: The president can only declare war after the approval of the SCAF.

Article 53/2: If the country faces internal unrest which requires the intervention of the armed forces, the president can issue a decision to commission the armed forces – with the approval of the SCAF - to maintain security and defend public properties. Current Egyptian law stipulates the powers of the armed forces and its authorities in cases where the military can use force, arrest or detain.

Article 60 B:  If the constituent assembly encounters an obstacle that would prevent it from completing its work, the SCAF within a week  will form a new constituent assembly- to author a new constitution within three months from the day of the new assembly's formation. The newly drafted constitution will be put forward after 15 days of the day it is completed, for approval by the people through a national referendum. The parliamentary elections will take place one month from the day the new constitution is approved by the national referendum.

-          Article 60 B1: If the president, the head of SCAF, the prime minister, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary or a fifth of the constituent assembly find that the new constitution contains an article or more which conflict with the revolution's goals and its main principles or which conflict with any principal agreed upon in all of Egypt's former constitutions, any of the aforementioned bodies may demand that the constituent assembly revises this specific article within 15 days. Should the constituent assembly object to revising the contentious article, the article will be referred to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) which will then be obliged to give its verdict within seven days. The HCC's decision is final and will be published in the official gazette within three days from the date of issuance.

And, oh yeah, Mohammed Morsi won the presidency. Unofficial results gave him something like 52%. The dissolution of parliament and the elemenst just added to the constitution make confine his powers to not much more than a figurehead.

Israeli and two attackers killed after incursion into Israel from Sinai

Just a few days after rockets were fired from the Sinai into Israel, there was an attack on Israeli workers who are building a concrete wall along the border between Israel en Egypt. This is what Haaretz reported:
An Israeli citizen and two attackers were killed Monday morning during clashes between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and gunmen who infiltrated the southern border with Egypt.
An initial investigation reveals that three terrorists penetrated the fence along the Gaza-Sinai border on Monday morning, placed an explosive device on Philadelphi strip near Be'er Milka, and waited for Israeli vehicles to pass by.
After several minutes, the device exploded on one of the vehicles, and the gunmen opened fire. They also fired an RPG rocket, which missed its target.As a result of the shooting, one of vehicles rolled down a hill and wounded an Israeli citizen who was working on the construction of the border fence. The man died of his wounds shortly afterward. The IDF's Golani Brigade arrived at the scene and began exchanging fire with the armed men. At least two terrorists were killed as a result of the firefight.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Israel accuses Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of launching rockets from Sinai

 Haaretz  reports:
Israeli security officials say that the rockets that landed on Friday in the area near Ovda and Mitzpeh Ramon, were launched after a request by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. According to these officials, the rockets were launched from the Sinai Peninsula by a Bedouin unit, according to Hamas orders, even though Hamas itself wasn't the initiator of the launching, but responded to the request of the Brotherhood, who wanted such an event on the eve of the second round of presidential elections in Egypt. It is yet unclear why the Brotherhood requested such an unusual action, a first military strike against Israel, or whether the strike was aimed at specific sites in the area.

The Brotherhood wanted such an event on the eve of the second round of presidential elections in Egypt?? And why then is this heroic event totally unknown in Egypt itself? 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Egypt's Constitutional Court cripples parliament and confirms that Shafiq is a lawful candidate

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) took two decisions on Thursday that effectively changed the political landscape and created a kind of constitutional labyrinth. It ruled that a third of parliament is unconstitutional (which effectively dissolves Parliament and returns legislative powers to the military) and it affirmed the legality of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s bid to the presidency.

The newspaper Egypt Independent wrote the following, which I quote at some length as it describes the situation quite well:
In a much anticipated court session, the SCC deemed the Parliamentary Elections Law unconstitutional, under which an Islamist-dominated Parliament was elected earlier this year. The court based its ruling on the law’s failure to ensure independent and party candidates equal opportunities. While parties were allowed to run for all contested seats, the bid of independent parliamentary hopefuls was restricted to only one-third of the seats. (...)
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. (Photo Virginie Nguyen/Egypt Independent). After the reading of  the decisions some fights broke out, outside the building.  

According to Hossam Issa, a law professor at Ain Shams University, the verdict means that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shall assume legislative powers until Parliament is reelected. Issa dropped a bombshell by arguing that the presidential election set for this weekend should be postponed until Parliament is reelected. “According to the Constitutional Declaration, the parliamentary elections must precede the presidential election,” he told Egypt Independent. However, SCC head Farouk Sultan told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the ruling would not affect the upcoming presidential runoff slated for Saturday and Sunday.

The fate of the newly formed Constituent Assembly, elected by Parliament on Tuesday and tasked with writing the new constitution, is also up in the air. According to Rafaat Fouda, a constitutional law professor at Cairo University, the ruling would lead to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, because “it includes members of Parliament that has now been dissolved.”
Several secular parties had withdrawn from the Constituent Assembly on grounds that it is dominated by Islamists. The State Council is currently looking into the legality of the assembly. (Egypt Independt remarks that a ruling of this kind is not new. The Egyptian Parliament was dissolved twice in 1987 and 1990 after SCC verdicts that deemed election regulations unconstitutional).
 In the same session on Thursday, the SCC also declared the Political Isolation Law, which bars high-ranking officials of Mubarak’s regime from running for public office, unconstitutional. Based on this verdict, Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and former commander of Egypt’s air forces, is entitled to compete in the presidential runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy.
Parliament had passed the Political Isolation Law only a few weeks ahead of the presidential poll in a last-minute attempt to exclude Mubarak regime stalwarts. However, the Presidential Election Commission refused to enforce the law against Shafiq and referred it to the SCC. (....)

For some observers, today’s verdicts attest to a coup d’état whereby the SCAF seeks to retain the helm of the state almost two weeks before the deadline set for the transfer of power to civilians.
“This is a hard coup d’état with a constitutional mask,” said Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah, a political science professor with Cairo University. “This is a betrayal of the revolution on the SCAF’s part. Revolutionary forces will not stay silent.” (....) 
Abdel Fattah insisted that Morsy should withdraw from the upcoming runoff. “We should not bestow legitimacy on elections run by the generals. This election will bring Shafiq to power despite all of us,” he said.
“The martial laws announced [yesterday] by the justice minister and today’s SCC verdicts imply a full coup d’état. Hence, we cannot expect Morsy to win the election in this situation,” he added, referring to a recent government decision to grant military police and military intelligence the right to arrest civilians.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood has already announced that Morsy will continue in the race.

Amnesty: fresh evidence of revenge killings by Syrian regime against communities supporting opposition

Amnesty International issued a new report on Syria:
The 70-page report Deadly Reprisals, provides fresh evidence of widespread as well as systematic violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission. (...)
Amnesty International visited 23 towns and villages in the Aleppo and Idlib governorates, including areas where Syrian government forces launched large scale attacks including during negotiations over the implementation of the UN-Arab League-sponsored six-point ceasefire agreement in March/April.
In every town and village visited grieving families described to Amnesty International how their relatives – young and old and including children - were dragged away and shot dead by soldiers - who in some cases then set the victims’ bodies on fire.
Open graves in Damascus after 4 have been killed in a raid.

Soldiers and shabiha militias burned down homes and properties and fired indiscriminately into residential areas, killing and injuring civilian bystanders.  Those who were arrested, including the sick and elderly, were routinely tortured, sometimes to death.  Many have been subjected to enforced disappearance; their fate remains unknown. (...)

The government crackdown has been targeting towns and villages seen as opposition strongholds, whether the site of clashes with Free Syria Army (FSA) forces or where the opposition remains peaceful. 
In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, on several occasions in the last week of May, Amnesty International watched uniformed security forces and plain clothes shabiha militia members firing live rounds against peaceful demonstrators, killing and injuring protesters and passers-by, including children. 

Egyptian military extend powers of military police to make arrests

Egypt's government extended the powers of military police and intelligence agents on Wednesday to allow them to arrest civilians for a wide range of offenses. The extension would remain in effect until a new constitution is in place. 
Military officials said the arrest powers are a temporary measure intended to fill a security vacuum that arose from the uprising, when the police collapsed and disappeared from the streets. Gen. Adel el-Morsi, the head of military judiciary, told Al-Ahram 's website that 'there is a need to put in place a law to regulate the presence of army troops ... to enable them to secure presidential elections or carry out security sweeps to arrest fugitives and outlaws.'
The decision was sharply criticized by human rights organisations. Sixteen rights groups said in a joint statement that the decision 'doubles doubts' over the military's pledge to transfer power to a civilian authority and reinforces suspicions that the 'transfer of power will only be phony and won't prevent the military from remaining a major player in political life.'
Activists warned the new arrest powers recreate Egypt's notorious emergency law, which expired at the end of May after 31 years in force. This is a declaration of martial law, as if we are living in a banana republic,' said Gamal Eid, a prominent rights lawyer. Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef called the decision 'shocking' and said 'it is basically trying to confirm the fact that the military can continue to be involved in law enforcement ... in the absence of emergency laws.'

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wave of bombs in Iraq kills at least 72

Updated. A wave of bombings and shootings rocked Iraq during a major Shiite religious commemoration on Wednesday, killing at least 72  people and wounded some 250. The attacks were the deadliest since 68 people were killed in Iraq on 5 January. They came during commemorations for the death of Imam Musa Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam, which take place this month.
Te bombs went off in Hilla (2 car bombs), Baghdad (10 bombs, of which one car bomb killing at least 16 pelgrims who were having breakfast in a tent), Baquba (9 bombs of which two car bombs and two shooting incidents), Kirkuk (3 car bombs), Balad (2 car bombs), Azaziyah, south of Baghdad (1 car bomb)  Kerbala (1 car bomb), Mosul (1 car bomb). 
Wednesday's attacks came during a political row that has seen opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mounting an attempt to oust him, but so far failed due to a lack of votes.
Maliki's opponents have for months accused him of monopolising decision-making and moving toward dictatorship.

Areas of Tunis under curfew after Salafist violence

The Tunisian authorities have declared a nightly curfew in some areas in and around the capital Tunis after two days of street battles involving salafists during which about a hundred people were wounded, 65 of them policemen. According to the Algerian newspaper Al Watan 165 people have been arrested.
The main areas where the unrest broke out were western neighbourhoods of Tunis (Intilaka, Ettadhamen and Essijoumi), but also the more posh northern outskirts (La Marsa, Carthage, Le Kram), were affected. Riots were reported in the northwestern town Jendouba as well, where the Salafists set fire to police posts and attacked places that sold alcohol. The most severe incident was in the Essijoumi area of  Tunis, where a courthouse was attacked and the offices of the state prosecutor totally burnt down. 
The riots seem to have been provoked by an art exhibition, 'The Spring of the Arts'' (Printemps des arts) in La Marsa, which was judged blasphemic by the salafists. The exhibition in the Abdellia palace was attacked on two consecutive nights and some works of art were destroyed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Quarter of Palestinians under poverty line, in East-Jerusalem even three quarters

Around 25.8% of Palestinians suffered from poverty in the Palestinian Territory in 2011, said a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) on Monday. It showed that slightly more than one out of four individuals was living below the poverty line in 2011, 17.8% in the West Bank and 38.8% in Gaza Strip. Similarly about 12.9% of individuals were living below the deep poverty line in 2011, 7.8% in the West Bank and 21.1% in Gaza Strip.
In 2011, the poverty line and deep poverty line for the reference household (two adults and three children) stood at 2,293 Israeli shekels ($637) per month and 1,832 shekels ($509) respectively. (The criteria were the amount that a family of five was able to spend on food, housing and clothing as is clarified in an earlier report of the PCBS from 1998.
The 'Separation Wall' cutting through Abu Dis. The Wall is one of the factors that is in the way of a proper functioning Palestinian economy.

A report released last May by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ) put the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem living below the poverty line even much higher: at no less than 78%. For children the number is even 84%. And it is on the increase: in 2006 the numbers for adults and children were 64% and 73% respectively.
Reasons are the neglect of the Arabic part of the city, with shortages of - for instance - 1000 classrooms, and of 50 kilometer of sewage pipes. Another is 'the Wall' which divides the main body of the city from many of its outskirts. ACRI mentions that since 1999 more than 5000 firms in Arabic East Jerusalem have closed their doors. As one of the consequences an estimated 40% of the male workforce does not participate in the job market and of the women some 85% is thought to be jobless. What may play a role as well, particularly in the case of the women, is the extreme shortage of kindergarten facilities. For some 15.000 children in the age of 3-4 years there are no more than 433 places available in a creche or pre-school.

As for the poverty in the West Bank and Gaza, also the occupation plays the biggest role, according to the World Bank.  In Gaza it is the the almost complete isolation from the rest of the world and the Israeli siege of the Strip. In the West Bank it is the Wall, the checkpoints and the many restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

Oman arrests bloggers and writers

Portraits of former Oman volleyball player Habiba Al Hinai and activists Esmail Al Muqbali and Yaqoub Al Kharusi. The activists were arrested following their visit to Fahoud oil fields on 31 May  to show solidarity with the striking Omani workers from contracting companies, who were commissioned to complete a project for two oil companies in the country. Their portraits were circulated by blogger Nabhan al-Hinshi who himself ha been detained since. Hinaie and Kharusi were released in the meantime.   

The authorities in Oan have escalated their campaign against freedom of expression and have arrested six writers and bloggers on Friday who are: Hassan Alriqiche; blogger, Hammoud al-Rashdi; writer, Nabhan al-Hinshi; writer, Hamad al-Kharusi; poet, Ali al-Saadi; blogger and Ali al-Hajji; blogger.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights information (ANHRI) in Cairo reports that this campaign comes after an earlier arrest  of Habiba al-Hana’i, Yaqoub al-Kharusi and Ismail al-Meqbali, whom were arrested on 31/5/2012 while trying to monitor and follow up the open labor strike in “Fohood” oil field. Also arrested  were the activists Ismail al-Aghbari on 4/6/2012 and Khalfan al-Badrawi on 6/6/2012
ANHRI considers the arrests an escalation of the repression of freedom of opinion in the country which  comes after Sultan Qaboos last year approved legislative amendments limiting 'the freedom of demonstration and peaceful assembly, following the demonstrations and protests that swept the country on the background of the Arab revolutions spring'.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mob attacks Egyptian women who were demonstrating against sexual harassment

A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The attack follows smaller scale assaults on women this week in Tahrir. Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before men trying to help could reach her.
(Photo Mai Shaheen/Al Ahram Online)
Friday's march was called to demand an end to sexual assaults. Around 50 women participated, surrounded by a larger group of male supporters who joined to hands to form a protective ring around them. The protesters carried posters saying, "The people want to cut the hand of the sexual harasser," and chanted, "The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric."
After the marchers entered a crowded corner of the square, a group of men waded into the women, heckling them and groping them. The male supporters tried to fend them off, and it turned into a melee involving a mob of hundreds. Eventually, the women were able to reach refuge in a nearby building with the mob still outside until they finally got out to safety.

Juan Cole (blog Informed Comment) commented:
Egypt, like many Mediterranean societies, emphasizes female chastity as a source of the honor for males in the family. Thus, most brothers are seriously shamed by a sister who sleeps around. This shame/honor dynamic underpins a nervousness about women playing a role in public, since being public rather than private, it is feared by many conservatives, increases opportunities for sexual activity. Women were about a fifth of the protesters in Tahrir Square during the 18-day revolution in 2011, but their presence was controversial. The military accused them of sleeping with boys at the square in tents, and gave them virginity tests when it arrested them. (...)
 So who attacked the women on Friday? Of course we don’t know. Some protesters suspect that elements in the military or remnants of the old regime put the thugs up to it, as a way of discouraging young people from coming to the square.(....) some activists suspect that the women were assaulted not because they are women but because they are revolutionaries continuing to threaten the prerogatives of the Mubarak elite.

Amnesty speaks out against increase in executions in Iraq

 Amnesty International on Friday condemned the "alarming" increase in executions in Iraq, which has put at least 70 people to death this year, and urged Baghdad to stop using the death penalty  Amnesty's comment came after Iraq executed the fromer secretary and body guard of Saddam Hussein, Abed Hamid Mahmoud, also known as Abed Hamoud, by hanging.
"The killing of Abed Hamoud is part of an alarming escalation in executions in Iraq and we fear others may soon face the same fate," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Abed Hamoud was number four on the US list of most-wanted Iraqi officials following the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was arrested in June 2003 by American forces and sentenced to death in October 2010 by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT), together with former government ministers Tariq Aziz and Saadoun Shakir, for their part in the crackdown on opposition forces, mainly Shiites. Tariq Aziz and Saadoun Shakir are among those facing imminent execution.

Abed Hamoun is the man behind Saddam Hussein. Left of him Tareq Aziz. (AP)

"The Iraqi authorities should refrain from using the death penalty, commute the sentences of all those on death row, believed to number several hundred, and declare a moratorium on executions," Hassiba Hadj Sharaoui said.
Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern about trials conducted before the SICT, which has a mandate to prosecute those accused of crimes committed under Saddam Hussain. Its independence as a court of law has been undermined by repeated political interference.

The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed. According to Amnesty International information, in 2011 at least 68 people were executed in Iraq in total.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Egypt's military solve the deadlock around the constitutional assembly

A protester holds a sign saying that Egyptians did not die for the purpose of the constitution to be written by the Muslim Brotherhood. (Al-Ahram Online)
Egypt's ruling army council SCAF called on Thursday for parliament to meet next week to pick the members of a new constitutional assembly, tasked with drawing up a new constitution. The previous assembly was dissolved by court order after liberals and others quit the body complaining it was dominated by Islamists. The SCAF had on Tuesday given political parties a 48-hour deadline to agree on the make-up of a new assembly, threatening that they would otherwise amend the interim constitution drafted after Mubarak was ousted themselves.
General Mamdouh Shahin said after a meeting lasting more than seven hours on Thursday between 22 parties and the council, that elected members of the upper and lower houses of parliament would meet next Tuesday to elect new assembly members.
Te meeting between the SCAF and the parties followed a earlier lengthy meeting between the parties on Tuesday night, whereby it was agreed that 39 of the 100 seats in the assembly would be designated to political parties, of which the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) will hold 16; the Salafist Nour Party eight; the liberal Wafd Party five; the Free Egyptians Party two; the Egyptian Social Democratic Party two; and one each for the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, the Nasserist Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the liberal Reform and Development Party and the Islamist Building and Development Party.
It was also agreed that 15 judges, nine religious figures – five from Al-Azhar and four from the Coptic Church – ten public figures, ten revolutionary youth (women and men), seven members of workers and farmers unions, seven members of professional syndicates, a representative from the police, another of the army and one from the Ministry of Justice. The new assembly is said to take decisions about the wording of articles of the constitution by a 67 percent majority or if that is not possible by a 57 percent majority 48 hours later.
Not all of the participants at the meeting of the parties were satisfied. Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Egyptian Bloc MPs Emad Gad and Farid Zahran walked out of the meeting as they felt the FJP parliamentarians would take over the assembly. Free Egyptians Party representatives also withdrew from the meeting.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reports of new massacre in Syria

Syrian pro-government forces are being accused of having killed 78 people in a single village in Hama province, many of them women and children. Other reports talk of 100 dead or more.
Activists say that Qubair, about 20km north-west of the city of Hama, had come under heavy bombardment from security forces backed by tanks. They said much of the killing was done by accompanying groups of pro-government militiamen known as shabiha, who had come from nearby pro-government villages. The activists said they shot at close range and stabbed many people, and that some of the bodies were later burnt in houses that were set on fire.

Damascus denied a massacre, saying "terrorists" had killed nine people.
Neither account could be confirmed, but activists said 140 had been killed nationwide on Wednesday - one of the bloodiest days of the uprising.
The news of the new massacre comes less than two weeks after 108 people were killed in a massacre in Houla.On Thursday, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is expected to urge the UN Security Council to create a new contact group to help end the violence.

Grim championship:

....and if nothing happens soon a dead champion..

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mass-protest in Cairo against candidacy Shafiq and verdict in Mubarak-trial

Tahrir Square on Tuesday 5 June 2012 (Photo Al Ahram Online/Mai Shaheen). Thousands had gathered in protest against the verdict in the Mubarak-trial, in which Mubarak and sons were acquitted of charges of corruption, and six generals of the Interior ministry were acquitted of the charges of giving ordeers to kill protesters in February 2011. The protest was also against the candidature of Ahmed Shafiq for president. Shafiq who was Mubarak's last prime minister and who ended second in the first round, should never have qualified as a candidate, according to the protesters,  as this was against a law adopted by parliament that excluded members of Mubarak's inner circle from taking oart in the elections. The commission that oversaw the presidential elections, however, decided otherwise. 
The demonstration was called for by three presidential candidates in the first round, Abdel Moneim Abouel Foutouh, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Khaled Ali (from left to right on this photo). Sabbahi and Abul-Fotouh led a march to Tahrir from the Mustafa Mahmoud mosque in Giza. Several thousand other protesters, led by Khaled Ali marched from Al-Fatah mosque, among them members of the 6 April Movement.  Ziad al-Eleimi of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and MP Essam Sultan of Al-Wasat Party also led protests to the square. (Al-Ahram Online)

Egypt's military set 48 hour deadline for parties to agree on criteria for Constitutional Assembly

Egypt's ruling military council on Tuesday has set a 48-hour deadline for political parties to finalize the formation of a 100-member panel to write a new constitution, or it will draw up its own blueprint.
Lawmaker Mustafa Bakri  outlined the ultimatum after representatives of 18 parties and independent lawmakers met with the head of the council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
 Party representatives announced that, if parliament failed to agree to issue viable membership criteria by Thursday, the SCAF would unilaterally issue a 'constitutional annex' or revive Egypt's 1971 constitution, suspended since last year's Tahrir Square uprising.
 Several parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood's FJP, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, headed by Mohamed Abul-Ghar, and the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, headed by Abu-Ela Madi, refrained from attending the meeting. Members of parties that did attend the meetings, said that there will be negotiations soon between those who attended and those who did not, in order to see if agreement can be reached regarding the criteria for the Constituent Assembly. Parliament formed an Assembly in April, but soon after its formation it became defunct as most members of other parties than the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists withdrew in protest against the heavy over representation of Islamists.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Israel compels Arab visitors to have their email checked at Ben Gurion airport

Ben Gurion airport
 AP reports about a new (?) development concerning people of Arab descent who want to visit Israel:

 When Sandra Tamari arrived at Israel's international airport, she received an unusual request: A security agent pushed a computer screen in front of her, connected to Gmail and told her to "log in."
The agent, suspecting Tamari was involved in pro-Palestinian activism, wanted to inspect her private email account for incriminating evidence. The 42-year-old American of Palestinian descent refused and was swiftly expelled from the country.
Tamari's experience is not unique. In a cyber-age twist on Israel's vaunted history of airport security, the country has begun to force incoming travelers deemed suspicious to open personal email accounts for inspection, visitors say. (continue here)

AP wrote this apparently after the site Mondoweiss featured a similar horror story one day earlier.  
Would they do it only to Arab visitors? And what about bloggers?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Syrian unrest again spills over to northern Lebanon: 13 killed in street battles in Tripoli

 Gunmen in action in Tripoli (Reuters).

The Syrian unrest again spilled over to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli this weekend.  It is not the first time the Alawite neighbourhood of  Jabal Mohsen (supporters of the Assad-regime) fought battles with the predominantly Sunni area Bab al-Tabaneh (adversaries of Assad). The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star:    
A cautious calm set in Sunday morning in the tense north Lebanese neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli after intensive overnight clashes that raised the weekend death toll to at least 13 people and the number of wounded to 49. 
Residents said the overnight fighting with assault rifles, machine guns, grenades and mortar bombs were the fiercest in the second largest Lebanese city since the height of the 1975-1990 Civil War, in a growing sign that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into its tiny neighbor.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, following a meeting with security officials at Tripoli’s serial that ended near midnight, said the Lebanese Army had been given the green light to move in to the conflict area and that a security plan would be implemented starting 5 a.m. Sunday.
It was not the first fight of this kind: In May, 11 people were killed and over 100 wounded in three days of battles between the rival sides, prompting several Gulf countries to warn their citizens against travel to Lebanon. Also in February the two neighbourhoods in Tripoli clashed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Verdict in Mubarak-trial provokes extreme anger among progressive Egyptians

 Mubarak enters the courtroom. (Al-Masry al-Youm)

Today, 2 June,  was the day of the verdict against the former Egyptian president Mubarak, his minister of the Interior Habib Adly, his two sons Gamal and Alaa and a number of  police and and other top generals  from the Interior ministry.
The verdict was a blow to the head of the revolutionaries: Although Mubarak and Adly got life imprisonment, it was for conspiring to kill protesters during the demonstrations in 2011, and not for giving the orders. What was worse: all of Adly's collaborators at the Interior ministry were acquitted. The judge said that the evidence against them had be destroyed. (And the big question now of course is: by whom?).
On top of that Mubarak and his sons were acquitted of corruption charges. Because according to the verdict '10 years had passed' since the crimes were committed'.
After the verdict angry spectators started a scuffle in and outside the courtroom. Read what Egypt Independent reported directly from the spot:  

10:40 am: Outside of the courtroom, a fight has broken out between families of the martyrs and Central Security Forces. The origins of the fight are not clear.
10:30 am: Lawyers representing the families of the martyrs explode in protest inside the courtroom, angry that former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly's deputies have escaped conviction. They chant: "The people demand the purging of the judiciary!" and "Illegitimate!" A fight breaks out in the courtroom.
10:25 am: Mubarak and Adly are sentenced to life imprisonment (the paper originally  wrote 25 years, but this was later corrected) for conspiring to kill protesters, the maximum possible sentence under Egyptian law.
Adly's deputies have all been acquitted. They are: former First Assistant Interior Minister for the Central Security Forces Sector Major General Ahmed Mohamed Ramzy Abdel Rashid; former First Assistant Interior Minister for Public Security Major General Adly Mostafa Fayed; former First Assistant Interior Minister for the State Security Agency Major General Hassan Abdel Rahman; former head of Cairo Security Directorate Major General Ismael al-Shaer; former head of Giza Security Directorate Major General Osama al-Marassy; former head of 6th of October Security Directorate Major General Omar al-Farmawy.
The former president and his two sons are also acquitted of all financial crimes because 10 years have passed since the alleged crimes were committed.

 The brothers Alaa and Gamal Mubarak behind bars in the courtroom. They were acquitted. But earlier this week they have been charged anew with new evidence. They remain in custody.   

The reactions in Cairo spoke volumes. A few samples: Hani Shukrallah, editor in chief of Al-Ahram Online twitterd: Message to police: kill & torture as you will; you"l be charged with investigating your crimes and be cleared for lack of evidence. 
Or Heba Morayef, Researcher for Egypt of Human Rights Watch: To recap: in this historic case prosecution failed to present enough evidence to convict the head of riot police Ahmed Ramzy of ANYTHING. Or: Verdict will go to appeal. Shouldnt be too difficult for lawyers to appeal Mubarak and Adly sentences given acquittal of all MOI aides.
Other reactions went even further than that and said that it was a clear signal that nothing has changed in Egypt and that this process was a signal that the state is preparing the way for a Mubarak-like regime under Ahmed Shafiq.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Links for the period 23 May - 1 June

I admit I copied this idea  from blogger Arabist: links for articles that one could recommend, but in some cases for reasons of time and place didn´t find their way to the blog. Here are my links for the period 23 May 1 June:

The New York Times reveals that it was not only the Israelis that executed cyberattacks on Iran. It was a combined American-Israeli project and maybe still is.  

 Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argues in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel (for the Xth time) against the EU´s obsession with austerity and warns that the euro risks to fall apart:
´If there was a European government, I'd be arguing for stimulus from that European government. But Europe has a special problem, which is the single currency without the single government.´

Portrait of  28-year old filmmaker Bassel Shehade who left a Fullbright scholarship in the US for Syria, where he met his death while covering the events in Homs.

Gideon Levy of Haaretz´ outburst  against the riots against black fugitives in southern Tel Aviv: ´Israel is the most naive and racist country in the West ´

And yes, finally somebody states the obvious about thes drone attacks. The Washington Post: In Yemen, U.S. airstrikes breed anger, and sympathy for al-Qaeda