News Concerning Middle East Reform

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

  • Lebanon: Government Talks Collapse
  • Palestine: Progress in Hamas-Fatah Talks
  • Jordan: Pending Cabinet Reshuffle
  • Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood-NDP Tensions; Liberal MP Sentenced
  • Bahrain: Run-Up to Elections
  • Saudi Arabia: New Succession Rules
  • Kuwait: Debate on Electoral Violations Continues
  • United Arab Emirates: Improvement in Labor Rights
  • Morocco: Justice and Charity Leader Imprisoned; Yassine Trial Postponed
  • Algeria: Referendum Delayed
  • Libya: National Security Council Established
  • New Transparency International Corruption Index
  • Upcoming Political Events

Lebanon: Government Talks Collapse

Talks aimed at easing political tensions in Lebanon collapsed on November 11 after the anti-Syrian governing majority rejected demands from Hezbollah and its allies to be granted one-third of cabinet positions. Six ministers (five from Shiite political parties Hezbollah and Amal) withdrew from the 24-member cabinet in protest. The week-long talks were prompted by a threat from Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah that unless this demand was met by mid-November, the group would resort to street protests to bring down the government. Hezbollah accused the governing majority led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of failing to back it during the July war with Israel and of supporting U.S. and Israeli demands for its disarmament.

The majority coalition stated it was willing to include Maronite leader (and Hezbollah ally) Michel Aoun in the cabinet but refused to surrender a third of cabinet posts, which would give Hezbollah veto power. The majority accused Hezbollah of seeking to veto a statute approving an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. The remaining cabinet members approved on November 13 a United Nations proposal outlining the structure and legal framework of the international tribunal.

Palestine: Progress in Hamas-Fatah Talks

Fatah and Hamas agreed on November 13 to appoint Muhammad Shubeir, former President of the Islamic University of Gaza, as the new prime minister in a unity government that will be formed by the end of November. Ismail Haniyya, the Palestinian Prime Minister and leader of Hamas, declared on November 10 that he was prepared to resign his post if it would bring an end to the international aid embargo imposed on the current Hamas government for refusing to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by previous interim peace agreements.

Jordan: Pending Cabinet Reshuffle

Jordan's Prime Minister Marouf Al Bakhit announced he will introduce cabinet changes before parliament's ordinary session opens on November 28.

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood-NDP Tensions; Liberal MP Sentenced

The Muslim Brotherhood accused the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of committing fraud in elections for speaker of the People's Assembly. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, who has served as speaker since 1990, was reelected with 319 votes of 445. The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammad Saad Al Katatni received 79 votes. This is the first time the Brotherhood has nominated a candidate for the post.

The Muslim Brotherhood also charged the government with denying its candidates access to union offices ahead of labor union elections, as well as disqualifying students affiliated with the group from student elections. State security forces detained about 30 students on November 5 and eight members of the Muslim Brotherhood on October 17. According to Human Rights Watch, 792 members of the organization were detained between March and October. According to the Muslim Brotherhood, 62 remain in custody: 29 of them charged with belonging to an illegal organization and the remaining 33 without charge. On October 18, Secretary General Mahmoud Izzat, arrested on August 25, was released. Click here for more details.

On October 31 a military court in Cairo sentenced Talaat Al Sadat, a member of parliament for the opposition Al Ahrar party and nephew of late President Anwar Al Sadat, to one year in prison for “spreading false rumors” and “insulting the armed forces and the republican guard.” On October 5 Speaker of Parliament Fathi Sorour, acting at the request of Egypt's military prosecutor general, stripped Al Sadat of his parliamentary immunity, the day after he gave media interviews accusing military officers of participating in a conspiracy that led to the assassination of President Sadat. Click here for more details.

Bahrain: Run-Up to Elections

Bahrain's electoral commission rejected demands by opposition groups to allow foreign observers to monitor the parliamentary and municipal elections slated for November 25. The commission also rejected on November 2 the demand by Bahrain's largest Shiite political society Al Wefaq (which is planning to contest 17 seats in the 40-member lower house) that military personnel should not be allowed to participate in the poll.

Bahrain's Information Ministry blocked several websites on October 30 for violating a ban on reporting about a scandal over election irregularities. The report by former government advisor Salah Al Bandar described a conspiracy by senior government officials to rig the upcoming elections to reduce the powers of Shiites. Among the blocked websites are those of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and the website of the opposition National Democratic Action Society. Click here for more details.

Saudi Arabia: New Succession Rules

In a move to formalize the royal succession process, Saudi Arabia's royal court announced on October 20 the formation of a committee of princes to vote on the eligibility of future kings and crown princes. According to a statement by the royal court (Arabic Text), the committee, to be known as the Allegiance Institution, will include the sons and grandsons of King Abdul Aziz. Under the new rules the committee can vote for one of three princes nominated by the king. In the event that neither the king nor the crown prince are deemed fit to rule, a five-member transitory council would run state affairs for a maximum of one week.

Kuwait: Debate on Electoral Violations Continues

Kuwait's parliament turned down on November 6 a request by a parliamentary committee to suspend the head of the Citizen Services Apparatus Sheikh Muhammad Al Abdullah Al Mubarak Al Sabah. The committee, established in July to investigate electoral violations, declared on October 1 that it had evidence of government interference in the June parliamentary elections and asked for Al Abdullah's suspension while the investigation unfolds. Out of the 60 present MPs, 32 voted against the recommendation, 21 voted in favor, and seven abstained. MPs in favor of the proposal called for shutting down the citizen service apparatus on the grounds that it is a source of corruption. Click here for more details in Arabic.

United Arab Emirates: Improvement in Labor Rights

The United Arab Emirates' Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a series of reforms on November 8 designed to improve worker rights. The reforms include: establishing a labor court to handle workers' complaints; regulating contracts of foreign laborers; setting fixed working hours for domestic help; requiring the labor ministry to create a mechanism to prevent delays in wage payments; and adopting a system of health insurance for all categories of workers. The UAE is currently negotiating a free trade pact with the United States.

Morocco: Justice and Charity Leader Imprisoned; Yassine Trial Postponed

A Moroccan court sentenced Muhammad Al Abadi, the Al Adl wal Ihsan (Justice and Charity) group's second-in-command, to a one-year prison term for violating construction regulations in his house. Observers, however, believe the case is political and in line with the authorities' recent crackdown on the group, believed to be the largest opposition organizaton in Morocco. Al Abadi was arrested along with approximately 100 members and leaders of the group on June 14. Between May and June, Moroccan authorities briefly detained some 500 members after the group launched an "open doors" campaign to recruit outside traditional areas such as mosques and universities.

The trial of Nadia Yassine, the unofficial Al Adl wal Ihsan spokeswoman, was postponed on October 31 until April 19, 2007. Yassine faces charges of defaming the monarchy after she stated that she preferred a republic to an “autocratic regime” in an interview with the Al Usbuiyya Al Jadida daily in June 2005. If convicted, she will face jail sentences of three to five years and a fines of 10,000-100,000 dirham ($1,100- $11,000).

Algeria: Referendum Delayed

The Algerian government will delay a planned referendum on constitutional amendments until next year. Proposed amendments are expected to extend the presidential term from five years to seven years, abrogate the two-term limit, and introduce the position of vice president.

Libya: National Security Council Established

Libya's government announced the establishment of a national security council on October 21. The council—headed by the prime minister and composed by the ministers of defense, general security, communication, economy, and finance—will be in charge of designing a strategy for internal and external security as well as declaring a state if emergency in the case of national security threats. Click here for more details in Arabic.

New Transparency International Corruption Index

Iraq is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world (160 out of 163 countries worldwide) in the 2006 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International. In the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates is ranked the least corrupt (31), followed by Qatar (32) and Bahrain (36). The most corrupt Arab states beside Iraq are Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Sudan. Jordan and Tunisia witnessed a significant worsening of their ratings while Algeria and Lebanon saw a major improvement. Click here for the complete ranking.

Upcoming Political Events

  • United Arab Emirates: Elections to the Federal National Council, December 16, 2006.


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