Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I wish readers, friends, and everyone else a year in which we all be able to smash the obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals. A happy 2014!
(Photo: Palestinian activists making a hole in ''The Wall'' in the West Bank village of Bir Nabala, near Ramallah, on 15 November 2013).  

Two sides in S-Sudan agree to talks, fighting continues in Bor

 South Sudan president Salva Kiir (R) and his former deputy Riek Machar
 President Salva Kiir (with hat) and (then) vice-president Riek Machar (to his left) during the celebrations of South Sudan's independence.

Ethiopia says South Sudan's government and rebel leader Riek Machar are sending delegations to Addis Ababa for peace talks. The Ethiopian government announced the negotiations Tuesday, the day the East African bloc IGAD had set as a deadline for the two sides in South Sudan to hold face-to-face negotiations.
More than two weeks of violence in South Sudan continued Tuesday with fresh fighting in the key city of Bor, which government forces recaptured from rebels last week. The French news agency quoted a rebel spokesman as saying fighters backing Machar had re-taken control of Bor.
Tuesday's fighting followed renewed calls by the United Nations and African Union for an immediate end to the fighting. Statements from the U.N. Security Council and the A.U.'s Peace and Security Council late Monday said dialogue should begin immediately between President Salva Kiir and Machar, his former vice president.The African Union also urged Kiir's government to release detained political leaders, and threatened to impose sanctions on those who continue to incite violence.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited Kiir on Monday, and warned Machar to sign a cease-fire deal or face action from its neighbors.
The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Monday tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled Bor since violence broke out there last week between government troops and the Machar-backed force - the so called "White Army." White Army youths are known for the white powder they use to cover their skin as an insect repellant. Like Machar, they are ethnic Nuers while President Kiir and his loyalists are ethnic Dinka.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Egypt arrests four journalists of Al-Jazeera

Correspondent Peter Creste
Al Jazeera said Egyptian security forces arrested four of its journalists after the interior ministry accused the Qatar-based television channel of broadcasting illegally from a hotel suite together with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo have been closed since July 3 when they were raided by security forces hours after the army ousted the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi from the presidency.
"State security received information that a member of the (Brotherhood) used two suites in a Cairo hotel to hold meetings with other members of the organization and turned the suites into a press center," the Egyptian Interior Ministry said. "(They) made live broadcasts of news that harms homeland security, spreading rumors and false news to Qatar's Al Jazeera channel without permits."
A member of the Brotherhood and an Australian journalist who works for Al Jazeera were arrested and equipment was seized, including broadcast transmitters, the Interior Ministry said. Al Jazeera said the four working for its English news channel who had been arrested were c
orrespondent Peter Greste, producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed as well as cameraman Mohamed Fawzy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Airstrikes on Aleppo kill more than 500 since 15 December

Regime airstrikes on the northern Syrian province of Aleppo have killed at least 517 people since December 15, including 151 children, activists said on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a string of regime aerial attacks on the pre-war commercial capital, including raids with explosives-packed barrels, had also killed 46 women.

The vegetable market after Saturday's bombing.

A Syrian army air strike on a vegetable market in the northern city of Aleppo killed at least 25 people on Saturday, a monitoring group said, continuing a campaign of improvised "barrel bombs" that has drawn international condemnation.
Bashar al-Assad's regime has waged a massive aerial offensive against Aleppo and nearby villages since December 15. Warplanes have launched rockets and helicopters dropped so-called barrel bombs on rebel-held residential areas, often densely populated.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Egypt continues persecution of Muslim Brotherhood members and spells out punishments

Someone reading a copy of Al-Hurreyya wal-Adala, the newspaper of the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood. The paper had been closed and its printing materials heve been confiscated. (Reuters) 

Egypt's ministry of the Interior on Thursday detailed the punishment for anyone association with the Muslim Brotherhood, one day after the cabinet declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. Anyone who joins Muslim Brotherhood marches will receive a five-year prison sentence, the MOI spokesman said, according to the press agency MENA . Those who are proven to be members in the Brotherhood, anyone who promotes the group verbally or in writing, as well as those caught carrying publications or recordings of the group, will also face the same sentence, ministry spokesman Hany Abd El-Fattah said. Anyone who takes up an administrative position in the group, finances it with money or provides information to the group, will face a hard labour sentence.

Car bomb in Beirut kills former minister critical of Syrian regime and three others

Civil Defense team at the scene of a car bomb in Downtown Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
(The Daily Star)

An explosion caused by a car bomb rocked the downtown area of Beirut Friday morning, killing former finance minister Mohamed Shattah along with at least three others. According to the Lebanese health minister Ali Hassan Khalil the number of wounded has surpassed 70 and is expected to rise.
A restaurant and a coffee shop were destroyed in the blast, and several cars were on fire, a witness said to AFP, adding that there was glass everywhere and the smell of explosives filled the air.
Much of Beirut went into lockdown following the explosion, with police blocking off roads across the city.

Shattah was an ally and adviser of Saad Hariri, the leader of the  Future Party, and a staunch critic of Hezbollah and the Syrian government. After his death Hariri wrote on Twitter: "Those who assassinated Mohammed Shattah are those who assassinated Rafik Hariri (Saad Hariri;'s father, TP), and they want to assassinate Lebanon, and sully the state's nose in humiliation, weakness, and emptiness."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five bus passengers hurt by bomb in Cairo

Five people were wounded by an explosion that hit a bus in Cairo's Medinat Nasr area. A functionary of the explosives department at the ministry of the interior confirmed that that somebody threw an explosive near a public bus in front of a school. Experts found another undetonated bomb planted in a garden in front of this school complex, the King Fahd School, whcih is near Al-Azhar university building, and  the headquarters of the National Security as well as a police station.

Egyptian government declares Muslim Brotherhood a ''terrorist organisation''


Hisham Qandil, prime minister during the time of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, was arrested late Tuesday when he was trying to trsavel to Sudan. The picture shows him blindfolded and with his hand tied on his back. Qandil is incarcerated in the Tora prison in Cairo. He has to serve a year in jail for not having execurtd a court order from 2011 ordering the re-nationalisation of the Tanta Flax and Oil Company.

Egypt's interim government on Wednesday officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa said in a declaration that the cabinet decided the Brotherhood is a terrorist group, making it subject to Article 86 of the Egyptian penal code, which defines terrorism and the penalties for engaging in it.Eissa mentioned that the deadly bombing in the Delta city of Mansoura as well as attacks on churches and other violent incidents attributed to members of the group led to the decision.
Prosecutors are still investigating the Mansoura bombing that left 16 dead, which happened Tuesday. It was claimed by the Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. It is not yet known if the group has any link to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bombs target Christians in Baghdad, 34 killed

People stand among debris at the site of a bomb attack at a marketplace in Baghdad's Doura District December 25, 2013. REUTERS-Ahmed Malik

At least 34 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian areas of Baghdad on Wednesday, some by a car bomb that exploded near a church after a Christmas service, police and medics said. The car bomb killed at least 24 people, most of them Christian, when worshippers were leaving the church in the Doura district of southern Baghdad, police sources said. Two bombs also went off in a crowded market in a separate, mostly Christian area in Doura, killing another ten people, police and medics said. At least 52 people were wounded in the attacks.
The minority Christian community has been a target of attacks by al Qaeda militants in the past, including a 2010 attack on a church that killed dozens of people. The year 2013 has been the deadliest year since 2008. Over 8.000 people lost their lives so far due to almost daily bombings and othert attacks. Click here for a complete list, as collected by Russian TV

UN send more peacekeepers to S-Sudan where casualties are feared to be in the thousands

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Refugees camping in a warehouse of the UN mission in Jabel, on tjhe outskirts of the South Sudanese capital Juba. (Reuters) 

The U.N. Security Council approved plans on Tuesday to almost double the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan in an effort to protect civilians as reports of mass graves fueled fears of a worsening of ethnic bloodletting in the world's newest state.
The move came as the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the country said the death toll from the past 10 days of violence was likely now in the thousands, rather than the hundreds the world body had previously estimated. "I think it's undeniable at this stage that there must have been thousands of people who have lost their lives," Toby Lanzer told the BBC's Newshour program. "When I've looked at the hospitals in key towns and I've looked at the hospitals in the capital itself, the range of injuries, this is no longer a situation where we can merely say it's hundreds of people who've lost their lives," he said.
Lanzer was speaking from a U.N. compound in the rebel-held city of Bentiu, capital of Unity state.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the crisis had displaced an estimated 81,000 people, though the real number was likely to be higher.With some 45,000 civilians seeking protection at U.N. bases, the 15-member Security Council unanimously authorized a plan by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to boost the strength of the peacekeeping force in South Sudan to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police.The additional personnel will reinforce U.N. bases where civilians are seeking shelter.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Weeklong air raids on Aleppo kill more than 300

Residents look for survivors at a damaged site after what activists said was an air strike from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Takeek Al-Bab area of Aleppo, December 15, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat
Damage in the Takeek al-Bab neighbourhood in Aleppo (picture of 15 December 2013, Reuters)

More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, a monitoring group said on Monday.
Many of the casualties, who included scores of women and children, were killed by so-called barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syrian authorities say they are battling rebels who have controlled parts of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, and most of the surrounding countryside for the past 18 months.
But human rights group have condemned the use of the improvised bombs - oil drums or cylinders which are packed with explosives and metal fragments, often rolled out of the aircraft cargo bay - as an indiscriminate form of bombardment.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the British-based pro-opposition Observatory, said 87 children and 30 women were among the 301 people killed in the Aleppo air raids since December 15.
Assad's forces have clawed back territory to the southeast of the city in recent weeks and have reasserted control over several Damascus suburbs in the build-up to planned peace talks next month aimed ending Syria's almost three-year-old conflict.
The army is thought unlikely to be able to recapture major parts of Aleppo before the talks in Switzerland start on January 22, but Abdulrahman said the air raids might be aimed instead at turning the remaining residents against the rebel fighters by showing that the insurgents could not protect civilians.

Merry Christmas

I wish my readers (Christians and others) a merry Christmas and a good start of the year 2014.
Palestinians waiting in front of the Bethlehem checkpoint
Christmas tree
Huge Christmas tree (made in China) on Manger Square in Bethlehem.

Car bomb attack on security headquarters in Egyptian city of Mansoura kills 14

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At least 14 people have been killed and some 200 wounded by a powerful car bomb attack early Tuesday morning on the security headquarters of Egypt's Daqahliyya governorate in the city of Mansoura. Among the dead are eight policemen, a civilian and three unidentified individuals. The head of Mansoura's Security Directorate was among the injured, two of his aides were killed.
The explosion ripped through the building's side façade and damaged a number of police vehicles and parts of adjacent buildings which include the state's council, a theatre and a bank.
 Al-Ahram’s Arabic website quoted an anonymous security source as saying that two bombs had gone off almost simultaneously. The first bomb, he said, was planted in a higher floor in the building, the second in a car next to the Security Directorate. A third bomb planted in another car was defused, the source added.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Repression in present day Egypt: 6 April activists get three years for their participation in a demonstration

Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma
Left to right: Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma. (Mada Masr)

An Egyptian misdemeanour court sentenced on Sunday three leading Egyptian activists to three years in jail for charges including organising illegal protests, judicial sources told Ahram Online.
Founder of April 6 Youth movement Ahmed Maher, member Mohamed Adel and long-time activist Ahmed Douma stand charged of allegedly assaulting policemen at an illegal protest outside a Cairo court where Maher was handing himself in for questioning over allegations he had organised an illegal protest.
The defendants have also been fined LE50,000 each.
The activists are accused of several charges including assaulting police officers and joining a protest without seeking a police permit as required by a new disputed protest law.

Maher, Adel and Douma were, as leaders of the 6 April Movement, instrumental in organizing protests in workplaces and in popular areas of Cairo against the rule of president Mubarak that wre instrumental in Mubarak's eventual demise. The sentences are probably more than anything else illustrative for the repressive climate in the Egypt after 30 June 2013. They were based upon a recent law that effectively banned all protests except the ones that got a stamp of approval from the ministry of the Interior. The law has been denounced by human rights activists as against internationally accepted basic civil rights. This is a scandalous verdict.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

South Sudanese army looses control over northern oil producing Unity State.

South Sudan’s army has lost control over the 4th Division in the oil-producing Unity State in the north after the commander of the force defected and declared himself military governor of the state. Mutineers clashed with troops loyal to President Kiir inside the barracks of the SPLA 4thDivision in Bentiu since about 7:00 p.m. Friday, Radio Tamazuj has learned. Heavy fighting over four hours resulted in the retreat of the loyal forces from the barracks, according to a source in the city who requested anonymity.
Commander James Koang of the 4th Division announced subsequently over state-run Bentiu Radio that the state was now under his control and that he was no longer taking orders from Juba.
He did not mention any association to former vice president Riek Machar, the most prominent political opponent of the government still at large. But according to a BBC reporter who spoke over the phone to the ex-VP today, Machar is claiming Koang’s allegiance.
The defected commander also declared that all ministers and commissioners were dismissed, and named no replacements. He said lower level officials could continue working.
According to a security source north of the state capital, the acting governor and deputy governor fled from the city.

The northern county of Pariang also witnessed clashes last night, Friday, from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. but remains under the control of the government.
At least 10 people were killed including five from the government side and five from the other side. Many people are also reported wounded or missing.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Human Rights groups in Egypt denounce raid on Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)

Human rights groups have issued a statement condemning a police raid on the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). Ten groups described Wednesday's raid in downtown Cairo as taking place amid a media campaign against NGOs and rights organisations.
"During the raid six human rights defenders were arrested and held incommunicado: Mustafa Eissa, head of ECESR documentaries unit; Mahmoud Belal, a lawyer; and four volunteers: Hossam Mohamed Nasr, El-Sayed Mahmoud El-Sayed, Mohamed Adel, and Sherif Ashour. Five of the six detainees were released on Thursday morning. Also laptops and other material that ghad been confiscated was bgiven back. But one staff member, Mohamed Adel, who is also a well known member of the 6 April group,  is still in detention.
"These human rights defenders were working on a documentary about the Iron and Steel Workers Union strike which was intended to be screened at a press conference today," the statement said.
The groups compared the raid to one that took place at the Hisham Mubarak Human Rights Centre on 3 February 2011.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Amnesty: Islamist opposition in Syria perpetrating 'shocking catalogue of abuses'

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on May 16, 2013 by user @dirtytrainers
Still taken from video showing the execution by Islamists of 11 supporters of Assad. The video is supposedly from May 2013. 

Islamist militants are perpetrating "a shocking catalogue of abuses" in secret jails across northern Syria, including torture, flogging and killings after summary trials, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
It said in a report that the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), one of the most powerful jihadi groups to emerge from Syria's almost three-year-old conflict, is operating seven clandestine prisons in rebel-held areas.
Detainees are held for reasons ranging from suspected theft to offences against Islam such as smoking or sex outside marriage. Others are seized simply for challenging ISIL authority or belonging to rival armed groups, it said. "Those abducted and detained by ISIL include children as young as eight who are held together with adults in the same cruel and inhuman conditions," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Human rights abuses have been rife in Syria's civil war, with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad responsible for many of the worst ones, according to the United Nations.

Troops loyal to South Sudanese president loose control over city of Bor

South Sudan’s army (SPLA) acknowledged that it is “not in control of Bor” after forces loyal to Gen. Peter Gatdet Yak overran military bases on Tuesday and took over the town Wednesday evening.  SPLA spokesperson Col. Philip Aguer said the national army is meeting to set the next move in light of the development amid growing international concern for the humanitarian situation in Jonglei’s state capital.
Earlier today, South Sudan army said that Gen. Gadet, who was a commander in charge of the SPLA’s 8th Division in Jonglei state, has defected from its ranks.
He reportedly broke off from the national army ranks on allegations that his tribe, the Nuer, have been targeted in the current tension.
Over the weekend clashes erupted in Juba between among units of the presidential guards from competing tribes of Dinka and Nuer. The fighting spread throughout the city which lead to the death of at least 500 people with hundreds more injured.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

South Sudanese capital Juba is a battlefield

President Salva Kiir giving a speech on Monday, in which he asserted that his troops were in command.

Update: The United Nations received reports from local sources in South Sudan on Tuesday that between 400 and 500 people had been killed and up to 800 wounded in the latest violence, and the government said it had arrested 10 politicians in connection with a "foiled coup".
"Two hospitals have recorded between 400 and 500 dead and (up to) 800 wounded," a diplomat in New York said on condition of anonymity, citing an estimate United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous gave during a closed-door briefing for the 15-member body. Another diplomat confirmed Ladsous' remarks, adding that the United Nations was not in a position to verify the figures. (End of Update)
Fierce battles raged on Tuesday in South Sudan's capital Juba, witnesses said, as troops loyal to the president fought rival soldiers accused of staging a coup in the world's youngest nation. The continued gunfire, including the sporadic firing of heavy weapons, resumed in the early hours of Tuesday as terrified residents barricaded themselves in their homes or attempted to flee the city.
South Sudan's Under-Secretary for Health Makur Korion said on local radio that at least 26 people had so far been killed in the violence. At least 130 more are reported to have been wounded. "We can still hear sporadic shooting from various locations. The situation is very tense," Emma Jane Drew of the British aid agency Oxfam told AFP by telephone from Juba. "It's continued shooting. Shooting could be heard all through the night. We don't know who is fighting who." Drew said her team was unable to leave their compound because of the fighting, which began late on Sunday.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tunisian parties choose new prime minister

Mehdi Jomaa taking the oath of office as ministry of Industry.The picture was taken on March 13, 2013 when the then new government was sworn in. (Photo: AFP - Fethi Belaid).

Tunisia's political parties chose Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa Saturday to head a government of independent figures aimed at pulling the country out of a months-long crisis, the principal mediator said.
"Dialogue and discussions led to a vote and the choice of Mehdi Jomaa as the candidate for the post of head of government," said Houcine Abassi, secretary general of the powerful UGTT trade union.
"Our people have waited for a long time, but despite the difficulties and obstacles... this dialogue has not failed," he said, adding his "congratulations to Tunisia."
Of the 21 parties participating in the talks, only the Nidaa Tounes party rejected the choice and abstained in the vote.
According to a deal clinched between Tunisia's main parties in October, the new premier has 15 days to form his new government of independents.
He also faces the weighty task of organizing elections in 2014.
Jomaa, a relative unknown, is a 51-year-old engineer with no stated political affiliation.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Amnesty: Europe should be ashamed by its attitude towards Syrian refugees

 View this content on The Guardian's website
European leaders should be ashamed by the paltry numbers of refugees from Syria they are prepared to resettle, human rights group Amnesty says.
Only 10 member states have offered to take in refugees and even then only 12,000, it complains. The UK and Italy have offered no places at all, it adds.
But the UK government says it is focusing on the region and is one of the biggest international donors.
European Union aid has reached 1.3bn euros (£1.1bn; $1.7bn), officials say.
The bloc says its priority is providing help to Syria's internally displaced people, now thought to number 6.5 million, and those hosted in other countries.
The UN estimates almost 2.3 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since March 2011.
The harsh conditions faced by Syrian refugees have been highlighted this week with the first winter snowfalls in the Bekaa valley of northern Lebanon, where tens of thousands of Syrians are sheltering in tents.
A total of 838,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon, living either in tented camps, unused buildings or with friends and family.
The bitterly cold weather has also halted a UN airlift of food and other humanitarian supplies from Iraq to Kurdish areas inside north-eastern Syria.
Syrian Refugee Camp
Bab al-Salam camp in Syria, near the broder with Turkey.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mona Anis translated part of Ahmed Fouad Negm's poetry into English

Amsterdam, 11 december 2013: Prins Constantijn reikt de Prins Claus Prijs 2013 postuum uit aan de Egyptische volksdichter Ahmed Foaud Negm in het Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam. Ahmed Fouad Negm overleed 3 december, goede vriendin en vertaler Mona Anis neemt de prijs in ontvangst © Novum, foto: Patrick van Katwijk
Egyptian writer Mona Anis has received Amed Fouad Negm's award  from the hands of and prince Constantijn (photo Prince Claus Foundation).

Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm — who died at the beginning of this month at the age of 84 — was honored on 11 December as the principal winner at the Dutch Prince Claus Award ceremony in Amsterdam.  Negm was to have received the award from Prince Constantijn, but instead the price was received by Egyptian writer Mona Anis on his behalf. Anis and Negm, as was announced during the ceremony,  had been working a  few months before Negm's death on the “first serious translation” of Negm’s poetry into English. The collection ''I Say My Words Out Loud '' is made available online, published by the Prince Claus Fund (click here)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

American drone kills 15 wedding guests in Yemen

In 2011 an American drone killed 17-year old Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki in Yemen together with his teenage cousin and six others. Abdel-Rahman had left his home in order to look for his father, preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was suspected of having links to al-Qaida and shortl;y before also had been killed by an American drone. 

Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al-Qaida convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.
The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.
"An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, 10 people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital," one security official said.
Five more people were injured, the officials said.
The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network.
Human Rights Watch said in a report in October that US missile strikes, including armed drone attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Naguib Mahfouz medal for Syrian author Khalifa

Khaled Khalifa
The 2013 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature went this year to the Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa for his novel ''La Sakakin fi Matabekh Hazehi Al-Madina'' (No knives in the kitchens of this land). The literary prize, awarded by the American University in Cairo, has since its inception in 1996, been given out on 11 December, the day Mahfouz was born, in 1911, (so exactly 100 years ago this year).
Khalifa's novel is about the price that Syrians have paid under the rule of the Baath party, headed by President Bashar al-Assad.
This year's panel of judges included: Tahia Abdel Nasser, professor of English and comparative literature at AUC and granddaughter of late president Gamal Abdel Nasser; Shereen Abouelnaga, professor of English Language, Cairo University; Mona Tolba, professor of Arabic literature,Ain Shams University; Hussein Hammouda, visiting associate professor of Arab and Islamic civilizations at AUC; and Abdo Wazen, Lebanese poet and literary editor of Al-Hayat newspaper.
Unfortunately the writer himself was not able to attend the ceremony, due to the ciorcumstances in Syria.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Protests and demands for an investigation after murder of journalist Garmyani in Iraqi Kurdestan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has written to the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massoud Barazani, to urge his government to carry out a thorough investigation into the murder of journalist Kawa Mohamed Ahmed Garmyani who was shot dead in the town of Kalar in east Kurdistan, Thursday 5 December.
According to IFJ affiliate, the Kurdistan journalists' Syndicate (KJS), its member Garmyani was gunned down at 9pm outside his house. Media reports say that a few days before his murder he had announced on his Facebook page that he had documents relating to a corruption case that he was planning to write about in the local ‘Rayal' magazine, of which he was editor in chief. Garmyani (32) was also a correspondent for the ‘Awene' newspaper. According to reports, Garmyani had been involved in disputes with local politicians because of his investigative reporting and he recently registered a complaint with Garmyan police against one of them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Egyptian appeals court reduces sentences of women protesters

Egyptian women supporters of ousted President Mohammed MorsiAn Alexandria appeals court reduced the sentence of 14 female Islamist protesters previously sentenced to more than 11 years in jail,  to a suspended sentence of one year.
In November  a criminal court sentenced the 14  to 11 years and one month for destruction of private property, attacking security forces and stirring violence. Also it ordered that seven female minors among the women be placed in a detention centre until the age of majority. These seven minors, aged 15 to 17, ware acquitted.

The 21 women were arrested in late October during clashes with residents following a demonstration calling for the reinstatement of president Mohamed Morsi. The harsh jail sentences handed down to them had  sparked outrage in the country.

Friday, December 6, 2013

American singer almost won ''Arabs got Talent

Update Sunday 8/12:  Arabs Got Talent was won by the Syrian dance group Sima. The 23-year old American Jennifer Grout performed the song “Wahashtini” (“I’ve Missed You”) by Nour Mhanna,but did not win. The fact that she had been one of three finalists, however, was already a remarkable achievement  for someone who does not speak Arabic. (en of update)

MBC's show 'Arabs got talent' might well be in for a surprise yet again. Last year it was the Palestinian Mohammed Assaf from Gaza who came as it were from nowhere an won big time. This year it might be even more astonishing: 23-year old Jennifer Grout from Massachussets the United States, who hardly speaks a word of Arabic is a finalist an has been tipped as possible winner. This Saturday during the finals in Beirut, the final results will be known. 
Jennifer spent most of her life studying classical music, is what CNN reported about her. But studying at McGill University in Montreal she came across an article online about the famous Lebanese singer Fairouz. ''And  I was just really mesmerized by her singing," she remembers. "It was like nothing I had heard before."
The next thing she discovered was the famous Egyptian 'nightingale'  Umm Kulthoum, and that changed her life. She began studying Arabic and learning how to play the oud. After college, she moved to Morocco, where she learned local Berber music and began performing in Marrakesh's Jemaa el Fnaa Square.
The above video is taken during her first appearance at ''Arabs got talent'' and it's hilarious, because it shows how she had a hard time with the jury speaking almost only Arabic (and the jury with her not speaking Arabic at all). But her interpretation of Umm Kulthoum's  ''I forgot the sleep and its dreams'' (nisseet il-noum w'ahlamhu) was warmly welcomed. Her performance of Syrian singer Asmahan's "Ya Toyour (Oh Birds)" got her through to the finals. And tomorrow evening we'll know more.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

At least 52 people killed during attack on Yemen's ministry of Defense

Damaged vehicles are seen at the scene of a suicide attack at the Defence Ministry compound in SanaaDamaged cars in the Defense ministry's compound. (AP).

(Updated). A car bomber and gunmen dressed in army uniforms attacked Yemen's Defense Ministry compound in the capital Sanaa on Thursday morning, killing at least 20 people in one of the worst attacks in Yemen in 18 months, Reuters reported. 
 "The attack took place shortly after working hours started at the ministry, when a suicide bomber drove a car into the gate," a Defense Ministry source said. tells Reuters. Then other attackers opened fire, beginning a gun battle that seems to have continued even as ambulances arrived on the scene. The violence also spilled into a hospital in the compound.
Update: According to Yemen's Supreme Security Commission 52 people were killed, including at least seven foreigners, while at least 167 people were wounded, nine of them seriously. Among the dead were  two aid workers from Germany, two doctors from Vietnam, two nurses from the Philippines and a nurse from India. Among the Yemeni civilians killed were a doctor and a senior judge. The attack was claimed by al-Qaida's local branch in Yemen and follows a rise in U.S. drone strikes. (En of update)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lebanon puts northern city of Tripoli under control of the army

People in Tripoli run for cover as fighting goes on. (AFP)  

Lebanon Monday put Tripoli under the Army’s control for six months in an attempt to end recurrent sectarian fighting in the northern city linked to the war in Syria. Shortly after the announcement was made by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati following a high-level security meeting at Baabda Palace, the Army staged raids in and around Tripoli’s rival neighborhoods in search of gunmen’s hideouts and weapons.
The measure, which fell short of declaring the restive city a military zone, came as troops and security forces bolstered their presence in Tripoli, where 13 people have been killed and over 80 wounded in three days of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Egyptian constitution leaves open which comes first: presidential or parliamentary elections

<p>Members of Egypt's constitution committee meet at the Shura Council for the final vote on a draft Egyptian constitution in Cairo.</p>Meeting of Commission of 50 in the building of the Shura Council. 

A draft Egyptian constitution completed on Sunday opens the way for a presidential election to be held before parliamentary polls, potentially changing the transition plan outlined by the army when it ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
The original plan said a parliamentary election should take place before the presidential one. But the draft constitution avoids stipulating which vote should happen first. The draft constitution says the "election procedures" must start within six months from the date of the constitution's ratification, meaning Egypt may not have an elected president or parliament until the second half of next year.
The change was announced by former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, chairman of the 50-member constituent assembly, as it completed its final draft on Sunday. The draft must now be put to a referendum this month or next.
The change leaves it up to interim President Adly Mansour, to decide which election comes first, or whether to hold both at the same time. Mansour was installed as head of state after Mursi's ouster. Critics say he is just a front for army rule.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fighting in North Yemen flares again, at least 120 dead

Dar ul-Hadith academy, the site of the fighting in Damaj. 

Fighting between Shi'ite Houthi rebels and Sunni Salafis in northern Yemen has killed more than 120 and a government official in charge of enforcing a ceasefire accused the Houthis of breaking the truce, a newspaper said on Sunday.
The latest round of fighting between the Houthis and Salafis has added to the challenges facing U.S. allied Yemen, already grappling with a southern separatist movement and an insurgency by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda.
Amin al-Hemyari, head of government observers monitoring a ceasefire reached last month, said the death toll among Salafis in the town of Damaj had risen to more than 120, with dozens wounded, the government-run al-Thawra newspaper said.
He said no casualty figures were available for the Houthis.

Thousands demonstrate in Aden for secession of South Yemen

متظاهرون من الحراك الجنوبي في عدن بمناسبة ذكرى الاستقلال
Demonstration in Aden on 30 November 2013 (Facebook, via almasdaronline.com)

Thousands demonstrated in South Yemen's main city Aden on Saturday to demand a return to independence, a day after President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said only autonomy was on the table, AFP reported.
The rally in central Parade Square came as southerners marked the anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in 1967, which created an independent state that lasted until union with the north in 1990.
Demonstrators waved southern flags and banners proclaiming: "Yes to Freedom and Independence," and: "Our Goal is the Reclamation of Statehood."
Security forces set up checkpoints across the city and on its outskirts to control the large number of demonstrators who poured in from adjacent provinces, but kept their distance from the rally itself.
Fuad Rashed of the hardline, pro-independence wing of the Southern Movement, which organised the rally, told AFP: "We are determined to pursue our peaceful struggle to achieve our demand."

Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher now also in custody

Ahmed Maher (C), founder of the April 6 movement, turns himself in at Abdeen court in Cairo November 30, 2013. REUTERS-Stringer
Ahmed Maher (with sunglasses) on his way to the court. (Reuters).

(Reuters) - Ahmad Maher, a leader of the 6 April movement and a symbol of the uprising that ousted president Mubarak in 2011, turned himself in to the authorities on Saturday after an order was issued for his arrest for defying the new law which restricts demonstrations.
The law, passed a week ago by the army-backed interim government has provoked an outcry among rights groups. Maher and around 100 supporters made their way to the Abdeen court, chanting: "Down, down with military rule! I'll write on the prison wall that army rule is shameful and a betrayal!"
Clashes broke out between security forces and activists outside the court after Maher turned himself in. Police fired tear gas and used their batons to disperse the crowd. Maher will be detained for at least a day one day while his case is investigated, prosecution sources told Reuters.
Maher was set free some hourse later the same day, pending investigations aginst him.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Extremely severe sentences for women protesters in Alexandria

APTOPIX Mideast Egypt(Photo AP)
A court in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on Thursday handed out extreme severe punishments to 21 girls and women who demonstrated in October for the reinstatement of former president Mohammed Morsi. The court convicted 14 of them to 11 years and one month in jail for destruction of private property, attacking security forces and stirring violence. It ordered seven minors to be placed in a detention centre until they reach the age of majority. These girls range from 15 to 17 years. The 21 women were arrested in late October during clashes with residents following a demonstration.
The Alexandria ruling is being seen as part of the wide crackdown led by Egyptian authorities against Islamists since Morsi's ouster. More than 2,000 Muslim Brotherhood members have been detained on charges of inciting violence, including the group's top leaders.
Earlier in November, a court sentenced 12 university students to 17 years in prison over riots at Al-Azhar Institution, also stiring criticism over the harshness of the sentence. The students were found guilty of attempting to storm the headquarters of the institution, inciting riots and attacking Al-Azhar employees and security personnel, as well as sabotaging public and private property. They were ordered to pay a fine of LE64,000 each.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Protest against new anti-demonstration law in Egypt is spreading

An Egyptian prosecutor has ordered the arrest of two prominent activists for inciting protests, including one whose group helped lead the revolt that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, a source in the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.
Alaa Abdel-Fattah
Ahmed Maher
Ahmed Maher
The arrests of Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 youth movement, and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah were ordered after they took part in demonstrations outside the Shura Council and the Press Syndicate on Tuesday that defied a new law restricting demonstrations. Prosecutors have also ordered the detention of 24 activists for four days after they were arrested at the same unauthorised demonstration against military trials of civilians and the new anti-demonstration law. The authorities originally arrested 52 persons, llater they said the number was 28. Twenty-six arrested women were released on a desert road later on Tuesday, activists said via Twitter. A number of journalists were also released. Teargas and water cannon were used to disperse the hundreds of protesters at the Shura Council, and at a separate protest outside the press syndicate to commemorate the earlier killing of a protester by police.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Egyptian interim president issues extremely restrictive law on holding public meetings

Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour on Sunday issued a new law on holding protest demonstrations, in spite of earlier promises, by deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa El Din among others, that the law would be discussed by the - yet to be elected - parliament.The new law, which consists of 25 articles, which outline in detail the conditions that must be met before a protest, political meeting or march is held, is extremely restrictive. It gives the police, i.c. the authorities, the right to ban all public meetings.
Heba Morayef, the director of Human Rights Watch in Egypt, tweeted that a
''3-day advance notification to MOI (is) now required for any public meeting of more than 10 ppl in a public place including election-related.''
She added cynically that the good news in the last version of the law is that birthday parties are allowed without prior consent by the Ministery of the Interior, as the law only deals with public meetings. Also in the new version of the law, contrary to the earlier version, weddings and funerals are allowed in places of worship.
The law is a new sign that the most conservative forces in Egypt (the military, the deep state) are the ones that are effectively in control.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Six and Iran conclude interim deal, Israel is angry

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement during a ceremony next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (L-R) at the United Nations in Geneva November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse(L - R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (Reuters)

Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal early on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.
Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was clinched after more than four days of tortuous negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.
 Halting Iran's most sensitive nuclear work, it was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the specter of a Middle East war over Tehran's nuclear aspirations.
Israel denounced it as a "bad deal" and said it would not be bound by it.
"This is a bad agreement that gives Iran what it wanted: the partial lifting of sanctions while maintaining an essential part of its nuclear programme," said a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The specifics of the deal have yet to be released, but negotiators indicated the broad outlines:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Egypt expels Turkish ambassador

Ambassador Hüseyin Avni Botsalı was expelled on Nov. 23. AA photo
Turkish ambassador Hüseyin Avni Botsalı
Egypt has expelled Turkey’s Ambassador to Cairo on Nov. 23, declaring him “persona non grata,” in a new peak of tension between the two countries, which has escalated since the military takeover that toppled Mohamed Morsi.
“We are downgrading our diplomatic relations with Turkey,” a spokesperson of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, adding that the decision had been taken after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his sympathy with Morsi in remarks made on Nov. 21. “We have asked the Turkish ambassador to leave the country.”
Egypt’s envoy to Turkey, who has been recalled for consultations in August, will not be sent back to Ankara, Badr Abdelatty said.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Ministry said Ankara will announce measures to reciprocate Egypt’s move.
Before his departure to Russia on Nov. 21, Erdoğan criticized once again the interim rule for putting Morsi in trial. “I applaud Morsi’s conduct at the court. I respect him, but I have no respect for those who put him on trial,” Erdoğan said.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Six Islamist factions in Syria form united front

Syrian commanders and members of Aleppo's most important rebel unit, the Liwa al-Tawhid brigade, gather for a daily meeting in their headquarters in Izaa neighborhood of Aleppo on September 25, 2012. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA
Commandrss of Liawa al0-Tawhid gather in Aleppo.

Six Islamist groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria joined forces on Friday, a spokesman for Aleppo's biggest rebel force said. "Thank God, the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria has been announced," Liwa al-Tawhid spokesman Abu Firas said in a posting on Facebook.
 The creation of the joint force -- which has been dubbed the Islamic Front -- came after major regime advances on key battlegrounds around Damascus and Aleppo in northern Syria. Opposition sources and experts have attributed the regime's successes in part to rebel disunity. The groups merged days after the death of Liwa al-Tawhid's charismatic military chief Abdel Qader Saleh, who had reportedly made calls for such a rebel alliance.
According to Abu Firas, the groups merging their troops were Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, the Army of Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq and the Ansar al-Sham battalions. (The forces that did not join were the Jebhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). All the groups are Islamist and merged "under the banner of 'There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet'", said Abu Firas, citing the Islamic profession of faith.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Militias from Misrata leave Tripoli, but others remain

Soldiers were stationed along the cornische in Tripoli after the militias from Misrata left. (AFP) 

Militias from Misrata, including parts of the so-called Libya Shield Force and the Gharghour Brigades, withdrew from Tripoli on Monday, said Saleh Jouda, a member of the national security committee in the country's assembly. More than 40 people were killed in street battles between rival militias in Tripoli last week, highlighting Libya's struggle to curb fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after helping NATO oust Gaddafi.
Tripoli was calm with many stores, schools and universities closed in support of a strike called by the city's leaders to demand the militia gunmen leave.
"They have to understand that we want an army, police and rule of law," said Hisham Alwendy, an activist. "All militias should leave the city, even those who are from Tripoli itself."
That may be a tough task. Tripoli, like other regions, remains a dangerous patchwork of rival militia territories controlled by Islamist, secular and tribal gunmen. The withdrawal of one powerful set of fighters, though, may leave Libya's fragile government to face more competition among the militia groups that remain in the city.
Even the official armed forces, and defense and interior ministries, rely on former fighters for security under a program to employ the militiamen.
The prime minister was himself briefly abducted last month from the a five-star Tripoli hotel by gunmen nominally on the government payroll.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Floods in Saudi Arabia kill 15

This is not a picture that we immediately would associate with Saudi Arabia. The photo was taken in Jeddah, however. It's an annual feature of Saudi Arabia, particularly the Hejaz, these floods in the autumn as a consequence of heavy rains. This time it is also in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom. According to the newspaper Arab News 15 people were killed.    

Important Syrian oppostion fighter killed

Abdel Qader Saleh
In a serious setback for the Syrian opposition fighters, a prominent rebel leader on Sunday died in a Turkish hospital of wounds he earlier suffered in an air raid. Abdelqader Saleh, head of the Qatar-backed Sunni Islamist al-Tawhid Brigades, had been working on regrouping fighters in Aleppo before he was killed. Saleh was wounded when the Syrian regime bombed a meeting of Liwaa al-Tawhid leaders. A number of the leaders were killed 
duri ng that attack, the top leaders, Abd al-Qader al-Saleh and Abd Aziz Salameh were both injured. 
Aron Lund writes on the blog Syria Comment: 
''Abdel Qader Saleh’s death is big news. He was one of the founders of the Tawhid Brigade in July 2012, when the group came together from a constellation of local units in the northern Syrian countryside to charge into Aleppo. The core of the group was a number of commanders from Anadan (including Abdelaziz Salame and Abu Tawfiq). Many, including Saleh, had a background as participants in the peaceful protests against Assad, but by the time of Tawhid’s creation all of them had grown into important local military leaders. Politically he was an Islamist, who made no bones about seeking sharia law in Syria. But he was clearly not part of the radical fundamentalist camp.''
Lund writes that the Tawhid Brigade remains the most important group in the Aleppo region, and by virtue of Aleppo’s importance, is certainly one of the most important rebel factions in Syria. After some reorganizations, it consists of around 30 “divisions”, and claims to control a total manpower well above 10,000 soldiers. But as it is a kind of umbrella movement formed out of regional militias, Saleh’s death could endanger Tawhid's cohesion. The group might end up losing subunits and fighters to other groups, supposedly more hardline Islamist factions.

At least 25 killed in attack on Iranian embassy in Beirut

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut's southern suburbs Tuesday morning, killing at least 25 people and wounding about 150, in a brazen attack claimed by an al-Qaeda-linked group.Al Mayadeen TV said that security cameras showed the first suicide bomber charge the embassy on a motorcycle and blow himself up to clear the way for a second bomber, who detonated a car packed with explosives.
Iran's ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi told the Beirut-based station that no one was killed inside the embassy, located in the densely populated neighborhood of Bir Hassan. But he later announced that Iran's cultural attaché, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ansari, who was on his way to work, was killed in the attack. All other victims appeared to be passers-by. Security sources said among the 25 victims were also an Iranian civilian and a Lebanese who was employed at the embassy. Five Iranians, including embassy guards and a nurse were wounded in the bombings, according to the sources who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Israel and Saudi Arabia together against Iran?

F-15 Strike Eagle
The Sunday Times reports:
ONCE they were sworn enemies. Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.
Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.
As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran. (For more details see also Haaretz)
(I have to add that the question Iran is not the only thing whereupon the views of the two countries converge. Think about the possible emergence of a Palestinian state. Or demcoracy in the Arab world, for that matter... )

According to Marsha Cohen (Lobelog) the Sunday Times ....
.. has once again recycled its periodic claim that Israel and Saudi Arabia are about to join forces for an attack on Iran. According to Uzi Mahnaimi, Israel’s external intelligence service, the Mossad, is formulating contingency plans with Saudi officials if Iran’s nuclear program “is not significantly curbed” in the agreement that may be signed this week in Geneva.  
Mahnaimi produced simailar scoops in 2009 and 2010, she says.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Syrian army retakes strategic places near Aleppo

 Joshua Landis (Syria Comment) about the recent advance of the Syrian army in the north:
The Syrian Army has gone on the offensive, retaking a key town - al-Sfireh – on the south-east of Aleppo. On Monday, the town of Tal Aran, on the Safira-Aleppo road, also fell. The army then secured the area around the city’s airport and retook a strategically important base nearby, named Base 80, a large military position which rebels had held since February. Analysts claim that the base will help regime troops move on opposition-held areas of Aleppo. (....)
Within a few days, The Syrian Army killed a number of the leaders of Aleppo’s largest militia – Liwaa al-Tawhid. Its top leaders, Abd al-Qader al-Saleh & Abd Aziz Salehmeh were both injured, but are in good condition. The unit commander Youssef al-Abbas was killed. The regime bombed a meeting of Liwaa al-Tawhid leaders, suggesting it has improved its intelligence operations. Liwaa la-Tawhid has about 25-30 unit commanders joined at the top by Saleh/Salame, the majority stationed in the Aleppo region.

Liwaa al-Tawhid leader Abdel Aziz al Salameh in his hospital bed.

Dozens killed in Tripoli (Libya) after militiamen open fire

People carry a man who was injured when Libyan militiamen opened fire into a crowd of protesters in Tripoli November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
An injured man is carried away (Reuters). 

At least 32 people were killed and almost 400 wounded in gun battles between Libyan militiamen and armed residents in Tripoli on Friday in the worst street fighting for months to test the shaky central government.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is struggling to control rival militias, Islamist militants and other former fighters who refuse to surrender their arms two years after helping to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed revolt.
After Friday's violence, Zeidan demanded that all militias "without exception" leave Tripoli, but the clashes underscored how little his fledging military can do to curb ex-rebels, who have also shut down Libya's oil exports for months.
Friday's bloodshed, the worst in Tripoli for many months, began when militiamen from the city of Misrata fired at about 500 protesters demanding their eviction from the capital after they had fought rivals for control of city districts.
Demonstrators fled but then returned, heavily armed, to attack the compound, where the militiamen remained holed up past nightfall as fighting continued. Dozens of soldiers in trucks tried to separate the sides, and sealed off roads to stop more people joining the clashes. Heavy smoke could be seen rising from the scene in the Gharghur district, where many of Gaddafi's closest collaborators used to live before the uprising.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pleyel stops manufacturing pianos

Chopins Pleyel
Chopin's Pleyel
Sad news on France 24:
Pleyel, France’s most famous piano brand, is bowing out two centuries after its founding. Treasured and touted by the likes of Chopin, Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Maurice Ravel and others, Pleyel pianos will no longer be made, the company confirmed on Tuesday. Company president Bernard Roques told French media that its workshop in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, which employs 14 people, was shutting its doors after “repeated financial losses and a very low level of production”.
 “A first effort to maintain at least part of our production was unsuccessful. Given our level of stocks of finished products, sales will continue. New efforts [to keep the brand alive] will be looked into,” Roques said in a statement.
According to Jean-Jacques Trinques, author of a book on the history of Pleyel pianos, the closing of the remaining workshop is the latest, sad chapter in the long Pleyel drama. The company went down in the early 1930s following the infamous Black Tuesday stock market crash in 1929. It was later revived by investors, whom Trinques said were always more interested in claiming royalties from the illustrious name than improving the quality of its instruments.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Survey among Jews in Europe: One third considers non-Jews who criticize Israel an anti-Semite

Nearly a third of respondents to a survey on anti-Semitism in Europe said they “seriously considered emigrating” because of perceived anti-Semitism.
 In the survey among 5,847 Jews from nine European Union member states, 29 percent of all respondents said that they considered emigrating in recent years because they did “not feel safe” living in their countries as Jews, according to Morten Kjaerum, the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights which conducted the research among Jews from Sweden, France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia. 
 The figure for Jews contemplating emigration was particularly high in Hungary, France and Belgium with 48, 46 and 40 percent respectively, according to the report which Kjaerum presented Friday at a press conference in Vilnius.
However, asked about their definition of an anti-Semite, 34 percent of all respondents indicated that it applied to “a non-Jewish person if he or she criticizes Israel.” In Sweden, only 21 percent of 703 respondents said non-Jewish critics of Israel were anti-Semitic compared to 42 percent of 1,137 French respondents. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that people who did not consider Jewish citizens of their country as compatriots were anti-Semitic.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Syrian National Coalition now agrees to go to Geneva under conditions

Khaled Saleh
The Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), agreed Monday to attend the Geneva peace conference but set as conditions the creation of humanitarian corridors and the release of detained rebels, Xinhua reports.  The SNC reached the agreement in a vote early Monday morning after two days of meeting attended by more than 100 key members in Istanbul, according to a statement.
 The statement insisted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down in any future transitional government. "Assad will have no role in the transitional period and the future of Syria." The coalition is also expected to approve a list of ministers presented by its interim Prime Minister, Ahmad Toumeh, who was elected in September.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Egypt's human rights organisations warn that new counter-terrorism law will reinstate police state

Twenty Egyptian human rights organisations published a joint statement on Thursday that claims that the counter-terrorism law, drafted by the interior ministry in September, would "serve as the legal basis for the re-establishment of the police state", like the one that controlled the country before the January 2011 popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Among the signatories of Thursday's statement were the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights information.
According to the statement, the current bill broadens the definition of ''terrorist acts'' in a dangerous way. It is going to include activities like "disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities," "acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law" and "preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work." An "act of terrorism," as defined by the proposed bill, also extends to "any behavior which damages the communications or information systems, the financial systems, or the national economy," the statement adds.
Such broad provisions could open the way to harassment of "peaceful political opposition members, human rights activists, and a broad range of groups working to defend democracy and human rights," the human rights organisations stated.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Yemen fears serious consequences of Saudi expulsion of foreign workers

The Yemeni newspaper Yemen Post reports that thousands of Yemenis have been forcibly returned to Yemen under police escort, as its neighbour Saudi.Arabia is enforcing a newly adopted labour law. Under the law foreign workers have to have their legal status reviewed. But Yemen’s Consul in Jeddah told the press earlier this week, says the Yemen Post,  that an estimated 150,000 Yemeni nationals had already been issued a final exit visa as they were unable to rectify their status.
There are about 800,000 Yemenis living and working in Saudi Arabia which represents over $2 billion in remittance. The return of 150,000 Yemenis will mean a loss in revenues of tens of millions of dollars, notwithstanding the loss in businesses it will generate back in Yemen as expatriates have been supporting many local businesses back home through remittances.
Photo Arab News
The Saudi newspaper Arab News reported on Thursday that the Saudi police is conducting razzia's on foreign workers. The Kingdom’s police and security agencies, it wrote,  arrested 11,756 violators of residency and labor laws on the third day of the clampdown on illegal workers across the country. The arrests were made in Makkah, Jeddah, Al-Jouf, Northern Border Province, Renia, Dhahran Al-Janoub and Sajer.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Truce in north of Yemen did not hold

The small town of Dammaj in Northern Yemen

Less than a day after UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar confirmed at a press conference in Sana’a, the capital, that a truce between the Houthis and the Salafis had eventually been brokered, the warring parties returned to their guns, bent on destroying each other.
The Houthis (Shiite tribal faction led by Abdel Malek al-Houthi) resumed its shelling of Dammaj Salafi Islamic Centre on Monday evening confirmed Surour al-Wadii, a spokesman for the Salafis.“There were massive Houthi attacks throughout the night against Dar al-Hadith academy and student dormitories …The death toll have risen to at least 100.”
The Salafis have accused the Houthis of targeting its foreign students in Dammaj in a bid to force the Sunni sect out of the region as to remain the only religious reference in the area. The Houthis have justified their aggression on Dammaj by accusing the Salafis of recruiting and training Jihadists in view of a regional takeover. The Salafis, by the way, are aidee by Saudi-Arabia.
The sectarian nature of the conflict has had officials back in Sana’a sitting nervously on their seats as they realised that such religious in-fighting could be the undoing of the National Dialogue Conference. Already burdened by al-Harak (Southern Secessionist Movement) ongoing calls for secession, Yemen coalition government does not want to be in the situation where further instability will unravel its past months’ efforts and draw factions to renege on previous negotiations. To make things worse, the Yemen Popst reports that the unrest has spread also to the northern district Hasaba, of the capital Sana´a. Residents confirmed on Tuesday that armed clashes took place across the district, between tribesmen linked to the powerful al-Ahmar family and others. Hasaba falls under the direct command of Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, prominent tribal leader and high ranking leader of al-Islah party. It has has witnessed much violence and unrest over the past few weeks.
In remarks aired by state TV, President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi denounced "sectarian fighting that does not serve the security or stability of the nation."

Rebels kill prosecutor and driver in south-east of Iran

Gunmen shot dead a public prosecutor and his driver in southeastern Iran on Wednesday, Iranian media said, less than two weeks after militants killed 14 Iranian border guards nearby and Tehran retaliated by hanging 16 prisoners.The killings, in the city of Zabol, near to where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet, come at a time of heightened tension in the region as separatist Sunni Islamist militants step up attacks on officially Shi'ite Iran. Heavily armed drug smugglers are also active in the region.
Following Iran's 2010 execution of the leader of the Baluchi separatist Sunni Muslim group Jundollah, analysts say there has been a radicalization of armed insurgents in the majority Sunni region, with militants advocating a noticeably more al Qaeda-style international 'jihad' or holy war.

US and Russia fail to agree on date for Syria conference

The United States and Russia failed on Tuesday to agree on a date for a Syrian peace conference, remaining divided over what role Iran might play in talks to end the civil war and over who would represent Syria's opposition.
"We were hoping that we would be in a position to announce a date today; unfortunately we are not," said U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who chaired the meeting at the United Nations in Geneva. "But we are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year."
Brahimi conferred with senior U.S. and Russian officials before widening the talks to include representatives from Britain, France and China, as well as Syria's neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and the Arab League.
Brahimi said he would bring Russian and U.S. officials together again on November 25 and hoped that opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have agreed on delegates to represent them some days before that.

"The opposition has a very, very difficult time," he said. "They are divided. It is no secret for anybody. They are facing all types of problems and they are not ready."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The return of a general who was a confidant of Mubarak

The blog Novelles d'Orient, which is the blog of the French paper Le monde diplomatique, put a few recent developments in Egypt together under the headline 'Chronique d'une contra-révolution'. They vary from the recent arrest of Essam Arian, one of the last leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who was still at large, through the way the the satirist Bassem Youssef was stopped by his tv-company just one week after he was back for a new season, to the adoption of a law that severely restrains the right to demonstrate, and the  re-installment of a general who is known as one of the biggest foes of the Muslim Brotherhood and a man that kept the corruption practices of Mubarak and his cronies out of the wind. The New York Times wrote the follwing about this man:
A year after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the man responsible for rooting out government corruption, Gen. Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, faced a very public barrage of allegations that he had deliberately covered up years of cronyism and self-dealing.
 President Mohamed Morsi promptly fired the general, prosecutors opened an investigation, the news filled the papers and his career appeared to end in disgrace. But now the general is back, and more powerful than ever. His protégé and friend, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, ousted Mr. Morsi about four months ago, and virtually the first move by the new government was to rehabilitate General Tohamy and place him in charge of the general intelligence service, one of the most powerful positions in Egypt.