Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Global Movement to Save Jerusalem

The Global March to Jerusalem joins the voices of concern in Jerusalem, Palestine and, indeed, the world over, about the latest as well as consequent threats to the al-Aqsa Masjid and the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem and the policy of “Judaisation” that the Zionist leadership is pursuing with the explicit intent of removing Muslim, Christian, Arab and all other traces of non-Jewish history, culture, religion, archaeology and demography from the city of Jerusalem and all other areas under Zionist control.

Over the course of the last months in particular, the Zionists, with the backing of their regime and its Military Occupation Forces, have made many forays onto the Haram al-Sharif. On 9th of August, we fear a possible showdown with disastrous consequences, where the fanatical Zionists will invade the Haram Sharif and even attempt to destroy the two Masjids. Thus acting now is really a matter of grave urgency for the world.

The latest incidents include a statement by the Zionist government’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on 17th of July 2012 that the al-Aqsa Masjid is on Israeli territory and subject to Israeli sovereignty! The statement included no recognition of the special status of waqf (Islamic charitable trust) lands, or of the religious authorities governing such lands.

According to Islamic Movement deputy head Shaikh Kamal al-Khatib, the Zionist-controlled Municipality of Jerusalem also recently declared the open spaces of the al-Aqsa compound to be public areas, which means they have the same status as any park areas in the city and are therefore accessible to all with or without the control of al-Aqsa authorities. This has enabled Knesset members and other Zionist advocates of demolishing the Muslim holy sites to force their way onto the compound during Ramadan with the protection of armed Zionist forces, and display Israeli flags as part of rituals intended to further their project to destroy the historic Muslim sites and replace them with a Jewish temple complex (see illustration).

While enabling the presence of Zionist extremists bent upon destruction, the armed forces also removed around twenty nighttime worshipers on 25th July, the 6th day of Ramadan, including al-Aqsa Imam Shaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina, who was detained for an unspecified period of time. Until now no explanation for this action has been given. A similar incident took place again on 29th July (10 Ramadan), according to al-Aqsa authorities, with two persons being seized.

The Zionist authorities are now preventing Palestinian men between the ages of 12 to 40 from making the Ramadan pilgrimage to al-Aqsa Masjid. They have have also resumed their demolition of the historic Al-Magharibah Bridge, work which many fear will undermine the Masjid’s foundation. And finally, Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad has ruthlessly called for al-Aqsa Masjid to be “cut up” and moved to make way for the so-called Third Temple, which he threatens will be built soon.

All of the these actions are not only shameful and discriminatory against non-Jews but also violations of international law, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18).

These latest actions are part of the coordinated policy called “Judaisation” by the Zionist authorities. It includes the burning and defacing of Christian churches, the expulsion of Christian and Muslim Palestinians from the city of Jerusalem and from their homes throughout Palestine, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the confiscation of property, the denial of building permits, and many other forms of deliberate ethnic cleansing. This policy of Judaisation is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) on the rights of peoples living under occupation as well as dozens of resolutions of the United Nations censuring the Zionist state.

Israeli Occupation authorities have now initiated steps toward the transfer of Palestinian neighbourhoods, located east of the Apartheid Wall to the responsibility of the Israeli Occupying Forces. In addition, historic Palestinian archaeological treasures dating back up to two thousand years have been demolished and covered with new structures for the purpose of effacing most of the history of Palestine, which is predominantly Muslim and Christian Arab in culture and religion. The latest examples of this malicious policy are the ongoing construction of a Jewish “Museum of Tolerance” on the religious and historic Ma’manillah cemetery, which dates back to the 7th century and where the companions of the Prophet Mohammad and thousands of the righteous, officials, scholars, notables and Jerusalemite families have been buried, as well as the destruction of palaces from the Umayyad period near al-Aqsa in the Old City.

In this destruction of Christian heritage, the extremist Christian Zionists are as culpable in this crime as are the Jewish Zionists. We affirm that Christian Zionism is a blot on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the compassionate message of the Bible. The sacred Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity themselves are under similar threat as well.

In the absence of the world’s governments to take swift and decisive action we call upon all the peoples of the world to join the effort to prevent the “Judaisation” of Jerusalem and the destruction of the al-Aqsa Masjid. The Global March to Jerusalem strongly condemns this Zionist project in Palestine, the explicit purpose of which is to erase the overwhelmingly Arab indigenous culture, history and language. We believe that a global movement in support of Palestinian rights and objectives is needed in order to stop this form of ethnic and cultural genocide and to restore the human rights of the people of Palestine, and especially the inalienable right of all Palestinians to return to their homes.

GMJ-International Executive Committee
August 8th 2012


For more information please call the spokesman of the GMJ “Mr. Zaher Birawi” on mobile No. 00447850896057 or visit our website:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Protesters Attacked in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Police Fire on Qatif Protesters

Al-Akhbar English
Friday, July 27 2012

Saudi security forces opened fire on protesters in the tense Qatif district of the Eastern Province on Friday, wounding several as hundreds marched to demand political reform and the release of detainees, witnesses said.

Live rounds fired by anti-riot police wounded a number of protesters who took to the streets in the early hours, the witnesses said, without specifying a figure.

The interior ministry said security forces dealt with "rioters who burned tires" in parts of Qatif, arresting several people, including Mohammed al-Shakhuri, whose name figures on a list of 23 wanted people.

"There were no casualties," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.

Witnesses said that Shakhuri had been taken to the military hospital in nearby Dhahran with bullet wounds to his back and neck.

The demonstrators carried posters of detainees, including prominent cleric Nimr al-Nimr who was violently arrested earlier this month, witnesses said.

In recent days, confrontations have intensified between police and protesters from the kingdom's marginalized Shia minority – estimated at around two million and mostly concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

Two protesters were killed earlier this month, triggering protests at government buildings in Qatif.

The district witnessed a spate of protests after an outbreak of violence between Shia pilgrims and religious police in the Muslim holy city of Medina in February last year.

The protests escalated when the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighboring Bahrain the following month to help crush a pro-democracy uprising against the hardline Sunni monarchy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Renewing the Palestinian Brotherhood?

Egypt's Morsi Meets Hamas Chief

Agence France Presse
19 July 2012

Cairo — Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi met Palestinian Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Thursday, a day after hosting his rival Mahmud Abbas amid scrutiny over how Cairo's policy on the Palestinians might change.

The Islamist Morsi affirmed his support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip which is ruled by Hamas, Meshaal said after the meeting.

"Morsi affirmed Egypt's support for Palestinians in Gaza, which confirms a new era in relations between Egypt and the Palestinian cause," said Meshaal, in comments published by the Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Hamas hailed the "historic" meeting, the first between a delegation from the Palestinian movement and an Egyptian head of state.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya will meet Morsi, for the first time, in Cairo next week, Haniya's office said.

Israel and Egypt have partly blockaded Gaza, which neighbours both nations, since 2007, when Hamas violently routed Abbas's Fatah from the coastal enclave.

Egypt's ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak eased the blockade in 2010, but did not allow commercial traffic through the Rafah border crossing as Hamas had hoped.

Morsi, in the past an outspoken backer of the Palestinians who pledged during his campaign for the presidency to support their "right of resistance" against Israel, has adopted a more subdued tone since his election.

Under Mubarak, Egypt had tried to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which foundered amid accusations between the rivals.

Meshaal said Morsi would soon schedule a meeting with him and Abbas to push the unity deal.

Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, signed a national reconciliation agreement in April 2011 in Cairo under Egyptian mediation.

Under this deal the two governments should make way for a non-partisan transitional executive charged with organising elections within a year. However the text remains a dead letter.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The American Spring in Yemen

US Ambassador in Yemen: The New Dictator

The American ambassador increasingly casts himself in the guise of leader, with the acquiescence of bickering Yemeni politicians and military chiefs.

By Jamal Jubran
Al-Akhbar English
Tuesday, July 10 2012

Sanaa - His Excellency the Ambassador of the United States, Gerald Feierstein, arrives at the Italian ambassador’s residence to attend an Italian national day reception. He walks in with a frown, disregarding the other guests, and makes for a far corner of the garden with a glass of red wine in hand. Within moments, a gaggle of senior Yemeni officials rush towards him, each wanting to discuss a problem he is facing in running his respective department.

The scene is a microcosm of how Yemen has become under the trusteeship imposed on the country since a “consensual solution” to its political crisis was reached. This led both to the departure of President Ali Abdallah Saleh under the terms of the so-called Gulf Initiative, and to a firm line being drawn under Yemen’s youth-led revolution.

The same American ambassador appeared on Yemeni TV screens in an interview with the state channel and declared “we will not allow” the release of imprisoned journalist Abdel Ilah Shaeh, who was sentenced to five years in jail after exposing the killing of 35 women and children in a US drone strike in December 2009. Feierstein explained that Shaeh had extensive links with al-Qaeda and posed a threat to the security of the US.

He thus overruled for a second time the presidential pardon that the respected journalist obtained from Saleh before the outbreak of the revolution last year. The first time, a quick phone call from President Barack Obama was enough for Saleh to shelve the pardon and keep Shaeh behind bars.

The US and its envoy do not stop at that. When Yemeni journalists held a protest march to the American embassy to protest against what the ambassador said about their detained colleague, they saw vehicles used for transferring prisoners entering the embassy compound. It was learned that these vehicles convey terrorism suspects from the nearby central jail for interrogation inside the compound under the supervision of FBI terrorism experts.

The extent of American meddling was further highlighted by the publication on local and foreign websites of leaked letters from the US ambassador to Yemeni Interior Minister Abdul Qadir Qahtan, instructing him to make certain security personnel changes, which he described as necessary to helping bring civil peace to the country. This leaves no room for doubt that Feierstein has assumed a de facto governing role in Yemen, pushing for progress but only in the manner that he deems appropriate, and which does not, of course, conflict with broader US policy in Yemen.

The US ambassador had no qualms about paying a visit last week to Zinjibar in the province of Abyan, accompanied by the administrator of USAID, to inspect conditions in the town after the Yemeni army’s successful expulsion of the forces of Ansar al-Sharia. The group, affiliated with al-Qaeda, had controlled the region for nearly a year, imposing its brand of Islamic sharia and penalties. There were muted protests about the un-diplomatic nature of the visit from some of the country’s political groups, but no outright condemnation.

Nobody is objecting. All the officials concerned have come to treat Feierstein’s interferences, and Yemen’s indubitably subject status, as a fact of life.

Analyst Qaderi Ahmad Haidar says the country has indeed fallen under effective US trusteeship, and blames the Gulf Initiative and the mechanisms that were agreed to implement it. “It is a deplorable and lamentable picture we see today,” he told Al-Akhbar. “We didn’t expect the pure revolution of the Yemeni youth to end in this.”

The US ambassador’s pronouncements are incessant, and oblivious to the basic diplomatic norms that govern relations between two states. He is constantly making media appearances to discuss, explain and clarify aspects of Yemen’s daily affairs, as though he were the country’s undeclared president.

During the course of one recent appearance he said: “We are now in the second phase of the Gulf Initiative... I met with the president yesterday... We believe everyone should take part in the National Dialogue... President Obama has issued an executive order which enables us to punish individuals or groups who obstruct the implementation of the agreement (the Gulf Initiative)... We are working to restructure the army and security forces... We are pleased with what has been achieved so far... We are on the right track.”

The ambassador’s use of the first person when discussing Yemeni affairs strikes Muhammad Ayesh, editor of the independent newspaper al-Awwali, as telling. It serves to cast him not just as Yemen’s “governor,” but as a leader propelled by a transformative revolution into the country’s top position. “The political and military classes surrendered the country’s affairs completely to the world powers, and then preoccupied themselves with their internecine struggles,” Ayesh remarks. He notes that the country’s factions were incapable of reaching agreement on clearing barricades and evacuating armed forces from the major cities without the intercession of the US ambassador.

Journalist and political analyst Mansour Hael agrees that it is the weakness and fragmentation of the country’s political groups that is most to blame for turning the US ambassador into “the chief of country’s political and security operations room,” and effectively giving him the final say on a host of domestic issues.

“Yemenis have come to be governed by a state of division, horizontal and vertical. The national unity government is split, and there’s a split between civil society organizations and the political parties,” says Hael, who edits the newspaper Al-Tajammu. “That’s what allows the American ambassador to hold the all the political strings in Yemen.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Divided Libya Votes

Libya Elections: Polling Station Raids Mar First Vote Since Gaddafi's Death

Libyans turn out in their millions for first national ballot since 1964 despite efforts by federalists to disrupt polls.

By Luke Harding in Tripoli
The Guardian
Saturday, 7 July 2012

Federalists in eastern Libya attacked several polling stations on Saturday as the country voted in the historic first election since last year's revolution and the death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Although voting took place peacefully across much of the country, armed gangs in Benghazi stormed a polling station and burned ballot papers. Two other polling stations were attacked, with one man shot in the arm. There were similar incidents in the eastern coastal towns of Guba and Suluq, where fighters stopped ballot papers being delivered.

However, in the capital, Tripoli, and other cities thousands queued from 8am to vote, the overwhelming majority for the first time.

Libya's last election took place in 1964 under King Idris al-Senussi, the monarch Gaddafi ousted five years later.

Many residents were overwhelmed at the opportunity to vote. "I'm so excited. I woke up at six this morning, before my daughters," said Mabroka Amar, 69, at a polling station in Tripoli. She said that she dimly remembered last voting almost half a century ago, adding: "A new country has been born. God willing, I will be alive to vote again and again."

The mood across the capital was festive. Residents waved the red, black and green revolutionary colours and honked their car horns. Several hundred gathered at Martyrs' Square, in the centre of the city, and kissed the ground. Others posted photographs of their fingers – dyed purple by officials after voting – on Facebook. One jokey doctored version showed the late Gaddafi also voting.

Many said that the idea of taking part in an election had previously been little more than fantasy, with Gaddafi a vehement opponent of parliamentary democracy. "I'm 35 years old. I've never voted. The devil was with us from 1969. This is like the first man on the moon," said Ali Ilhouri at Tripoli's Allassma high school, which was serving as a polling station.

He dismissed the federalist protesters in Benghazi and eastern Libya as a relatively small group of "mad fanatics". He said: "I was born in Benghazi. There are lots of other peaceful ways to protest in this election. It isn't civilised."

The federalists are deeply unhappy at the distribution of seats in the new national congress. The outgoing National Transitional Council allocated seats on the basis of population numbers, with 100 going to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south. The federalists say that the regions should have a third each.

The revolution has reignited Benghazi's long-standing feelings of marginalisation and injustice, fuelled by the city being the first to rise up against Gaddafi on 17 February last year.

On Friday, armed groups shut several important eastern oil terminals in protest. They also used anti-aircraft guns to fire on a helicopter carrying election materials, forcing it to land and killing a 22-year-old election volunteer.

"The country will be in a state of paralysis from now on because no one in the government is listening to us," Hamed al-Hassi, a defiant former rebel who now heads the high military council of Cyrenaica, the name for the eastern region, told Reuters.

The national election commission in Tripoli admitted that some election material had been "destroyed" in Benghazi. But it said that polling had gone ahead in 94% of voting centres – 1,453 out of 1,554 – with officials trying to deliver new ballot papers where the security situation allowed.

Against expectations, voting was a success across the south, it said, including in the remote south-eastern town of Kufra, the scene of vicious fighting between Arab Zuwayy and black Toubou forces. Two polling stations for Toubou were functioning, although two in Kufra had not functioned, he said, after local Toubou leaders "refused to receive" elections materials.

Libya's election commission chairman, Nuri al-Abbar, said all but seven polling stations had managed to open, despite sporadic federalist violence in the east of the country.

"The election has gone on in a very positive manner, much more than we expected," he said, adding that around 1.2 million out of 2.8 million registered voters had cast their ballot by mid-afternoon.

A spokesman for the interior ministry, Araaf al-Hoja, admitted that it was hard to stop federalist gunmen from "violating" polling stations. "Unfortunately we know many people have weapons," he said. "But overall the security situation is very good."

Western leaders praised the election, with the US senator John McCain on a visit to Tripoli, and British foreign secretary William Hague tweeting enthusiastically that the vote was a "historic moment and achievement after much suffering".

Results will not be known for several days. The Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Development party is expected to do well, with some predicting that Islamists will sweep to power, as they have done in post-Arab spring elections in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

On Saturday, however, many voters said that they had instead supported Mahmoud Jibril, a pragmatic moderate and Libya's former interim prime minister until his resignation in October. His National Forces Alliance appears to enjoy broad appeal.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Economic Insecurity in the West Bank

West Bank High Life Masks Deepening Economic Crisis

By Noah Browning
Wednesday, July 4 2012

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Past the Israeli sentry towers blackened by firebombs and the entrance to a refugee camp emblazoned with posters of rifle-clenching militants, downtown Ramallah sparkles.

The scars of an intractable conflict and occupation melt away: cafes bustle with smartly dressed patrons, water-pipe smoke perfumes the air and basslines from trendy clubs shake the night. New model BMWs ply leafy avenues beneath villas and tall apartment blocks sprout from the West Bank hills.

But it's more mirage than miracle.

"Thank God for loans," said Ibrahim el-Far, owner of the newly-opened branch of the upscale Italian cafe chain Segafredo Zanetti in Ramallah, the Palestinians' commercial capital and headquarters of their government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Growth in the West Bank is concentrated in Ramallah and in real estate and services even as many sectors like agriculture and construction languish.

Government spending and living on credit at all levels of Palestinian society is rampant and, as the euro zone crisis has shown, may prove to be the economy's undoing.

Bank lending for personal consumption in the Palestinian territories has risen five-fold in the last two years to $417 million. Total credit for cars alone accounts for a further $119 million, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority.

"If you're immersed in troubles, why not try to live well, have night life and good coffee? If we've been slapped once by occupation, the slap from the credit bill won't hurt as much," El-Far said.

Aid for the donor-dependent Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals with Israel, has slowed to a trickle.

Salaries for a swollen public sector again cannot be paid in full this month. The productive base for the economy is shrivelling while unemployment climbs along with poverty.

An economic crisis has deepened - growth is down from a peak of 9 percent in 2010 after the lows of the Intifada to 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from the same 2011 period.

The Palestinian Authority accounts for almost a third of the $3.5 billion in credit given by banks in the Palestinian territories but, with donor aid flagging and revenues down, it is not clear how much longer that can last.

A Palestinian request for a $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund was turned down, officials said this week. And foreign aid is waning partly because of global economic conditions and partly in a backlash to the Palestinians' abortive bid for statehood at the United Nations last fall.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has dropped off dramatically since the end of a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising. But peace and coveted statehood remain elusive. Negotiations with Israel have been frozen since 2010 amidst bitter misgivings among Palestinians over Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.


The appeal of property becomes clear by looking out the windows of the stately 10th-floor office of Kareem Abdul Hadi, a manager in Palestine Development and Investment Inc., or PADICO, the biggest privately-owned enterprise in the Palestinian territories and a holding company for everything from swish eateries and luxury hotels to real estate and construction.

Cement highrises surge from the ground in the middle of verdant patches of nothing - "bald spots", Abdul Hadi dubs them - rendered largely out of bounds to Palestinian administration and construction as per the 1994 Oslo agreements setting out different zones of control in the West Bank.

The wall built by Israel winds across the landscape - part of a barrier Israel says ensures its security against suicide bombers but the international court of justice says is illegal and Palestinians decry as a land grab. While Israel's controls hamstring commerce, they are a boon to the property market.

"Land in Palestine is one of the only safe investments, both because the Oslo agreements made it more scarce and because it has historically never gone down in value," Abdul Hadi said.

"The same doesn't apply for real estate, and while value hasn't dropped, some housing projects are sitting empty, and people haven't bought them up yet."

Abdul Hadi's firm is investing in a members-only executive club and spa with views of the sweeping Mediterranean littoral below, and importing a luxury restaurant from Jordan, but prospects for undertakings that would create a substantial number of jobs and spur growth have dimmed.

Sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and construction actually contracted in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary figures from the World Bank.

"The problem is an unfriendly investment environment, caused by the Israeli occupation's wall and restricted access. It makes investors unsure about putting money into Palestine," said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Around two-thirds of the West Bank is policed and administered exclusively by Israel, and the Palestinian-run cantons float precariously in an interstice of Israeli settlements, military bases and roads.

But Shtayyeh admits his government also deserves blame.

"The PA is not the owner of the means of production, but it should have encouraged more interest by the private sector and foreign direct investment in developing the productive base here," he said.


Beyond occupied land and limited water, even the air waves in the West Bank offer no safe outlet for economic growth.

Israeli authorities deny the Palestinian Authority and therefore Palestinian mobile phone providers access to the high-tech 3G frequency, while granting it even to Jewish settlements.

Sam Bahour, a telecoms entrepreneur-turned-business consultant, said any potential for a high-tech industry had been stymied by that move.

"Israel is in total control of the assets that could make for a real economy, and we've been left to manage the crumbs," he said. "It's a donor-driven economy and will remain one until the occupation ends."

International organizations and the public sector concentrate in Ramallah, where 75,000 people live, pulling jobs and wealth from the rest of the West Bank into its orbit and leaving other towns and cities in its shadow.

Poverty and joblessness have increased in the West Bank in 2012, both hovering at around a fifth of the population of 2.6 million.

"The government focuses on growth regardless of how it is achieved so that it will get some compliments abroad," Nasser Abdul Kareem, an economic analyst, told Reuters.

"Unfortunately, too much of it depends on government spending, which is neutral, and doesn't distribute wealth among people and geography," he said.

As division festers between the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas Islamists, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's dominant Fatah party in the West Bank, wealth disparities and the preoccupation with making ends meet are breeding alienation among a people already in no short supply of it.

"Indebtedness and financial problems are taking a toll on society, and making people 'Americanized' in a way," noted Bahour, the consultant.

"The focus on the individual and his ownership is increasing, and the sense of community and the collective fades."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Egyptians Celebrate Election Results

From Prisoner to President: Islamist Mohamed Morsi Wins Egyptian Vote

Crowds in Tahrir Square rejoice after Mohamed Morsi is finally declared victor after a week of uncertainty. Alastair Beach reports from Cairo.

The Independent
Monday, 25 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood was celebrating a landmark victory in its eight-decade quest for power last night after Mohamed Morsi was confirmed as the first democratically-elected President in Egypt's history.

In what could represent a seismic shift in the political balance of the Middle East, Mr Morsi, an Islamist jailed by Hosni Mubarak, eventually emerged as the victor following a nail-biting week in which the fate of the country hung in the balance.

The result – which saw Mr Morsi vanquish the former fighter pilot and Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik by a margin of less than 3 per cent – is a momentous one for the Brotherhood, whose members have suffered torture, persecution and imprisonment at the hands of successive leaders since the revolution of 1952.

"We got to this moment because of the blood of the martyrs of the revolution," said Mr Morsi's spokesman, Ahmed Abdel-Attie, yesterday. "Egypt will start a new phase in its history."

But the victory also marks the first step in what looks likely to be a presidency plagued with pitfalls and overshadowed by the military establishment.

Tens of thousands of people packed into Tahrir Square, where almost 15 months ago to the day the first clashes erupted in what would eventually lead to the toppling of Mubarak. The crowds had been waiting for hours in the baking heat, but they were made to wait even longer by Farouk Sultan, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. His press conference was relayed to Tahrir Square on a loudspeaker.

When the result was eventually announced, confirming Muslim Brotherhood claims throughout the week, the roar was almost deafening. People wept as fireworks began to pop above the square. Others, clutching Korans, got to their knees and began to pray.

"Egypt has been reborn," shouted Ibrahim Mohamed, an electrician who said he was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "We will not return to the old days. The revolution continues."

Another Morsi supporter, Mahmoud Soliman, spoke to The Independent in Mohamed Mahmoud Street – the road leading off Tahrir Square which was the scene of vicious clashes between activists and the security forces late last year. Standing in front of one of the commemorative murals on the walls of the American University, the 50-year-old accountant said Mr Morsi's victory was a triumph for God. "God will make Egypt a great country," said Mr Soliman, sporting one of the long beards sometimes favoured by conservative Muslims. "Mohamed Morsi is the hand of God who will make Egypt great again."

Yet after a year and a half in which Egypt's uprising has looked anything but victorious, there were ominous indications of the potential for further conflict yesterday. Following the election commission's announcement, supporters near Ahmed Shafik's headquarters started screaming: "The people want the execution of the Field Marshal" – a reference to Hussein Tantawi, the man who will continue to rule as Egypt's de facto leader until the handover of power, supposedly at the end of this month.

The result itself came following a week which was racked with tension, as rumours circulated about Egyptians stockpiling food supplies in case of a breakdown in order. Twitter was awash with claims and counter-claims about an election too close to call.

Renewed violence was also widely predicted – an eventuality which appeared to have been forestalled by Mr Morsi's success. Yet tensions are certain to re-emerge. The military ring-fenced certain powers in a constitutional declaration last week. The Brotherhood-dominated parliament was also recently dissolved – a development the group wants to reverse – while the generals have claimed the right to draft the new constitution.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ignoring the Palestinian Uprising

West must Recognize Peaceful Palestinian Resistance Movement

The West has been largely silent on Palestinian nonviolent resistance, which is unifying groups like Fatah and Hamas. Unless the West recognizes these peaceful initiatives, some Palestinians may question whether civil protest is any better than its violent alternative.

By Sarah Marusek
The Christian Science Monitor
June 7, 2012

BEIRUT, LEBANON  – Some ask why the Palestinians seem to have been left behind in the so-called Arab Spring. In fact, they have not.

Palestinians in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and throughout the Middle East region have been engaging in nonviolent resistance over the past year. But the Western media have been largely silent in their coverage of this remarkable movement, which is unifying groups as disparate as Fatah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Unless the West recognizes these peaceful initiatives, some Palestinians may question whether nonviolent civil resistance will be any better than its violent alternative.

The current nonviolent resistance movement in the region – known as the Arab Spring or Arab Awakening – can, in fact, be connected back to the struggle that started in the Palestinian territories in 1987.

As American University of Beirut Professor Rami Zurayk notes, “the Arab uprisings have of course taken their inspiration from the [first] Palestinian intifada.” However he clarifies that the reverse is also true: There is “a constant feeding in from the Arab uprisings to Palestine and from Palestine to the Arab uprisings.”

Here in Lebanon, the diplomatic Israeli-Palestinian peace process embraced by the West has never been very popular. According to the leaked “Palestine papers,” Palestinian negotiators were willing to concede the right of return, recognized by UN Security Council resolution 194, to all Palestinian refugees but a select 10,000. One should not be surprised that this concession was unpopular here; over 400,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon alone.

But their reaction to this and other developments has shifted in recent months. While in the past many Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon have supported the path of armed resistance to fight for their rights, today they are peacefully taking to the streets.

The new wave of Palestinian non-violent civil resistance in Lebanon started last year on the anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of around 700,000 Palestinians from their land in 1948. On May 15,  2011 more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees gathered in a non-violent demonstration near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Since then, Lebanon’s Palestinians have been regularly organizing peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations, demanding civil rights in Lebanon (which they lack) and the right to return to their homeland.

But while the Palestinian Authority’s recent bid for statehood at the United Nations generated a lot of Western media interest, that same media are not reporting on the Palestinians’ peaceful protests in Lebanon, and were mostly silent when Hamas leaders in Gaza issued a declaration last December that “violence is no longer the primary option” for the party’s resistance against Israeli occupation.

At around the same time, the Western media also largely ignored Palestinian Khader Adnan’s hunger strike to protest against the Israeli policy of “administrative detention” – holding Palestinian prisoners indefinitely without trial or charge. Reports about the hunger strike only started to appear in February when Mr. Adnan was close to death. Subsequently, at least 1,600 more prisoners joined the hunger strike, with several approaching death.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, criticized the lack of response from Western governments, media, and even the UN itself. Since then, Egyptian mediation negotiated a deal where Israel agreed to meet some of the prisoners’ key demands, ending the hunger strike for most, although several prisoners have continued their protest.

Throughout the spring, there was a frenzy of non-violent events in the region showing solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers. On March 30 an unprecedented series of peaceful demonstrations were organized in the Palestinian territories and the neighboring countries of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, under the banner of the Global March to Jerusalem. And then on May 15, people came out into the streets once again to remember the Nakba.

All of the major Palestinian parties are coordinating these activities, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The US considers the latter three terrorist groups.

As with the hunger strikes, the Western media are largely ignoring the remarkable fact that these three parties are now actively embracing non-violent resistance to achieve their political goals. But even when Hamas recently leaked to the press that the party is conducting secret talks with several European governments, the Western media barely noticed.

The danger is that Western silence – in the media and in government – on this peaceful movement will undermine the effectiveness of the Palestinian protesters. What good is peaceful protest if it is not recognized or engaged?

In a recent op-ed, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan argued that the international community must give Palestinian non-violent resistance a chance. They are right. The only problem is that we first need to know that it exists before we can encourage it.

Sarah Marusek is a member of the International Central Committee of the Global March to Jerusalem and is a social science doctoral candidate at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is in Lebanon on an International Education Graduate Fellowship for International Study to research Islamic charities.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Proxy War Unfolding in Syria

In Syria, Foreign Intervention Will Only Shed More Blood

The US and its Gulf allies are already fuelling sectarian conflict in their proxy war with Iran. The fallout could be disastrous.

By Seumas Milne
The Guardian
Tuesday, 5 June 2012

As Syria descends deeper into civil war and human misery, pressure for yet another western military intervention in the Arab world is growing. Last week, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, declared that the US might take the "military option" in Syria if it was "asked to do so". Barack Obama's Republican rival Mitt Romney is meanwhile demanding that the US government arm the Syrian opposition.

Today, Russian and Chinese leaders reaffirmed their opposition to forced regime change and support for UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. But Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, has made clear western powers might act alone and take action "outside the authority" of the UN. Even the new French president François Hollande has said military intervention in his country's former colonial territory was "not to be ruled out".

The latest calls for action against Bashar al-Assad's regime follow the slaughter of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla less than a fortnight ago. Opposition activists have blamed pro-regime "shabiha" sectarian militias for the massacre; the government al-Qaida terrorists. But there's no doubt that atrocities such as Houla – let alone killings on a larger scale – have the potential to turn intervention grandstanding into the real thing.

That's what happened in Kosovo 13 years ago, when contested killings in Racak led to Nato's bombing campaign outside the authority of the UN. The US administration continues to resist demands for open intervention in Syria. But Hillary Clinton says the case for intervention is getting stronger "every day", while the opposition Free Syria Army has now declared itself "free of any commitment" to the UN peace plan.

The reality is that intervention in Syria by the US and its allies has already begun. The western powers have backed the fractious opposition Syrian National Council since the early days of last year's uprising. So have the Gulf autocracies led by Saudi Arabia, who have stepped up the flow of weapons and cash to favoured Syrian rebel groups in recent months, while Turkey has provided a cross-border base. That is co-ordinated with the US, which supplies the same groups with "non-lethal assistance" and "communications equipment".

In other words, the US and its allies are sponsoring regime change through civil war. And while paying lip service to the Annan plan for demilitarisation and negotiation, they are making sure it won't succeed. The results can be seen on the ground. Overall, lethal violence is estimated by human rights groups to have dropped by 36% since the plan was supposed to come into effect, but government casualties have increased sharply over the same period (953 reported killed since mid-March). Rebel fighters claimed to have killed 80 government troops last weekend alone.

Syria is reported by the western and Gulf-controlled Arab media through the prism of a popular uprising against an authoritarian regime. But that is only one vital dimension of the conflict. And as brutal repression by a government which retains significant support has been met with a growing armed campaign, grassroots opposition has been displaced by foreign-backed groups whose strategy to win power is based on engineering outside intervention.

It has also increasingly morphed into a sectarian conflict, as the Alawite-dominated regime has used minorities' fears of a Sunni-dominated opposition to bolster support. The latest phase of Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East owes its virulence to the occupation of Iraq, where the US ruthlessly played the sectarian card to prevent the emergence of a genuinely national resistance. It has also been a knife at the heart of the Arab revolution and the linchpin of the Saudi-led strategy to prevent uprisings engulfing the conservative Gulf regimes.

Anti-Shia incitement has been central to Saudi propaganda against reform in the kingdom itself, the crushing of democratic protest in Bahrain and the drive to focus opposition across the region against Damascus (Alawites being a quasi-Shia sect), rather than Amman or Riyadh. It's also what has attracted al-Qaida and other Sunni volunteers to join the fight against the Assad regime, as tit-for-tat confessional killings multiply. For Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, with their precarious ethnic and religious makeups, that is a disaster.

But it is the third dimension of the crisis – Syria's role as Iran's principal ally – that gives it the potential to set the region on fire and draw the outside world into a devastating conflict. The internal struggle in Syria, whose territory has been occupied by Israel for the last 45 years, has already become part of a western and Saudi proxy war against Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. As James Rubin, US assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, claimed this week, US intervention in Syria would be a "risk worth taking" because Iran "would no longer have a Mediterranean foothold from which to threaten Israel and destabilise the region".

In fact, Iran's alliance with Syria is one more reason why increasing western and Gulf dictators' intervention in Syria would escalate the conflict, not end it. Last year's Nato intervention in Libya increased the death toll by a factor of 10 to 15 and left a country of lawless warlords, torture and ethnic cleansing. Intervention in Syria, whether by fully arming the opposition or using air power to create "humanitarian corridors", would have a far more devastating impact.

That's partly because the Syrian regime has significant air defences and large-scale armed forces and the conflict is being fought out in heavily populated areas. But it's also because of the sectarian schisms and the risk of spreading the conflict further into countries such as Iraq and Lebanon. Why the states that brought blood and destruction to Iraq and Afghanistan should be thought suitable vehicles of humanitarian deliverance to Syria is a mystery. But full-scale foreign intervention would certainly lead to a far greater civilian death toll and many more Houlas.

Right now, lower-level intervention is bleeding Syria in a war of attrition. Short of an internal coup, the only way out of a deepening sectarian and regional conflict is an internationally guaranteed negotiated settlement that allows Syrians the chance to determine their own future. That means the US and its allies giving the Annan plan a chance, as much as Iranian and Russian pressure on Damascus. The consequences of the alternative – full-scale military intervention – would be incalculable.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Still Searching for Justice in Egypt

Hosni Mubarak Sentenced to Life for Complicity in Killing of Protesters

By Leila Fadel and Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 3 2012

CAIRO — Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison Saturday after being convicted of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt that turned once-untouchable despots into defendants.

Mubarak became the first autocrat targeted in the Arab Spring uprisings to face life imprisonment in the country he once ruled. But the acquittal of six senior police officials charged with ordering the killings, as well as the exoneration of Mubarak and his sons of corruption charges, enraged many Egyptians, who took to the streets to decry the outcome as a travesty of justice.

Activists said the verdicts mean that no one has been held directly accountable for killing the nearly 1,000 people who died during the revolt. Mubarak and former interior minister Habib al-Adli were convicted for failing to stop the killings, not for ordering them. “Both will appeal,” said Yusry Abdel Razak, one of Mubarak’s attorneys.

The long-awaited verdicts jolted Egypt’s presidential race, as Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who will compete in a runoff this month, sought to take advantage of the new groundswell of revolutionary rage to attack his opponent, Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

As the sun set in Cairo, thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square and into the streets of the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and other cities. The volume and vigor of the turnout were startling in a year in which revolutionaries have often appeared deflated and rudderless.

“All of this is a charade, and we don’t accept it,” said Amal Ramsis, 40, as she protested in the square.

Dissatisfaction with the ruling could push revolutionaries who had planned to boycott the runoff election for president into grudging support of Morsi, an uncharismatic conservative Islamist, experts said.

“The Brotherhood might be able to capitalize on this to push the line for revolutionary unity against the regime,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt analyst at the Century Foundation. “The anger could push those planning to sit it out to cast a vote for the Brotherhood against the old regime.”

After the verdict was handed down, Mubarak was whisked away on a helicopter to the Tora Prison hospital in suburban Cairo. The former strongman reportedly suffered a heart attack after learning that he would not be returned to the military hospital where he has been held in recent months, according to a medical official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. As the aircraft touched down, Mubarak reportedly wept and refused for several minutes to debark. State media reported he was in stable condition Saturday night in the prison.

The decision marked the first time that Mubarak has entered a prison since his detention in April 2011. During that time, he has been housed at a military hospital.

The three-judge panel that presided over the landmark case cited a statute of limitations in acquitting the former president, his two sons and a business tycoon of corruption charges. Both Alaa Mubarak and Gamal Mubarak will remain in custody on separate charges of stock market fraud.

The judges cited a lack of evidence in acquitting the six senior police officials charged in the killings of demonstrators. During closing statements in February, prosecutors said the Interior Ministry had been uncooperative during the investigation.

‘The loudest message’

Human rights activists said they were most disturbed by the acquittal of Ahmed Ramzy, the head of the riot police at the forefront of street battles with protesters during the revolt that began Jan. 25, 2011. Hossam Bahgat, a prominent rights worker, said the conviction of only the two top officials charged in the case suggested that the country’s military rulers were willing to sacrifice some of their own to preserve the security apparatus.

“This is the loudest message in the verdict,” he said.

Anti-Mubarak protesters initially rejoiced outside the heavily secured courthouse as firecrackers popped in the background. However, as the defendants were taken from the courtroom cage, people in the courtroom broke into angry chants denouncing the acquittals, and a brawl broke out.

“The people want the purification of the judiciary,” some spectators screamed. “Invalid, invalid!”

Mubarak attended the hearing on a stretcher, wearing dark sunglasses. He lay cross-armed, expressionless and motionless inside the black iron cage, as his sons sought to shield their 84-year-old father from cameras inside the courtroom.

Before announcing the verdict, the presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat, described the 2011 revolution as a historic turning point for the nation.

“As the sun rose on January 25 over Egypt, a new era was ushered in,” Refaat said. “A bright day loomed large for the great people of Egypt with new hope they had long yearned for.”

The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement Saturday demanding justice for the slain revolutionaries.

“Who killed the martyrs if the police leaders are innocent?” the statement said. “If the evidence before the judiciary is insufficient, then the fronts responsible for concealing and discarding the evidence should be tried.”

Later, in a news conference, Morsi pledged that if he is elected president, all the defendants will be retried.

Ayman Nour, a renowned opposition figure who was jailed after he ran against Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, responded to the verdict by endorsing Morsi.

“The verdict today was shocking and did not meet legal prediction,” a statement from Nour’s office said.

In Tahrir Square on Saturday night, Ahmad Marzouk, 32, stood with his daughter to protest what he called a “weak” sentencing. He scoffed at the Brotherhood for supporting this protest after ignoring so many others, accusing the venerable Islamist group of opportunism.

“The Brotherhood come to the square when it is convenient for them,” he said. “Now they are trying to buy the votes of the revolutionaries by standing on their side, but if it was not in their best interest, they would have remained as quiet as always.”

Revolutions’ results

Shafiq, who was appointed prime minister by Mubarak during last year’s revolt, issued a statement praising the verdict as proof that “nobody in Egypt is above being held to account.” Shafiq saluted the “martyrs” of the revolt and said the verdict proved that the “reproduction” of Mubarak’s government is impossible.

Many revolutionaries, however, fear that Shafiq, who like Mubarak is a former air force chief, would restore the repressive policies of the old order if elected.

Shafiq’s spokesman, Ahmed Sarhan, accused the Brotherhood of condemning the verdict to propel its candidate to the presidency.

“We believe that this is being manipulated for the sake of the election,” he said.

Three other Arab leaders were toppled in the revolts that swept the region in 2011. Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January and was later tried and convicted in absentia.

Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi was killed by a mob in the city of Sirte in October 2011 after rebels aided by a NATO bombing campaign captured the capital. And Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, was forced to resign in February after enormous pressure from Persian Gulf states and the United States.

Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, pointed out that no one, including the head of the riot police, has been held directly responsible for the killing during Egypt’s revolt, and she predicted that popular anger would be widespread.

“I don’t think this will satisfy people,” she said. “It’s a reflection of the fact that this was a very badly investigated case. It should have never gone to trial if they didn’t have enough evidence.”

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.