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

JPEG - 20.9 kb
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

Embedded image permalink
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.