4.26.2006

LEBANESE FREEDOM ANNIVERSARY


On April 26, 2005, the Lebanese people, backed by the international community, liberated their country and recovered their freedom through ending the Ba'ath occupation of Lebanon. Therefore, Lebanon is the second country kicking the Ba'ath tyranny out after Iraq.

In honor of this occasion, I will post the celebrating editorial by the Lebanese martyr and hero, the brave leader and symbol of the liberating Cedar Revolution
Gebran Tueni who paid his life for freedom and truth and for his country.

Gebran, rest in peace, Lebanon is free and will always be, and you will always be alive in our hearts.

Happy anniversary for all!



The Dream Came True? And Lebanon is Risen

By Gebran Tueni

Lebanon is finally free of Syrian military and intelligence presence.

On April 27th, 2005 Lebanon recovered its freedom, sovereignty and independence.

Today, Lebanon recovered its freedom of decision.

Today, after 29 years, Lebanon is liberated.

The credit goes to the Lebanese people who resisted, defied and endured killing, repression and humiliation.

The credit goes to the people who remained attached to their right, freedom, land and their faith in a better future, the people who believed that their dream will come true one day. And it has come true.

We thank the international community that took a renewed interest in Lebanon and helped it recover its sovereignty, independence and freedom through UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1595.

And the biggest thanks to Lebanon?s martyrs, the latest being PM Rafic Hariri whose martyrdom cemented the unity of the Lebanese people who revolted to recover their stolen rights and violated land.

The decorations given to Syrian senior officers by President Emile Lahoud before they left Lebanon, should have been given to the heroic Lebanese people, to the Lebanese living martyrs and to the martyrs? parents? unless these decorations are a way of thanking the tutelage authority for keeping its protégés in power for more than a quarter of a century!

Mr. President, how can you thank someone who laid his hands on a country, which you had pledged to safeguard, and stripped it of its freedom of decision?

The Lebanese people cannot forget that Syria governed Lebanon for more than 30 years and benefited from its fortunes and resources. It also contributed to the disintegration of the familial and political society, and hindered the reconciliation of the Lebanese people thus applying the policy of ?divide and rule?, not to forget its role in the war, the kidnapping, the killing, the destruction and the displacement?

Mr. President, it would have been better for you before awarding those decorations, to assess the damages caused by the Syrian presence in Lebanon for 30 years, and determine the best ways to indemnify those who suffered financial and moral damages because of this presence.

However, our position from the Syrian presence and the schism it caused among the Lebanese people does not mean that we do not genuinely aspire for the establishment of the best relations with Damascus on the basis of mutual trust and respect. And this cannot happen unless all missing and kidnapped persons and detainees in Syria return to Lebanon, and diplomatic relations are established between the two countries.Today free life is back to Lebanon with the restitution of sovereignty and independence.

Today, our dream came true, the dream of the long-awaited resurrection, a dream we almost thought it would never come true: Lebanon without Syrian presence!

Let the bells ring and the minarets resonate with Koran verses. Cheer and celebrate. Smile and rejoice because Lebanon is free?

The Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon, and Lebanon is risen, really risen!

U.S. Democracy Promotion, a Round-up

Here is a recent policy watch of the U.S. efforts and stances concerning democracy promotion worldwide:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

Bush Says Lebanon Can Be Example of Diverse, Peaceful State

Reaffirms commitment to free, independent Lebanon to Prime Minister Siniora

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington -- President Bush said Lebanon, as a religiously diverse country emerging from conflict, “can serve as a great example for what is possible” to other countries in the Middle East.

Speaking April 18 with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Bush said Lebanon’s recent experience shows that people who are overcoming sectarian conflict can live in peace, and that “it's possible for people to put aside past histories to live together."

The president recalled Lebanon’s “great tradition” of serving “as a model of entrepreneurship and prosperity” and described its capital Beirut as “one of the great international cities.”

The president expressed his conviction that “if Lebanon is truly free and independent and democratic," Beirut will "regain her place as a center of financial and culture and the arts.”

He also called for a full investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, saying the United States will “work with the international community to see that justice is done.” (See related article.)

Bush told the prime minister that, “the United States strongly supports a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon,” and expressed support for the country’s Cedar Revolution against Syria’s presence. He praised the courage of the demonstrators and said he supports their desire “to have a government responsive to their needs and a government that is [truly] free.”

Siniora said the United States “has been of great support” to Lebanon, and thanked Bush particularly for supporting the United Nations Security Council resolutions that called for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon following Hariri’s murder.

“I am really convinced that President Bush and the United States will stand beside Lebanon to have Lebanon stay as a free, democratic, united, and sovereign state,” Siniora said, adding that the U.S. role “is really of great importance in this regard.”

Lebanon has been going through “major changes,” he said, and his government is seeking to meet the expectations of the Lebanese people “to have a united, liberal, free country, and, at the same time, prosperous economy.”

Before the two leaders met, White House press secretary Scott McClellan praised the prime minister, saying he “has made a lot of progress under his leadership to move Lebanon toward greater prosperity and democracy … since the withdrawal of Syrian troops.”

He also said the United States “will continue to talk about the importance of making sure that there’s no outside interference to destabilize Lebanon.

“We have a very good relationship with the people of Lebanon and they’re still struggling to emerge from the shadow of Syrian occupation and to chart their own future,” McClellan said.

Siniora made remarks in Arabic after his meeting in which he said he appreciated the opportunity to discuss recent events in Lebanon with Bush. He said the United States and Lebanon share common values, and enjoy close ties through the many Lebanese immigrants to the United States.

The prime minister said he sensed a willingness from Bush to support Lebanese security by equipping its army, and said the United States will participate in an international conference to support Lebanon’s economy.

He said he and Bush also discussed the status of the Shebaa Farms region, which remains occupied by Israel but is claimed by Lebanon as its territory. The prime minister said he also intends to discuss the matter with the United Nations, including whatever means would be required to have the area be internationally recognized as Lebanese territory.

A transcript of the Bush-Siniora remarks is available on the White House Web site.
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United States Deplores Syrian Repression of Human-Rights Activists

Dissidents subject to intimidation, detention, mob violence

The United States is concerned over the Syrian government’s increased repression of human-rights activists in recent days, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

In a March 24 statement, McCormack said activists and demonstrators have been subject to intimidation and arbitrary detention. He also said Syrian security forces have been unwilling to protect peaceful demonstrators from mob attacks.

According to news reports, the Syrian government has, in recent days, detained numerous opposition figures involved in a March 9 demonstration against Syria’s longstanding emergency laws.

“The United States deplores the atmosphere of fear being fostered by the Syrian authorities,” he said. “We call upon the government of Syria to cease its harassment of Syrians who seek to defend their rights and to bring democratic change to their country.”

Following is the text of the statement:

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
March 24, 2006

STATEMENT BY SEAN MCCORMACK, SPOKESMAN

Syria: Repression of Democracy and Human Rights Activists

The United States is concerned by the Syrian Government's increased repression of democracy and human rights activists. In recent days, individuals peacefully advocating the fundamental human rights of Syrian citizens have been subjected to intimidation and arbitrary detention by Syrian authorities. In other instances, non-violent demonstrators were attacked by a mob while Syrian security personnel stood idly by.

The United States deplores the atmosphere of fear being fostered by the Syrian authorities. We call upon the Government of Syria to cease its harassment of Syrians who seek to defend their rights and to bring democratic change to their country. The United States stands with the people of Syria in their desire for freedom and democracy.

(end text)
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U.S. Designates Hizballah-Controlled TV, Radio as Terrorist Entities

Treasury action freezes U.S.-held assets, bars contact with U.S. entities

Washington -- The Treasury Department has designated two Hizballah-controlled broadcasting outlets as global terrorist entities.

In a March 23 announcement, Treasury named al-Manar, a satellite television operation either owned or controlled by Hizballah, as a media outlet funded by a terrorist organization and supported by the Iranian regime -- itself a state sponsor of terrorism. The Lebanese Media Group and its radio and TV subsidiaries were singled out as global terrorist entities for promoting Hizballah activities.

"Any entity maintained by a terrorist group … is as culpable as the terrorist group itself," said Stuart Levey, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

According to the statement, these media outlets have facilitated Hizballah’s activities, including:

• Al-Manar has employed several Hizballah members, one of which used his employment as cover for surveillance to carry out a Hizballah operation.

• Both al-Manar and al-Nour have supported Hizballah fund-raising and recruitment efforts.

• Al-Manar also has supported other designated terrorist organizations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Palestinian al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

As a result of the designation, transactions between U.S. persons and the designated entities are prohibited. Further, any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction now are frozen.

The full text of the Treasury announcement is available on the department Web site.

Al Manar was added to the State Department's Terrorism Exclusion List (TEL) in December 2004. (See related article.)
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U.S. Condemns Syrian Subpoena of Lebanese Officials, Journalist

State Department Accuses Syria of interference in Lebanese affairs

The United States condemned a Syrian court’s reported subpoenas of Lebanese member of parliament Walid Jumblatt, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and journalist Fares Kashan to answer to charges of inciting the United States to occupy Syria and defaming Damascus.

In a written statement issued April 6, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the move “yet another cynical attempt by the Syrian government to interfere in the Lebanese political process and intimidate the Lebanese people and their political leaders.”

Jumblatt is a leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority that rose to power in the June 2005 elections.

McCormack urged the international community to call Syria to account for its ongoing interference in internal Lebanese affairs.

Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April 2005 under strong international pressure, but many international observers believe that Syria still maintains intelligence forces in Lebanon and continues to interfere in Lebanese affairs.

Following is the text of McCormack’s statement:

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
April 6, 2006

STATEMENT BY SEAN MCCORMACK, SPOKESMAN

Syrian Interference in Lebanon

The United States condemns the reported issuance of warrants by a Syrian military court for Lebanese Parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and journalist Fares Kashan to appear for questioning, in a case accusing them of "inciting the US administration to occupy Syria" and "defaming" Damascus. This move is yet another cynical attempt by the Syrian government to interfere in the Lebanese political process and intimidate the Lebanese people and their political leaders.

We call on the international community to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its continued interference in Lebanon, insufficient action on the Iraqi border, sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist groups, and its harsh crackdown on civil society.
(end text)
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U.S. Concerned Over Harassment of Tunisian Political Activists

Harassment continues despite nominal democratic reforms

The United States has expressed its concern over the harassment of political activists and civil society organizations in Tunisia.

“While the Government of Tunisia has taken some positive steps forward, including recent prisoner releases, improvements in prison facilities, and increased protection of the media, the United States looks to Tunisia to demonstrate a sustained and consistent approach to its declared intentions to engage in greater democratic reform. Harassment of citizens seeking to express dissident views peacefully and to organize legally is inconsistent with that goal,” said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli in an April 3 statement.

The statement comes after reports that political activist Neila Charchour Hachicha and her family have been subject to harassment, interrogation and imprisonment because of her public calls for a free press and democratic reforms in Tunisia.

This comes less than a year after another political activist, Mohamed Abbou, was convicted and imprisoned as a result of legal proceedings that were widely seen as irregular.

Following is the text of the statement:
(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
April 3, 2006

STATEMENT BY ADAM ERELI, DEPUTY SPOKESMAN

Harassment of Tunisian Activists

The United States is concerned about reports of harassment of activists and civil society organizations in Tunisia. We are particularly concerned about the situation of political activist Neila Charchour Hachicha and her family, including the 10-month prison sentence given to her husband, confiscation of her car, distribution of doctored photographs of a family member, and her long interrogation by Tunisian authorities. The actions of the Tunisian Government are particularly troubling given her recent remarks regarding freedom of the press and the need for democratic reform in Tunisia on Al Jazeera and at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

These actions are part of a pattern of harassment. The activist lawyer Mohamed Abbou, convicted last year through legal processes that were called highly irregular by Tunisian non-governmental organizations and international observers, remains imprisoned. Activities of civil society organizations are systematically disrupted -- including those associated with the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society.

While the Government of Tunisia has taken some positive steps forward, including recent prisoner releases, improvements in prison facilities, and increased protection of the media, the United States looks to Tunisia to demonstrate a sustained and consistent approach to its declared intentions to engage in greater democratic reform. Harassment of citizens seeking to express dissident views peacefully and to organize legally is inconsistent with that goal.
(end text)
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State Department Issues Report Detailing Progress in Iraq

Report finds progress in politics, economics, security, despite violence

Washington -- Iraq's economy nearly doubled from 2002 to 2005, despite disruptions from terrorists and insurgents, the State Department said in its first presidential report to Congress detailing progress in Iraq in the areas of politics, economics and security.

Water and sewage services in Iraq have been rehabilitated and immunization campaigns for children have been carried out, the department said in an April 7 media note summarizing the conclusions of the report.

Iraqi politicians are making progress toward forming a government despite the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February by attackers who sought to start a civil war, the report says, and in the realm of security, Iraqi soldiers and policemen continue to be trained and equipped.

As for the challenges, the report says the defense and interior ministries face multiple administrative challenges and the chains of command in the two ministries are undermined by militia and criminal elements, the note said. It added that Iraq's local and provincial governments face difficulties stemming from a long-history of centralized rule from Baghdad.

The media note and the report are available on the State Department Web site.
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Rice Says Advancing Liberty, Democracy Long-Term Answer to Terror

Direct combat with terrorists a short-term solution, secretary says

By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Fostering liberty and democracy is key to defeating terrorism by changing the circumstances that create extremists, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Testifying March 28 before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with the State Department, the secretary called direct combat against terrorists a short-term solution, but not sufficient for achieving long-term security.

"We believe that the ideology of hatred which [terrorists] espouse can only be met by advancing liberty and democracy," Rice said. That is why, she said, the United States is supporting democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as pressing authoritarian regimes for change through the Broader Middle East Initiative. (See BMENA.)

"And change is coming," Rice said. "It comes with turbulence. It comes with difficulty. But change in the Middle East is coming."

IRAQ

Senator Mitch McConnell, the subcommittee chairman, asked Rice to list items illustrating the progress being made in Iraq.

The secretary responded that the most important news from Iraq is the on-going political process both to form a unity government and to decide how that government should govern. It is a difficult and contentious process, she said, but for the first time in Iraq's history, democracy is occurring, and all elements of Iraqi society are engaged and moving ahead.

The reconstruction that is taking place in Iraq also illustrates progress, although some of it is moving more slowly than the United States would like, Rice said.

She acknowledged that the city of Baghdad is not getting as much electrical power as it had before the 2003 war, but explained that overall electrical generating capacity for the whole country has been improved. And later in 2006, she said, power in Baghdad also will improve as more generating capacity comes on line.

"Schools and clinics and children going to school are really the result of the reconstruction funds that this Congress has appropriated to the Iraqi people," Rice added.

The capabilities of the Iraqi security forces also are improving, she said, noting that the Iraqis now have taken over responsibility for keeping the majority of their territory secure.

In answer to questions, Rice said there are indications that Iran is "supporting troublemakers -- militias and the like” in southern Iraq and that British forces there believe that Iranian technology is evident in the improvised bombs being used by insurgents.

The secretary also said she has asked the Russian foreign minister to look into the question of whether Russia provided military information about the coalition forces’ strategy to Iraq officials before the war, as indicated in captured Iraqi documents.

"We take very seriously any implication that someone might have been passing information that endangered the operation at the outset of the war, and we will look for an answer back from the Russian government once, hopefully, they've had a chance to look into it," Rice said.

The transcript of the secretary’s opening statement to the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs is available on the State Department Web site.

4.17.2006

SYRIA'S INDEPENDENCE

Today, Syrians are celebrating the national Independence Day. As a Syrian who condemned to live in this era of "independent Syria," let me define, in brief, the meaning of independence as we are living it in the revolutionary socialist resistant independent Syria (and going now to be the Islamic revolutionary socialist resistant independent Syria according to Saddam's prescription). Looted and ruined country; devastated and enslaved people; lost nation and civilization; flourished totalitarianism, beside the countless accomplishments of the revolution, which no American administration ever could claim it achieved even 10% of them.

As these accomplishments exceed my ability of perception, I spent some years after my graduation from the Lebanese University's Political Science faculty (the revolution had forgotten this discipline in the Ba'ath universities, besides my inability to grasp the Ba'ath's genius progressive political vision and literature, which exceed the reactionary standard Political Science) searching for my rights as a Syrian citizen. I have found, as a result, just countless rights all of them about enjoying the countless accomplishments of the revolution!

Therefore, I am searching now for any country, I can get a refugee's rights there, and I call upon all the non-Islamic; non-revolutionary; non-socialist; non-resistant governments to help me in finding an available country and to save the international human rights organizations' efforts in looking for me in the Ba'ath basements.

Finally, as a political researcher, I would like to announce the latest of my findings in the Political Science discipline. Every liberal political researcher has a research project and works, condemned to live in a Ba'athist Islamic revolutionary socialist resistant independent country will, eventually, seek refuge in any non-Ba'athist; non-Islamic; non-revolutionary; non-socialist; non-resistant country. Does any political scientist defy me on that?

In honor of this occasion, I quote from the declaration of the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit entitled "Second Independence":

"Half a century since they gained independence, the Arab peoples have been suffering from civil wars and widespread brutal suppression. During these years, the Arab region has achieved the lowest level of development and freedom and the highest levels of corruption, unemployment, poverty and despotism all over the world. Now reform ranks high on the agenda, bringing in the phase of 'second independence' [2] i.e. complementing the right of the peoples to self determination – self-rule/democracy and respect for human rights - that was not exercised through the 'first' independence."

Viva freedom

Viva free Syria



Related post: U.S. Announces Syria Democracy Program

4.15.2006

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: Crackdown on Human Rights and Political Activists; Opposition Alliance

A recent wave of arrests and court sentences has targeted several human rights activists and opposition figures. On April 3, the Syrian State Security Court sentenced Kurdish human rights activist Riad Drar to five years in prison on charges of disseminating false news, inciting sectarian riots, and forming a secret organization. The court also sentenced Abdul Sattar Qattan, a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to 12 years in prison on April 3 and three students accused of being Islamists to 10 years imprisonment on March 28. Syrian authorities arrested four human rights activists in the week of March 20, including the former vice president of the Human Rights Association in Syria Mohammad Najati Tayyara. Two weeks earlier Syrian security forces detained for four days Amar Qurabi, a spokesperson for the Arab Human Rights Organization in Syria, on his return from political conferences in Washington and Paris. Click here for more details on these cases by Amnesty International.

Meeting in Brussels on March 17, exiled Syrian opposition leaders announced the creation of a united front to form a transitional government to bring about regime change in Syria. Participants in the National Salvation Front include former Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood Ali Sadreddine Al Bayanouni, and smaller Kurdish and communist parties. On April 9, a military court in Syria charged Khaddam, who has been living in Paris since he defected in December 2005, with inciting a foreign attack against Syria and plotting to take power.

Islamist Groups: Electoral Outcomes

Click here for a table showing parliamentary election results for the countries where Islamist parties and candidates have competed legally or openly in parliamentary elections.

The role of Islamist opposition parties in legislative elections varies across the Arab region. In Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Yemen, Islamist parties—parties whose main goal is the establishment of an Islamic state or the implementation of sharia—are permitted to compete in elections. In Egypt, Islamist political parties are banned, but Islamists have run for office as independent candidates, typically as members of the illegal but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood. Tunisia has a multiparty system, but forbids religiously-affiliated parties and candidates. Syria allows only candidates vetted by the ruling Baath party, which so far has excluded Islamists.

In Bahrain and Kuwait all political parties are illegal but Islamist candidates compete openly in elections as independents or with the backing of political and religious societies. Parties are also illegal in Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Among these states only Oman, which has no notable Islamist movement, has so far held legislative elections. The UAE and Qatar have announced that they will hold legislative elections in the future. Saudi Arabia does not hold legislative elections but independent Islamists participated in the 2005 municipal elections.

Palestine: Multiple Challenges for Hamas Cabinet

Tensions are on the rise between the new Hamas-led government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after an April 5 decision by Abbas to assume security control over Gaza's border crossings. As head of the National Security Council, Abbas has final say over the Palestinian security forces but Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya criticized the decision as a violation of power-sharing agreements. On April 9, Abbas appointed a new commander of security forces in the West Bank and Gaza strip, a move observers believe was designed to alleviate tensions with Hamas.

The new Palestinian Authority also faces grave financial challenges. The Palestinian Authority will not be able to pay the salaries of about 140,000 government employees without foreign assistance. The European Union, the largest international donor to the Palestinians, suspended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority on April 7 because Hamas has not recognized Israel or renounced violence. European Union foreign ministers stressed they would seek alternative ways of providing money for humanitarian purposes. Click here for a list of the 24-member Hamas cabinet sworn in on March 29.

Iraq: Political Impasse Continues

Disagreement over the choice of a prime minister continues to hamper the formation of a new Iraqi government almost five months after parliamentary elections. On April 10, Kurdish and Sunni politicians reaffirmed their opposition to the continuation of interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari as prime minister in Iraq's new government on the grounds that he is responsible for the current rise in tensions. The United Iraqi Alliance, the parliamentary bloc with the most seats, has resisted demands that it withdraw Jafari as candidate. The parliament, which has held one session since the December 15 elections, is scheduled to meet on April 17 to discuss the formation of a new government.

Iraq's top religious leaders will meet in Amman on April 22 in an attempt to defuse the volatile situation in Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Reconciliation Summit will be held under the patronage of Jordan's King Abdullah II and will be organized by the Arab League and the Aal Al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

Jordan: Islamists Arrested; Debate Continues over New Press Law

Jordanian authorities arrested more than 100 members of the Islamist Action Front (IAF), Jordan's largest political party, on April 9 for distributing flyers calling for a strike in protest of Jordan's third fuel price hike since July 2005. On March 18 Zaki Bani Irsheid, considered a moderate, replaced Hamzeh Mansour as IAF Secretary General.

In the ongoing debate over a new press and publications law, parliament's National Guidance Committee rejected on March 13 a provision in the amended draft law that would have prohibited the imprisonment of journalists charged with violating provisions of the law. The committee insisted that “journalists should not have immunity.” Under the existing 1998 law, journalists may be imprisoned if they incite sectarian sedition; vilify a religion, God or a prophet; or commit slander. In response to criticism from the Jordan Press Association, government spokesperson Nasser Judeh stated on March 27 that the government continues to be committed to the principle of abolishing imprisonment of journalists. The draft law was first presented to parliament in 2004 by former Prime Minister Faisal Al Fayez's government. Click here to read a report on media freedom in Jordan in 2005 by the Arab Archives Institute.

Egypt: Campaign to Amend Press Law; Muslim Brothers Arrested

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights launched a national campaign on March 13 to abolish jail sentences for press offenses, promoting a new draft press law proposed by the Journalists' Syndicate. President Hosni Mubarak announced at a February 2004 conference at the press syndicate that prison sentences for journalists convicted of libel would be abolished, but the promised reform has yet to be enacted. Click here for more details on the campaign.

In another development, Egyptian authorities arrested nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria on April 1, bringing to 30 the number of detained Muslim Brothers in the month of March.

Egyptian authorities released 950 members of the militant Islamist group Al Jamaa Al Islamiyya between April 2 and April 12, including several senior figures who had been imprisoned for over 20 years. Al Jamaa Al Islamiyya was responsible for a string of terrorist attacks in Egypt the 1990s but the group's leaders renounced violence and entered into a truce with the government in the late 1990s.

Tunisia: Crackdown on Political Activists

Five Tunisian opposition parties, led by the Progressive Democratic Party, have accused the government of harassing activists in civil society organizations in Tunisia. An April 10 statement by the head of the party, Najib Al Shabbi, called on the government to amend the constitution to abolish the one-party system and to amend press, political party, and electoral legislation. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Tunisian writer and human rights lawyer Muhammad Abbou is being mistreated in prison and his family is being harassed. Abbou was sentenced in June 2005 to three and a half years in prison because of an Internet article that allegedly “defames the judicial process” and was “likely to disturb the public order.” Click here to read the CPJ statement.

Political activist Neila Chachour Hashisha and her family are being harassed by Tunisian authorities after she spoke at a seminar for Arab reformers at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, according to International Freedom of Expression Exchange. Referring to the matter in an April 3 statement, U.S. Department of State deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said that the U.S government encourages the government of Tunisia to “take actions consistent with its declared intentions to engage in democratic reform.”

A statement by Human Right Watch called on the Tunisian authorities to release Ali Ramzi Bettibi on the one year anniversary of his arrest for copying an online statement from a group threatening terror attacks onto a discussion forum he moderated. Human Rights Watch also pointed out that more than 300 political prisoners remain under detention after the presidential pardon announced on February 25, which freed or conditionally freed 1,650 prisoners including more than 80 political detainees.

Morocco: Debate over Electoral Survey

Morocco's Islamist Party for Justice and Democracy (PJD) has been at the center of debate after a poll by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute showed that the PJD could win 47 percent of the vote in the next legislative elections. In comments to the media, PJD representatives consistently played down the poll's results. PJD Secretary General Saad Eddin Al Othmani repeatedly emphasized that in many cases polls do not coincide with facts and reality and that Moroccans should not think too far ahead. In the same vein, senior PJD official Abdallah Kiran said on Al Jazeera's “ Ma Wara Al Khabar” (Behind the News) on March 25 that the party does not desire an electoral result that Morocco would not be able to handle and referred to Algeria as an example of a case where rapid change was disastrous. He argued that Morocco needs a gradual process of political reform that reassures all the political players.

Qatar: Parliamentary Elections Announced

Qatar will hold its first legislative elections in early 2007, according to an April 1 statement by Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jasem Al Thani. Qatar's constitution, approved in an April 2003 popular referendum, creates a legislative body with thirty members elected by universal suffrage and fifteen appointed by the emir. Currently Qatar only has an appointed council with a limited advisory role. According to the constitution, the legislature will have three main powers: to approve (but not prepare) the national budget; to monitor the performance of ministers through interpellations and no-confidence votes; and to draft, discuss, and vote on proposed legislation, which becomes law only with the vote of a two-thirds majority and the Emir's endorsement.

Bahrain: Renewed Tension between Government and Human Rights Organization

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) lost an appeal in March to a September 2004 decision by the government to dissolve the center on the grounds that it had violated the 1989 associations law. Despite the 2004 decision, however, the center has remained active. On March 8, the Ministry of Social Development warned that it will recommend legal measures against the center if it continues its activities.

Kuwait: Women Vote for First Time

Kuwaiti women voted and ran for office for the first time in Kuwait's history on April 4 in a local by-election to fill a single seat in the16-member municipal council. Municipal elections took place in June 2005, but women could not take part in that vote because the government-sponsored suffrage bill had only been passed a month earlier.