Egypt Democracy Watch

Here are the recent news and developments concerning the political life and democratic stirring in Egypt gathered from the Egypt Monitor.

Egypt watch is of extreme importance for the Middle East democratization research. For my comment on this subject go to Arab Democracy and Egypt Paradigm.

Egypt Democracy Watch:
(Covers the latest two months)

People's Assembly Preparing a Report on Constitutional Amendments

On July 11, the People's Assembly- lower house of parliament- starting to discuss constitutional amendment to be presented to president Mubarak. A report will be handed to president Mubarak, who in turn will choose the amendments to be introduced.

Mubarak Abolishes Jail Sentences for publication Offenses

In a sudden last minute move, on July 10, president Mubarak instructed members of parliament from the ruling National Democratic Party to abolish publication offenses in a new law on the press. This move came to ease the tensions between civil society activists and the regime. It is also among the first of Mubarak's 2005 presidential election campaign promises to be achieved.

Newspapers on Strike and Demonstartion over New Law

On Sunday July 9, twenty four opposition and independent newspaper did not appear as a protest to the law on publication offenses. The same day, a demonstrations were held in front of the parliament, this comes amid growing tensions between the regime and civil society over the issue of freedom of the press.

Attorney General Orders Release of 73 Political Prisoners

On July 5, the newly appointed Attorney General, Abdel-Magid Mahmoud, ordered the release of 73 jailed political activists. Two days earlier, he ordered the release of 96 political activists. The political activists from various opposition groups and civil society were arrested when demonstrating to support and independent judiciary and are now facing trial on the ground of illegal rallies and blocking traffic.

Judges Express their Solidarity to Journalists

Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, head of the Judges Club, made a visit to the Journalist Syndicate on July 4, to express the judges solidarity with journalists in opposing jail sentences in publication offenses. Other professional associations also expressed their solidarity with journalists and vowed to participate in demonstrations on July 9.

Board of Journalists Syndicate Threatens to Resign

In the wake of the protests concerning the law on publication offenses, on July 4, the board members of the Journalists syndicate (JR) threatened to present their resignation if the regime succeeds in issuing the new law. Journalists consider that in a free press their should be no jail sentences for publication offenses, while the regime wants to keep this sentence if there are publications offenses concern important government officials. The JR also considers that its general assembly is in permanent session until the regime issues a law that guarantees free press.

Journalists Facing Increased Confrontation with the Regime over New Law

A delegation of the the Journalist Syndicate met with the speaker of the People's Assembly - the lower house of parliament - on Monday July 3d, but failed to bridge the gap between the regime and the syndicate over a new law on publication offenses. A similar meeting took with the speaker of the Consultative Council - the upper house of parliament - two days earlier with the same outcome: an increased confrontation between the syndicate and the regime.

The Journalist Syndicate wishes to abolish jail sentences for publication offenses, while the law presented by the government abolishes publication offenses except for those concerning financial matters dealing with heads of national authorities, cabinet ministers and heads of states. The syndicate considers that the new law protects corruption if the press is not able to tackle topics related to corruption of officials.

Prominent Opposition Journalist Faces Jail Sentence

Ibrahim Issa, a prominent and outspoken opposition journalist and editor of the independent newspaper "Al-Dostour", received a one year jail sentence on June 26. Issa, together with two other journalists are accused of "humiliating the president of the republic" in their articles. It is the first time this accusation has been used since the establishment of the republic in 1953. Issa is known as being one of the most outspoken journalists against the regime. The Egyptian opposition and journalists expressed their solidarity with Issa and his colleagues.

Al-Ghad Party Honoring Political Prisoners

Al-Ghad - the "Tomorrow"- party held a ceremony to honor political prisoners on Thursday June 29 in its headquarter in Cairo. The event will highlight the case of Ayman Nour, the party's founder, and will also honor released political prisoners.

The Alliance of Egyptian-Americans Takes a Position on US aid to Egypt

The Alliance of Egyptian-Americans (AEA) -Mid-Atlantic Chapter- said the US assistance package to Egypt should be tied to political reforms and the respect of human rights. The AEA urged the United States administration to link the 1.7 billion dollar assistance to Egypt to progress made on political reforms based on president Mubarak 2005 presidential campaign promises.

Consultative Council Prepares Report on Constitutional Amendments

The Consultative Council (CC), the upper chamber of the Egyptian parliament, prepared a report to president Mubarak on constitutional amendments. The report was created on Mubarak's request, the president will study it will propose amendments to the parliament. The report proposes to replace the single candidate system with one of proportional representation so as to increase the representation of women in elected bodies, to cancel articles of the constitution that stipulate that legislation should be based on socialist principles, to increase the power of the Prime Minister in general and particularly if the country is facing danger. The Wafd party presented its vision for the constitutional reforms to the People's Assembly- the lower chamber of parliament- in which it focused on decreasing the power of the president in favor of a Prime Minister accountable to the parliament.

New Law of the Judiciary gets Initial Aproval By the People's Assembly

The People's Assembly (PA) gave its initial approval to the new law on the judiciary. Members of parliament from the ruling National Democratic party (NDP) support the new law, while it did not get backing from opposition and independent MPs who expressed their solidarity with the demands of the Judges. During the discussion, the speaker of the People's Assembly accused opposition and independents members of parliament of "poisoning" the judges' ideas by visiting the Judges Club, which led to a withdrawal of all opposition and independent MPs from the session, leaving the session to NDP MPs.

Court Verdict Cancel Legislative Election in a Cairo District

The appeal court canceled the result of the 2005 legislative election in Cairo's Sixth electoral district on Thursday June 22. The ruling was against National Democratic Party declared winners and in favor of three candidates among which a female member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ruling is unlikely to have an effect, as according to Egyptian law parliament is "sovereign" and has the authority to reject any ruling against its members, even if a court proves that there were irregularities during elections.

General Assembly of the Judges Club Insists on Indpendence of the Judiciary

The general assembly of the Judges Club (JC) met on Friday June 23 to react to the latest developments on the new law of the judiciary. The JC opposed the new law because it does not grant a genuine independence to the judiciary. The government did not take into consideration the major changes that Egyptian judges wishes to see. The new law still gives the executive branch of government an important leverage over the judiciary. Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, head of the JC, vowed to continue the judges' struggle until the regime approves the draft law presented by the JC.

Upper Chamber of Parliament Approves New Law of the Judiciary

The Consultative Council (CC), the upper chamber of parliament, approved a new law on the judiciary of June 21. This comes directly after the legislative committee of the People's Assembly (PA) - the lower chamber of parliament- approved the new law. The PA legislative committee hosted a heated debate between MPs from the ruling National Democratic party and the opposition over the law as the latter believe that it does not grant genuine independence for the judiciary. The Judge Club expressed its discontent with the new law while the government maintains that the new law grants greater independence to the judiciary.

Court Case Against Members of Parliament who Switched Alliegence

An appeal on a court case against members of parliament (MP) who switched allegiance was scheduled for November 26. The case concerns independent candidates who joined the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) after being elected as independents in the 2005 legislative elections. The case was presented to the administrative court by a voter who considered that MPs who switched loyalty after being elected betrayed their constituencies.

Sit In in the Journalist Syndicate

The Journalist Syndicate organized a sit in on June 16 to protest against the government delays abolishing jail sentences for publication offences. The syndicate also expressed its solidarity with three journalists facing jail sentences for publication offences. Galal Aref, head of the syndicate, expressed his opposition to a new law "to fight rumours", currently under study by the People's Assembly, calling it unconstitutional.

Council of Ministers Aprroves the New Law of the Judiciary

The Council of Ministers approved the new law of the judiciary in an urgent meeting on Tuesday June 13. The new law now awaits approval from the People's Assembly--Egypt's lower chamber of parliament. The move angered the judges who believe that the council of ministers ignored many of their demands, and they vowed to continue their struggle for a truly independent judiciary.

Parliament Discussing Constitutional Amendment to be Presented to Mubarak

The two chambers of parliament, the People's Assembly (PA) and the Shura Council, have been debating constitutional amendments to be presented to President Mubarak this month, who in turn will decide on the amendments to be presented to parliament and to the people for approval by referendum.

Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) from diverse ideological backgrounds that includes members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the liberal Wafd party and leftist parties, agreed that Egypt is in urgent need of a new constitution that would turn the country into a parliamentary democracy.

On the other hand, MPs from the ruling National Democratic (NDP) party seemed to disagree on the issue of whether the Shura Council, the higher chamber of parliament, should have its power increased so as to be similar to the PA. They also agreed to change the article that states that half MPs should be workers and farmers and that there should be a quota for women.

NDP MPs, apparently in agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood, agreed on keeping Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Sharia Law shall be the main source of legislation.

International Republican Institute Asked to Stop its Activities

The Egyptian authorities asked the International Republican Institute (IRI) to end its activities in Egypt. The IRI has been working with Egyptian non-governmental organizations on pro-democracy programs for almost a year. The Egyptian authorities accused the IRI of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs and for not having the proper license to operate in Egypt. On the other hand, the IRI maintained that it is operating legally in Egypt according the Egyptian laws despite some Egyptian administrative obstruction.

Authorities Preventing a Demonstartion in Support of Pro-Democracy Detainees

The security forces prevented pro-democracy and human rights activists from demonstrating in front of Qasr El-Nil police station, one of the main stations in central Cairo. The demonstration came as a sign of solidarity with activists who were arrested in a rally in support of the independence of the judiciary on May 25. The protest was scheduled for Thursday June 1st, but tight security stopped activists from reaching the police station.

A Committee To Investigate Those Involved In Rigging Elections

The Lawyer Syndicate decided to set up a committee to take action against individuals who were involved in irregularities in the 2005 parliamentary elections. This action comes in response to Attorney General Maher Abdel-Wahed's decision to start an investigation into board member of the Lawyer Syndicate, Gamal Tag-El-Din, and three journalists for their alleged involvement in leaking the names of judges involved in irregularities in the legislative elections- known as the "Black List of Judges".

Judges Club to Coordinate with Journalist Syndicate

The Judges Club has decided to coordinate its efforts with the Journalist Syndicate in the struggle for an independent judiciary and the abolition of jail sentences for publication offenses. The Judges Club believes that an independent judiciary requires a free press, as transparency and accountability are the pillars of any democracy.

The government is currently discussing proposals to enact new laws on the judiciary and the press, prompting fears by some that the new rules will consolidate the authoritarian structures of the state rather than opening up the system.

Ayman Nour Lost Appeal

Al-Ghad party leader, Ayman Nour lost his appeal to reverse a five years sentence. His lawyer mainatins that there are twelve mistakes in the procedures, which should annul the verdict, according to Egyptian Law. Even if granted a presidential pardon, Mr. Nour will not be elligible for elected office for at least six years even after a potential presidential pardon.

Pro-Reform Judge Reprimanded

On May 18, a disciplinary panel reprimanded pro-democracy judge Hi sham Al-Bastawisi and cleared his colleague Mahmoud Mekki from allegation of interfering in politics when denouncing fraud in the 2005 parliamentary elections. The two outspoken judges were threatened of losing their positions. This comes as a move by the Egyptian regime to intimidate the judges and pressure them to end their demands for an independent judiciary. The verdict comes a week after heavy clashes between pro-democracy and security forces took place on the date of a hearing with the judges.


News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the current issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

  • Syria: Continuing Crackdown on Dissent
  • Egypt: Controversial Press and Judiciary Laws, Arrests, U.S. Aid Debate
  • Kuwait: Reformists Gain in Elections
  • Iraq: Amnesty Plan
  • Yemen: Run Up to Presidential Election
  • Bahrain: Debate over Anti-Terror Bill; New Association Law
  • Saudi Arabia: Reduced Powers for Morality Police
  • Jordan: Islamist MPs Arrested; Evidence of Torture in Prisons
  • Algeria: Referendum to Amend Constitution; Prominent Journalist Released
  • Morocco: Electoral Law Debate; Wave of Arrests of Justice and Charity Members
  • Democracy Assistance Dialogue: Sanaa Conference

Syria: Continuing Crackdown on Dissent

Seventeen state employees in Syrian ministries were dismissed by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Al Otri on June 14 without explanation, but human rights activists believe it was because they signed the Beirut-Damascus declaration, a petition by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals, writers, and human rights advocating normalization of relations between the two countries. Human Rights Watch has documented the arrest of 26 activists in Syria during the past three months.

Syrian journalist Ali Al Abdullah and his son Muhammad, both members of the Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, will be tried before a military tribunal on charges of insulting government employees, according to a June 20 statement by the Syrian National Organization for Human Rights. On June 6, a military court sentenced writer Muhammad Ghanem to six months for “insulting the Syrian president, discrediting the Syrian government, and fomenting sectarian unrest” after he published articles on a website calling on the Baath party to end the repression of Syrian Kurds. Click here for more information on this case.

Thirteen members of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood arrested between 1981 and 1983 have been released, according to a July 9 statement by the head of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights Mhannad Al Hasni.

The Syrian government is drafting a new political parties law, according to a June 20 statement by Minster of Expatriates Buthaina Shaaban.

Egypt: Controversial Press and Judiciary Laws, Arrests, U.S. Aid Debate

The Egyptian parliament’s controversial amendments to the 1996 press and publications law, passed on July 10, do not abolish prison sentences for journalists, despite protests by human rights activists and journalists. Editors-in-chief of some 25 Egyptian independent and party newspapers suspended the publication for one day on July 9 to protest the government-drafted bill and hundred of journalists protested outside the People’s Assembly. At President Hosni Mubarak’s suggestion, parliament ultimately removed a clause that would have made reporting on the financial dealings of public figures punishable by up to three years in prison. However, the law retains punishment for criticizing public officials, mandating jail terms between six months and five years or a fine of 5,000-20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$870-3,480). A Human Rights Watch report criticized the new law, calling on Mubarak to follow through with his 2004 pledge that no journalist would go to prison for his or her writings.

An Egyptian court on June 26 sentenced independent weekly Al Dustour’s editor Ibrahim Issa and reporter Sahar Zaki to a year in prison for publishing a report critical of President Mubarak in April 2005. They were freed on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,743) pending a review by an appeal court. The trial of three journalists who alleged fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections has been postponed until September 16.

The People’s Assembly passed a new law of the judiciary on June 26, following a lengthy controversy between the Judges Club and the government. The new law includes two of the Judges Club’s demands: granting the judiciary budgetary independence from the Ministry of Justice and separating the office of the Public Prosecutor from the Ministry. The Public Prosecutor, however, will remain a presidential appointee. But the draft law ignores the judges’ demands that members of the Supreme Judicial Council be elected rather than appointed by the state. On July 2, several judicial officials considered close to the government were appointed to senior positions, including Maher Abdel Wahed (former Public Prosecutor) as head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and Moqbel Shaker as head of the Court of Cassation and Supreme Judicial Council.

Sixty members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested on June 19 and July 9 for allegedly holding illegal meetings. Almost 700 members have been arrested since March, including Essam Al Erian and Rashad Byoumi, members of the Guidance Bureau. Over 500 were arrested while demonstrating in favor of two senior judges who were brought before a disciplinary committee for denouncing the parliamentary elections as fraudulent. The public prosecutor released approximately 170 activists (some of them Muslim Brothers) between June 21 and July 7, all of whom had been involved in demonstrations in favor of the judges.

The Egyptian Movement for Change, known the Kifaya movement, released a report on corruption in Egypt on July 4.

On June 8, the U.S. Congress voted 225-198 against an amendment to cut $100 million of from the $1.7 billion in military and economic assistance for Egypt for the next fiscal year. The amendment was sponsored by Representatives Henry Hyde, Tom Lantos, and David Obey, who said that it would send a message that a major U.S. aid recipient should “reflect certain norms of decency with respect to the way they treat their population and the way they treat their political opponents.”

Kuwait: Reformists Gain in Elections

Kuwait’s new cabinet approved in its first session a major electoral reform that would reduce the number of electoral districts from 25 to 5, a widely debated issue that led the emir to dissolve parliament in May. The number of government opponents supporting this change went from 29 to 35 seats in the 50-member Kuwaiti parliament elected June 29, after they campaigned publicly for reducing the number of electoral districts to 5 to make politics more broadly representative and less based on sectarian or tribal factors. The reformist bloc, as it has come to be known, includes Islamist and liberal MPs. Its influence will be reduced by the fact that ministers also vote as ex-officio members of parliament.

For the first time in Kuwait’s history women were allowed to vote and run in elections, but none of the 28 women among a total of 249 candidates won a seat. Women comprise 57 percent of Kuwait’s 345,000 voters. Overall turnout was 65 percent but only 35 percent among women voters. Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah made only minor cabinet changes following the elections. He reappointed his nephew Sheikh Nasser Al Muhammad Al Ahmed Al Sabah as prime minister. Former Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahd Al Sabah and Minister for Cabinet Affairs Muhammad Daifallah Sharar, both strongly criticized by the reformists in the previous parliament for fostering corruption and trying to block political reform, were replaced. Sabah family members retained the top portfolios including energy, defense, interior, and foreign affairs. Click here for a list of the cabinet members.

Iraq: Amnesty Plan

Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki presented a “national reconciliation plan” (Arabic Text, English Text) to the Iraqi parliament on June 25, offering insurgents an amnesty proposal, granting indemnity only to “those not proven involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity.”

Yemen: Run Up to Presidential Election

Allegedly after widespread protests by his supporters, President Ali Abdullah Saleh reversed a July 2005 decision to retire from public life and announced he will run in Yemen’s presidential election on September 10. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition alliance that includes the main Islamist opposition group Al Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party, nominated Islamist-leaning former oil minister Faisal Bin Shamlan as its candidate—the first such agreement among opposition parties in Yemen. Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, was reelected in 1999 with more than 96 per cent of the vote; his only challenger was a member of his ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). To compete in the election, candidates for the presidency must receive the nomination of at least 5 percent of the deputies present at a joint meeting of both houses of parliament.

On June 19, the GPC signed a memorandum of understanding with seven opposition parties to ensure that presidential and local elections are free of fraud. The accord states that official media will provide a platform for all presidential and local election candidates and bans the financing of campaigns through public funds. It also stipulates that the nine-member electoral commission will include five opposition party representatives. Saleh announced he would issue a decree prohibiting the intervention of the security forces in the electoral process. Parliamentarians and local officials in the Aden province threatened to sue the district’s security apparatus for trying to prevent JMP rallies on June 13 and 15. Saleh’s electoral platform includes a pledge to launch a civilian nuclear energy program.

Bahrain: Debate over Anti-Terror Bill; New Association Law

Disagreement over legal definitions of terrorism marks the debate in Bahrain’s parliament over an anti-terrorism bill. MPs believe the current definition is too broad. The proposed law defines terrorism as any use of violence or threats of violence to terrorize people, including any threat to people’s lives, property, freedom, rights or security, as well as damage to the environment, public or private utilities, national resources, or international facilities. Of 34 articles, only nine have been approved by the parliament so far, including the death penalty for jeopardizing public safety or damaging public utilities.

Human rights activists have criticized government-proposed amendments to the association law (Law 18/1973) that forbid “any speech or discussion infringing on public order or morals,” allow the police to attend any public meeting, and give security officials the power to break up meetings if any crime listed in the Penal Code is committed. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the amendments would allow security officials to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly arbitrarily. Click here to read the HRW letter to King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa and here for a letter by Amnesty International. The elected 40-member Council of Deputies approved the bill on May 18 and the appointed 40-member Consultative Council is expected to follow suit. The bill requires approval of the king to become law.

The government on July 3 introduced amendments to Article 246 of the penal code, which would ban media from publishing the names and photographs of suspects without permission from the Public Prosecutor or the relevant court. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights criticized this amendment on the grounds that it will restrict the ability of human rights activists to campaign publicly for the rights of the accused.

Saudi Arabia: Reduced Powers for Morality Police

Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will no longer be allowed to interrogate those it arrests for behavior deemed un-Islamic, under an interior ministry decree published on May 25. According to the decree, “the role of the commission will end after it arrests the culprit or culprits and hands them over to police, who will then decide whether to refer them to the public prosecutor.” Commission members (mutawa’in) have until now enjoyed unchallenged powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate those suspected of “moral infractions.”

Jordan: Islamist MPs Arrested; Evidence of Torture in Prisons

According to media reports, Jordanian Prime Minister Bakhit and Intelligence Director Muhammad Al Dhahabi met with leaders of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood July 12 to defuse tensions that arose following the detention on June 11 of four Islamist MPs who offered condolences to the family of the slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. On July 11, Jordan’s state security court prosecutor ordered the release of one of the MPs, Ibrahim Al Mashwakhi, and referred the other three—Mohammad Abu Fares, Jaafar Al Hourani, and Ali Abu Sukkar—to the state security court on charges of violating Article 150 of Jordan’s Penal Code, which bans all writing or speech that is “intended to, or results in, stirring up sectarian or racial tension or strife among different elements of the nation.” On July 10, Jordan’s attorney general suspended the board of the Islamic Charity Society, seen by officials as the financial arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front said that the government is cracking down on Islamists after Hamas’s victory in Palestinian elections and ahead of Jordan’s legislative elections next year. A statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the arrests as “a rollback of the Jordanian government’s commitment to fully respect freedom of expression.” Government spokesman Naser Judeh said the HRW statement was an “insult to the families of the victims” of the hotel bombings in Amman in November 2005.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said on June 29 that he found evidence of systematic abuse in detention centers run by Jordanian police and intelligence services, but that he believed torture was not a policy in Jordan. Nowak recommended that Jordan make torture illegal, abolish special courts, and introduce measures to prevent abuse in state facilities such as better medical documentation and access to lawyers and doctors. Spokesman Judeh said officials would study this preliminary report and undertake reforms if necessary.

Algeria: Referendum to Amend Constitution; Prominent Journalist Released

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced on July 4 that his country will hold a referendum by the end of 2006 on amendments to the constitution. Bouteflika did not specify the changes, but many believe they will allow him to run for a third term in office, as the constitution currently limits the president to two five-year terms. On May 25, Bouteflika appointed close ally and leader of the ruling National Liberation Front Abdelaziz Belkhadem as prime minister, replacing Ahmed Ouyahia, who is known to have opposed a constitutional amendment.

Mohammad Benchicou, publisher of Le Matin, a newspaper often critical of the government, was released on June 14 after serving two years in prison on charges of violating currency regulations. The charges were viewed by human rights groups as retaliation for his newspaper’s critical editorial line. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Algerian authorities have used tough criminal laws that prescribe prison terms in order to prosecute several leading journalists who are critical of the government. Click here for more information.

Algeria’s security services are using the “war on terror” as an excuse to perpetuate torture and ill-treatment, according to an Amnesty International report published on July 10 ahead of a visit to London by President Bouteflika to sign a series of agreement to facilitate the deportation of Algerian terror suspects.

Morocco: Electoral Law Debate; Wave of Arrests of Justice and Charity Members

After months of debate between the Ministry of Interior and political parties, the Moroccan government approved a new electoral law on June 26 and will refer it to parliament in July. The new law will bar parties that failed to win at least 3 per cent of the vote in the 2002 elections to field candidates in the 2007 legislative elections, a stipulation strongly criticized by small parties. The bill maintains the current proportional representation system and the size of the electoral districts, but increases the percentage of votes a party must obtain to enter parliament from 3to 7 percent. Moroccan expatriates will not be allowed to vote in legislative elections. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development criticized the government for excluding opposition parties from the debate.

Moroccan authorities briefly detained approximately 100 members and leaders of the Islamist Justice and Charity group (Al Adl wal Ihsan), which is believed to be the largest opposition group in Morocco, on June 14. According to the group’s spokesman Fathallah Arslane, among the arrested was the group’s second-in-command Mohamed Abadi who will face prosecutors in July. Between May 24 and June 3, Moroccan authorities briefly detained between 300 and 400 members after the group launched an "open doors" campaign to recruit outside traditional areas such as mosques and universities.

Democracy Assistance Dialogue: Sanaa Conference

The Yemeni government hosted a high-profile conference entitled “Sanaa conference on democracy, political reforms and freedom of expression” on June 25-26, under the G8-created program of Democratic Assistance Dialogue (DAD) and in partnership with the Italian non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice. The conference, which was attended by more than 500 government officials and civil society representatives from around the world, stirred divisions among participants. Non-government representatives described the final communiqué as a “governmental vision.” In January 2004 Yemen hosted a similar conference in which participants signed the “Sanaa Declaration,” committing their respective countries to uphold democratic processes, institutions, and values.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Yemen: Presidential and municipal elections, September 2006
  • Bahrain: Legislative and municipal elections, fall 2006.


Totalitarianism, violence and Terror

The totalitarianism constitutes one system. The totalitarianism has one nature in many aspects and shapes; it pragmatically develops a reciprocal structure and unified means under a consistent code of conduct—all rest on violence. Apart from ideologies, religious or not, the problem has one name, one identity and one essence; it is the totalitarianism. A comprehensive reading of the current state of the region between the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf will clarify and support this thinking.

The totalitarian dictatorships and terrorists are in an alliance of convenience. Although they have two different ideologies and agendas, they have mutual basic interest and pursuit is to keep freedom and democracy along with their culture out of this region.

Saddam had known this fact early and began soon after his defeat in the gulf war ΙΙ the Islamization of the state notwithstanding the official totalitarian secular ideology of al-Ba'ath. Moreover, he had a chance of about 12 years to do that without serious pressure targeting directly his regime to end his rule or to change the course. Finally, that produced an extraordinary fertile environment to terror. May history teach us? Given it frequently repeats itself.

To achieve peace, security and prosperity in the Middle East, there must be, first, a serious course of action aimed at the totalitarianism in the Middle East. This course of action is indispensable first step in the long march of democracy there. Moreover, targeting totalitarianism is an indispensable action in the war on terror to get the terrorists isolated with no cover or facilities or nourishing sources.

Political System and Peacefulness

The totalitarianism is a system based on violence, in which the violence becomes the real and dominant value, which with time turns into an integrated system and becomes a culture. This value, practically, forms and constructs the whole institutions of the state and society (those become one entity identified by/with the political power) because it is only the cause of maintaining the existence of the state (power) at the inside and outside level and ultimately becomes the source of legitimacy.

Hence, it is familiar that only the totalitarian regimes support and encourage the transnational terror and eagerly pursuit the WMD and other violent means in the international politics. On the contrary, in democracies the system of compromise and peaceful means replaces the system of violence. The violence in democracies – more precisely the coercion -- is only usable to maintain and keep the system itself at the domestic and international level.

The totalitarian regime makes its foreign policy on the considerations of his interior policy. It is a matter of fact and necessity that the interior and foreign policies should be consistent because they represent and belong to the same decision-making system, values and interests, and intend to maintain those, which are the intrinsic structure of the regime in power. Moreover, the authoritarian regime is totally aware of the indispensability of the compatible foreign context for the sustainability of its rule.

Balance of Power and International Stability and Security

I endorse the realist theory of the international relations about the balance of power. In maintaining systems, especially at the international level, what matters is the balance of power but at the status quo level not the dynamic one because any change or new player would change the whole equation. It is indispensable to identify the powers on the scene and to define the system to be maintained. Do the totalitarian terrorist regimes and organizations in the Middle East, like Iran's and the Ba'ath party, perceive the international stability as the U.S. or EU besides the international community? And is the international realm the same after 9/11?

The transnational terror, which is a new international trans-border power in the realistic sense, needs a new balance of power to restore the international stability and peace. The counter trans-border power is promoting freedom and democracy to isolate and alter its nourishing environment and consequently destroy it in addition to the terror's political supporters (always totalitarians and authoritarians) through international effort, and that what is supposed to be the international system of stability and peace.


Human Rights in the Middle East 2005

The Amnesty International has released its 2006 report , which covers events from January - December 2005. Here are some excerpts from the regional overview of the Middle East and North Africa:

At first sight, the pattern of widespread abuse that has long characterized human rights in the Middle East and North Africa remained firmly entrenched in 2005. Indeed, considering the appalling toll of abuses perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Iraq, the continuing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, and some of the views expressed by Iran’s new President, the picture could have appeared very bleak.

Despite this and the persistence of grave violations across the region, there were some signs to suggest that 2005 might come to be seen as a time when some of the old certainties began to look less certain and a new dynamic began to take hold. The wall of impunity behind which so many perpetrators of torture, political killings and other abuses had sheltered for so long began to fracture. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain was brought to trial on charges relating to executions of villagers in 1982, and an unprecedented UN Security Council-mandated inquiry implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese officials in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

In Morocco, the Arab world’s first truth commission shed important light on grave human rights abuses committed over a period of more than 40 years and brought acknowledgement and reparation for at least some of the victims, although not yet justice. In Libya, the authorities announced a belated investigation into the killing or “disappearance” of possibly hundreds of prisoners at Tripoli’s Abu Selim Prison in 1996.

Women, for so long subject to discrimination in both law and practice, finally won the right to vote in Kuwait and achieved greater recognition of their human rights in countries such as Algeria and Morocco. Even in Saudi Arabia, the exclusion of women from participation in the country’s first ever municipal elections sparked debate and growing pressure for change.

Only time will tell whether these were the first signs of real and overdue change or merely instances that bucked the trend. However, the emergence of an increasingly active and outspoken community of human rights activists was a further promising development. Using the Internet and the opportunities provided by the growth and popularity of satellite television, human rights activists were able increasingly to communicate information and share ideas unimpeded by national boundaries both within and beyond the region and to derive new strength and solidarity from the regional and global alliances to which they contributed.

However, 2005 also brought repression and misery to far too many people in the region as their human rights were abused or denied. Some were targeted because of their political views, others because of their religion or ethnicity, yet others for their sexual orientation. Throughout the region women were subject to varying degrees of discrimination and violence because of their gender. Countless others were unable to enjoy fully their economic, social and cultural rights.

Impunity, justice and accountability

With few exceptions, perpetrators of human rights abuses continued to benefit from impunity as governments failed to hold them to account and ensure justice for their victims. In many countries in the region, security and intelligence services were given free rein to detain suspects for long periods, often holding them incommunicado and without charge and exposing them to torture and ill-treatment, confident that they did so with official acquiescence and without fear of intervention by the courts. Detainees were frequently tortured in Syria in pre-trial detention. In Egypt, Iran and Tunisia, defendants frequently complained of torture when they were eventually brought to trial only for courts to dismiss their allegations out of hand without investigation.

The problem was exacerbated by the continued prevalence of exceptional courts, including military courts empowered to try civilians. In Egypt and Syria, such courts were maintained under long-standing states of emergency. Special courts were also used to try and sentence political suspects in Lebanon and Oman. In Libya, the General People’s Congress abolished the People’s Court, a notoriously unfair special court that had previously sentenced many critics and opponents of the government to long prison terms or death. Despite this, neither in Libya nor in most other countries in the Middle East and North Africa could it be said that there was an independent judiciary, especially in cases having a political or security aspect.Police and security forces also operated largely behind a shield of impunity when they used excessive force, causing deaths and injuries ….

Women’s rights

Women continued to suffer legal and other forms of discrimination throughout the region, although 2005 saw a quickening process of change. In Kuwait, women for the first time became eligible to vote in the country’s national elections. In Morocco, King Mohamed VI announced that citizenship would be granted to all children born of women with foreign spouses and that a discriminatory law severely limiting this right would be reformed. In Algeria too, amendments to the Family Code removed some aspects of discrimination, although not enough to give women equal status with men.

That such changes represented something of a breakthrough said a lot about how much further change is necessary before women truly achieve equal status in the region. Violence against women, including within the family, remained widespread and insufficiently addressed by governments and state authorities. In Iraq, where increasing religious sectarianism emerged as a feature of the political breakdown, women came under greater threat of violence because of how they dressed and behaved.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Many communities faced denial of or were hampered from accessing basic economic, social and cultural rights. Marginalized people were particularly vulnerable, including Bedouins in Israel, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, members of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, and migrants, especially women migrant workers in Gulf countries and Lebanon. For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli policies and controls made life especially harsh. Palestinians were left without shelter by destruction of their homes; without livelihood by the seizure of land and closures; and without access to adequate health care due to road closures and checkpoints. Access to scarce water resources increasingly emerged as a likely flashpoint for the future.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to face a momentous task as they sought to promote wider understanding and ensure more effective protection of the rights due to all people in the region regardless of age, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or other defining characteristics. They faced many obstacles and in some cases put their lives on the line to defend their own and others’ fundamental rights.

Independent human rights organizations were active in a majority of countries, despite restrictive laws designed to regulate the operation of non-governmental groups. However, human rights defenders continued to be targeted for abuse or harassment, particularly in Iran and Syria. In Tunisia, the run-up to a UN-sponsored world summit in November was accompanied by an increase in state repression directed against leading human rights activists. The repression persisted through the summit itself which, ironically, aimed to advance international information exchange through the use of new technology. Sahrawi human rights defenders who documented abuses by Moroccan forces in confronting protests earlier in the year were jailed in Western Sahara.
(End of excerpts)


The Cartoon Controversy, a Report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

According to a new report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released on May 23, seven Arab governments have taken punitive measures against journalists and newspaper editors for running edited versions of the Prophet Mohammad's cartoons that created an international controversy. The report argues that these governments used the controversy as a pretext to retaliate against the press and to deflect public attention from domestic problems.

Here is a rundown included in the report on reprisals worldwide in the cartoon controversy. Except where noted, the actions came in response to publishing versions of one or more of the cartoons.

Worldwide, Arrests and Shutdowns

  • Countries where reprisals were reported: 13
  • Journalists criminally charged: 10
  • Newspapers suspended or closed: 9
  • Assault, harassment cases: 3
  • Censorship orders: 2

Algeria: Two editors criminally charged.
Belarus: One newspaper suspended.
Denmark: Jyllands-Posten threatened with bomb attack.
India: One editor criminally charged.
Jordan: Two editors criminally charged.
Lebanon: Journalists assaulted during demonstration against cartoons.
Malaysia: Two newspapers suspended.
Morocco: Government organizes demonstrations against newspaper.
Russia: Two newspapers closed.
Saudi Arabia: Newspaper suspended.
South Africa: Censorship orders issued against two newspapers.
Syria: Writer criminally charged for commentary.
Yemen: Three newspapers suspended. Four journalists criminally charged.