12.31.2006

Freedom in 2006, Worst of the Worst

In the last day in this year, 2006 I want to repost the Freedom House's Worst of the Worst, which is a special report detailing the world's most repressive societies, drawn from Freedom in the World 2006, Freedom House's annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties.

This is for reminding the world of the Suffering of many peoples in the authoritarian and totalitarian countries by one of totalitarianism's victims in one of the most repressive states.

Let us hope that 2007 will be better than this year, and let us stand up for that.

Happy New Year!

Here is the Freedom House report:

Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies 2006

Freedom House, Special Report

A special report detailing the world's most repressive societies, drawn from Freedom in the World 2006, Freedom House's annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties.

September 6, 2006

Introduction

Methodology

Table of Independent Countries

Table of Related and Disputed Territories

Belarus

Burma

Chechnya (Russia)

China

Cuba

Equatorial Guinea

Eritrea

Haiti

Laos

Libya

North Korea

Saudi Arabia

Somalia

Sudan

Syria

Tibet (China)

Turkmenistan

Uzbekistan

Western Sahara (Morocco)

Zimbabwe

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Some related posts:

- Freedom in the World 2006

- Freedom in the World 2005, Global Survey 2006: Middle East Progress Amid Global Gains in Freedom.

- Human Rights in the Middle East 2005

- The Realities of Promoting Democracy

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective

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12.30.2006

Saddam to History Dustbin


It is really a new Middle East is emerging. The symbol of Arab dictatorship has gone to the place he deserves, the history dustbin.

There was no international tribunal for his crimes against humanity, against his people. It is the Iraqi people, his victims who tried and executed their criminal Nazi Ba'athist dictator.

It is the first time in the Arab history and will not be the last.

Although I am definitely not a supporter of death penalty, I can not at this time but to congratulate the Iraqi people on recovering their freedom, dignity and self-determination.

It is really a very clear message ringing from Tehran to Beirut that freedom and dignity will prevail.

Honor and glory to our martyrs and prisoners of freedom from Iraq to Lebanon and elsewhere and shame and disgrace to criminal dictators in this region and elsewhere.

Today, I ask all free Arabs and the free world to toast freedom and human dignity with me.

Cheers and.... NEXT.

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12.28.2006

Iranian Students Speak Out

I want to spotlight the heroic action by Iranian students at the Amir Kabir technical university. They gave a freedom lesson to the world and to the "fascist dictator." Is the world listening? And is the free world assuming its responsibility toward them?

Reminding the free world:

- Iran's Waning Human Rights

- About Iran Regime

- War on Iran Under Way

- Iranian Regime's Tyranny: Ethnic Question

- Middle East Totalitarians and Existential Choice

- Middle East Totalitarian Axis

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror

Here are two related BBC reports:

Iranian students heckle president

BBC News
11 December 2006

Iranian students have disrupted a speech President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was giving at a university by lighting fireworks and burning his portrait.

Mr Ahmadinejad responded calmly to protesters' shouts of "Death to the dictator", an official spokesman said.

The president reportedly described the hecklers as an "oppressive minority" and continued his speech.

Hundreds of students protested on Sunday against what they described as a crackdown on a students' association.

Protests against the government have become a rarity in Iran since Mr Ahmadinejad's election in 2005.

Monday's demonstration began when a group of some 50 students started chanting against the president as he addressed the Amir Kabir technical university.

A picture of Mr Ahmadinejad, held upside down, was set alight and firecrackers were lit.

According to Iran's students' news agency, ISNA, the president responded by saying: "Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice."

Reports say the president's supporters in the audience eventually drowned out the protesters with their own chanting.
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Iran 'should stop student bans'

By Pam O'Toole

BBC News
20 October 2006

Iran must stop banning students from university because of their political views, a human rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch says some students have been barred from registering for university places despite passing the relevant entrance exams.

It said others have been offered places only if they promise to refrain from peaceful political protests.

Human Rights Watch said the Iranian government wanted to coerce students into silence and submission.

'Students banned'

Human Rights Watch says according to documents it has obtained, Iran's Ministry of Information - which performs intelligence functions - is orchestrating what it describes as a campaign to deny student activists their right to education.

The group says the government has barred at least 17 students from registering to take up university places over the past year, although graduate programmes had accepted them on the basis of successful competitive entry exams.

The documents, it says, make it clear those decisions were based solely on the students' political backgrounds, not on any educational standards.

All but one of the banned students were outspoken activists or worked with the Islamic Students' Association on their campuses.

Student groups banned

A further 54 students had been allowed to register only after agreeing to sign statements that they would refrain from peaceful political activities.

Human Rights Watch says that since July 2005, the Iranian judiciary has convicted and sentenced 35 students to prison terms for their political activities.

In the same period, 15 student associations had been suspended or banned from operating on campuses.

Iranian student organisations - once extremely active - have been less vocal in their criticism of the government since the violent suppression of major student protests in 1999.

They have continued to be weakened since the election of the current hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last year.

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective

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12.24.2006

MERRY CHRISTMAS

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12.22.2006

Syria's Role in Lebanon

Here is a recent briefing by the U.S. Institute of Peace on Syria's role in Lebanon. Although this briefing misses many essential points and misses, in my view, the right language to make a transparent and empirical evaluation of this topic (the problem of many US-based studies on the Middle East), it is somehow useful in terms of the general lines.


Syria's Role in Lebanon

USIPeace Briefing
By Mona Yacoubian

November 2006

This is the third in a series of USIPeace Briefings on Syria published by USIP's Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention. Written by Mona Yacoubian, it is based on discussions at a recent seminar held at USIP as well as insights gained during a research trip to Syria. The views expressed do not reflect those of USIP, which does not take policy positions.

Recent days have witnessed increasing tensions between the United States and Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers. Citing "mounting evidence," the United States accused Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran of seeking to destabilize the current Lebanese government headed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. The White House also singled out the Syrian government for condemnation, stating there were "indications" that Damascus is attempting to obstruct the creation of an international tribunal to try those involved in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied all accusations. As the political situation in Lebanon grows increasingly volatile, the nature of Syria's role in Lebanon and, in particular, its alliance with Hezbollah, warrants closer examination.

Main Points:
  • Syria's interests in Lebanon are both complex and deeply entrenched. Despite the withdrawal of the Syrian military last spring, Syria's longstanding political, economic, and social ties constitute a vast network of influence within Lebanon.
  • Nonetheless, the days of undiluted Syrian hegemony in Lebanon have ended. The Syrians can no longer dictate their desires to willing Lebanese proxies. Instead, they have been forced to employ a variety of tactics ranging from negotiation and persuasion with allies to intimidation and violence against political adversaries.
  • Syria's alliance with Hezbollah has evolved significantly over the past two decades. While the Syrians have played a key role in transshipping arms from Iran to Hezbollah, their influence among the Shiite militia's senior decision-makers appears more limited. Damascus likely had little if any influence over the events that led to Hezbollah's war with Israel this past summer. At the same time, the Syrian regime has exploited Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's rising popularity to bolster its popular legitimacy.
  • Two key political trends in both Syria and Lebanon—weakening state institutions and mounting "cronyism" and corruption—suggest that the situation will become increasingly volatile as key players in both countries struggle to assert their interests in an increasingly fluid situation.

An Intricate Web of Ties

Syria's geostrategic interests in Lebanon are longstanding. During the Ottoman era, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria. To date, the Syrian government steadfastly refuses to formally demarcate the border or agree to the establishment of diplomatic relations, claiming the two countries share an organic bond. Following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the Syrians refused to accept the deployment of foreign troops along the border, claiming it would be a "hostile" act against Syria. Lebanon has also served as a battleground for a number of proxy wars, including one between Syria and Israel. The Syrians have often used surrogates in Lebanon, in particular Hezbollah, in order to maintain pressure on Israel.

Furthermore, as Syria's "soft underbelly," Lebanon holds significant strategic value to Syria as a potential invasion route. Indeed, some observers speculate that Israel's return of the Golan Heights to Syria is a sine quo non for the Syrians to cease meddling in Lebanese affairs. In the meanwhile, Syrian hegemony over Lebanon was cemented following the 1989 Ta'if Accord which eventually ended the 15-year Lebanese civil war, and confirmed Syria's role as the primary powerbroker. The 1990s were marked by Syria's dominance of Lebanese affairs, bolstered by between 15,000 and 40,000 troops and a pervasive intelligence apparatus, with vast corruption networks enriching Syria's political elite.

Indeed, to fully understand Syria's role in Lebanon, it is essential to grasp how deeply enmeshed the two economies are. Both economies are characterized by sizeable informal sectors, by some estimates representing as much as 25 to 50 percent of GDP. It is in this informal realm that entrenched networks of patronage and corruption operate, linking the two countries through a complex web of informal business connections and family ties. In addition, a variety of statistics (e.g., labor, trade, and financial) attests to a mutual dependence that shows no sign of diminishing.

  • Labor. Lebanon serves as an important outlet for surplus Syrian labor, with an estimated 300,000 permanent Syrian workers in Lebanon. The figure rises to one million when including seasonal laborers who come to Lebanon to work on construction projects and in the agricultural sector. Indeed, Syrian workers played a crucial role in Lebanon's post-civil war reconstruction, and new construction opportunities will likely arise following this summer's war with Israel. Aside from absorbing Syria's excess labor supply, economic opportunities in Lebanon inject the Syrian economy with an important source of earnings; worker remittances from Lebanon to Syria are estimated to be approximately $1 billion.
  • Trade. For its part, Lebanon depends on Syria as a key transit point for its exports. In 2005, overland trade crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border was estimated between $600 and $700 million, with 35 percent of Lebanese exports depending on this route. In the service sector, many well-to-do Syrians receive high-quality health care in Lebanon, while lower-income Lebanese take advantage of Syria's subsidized health care for their needs.
  • Financial. Due to a variety of factors, the financial sectors of both countries have become increasingly integrated. The Syrian business community has long relied on Lebanese banks as an important financial safe haven, providing a respite from taxes. Many among the Syrian elite are key shareholders in a number of Lebanese banks. Meanwhile, particularly following the imposition of U.S. economic sanctions, most banks that have recently opened in Syria are branches of Lebanese banks, providing Syrian businessmen the means to elude restrictions.

Diminished Syrian Hegemony

Despite these longstanding ties, Syrian dominance in Lebanon has diminished following its military withdrawal last year. At the same time, Hezbollah's relative power and independence have steadily increased beginning with the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. Gone are the days of Syrian rule by virtual diktat. No longer buttressed by a substantial military presence on the ground, Damascus has been forced to resort to a variety of less coercive tactics to insure that its interests are preserved. Indeed, Syrian influence, while still significant, no longer completely dominates the Lebanese political scene.

Evolving Alliance with Hezbollah

Syria's alliance with Hezbollah has evolved significantly over time, reflecting the ebb and flow of Syria's projection of power into Lebanon more broadly. During the era of Syria's outright dominance in Lebanon in the nineties, Hezbollah acted very much as the "junior partner" in the strategic relationship. In those years, Damascus held significant sway over the Shiite militia. Nonetheless, it is important to note that Hezbollah's ties to its Iranian patrons were much deeper, based on a shared religious identity and ideology.

Beginning in 2000, with the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad, Hezbollah gained greater standing in the alliance as its strength and influence increased within the Lebanese political arena and the new Syrian president struggled to gain his footing. Today, the alliance appears to be more akin to an equal partnership, with the Syrians seeking to exploit Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's burgeoning popularity on the Arab street to shore up domestic support.

Syrian ties to Hezbollah are best understood through the prism of Syria's strategic alliance with Iran. Mutual support for Hezbollah is one of the key elements that define Syrian-Iranian relations. Syria's role as a transshipment point for arms from Iran constitutes the critical element of its cooperation with Hezbollah. Damascus likely does not wield significant influence with regard to Hezbollah's strategic decision-making.

Cross-border Cronyism

"Crony capitalism"—an informal power system that derives significant benefits from corrupt practices such as bribery and smuggling—characterizes both Syria and Lebanon. Control over these activities by a network of power brokers has perpetuated the weakening of state institutions, contributing to a status quo that favors corruption and rent-seeking over the establishment of strong state institutions. Ironically, Hezbollah's ascendance in Lebanon marks the first occasion that an alternate center of power that is not vested in these corrupt networks has gained traction in Lebanon. A decision by Hezbollah to redirect its attention to internal Lebanese issues and focus on corruption could disrupt its alliance with Syria.

Meanwhile, the vast network of patronage and corruption that characterized Syria's role in Lebanon prior to its military withdrawal may be somewhat altered, but it will not disappear. This past summer's war has created more opportunities for corruption as new reconstruction efforts get under way. Cronyism on both sides of the border will continue to militate against the establishment of transparent democracies in either Syria or Lebanon. Indeed, shifts toward a stronger state in either country will necessarily endanger the informal "crony capitalism" that dominates the other, resulting in a powerful tendency to preserve the status quo on both sides.

Future Implications

Two key factors are reshaping Syria's role in Lebanon: the Syrian military withdrawal and the political ascendance of Hezbollah, its key ally. Taken together, these developments have redefined the relationship, placing Hezbollah on more equal footing with Syria and transforming the alliance into more of an equal partnership. Lacking forces on the ground, Syria will likely rely increasingly on Hezbollah to guarantee that Syrian interests are protected.

Despite these changes, certain constants--mutually dependent economies, strong family ties, and murky corruption networks enriching elites on both sides of the border--form the bedrock of the Syrian-Lebanese relationship. As Lebanon's internal situation grows more volatile, Syrian meddling likely will intensify as Damascus moves to insure that its interests are preserved in the ensuing political turmoil. The Syrians will likely work against the establishment of a strong, democratic government in Lebanon, which would threaten its vast networks of corruption and patronage. Ultimately, while the contours of Syria's role in Lebanon may be changing, its essence, borne of deeply entrenched political, economic, and social interests, remains the same.

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective

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12.16.2006

Hariri Assassination Suspects and Independence Government

To understand the recent unjustifiable blow by some Lebanese proxies occupying the downtown Beirut we should search for the international tribunal and keep our attention to the international probe into ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination and to the Iranian nuclear program.

Here is a report on the latest report of the International Independent Investigation Commission to the Security Council followed by the latest Security Council presidential statement on the Lebanese situation supporting the legitimate independence government and calling for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in Lebanon:

Suspects Identified in U.N. Probe into Hariri Assassination

Naharnet
12 Dec 2006

The U.N. probe into ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination has now identified suspects and witnesses and found possible links to 14 other murders or attempted killings in Lebanon over the past two years, chief investigator Serge Brammertz said.

Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor, said his investigation has reached "a critical stage."

In its fourth report to the U.N. Security Council issued Tuesday, the International Independent Investigation Commission which Brammertz heads provided new evidence and tantalizing clues about the suicide bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005.

Brammertz said his investigators have now identified a number of suspects and witnesses but agreed with Lebanon's prosecutor general that none of their names should be made public to avoid prejudicing any trial.

"The commission has reached a critical stage in its investigations, and with this in mind, the commission and the prosecutor general of Lebanon believe that placing information concerning witnesses and suspects in the public domain would be contrary to the principles of fairness and justice," Brammertz said.

He also revealed that the commission's work on 14 other cases of murder and attempted murder since October 2004 "continues to elicit significant links between each case, and to indicate links to the Rafik Hariri case."

The U.N. team is also helping Lebanese authorities investigate the Nov. 21 assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel -- an event that pushed lingering political tensions in Lebanon to a new crisis point.

The report said some of the victims of the targeted attacks were directly or indirectly linked to the March 14 Forces. Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni, George Hawi and Marwan Hamadeh were associated with it in one context or another.

It said another link between Marwan Hamadeh, Rafik Hariri, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni was their association with An Nahar newspaper.

Some of the victims were also connected to each other or to Rafik Hariri through family ties, friendship or other personal association, the report added.

Brammertz said 240 "exhibits" related to the killing have been sent to a laboratory for forensic research and analysis.

A report last year by Brammertz's predecessor implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services and four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for 15 months accused of involvement in Hariri's murder.

Many in Lebanon blamed Syria for Hariri's death and massive street protests coupled with an international outcry in the wake of the killing forced Syria to end its 29-year domination of Lebanon. Syria has denied involvement in the killing.

The U.N. investigation has determined that a single blast from a Mitsubishi van packed with high explosives was likely detonated by a male suicide bomber who did not grow up in Lebanon but spent his final months here.

Brammertz said they were still trying to pinpoint where the bomber came from and were analyzing 33 human parts believed to be the remains of the bomber to that end.

The commission said the most likely scenario was that a bomber triggered the device that killed Hariri from inside or immediately in front of the van.

"The commission has received new information specifying details of the preparation of the van and establishment of the route of the van as it was brought to the St. Georges hotel area prior to the attack," the report said, referring to the hotel next to the bombing site.

The commission is also continuing to investigate "matters arising from a victim at the crime scene who had been discovered in a situation protected from the blast but who was killed by falling masonry," Brammertz said. The report did not identify that victim.

Investigators are also looking into the discovery in June "of certain personal effects of a victim of the explosion" at the bombing scene in Beirut, Brammertz said. He gave no details of the items.

Brammertz said the commission is also investigating Ahmed Abu Adass, a Palestinian who lived in Lebanon and appeared on a video tape claiming responsibility. The investigation "has elicited some useful information" from individuals associated with him in Lebanon and abroad.

A previous report from Brammertz in June said there was no evidence Adass was involved. But in Tuesday's report, he said investigators were focusing on how Adass was chosen "for the role he played" and his alleged involvement with unnamed individuals in late 2004 and early 2005, when he disappeared.

The investigators have discovered that a team of bombers used aliases and six cell phones to communicate on the day of the Hariri bombing and there were indications that they had significant knowledge about security measures.

"The location of the telephones when used, and the purposes for which some of the linking numbers were used have revealed the high degree of security-aware behavior exhibited by individuals under investigation," Brammertz said.

He also said the commission is assuming the Hariri tribunal will be created. But he stressed that his investigation is taking place in a "volatile" and "highly unpredictable" political and security environment that could contribute to the reticence of witnesses.

Brammertz said Syria's cooperation with his investigators "remains timely and efficient" though he criticized 10 other countries -- which he did not name -- for failing to respond to 22 requests from the commission.

"The level of assistance provided by Syria during the reporting period remains generally satisfactory," Brammertz said in his 22-page report.

The report said the investigating commission "will continue to request Syria's full cooperation, which remains crucial to the swift and successful completion of its work."

Investigators conducted six interviews and held five meetings with relevant Syrian officials in recent months, Brammertz said.

The report said the Brammertz-led team was looking into allegations that the attack on Hariri might have been carried out "by aerial means."

It said "further collection work is being undertaken, including forensically and through the acquisition of technical data" to clarify "the likelihood of such a means being a viable attack option, prior to further investigation steps being taken."

On Gemayels' assassination he said that "it is probable that Gemayel was the subject of surveillance as part of a planned assassination operation against him, although it is not yet clear for how long this plan had been conceived," it said.

"The attackers who shot over 49 rounds (on Gemayel's vehicle) using four different types of ammunition" were aboard a dark-colored vehicle, probably a Honda CRV, it added.

The findings suggest six of the attacks targeted individuals with known political leanings while the other eight aimed to "spread fear among the population" and "destabilize the security situation," he said. (Naharnet-AP-AFP)

Click here to read full Brammertz report

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Statement by the President of the Security Council

S/PRST/2006/52
12 December 2006


At the 5586th meeting of the Security Council, held on 12 December 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 recalls all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 1701 (2006), 425 (1978) and 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), as well as the statements of its president on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 30 October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/43) and of 21 November 2006 (S/PRST/2006/46).

“The Security Council reiterates its full support for the legitimate and democratically-elected Government of Lebanon, calls for full respect for the democratic institutions of the country, in conformity with the constitution, and condemns any effort to destabilize Lebanon. The Security Council calls upon all Lebanese political parties to show responsibility with a view to preventing, through dialogue, further deterioration of the situation in Lebanon. It reaffirms its strong support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders and under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon. The Council reiterates its call 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.

“The Security Council welcomes the letter of the Secretary-General to the President of the Council of 1 December 2006 (S/2006/933), as well as his previous reports of 18 August 2006 (S/2006/670) and of 12 September 2006 (S/2006/730) on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).

“The Security Council calls for the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) and urges all concerned parties to cooperate fully with the Security Council and the Secretary-General to achieve this goal.

“The Security Council welcomes the Secretary-General’s indication of the continuing commitment of the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel to all aspects of the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006). It urges both Governments to strictly abide by their commitment and to pursue their efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution as envisioned in the resolution.

“The Security Council notes that important progress has been made towards the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), in particular through the cessation of hostilities, the imminent withdrawal of all the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in the south of the country for the first time in three decades, together with the deployment so far of more than 10,000 troops from the reinforced UNIFIL.

“The Security Council welcomes the maintenance of the cessation of hostilities since 14 August 2006, supports the work done by UNIFIL, together with the parties, to finalize the Israeli withdrawal from the remaining area inside Lebanon and set up temporary security arrangements for the part of the village of Ghajar inside Lebanese territory, positively notes the decision of the Israeli Cabinet in this regard, and looks forward to its early implementation.

“The Security Council commends the Lebanese Government for extending its authority throughout its territory, particularly in the south, and encourages it to continue its efforts in this regard, including through the reinforcement of its capacities along its borders and the exercise of its monopoly of the use of force all over its territory in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

“The Security Council reiterates its full support to UNIFIL and looks forward to the completion of its deployment early next year as contemplated by the Secretary-General in his letter. It expresses its strong appreciation to Member States who have contributed to UNIFIL in the past and since the adoption of resolution 1701 (2006) and notes the establishment of the Strategic
Military Cell dedicated to UNIFIL at United Nations Headquarters.

“The Security Council, while expressing deep concern at the continuing Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, appeals to all parties concerned to respect the cessation of hostilities and the Blue Line in its entirety, to refrain from any act of provocation and to abide scrupulously by their obligation to respect the safety of the UNIFIL and other United Nations personnel,
including by avoiding any course of action which endangers United Nations personnel and by ensuring UNIFIL is accorded full freedom of movement throughout its area of operation.

“The Security Council, in this context, reiterates its deep concern at latest reports, though unverified, of illegal movements of arms into Lebanon. It welcomes the initial steps taken by the Government of Lebanon, notably the deployment of 8,000 troops along the border, to prevent movements of arms in conformity with relevant resolutions, and reiterates its call upon the
Government of Syria to take similar measures to reinforce controls at the border.

“The Security Council, mindful of the conclusions of the team of border police experts dispatched by the Secretary-General at the request of the Government of Lebanon, invites the Secretary-General to pursue further technical and independent assessment of the situation along the border and to report back to the Council on further findings and recommendations in this regard.

“The Council further invites Member States, as recommended by the Secretary-General, to consider possible bilateral assistance to the Government of Lebanon to enhance its border security capacities.

“The Council urges all Member States, in particular in the region, to take all necessary measures to implement in full paragraph 15 of resolution 1701 (2006), including the arms embargo, and expresses its intention to consider further steps to achieve the goals set out in that paragraph.

“The Security Council welcomes the concrete steps taken by the Government of Lebanon, with the assistance of UNIFIL, to establish between the Blue Line and the Litani river an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL and calls upon the Government of Lebanon to strengthen its efforts to this end.
The Council also reiterates its call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in Lebanon.

“The Security Council expresses deepest concern at the presence in very high numbers of unexploded ordnance in south Lebanon, including cluster munitions. It deplores the death and injury of dozens of civilians, as well as of several deminers, caused by those munitions since the cessation of hostilities.
It welcomes the continued contribution of UNIFIL to operational mine clearance, encourages further assistance in mine action by the United Nations to the Government of Lebanon in support of both the continued development of its national mine action capacity and clearance of the remaining mine/unexploded ordnance threat in the South, commends donor countries for
supporting these efforts through financial and in-kind contributions and encourages further international contributions and practical cooperation.

“The Security Council reaffirms the urgent need for the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers.

“The Security Council further encourages efforts aimed at urgently settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.

“The Security Council commends the efforts of the Secretary-General and his facilitator to this end and calls upon all parties concerned to support those efforts.

“Bearing in mind the relevant provisions of resolutions 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006), in particular on the delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border, the Security Council takes note with interest of the appointment by the Secretary-General of a senior cartographer to review relevant material and develop an accurate territorial definition of the Shaba’a
farms area.

“The Security Council notes with appreciation the process launched by the Secretary-General to investigate the cartographic, legal and political implications of the proposal contained in the seven-point plan of the Government of Lebanon and looks forward to its further recommendations on this issue early next year.

“The Security Council calls upon the international community urgently to provide the Government of Lebanon with financial assistance in support of the national early recovery and reconstruction process. It expresses its appreciation to the Member States, United Nations bodies and intergovernmental, regional and non-governmental organizations that have
provided and continue to provide assistance to the Lebanese people and Government, and looks forward to the success of the international Conference which will be held in Paris, on 25 January 2007, in support of Lebanon.

“The Security Council reaffirms its full support to the Secretary-General in his efforts and dedication to facilitate and assist in the fulfilment of all provisions of resolution 1701 (2006) and requests the Secretary-General to report on a quarterly basis on the implementation of that resolution, notably on further progress made towards the achievement of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution.”

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12.12.2006

GEBRAN TUENI, FOR FREEDOM


TO THE LEBANESE SKY-HIGH CEDAR
TO THE ABSOLUTELY-FREE PHOENIX
TO THE EVER-ALIVE HERO

GEBRAN TUENI

WE WILL STAY THE COURSE,
YOUR COURSE AND YOUR WAY

THE FREE SYRIANS WHO STILL
MOURN YOU AND MISS YOU
12-12-2006

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First Anniversary of Tueni's Murder: Honors and Praise

Naharnet, 10 Dec 06

The editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times Nadia Al-Saqqaf was on Sunday awarded the 2006 Gebran Tueni prize on the occasion of the first anniversary of An Nahar General Manger's assassination.

Al-Saqqaf, who is the first woman ever to be appointed an editor in Yemen, received the award Sunday during the opening ceremony of the "Press Under Siege" conference at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL).

The new prize from the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) aims at honoring an editor or publisher from the Arab region.

More than 5,000 people, including journalists, Tueni's family members and friends, and politicians attended the ceremony, a small distance away from the scene of an ongoing sit-in by anti-government protestors.

Sunday's ceremony went ahead despite heavy security in downtown Beirut ahead of a mass Hizbullah-led demonstration aimed at toppling Premier Fouad Saniora.

The prize honors the memory of Gebran Tueni, An Nahar's General Manager, legislator and WAN Board Member who was killed in a car bombing in the Beirut suburb of Mkalles on December 12, 2005.

WAN said that Saqqaf received the prize because she demonstrated the values incarnated in Tueni: attachment to freedom of the press, courage, leadership, ambition, and high managerial and professional standards.

The award carries a 10,000 Euro scholarship to enable Saqqaf to undertake advanced newspaper leadership training by An Nahar's training institute.

The ceremony included a documentary film about Tueni and speeches by world renowned journalists and artists who praised the late An Nahar general manager.

Tueni's daughter Nayla, who is also Lebanon's leading newspaper's assistant general manager, made a speech urging for the continuation of the Cedar Revolution and rejecting the toppling of Saniora's government.

She called on President Emile Lahoud to resign his post.

The dean of the Lebanese press Ghassan Tueni during his speech urged for a pact of honor that prevents media instigation.

Saniora also made a speech from the Grand Serail that was broadcast live to the conference at BIEL.

The prime minister vowed his government would overcome the challenge posed by opposition protesters.

"Lebanon is a strong country. We will overcome this crisis," Saniora said.

He also played down the country's deepening divisions, saying there "is no divorce between the Lebanese" and reiterating his call for talks between the bickering parties.


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12.11.2006

Beirut and Iranian Gangs

When some theocratic totalitarian Iranian tyrant promises the "Islamic" Middle East (according to his perception of Islam) against the new Middle East of freedom, democracy and human dignity believe him and take it seriously and do not forget to tell Mr. Baker so. Actually, our suffer from totalitarianism is complemented with our suffer from stupid, ignorant and irresponsible people should they become in charge. Those had neither believed nor taken Hitler seriously in the past and everyone knows what the consequences were.

The Iranian armed gang of Hizbullah is armless occupying the downtown Beirut in an attempt to attack Lebanese freedom, democracy and independence achieved by the Cedar Revolution's long and expensive struggle, and the foremost of all to preclude the international tribunal.

My say is that abandoning Beirut is a betrayal of freedom and civilization by the free world. We should always be aware that – as PM Blair says – IT IS NOT A CLASH BETWEEN CIVILISATIONS, BUT A CLASH ABOUT CIVILISATION.

See my previous comment: Lebanon's Independence and Democracy.

Here is a report about the latest Beirut and Lebanon events followed by the BBC's quick guide on Hezbollah:

Hizbullah Chants Replace Christmas Carols on Beirut's Dismayed Sunday

Nararnet
10 Dec 06

Beirut looked more like an army barracks on Sunday with military vehicles manning crossroads, hours before a Hizbullah-led mass rally to escalate the 10-day protest aimed at toppling the majority government.The ringing of church bells echoed across the deserted Hamra commercial thoroughfare in Beirut's western sector, in contrast with the lively and busy Christmas atmosphere that usually prevails over the multi-sect neighborhood in December.

In Beirut's plush city center, Christmas carols - usually played by the plush stores and restaurants- were absent. Instead, giant loudspeakers blare endless chants declaring support for Hizbullah and leaders of the March eight-Free Patriotic Movement alliance that has been trying, in vein, to topple Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's majority government since it staged a sit-in on Dec. 1.

In predominantly Shiite sectors of south and east Lebanon, traditional Hizbullah strongholds, thousands of anti-government protestors gathered at village squares, waiting for busses and vans that would drive them to downtown Beirut to take part in the mass rally scheduled to start at 3 pm local time.

In north Lebanon's predominantly Sunni town of Tripoli a counter rally was also scheduled for 3 pm to declare support for the Saniora government that enjoys the backing of most Arab and western states, with the exception of Syria and Iran that back Hizbullah and its allies.

By police count, one person has been killed and 22 people were wounded in violence related to the ongoing crisis that is threatening to rekindle civil strife in Lebanon.

The escalation of protests by anti-government factions is apparently aimed at beefing up the sit in that has failed to force Saniora to resign.

Local newspapers predicted that anti-government factions might try to expand the scope of their protest by blocking main highways linking Beirut with the rest of Lebanon, or staging further sit-ins at the capital's air and sea ports, which would be a major test to the army's ability to prevent the escalation of tension and spread of violence.

Meanwhile, the leading newspaper An Nahar reported that Hizbullah bought thousands of army and police uniforms from a local company trading with such items in south Lebanon.

The respected newspaper did not elaborate on its short report, which sparked concern in security circles that Hizbullah's trained and tested fighters might use the uniforms as a disguise to attack the heavily-guarded government offices, which Saniora and his ministers have been using as residence, across the street from the angry protestors taking part in the city center sit-in.

A ranking security official told Naharnet that a shipment of uniforms similar to what is used by the Lebanese army and police force has been "imported by a local merchant from India and was recently sold to a local faction."

This, the official explained, is "a very, very serious matter. It reminds us of the mysterious kidnapping in the 1980s of four professors from the U.S.-affiliated Beirut University College (BUC) which was carried out by armed elements wearing police uniforms and driving police vehicles."

A pro-Iranian faction had claimed responsibility for kidnapping the BUC professors.

The security official warned that if the army and police uniforms were used by "irregular factions, this would further escalate the ongoing confrontation and would lead us to facing a real threat of terrorism."

The development came one day after a U. S. official said the situation could worsen significantly if Hizbullah tried to impose its will on the other parties.

"If any one group, particularly with support from the outside and with the threat of violence, attempts to force its will on others, we think the situation will get significantly worse," James Jeffrey, principal deputy assistant secretary of state, told reporters in Kuwait, referring to Hizbullah.

"We think that will be a tragedy not only for Lebanese, but for the (Middle East) region," he added.

Saniora has pledged that the Tehran and Damascus-backed attempted "coup" by Hizbullah will fail, and leaders of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority have repeatedly urged a return to talks.

Hizbullah and its allies say the Saniora government does not represent the Lebanese people after six pro-Damascus ministers submitted their resignations last month.

The protesters want to replace the current cabinet, which was formed in 2005 after anti-Syrian MPs won a majority in parliament, with a new "National Unity" administration that would enable them to veto decisions.

"At the mass protest on Sunday we will show that those who are betting on our surrender are having an illusion," said Hizbullah leader sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address Thursday.

Saniora, said this week a solution must be found by "sitting together, away from tension and confessional incitement."

The March 14 coalition, which backs the government, has accused its opponents of seeking to block a cabinet decision ratifying an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former premier Rafik Hariri, widely blamed on Syria.

FPM leader Michel Aoun has warned that his camp would escalate its street protests and "paralyze the government" if the Saniora government failed to accept demands for a national unity cabinet.

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Quick guide: Hezbollah

BBC News

Hezbollah - or the Party of God - is a powerful political and military organisation of Shia Muslims in Lebanon.

Who are they?

The group was formed - with financial backing from Iran - in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

It has become the most powerful military force in Lebanon, but also has 23 of the 128 seats in parliament, with two seats in the Lebanese cabinet.

The group's military wing, the Islamic Resistance, is believed to have 500-600 full time, highly trained and motivated fighters.

Some estimates put the number as high as 1,200, with the ability to call on several thousand less experienced "reserves".

During the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Hezbollah showed that they are armed with rockets that can reach deep into northern Israel.

What do they want?

Hezbollah was formed primarily to offer military resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Initially, it proposed an Iranian-style Islamic state, although this was later abandoned in favour of a more inclusive approach.

The group calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. It regards the whole of Palestine as occupied Muslim land and it argues that Israel has no right to exist.

It also demands the release of prisoners from Lebanon who are being held in Israeli jails.

Who supports them?

The Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 won Hezbollah the respect of many Lebanese.

It has built broad support by providing social services and health care. The group also has an influential TV station, al-Manar.

Hezbollah is believed to receive military training, weapons and explosives, as well as diplomatic and financial support, from Iran. Syria provides diplomatic, political, and logistical support.

Who doesn't?

The US and Israel view Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Its members were involved in kidnapping westerners and in attacks on foreign troops who were based in Lebanon during the civil war.

The UK says the military wing of Hezbollah is a terrorist group, but not the political side of the organisation.

UN Security Council resolutions call for armed militia groups like Hezbollah to disarm.

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12.09.2006

Iranian Regime's Tyranny: Ethnic Question

Continuing my effort to research the Middle East status quo with empirical approach, I will continue to spotlight the Iranian theocratic totalitarian regime, the leader of the Middle East totalitarian axis, starting with the Iranian state of affairs to the Iranian regime's regional role from Iraq to Gaza including its battle in Beirut squares against freedom, democracy, justice and civilization.

The empirical approach with a comprehensive geopolitical perspective, in my view, is indispensable to find out the basic relations and rules controlling the Middle East political occurrences and then to develop the appropriate policy to cope with them in the comprehensive geopolitical scene, apart from some funny studies which missed their time of pre-9/11 and their world of Cold-War. Actually, Mr. Baker maybe (apparently) forgot to study this Middle East and instead he studied the old Middle East when he was the secretary of state.

I will post a backgrounder on Iran's ethnic question published by the Council on Foreign Relations complementing my previous posts on human rights in Iran and Iranian regime:

- Iran's Waning Human Rights

- About Iran Regime

- War on Iran Under Way

- Middle East Totalitarians and Existential Choice

- Middle East Totalitarian Axis

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror

Here is the backgrounder:

Iran’s Ethnic Groups

Council on Foreign Relations

Lionel Beehner
November 29, 2006

Introduction

Although Iran’s state religion is Shiite Islam and the majority of its population is ethnically Persian, millions of minorities from various ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds also reside in Iran. Among these groups are ethnic Kurds, Baluchis, and Azeris. Many of them face discrimination and live in underdeveloped regions. Though they have held protests in the past, they mostly agitate for greater rights, not greater autonomy. Most are integrated into Iranian society, participate in politics, and identify with the Iranian nation. Tehran occasionally criticizes the United States and Israel for stirring up trouble among its large ethnic groups but the extent of outside involvement with these groups is not clear.

What are Iran’s predominant minority groups?

Iran has small pockets of Baha’i, Turkmen, Christian, and Jewish communities, but its primary ethnic minorities are:

  • Azeris. Roughly one out of every four Iranians is Azeri, making it Iran’s largest ethnic minority at over eighteen million (some Azeris put the number higher). The Turkic-speaking Azeri community is Shiite and resides mainly in northwest Iran along the border with Azerbaijan (whose inhabitants are more secular than their Azeri cousins in Iran) and in Tehran. Although they have grievances with the current regime in Tehran, most Azeris say they are not treated as second-class citizens and are more integrated into Iranian society, business, and politics (the Supreme Leader is an ethnic Azeri) than other minorities. A common complaint among Azeris is they are often poked fun at by the Iranian media. Last May, violent demonstrations broke out in a number of northwest cities after a cartoon published in a state-run newspaper compared Azeris to cockroaches.
  • Kurds. Predominantly Sunni, the Kurds reside mainly in the northwest part of the country—so-called Iranian Kurdistan—and comprise around 7 percent of Iran’s population (there are roughly four million Kurds living in Iran, compared to twelve million in Turkey and six million in Iraq). Unlike Iran’s other minorities, many of its Kurds harbor separatist tendencies, creating tensions with the state that have occasionally turned violent (the largest in recent years occurred in response to Turkey’s February 1999 arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, then-leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party). The governments of Turkey and Iran fear the creation of a semiautonomous state in northern Iraq might motivate their own Kurdish minorities to press for greater independence. But Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, a U.S.-based expert on Iranian foreign policy, says Iran’s concern about Kurdish separatism does not approach the level of Turkey’s. Still, there have been repeated clashes between Kurds and Iranian security forces, the most recent of which was sparked by the July 2005 shooting of a young Kurd. Some experts say Israel has increased its ties with Iranian Kurds and boosted intelligence-gathering operations in northwest Iran to exploit ethnic fissures between the Kurds and the majority Shiite Persians.
  • Arabs. Along the Iranian-Iraqi border in southwest Iran is a population of some three million Arabs, predominantly Shiite. Arabs, whose presence in Iran stretches back twelve centuries, commingle freely with the local populations of Turks and Persians. During the 1980s, they fought on the side of the Iranians, not the Iraqi Arabs. However, as Sunni-Shiite tensions have worsened in the region, a minority of this group, emboldened by Iraqi Arabs across the border, has pressed for greater autonomy in recent years. In the southern oil-rich province of Khuzestan, clashes erupted in March 2006 between police and pro-independence ethnic Arab Iranians, resulting in three deaths and over 250 arrests (the protests were reportedly organized by a London-based group called the Popular Democratic Front of Ahwazi Arabs). In April 2005, rumors spread that the authorities in Tehran planned to disperse of the area’s Arabs, leading to protests that turned violent, according to Human Rights Watch.
  • Baluchis. Iran has roughly 1.4 million Baluchis, comprising 2 percent of its population. Predominantly Sunni, they reside in Baluchistan, a region divided between Pakistan and Iran. The southeastern province where Baluchis reside remains the least developed part of Iran and boasts high unemployment rates. That, plus the porous border between the two countries, has encouraged widespread smuggling of various goods, including drugs. Iranian Baluchistan, despite holding few resources, remains an important region militarily because of its border with Pakistan. Earlier this year the Iranian government built a military base there. Tehran has kept a watchful eye on Baluchi militants in the region. In March, a group called Jundallah attacked a government motorcade (which left twenty people dead), kidnapped a number of hostages, and executed at least one member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

What are these groups’ grievances with the Iranian government?

Although the Iranian constitution guarantees the rights of its religious and ethnic minorities, many of these groups say they face discrimination. They say some schools do not teach their languages (as the constitution requires), they are denied government jobs, and their regions are neglected by the state, resulting in above-average unemployment. A February 2006 Amnesty International report points to land and property confiscations, restrictions on movement, and unlawful imprisonments of ethnic minorities. Iran’s Sunni population, which includes Kurds and Baluchis, complain there is not a single Sunni mosque in the country (the authorities reportedly blocked one from recently being built in Tehran) and the government has barred public displays of Sunni religion and culture.

How has the Iranian government responded to ethnic unrest?

In general, the authorities in Tehran downplay differences and grievances among Iran ’s ethnic groups. But most experts and rights monitors say the state marginalizes its minorities, puts down demonstrations with force, and extracts public confessions from those it suspects of initiating unrest, executing those ethnic minorities found guilty. A. William Samii, regional analysis coordinator at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the typical government response is “a combination of repression and scapegoating.” In 1981, for instance, an Azeri uprising in the northwest city of Tabriz was put down violently, resulting in the executions of dozens of Azeris. More recent demonstrations by Arabs in the southwest province of Khuzestan have been blamed on the British, Samii says, because of their military presence across the border in Iraq and the historical role of British oil companies like Shell in the region (90 percent of Iran’s oil is located in Khuzestan).

What role does the United States play with these groups?

There are mixed accounts about U.S. affiliations with such groups. Seymour M. Hersh reports in the New Yorker the Pentagon has established “covert relationships” with many of Iran’s minority groups and “has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and southeastern Iran.” Although many of these minority groups have satellite offices in the United States (as well as in Europe), some experts remain doubtful. Although the Pentagon and Kurds in the region have longstanding ties, Afrasiabi doubts the United States will assist the Kurdish desire for greater autonomy. “The Iranians believe the United States is not foolish enough to push this arc of Kurdish separatism in Iran too far because of the compounding effect this would have on regional security issues,” he says. But whenever demonstrations break out among Iran’s minorities, Tehran blames foreign agitators, says RFE/RL’s Samii. “In the May 19 Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran, which was broadcast across the country by state radio, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani pinned southeastern [Baluchi] violence on the United States and Israel.”

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective

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12.05.2006

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:

Headlines:
  • 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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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective

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12.01.2006

Egypt Democracy Watch

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

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

Previous "Egypt Democracy Watch":

July 2006

October 2006

Egypt Democracy Watch:
(Covers the latest two months)


Opposition Parties on Constitutional Reforms

Three opposition parties decided to have a common realistic stands on constitutional reforms. The liberal Wafd, Leftist Tagammu Party and Arab Nationalist Nasserite Party decided to present their proposed constitutional amendments. All three parties maintained that the best solution would be to elect an assembly to draft a new constitution. However, if the regime refuses this option, they also presented a vision for amending the current constitution. All three parties agree on amending the following articles:

1- Article 40 to 63: should be maintained as they deal with public liberties, rights and duties of citizens.

2- Article 74: should be canceled altogether as it gives the president of the republic exceptional powers in case he/she sees that national unity or social peace are in danger.

3- Article 76: should be modified to facilitate the candidacy to the presidency of the republic instead of being an article that restricts candidacy.

4- Article 77: should be reversed to the pre-1980 constitutional amendment by limiting the terms of the president of republic to two terms instead of the current unlimited number of terms.

5- Article 88: avoiding any attempts at changing this article as it gives the judiciary the duty to oversee elections.

6- Articles 89: should be modified to force members of parliament to resign from any government or public sector position in case they are elected.

7- Article 93: strengthen the power of the judiciary- Court of "Cassation" and Higher Administrative Court- in issuing verdict in case of election irregularities in legislative elections.

8- Article 115: should be modified in a way to give the People's Assembly- Lower House- the power to modify the budget.

9- Article 127: should give the People's assembly the right to vote out the Prime minister and his cabinet without having the vote of no-confidence pending on the President's approval or popular referendum.

10- Articles 137/138: these two articles should be combined as have the president share his executive power with the prime minister.

11- Articles 147: should force the president of the republic, after approval of the the council of ministers, to get the opinion of the bureaus of one of the two houses of parliament before taking "urgent decisions".

12- Article 148: should be changed so that the president, after approval of the council of ministers, should consult with the Shura Council- Higher House- in case the People's Assembly- Lower House- is dissolved as soon as emergency law is declared. The emergency law should not exceed six month, to be extended for another six month after approval of the People's Assembly.

13- Article 173: cancellation of the Higher Council of Judicial Authorities as a way to confirm the independence of the judiciary.

14- Article 179: to cancel the Socialist Prosecutor, as a way to strengthen the unity of the judiciary and confirm the natural role of judges.

15- Article 194: should be modified as to give the Shura Council- Upper House- specific legislative powers.

16- The three political parties are calling for adding an article that would create a positive discrimination in favor of women, as to increase women's political participation.

17- The three parties are calling for adding an article that would enshrine the principal of proportional representation as a basic electoral system.


Labor Union Elections: Restriction on Opposition Workers

Authorities are preventing workers from the opposition to run as candidates in the Labor Union elections starting on November 12. Several workers from opposition parties and forces saw their names removed from candidates lists, while others where not able to access the necessary documents to become candidates. Several demonstrations took place to protest against the practices of the ministry of labor.

On another note, Aysha Abdel-Hadi, the minister of labor, refused a request from civil society organizations to monitor the electoral process, stated that Labor Unions in Egypt are 110 years old and are mature enough not to need any form of external monitoring of their activities. An opinion not shared by the opposition.


Ministry of Justice Puting Pressures on Judges

In an attempt to control and pressure the judges, the minister of justice, Mamdouh Marei, decided to use financial tool in order to domesticate independent judges. Marei decided to cut state subsidies to the Judge's Club (JC) as well as financial services provided to the JC such as loans to buy new cars. Judges see this as a revenge of the regime for the JC role in denouncing irregularities in legislative elections and for demanding the independence of the judiciary. Marei vowed to transform the politically active and powerful JC into a place where judges would drink tea and not challenge the regime. It is Worth adding that the minister of justice, appointed earlier this year, was the head of the presidential elections commission in 2005.


Tensions in Student Unions Elections

Tensions are rising on university campuses around the country as students prepare for Student Unions elections. Students accuse security apparatus on campus of interfering in elections and preventing students from choosing their true representative. Students also criticized the law of 1979 that prevents students from engaging in political activities and makes it illegal for political parties to be present on campuses. Students all over the country hold several demonstrations, and at time clashed with security forces.


Mubarak Agrees on Amending Article "76"

In a surprise move, president Mubarak gave an initial consent on amending controversial Article "76" of the constitution. This article was amending in 2005 to allow for the first ever multi-candidate presidential elections. However, the article also states that only parties with at least five percent of the seats in parliaments could run presidential candidates, as well as severe limitations on independent candidates. Opposition parties consider that the regime controls elections, hence control which party could get the five percent required to have a presidential candidate. Under the current dispositions, only the ruling national Democratic Party could have a candidate if presidential elections are to take place.

Mubarak declared that reforming Article "76" could pave the way for political parties to have candidates if presidential elections are to take place.


Ghad Party to Hold General Assembly

The Higher Committee of the Ghad- Tomorrow- Party will hold a meeting on November 23 to prepare for a general assembly that should vote for party reforms. The party has been led by Ambassador Ghatrifi since the detention of Ayman Nour, the party founder.


Resignations in the Nasserite Party

A number of Nasserite Party officials submited their resignation to join the Karama Party- a dynamic splinter of the Nasserite party still awaiting a license. The resignations are due to growing discontent with party leader Diaa el-Din Daoud blamed for the poor performance of the party.


Ruling Party MPs Against Quota for Women

A large number of member of parliament from the ruling National Democratic Party expressed their opposition to the creation of a quota for women in parliament. They maintained that men and women should be equal before the law, with no positive discrimination of one gender over the other. Creating extra quotas could complicate things as there already exists a 50 percent quota for farmers and workers in the parliament. However, they also stated that they could review their position if there is an increase in the number of seats in parliament, in which case they could even create a quota for youths under the age of 35.


Egypt Judges: Constitutional Reforms Should Protect Liberties

On October 4, Egypt's Judges declared that there should be a change of at least ten articles of the constitution, especially those dealing with the power of the president of the republic as well as the judiciary. They also stated that the articles related to to the supervision of the judiciary on elections should be maintained as they could protect a democratic system. The declarations came after a meeting of a committee of judges established for the study constitutional reforms.


Muslim Brotherhood Denies Internal Conflict

Dr. Mohamed Habib, first deputy-leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), denied allegations that there is a power struggle between him and the second deputy-leader Mohamed Khayrat al-Shatter. The latter represents the Upper Egypt- Southern Provinces- region power base of the MB and the alleged conflict was in regard to the limitation of the term of MB leader to two four year terms.


Muslim Bortherhood Leader Accuses Washington for Encouraging Persecution of Opposition

On October 4, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) hosted its annual banquet attended by 1500 guests and Representatives of all opposition forces and parties. In his address, Mahdi Akef, the MB leader, accused the United States of encouraging the Egyptian regime to persecute opposition activists and particularly MB members. He stressed the need for genuine constitutional reforms that would lead to political pluralism, peaceful change of government and true supervision of the judiciary over the electoral process. He also called for opening inquiries on torture and human right abuses of all Egyptian political detainees. He also expressed his fears that the government would amend the constitution in order to consolidate the regime's grip on power.


Wafd Party Calls for a New Constitution

In a meeting on October 2d, the Higher Committee (HC), highest authority of the opposition liberal Wafd party, called for drafting a new Egyptian constitution instead of amending the current one. The HC re-iterated the party's commitment for working with all opposition forces for the creation of a national compact on a new constitution. The HC also ordered the party's Constitutional Affairs Committee to prepare a report on this matter.

The Wafd leader, Mahmoud Abaza, declared that uniting the opposition on issue of the constitutional reform is the party's main priority. He also added that changing the constitution has been the party's main demand since 1978- year in which the Wafd was allowed to re-operate legally since it was banned after the 1952 military coup.


Muslim Brotherhood Considering Changing Slogan

Some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) are discussing the possibility of changing the organization slogan. Since its inception in the 1920s the MB has used "Islam is the Solution" as a rallying cry, however some MB leaders consider that there is a need for a new rallying cry that would not exclude Christian citizens. The Koranic verse "And Hold Together to the Bond of God and Do Not Separate" could be a possibility as it would stresses national unity between Muslim and Christian citizens.


National Council for Human Rights on Constitutional Amendments

Members of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) disagreed on the council's suggested amendments. Some members insisted that the president and vice president of the republic should be elected on the same ticket, while other saw that it was not necessary to elect the vice-president. On the other hand, Bahei Eddine Hassan, member of the NCHR stated that it would be more practical to draft a new constitution rather than amending the current one since there is a need for replacing at least 25 percent of the articles of the current one.


Mubarak to Remain President as Long His Heart Beats

In his address to the opening new parliamentary session on November 19, president Mubarak ended speculations on a potential transfer of power to his son Gamal. In the president words "...I will continue with you [the people of Egypt] the crossing to the future, accepting responsability..as long as in my chest there will be a heart beat...". All political circles interpreted the remarks as Mubarak intention on staying in office as long as he is alive, as well a refusal to change Article 77 of the constitution that would limit presidential terms in office.


Opposition Agrees on Drafting a New Constitution

The National Front for Change (NFC), which includes the Kefaya Movement, Muslim Brotherhood, the Wafd Party, the Ghad Party, the Nasserite party and the Democratic Front Party, is working on drafting a new constitution. The project will take into account all work done so far by the opposition in terms of constitutional reform. The NFC will also take into account the project elaborated by al-Ghad - Tomorrow- party.


The National Democratic Party Holds Annual Conference

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) held its fourth annual conference from September 19-21 in Cairo. The NDP discussed issues related to employment, investment, support of poor families, health care, transport, education, infrastructure and urban planing, youth and sport, as well as national security, citizenship and democracy. The conference was also attended by observers from other parties and foreign intellectuals.


The Alliance of Egyptian AmericansElects Woman of the Year and Holds Annual Conference

The Alliance of Egyptian Americans (AEA) elected the Egyptian Judge Dr. Noha al-Zini as 'Woman of the Year.' Dr al-Zini was recognized for having challenged the Egyptian regime for falsification of the parliamentary elections. The AEA also held its annual conference from September 15-17 and reiterated its commitment for political reforms in Egypt.


Annual General Conference of Egyptian Lawyers Call for More Liberties

The general conference of Egyptian lawyers that took place in the Mediterranean city of Port-Said from September 12-14 called for granting more political liberties. The conference called for strenghtening the judiciary, ending the emergency laws, canceling tribunals that are not under the control of the judiciary, as well as allowing for the creation of political parties.


Crisis Between the Two Houses of Parliament on Constitutional Reforms

The Shura Council (SC) - the higher house of parliament - and the People's Assembly (PA)- the lower house of parliament - endorsed different positions on constitutional reforms. Members of the SC wanted the constitutional reforms to enhance the status of the SC by giving it the right to initiate legislation and to question cabinet members. Under the current disposition, the SC has a consultative authority over legislation and oversees political parties and the press. The PA wants the constitutional amendment to increase the power of the PA but does not believe it necessary to increase the power of the other house of Parliament. This difference of opinion created a crisis between members of the two houses of parliament, both of which are dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party.


National Front to Oppose Dynastic Presidency

Several parties and political forces decided to create a national front to coordinate opposition efforts against attempts to transform Egypt into a dynastic presidency. This national front includes the liberal Wafd party, al-Ghad - Tomorrow - party, the Nasserite party and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The founding meeting took place in the Wafd party headquarters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.


Censorship Authority Appoves Movie on the Muslim Brotherhood Founder

The censorship authority gave its initial approval to a movie on the life of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Hassan al-Banna. The approval followed a request from MB parliamentarian Mohsen Radi on behalf of the al-Banna family. The final approval for the movie is still pending on the agreement of the security authorities. Hassan al-Banna founded the MB in 1928 and was assassinated two decades later.


Egyptian Expatriates Might Vote In Next Presidential Elections

Aisha Abdel-Hadi, minister of labor and emigration, declared the the government is considering the possibility of allowing Egyptians residing abroad to vote in the next presidential elections. Under the current system Egyptians abroad are not allowed to cast their votes in any Egyptian elections. In the 2005 presidential elections the government was criticized for not allowing the four millions strong Egyptian community living abroad to vote.


Nasserite Party Absent from the Coalition of the Left

Leftist parties - legal and illegal - created a coalition in an effort to unify socialist and communist forces. The coalition is made of the Tagammu Party, Karama Party (which is illegal), People's Party (which is illegal), Egyptian Communist Party (which is illegal), the Justice Center for Political and Social Studies, and the Social Democratic Center. The Nasserite Party, which has a socialist platform based on late president Nasser's ideology, did not join the coalition. Refaat El-Saeed, leader of the Tagammu, the oldest legal leftist party, explained that the Nasserite party was invited and expected to join the coalition.

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's perspective