Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where is the Arab League on Yemen?

Today Yemenis have again taken to the streets in mass protest. Although last week President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally signed an agreement to step down from power, his protectors in Saudi Arabia will likely shield him from being held accountable for the bloodshed that continues to ravage Yemen. In fact Saleh has claimed amnesty for all of those who committed violence during the popular uprising. So why does the Arab League focus its attention only on Syria? Of course the question is a rhetorical one. But such inconsistencies in justice are only going to set the stage for future violence in the region.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Yemen, Demanding Trial for President Saleh

Mass protests in the capital Sanaa, Taiz, Aden, and other cities call for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to face trial for charges ranging from corruption to deadly crackdowns on protests.

By The Associated Press
29 November 2011

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis are demonstrating across the country to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh face trial for charges ranging from corruption to deadly crackdowns on protests.

Similar demonstrations have taken place since Saleh returned to Yemen Saturday night from the Saudi capital Riyadh after signing a power transfer deal last week.

Also Tuesday, a security official said at least 25 people were killed in fighting between Hawthi Shiites and ultraconservative Salafis in the northern province of Saada in a local dispute.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with security rules.

Saleh signed a transition deal last week, under which he transferred his powers to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after 33 years in office and 10 months of protests that have brought the country to the edge of civil war.

Although Wary, Egyptians still Vote

In a Surprise, Calm Prevails in Egypt’s Elections

By David D. Kirkpatrick
The New York Times
November 28, 2011

CAIRO — Unexpectedly large crowds of Egyptians on Monday defied predictions of bedlam and violence to cast their votes in the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The apparent success of the initial voting surprised the voters themselves. After a week of violent demonstrations against the interim military rulers, many said they had cast their ballots out of a sense of duty and defiance, determined to reclaim the promise of their revolution, even as the ruling generals said they intended to share little power with the new Parliament.

“The revolution started so that our voice has a value, so we have to do what we are supposed to do,” said Lilian Rafat, 23, who stood in line for more than four hours, even though she put the chances of a legitimate result at only about “50 percent.”

But the large turnout on Monday, despite long delays and sporadic violence, raised the possibility that when the last phase of voting is completed in March, the process may result in the first broadly representative Parliament in more than six decades. The opening appeared to bring the Muslim Brotherhood, a once-outlawed Islamist group, one step closer to a formal role in governing Egypt. And, for the first time in 10 months, it offered the promise of moving the debate over Egypt’s future off the streets and into the new legislature.

For now, though, the act of voting itself appeared to vent to the public’s anger after a week of clashes that brought hundreds of thousands out in Cairo to demand that the military hand over power to a civilian government. Abandoning talk of a boycott, protest leaders urged supporters to go to the polls. And the diversion, along with a swell of pride in the historic vote, drained the continuing occupation of Tahrir Square to just a few thousand demonstrators.

“It is like a play, it is like a sham. We are pretending to be voting,” said Rabab Abdel Fattah Mohamed, 30, a doctor demonstrating in Tahrir Square. “I know these elections don’t mean anything, but I am still going.”

The military pointed to the seemingly successful vote as validation. Egyptian state television called the turnout a mark of approval for the military’s current transition timetable: transfer to an elected president by July, after the military has had a chance to shape the writing of a new constitution that it has suggested should enshrine its power and autonomy from civilian government.

“We are betting on the Egyptian people,” said Gen. Ibrahim Massouhy, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as he visited a polling place in Shoubra, a neighborhood of Cairo. “We know our people very well. That is why we are insisting on elections,” he said, calling the day a triumph.

But some voters said they hoped an elected Parliament could stand up to the military council, and some activists insisted that the new body would become their most potent tool.

“Candidates do not go through this whole process just to become pictures on the wall,” said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “The legitimacy of being elected will allow them to start a political conflict with SCAF,” he said, referring to the military council.

The outcome is not a foregone conclusion and final results remain months away. Some warned that violence and fraud were still possible. The first round of voting for the lower house — including the major cities of Cairo and Alexandria — will continue Tuesday. After a runoff next week, two more rounds will follow, ending in January. The elections for the upper house are scheduled to start in January and be completed by March.

Adding to the uncertainty of the day, the Egyptian authorities suggested that they might fine people about $80 if they failed to vote. Some voters, like Wael Ashraf, 23, said that was why they had come to the polls. “The revolution didn’t help — do you think elections will?” he said.

Many polling places around Cairo, Alexandria and other cities opened hours late because ballots, voter rolls or supervising judges failed to arrive — in some cases, not until 6:30 p.m. At least 11 polling places in the cities of Cairo and Fayoum did not open at all, according to the Web site of the state-run newspaper Al Ahram. And many places stayed open hours after polls were supposed to close to give voters a longer chance to vote.

Al Ahram reported that judges in some polling places donated ink and wax (to seal the ballot boxes) because the authorities had failed to supply them. In at least one poorer neighborhood near Cairo, soldiers fired into the air to disperse an angry crowd trying to get in to vote. There were also reports of scattered clashes, including a dispute in Asyut in the south that led the family of a candidate to burn down a polling place and kidnap a judge.

The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated unrivaled organization and sophistication. Teams of young members sat with laptop computers at strategic points, such as outside mosques, around Cairo to help voters locate their polling places, helping anyone but providing the information on slips of paper advertising their candidates.

Lines of as many as a dozen Brotherhood members wearing the insignia of the group’s newly formed Freedom and Justice Party stood outside polling places to help maintain security, and in some places they performed services such as walking elderly women to designated lines.

The party’s secretary general, Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, said on Monday night that 40,000 members had turned out to secure polling places in Cairo, and afterward members volunteered to clean up the litter left behind.

In the Islamist stronghold of Alexandria and elsewhere, the Brotherhood is competing with several new parties established by the ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis. Less organized and new to the political scene, the Salafis’ relative strength is one of the major questions hanging over the polls. Egyptian law requires parties to nominate female candidates, and many of the ones on Salafi lists put a picture of a flower instead of their face on their campaign fliers, deferring to conservative Islamic notions of modesty.

Several liberal parties are competing in two main coalitions. But most suspended or slowed their campaigns to focus on last week’s protests, potentially falling behind as the Brotherhood sprinted on toward the vote.

Although the Brotherhood declined to join the protests to avoid any delays in the elections, its leaders have said they intend to use any seats they gain in Parliament as a platform to continue pushing for the military’s speedy exit. So, the completion of the elections could restore the unity of liberal and Islamist calls for the generals to leave power.

Of course, in most places incumbents — former members of Mr. Mubarak’s party — are also running, hoping past patronage and name recognition will overcome anger at their association with the old government.

As voters stood in long lines at the polls, the potential for a democracy to flourish under military rule set off as much discussion as the contest between parties. “We are asking for change, so we have to convey our feelings,” said one woman, putting the chances of a credible election at about “75 percent.”

“No, no, no!” said Magda Mokabel, 39, waiting nearby. “There is no justice, no integrity, no confidence,” she said. “But I came because then I will have done my duty, so I will ask to claim my rights.”

Mayy el Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, and Liam Stack from Alexandria, Egypt.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Egyptian Salafists: Oppressors or the Oppressed?

The below article is worth reading, although it is deeply problematic to conceptualize liberalism and Islamism as either opposing or far apart without also recognizing the many ways they overlap. Also, if those Egyptians in the coffee shop were true to the ideals of liberalism they would think it unjust to exclude somebody based on his or her appearance or beliefs. Well at least theoretically, because of course this practice among so-called liberals is pretty much the norm around the world today. Which makes this story about a young Egyptian Salafist and his efforts to reach out to others even more interesting to read.

Divide between Islamists, Liberals Still Threatens to Splinter Egypt Revolution

By Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
Saturday, November 26 2011

CAIRO — Days after Egyptians drove their longtime president from power in February, Mohammad Tolba ordered a latte at an upscale coffeehouse and waited to see whether his scraggly beard was still radioactive in the new Egypt.

He got a grudging welcome, and that was enough to prod the 32-year-old information technology executive — a conservative Islamist with a look that many associate with extremism — into an effort to bridge a divide that threatens to splinter the Egyptian revolution.

His journey since has tracked the shifting moods of an upheaval that toppled President Hosni Mubarak but remains unfinished. Last week, he found himself in Tahrir Square, with men young and old, secular and religious, lobbing stones in clashes with riot police — a role he had always vowed to avoid.

Tolba is a Salafist, an adherent of an ultraconservative view of Islam that is the norm in Saudi Arabia and has a following in several Muslim countries. Broadly, Salafists believe that Muslims should strictly conform to the teachings of the Koran and emulate the austere lifestyle of the prophet Muhammad. They shun alcohol and tobacco, and they believe that women should wear veils and niqabs, the black cloth that covers the face below the eyes.

Pariahs under the secular, autocratic, military-backed governments that ruled Egypt for 60 years, Salafists have emerged publicly in recent months in numbers that have startled and frightened liberal Egyptians. But Tolba believes that winning wider acceptance will require building greater trust.

“You have a very good product and a terrible salesman,” Tolba said of the challenge facing Salafists.

Whether Islamists can seize the moment, he believes, will depend on their ability to dispel the notion that most dogmatic Muslims are militant troglodytes who want to take over the government and impose strict moral codes on this nation of 82 million.

At stake, he believes, is whether Islamists will manage to reinsert themselves into mainstream Egyptian society without building popular support for a new crackdown by the authorities. A first test will come this week with Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elections.

Into the public eye

As the son of well-off secular parents, Tolba is better suited than most to narrow the gap between liberals and Islamists — groups that have for decades been wary of one another.

Salafists say at least a few million Egyptians follow their brand of Islam, but estimates vary because for decades many have taken pains to conceal their adherence to the movement. Salafists tend to be more dogmatic than members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist movement, but the two movements support similar political goals: policies that are more closely in line with Islamic law. (Both are made up of Sunni Muslims, divided by a centuries-old schism from the Shiite branch of Islam dominant in Iraq and Iran.)

When Tolba sat down at a Costa Coffee shop in Cairo that day in late February, the plainclothes state security agents who hassled bearded men under Mubarak’s regime were nowhere in sight. But stares from fellow patrons in skinny jeans or suits made him feel unwelcome.

“The guy serving me coffee and the other guests were feeling uncomfortable, and they were looking at me in a very bad way,” Tolba said. “I started talking to people and making jokes.”

Some warmed up to him, which planted the seed for what became known as Salafyo Costa, or the Costa Salafis. Tolba and some friends created a Facebook page to encourage Egyptians of all backgrounds to have coffee with Salafists. It soon spun into a thousands-strong lively online forum for debate over politics, foreign policy and religion.

Tolba said he believes that a large number of Egyptians will gravitate toward Salafism now that Islamists have greater freedoms, but he insists that such a trend ought to happen organically rather than by force.

“You should not enforce teachings on others,” he said at a Costa Coffee one afternoon this summer. “Let the crowds decide what they want. At the end of the day, we will accept what the people say.”

As Salafyo Costa gained popularity, Tolba adapted the logo of the British coffee chain, which has three coffee beans, to depict a bearded man. He made a short video meant as a metaphor for the transition on which Egypt was about to embark.

In the clip, five men representing different classes of Egyptian society show up to claim ownership of a small shop in a rundown Cairo neighborhood. The men initially quarrel over who is the legitimate owner but agree to work together after they realize the shop is in ruins.

That was what Egyptians did during the 18-day revolt that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. Soon after the ouster of their common enemy, societal divisions were exposed. In some cases, violence erupted, most poignantly in a spate of deadly clashes between Salafists and Coptic Christians.

“All parties were scared of each other, until they started working toward one goal,” Tolba said. “We are trying to bring the spirit of Tahrir Square from the revolution back.”

‘Real democracy is in Islam’

Tahrir has often served as neutral ground for debating the role of Islam in post-revolutionary Egypt. In July, Tolba set up a tent in the square, along with many others who had participated in the revolt. On a sweltering evening, bearded men and women in niqabs talked politics.

Shimaa Mahmoud, 33, a teacher who has been a Salafist for 11 years, said she was looking forward to being governed by a parliament dominated by Islamists.

“People suffered a long time under the government,” she said. “Now it’s time to taste real democracy. Real democracy is in Islam.”

Rageh Abou Khatwa, 31, another relatively recent convert to Salafism, said there is virtually no talk about militancy among people of his generation. Pointing to a group of older bearded men from the Gamaa Islamiya, which waged a violent campaign against the Egyptian government in the 1980s and 1990s, he said the group represented a closed chapter in Egyptian history.

“Using violence did not achieve anything,” he said. “Nobody is calling for this type of violence anymore.”

Days later, tens of thousands of Islamists from across the country streamed into Tahrir Square for a demonstration to decry what Islamist groups called an attempt by the military and liberal leaders to legally enshrine secular principles before elections are held. Some started waving the black flag associated with violent jihad, commonly used by al-Qaeda.

“What the hell are you doing?” Tolba demanded. “This is not Afghanistan. Why are you holding these flags?”

One of the men looked confused and replied that he had been asked to wave it, Tolba said.

As the sun rose, massive crowds began chanting: “The people want Islamic law!” A vendor sold photographs of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Fuming, Tolba left the square.

“All of us are feeling so down,” he said a few days later. “We look like the guys that came, but they don’t represent us.”

It wasn’t the only time Tolba has felt on the outside looking in. Several traditional Salafists refused to meet with him, thinking his movement was flippant and offensive to the old guard. Although many Christians joined the group, some remain wary of all Salafists, such as the members of a church who agreed to let him speak at a service, only to cancel at the last minute.

A spiritual awakening

Tolba was not born into a Salafist family. During his late teens and early 20s, he said, he sometimes drank and partied heavily. He met his wife, Doaa Yehia, 26, in 2000 at a poetry club. He didn’t have a beard then. She wore a veil but not a niqab. When a close mutual friend was killed in a car accident, the two experienced a spiritual awakening and gradually became Salafists.

Tolba said he was shaken and saddened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which occurred shortly after he became a Salafist but had no bearing on his transformation. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were launched in response, however, have hardened his views toward the West. Attacks against American soldiers fighting in foreign lands, he said, are justified.

Soon after his first beard grew out, Tolba said, he was stopped at police checkpoints and airports and interrogated about his faith. He was asked which mosques he prayed at and which clerics he looked up to. Feeling ostracized, he took a job in Sudan.

“They were treating me like a monster,” he said, referring to authorities in Egypt.

Also demonized was his favorite Salafist cleric, Mohamed Abdel Maksoud.

Maksoud was arrested several times under Mubarak’s regime because he often criticized the government in his sermons. When the cleric was not incarcerated, his supporters would organize quick, clandestine prayers, announcing the location via text message 30 minutes in advance.

On a recent Friday morning in 6th of October City, a suburb of Cairo, Maksoud officiated at a large mosque that was so full some attendees had to pray outside. As the gray-bearded, limping cleric departed, devotees crowded around, trying to kiss his hand.

Maksoud said Egypt must be ruled in a way consistent with sharia law. Although sharia has long been a bedrock of the Egyptian constitution, he said, the government for decades has largely ignored it. As an example, he said, wearing the veil should be mandatory for women.

Alcohol, he added, should not be consumed in public venues. “Egyptian people love Islam, and they are calling for Islam,” he said.

With every rock, hope

The prospect that well-organized Islamist parties could dominate politics is widely believed to have been the main reason Egypt’s military chiefs have been reluctant to cede power to elected officials. The lengthy transition time frame they proposed, which would have put off presidential elections until at least 2013, was one of the catalysts of fresh protests that began more than a week ago and have plunged the country into new chaos.

Tolba was among a small group of protesters attempting to set up a permanent camp in Tahrir last week when riot police tried to dislodge them using tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. For the first time in his life, Tolba said, he felt compelled to respond violently.

Along with others, both liberals and Islamists, he charged toward the line of policemen, armed only with stones. Despite the hail of birdshot and clouds of tear gas, the feeling was cathartic, Tolba said.

“It was very spiritual, very inspiring,” Tolba said afterward. “Every time I went to the front lines, I was recalling every incident of injustice. With every rock, I was hoping for a better future for my children.”

A day later, when security forces charged into the square, Tolba was among those beaten with clubs. He was left for dead in a pile of corpses and wounded people near a travel agency. Next to him was a young, unveiled woman who he thinks died.

Before losing consciousness, he said, the woman asked a policeman dragging a corpse: “Aren’t you Egyptian, too?”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Looking for Justice in Bahrain

Bahrain Is Nervously Awaiting Report on Its Forgotten Revolt

By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
November 21, 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahrain’s forgotten revolt sometimes reads like the script for a film of international intrigue, where the truth remains elusive.

There is the beleaguered crown prince of a veteran American ally, and a scheming royal family that believes, with seeming sincerity, that it was almost overthrown. An ensuing crackdown made chauvinism against the majority the effective policy of the state. Inscrutable and aggressive, Iran and Saudi Arabia lurk over a body politic where the opposition waits, restrained, even as it warns that far worse is yet to come.

Bahrain’s protests in February and March stand as the opening credits to a plot that remains unresolved today, in an oil-rich region that sits at the nexus of American hegemony, regional rivalries and looming instability. In all the revolts that have roiled the Arab world this year, Bahrain’s government managed a tactical, perhaps ephemeral victory through force.

But in doing so, it may have destroyed a society that once took pride in its cosmopolitanism. The question not only for Bahrain but for other Arab countries in tumult — like Egypt and Syria — is whether reconciliation can stop an unraveling spreading across the region.

The answer may be in the hands of an Egyptian-American law professor asked by the king last summer to investigate the protests, crackdown and aftermath, in what the king’s supporters called a bid to heal Bahrain. His task: essentially arbitrate a crisis in which neither side even agrees on what to call the landmark traffic circle where the revolt erupted.

“We’re the only game in town,” said the professor, M. Cherif Bassiouni.

The commission of jurists and scholars led by Mr. Bassiouni is scheduled to issue its report on Wednesday, which has become the defining moment for Bahrain, its Sunni Muslim monarchy and its restive Shiite Muslim majority.

Its promise is to chart a way forward for changes to blunt the fires of revolution that have swept Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Its peril is that it comes too late for Bahrain. Critics, and there are many, already contend it will whitewash the crimes that were committed, a conclusion that will almost certainly condemn the country to more years of unrest and volatility.

“We have a goal, and the goal is to establish the facts because only when you establish the truth can you then find the basis for a political solution and a future solution,” Mr. Bassiouni said on a day he met both King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and the head of the largest legal opposition group.

But in a society where no one even agrees on the share of the Shiite majority, or who really wields power, this is the question facing Bahrain and so many other countries: Is it possible to reveal, let alone agree on, the truth?

Nature of the Repression

The commission bears the mark of one of the world’s leading experts in international human rights. Mr. Bassiouni essentially drafted Royal Order No. 28, which outlined the commission’s task, and chose the four other members, all recognized internationally in their fields.

In 14-hour days, often stretching far longer, the commission carried out 2,343 interviews, took 4,483 statements, held 48 meetings and carried out 35 investigations, one of them stumbling on a jail where an adolescent had been burned by a cigarette butt only minutes before. (By virtue of the visit, the youth was released, and police officers suspended.)

The report is expected to detail the scope of the crackdown, beginning in March, in which Mr. Bassiouni said “it was fairly standard procedure to mistreat people.” He said investigators had compiled more than 300 cases of abuse, 64 qualifying as torture. About 3,000 people were fired from their jobs, and more than 1,000 students dismissed from college. (About 500 employees returned to work, along with most students.) The commission documented 30 instances in which the government destroyed or damaged Shiite religious sites, inflaming the sectarian divide.

“It’s not that they went and destroyed St. Peter,” said Mr. Bassiouni, who has an academic’s zest for intellectual give and take that is not always suited to the reserve of diplomacy. But, he added, “if these places meant something to them, and they felt that they were their religious places, the government should have respected that.”

With those words, Mr. Bassiouni captured the challenge of the commission’s work: what was the nature of the repression — systematic and orchestrated by the state, as the opposition insists, or the authorities’ acting arbitrarily and independent of one another across a landscape in which even the king’s orders were ignored, as Mr. Bassiouni suggests?

“This is a situation where there is an enormous amount of suspicion and whatever you say is going to be interpreted in light of different political interests or different perceptions,” Mr. Bassiouni said.

Was his task impossible?

“It is the environment that is difficult,” he said. “It is the sense of suspicion. It is the sense of paranoia. It is the sense of mistrust.”

Royal Family and Politics

Perhaps the pivotal figure these days is Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the 42-year-old heir to the throne who straddles the West, where he earned a master’s degree from Cambridge, and the Bedouin environs of a family that conquered Bahrain in the 18th century. Described by one opposition figure as “the last samurai” of a ruling clan once more open and oriented to the West, and now firmly entrenched in a more conservative Saudi ethos, Prince Salman led talks with the opposition that verged on a breakthrough in March before crumbling amid the recriminations of each side.

Echoing others, he said the report was less about truth, more about politics.

“The report will produce a narrative that both sides can use to hold themselves accountable for what happened, and only through shared responsibility will progress be made,” he said at Al Zaher Palace.

Even by Persian Gulf standards, the politics of the ruling al-Khalifa family are opaque. Rivalries are balanced by the urgency of the clan’s unity, where the collective authority of al-Khalifa overwhelms the power of a single individual, the king included.

Few in Bahrain believe the king is pre-eminent any longer. Many believe real power is vested in two brothers — the army chief of staff and the royal court minister — along with Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the king’s 75-year-old uncle and the world’s longest-serving unelected prime minister. All of them enjoy close ties with Saudi Arabia. By that measure, the king ranks fourth, followed by Prince Salman.

While Prince Salman enjoys standing among the opposition, he lacks it among the country’s Sunni minority, whose fears of domination were stoked by the government. The community is far more mobilized, skeptical and anxious than it was even a year ago. Abdul-Latif al-Mahmood, the head of the largest Sunni bloc, suggested the crown prince was naïve in believing he could strike a deal with a Shiite opposition.

“The crown prince is just one person from the leadership,” he said bitingly.

Within the family, there is a sense the crown prince had his chance. “He tried his way, and it didn’t work,” said Abdel-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a senior government counselor and member of the royal family. The opposition, he added, “let him down.”

Mr. Bassiouni is blunt in expressing a hope, echoed by American officials, that the report could serve as a tool for the prince to re-emerge as a more dynamic political force in trying again to negotiate a solution. One idea is for him to lead a committee that carries out the coming recommendations.

“In a sense, I think that the moderates on the reform side want to have their hand gently pushed,” Mr. Bassiouni said. “And so in a sense, a report of the commission that gives them the appearance of being gently pushed as opposed to being hit on the head with a hammer can become useful.”

Prince Salman was careful with his words, seemingly aware his ascent to the throne was by no means assured. “We either all lose or we all win,” he said, under a portrait of his grandfather.

The words, though, seemed more hopeful than realistic.

“Is the capacity for forgiveness still present?” the prince asked. “That’s what concerns me.”

Fixing a Broken System

Al Wefaq, the largest legal opposition group in Bahrain, is remarkable in the Arab world for the modesty of its demands. It is not calling for revolution, or the execution of the ruler, or the overthrow of his family, as in Syria or Yemen. It has no arms. But it does call for deep political reforms — a constitutional monarchy with an empowered parliament, an elected government and an end to gerrymandering that has left Shiites disenfranchised.

In the view of the monarchy’s supporters, the system can be fixed. Al Wefaq says the system is broken. And to empower a process of reconciliation, the report must say so. “We’re not looking for explanations; we’re looking for a decision on whether any party was responsible for what happened,” said Hadi Hasan al-Mosawi, a former lawmaker who is the human rights officer for Al Wefaq.

Mr. Mosawi organized carloads of files to be sent to the commission. Gaunt and balding, he cringes at Mr. Bassiouni’s contention, in an interview, that he is not seeking “to blame or to hang.”

“I don’t want to be told what happened,” Mr. Mosawi said. “I was here. I saw it.”

Even before the commission finished its work, critics worried that it was too compromised. It was appointed by the king, whose government paid its $1.3 million budget. Its members lodged, free, at the lavish Ritz-Carlton hotel and spa. It was too cozy with the government to call the repression systematic, the critics said, or to deliver the finding that bureaucratic reform matters little in an apartheidlike system.

“It’s going to be a committee delegating to a committee that will delegate to a subcommittee, and it worries me that it could take many, many years for anything to happen,” said Mansour al-Jamri, editor of the newspaper Al Wasat and a government critic. Mr. Jamri was forced to quit his job in April under government pressure, only to be allowed back when the newspaper was given a reprieve in May.

At the headquarters of Wefaq, Mr. Mosawi and another former lawmaker, Jasim Husain Ali, speculated that the report might offer promises of jobs and housing, better salaries, a streamlined security apparatus and perhaps more aid from Saudi Arabia, opposed as it is to democratic reform in the gulf. But the opposition would reject a report that amounted to a partial truth in its eyes. It would be unappeased.

“A golden opportunity,” Mr. Ali called the commission’s work. But, he added, “by and large, many people are preparing themselves to be disappointed.”

Reconstructing the Truth

Mr. Bassiouni, a war crimes expert, in a career spanning decades, has worked in some of the world’s most dysfunctional places — Libya, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. But neither he nor his staff has faced a challenge like Bahrain.

“There is no neutral account,” said Mohamed Helal, the commission’s legal officer and a protégé of Mr. Bassiouni. “The community is almost living in parallel universes.” In investigating one episode, Mr. Helal said he found on the same day, at the same moment, “there was not one moment of overlap.”

“How can you reconstruct the truth when there’s no overlap?” he asked.

Mr. Bassiouni added, “We’re out on that limb all by ourselves.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Egyptians Protest Unchecked Military Power

Violent Protests in Egypt Pit Thousands Against Police

By David D. Kirkpatrick and Liam Stack
The New York Times
November 19, 2011

CAIRO — A police action to roust a few hundred protesters out of Tahrir Square on Saturday instead drew thousands of people from across Egyptian society into the streets, where they battled riot police officers for hours in the most violent manifestation yet of growing anger at the military-led interim government.

Black smoke from a burning police truck mixed with tear gas in Cairo's Tahrir Square as thousands of demonstrators rallied Saturday against Egypt's military-led interim government. More Photos »

In a battle reminiscent of the clashes that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak nine months ago, a mass of protesters converged on Tahrir Square, fled before an onslaught of riot police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and then surged back to retake and hold the square through the early hours of Sunday.

State media reported that more than 650 people had been injured, including 40 riot police officers, and at least one civilian was killed.

Coming a day after a huge Islamist demonstration and just more than a week before the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, the outpouring of anger was the strongest rebuke yet with the military’s attempts to grant itself permanent governmental powers. And it was a reuniting of Islamist and liberal protest movements that had drifted apart since the early days of the uprising.

This time, instead of chanting for the fall of Mr. Mubarak, the demonstrators were chanting for the fall of the ruling military council that initially presented itself as the revolution’s savior.

“The generals said to us, ‘We are your partners,’ and we believed them,” said Tarek Saaed, 55, a construction safety supervisor who used a cane to walk among the boisterous crowds in the square. “Then the next day we find out they are partners with Mubarak,” he added, calling the day a turning point for Egypt.

The crowd only grew as state news media reported that the military said it would step back from a blueprint it had laid out this month for a lasting political role under the new constitution. Many of the protesters, and some outside observers, argued that the confrontation marked a significant setback to the military.

“The military council now feels that the political street will not accept that the military is going to hold the power for a long time,” argued Mahmoud Shokry, a former Egyptian ambassador and veteran political insider. “I think the military is going to reconsider the situation once more.”

After pledging to turn over power to civilians by September, the military has postponed the handover until after the ratification of a constitution and election of a president, sometime in 2013 or later. Then this month the military-led government put in writing a set of ground rules for a next constitution that would have given the military authority to intervene in civilian politics while protecting it from civilian oversight — setting off a firestorm.

“An extremely big mistake,” Mr. Shokry said.

Opposition to those guidelines brought the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group, back to the streets in force Friday as part of a rally tens of thousands of Islamists and a smaller contingent of liberals calling for an end to military rule.

In response, the military-led interim government announced Saturday morning that its constitutional guidelines would no longer be binding, only advisory. The government also revised the rules to say that the only role of the armed forces was protecting the country and “preserving its unity,” rather than the broader writ to guard Egypt’s “constitutional legitimacy.” Many, especially Islamists, believed the phrase had granted the authority to intervene at will in the civilian government.

In another bid to placate the protesters, the revisions also explicitly place the military under civilian government. “Like other state institutions,” the new text declares, the military should “abide by the constitutional and legislative regulations.”

“The president of the republic is the supreme commander of the armed forces and the minister of defense is the general commander of the armed forces,” the revised declaration said.

Still though, the military has not agreed to cede power once a Parliament is elected, or while the constitution is being drafted. Nor has it backed away from its right to set other nominating procedures for the constitutional drafting committee or to impose other rules on the final text.

Later Saturday morning, riot police officers moved into the square to eject a relative handful of protesters who had camped there overnight, including some relatives of those injured in the uprising against Mr. Mubarak and demanding compensation.

News reports of brutality by the riot police, however, brought out hundreds and then thousands of others vowing to defend Tahrir Square, the iconic center of Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring. “The people want to bring down the field marshal,” they chanted. “Down with military rule!”

Unlike at many of the street protests here, young women in Western as well as Islamic dress and older people joined the throngs of young men, just as they did during the uprising. “We saw that people were being attacked and we came down to help,” said Huda Ouda, a 30-year-old secretary, pulling her red veil across her face as mask against tear gas. “We are completely against the military ruling this country,” she added, accusing the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of “playing a dirty game” by promoting chaos to create a pretext for holding power.

Ahmed Tamer, 37, from the neighborhood of Shubra, said: “The army still has us by the neck and they don’t want to let go.”

Protesters invading the square threw rocks at police vehicles, and by midday had captured a police truck. Rioters danced on the roof and passed out handcuffs, shields and other gear.

Others smashed the sidewalk into rocks to hurl at the police, or threw Molotov cocktails. Vehicles were set ablaze, fires were lit on the sidewalks, and late at night a bank caught fire. Plumes of black smoke from a burning police truck wafted through the white clouds of tear gas that floated along the Nile.

Retreating riot police officers fired nonlethal weapons from their trucks to try to push back the crowd. Clashes broke out throughout downtown Cairo and lasted for hours. An especially pitched battle lasted until well after midnight on the street leading from Tahrir Square to the Interior Ministry, and it was there that a police vehicle charged through the tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

Around 6 p.m., the police appeared to have retaken the square. But as the battle continued, the Muslim Brotherhood called on its members to return to the square, as did the liberal April 6 Movement. An organized group of hard-core soccer fans — experienced veterans of clashes with police, and since the revolution a regular element of street protests here — joined as well, and by about 7 p.m. the police had retreated again from the square as battles continued for several hours on the side streets.

Many worried that the strife was a ploy to disrupt the elections, now scheduled to begin Nov. 28. “This is exactly what the army wants,” said Mohamed Suleiman, 22, emerging from a government building to find chaos. “It is all a plan. I am afraid they will see this now and say the elections are impossible.”

The military’s plans for the constitution have been a major subject of debate on television talk shows here since the guidelines first emerged. Many protesters appeared well versed in the principles at stake. And their anger was undiminished by signs Saturday morning that the military-led government was beginning to offer concessions.

“It was our mistake to leave the square and allow the military to take over in the first place,” said Moktar Hussein, a 57-year-old radiologist and supporter of the new Social Democratic Party who was mingling in the liberated square after dark.

Naglia Nassar, a lawyer standing nearby, said she had been reluctantly willing to tolerate the military’s constitutional guidelines before she saw the rough treatment of the protesters and decided to come to the square. “If that is the way they are going to run us,” she said, “they have to be held accountable.”

Mayy el Sheikh, Dina Amer and Amina Ismail contributed reporting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

US Lobbyists, $10 million and Qaddafi

Group in U.S. Hoped for Big Payday in Offer to Help Qaddafi

By Scott Shane and Penn Bullock
The New York Times
November 17, 2011

WASHINGTON — To a colorful group of Americans — the Washington terrorism expert, the veteran C.I.A. officer, the Republican operative, the Kansas City lawyer — the Libyan gambit last March looked like a rare business opportunity.

The offer, which came to naught, was dated April 17, just a week after Colonel Qaddafi rallied supporters in Tripoli.

Even as NATO bombed Libya, the Americans offered to make Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi their client — and charge him a hefty consulting fee. Their price: a $10 million retainer before beginning negotiations with Colonel Qaddafi’s representatives.

“The fees and payments set forth in this contract are MINIMUM NON-REFUNDABLE FEES,” said the draft contract, with capital letters for emphasis. “The fees are an inducement for the ATTORNEYS AND ADVISORS to take the case and nothing else.”

Neil C. Livingstone, 65, the terrorism specialist and consultant, said he helped put together the deal after hearing that one of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, was interested in an exit strategy for the family. But he and his partners were not going to work for free, Mr. Livingstone said.

“We were not an eleemosynary organization,” he said.

Mr. Livingstone, a television commentator and prolific author who moved home to Montana this year to try a run for governor, said he had long been a vocal critic of Colonel Qaddafi and was briefly jailed by his government on a visit to Libya in the 1970s. The goal of the consulting deal, he insisted, was not to save Colonel Qaddafi but to prevent a bloodbath in Libya by creating a quick way out for the ruler and his family.

“The idea was to find them an Arabic-speaking sanctuary and let them keep some money, in return for getting out,” he said. The consultants promised to help free billions of dollars in blocked Libyan assets by steering the government into compliance with United Nations resolutions.

But the Americans did not get the Treasury Department license they needed to accept payment from Libya, which was then subject to sanctions. Colonel Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli in August by rebel forces backed by NATO airstrikes, and was captured and killed Oct. 20.

Now the confidential documents describing the proposed deal have surfaced on the Internet, offering a glimpse of how some saw lucrative possibilities in the power struggle that would end Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic reign. A Facebook page called WikiLeaks Libya has made public scores of documents apparently found in Libyan government offices after the Qaddafi government fell.

The papers contained a shock for the Americans: a three-page letter addressed to Colonel Qaddafi on April 17 by another partner in the proposed deal, a Belgian named Dirk Borgers. Rather than suggesting a way out of power, Mr. Borgers offered the Libyan dictator the lobbying services of what he called the “American Action Group” to outmaneuver the rebels and win United States government support.

Noting that the rebels’ Transitional National Council was gaining control of Libyan assets abroad, and attaching a registration form showing that the rebels had engaged their own lobbyists, Mr. Borgers said it was time for Colonel Qaddafi to fight back with his own Washington representatives.

“Our group of Libyan sympathizers is extremely worried about this and we would like to help to block the actions of your international enemies and to support a normal working relationship with the United States Government,” the letter said. “Therefore it is absolutely required to speak officially and with one strong voice with the American Government.”

Mr. Borgers ended the letter with the words “Your Obedient Servants,” signing his own name and adding those of the four Americans.

The letter is especially awkward for Mr. Livingstone — described by Mr. Borgers in the proposal as the “recognized best American anti-terrorism expert” — who closed his Washington consulting firm in April to plan his campaign for governor.

But Mr. Livingstone said that he had never seen the letter before this week and that it distorted his intentions. “That doesn’t reflect our view at all,” Mr. Livingstone said. “Our whole goal was to get the Qaddafis out of there as fast as possible.”

Another member of the proposed American team, Marty Martin, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who led the agency’s Qaeda department from 2002 to 2004, said he, too, was chagrined to see Mr. Borgers’s letter this week.

“We were not there to be lobbyists for Qaddafi,” said Mr. Martin, who retired from the C.I.A. in 2007. “I was not told anything about that letter.”

The other American partners were Neil S. Alpert, who had worked for the Republican National Committee and the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Randell K. Wood, a Kansas City, Mo., lawyer who has represented Libyan officials and organizations since the 1980s. (Neither Mr. Alpert nor Mr. Wood responded to requests for comment.)

Mr. Borgers, reached at his home in Belgium, dismissed his former partners’ complaints about his letter to Colonel Qaddafi — though he said he “might not” have shared its text with them.

“Let’s not argue about semantics,” he said. He was in Tripoli at the time, he said, watching the chaos and violence escalate, and he thought Colonel Qaddafi should remain in power at least until an election could be held.

Mr. Borgers said he, too, wanted to “stop the butchering,” but he offered a positive spin on Colonel Qaddafi’s record.

“I don’t think he was that brutal a dictator,” Mr. Borgers said. “He created a country out of nothing over 42 years. He created a very good lifestyle for the people.”

Of the $10 million fee the group sought, Mr. Borgers said, “The aim was not to make money.” On the other hand, he added, “If you want to put up a serious operation in Washington, I think you need at least $10 million.”

Mr. Borgers, who said he was a project engineer who had worked on infrastructure projects in many countries, was told by Libyan officials a week after sending his letter to Colonel Qaddafi that the proposal had been rejected. He said he had no idea if the leader saw it.

The documents on the aborted deal are not the first with an American angle to surface in post-Qaddafi Libya. In September, journalists and human rights advocates made public correspondence between Libyan intelligence and the C.I.A., including discussion of the rendition of terrorist suspects to Libya.

Seven months after the $10 million deal that was not to be, Colonel Qaddafi is dead. His son Seif is believed to be in hiding, possibly in Mali or Niger. Mr. Livingstone is focused on the problems of Montana, not Libya. Mr. Borgers, 68, said he was “trying to retire,” though he said he just might entertain international business opportunities if they arose.

But the wheels of the Washington bureaucracy grind slowly. A Treasury Department spokeswoman, who would speak of confidential licensing matters only on the condition of anonymity, said the group’s application to accept millions from the vanquished Qaddafi government “is still pending.”

Scott Shane reported from Washington, and Penn Bullock from New York. Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Questions about Deadly Blast in Iran

So, it seems that when Israelis commit deadly atrocities in other countries these illegal acts are accepted as a kind of "covert" or "shadow war." However when Iranians even think about striking back against their aggressors the Islamic Republic is accused of "terrorism." Hmm. And which side is the West trying to deny nuclear capability?

Iranian Missile Architect Dies in Blast. But was Explosion a Mossad Mission?

By Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
The Guardian
Monday, 14 November 2011

The blast at the Alghadir missile base at Bid Ganeh was so powerful it rattled windows 30 miles away in Tehran. Witnesses said it sounded like a huge bomb had been dropped. Seventeen of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were killed, among them a man described his peers as the "architect" of the country's missile programme, Major General Hassan Moghaddam.

The dead were buried with full state honours yesterday, and in a reflection of the extent of Iran's loss, the funeral was attended by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The official account insisted the blast was an accident, but a source with close links to Iran's clerical regime blamed it on an operation by the Mossad, bolstering other reports of involvement by Israel's intelligence and special operations organisation that were attributed to western intelligence services.

If true, the blast would mark a dramatic escalation in a shadow war over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Moghaddam was an engineer by profession, reported to have been trained in ballistic science by China and North Korea. Mostafa Izadi, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, and a close friend, said in his obituary: "Since 1984 he pioneered the IRGC's ground to ground missile system ... the work which has so frightened the world's imperialist powers and the Zionist regime today."

At yesterday's funeral, Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the IRGC, echoed those sentiments in his eulogy. He declared: "Martyr Moghaddam was the main architect of the Revolutionary Guards' cannon and missile power and the founder of the deterrent power of our country."

Moghaddam's violent death, coming in the wake of a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran and rising tensions over Iran's nuclear and missile programmes, raised questions about whether the explosion was deliberate sabotage and the latest, bloodiest blow in a covert war.

Iran had blamed the killings of three scientists in the past two years on Israel, but on this occasion, the IRGC public relations department was quick to rule out sabotage while at the same time saying that the investigation into the incident had not been completed.

Speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, however, a former director of an Iranian state-run organisation with close links to the regime, said: "I believe that Saturday's explosion was part of the covert war against Iran, led by Israel."

The former official compared Saturday's incident to a similar blast in October 2010 at an IRGC missile base near the city of Khorramabad. "I have information that both these incidents were the work of sabotage by agents of Israel, aimed at halting Iran's missile programme," he said.

The bases in both cases housed Iran's Shahab-3 missiles, based on a North Korean design. An upgraded variant was said to have a range of 1,200 miles, which would allow it to reach Israel. A report last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors had found evidence that Iran had carried out research and tests on making a nuclear warhead small enough to put on the top of a Shahab-3. The report found there was more solid evidence for such research up to 2003 than in later years, but said there were signs that research, including computer modelling, was continuing.

The official account of Saturday's blast said it had taken place in an arms depot when munitions were being moved. Other reports said a Shahab-3 detonated while Moghaddam was overseeing its redeployment. Witnesses spoke of hearing one giant blast rather than a series of detonations which might be expected from a blaze in a munitions store.

Time magazine also cited a "western intelligence source" as saying the Mossad was behind the blast and that many more would follow. "There are more bullets in the magazine," the source said.

Western officials would not comment on the claims, but would not rule out Israeli involvement.

If it was an act of sabotage, blowing up one of Iran's most prized weapons as the godfather of the missile programme was within range was a remarkable coup. It would also mark a serious escalation in a covert war being fought by both sides.

In addition to the killings of three Iranian scientists, a team on motorcycles tried in November 2010 to assassinate a senior official in the nuclear programme, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the target of UN sanctions for his suspected role in a nuclear weapons programme. He survived when a bomb was stuck to the side of his car in Tehran traffic. Three months later he was promoted to overall control of the nuclear programme.

Western intelligence agencies are believed to have tried to slow down Iran's nuclear programme by supplying defective parts for centrifuges used for enriching uranium, while Israel and the US were reported to have been behind a computer worm called Stuxnet, which infected the operating systems at Iran's uranium enrichment plant in Natanz last year and contributed to its temporary shutdown in November 2010.

Such efforts may have slowed down Iran's progress but this month's IAEA report showed they have failed to stop it, as Iran has steadily built up its stockpile of low enriched uranium. That can be used for reactor fuel, or – if further enriched – the fissile core of a weapon.

Michael Elleman, an expert on Iran's ballistic missile programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said he doubted that Moghaddam's death, accidental or otherwise, would have a decisive impact. "Given the sophisticated and disciplined engineering management structure applied to Iran's missile efforts, the loss of any one person should result in minimal damage to the overall programme," he said.

Elleman thought that sanctions had probably been more effective in slowing the Iranian down. If so, and if Saturday's blast does indeed prove to have been deliberately engineered, it could prove a costly miscalculation. US officials believe a plot uncovered in October to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington by blowing up a popular restaurant in Washington was the work of the IGRC, possibly in retaliation for the assassinations of the Iranian scientists. If so, more reprisals could be in the pipeline.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

English Translation of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Speech 11 November 2011

In His Name

The speech delivered by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on the occasion of the Martyr's Day held by Hezbollah at Sayyed Ashuhada (pbuh) Compound in Rweiss on 11/11/2011.

In the Name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, The Lord of the World. Peace be on our Master and Prophet – The Seal of Prophets – Mohammad and on his Chaste Household, chosen companions and all prophets and messengers. Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessing.

First we salute the chaste and fragranced souls of the martyrs and offer them the reward of reciting Al Fatiha Surah.

On this very day every year we meet under the banner and title of martyrs. It's the day which Hezbollah chose from the beginning as the day of Hezbollah martyr. It goes without saying that every faction from the resistance factions, every movement from the resistance movements and every people from the resistance peoples in the region have their martyrs who belong to their special framework and have the right to mark their day. In fact, marking the Martyr's Day is a kind of compensation for not holding an annual anniversary for every martyr at a time, as traditions go at times. We hope a day will come in which the Lebanese state endorses a Day for the Martyr of the Nation – a day for all martyrs from the various resistance movements and factions, the Army, the security forces, the political forces as well as the martyrs from among the Lebanese people so that it be a comprehensive national holiday.

First and before talking about the martyrs of Hezbollah, I must bend in a show of respect and esteem to all our brethren martyrs in the other resistance movements and factions whom we respect their efforts, offerings and true participation in liberating Lebanon, in defending Lebanon and in achieving all the targets which were achieved so far.

As usual, first I would like to say that I will have a word about martyrs on the Martyr's Day and about the resistance. This is the first topic. I have a word about the local internal Lebanese situation and I have a word on the regional situation.

On the Martyr's Day, it goes without saying that we salute all Hezbollah martyrs who comprise leaders including the Secretary General Sayyed Abbass, Sheikh Raghab and Leader Martyr Hajj Imad, and an assembly of cadres and leaderships of the Islamic Resistance, the great self-martyrs whom self-martyr Ahmad Qasir commenced their era and track and all the martyr fighters including resistance men, men, women, children, infants and elderly. We salute this great assembly which exceeded thousands of martyrs from a group who believed in this track, was a part of its country and people, was a part of its nation, shouldered the concerns of its nation, chose the righteous way and offered in this path in which they believed and for the cause they believed in this great generous honorable assembly of martyrs.

Indeed electing this day – November 11 – of every year is for the well known occasion of the operation staged by self-martyr Ahmad Qasir in Tyr which targeted the headquarters of the Israeli military ruler. This operation is still for this very day extraordinary as compared to all other operations held by the resistance. It is still till this very day also the greatest, hugest and most important operation in the history of the Arab-Israeli struggle pursuant to the magnitude of losses which were afflicted on the enemy on the hand of one martyr and in one moment. The enemy acknowledged the fall of more than 120, 130 or 140 casualties. Let's be precautious and say the enemy acknowledged the fall of more than 100 officers and soldiers. The officers included senior generals. The magnitude of casualties which afflicted the enemy besides the moral and psychological losses and the moral, psychological and political repercussions on the front of the enemy and on the national front were very great. This operation was as well an early announcement of the defeat which was awaiting the enemy. I am one of the people who never forget Sharon's wretched, depressed face as he stood on the ruins of the Israeli military ruler headquarters in Tyr. This operation is also a founding operation in the history of the resistance. It is the first self-martyrdom operation of its kind in the history of the Arab-Israeli struggle: a self-martyr breaks in his booby-trapped-car into the military headquarters and detonates himself inside the headquarters. This happens for the first time. Thus we call martyr Ahmad the commencer of the era of self-martyrs. Thus also he fairly deserves the title of the Prince of Self-martyrs. That's because the prince is not the one who sits in the rear end. He is rather the one who heads the group of fighters and martyrs. Because he was in the vanguard and because he was the pioneer, he was the prince. Notice also the early timing of the operation. It comes very few months only following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the illusion some in Lebanon and the region nurtured that Lebanon absolutely ushered in the Israeli era and that we have to act accordingly. The operation of self-martyr Ahmad Qasir was to say: No, this is another era and another time. It is the time of the resistance, self-martyrs and upcoming victories.

Brothers and sisters! This year our brethrens chose "The Day of Life" as a title for the Martyr's Day. This title is absolutely true. It is even among the truest names. That is first because the martyrs are alive. The martyrs are alive. It's not I who say so. Allah Al Mighty who creates life and death says so: {Think not of those who are slain in ALLAH's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord}. So they live and find their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. Now they live and find their sustenance from all what they wish for. {They rejoice in the bounty provided by ALLAH: and with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them}. They are those who are still here and are still waiting and who still keep their oath. They are in the mind of every martyr who joined the highest status and who are holding good tidings of those who are carrying on the way. {And say not of those who are slain in the way of ALLAH: they are dead. Nay, they are living, though ye perceive it not.}

Second that's because they gave us life. What life they gave us? They gave us the honorable, revered life. That's because they offered our people and nation honor, sovereignty, esteem, security, liberty and a feeling of confidence and reassurance for the present and the future. This is the true life which every man looks forward to. This is the school of great Islam which gives us another concept about life and tells us the life is in your death while being victorious and death is in your life while being defeated. So following 1982, the Zionists occupied half of Lebanon and wanted to have hegemony on all of Lebanon. Their tanks, troop carriers and soldiers used to move at ease in the country. They used to move along the shore of Lebanon with utmost peace. Have the Lebanese agreed to live, eat and drink while their land was occupied, their dignities violated, their youths and women dragged with humiliation to prisons, their freedom confiscated, and their fate cast in the unknown – that means have they accepted to live a life of humiliation, disgrace and submission – would that be called life? Never! This is death in the shape of life. So those martyrs are the makers of life under the will of Allah Al Mighty. Allah Al Mighty puts natural reasons for the materialistic life and He puts reasons that lead to the moral, humanistic true life. Thus were jihad, martyrdom and the will of the steadfast and the firm resistance fighters the reasons leading to this life. These martyrs are the outcome of believing in Allah and the Hereafter. They are the outcome of knowledge. They are the people of knowledge – knowing the goal, knowing the righteous path that leads to the goal, knowing the enemy and the friend, knowing the priorities and knowing time and place. This is what we call insight. When man moves along while having insight, when man owns insight, this is insight. They are also the people of determination, will, firmness and courage. We all remember the first days of confronting the occupation. The whole world was on the side of Israel. Morals were down, and misery was prevailing. Frustration was dominating over minds and hearts. Still the resistance fighters stood in face of Israel. The Commander of Believers Imam Ali (Peace be upon him) says a word which is held in the soul of every member of this resistance. Imam Ali (Peace be upon him) says: By God, if I met them all by myself – I was alone – and they were as numerous to fill the entire world, I would never have cared or felt scared. This is the essence of resistance fighters in Lebanon. They never felt scared for the lack of supporters and backers. They never felt scared for the abundance of the enemy, the supporters and the backers of the enemy and the bargainers on the enemy. Everyone of them used to stand and tell the Zionists and the Americans and the multinational forces: By God, if I met you all by myself and you were as numerous to fill the entire world, I would never have cared or felt scared.

These are the people of determination and the people of love, passion and yearning. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) carries on saying: I long to meet my Lord and wait for His good rewards. These are the passionate lovers of Allah who yearn to meet Him. Thus they used to look and still eye the most distant among the enemy and not their foot steps. They look to the end of all ends. This concept also explains for us precisely the true reason for victory in July War. Neither the arms, the tactics, the plotting, the administration nor all the available means were to enable Lebanon and the resistance to gain victory was it not for those men who remained steadfast and never felt scared, weak, submitted or ran away. Thus they remain from this school of martyrs and this school of resistance. Today we live in peace in Lebanon. We feel at peace for the first time since the establishment of the usurping Israeli entity in 1948. Brothers and sisters! It is not easy to live in a country in the neighborhood of a ferocious, wild, covetous, devious monster. How can man feel reassured about his people and their blood, honor, dignity and future in the neighborhood of a racial aggressive entity of this kind? Today and for the first time, Lebanon and southern Lebanon in particular feel at ease and reassured, calm, secure and confident. Weeks ago I was reading a text for His Eminence Leader Sayyed Mussa Assader (May Allah return him and both his friends sound and safe) All his adorers are living now special emotional days while awaiting the outcome of the efforts to restore the Imam and both his friends to Lebanon Inshallah. The text was published lately. It was said during a private session in 1978 prior to the Israeli invasion of the south in 1978. During a private session with the brethren cadres in Amal Movement he was saying that he was feeling great pain and sorrow for what the south and the people of the south are suffering from. It's the south which has turned to a scapegoat. It's the south which is aggressed by Israel which demolishes its houses and towns in Kfar Shouba and other towns and which displaces its peoples whenever it wants. It's the south which does not feel at peace. It's the bleeding south. He was talking with a burning heart and saying unfortunately Lebanon is weak. The south is weak. Because Lebanon and the south and we are all weak in Lebanon, the enemy acts according to its will. It stages aggressions whenever it wants. He was talking with a burning heart. He used to say that many are unconcerned about what was taking place in the south and did not listen to all the calls and the cries which were made. As I was reading these words for Imam Sader, I directly told him in my mind: Your Eminence! When you return Inshallah, you will be proud of your children, dear ones, pupils and followers. You will be proud of all their friends and allies. You will be proud of the resistance which you set its foundations, called and offered sacrifices so that it be established on the land of Lebanon and on the land of southern Lebanon. This south is today secure, appeased, firm and steadfast. It is not a scapegoat anymore. It is rather forcefully present in the regional equation as well.

Today and hereof I usher to the political issue, as for any possibility of any new Israeli aggression, war or attack against Lebanon, and despite all what is said in some articles and analyses, I believe that all what is said comes in the framework of intimidation. We still rule out the Israeli enemy staging such an aggression against Lebanon apart from the events taking place in the region and the regional situation which I will refer to in a while. So if there is no scheme for a war on the level of the region, we rule out a scheme for an imminent war against Lebanon. The reason for such a ruling out is not Israeli generosity, American kindness or the kindhearted international community. It is rather for a very simple reason. It is that Lebanon is not weak anymore. Lebanon has become a strong country. Lebanon with its army, people and resistance has become able to defend itself and to inflict defeat on the aggressor also. Even more, Lebanon has become in the post in which it can turn the table on the aggressor and turn the threat to a true opportunity.

Indeed when this force retreats, becomes weak or retreats – God forbids – Israel might reconsider staging an aggression or a war against Lebanon or having control over Lebanon again. However as long as this belief, insight and will are valid and this golden trio is integrated, Israel will remain too weak to take a move and wage a war. Now if one day Israel would wage a war, it will be the war of no other choice. It will be the final adventure in the life of this entity. Indeed, here I would like to stress on the following: At the time in which on the level of reading and analyzing we rule out an Israeli war of such kind on Lebanon – apart from the situation in the region as I said – that did not lead us to be dormant. Never! I would like to stress that this resistance was never dormant. Since 1982 – the age of Ahmad Qasir – it never was dormant. In 2000, when the great victory took place in May 25th, it was not dormant. In May 26th, 2000, it did not become dormant. It rather remained vigilant and industrious. It worked to got prepared. That's because its people and country are in the neighborhood of such an enemy. In 2006 and precisely since August 15th 2006 till this very day, this resistance never was dormant. I quote also a word for the Prince of Believers (Peace be upon him) in which he says: The man who is in a state of war must be vigilant and sleepless. So even if some say Lebanon is in a truce which is not acknowledged by Israel. Thus there is war. Note that Israel did not reach pursuant to Resolution 1701 which is still called for up till now to a ceasefire. There is a cease of operations. The resistance in Lebanon is as such. It is vigilant and sleepless. He (Peace be upon him) carries on saying: Who falls asleep is not ignored. So even if some in Lebanon went to sleep, is the Israeli Army asleep? The Israelis since 2006 up till today are carrying on exercises, practicing, arming, manufacturing and maneuvering. On the other side, there is a sleepless enemy. So how are we to sleep? Imam Ali (pbuh) says: Who falls asleep is not ignored, who becomes weak is preyed and who abandons jihad becomes like the aggrieved despised man. I tell those who feel despair but are not desperate – meaning those who from inside become desperate but in their political speech they are not desperate: When you call on our people and our resistance to abandon their weapon, you are calling on us to be the humble aggrieved and the despised man who did not benefit from all the experiences he went through and handed in the dignity of his people and nation to the most horrible enemy ever known in history which is Israel. Thus we on the Martyr's Day call to adhering to the Resistance, the Army and the will of the people because they are the elements of power.

Hereof I usher to the local situation with quick topics. As for the government, it has proven so far that it is a government of diversity. It is a diversified government in which true and essential political forces are represented. It is a government which represents the popular and parliamentary majority. It is a government of discussion, dialogue and conversation. It is not the government of a mono-decision. It is not an authoritative government. It is a government whose members make discussions before taking decisions. They do not receive any sms from Feltman, the French Embassy, Denis Ross and Terry Rhode Larsen – that man whom we do not love and who is supervisor of Resolution 1559. So it does not receive any signs or indications from anyone. It is a true national government. This government is called upon today for more work and achievements, seriousness and following up of the various files. It is also invited against listening to all the uproar aroused here and there to divert the government to baseless illusionary causes.

The most important point is that the government gives the absolute importance to the living, social and economic interests of the people and their worries. There are important issues to be tackled by the government: decisively settling the minimum wages, salaries of the laborers, the public sector and the teachers, the issue of gas and fuel (This is an event of great importance as we approach the end of the year), the issue of power, water, health insurance, administrative appointments. There are very crucial files which do not need any funding. We give as an example administrative appointments that make administrations complete and able to take action and make achievements. That does not need funding, budgets and additional taxes. This is a true defect in the country. Completing the administrations spares the citizens much effort and difficulties. As an example, we mention making haste in forming Hermel Province, Akkar Province as well as the provinces which do not fulfill their obligations towards their residences because of the great administrative vacancy. There are tens of thousands of wanted pursuant to warrantees for tens of years. At times, warrants are issued for trivial causes. This issue might be discussed because then it lessens the burden on the security forces. Well for example security forces officials say there are 30 or 40 thousand arrest warrants in one province only. Now after scrutiny, it becomes clear that the reasons of most of the arrest warrants are trivial and might be tolerated. Addressing this issue whether by the government or the parliament helps is solving this problem.

There is a kind of humanistic causes which must be approached in a humanistic way. A step was taken days ago in the Parliament pertaining to the file which every one calls as it appeals to him and we call the file of those who fled to Israel. There have been several interpretations. We were among those who backed the suggestion presented in the Parliament, and we were at harmony with ourselves because this concept was mentioned in the Agreement inked between us and the Free National Party in 2006 and we live up to our promises. Indeed the government is concerned in making haste in issuing the decrees and addressing this issue within the limits voted on in the parliament. The background of addressing this file is humanistic. However allow me to remind you. Some say why you always remind us. That's because some people said these people ran away because massacres were perpetrated or they were afraid of massacres being perpetrated back in 2000. Indeed then some people were spellbound. They did not know what to do because their bargains were lost with the withdrawal in May 25th, 2000. Some were not given birth yet or were still infants. So they need to be reminded that in May 25th, 2000 no one was killed. The liberation was made and no one was killed whether from Antoine Lahd group or from among the civilians; rather martyrs from the resistance fell. Still no one was killed. No massacre was perpetrated. No house or warship place was demolished. No one's dignity was violated. The collaborators who were arrested were directly handed to the Lebanese Justice which we know how it dealt with them. I also believe that those who fled to Israel – indeed it was their right to flee because the circumstances which prevailed then helped in taking this decision. I also add that some know what they have committed. So it was natural that they flee. However, after they witnessed the civilized, moral, humanistic scene of how the resistance with all its factions and the people of the south whose children were killed and honor was aggressed in Khiam Detention Center dealt with the collaborators and their families and later on how the Lebanese Justice dealt with them, I believe that many of them felt remorse for fleeing. However, it was over. They already took the wrong choice. Anyway, I only want to remind some of those "heroes" that no massacres or killings or aggressions were perpetrated. Let them go back to history for it seems that they have already forgotten what took place 11 years ago and are changing history. In fact, they daily change history and distort facts. So it is indispensable of reminding them of that.

So the government is concerned in carrying on its efforts and we will support and back it as this government is diversified and national.

As for the security situation, we call on everyone to preserve national security because this is an essential condition for everything. It is the condition for political and economic security, calmness, health… In this framework, I also call on some political sides and media outlets against exaggerating the individual incidents that take place here as they take place in any place around the world. I also call on them to make sure of the data and information before issuing statements which later on it would be proven that they are based on baseless information.

In this framework also we call for keeping the Lebanese Army Institution aside. Indeed we stress on keeping all the security forces aside as possible but I stress on the priority of keeping the Lebanese Army Institution aside as it is a guarantying institution for sovereignty, national unity and security. All the tough and painful experiences which Lebanon and the Lebanese people have passed through have proven that after the collapse of everything, the disintegration of everything and the loss of everything, this institution would always be the saving rod. There is no problem in arguing in politics. There is no problem in arguing with us, with the government, with the state and with the parliament. However, let's keep the Army Institution aside. Let's keep it aside and guard it and its national post and image because as such we will be acting with a national background.

I have one more word as far as the internal situation is concerned. It is funding the STL. Indeed we said this issue will be discussed in the government but what happened calls on us to have a short pose. It is what happened with the UNESCO. It is beneficiary that the Lebanese, the Arab and international public opinion pay attention to this point. The UNESCO is an organization which is concerned in the educational affairs. This organization acknowledged the state of Palestine as it happened that the right to veto was invalid. So it acknowledged the state of Palestine. However, which state of Palestine it acknowledged? It's not the state of Palestine from the sea to the river; however, a part of Palestine which is within the borders of 1967. This is what it acknowledged. It is also not known whether Palestine within the borders of 1967 on which later the state of Palestine will be negotiated or is being negotiated now. Well the USA got angry because this educational international organization gave the Palestinian people some of their rights and not all of their rights. Thus it condemned the stance taken by the UNESCO and consequently it condemned all those who voted for the interest of the state of Palestine. Then it took a measure and stopped funding without prior notice. Now the UNESCO announced that it will freeze all its programs till the end of 2011.

Here I would like to point out that the UNESCO is an organization which is internationally acknowledged. It is an international organization which wasn't acknowledged under "Bosh-Chirac". It was not formed via legal or constitutional smuggling as is the case of the STL. On the other hand, its work carries on or stops according to its funding. It was established pursuant to a rightful, fair and just resolution and it must carry its mission. The US government took this decision. Wasn't funding the UNESCO a commitment made by the US administration? Isn't this among its international commitments? Why the US administration has the right and why is it allowed to get disengaged from its international commitments and Lebanon does not have the right to do so that is if there is a commitment in fact? Some people were cautious and said that this affects the STL. They made statements that bear several meanings. However, most of March 14 Bloc members did not comment on that. America has the right not only to stop funding the UNESCO but also to destroy and ruin the UNESCO because it stood by the people of Palestine. However Lebanon does not have the right to do so. Even more if it stopped funding the unconstitutional illegal tribunal which we all by now know its biography, conduct and goals and there is no need to reiterate them, Jeffrey Feltman – see the insolence – and following the US decision to stop funding the UNESCO threatens Lebanon by sanctions. This unmasks the US administration and exposes the US allies in the world and the US allies in Lebanon.

In all cases, before this scandal, PM Fouad Saniora provided a way out to the Americans and to preserve the UNESCO. This is according to the media. So I will read what was written: PM Saniora submitted the way out that protects the UNESCO from US sanctions. PM Saniora called on the Arab League and Arab kings and presidents and the friendly Islamic and western nations to take the initiative to collect and pay the amounts the US and Israel were to pay. According to Saniora, in this move it would be simple to frustrate the Israeli blackmail and the US pressure and intimidation of hegemony. Now apart from condemning America, imposing sanctions on it, boycotting it or raising a finger in its face – as that has to do with people and their minds, bravery, united norms or double standards – I want to go for this way out. PM Saniora presented a nice way out. Let it be adopted with the government of PM Mikati. Let PM Mikati and his government alone. Go for the Arab League (This case does not even need that.) The Arab kings and presidents and the Islamic states and the western states are concerned about funding the STL with 50 or 60 million dollars. There is an Arab prince who can do without some parties in London or Paris and pay this amount to the STL so that the country will be spared this dilemma. The battle has been taking place for one month or two or three. Accusations are made against PM Mikati. Well the man is convinced in what he says. They are accusing the government of great massacres saying the Lebanese economy will be destroyed and Lebanon will be isolated internationally. If you love Lebanon and care for Lebanon and want its salvation and security whereas we are that much stubborn while you are open-minded and advocate dialogue, well this is a way out. Accept for the STL what you accept for the UNESCO, though the UNESCO was fair with a people while the STL is aggressing against another. Still this is a way out which you can adopt. So trust in God and go for it and let PM Mikati sleep soundly.

Today the First or the second chamber in the STL are meeting and discussing trial in abstentia. I will not comment on that because we started acting with this tribunal as if it does not exist. We will not waste your time.

I will usher via the last point pertaining to the local situation into the regional situation. It is an advice to all the political forces in Lebanon. Let's take care of our country and address its crises and files in the government, in the Parliament and on the dialogue table. In whatever position you are, let's give Lebanon the priority and leave bargaining on what's abroad and on the regional developments. That's because some in Lebanon bargain on the regional developments. In one of my previous speeches, I talked about five bargains made in five years and I will not reiterate. So don't bother yourself again. I tell those who pull off dealing with files, making their choices or building hopes and illusions on one thing which is the collapse of the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria: Put this bargain aside. I also tell them this bargain will flop as all the previous bargains collapsed. So do not waste your time. Go again for thinking of Lebanon and the nation. It is strange that some people raise the slogan of "Lebanon first" except in bargains where Lebanon comes last. Bargain on Lebanon first, on the Lebanese first, on the capacities of Lebanon first, on the minds, will, dialogue and cooperation of the Lebanese. I have this advice as far as the local situation is concerned.

As for the regional situation, there is not enough time to tackle the regional situation and the Arab situation as a whole. However what was most important in the past few days is the development pertaining to Iran and Syria, the Israeli, US and western threats and reopening the Iranian nuclear file.

We have witnessed in the past few days an escalation in threats which took place suddenly and without prior notice. The possibility of the Israeli enemy striking Iranian nuclear edifices was forcefully put forth. The snowball was rolling politically and in the media. Statements were made. Threats escalated as well as stances. Indeed the leadership in the Islamic Republic in Iran responded in a decisive and final way. The clearest and highest ceiling was what His Eminence Sayyed Khamenai (May Allah prolong his lifespan) said yesterday. In fact what he said was the essential fact and reality. Iran is strong in its army, guards, mobilization, people, unity, belief and determination. Iran will never be frightened by intimidations and fleets. The US fleets and armies occupied the entire area in the neighborhood of Iran. US troops are present today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, the Gulf, the Gulf States and the Gulf waters. Still Iran did not feel weak. Its determination did not wane. It did not submit to any conditions. It was never dragged to direct negotiations with the Americans. So neither intimidations nor fleets could touch on the determination, will and the decision of the leadership and the people of Iran. This is final.

Let's talk about this event for a while. Is it possible that things move in that direction? How might we understand what is taking place? If we go a bit to the backgrounds, here I would like to talk about Iran and Syria together. We must never forget first that from today to the end of the year, there is a US pullout from Iraq and a great defeat to the US project.

In 2000, some people showed out to say that the resistance in Lebanon did not gain victory. It's only that Israel pulled out. This is an agreement made under the table. This is all baseless. Some people will show out now and say that America took the decision to withdraw. America came and bore this enormous magnitude of humanistic, financial and economic casualties, this great collapse in its economy and treasure. Is it possible to say that it simply wants to get out of Iraq? The answer is indeed no. America which will pull out of Iraq and America which is defeated in Iraq must do something. First how do countries usually withdraw? Some withdraw under true fire. However, America is not able to pull out under military fire. Thus it wants to make smoke, dust and a fog so that it pulls out under political and media fire. This is called practicing intimidation against the region, a war against the region and an aggression on Iran and Syria so that the attention of the whole world and the whole region and its peoples be focused on this kind of expectations and events. Thus the news of the US withdrawal and the US defeat in Iraq be an ordinary piece of news if not ignored. So it will not be anymore in the headlines. Here the responsibility of all the political leaderships and the media outlets is to focus on this withdrawal and this defeat because it has strategic and historic repercussions and results on all the levels whether moral, psychological, political and military in our region and the future of our region.

Second, it is normal that the US administration at this timing punish the states that had their influence on inflicting defeat on it and on its project on Iraq. Everyone agrees that the two states which stood on face of the US occupation of Iraq, showed their opposition and supported the people of Iraq, the resistance in Iraq and the steadfastness of the Iraqi people and did not give in to the conditions of Colin Powell or those who succeeded him are Iran and Syria. At the moment of US defeat, distress and frustration, America wants to tell Iran and Syria not to cheer up with their achievement. You will remain under the pressure of intimidation, the sword and the rod will always be raised in your face. It is normal that America acts as such. Imagine that the US will pull out of Iraq and acknowledge its defeat – though the Republicans in America said it is a great defeat – and then allow Iran, Syria, the peoples of the region and all those who backed the Iraqi people and the Iraqi resistance to celebrate this historic victory!

The third point which we must take into consideration is the changes that took place in our region. Indeed, there is a difference among the elites, the analysts and the readers of events on understanding and reading the events which are taking place in our region. However apart from all of these readings, there is a certain fate. No doubt the collapse of the regime of Zein Al Aabideen Bin Ali is a loss for the US project and the US-western presence in our region. The collapse of the Ghaddafi regime is a loss for it. The collapse of the regime of Husni Mubarak is the greatest loss for America and Israel. So there are changes taking place in the region which are not to the interest of America or Israel. However later on, will the US be able to restore these regimes to its interest this is another point of discussion. However, as far as the track of the great changes in the region are concerned, it is clear that the axis of resistance, opposition and refusal of Israel and the projects of hegemony is growing and gaining more power. This will allow Iran and Syria to gain new allies, advocates and members in this axis. That might mean more power, presence and efficiency. So to make up for the US loss in Tunisia, Libya and especially Egypt, they want to move Syria and Iran to a defensive post so that they get engaged in themselves and their situations, security and economy.

The fourth and last point is that the US wants to make Iran and Syria submit. It also wants to drag Iran to direct negotiations with the USA. As for collective negotiations, Iran never refused that with the USA. However Iran used to and still refuses bilateral negotiations with the USA. It is demanded that they submit and that Iran be dragged to the table of negotiations. It is demanded that Syria submits so that it accepts what it did not accept in the past. This is the true reason. This is the true background in addition to that the facts which have to do at the mean time with the financial and economic situation in Europe. Italy is following Greece; Portugal is following Italy and the nations are following each other. The head of the International Monetary Fund clearly said yesterday that the international economy is at stake. The financial and economic situation in America is catastrophic and very critical. Imagine that one of the Republican candidates for the US presidential elections – who is supposed to search for popular mottoes or to talk about the Zionist Jewish Lobby and to support it – said that his agenda is to halt all foreign US aids including the aids to Israel. This is an indication of the critical financial and economic situation in the USA. This is on one side. On the other side, Iran is strong, firm, capable and united. It has an unmatched leader. Iran will bring double retaliation on whoever dares to wage a war on it. Today the US Defense Minister treaded on the brakes and moved backwards. He started talking rationally saying that this situation will lead to tension in the region and that our troops and bases are in the Gulf and we do not know where the region is dragged. So they have to understand – and they understand very well – that a war on Iran and a war on Syria will not be limited to Iran or Syria. They will rather spread all over the region. These are rational and real considerations. So we will not threat and let no one threat. Let's put threats aside. Let no one take any position in advance. However this is the truth. This is the status quo. Today more than in any time in the past, the Arab and Islamic states and governments are concerned in taking a decision. See the vainglory and the impudence! Israel which owns military nuclear heads is calling on the world to pressure Iran and it is threatening Iran by striking its peaceful nuclear edifices! What is the reason for this impudence and hegemony? It at times springs from feeling that the other is weak, feeble and disintegrated. Here we tell them: This bargain on weakness and feebleness is a losing bargain. The time of weakness, feebleness and retreat before the Israeli enemy and the US enemy is over. This is the time of belief, knowledge, love, determination and will.

Today on the Martyr's Day, we stress that since the day of the commencer of the era of self-martyrs – Martyr Ahmad Qasir – since the operation which blackened the faces of the Zionists in Tyr till today and the future, we have ushered into the era of victories and the time of defeat is over. We only have to guard the blood of the martyrs, the goals of the martyrs, the wills of the martyrs, the expectations of the martyrs and to carry on their path. You and we will do that indeed. The martyrs have an oath which we made to them. This oath will not be fulfilled until we follow them. We are really waiting for that. We are faithful in our promise. We have proven in all positions and stages and during all the difficulties and challenges and despite all the threats in the region that today the local, regional and international situations are for the interest of the peoples of the region and the axis of opposition and resistance in the region more than any time in the past according to all norms and standards. Go back to 1982, how was the situation then? Go back to 2006. How was the situation then? Still we gained victory in 1982 and in 2000 and in 2006. In all the upcoming events and as long as we are the people of belief, knowledge, love, will and determination we will gain victory Inshallah.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Arab Revolt the World Ignores

Warring Factions Divide Yemen’s Capital

By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post
Friday, November 11 2011

Sanaa, Yemen — There’s not a soul walking on this stretch of Amman Street, one of the many front lines in this besieged capital. Shops are shuttered with large padlocks. Like totems, abandoned apartment buildings, scarred by mortar rounds and artillery shells, bear witness to the gloom. Every few moments, heavy gunfire shatters the silence.

Mohammed Shansadine, a government soldier huddled with his comrades next to an olive green armored personnel carrier, knows his enemies well. They are defected members of his military. Some are from his village, men he knew as boys. “It is brother against brother, Muslim against Muslim,” said Shansadine, 24, lean and muscular with a wispy beard. “We have never been this divided.”

A constellation of competing warriors, checkpoints, tanks, berms and trenches has deeply riven this ancient Middle Eastern capital, physically, psychologically and socially, unlike at any other moment in its modern history.

In some areas of Sanaa, a sprawling metropolis that thrived before the dawn of Islam, rival militaries or tribal militias control entire neighborhoods. Elsewhere, power changes hands street by street. No single faction controls enough territory to impose its will on its foes. But all have the firepower to stop any political deal unfavorable to their interests, seesawing the capital between chaos and calm.

The precarious military stalemate helps explain why Yemen, with its abundance of weapons, tribes and poverty, has yet to plunge into outright civil war. But that possibility still exists as more violent confrontations seem inevitable. Cease-fire deals are signed, then broken. In bursts, death grips the capital: Unarmed protesters get shot and clashes erupt, deepening the ruptures. On Thursday, gunmen again opened fire on anti-government demonstrators here, leaving a 13-year-old boy dead and at least a dozen people wounded.

Ten months into Yemen’s populist revolt, Sanaa’s complex partition is the most visible sign of a parallel struggle for power, tribal authority and political survival unfolding among its ruling elites, even as the lives of ordinary Yemenis deteriorate with each day.

“The situation is dark,” said Ali Abdu al-Tinni, 78, a frail retired government worker in the enclave of Hassabah who sleeps on his floor because of the shells and bullets that pound his street almost nightly. “We are living a life of fear.”

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s abrupt return from Saudi Arabia on Sept. 23 after a nearly four-month absence has hardened the stances of all the warring sides. Saleh, who was treated in Riyadh for injuries sustained in a June assassination attempt, appears more confident, refusing to cede power except on his own terms. Across the capital, his loyalists have become as emboldened. His opponents are ratcheting up their tactics, their mistrust of Saleh deeper than at any previous moment in his 33-year rule.

“There may not be civil war. But tensions will escalate,” said Ali Saeed Ali-Ramisi, 41, an accountant, from his hospital bed after he survived a sniper’s bullet during a recent protest. “Ali Abdullah Saleh is not going to give up power on his own. And we’re not going to let go either.”

From allies to enemies

Seven years ago, Shansadine left his village in southern Ibb province and joined the Central Security Forces, commanded by the president’s nephew. Other villagers were under Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, then the president’s key ally.

After pro-government snipers killed more than 50 unarmed protesters on March 18, Mohsen defected and joined the uprising. And Shansadine was soon battling men he considered his brothers. “They have been brainwashed,” he said of the villagers in the 1st Armored Division, Mohsen’s force.

Today, the revolt has entered a more perilous period. Protesters are increasingly marching into government areas of the capital, protected by Mohsen’s soldiers. Government troops have used that as a pretext to open fire into the crowds.

Shansadine, like most Saleh loyalists, claims that the 1st Armored Division is behind the attacks on protesters, hoping that they will generate international pressure for regime change. “It is all planned from inside Change Square,” he contended, referring to the encampment near Sanaa University where the activists have staged a massive sit-in since March.

Kentucky Square, an intersection where a restaurant resembling a KFC once stood, was two blocks from where Shansadine was standing. It’s now one of the city’s primary front lines. Government forces killed dozens of protesters there in September, triggering fierce clashes with Moh­sen’s forces. As Shansadine spoke, a mortar round landed nearby.

“If they continue to attack us, we’re going to move forward,” he warned.

On the other side of Kentucky Square, a mirror image unfolded. Along Haeel Street, sandbags were piled up in front of disfigured buildings that have been pounded by artillery fire. Soldiers and civilians ran swiftly across intersections to evade sniper bullets.

Mohsen’s commanders, near sand-colored armored personnel carriers, said they were fighting to protect the activists. But a visit to a nearby government garrison shows they have pummeled it with mortar rounds and rockets.

“We’re silent, but inside us is a volcano,” said Ahmed Mu’nis, 32, a 1st Armored Division soldier with a grizzled beard, who is also from Ibb province. “If we are forced, we will not stand and do nothing. We’ll fight back.”

Moments later, a high-caliber bullet struck a corner of a building a few feet away, sending a large puff of dust into the air.

A tribal stronghold

A few miles to the north, in the capital’s battered Hassabah enclave, graffiti on a wall read: “Go away, you slaughterer, Ali Abdullah Saleh.”

Men in traditional Yemeni dress, Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders, patrolled deserted streets littered with trash. They are the tribesmen of the Ahmar clan, Yemen’s preeminent tribal family headed by Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar.

Ahmar is also the leader of the Hashid, Yemen’s most powerful tribal confederation, to which the majority of the warring elites, including Saleh, belong. Once Saleh’s close allies, Ahmar and his nine brothers are now the president’s bitter enemies.

On the streets circling the neighborhood are units of the Republican Guard, headed by Saleh’s son Ahmed. They have engaged in fierce clashes with the Ahmar tribesmen, lobbing mortars and rockets at each other, killing scores. The Ahmars’ palatial ancestral home is now a charred hulk.

Saleh has blamed the attempt to kill him on the Ahmars and Mohsen, who is not related to the family. They have denied the allegation. But they are preparing themselves: Long trenches have been dug around Hassabah to fight off any incursion.

At a Republican Guard checkpoint, Gen. Mohammed al-Qadi said the units were defending themselves, pointing at buildings defaced by bullets and mortars. “The Ahmars are our biggest enemy,” he said. “We are ready to break into their place and fight them in there, but our orders are to hold still for now.”

At a fortified intersection, tribal fighters defiantly vowed to protect their territory at any cost. “Saleh wants revenge,” Saleh al-Saleba, 30, a tribal fighter, said as his comrades nodded. “He has come back to wage war.”

Saleh’s return has deepened tribal allegiances. Soldiers who belong to the Ahmar tribe have defected to join the tribal militia. Injured tribesmen are eager to fight against the government.

“If they enter Hassabah, everyone here will rise up,” said Abdulghani al-Dhawi, 26, on patrol a day after being treated for four bullet wounds. “We love our sheik.”

Sultan Turfan, another fighter, asked: “Hasn’t Saleh learned anything from Gaddafi?”

Clans divided

Just as Yemen’s military is divided, so are its myriad clans. The Ahmars and Saleh have cultivated tribal loyalties through an extensive system of patronage. Now, Hashid tribesmen are fighting one another as well as tribesmen in the Bakeel, the second most powerful tribal confederation, in proxy conflicts, adding a new layer of upheaval.

In Soufan, a neighborhood nestled on the northern edge of Hassabah, 30 Meter Road is the demarcation line of one such standoff.

On one side is the sprawling compound of Himyar al-Ahmar, the deputy speaker of parliament and one of the Ahmar brothers. On the other side is the mansion of Sagheer Hamoud Ahmed Ben Aziz, a pro-government tribal leader with the Bakeel.

For the past several weeks, their tribesmen have been firing mortar rounds and rockets across the road at each other. At the same time, Ben Aziz is fighting Mohsen’s forces, while Ahmar is fighting nearby Republican Guard units.

“They even killed my cook the other day,” said Himyar al-Ahmar, 55, as he walked over shattered glass, his back hunched to avoid a sniper bullet.

Seated in a side room of his mansion — his normal meeting room was covered with debris from an artillery shell that crashed through the wall — Ben Aziz spoke of how his grandfather and the Ahmars’ grandfather also fought each other to resolve disputes. But this tribal conflict, he said, “was the worst in generations.” He vowed to defend Saleh.

“Whenever they attack, we will respond double,” said Ben Aziz, looking across 30 Meter Road. “The president’s return has brought hope for me and all Yemenis.”

Trapped in the crossfire

Zaafran Ali al-Mohana, 42, and her family fled their home near Kentucky Square recently after their house was hit by a rocket and sniper fire. “I grew up in that house,” she said, visibly upset.

“The social life is paralyzed,” added the mother of three who was staying with relatives. “It’s difficult now even for one neighbor to check on another.”

In today’s dissected Sanaa, there are dozens of no-go zones, where a wrong turn can place you in the sights of a sniper. Roads are barricaded with rocks, bricks, even furniture. By nightfall, the city thins out, with some areas turning ghostly.

The vast web of checkpoints has caused long delays; ribbons of traffic unwind for miles. In many neighborhoods, businesses are closed, choking an economy that’s already on the edge of death. Most schools and universities are closed, indefinitely.

In Hassabah, the house of Tinni, the retired government worker, is pocked with bullets. With no electricity, he is forced to buy food each day. If there are clashes, he goes hungry. Prices of candles, like most consumer goods, have risen, so he often lives in darkness.

“We blame all the sides,” he said out of earshot of the tribal fighters. “They are all after power.”