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:


  • Arab Countries: New Corruption Index
  • Egypt: NDP Conference; Crackdown on Journalists; Ibrahim Trial
  • Jordan: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections
  • Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed
  • Syria: Opposition Leader Faces Life in Prison; Activist Arrested
  • Kuwait: Cabinet Reshuffle
  • Oman: Shura Election Results
  • Saudi Arabia: Activist Jailed; Curricula to Be Posted Online
  • Bahrain: Human Rights Authority; Journalists on Trial; Marriage Age Set
  • UAE: New Investment Laws; Foreign Workers Strike
  • Yemen: Terror Convictions
  • Tunisia: Critical Reports; Islamists Released; Hunger Strikes
  • Algeria: Crackdown on Journalists; Censorship of Book Fair
  • Morocco: Prison Sentence for News Agency Director
  • Mauritania: Violent Protests; Journalist Trial; First Slavery Prosecution
  • Upcoming Political Events


Arab Countries: New Corruption Index

Arab Parliamentarians Against Corruption (ARPAC) announced on November 5 plans to set up an index to measure the prevalence and cost of corruption in Arab countries. According to ARPAC, the index is the core of an Arab parliamentarian centre for data against corruption. The organization also announced that it will publish detailed studies of corruption in every Arab country.

Egypt: NDP Conference; Crackdown on Journalists; Ibrahim’s Trial

Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) held its ninth General Conference on November 3-7, an event dominated by internal party affairs rather than significant policy initiatives. The main event was the creation of a forty-five-member Supreme Council (hay’ah ‘ulya), including a few members of the party’s old guard but more of the new guard surrounding Gamal Mubarak, to nominate the party’s next presidential candidate. The conference followed several months of internal NDP elections throughout the country, during which the new guard reportedly recruited many supporters. The more than 6,000 NDP members present voted to keep 79-year old President Hosni Mubarak as chairman. Secretary General Safwat al-Sharif retained his position, as did several Assistant Secretaries, including Gamal Mubarak. Click here for details.

A Cairo court convicted two police officers on November 5 for beating and raping a prisoner, and sentenced them to three years in prison. The case has received wide public attention after a video of the rape was widely circulated over the internet. Click here for details. In a related development, another Egyptian man died on November 4 after being tortured for three days while in police custody for suspected drug use. The Egyptian Prosecutor General has ordered an official inquiry. Under Egyptian law, the sentence for torturing a prisoner ranges between three and fifteen years in prison.

A criminal court in the Assiut Province convicted Anwar al-Hawari, editor of al-Wafd opposition newspaper, chairman Mahmoud Abaza, and reporter Younis Darwish on October 27 of “publishing false news,” and sentenced the three men to one month in prison. The newspaper had published an article in March 2007 that accused two NDP members of obtaining land illegally from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. This ruling is the latest in a government crack-down on independent and opposition journalists. Since September 2007, nine have received prison sentences for press-related offenses. Click here for details.

The Southern Cairo Public Prosecutor has declared that Saad Eddin Ibrahim, civil society activist and president of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, will be tried in absentia on several charges brought against him by pro-government politicians and lawyers. Ibrahim is charged with harming Egypt’s interests and economy by calling on the United States to place conditions on military aid . Ibrahim, aged 68, suffered partial paralysis and other health problems during his imprisonment in 2000-03 and is currently in voluntary exile. He faces up to three years in prison in each of the four new cases, which will be heard on November 8, 18 , 20, and December 1.

Jordan: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections

Elections for the Jordanian Chamber of Deputies will be held on November 20, with 984 candidates running in forty-five districts. According to the Civil Status and Passports Department, 2,455,000 citizens are eligible to vote. Comprised of 110 seats, the Parliament includes six seats reserved for women, nine for Christians, and three for the Circassian and Chechen minorities. The 2001 Elections Law permits candidates and their representatives to monitor elections inside polling centers and during vote counting. Independent observers and non-government organizations are allowed to “observe” but not “monitor” elections, which means they are not allowed to enter voting stations or monitor voter registration or vote counting. Jordan held its last legislative election in June 2003, with a participation rate of 58.8 percent.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF), Jordan's largest political party, dismissed five of its members on October 30, after they announced their intention to run as independents. The development comes against the backdrop of a controversy that surfaced last month over the party's official list of twenty-two candidates. Party cadres have disputed the selection process, which they said eliminated strong candidates. Click here for more information.

Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed

A parliamentary session to elect a new president has been postponed for the third time until November 21. Two sessions in September and October were postponed due to the lack of consensus between the western-backed ruling majority and the Hizbollah-led opposition supported by Syria. Lebanon's president, a Maronite Christian by convention, is elected by MPs rather than by popular suffrage. Current President Emile Lahoud is due to step down on November 24. Leading presidential candidates include Nasib Lahoud, Boutrous Harb, Robert Ghanim, Jean Obeid, and Michel Aoun, the opposition’s candidate.

Meanwhile, alleged maneuvers by thousands of Hizbollah guerrillas near Israel's border in early November have heightened tensions in Lebanon and prompted a probe by the UN command in the region.

Syria: Opposition Leader Faces Life in Prison; Activist Arrested

A Damascus criminal court adjourned a hearing in the case of Faeq al-Mir, a leader of the leftist People’s Democratic Party, until November 28. Al-Mir is on trial for contacting Elias Atallah, the head of the Democratic Left party in Lebanon and a leader of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian March 14 Movement. He was charged last March with “undertaking acts that weaken national sentiment” during times of conflict and “communicating with a foreign country to incite it to initiate aggression against Syria.” The last charge carries a potential life sentence, or a death penalty, if an aggression against Syria is initiated. Click here for more information.

Syrian police used force to suppress a peaceful demonstration on November 2 organized by the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) in the towns of Qamishli and Ain al-Arab. Hundred of Syrian Kurds had gathered to protest of the Turkish military threats to invade Northern Iraq. One man was killed and dozens injured when police forces used tear gas and live bullets to disperse the demonstrators. A number of leading PYD members were arrested, including Isa Hasso, Jamil Abu Adel, and Abbas Abu Rashu.

Syrian opposition activist Jihadeddin al-Musuti was arrested at Damascus airport on November 1 as he was departing for Cairo for a human rights meeting. Al-Musuti has spent over eleven years in Syrian jails as a political detainee in the past.

Kuwait: Cabinet Reshuffle

Kuwait’s Minister of Oil, Bader al-Humaidhi, resigned on November 5 after only eight days in office. Parliamentarians, critical of his performance previously as Finance Minister, strongly opposed his appointment. Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Muhammad al-Sabah had changed nine of his fifteen-member cabinet on October 28 in the second cabinet reshuffle in seven months. Since February 2006, Kuwait has had three governments and a major cabinet reshuffle, amid a government-parliament stand-off that has virtually paralyzed decision-making in the country. Click here for the new cabinet line-up in Arabic.

Oman: Shura Election Results

Omanis voted on October 27 to elect their representatives in the eighty-four member Shura Council. An estimated 388,000 people in sixty-one districts registered to vote, out of a total population of three million. The government estimated voter turnout at 63 percent, down from 74 percent in 2003. No female member was elected, despite a record high of twenty-one women among a total of 631 candidates. The Shura Council, which serves a four-year term, may question ministers and advise the government on economic and social issues, but has no legislative power and no say in defense, internal security, or foreign policy. Click here for a list of new Shura Council members in Arabic.

Saudi Arabia: Activist Jailed; Curricula to Be Posted Online

A Riyadh court convicted activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Isa al-Hamid on November 7 of “violating a security cordon” and “instigating a public demonstration,” and sentenced them four and six months in prison, respectively. The two men were arrested in July in connection with a peaceful demonstration by a group of women against their relatives’ prolonged detention without trial. Click here for more information.

Saudi Arabian Education Minister Abdullah al-Obeid announced November 5 that all textbooks taught in Saudi Arabia’s schools will be made available on the ministry’s website soon. Al-Obeid stated that all critics who had been spreading “misleading information” about the Saudi curriculum will be able to visit the website to find out the truth. Click here for the ministry’s website.

Bahrain: Human Rights Authority; Journalists on Trial; Marriage Age Set

The cabinet announced on November 11 the creation of a National Human Rights Authority. The government authority will be responsible for setting relevant policies, addressing human rights violations, and communicating with international organizations and non-government organizations.

The High Criminal Court convicted al-Saheefa journalists Saleh al-Amm, Muath al-Meshari, and Fareed al-Shayeb on October 21 of libel and ordered them to pay 250 Bahraini dinars (U.S. $665) each. The banned electronic newspaper had published an article criticizing the management of an elderly care center. In a separate case, the Criminal Court of Appeals convicted on October 28 journalist Hisham al-Zayani and the editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Khaleej Newspaper, Anwar Abdulrahman, of libel against the President of Arabian Gulf University, Rafia Ghabbash. The two men were fined 1,000 Bahraini dinars ($2,650) each. According to the Bahrain Journalists Society, thirty-two libel cases were brought against journalists in 2007. Click here for more information.

The government issued an order setting the marriage age at fifteen for women and eighteen for men. Both Sunni Islamists and the Shi’i Islamic Scholars Council rejected the decision as un-Islamic. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), the average marriage age in Bahrain is twenty-eight for men and twenty-five for women.

UAE: New Investment Laws; Foreign Workers Strike

Dubai’s Department of Economic Development announced on November 4 that it will revise investment regulations to attract more local and foreign direct investment in the manufacturing sector. Dubai aims to increase the industrial sector’s GDP contribution from 17 percent to 20-25 percent over the next five years.

A week-long labor strike by thousands of foreign construction workers in Dubai was called off on November 2 following government threats of deportation. Workers had demanded higher wages and improved working conditions. Upon ending the strike, the chief of Dubai's police pledged to prosecute any employers not meeting health and safety standards at the work place. Approximately 700,000 South Asians work in the construction industry in Dubai, where labor strikes and trade unions are illegal.

Yemen: Terror Convictions

A Yemeni court convicted thirty-two suspected members of al-Qaeda on November 7 of planning attacks on oil and gas installations in the country, sentencing them to prison terms of up to fifteen years. Four others were acquitted. Six of those convicted remain at large and were tried in absentia. The trial opened in March and authorities did not disclose when or how they were arrested. Three suspects claimed to have been tortured and forced to sign confessions.

Tunisia: Critical Reports; Islamists Released; Hunger Strikes

Amnesty International published a briefing on November 2 criticizing the human rights situation in Tunisia in the wake of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's twentieth anniversary in power. According to the briefing, President Ben Ali’s rule has been marred by gross human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, torture, unfair trials, harassment of activists, and limitations on freedom of expression and association. Reporters without Borders also issued a statement on November 5 criticizing the regime’s limitation of press freedom, pointing to cases of harassment of journalists, censorship of books and internet sites, and banning of foreign publications.

Tunisian authorities released thirty members of the banned Islamist al-Nahda Party from prison on November 5. Those released include former head of al-Nahda, Sheikh al-Habib al-Louz, and four other leading members. Al-Nahda estimates that seventy of its members remain in prison. The Tunisian government began a gradual process of releasing the prisoners a year ago. The majority of al-Nahda prisoners were sentenced in the early 1990s by military courts on charges of terrorism and conspiracy against the state.

Security forces in the city of Safakis arrested six men on October 25 for unauthorized use of CDs and multimedia kits. No further information was provided on the reasons for the arrests. Tunisian security officers also arrested on October 26 Jihan Daly, a second year high school student, and charged her with collecting donations illegally and funding terrorist groups. Daly was detained twice during the past two years for wearing the veil.

Lawyer and activist Muhammad al-Nouri and journalist Salim Boukhdeir began a hunger strike November 1 to protest government restrictions on the movement of political and human rights activists. Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) Mia al-Gariby and Director of the party’s al-Mawakif newspaper Nejib Chebbi ended a month-long hunger strike on October 20. The two staged the strike after a court ordered the eviction of al-Mawkif and PDP from their offices. Click here for more information.

Algeria: Crackdown on Journalists; Censorship of Book Fair

Noureddine Boukraa, bureau chief of the daily newspaper Ennahar, was detained on November 12 and charged with libel against a local businessman. The case referred to an article Bourkaa had written in 2005 accusing the businessman of bribing judges. Click here for more information.

A Djelfa Province court convicted Dhif Talal, correspondent for the Arabic-language newspaper al-Fadjr, of defamation on October 15 for writing an article that criticized poor management in the local Ministry of Agriculture. Talal was sentenced to six months in prison. Ouahid Oussama, correspondent at the daily Arabic-language newspaper al-Bilad, was summoned to appear before the court on November 19. Oussama faces defamation charges for reporting on the failures of the education system in Djelfa. Another Djelfa journalist, Hafnaoui Ghoul of al-Youm, was reportedly harassed by local authorities for his critical reporting. Click here for more information.

Algerian authorities banned nearly 1,200 books from the 12th Annual Algiers International Book Fair, which took place from October 31 to November 9 with the participation of some 600 publishers from twenty-seven countries. According to the fair’s supervisory committee, 90 percent of the banned books promoted extremist ideologies and terrorism, a claim denied by publishers. Under the fair's 2003 statute, books “supporting terrorism or racism, harming national and territorial unity, or harming public morals, God, or the prophets” may not be displayed.

Morocco: Prison Sentence for News Agency Director

A Casablanca court sentenced AIC Press Agency Director Mourad Bourja to two months in prison on October 30 for “disrespecting an agent of the state in the exercise of his duties.” The court also ordered Bourja to pay 4,500 dirhams (U.S. $590) in fines and damages. Bourja was arrested on June 28 during an argument with a policeman outside the Spanish consulate. Click here for details.

Mauritania: Violent Protests; Journalist Trial; First Slavery Prosecution

Violent demonstrations have broken out in several Mauritanian cities since the beginning of November in protest of the rising prices of basic staples such as flour, sugar, electricity, and water. At least two demonstrators died of bullet wounds in the towns of Kankossa and Diguenni after police used force to disperse the protests. The cabinet announced on November 9 that it will introduce temporary food subsidies over the next few months.

Abdel Fattah Ould Abeidna, managing editor of al-Aqsa opposition newspaper, was convicted on November 8 under article 348 of the Criminal Code for “publishing false news” about a local businessman’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking. Ould Abeidna was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay 300,050,000 ouguiyas (U.S. $1.2 million) in fines and damages. Click here for more information.

In the first slavery-related prosecution in Mauritania, two Mauritanians were arrested in the town of Guerrou on October 29 for treating two children as slaves. The suspects were charged with infringing on children's rights and depriving them of a right to education. Slavery has been banned in Mauritania since 1981, but it was not established as a crime punishable by imprisonment until August 2007. Click here for more information.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Jordan: Legislative elections, November 20, 2007
  • Lebanon: Parliamentary session to elect president, November 21, 2007
  • Middle East international meeting, Annapolis MD, November 2007 (tentative)
  • Algeria: Municipal elections, November 29, 2007


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