Lebanon Revives "Cedar Revolution" and Security Council Supports the Independence Legitimate Government

Lebanon Bids Gemayel Farewell as Father Announces 'Countdown' for New President

23 Nov 2006

Hundreds of thousands of mourners Thursday bid slain Christian politician Pierre Gemayel farewell as his father announced that the "countdown for the election of a new president has started." "Independence can only be achieved through the election of new president," said former President Amine Gemayel, father of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel who was gunned down along with a bodyguard Tuesday. The young politician was the sixth outspoken opponent of Syria to be assassinated in the past two years.

Anti-Syrian leaders have been calling for the resignation of Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was extended for three years through a controversial Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment in 2004.

Prominent Lebanese leaders and ambassadors packed the St. George Cathedral as the casket was placed on the altar along with the coffin of his bodyguard, Samir al-Shartouni.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Arab League chief Amr Mussa were among the dignitaries attending the 1:00 p.m. funeral service in downtown Beirut.

Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally, surprised the mourners by showing up unexpectedly at the funeral.

In a message read at the funeral, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the "unspeakable" assassination of Gemayel.

"We are all very moved by this unspeakable act," he said in the message read by a Jesuit priest at the cathedral where Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, head of the Maronite church to which Gemayel belonged, led the service in a rare move.

"I hope that all Lebanese remain united in these circumstances and that they renew their determination to rebuild an autonomous Lebanon... where all communities are ensured active participation," he said.

In his sermon, Sfeir said that the "spate of crimes continues in order to prevent Lebanon from achieving stability."

Gemayel's casket, wrapped in flags of the Phalange party and Lebanon, was taken to Bikfaya for burial in the family graveyard at the end of the funeral.

From the family home in Bikfaya, through the village's main street to the entrance of the town, Gemayel's coffin was carried on shoulders by relatives and supporters before being placed in a cortege and driven to the Phalange party headquarters in Saifi from where it made the final trek to the cathedral.

Amid a sea of red and white flags in a show of patriotism for the funeral, hundreds of thousands assembled at the nearby Martyrs Square in a show of force against opponents led by Hizbullah and their Syrian backers.

Young men stamped on Lahoud portraits and his Syrian and Iranian counterparts, the principal backers of Hizbullah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.

"Nasrallah, come and see who is the majority" in Lebanon, chanted the crowd.

"We want only the army to bear weapons," the mourners chanted, referring to Hizbullah's persistent refusal to lay down its weapons in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions following the devastating summer war with Israel.

Others brandished anti-Syrian posters. One poster read "Get Bashar's agent out of Baabda," a reference to Lahoud. Another placard read: "Caesar of Baabda, Get Lost!" Baabda is the presidential headquarters.

Schools, shops and other businesses across Lebanon have been asked to remain closed Thursday as a mark of respect.

On the eve of the funeral, convoys of cars covered with portraits of Gemayel and Hariri criss-crossed the streets of Beirut playing patriotic music.

Security around the capital has been stepped up since the minister's murder, with extra roadblocks around the presidential palace and on the main highway to Damascus.

On Thursday Lebanese troops, backed by armored vehicles, were out in force across Beirut for the funeral.

Army command sources told the pro-Syrian Al-Akhbar newspaper that the military "remains neutral" to the political disputes in Lebanon and will continue to protect all state institutions, including the presidential palace.

Before Gemayel's slaying, Hizbullah had threatened to hold its own mass protests in an attempt to bring down Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government.

Hizbullah officials said Wednesday the group would take no action in the coming days to allow emotions to cool.

Many feared Thursday's demonstration could be the first in a round of shows that could bring the political standoff into the volatile streets.

Gemayel's assassination introduced new tensions into the already dangerous power struggle in Lebanon. The polarization has become as sharp and exposed as it has been since the end of the 1975-90 civil war between Muslims and Christians.

The anti-Damascus politicians who run the government were quick to point the finger at Syria and called for a huge show of public determination to be rid of the meddling of its larger neighbor.

The leader of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament, Saad Hariri, who himself lost his father to an assassin's bomb last year, called on people from across the nation to attend the Beirut funeral in a "show of support for freedom and independence".

Christian opposition leader and Hizbullah ally General Michel Aoun called on all Lebanese to attend the funeral, but indicated he would not be there himself.

Aoun told the private television channel NBN Wednesday he regretted that the Gemayel family did not allow him to present his condolences. "They told me this was not the time. I regret that," he said.

Damascus stressed that the timing of Gemayel's murder, on the day the United Nations endorsed a blueprint for a tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of Hariri, was designed to cause it maximum damage.

The governing anti-Syrian camp in Beirut, faced with a growing challenge from Hizbullah since its war with Israel, is the only party which stands to gain from the minister's assassination, the official press in Damascus argued.

Hizbullah and other the pro-Syrian Amal movement of Speaker Nabih Berri pulled their ministers out of the cabinet earlier this month after all-party talks failed to reach agreement on a government of national unity and has threatened a campaign of street protests to achieve their goal.

Statement by the President of the Security Council

21 November 2006

At the 5569th meeting of the Security Council, held on 21 November 2006, in connection with the Council’s consideration of the item entitled “The situation in the Middle East”, the President of the Security Council made the following statement on behalf of the Council:

“The Security Council unequivocally condemns the assassination in Beirut on 21 November 2006 of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a patriot who was a symbol of freedom and of the political independence of Lebanon. The Security Council expresses its deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of the victim and to the people and Government of Lebanon.

“The Security Council condemns any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassination or other terrorist acts. The Security Council is gravely concerned by this assassination and its possible impact on ongoing efforts by the Government and people of Lebanon to solidify democracy, extend the authority of the Lebanese Government throughout its territory and complete the reconstruction process.

“The Security Council calls upon all parties in Lebanon and the region to show restraint and a sense of responsibility with a view to preventing any further deterioration of the situation in Lebanon. The Security Council urges all States, in accordance with its resolutions 1373 (2001), 1566 (2004) and 1624 (2005), to cooperate fully in the fight against terrorism.

“The Security Council welcomes the determination and commitment of the Government of Lebanon to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this and other assassinations and underlines its determination to support the Government of Lebanon in its efforts to this end.

“The Security Council reaffirms its previous calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the Security Council for the full implementation of all relevant resolutions concerning the restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, in particular resolutions 1559 (2004), 1595 (2005), 1664 (2006), 1680 (2006) and
1701 (2006).

“The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to continue to follow closely and report regularly to the Council on the situation in Lebanon. The Security Council underlines its readiness to continue to act in support of the legitimate and democratically elected Government of Lebanon.”




The 13 Internet Enemies 2006

A list of 13 "enemies of the internet" has been released by human rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

As usual, it is mostly the same countries with five Middle Eastern countries but with an unexpected surprise this time with Egypt added to the list. Egypt unexpectedly is moving back as regards the freedom of expression despite some previous improvements of political and democratic rights thanks to external and domestic pressures. See Egypt Democracy Watch here and here.

I think that Mr. Mubarak knows that he got too old and his days became few, so he is really worried about inheriting power by his son. And as usual, the Egyptian democratic intellectuals and activists are paying for his concerns. I hope that Mr. Mubarak will clearly understand that Egypt is not Syria and he should show some respect for his country and people and for a great civilization which unfortunately was attacked and hurt by a band of authoritarian thugs.

On other listed regime, I warmly congratulate al-Ba'ath for its latest great achievement. Very soon after its previous big achievement on the honor list of Freedom House's worst of the worst, it is honored with the great unprecedented award of "the Middle East’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents" of its modern Syria, severely beating its competitor and ally Iranian regime.

It is also a good opportunity to announce that this blog is blocked in Syria by the Ba'ath regime.

Here are some excerpts from the BBC report followed by the full RSF press release:

For the first time, Egypt has been added to the list while Nepal, Libya and the Maldives have all been removed.

The list consists of countries that RSF believes are suppressing freedom of expression on the internet.

The civil liberties pressure group has organised a 24-hour protest, inviting web users to vote for the worst offending countries.

The blacklist is published annually but it is the first time RSF has organised an online protest to accompany the list.

"We wanted to mobilise net users so that when we lobby certain countries we can say that the concerns are not just ours but those of thousands of internet users around the world," said a spokesman for RSF.

Many of those on the internet blacklist are countries that are regularly criticised by human rights groups, such as China and Burma.

Egypt is a new entrant and has been shortlisted for its attitude to bloggers rather than specific web censorship, said RSF.

"Three bloggers have been arrested and detained this year for speaking out in favour of democratic reform. This is an appeal to the Egyptian government to change its position," said the RSF spokesman.

"The fact that this year we have removed three countries from the list is encouraging. It shows that the situation can change for the better," he added.

On a visit to Libya, Reporters Without Borders found that the Libyan internet was no longer censored although it still considers President Maummar Gaddafi to be a "predator of press freedom".

List of the 13 Internet enemies in 2006 published

The online demo is also accessible on a miror Web site, for those who cannot access www.rsf.org

The list of 13 Internet enemies

Three countries - Nepal, Maldives and Libya - have been removed from the annual list of Internet enemies, which Reporters Without Borders publishes today. But many bloggers were harassed and imprisoned this year in Egypt, so it has been added to the roll of shame reserved for countries that systematically violate online free expression.

Countries in alphabetical order :

- Belarus

The government has a monopoly of telecommunications and does not hesitate to block access to opposition websites if it feels the need, especially at election time. Independent online publications are also often hacked. In March 2006, for example, several websites critical of President Alexandre Lukashenko mysteriously disappeared from the Internet for several days.

- Burma

The Burmese government’s Internet policies are even more repressive than those of its Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours. The military junta clearly filters opposition websites. It keeps a very close eye on Internet cafes, in which the computers automatically execute screen captures every five minutes, in order to monitor user activity. The authorities targeted Internet telephony and chat services in June, blocking Google’s Gtalk, for example. The aim was two-fold: to defend the profitable long-distance telecommunications market, which is controlled by state companies, as well as to stop cyber-dissidents from using a means of communication that is hard to monitor.

- China

China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering. The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools all include filters that block “subversive” word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content. They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers. Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force. Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

- Cuba

With less than 2 per cent of its population online, Cuba is one of the most backward Internet countries. An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders in October revealed that the Cuban government uses several levers to ensure that this medium is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” way. Firstly, it has more or less banned private Internet connections. To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “youth computer clubs” where their activity is more easily monitored. Secondly, the computers in all the Internet cafes and leading hotels contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever “subversive” key-words are spotted. The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal. Finally, the government also relies on self-censorship. You can get 20 years in prison for writing “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites. You can even get five years just for connecting to the Internet illegally. Few Internet users dare to run the risk of defying the regime’s censorship.

- Egypt

Aside from a few sites linked to the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious movements, Egypt does little online filtering. But President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, displays an extremely disturbing authoritarianism as regards the Internet. Three bloggers were arrested in June 2006 and were held for two to three months for calling for democratic reforms. Others have been harassed, such as Coptic blogger Hela Hemi Botros, who was forced to close down her blog in August under pressure from the police. Finally, a Council of State administrative court recently ruled that the authorities could block, suspend of close down any website likely to pose a threat to “national security.” This could open the way to extensive online censorship.

- Iran

Repression of bloggers seems to have declined in 2006. Whereas around 20 were imprisoned in 2005, only Arash Sigarchi is in jail at the moment. But Internet filtering has stepped up and Iran today boasts of filtering 10 million “immoral” websites. Pornographic sites, political sites and those dealing with religion are usually the ones most targeted. But since the summer of 2006, the censors have concentrated on online publications dealing with women’s rights. The authorities also recently decided to ban broadband connections. This could be explained by a concern not to overload the very poor-quality Iranian network, but it could also be motivated by a desire to prevent the downloading of Western cultural products such as films and songs.

- North Korea

Like last year, North Korea continues to be the world’s worst Internet black hole. Only a few officials are able to access the web, using connections rented from China. The country’s domain name - .nk - has still not been launched and the few websites created by the North Korean government are hosted on servers in Japan or South Korea. It is hard to believe this is simply the result of economic difficulties in a country which today is capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads. The North Korean journalists who have found refuge in South Korea are very active on the Internet, especially on the www.dailynk.com website.

- Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia does not hide its online censorship. Unlike China, where website blocking is disguised as technical problems, Saudi Arabia’s filters clearly tell Internet users that certain websites are banned. Censorship concentrates on pornographic content, but it also targets opposition websites, Israeli publications, or sites dealing with homosexuality. Blogs also pose a problem to the Saudi censors. Last year they tried to completely block access to the country’s biggest blog tool, blogger.com. But they backed off a few days later and now they just block the blogs that are deemed unacceptable. In June of this year, for example, the intimate diary of “Saudi Eve,” a young woman who dared to talk about her love life and criticise government censorship, was added to the blacklist.

- Syria

Syria is the Middle East’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, with three people currently detained for criticising the authorities online. They are systematically tortured and subjected to inhumane conditions. The government bans access to Arabic-language opposition sites and sites dealing with Syria’s Kurdish minority.

- Tunisia

In 2005, Tunisia had the honour of hosting the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a big UN event about the Internet’s future. Yet President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s Internet policies are among the most repressive in the world. All the Internet cafes are state-controlled. They filter web content and are under close police surveillance. It is, for example, impossible to access the Reporters Without Borders website from inside Tunisia. The security services also constantly harass independent bloggers and opposition website editors to ensure that self-censorship prevails. One cyber-dissident, Mohammed Abbou, has been imprisoned since March 2005 for criticising the president in an online newsletter.

- Turkmenistan

With less than 1 per cent of the population online, this is one of the world’s least connected countries. President Separmurad Nyazov is a central Asian Kim Jong-Il, wielding total control over the media. Not only is the Turkmen Internet censored, it is also forbidden territory for the vast majority of the population.

- Uzbekistan

Official censorship seems to have become even tougher since the bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy protests in Andidjan in May 2005. The iron-fisted government led by President Islam Karimov blocks access to most independent websites dealing with Uzbekistan, which are usually hosted on servers in Russia, and to NGO websites that criticise its human rights violations.

- Vietnam

The Vietnamese government is negotiating its admission to the World Trade Organisation and is in the uncomfortable position of being squeezed by the international community. Unlike neighbouring China, it is unable to completely ignore the demands of foreign diplomats. It therefore seems to be tending to soften its control over news and information, and hesitates to crack down on dissidents. Several cyber-dissidents, the most famous of whom was Pham Hong Son, were released in 2005 and 2006. This relative forbearance seems to have breathed new life into Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement, which is making admirable use of the Internet to organise and circulate independently-sourced news domestically. A group calling itself “8406" even launched an online petition in the summer of 2006, signed by hundreds of people using their real names, calling on the government to begin political reforms. This use of the Internet by young democrats alarms the authorities, who are still often ready to use force to silence these cyber-dissidents. Ten people have been arrested this year for what they said on the Internet. Four of them are still detained.

Countries removed from the list

- Libya

Reporters Without Borders confirmed, during a fact-finding visit, that the Internet is no longer censored in Libya. Furthermore, no cyber-dissident has been detained since Abdel Razak Al Mansuri’s release in March 2006. Reporters Without Borders nonetheless still regards President Muammar Gaddafi as a press freedom predator.

- Maldives

No cyber-dissident has been imprisoned in the Maldives since Fathimath Nisreen, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmad Didi were released between May 2005 and February 2006. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is still viewed by Reporters Without Borders as a press freedom predator but his policies towards the Internet no longer justify keeping his country on the list of Internet enemies.

- Nepal

Reporters Without Borders has observed a marked improvement in freedom of expression since King Gyanendra backed down and democratic rule was restored in May 2006. The Internet is no longer censored and no harassment or arbitrary detention of any blogger has been reported.


Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective


News Concerning Middle East Reform

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

  • Iraq: Parliament Passes Federalism Bill
  • Yemen: Presidential and Local Election Results
  • Bahrain: Run-Up to Elections
  • UAE: First Elections Coming; Crackdown on Human Rights Activists
  • Kuwait: MPs Blame Government for Electoral Violations
  • Jordan: King Pardons MPs; Parliament Approves Laws
  • Syria: Human Rights Developments
  • Libya: Verdicts by Abolished Courts Upheld; Prison Clashes
  • Upcoming Political Events

Iraq: Parliament Passes Federalism Bill

After months of deadlock, the Iraqi parliament passed a law on October 11 setting up a mechanism to implement a constitution provision allowing the formation of federal regions in Iraq, despite vehement opposition by the Sunni coalition and two Shiite parties. The bill was submitted by the largest Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, with the aim of creating a Shiite autonomous state in southern Iraq with broad powers over security and petroleum resources. The Sunni Iraqi Accord Front and the National Dialogue Front of Saleh Al Mutlaq boycotted the parliamentary session but a quorum was reached with 138 lawmakers (of 275) passing the 200 articles of the bill unanimously. On September 24, Sunni parties agreed to allow the bill to be presented for a vote after reaching a deal that the law would not come into effect for 18 months and that a 27-member committee would be created to review the constitution. Sunni Arab politicians fear that regional autonomy would deny other regions access to oil revenues and want to amend the constitution to strengthen the powers of the central government.

Yemen: Presidential and Local Election Results

After threatening to encourage its supporters to stage street protests, Yemen's opposition parties stated they would accept results of the September 20 presidential election “for the sake of peace and stability. ” The opposition coalition known as the Joint Meeting Parties that fielded former oil executive Faisal Bin Shamlan as its presidential candidate initially rejected election commission results giving incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh 77. 17 percent of the vote and Bin Shamlan just 21. 82 percent, claiming that the government had seized polling stations and stolen ballot boxes. President Saleh acknowledged “mistakes” in the elections and pledged to rectify them in the next one, but stood by his victory and thanked the opposition for giving him his first real challenge in 28 years in power.

In its preliminary report released on September 21, the European Union Election Observation Mission described the elections as “an open and genuine political contest” but cited shortcomings including underage voting, voter intimidation, arrest of opposition candidates, and the overwhelming use of state resources by the ruling party during the election campaign. Les Campbell, Director of the National Democratic Institute's Middle East Program, which assisted in monitoring the elections, said that “Having watched democratic developments for 10 years in the Middle East, this may have been the most significant election so far.” A report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information highlights restrictions imposed on freedom of the press.

The Election Commission on October 4 postponed the announcement of results of local elections also held September 20, citing a lack of final results from all districts. Allegations of fraud and election-related violence, including the deaths of candidates and election officials, have stalled the process. The commission reported that 90 percent of the vote count is complete and that initial results show a victory of the ruling General People Congress with over 80 percent of votes in the provincial councils and 70 percent in district councils. Approximately 65 percent of the 9. 2 million registered voters cast ballots. Click here for more details.

Bahrain: Run-Up to Elections

Protesters and opposition parties are accusing the Bahraini government of extending citizenship and voting rights to Sunni migrants from other Arab countries as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India in order to dilute the voting power of the Shiite majority in parliamentary elections scheduled for November 25. A report by former government advisor Salah Al Bandar describing a conspiracy by senior government officials to rig the upcoming elections to reduce the powers of Shiites has added to the tension. According to the report, this effort is led by the State Minister of Cabinet Affairs and head of the Central Informatics Organization Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyatallah Al Khalifa. Sheikh Ahmed (who also heads the committee overseeing the November elections) denied the claim, saying that the report was an attempt by Al Bandar to erode national unity, sow doubts about the forthcoming elections, and undermine the credibility of officials preparing the elections. Click here to access the report.

Bahrain's largest Shiite political society Al Wefaq, which is planning to contest at least 19 seats in the 40-member lower house, has called for an independent probe into the report's allegations. Al Wefaq and four other political societies boycotted the 2002 elections to protest constitutional changes that granted the appointed upper chamber of parliament equal legislative powers to the elected lower chamber. Nine candidates, including former member of parliament Abdulnabi Salman, have established a new alliance called the National Unity Bloc. Its platform calls for promoting constitutional reforms that would place legislative power entirely in the hands of the elected lower house, allow for the establishment of political parties, and redraw electoral constituencies.

Bahrain's judicial authority announced that it will for the first time fully supervise the elections. The November elections will be only the second time that Bahrainis will elect fully representative municipal councils and the lower house of the National Assembly. The 2002 parliamentary elections were Bahrain's first since 1975, when former ruler Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament.

UAE: First Elections Coming; Crackdown on Human Rights Activists

The UAE government will hold its first-ever indirect elections for half of the members of the 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), the closest body the country has to a parliament, on December 16. The FNC serves in an advisory capacity and lacks legislative powers. Minister of State for FNC Affairs Anwar Gargash announced election procedures in September; click here for details. The ruler of each of the seven emirates has named members to the electoral colleges (6, 689 members in total, 1, 189 of them women), who will then elect half the FNC members from amongst themselves. The other half of the council's members will continue to be appointed by the leaders of the emirates. The UAE is the only country among the six Gulf Cooperation Council states that has yet to hold any form of elections. In the past months, security officials and the judiciary in the United Arab Emirates have targeted several prominent human rights defenders. A travel ban and arrest warrant was issued on June 17 against Muhammad Al Mansoori, president of the independent Jurists Association and a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. According to Al Mansoori, the warrant charged him with “insulting the Public Prosecutor” on the basis of his human rights advocacy. Security officials detained prominent lawyer and human rights defender Al-Muhammad Al Roken on July 27 for 24 hours and again on August 23 for three days on charges of “immoral behavior” and questioned him about his human rights activities and contacts. Also, the Ministry of Social Welfare has not replied to applications by two human rights groups for licenses since 2004. Under the Associations Law, the ministry should have replied within 30 days. In a letter to UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Human Rights Watch called on the UAE to halt the harassment of human rights defenders and allow independent human rights groups to operate legally. Click here to read the letter.

Kuwait: MPs Blame Government for Electoral Violations

A parliamentary committee established in July to investigate electoral violations in Kuwait declared on October 1 that it has evidence of government interference in the June parliamentary elections. The committee has not released details of its findings but has requested that the government ask the head of the Citizen Services Apparatus Sheikh Muhammad Al Abdullah Al Mubarak Al Sabah to step down for three months while the investigation unfolds. Government officials have responded that the constitution does not allow a parliamentary committee to make such requests.

Jordan: King Pardons MPs; Parliament Approves Laws

Jordan's King Abdullah pardoned on September 30 two Islamist MPs, Mohammad Abu Fares and Ali Abul Sukkar. The two were sentenced to 13-month prison terms on charges of fuelling national discord and inciting sectarianism after they attended the funeral of Al Qaeda militant Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in June. The Islamic Action Front (IAF) welcomed their release but insisted that the sentence had been unfair and that they should regain their parliamentary seats.

Relations between the government and the IAF have been further strained by legislation to tighten control over mosque preachers. On September 27, parliament approved the draft iftaa (Islamic verdicts) law that requires written approval from the religious affairs minister for new mosque preachers and anyone teaching the Quran in mosques. Under the law, violators face penalties of up to one month in prison and a fine of $142. On September 13 parliament approved a measure that allows only a state-appointed council to issue fatwas (religious edicts) and makes it illegal to criticize these fatwas. IAF MPs rejected the law on the basis that it curbs religious freedoms and freedom of expression.

Parliament also approved legislation on September 27 to fight corruption through the creation of a “financially and administratively autonomous” six-member commission tasked with investigating corruption, including suspects among current and former officials. To the dismay of many human rights activists, parliament endorsed a last-minute amendment to allow the Prime Minister to appoint the members.

Syria: Human Rights Developments

  • Journalist Ali Abdullah and his son, Muhammad, were released from prison on October 4 after completing six month-terms on charges including “broadcasting abroad false or exaggerated news which would damage the reputation of the state.” A further charge connected with allegations that he insulted the Syrian president was dropped. Click here for more details.
  • Khalil Hussein, Mahmoud Issa, Suleyman Shummar and Muhammad Mahfouz, considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, were released on bail of 1, 000 Syrian Lira (US $20) on September 25 after they were arrested for signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration of 12 May 2006.
  • According to the National Organization for Human Rights, Abdo Khalaf Wlo, a former leading member of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic party, was released from prison after being arrested in mid-June.
  • Anwar Al Bunni and Michel Kilo (who have been held since 14 May) remain in prison, reportedly on charges including “weakening nationalist feelings and inciting racial or sectarian strife. ” There is no date as yet for their trial or information about which court will hear their case. Click here for more details.
  • Eight Syrian students from the University of Damascus arrested between January and March 2006 continue to be held incommunicado and without legal counsel. The charges are not known, but they were reportedly involved in developing a youth movement and in writing political articles for various websites. They were scheduled to appear before the State Security Court September 26, but the trial has been postponed until November 26. Click here for more details.

Libya: Verdicts by Abolished Courts Upheld; Prison Clashes

A court in Tripoli upheld on October 4 the decision of the now abolished People's Court to convict 190 prisoners arrested in the second half of the 1990s on charges related to membership of or links with an unauthorized organization, believed to be the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The court had been ordered to retry the cases by Libya's Supreme Court, which reviewed and overturned the original sentences following the abolition of the People's Court in January 2005. Violent clashes in which at least one prisoner was killed took place in the Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli on October 4, after some prisoners were brought back to the prison following the hearing. Hundreds of political prisoners have been detained there in recent years and the prison was the scene of a mass killing of detainees in June 1996, with estimated figures of those killed ranging up to 1, 200. Click here for more details.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Bahrain: Legislative and municipal elections, November 25, 2006.
  • Algeria: Referendum on constitutional revision, fall 2006.
  • United Arab Emirates: Elections to the Federal National Council, December 16, 2006.


Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective


Middle East Salvation

The White House had released a fact sheet summarizing President Bush's address to the UN General Assembly last September. I will post this fact sheet because of its importance since it reflects the White House's ideology on the key Middle East affairs, and it complements another recent important fact sheet on the U.S. Middle East strategy I have already posted.

As we, the liberal intellectuals and scholars, cheered the long-awaited U.S. new deal and strategy in the Middle East after 9/11, I, for my part, still stress the regional dimension, and in many places and meanings, the regional nature of the entire Iraqi question and issue. I still do not know how much the American government perceives this fact, and if so, we need this perception to take shape in the U.S. Middle East policy. This policy should deal regionally with the Iraqi issue, and should include besides dialogue, where applicable, all kinds of pressure and force, where needed and productive, starting with the weakest part in a destructive system or alliance. It is necessary to realize in the current Middle East that geopolitics matters.

Strategically and historically, it is the right course in the Middle East now and history will prove that. Nevertheless, we still need a more decisive U.S. policy there; some decisions should be made and some vagueness should be cleared toward the Middle East totalitarian system. The regional-approach policy should be assertive and progressive motivated by a group of definite objectives. It is not about what so-called "engagement," which means in political sense moving back; this will be ultimately disastrous. It is about playing the whole game, the geopolitical game under one limit that the pre-9/11 and Cold-War Middle East status quo should be changed towards integrating this region into the rest of the world and to catch the civilization process for regional and international security, stability and prosperity.

How to formulate this policy is not a difficult and extraordinary task since history and political science gave us the rules and laws through the experience of the Cold-War, and thanks to the Soviet Union and its demise we know the right means of dealing successfully with totalitarian states and entities. Pressure, isolation and keeping under siege is the indispensable context for any productive "engagement" with totalitarian regimes and for any successful policy considering that freedom weapon always affects and matters in such situations.

Also read:

- Middle East Totalitarian Axis

- The Neo-Internationalism after 9/11 and Middle East Democratization

- Middle East Totalitarians and Existential Choice

- U.S. Middle East Strategy

- Lebanon's Liberation and Independence

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror

- Iraq Victory: Middle East Salvation

- About Iran Regime

- War on Iran Under Way

- Iran's Waning Human Rights

- The International 'New Deal' of the Middle East

Here is the White House's fact sheet:

Fact Sheet: Address to the UN General Assembly: A More Hopeful World Beyond Terror and Extremism

September 19, 2006

Today, The President Addressed The United Nations General Assembly And Spoke About A More Hopeful World Beyond Terror And Extremism - Where Ordinary Men And Women Are Free To Determine Their Own Destiny, The Voices Of Moderation Are Empowered, And The Extremists Are Marginalized By The Peaceful Majority. President Bush believes this more hopeful world can be ours if we seek it and work together. At the start of the 21st century, it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people everywhere who are working for peace.

We Are Seeing A Bright Future Begin To Take Root In The Broader Middle East. The principles animating this future can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' statement that the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents.

  • Some Of The Changes In The Broader Middle East Have Been Dramatic - More Than 50 Million People Have Been Given A Voice In The UN For The First Time In Decades. Afghanistan's seat in the UN is now held by the freely elected government of Afghanistan. Iraq's seat in the UN is now held by a democratic government that embodies the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

  • Some Of The Changes In The Middle East Are Happening Gradually, But These Changes Are Real. Algeria has held its first competitive presidential election, and the military remained neutral. The United Arab Emirates recently announced that half the seats in its Federal National Council will be chosen by elections. Kuwait held elections in which women were allowed to vote and run for office for the first time. Citizens have voted in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, in parliamentary elections in Jordan and Bahrain, and in multiparty presidential elections in Yemen and Egypt.
Some Have Argued That These Democratic Changes Are Destabilizing The Middle East - But The Stability We Thought We Saw In The Middle East Was A Mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in this region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. These conditions left a generation disillusioned and made the region a breeding ground for extremism.

Every Civilized Nation - Including Those In The Muslim World - Must Support Those In The Region Who Are Offering A More Hopeful Alternative. We must seek true stability through a free and just Middle East where the extremists are marginalized by millions of citizens in control of their own destinies.

The President Spoke Directly To People Across The Broader Middle East: America Desires Peace

  • To The People Of Iraq: We Will Not Abandon You. Nearly 12 million Iraqis braved the car bombers and assassins last December to vote in free elections, and we will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation. America and its Coalition partners will continue to stand with Iraq's democratic government, help secure the international assistance and investment Iraq needs to create jobs and opportunity, and train Iraqis who have stepped forward to fight the enemies of freedom. In return, Iraq's leaders must make the difficult choices to bring security and prosperity.

  • To The People Of Afghanistan: We Will Help You Defeat The Extremists Who Want To Destroy Afghanistan's Young Democracy. Since overthrowing the Taliban, Afghanistan has chosen its leaders in free elections and built a democratic government. Today, forces from more than 40 countries - including members of the NATO Alliance - are bravely serving side by side with the people of Afghanistan against the extremists. We will help you defeat these enemies and build a free Afghanistan that will never again oppress you or be a safe haven for terrorists.

  • To The People Of Lebanon: We See Your Suffering, And The World Is Helping You Rebuild Your Country And Deal With The Armed Extremists Who Are Undermining Your Democracy By Acting As A State Within A State. Last year, the people of Lebanon inspired the world when they drove Syrian forces from their country and re-established democracy. Since then, they have been tested by the fighting that began with Hezbollah's unprovoked attacks on Israel. The UN has passed a good resolution that has authorized an international force, led by France and Italy, to help restore Lebanese sovereignty over Lebanese soil. For many years, Lebanon was a model of democracy, pluralism, and openness in the region - and it will be again.

  • To The People Of Iran: The United States Respects You And Your Country. The greatest obstacle to a better future for Iran is that its rulers have chosen to deny the people of Iran liberty and use their nation's resources to fund terrorists, fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The UN has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. The world has no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We are working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis, and we look to the day when the people of Iran can live in freedom - and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace.

  • To The People Of Syria: Your Government Must Choose A Better Way Forward. Syria is home to a great people with a proud tradition of learning and commerce. Today, Syria's rulers have allowed the country to become a crossroad for terrorists, and are turning the country into a tool of Iran, increasing Syria's isolation from the world. Syria's government can stop this growing isolation and create a more hopeful future for its country by ending its support for terror, living in peace with its neighbors, and opening the way to a better life for the Syrian people.

  • To The People Of Darfur: You Have Suffered Unspeakable Violence, And America Has Called These Atrocities What They Are - Genocide. For the last two years, America has joined with the international community to provide emergency food aid and support an African Union peacekeeping force. Yet the suffering continues. The Security Council has approved a resolution that would transform the African Union force into a blue-helmeted force that is larger and more robust, but the regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the UN must act. Today, President Bush announced he is naming former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios as a Presidential Special Envoy to lead America's efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to Darfur.

The World Must Stand Up For Peace In The Holy Land

By Supporting The Forces Of Democracy And Moderation, The World Can Help Israelis And Palestinians Build A More Hopeful Future And Achieve Peace In The Holy Land.

  • President Bush Is Committed To Two Democratic States - Israel And Palestine - Living Side By Side In Peace And Security. President Abbas is committed to peace and to his people's aspirations for a state of their own. Prime Minister Olmert is also committed to peace and has said he intends to meet with President Abbas to make real progress on the outstanding issues between them.

  • Earlier This Year, The Leaders Of Hamas Were Elected On A Platform Of Ending Corruption And Improving The Lives Of The Palestinian People. The world has sent a clear message to the leaders of Hamas: Serve the interests of the Palestinian people, abandon terror, recognize Israel, honor agreements, and work for peace.

  • The President Has Directed Secretary Of State Rice To Lead A Diplomatic Effort To Engage Moderate Leaders Across The Region, Help The Palestinians Reform Their Security Services, And Support Israeli And Palestinian Leaders In Their Efforts To Come Together To Resolve Their Differences. Prime Minister Blair has indicated that his country will work with partners in Europe to help strengthen the governing institutions of an effective Palestinian administration. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt have made clear they are willing to contribute the diplomatic and financial assistance necessary to help these efforts succeed.

Freedom, By Its Nature, Cannot Be Imposed - It Must Be Chosen

The World Must Choose Between Supporting The Moderates And Reformers Working For Change Across The Middle East - Or Yielding The Future To The Terrorists And Extremists. America has made its choice: we will stand with the moderates and reformers. Together we will support the dreams of good and decent people who are working to transform a troubled region - and by doing so, we will advance the high ideals on which the UN was founded.