Thursday, May 29, 2014

French police once again destroy refugee camps in Calais

L'évacuation par la police de plusieurs camps de migrants qui abritaient quelque 650 personnes depuis plusieurs semaines a démarré tôt mercredi 28 mai.
(Picture above: Le Monde - Rest of pictures: Calais Migrant Solidarity)  

On Wednesday more than 300 police descended on Calais to evict three tent camps in the city centre which have existed since last October. The «Syrian camp», which was set up following the occupation of the port, the «Eritrean camp» under the bridge, which was established after the eviction of their squat, also in October, and a smaller camp close to the food distribution. Together these places were home to around 650 people in Calais, refugees who hoped to get an opportunity to cross the Channel to England.
The state has tried to disguise this police operation as a humanitarian intervention, citing scabies and poor sanitation to justify destroying people’s homes without providing them with any alternative solution. They neglect to mention that these problems exist only because they have forced people to live in very crowded conditions without access to toilets, showers, or places to wash their clothes and bedding.

Sisi wins big, but voter turnout was low

Tahrir square

Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is Egypt's new president after securing a landslide victory of over 96 percent of the  vote, with over 23 million voters casting their ballots for him, according to an unofficial vote count as of early Thursday.
El-Sisi's only contender, leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, garnered a humble 3.5 percent, with less than 800,000 votes.
A surprise in the 2014 presidential race was the number of invalidated votes – exceeding 1 million – which prompted Egyptians to joke on social media that Sabahi and the spoilt ballots were competing for second place in the election.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Egypt extends voting by one day as turnout is too low

Egypt election
A voting station on Wednesday (Ahram Online)

The Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) has extended voting in Egypt's presidential poll until Wednesday. Government sources said pressure was put on the commission because of “the unexpectedly low turnout” which “could end up being lower than in the 2012 presidential election runoff.”
The 2012 runoff was boycotted by many voters as it offered a choice between an Islamist, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister. Turnout then reached 52 percent.
In his last public appearance before the ban on campaigning started on Saturday, El-Sisi said he hoped 40 million people would vote. Interim President Adly Mansour also appealed for Egyptians to "impress the world" with a big turnout.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Turkish court orders arrest of Israeli commanders who were involved in raid on Mavi Marmara in 2010

A Turkish court has ordered the arrest of four Israeli commanders who were allegedly involved in the raid on the the Mavi Marmara aid ship off Gaza on 31 March 2010. The Istanbul 7th Court of Serious Crimes also decided May 26 to request an Interpol Red Notice for the arrest of former Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former Naval Forces Cmdr. Eliezer Alfred Marom, former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and former Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi, who are all being tried in absentia.
The court argued that an arrest warrant had become necessary for the legal procedure as the defendants had neither attended the trial nor responded to an invitation sent to them through the related department of the Turkish Justice Ministry.
No one at the Israeli embassy in Ankara was immediately available for comment.
An Israeli official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, described the court’s decision as a "ridiculous provocation." "If this is the message that the Turks want to send to Israel, it was perfectly well understood," said the official, declining to elaborate further on what this meant for the reconciliation process.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Egyptian ''anti-protest law'' continues to make victims

Mahienour el-Masry. 

A number of Alexandria-based activists were arrested on Thursday following a solidarity protest with jailed activist Mahienhour al-Massry. Massry was taken into custody after an appeals court affirmed a two-year sentence against her and eight others on Tuesday for the ‘crime’ of organising a demonstration that defied the anti-protest laws. 
Activist Mohamed Gabr told Mada Masr that security forces stormed the headquarters of the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights where a press conference was held to launch a campaign to free Massry and the eight jailed activists.
“We held the press conference and organized a protest in front of the center following the presser. Police forces attacked protesters after the demonstration had finished and headed to the center’s headquarters, storming it and arresting many of the employees,” Gabr said.
The detained activists include lawyer Mohamed Awad, Taher Mokhtar, Metry Gobreal, Mostafa Eissa, Magdy al-Naquib, Nourhan al-Ashkar, Mohamed Khalil, Essam Mahdy, and Hisham Eissam. Other activists and lawyers, including those working on Massry’s case, were briefly detained.

Opinion poll: No more that just over half of Egyptians think favorably of Sisi

The Pew Research Center, which conducts public opinion surveys around the world, published results of a survey of Egypt a few days ago, which are somewhat unexpected and very interesting, to say the least. The survey,  based on face-to-face interviews conducted between April 10 and April 29, 2014, among a representative sample of 1,000 randomly selected adults from across the country, among other things reveals that a majority of Egyptians are still in favor of democracy. Although down from 66% percent last year (and 71% in 2011), still a considerable majority of  59% say it is the best form of government. However, within the past year support has declined for some key pillars of democracy, like free speech, freedom of the press, and honest, competitive elections. And when asked which is more important, a democratic government, even if there is a risk of instability, or a stable government, even if there is a risk it will not be fully democratic, a narrow majority (54%) chooses stability, while 44% say that democracy should be the number one priority. (Last year it was the other way round: 51% prioritized democracy, 43% said a stable government is more important).
These last figures are almost equal to the percentage that supports last July’s military takeover: 54% favor it; 43% oppose it. And again: this corresponds roughly with the popularity of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former general, who is almost certain to be Egypt;s next president and who was the man behind last year’s overthrow of the government of Mohammed Morsi. Sisi receives a favorable rating from 54% of Egyptians, while 45% view him unfavorably. And this is a much more mixed review than media reports from Egypt over the last year might suggest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Prison terms for Mubarak & sons

 Mubarak and his sons Gamal (left) and Alaa (right) during their trial. (Photo Al-Ahram) 

An Egyptian court has sentenced former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to jail for corruption.
Mubarak was sentenced to three years in prison and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, received four-year sentences for embezzling LE125 million ($17.9 million) of funds earmarked for the renovation of presidential palaces.
The three were also fined LE125 million ($17.6 million) and ordered to reimburse LE21.19 million ($2.9 million) to the state treasury.

Mubarak and his two sons – who both face a separate corruption case – also face trials for involvement in the killing of protesters during the January 2011 uprising.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Libyan parliament stormed, at least 70 killed in fighting in Benghazi

Former Libyan army colonel Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi - 28 February 2014
Khalifa Haftar
Update Sunday: Heavily armed gunmen stormed Libya's parliament with anti-aircraft weapons on Sunday in an assault claimed by forces loyal to ex-general Khalifa Haftar, who has vowed to purge the country of Islamist militants.
In a confusing, chaotic attack, heavy smoke rose from the parliament building in Tripoli as gunmen clashed with guards. A Reuters reporter said the attackers raided and left, and other unknown gunmen later closed off nearby streets.
Another witness said attackers had kidnapped two people and heavy gunfire could be heard across other parts of Tripoli, where rival brigades of former rebels have often clashed since ending their 2011 war against Muammar Gaddafi.
A spokesman for the retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar said his forces had carried out the assault as part of his campaign to rid Libya of Islamist militants. "These are members of the Libyan National Army," Mohamed al-Hejazi, spokesman for the group said, using the name of the irregular forces loyal to Haftar.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Aleppo now almost two weeks without water

Syrian children collect buckets of stagnant murky water from the side of a road in a rebel-held area in the northern city of Aleppo on May 12, 2014. (AFP Photo/Zein Al-Rifai)
Syrian children collect buckets of stagnant water from the side of a road in a rebel-held area of Aleppo on May 12, 2014. (AFP Photo/Zein Al-Rifai)

Residents of Syria’s second city Aleppo have been without water for almost two weeks because Islamist fighters have cut supplies into rebel and regime-held areas. The water shortage started when the rebels, who control the two main pumping stations, tried to keep water flowing to their areas in east Aleppo, but stop it reaching the government-held west of the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front had cut water supplies from a pump distributing to both the rebel-held east and government-held west of Aleppo.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Death sentence for Sudanese woman who became a Christian

A Sudanese court has sentenced a woman to hang for apostasy after she left Islam and married a Christian man. "We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death," the judge told the woman, AFP reports. The woman was originally sentenced to death on Sunday but given until Thursday to return to Islam.
 Local media report the sentence would not be carried out for two years after she has given birth.
Sudan has a majority Muslim population, which is governed by Islamic law. It rules that apostasy - the abandonment of one's religious faith - is a crime.

Amnesty International said the woman, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother's religion, because her father, a Muslim, was reportedly absent during her childhood.
In court, the judge addressed her by her Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.

Ash-Shidyaq's ''Leg over Leg'' translated

At the occasion of the apearance of a English translation of Ahmad Faris Ash-Shidyaq's As-Saq `ala-s-Saq the Los Angeles Review of Books writes a very positive review. It calls Humphrey Davies' translation, published in four dual-language volumes, ''a triumph'' no less. A-Shidyaq was one of the major literary instigators of Al-Nahda, the “renaissance” or “revival” of Arabic culture in the 1800s. The book was first published in 1855. ''Leg Over Leg'' is now published by the recently established series from NYU Press called The Library of Arabic Literature.
Excerpt from the review in the LARB:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saudi blogger gets ten years, 1.000 lashes and fine of $ 266.000

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

A Saudi court has imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi for 10 years for "insulting Islam" and setting up a liberal web forum, local media report.
He was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000). A Saudi newspaper close to the government reported that the verdict was handed out during an appeal against an earlier, somewhat less severe sentence of seven years and three months in jail and 600 lashes.Last year he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

El-Sisi: ´´Muslim Brotherhood will not return if I am elected´´

-Poster of Abdel-Fatah el-Sisi with his interviewers, Ibrahim Eissa of ONTV and Lamis El-Hadidi of CBC. The interview was planned for 4 May, but was postponed by one day.

Egypt's ex-army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Monday the Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed leader Mohamed Morsi was "finished" in Egypt and would not return if he was elected.
Following the Sisi-led army ouster of Morsi in July, the Brotherhood has been banned, its leaders arrested and more than 1,400 people, mostly Islamist backers of Morsi, killed in protest clashes.
"I did not finish it, you Egyptians finished it," Sisi said in his first television interview since announcing his candidacy when asked if the Brotherhood was "finished." Asked whether the Brotherhood would cease to exist if he should gain the presidency, the former field marshal - dressed in a suit - answered: "Yes. That's right."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Syrian regime retakes control of Homs, ceasefire allows opposition fighters to withdraw

Street scene in Homs (file photo)
Homs (Reuters)
Opposition fighters are to be allowed to withdraw from besieged parts of the Syrian city of Homs under a deal with the government, reports say. Rebels will be allowed to pull back to opposition-held areas north of Homs, activists say. The Syrian government has not commented on the reports.
Fighters have held areas around the Old City despite a two-year siege. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group, said about 1,000 fighters were expected to pull out from rebel-held areas of Homs under the terms of a ceasefire. "Those leaving will be able to keep their weapons," Homs activist Thaer al-Khalidiyeh told AFP news agency.
The SOHR said rebels will be allowed to withdraw to the north of the province, while the army will take control of areas of the Old City which they have vacated.

Bombs hit Egypt in run-up to elections

A poster of (ex) army chief El Sisi. This Saturday the elections campaign in Egypt started. (AFP)

One person was killed when a car exploded in downtown Cairo in the late hours of Friday, the fourth explosion in Egypt in one day. The explosion took place in Cairo’s Ramsis street near a subway station, an interior ministry spokesman told state-run news agency MENA. The owner of the car was killed.
Earlier Friday at least four people were killed in three other explosions. Two suicide attacks occurred in South Sinai. One targeted the Wady El Tor" security checkpoint, killing the attacker and a conscript, while five others were wounded. The second attack targeted a tour bus carrying workers of a tourist company in "Ras Gara" area in the South Sinai governorate. In this case at least four people were wounded. In Cairo, a low ranking police officer was killed and four other security personnel - an officer and three conscripts - were injured in an explosion of a bomb in Heliopolis district at a traffic checkpoint. In other violence in the port city of Alexandria, two people were shot dead when supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi clashed with residents, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Yemeni army still engaged in major operation against Al-Qaeda in Shabwa province

Yemeni Defence Minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmad, right, talks to troops at a military site in the southern province of Shabwa, Yemen, 28 April 2014
(Photo AP)

An official statement from the Yemeni Defence Ministry confirmed on Thursday that Yemen armed forces secured strategic advances against al-Qaeda in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa following the deployment on the ground of some 1600 troops.
On the third day of Yemen’s largest ground attack ever staged against Islamic radicals, officials said at least seven al-Qaeda militants were killed, among which a local terror chief, an Uzbeck national identified as Abu Muslim al-Uzbeki.For now the military seems to have solely concentrated its efforts in Abyan’s mountainous al-Mahfad area which overlooks Shabwa, where terror militants have managed to erect several training camps and cluster cells.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Egyptian presidential candidate Sabahi launches very ambitious electoral platform

During the opress conference. Sabbahi is the man most to the right behind the table. (Photo Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Gett).

Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate for the Egyptian presidency apart from Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, on Wednesday presented his electoral programme. During a press conference he said he would run under the slogan of "social justice, democracy and national independence" and added that he wanted to rebuild Egypt's  hopes for the future from the beginning. ''We ask Egyptians to stand by their legitimate dreams from which they have been deprived by authoritarian rulers," he said.
Sabahi's campaign media advisor said that his program is based on providing the rights for food, health and treatment to all citizens without discrimination, among other rights. ''Regarding the security situation, the current strategy to counter terrorism reflects a clear failure, we have to confront the roots of terrorism," Campaign member Amr Salah said. "Sabahi's program will work on addressing poverty and unemployment, which are the most significant means to fight terrorism,'' he said.