6.25.2007

Save Syrian People from Brutal Totalitarianism

Syrian Oppositionists Call for International Action

MEMRI.org
June 6, 2007

Recently, the Syrian regime has been escalating its persecution of political dissidents. This escalation is reflected in the large number of prison sentences being issued by the High State Security Court to prominent oppositionists, among whom are Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani, a human rights activist, who received a 12-year prison sentence for harming state security; Anwar Al-Bouni, human rights activists and attorney, who was sentenced to five years in prison for "harming national morale"; and Michel Kilo, activist for the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society and director of the Hurriyat Center for Freedom of the Press and Journalists in Syria, and Mahmoud 'Issa, political activist, who had been imprisoned from 1992 to 2000 for membership in the Communist Labor Party, both of whom received a three-year prison sentence for "harming national sentiment." Also sent to prison for "harming national sentiment," for one year each, were opposition activists Suleiman Al-Shummar and Khalil Hussein.(1)

The prison sentences have been harshly criticized by Syrian opposition circles, which also called for the abolition of the state of emergency declared 44 years ago and demanded that the international community take a more assertive stand against the Syrian regime.

This report will review some recent statements by the political prisoners and by two other prominent oppositionists - former prisoner Riyadh Al-Turk and former Syrian MP Ma'moun Al-Homsi:

Syrian Political Prisoners Call on Their Supporters to Fight for Democracy

On April 28, 2007, after Anwar Al-Bouni was sentenced to five years in prison for "harming national morale," six political prisoners at Adra central prison near Damascus released a declaration stating that the current human rights crisis in Syria was part of a larger crisis that has been ongoing since emergency law was imposed 44 years ago. In the declaration, they also called on their supporters to continue the struggle for democracy:

"Our cause, as prisoners of opinion and conscience in Syria, is a part of, and a continuation of, the general crisis of freedoms and human rights in Syria that began with the instatement of the state of emergency 44 hard years ago. [This crisis] reached an acute climax in the 80s, and now it is reaching another acute climax, with the augmentation and escalation of repression, arrests, and expropriation of freedoms.

"Tens of thousands of Syrians have paid a high price throughout this period. Some have died, and have given their lives; some have spent long years, in the prime of their youth, in inhuman conditions in the prisons and detention camps, and have suffered barbaric torture; others fled from the tyranny and the repression into exile... and the rest of the Syrians were forced to withdraw into themselves... in flight from the tyranny.

"Those who could not bear the long era of subjugation, and set their tongues or their mind free - their fate was imprisonment, maltreatment or banishment. A very few [Syrians managed to] ascend to the summit of tyranny, repression, and domination that rules over Syrian society, and has wreaked havoc, plundered, and has subjected the country and the people to poverty and domination.

"This is the basic issue that requires continuous action. Your solidarity with the imprisoned is part of this activity, and working to free them is a necessary step, [and] not just in order to alleviate the suffering of the imprisoned [individual] and his family. Rather, this is necessary in order to encourage others and give them the sense that they are not alone in this battle, and in order to give society hope that the gates are not completely locked, and the road is not completely blocked, and that there is real hope that the crisis of freedoms and human rights in Syria will come to a peaceful solution...

"The absence of public freedoms and the violation of human rights [on the one hand] and the severe poverty [on the other] are two sides of the same coin in the countries of the Third World, with Syria being at the forefront of these countries [in this respect], especially as it is one of the totalitarian countries ruled by a single point of view... with [all those think differently] being [considered] turncoats and traitors.

"The absence of freedoms, means of expression, political participation, regularity, and accountability leads to corruption, domination, impoverishment and the plundering of public funds. Poverty worsens, and moral and human values collapse...

"The Syrian people have paid a high price to achieve its rights and freedoms, and we hope that we will be the last installment of this great and high price, after which the Syrian people will reclaim its rights and freedoms...

"We need your constant and unflagging activity in order to force the Syrian authorities to respect human rights; to respect the international law and international conventions which they accepted, and to apply them in practice; to allow freedom of expression and opinion, and political activity. Perhaps the freeing of the political prisoners will be the necessary first step [in this direction].

"[What is needed is] the termination of the state of emergency and the exceptional laws, in particular Edict 49 from 1980 and the exceptional census edict in the Hasakah Governorate from 1962; the canceling of the exceptional courts, in particular the State Security Court and the military courts, as well as the annulment of their verdicts and reimbursement for those wronged by them; the granting of full judiciary independence; the stopping and preventing of torture, and the holding of its perpetrators accountable; an end to political imprisonment; granting freedom of the press and of the media; allowing political participation, the forming of parties, organizations, and civil society associations without [the need for] an official mandate; and an end to the plunder of public funds and the policy of impoverishment, domination, and hegemony."(2)

Michel Kilo: Syria is a Country that is Alien to Our Times

In an affidavit he submitted to the court, Michel Kilo, who received a three-year prison sentence for "harming national sentiment" after he signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, spoke of the crisis in the relationship between the Syrian people and the Syrian regime. The affidavit was also posted on the liberal website www.metransparent.com. Kilo wrote:

"The existence of a crisis in [the Syrian regime's] relationship with the people, in addition to the crisis in [political] participation and in civil [rights], emanated from [Syria's] being a regime based on foundations that are counter to those of modern societies and countries, in which civil [rights] are the cornerstone of the regime and of public life. These [civil rights] are the basis of equality, rule of law, modernity, development, and free choice [in the democratic process], of the expression of the people's hopes, role, and interests.

"In this sense, Syria is a country that is alien to our times. The police are desperately trying to arrive at a miracle [formula] that is inappropriate for the present - as the regime creates a society as it sees fit, and according to its needs, [a society] in its own image.

"Anyone who really and truly loves his homeland must act in order to bring the [Syrian] regime to stand on its feet - that is, to create [a regime] that is for society, instead of the opposite. The path to this is civil [rights], human rights, exclusive rule of the law in the country, popular participation [in political processes], and free choice - because human progress is measured by the sole criterion of freedom.

"We must ask: Aren't these problems and crises enough to harm national sentiment among the Syrians?! Isn't it obvious that a citizen who is stripped of his rights, and is poor, and is politically and socially marginalized, and subject to discrimination that does not recognize his independent existence or any acquired rights - including rights that the law defines as sacred, such as the right to work - cannot stand fast against the injuries and disasters that beset him night and day? [These disasters surely] harm his national sentiment, as well as his desire to live, and push him towards all kinds of shortcomings - from an under-sensitivity to the value of life to a loathing of himself, of his countrymen, and of his homeland."(3)

In his statement of defense to the court, Kilo called on the Syrian regime to halt the arrests and persecution and to move towards a new policy based on dialogue, equality, and mutual respect. Although Kilo was prevented from presenting this statement in court, the statement was posted on the website of the Damascus Declaration, an umbrella organization of opposition parties and forces, among them the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Kurdish organizations (www.damdec.org). The statement read in part:

"Arrests and imprisonment are no solution. Persecution and prisons will not solve the crises, even if they make the entire opposition disappear. The crises are in the ideological, administrative, political, and economic structures of the regime, in its mentality, and in its work methods... Stop the arrests and the persecution, because their short leash may very likely end up wrapped around everyone's neck. Move towards a new policy, based on dialogue, equality, respect, and a desire for a different beginning for our homeland - citizens, state, society, government, parties, and professional unions."(4)

In his affidavit, Kilo mocked the charges against him - i.e. "harming national sentiment": "I demand [to see] proof and indices confirming that the Syrians' national sentiment prior to my signing of the declaration was stronger than it was afterwards, and that the drop in it, and its weakening, stem solely from my signing of the declaration... Without such quantitative indices, the accusation becomes a [mere] agglomeration of words, that reflects not reality, but rather the hallucinations of the apparatuses - which are not always known for fanatically defending the Syrian people's national sentiment. In fact, they are completely unfamiliar with this sentiment - except when they are using it to accuse and punish the citizens being persecuted by them.

"For this reason, [and] so that I may be at ease, I demand [to see] indices showing that [national] sentiment did not remain damaged, but that those in charge [of this matter] have managed to restore [the national sentiment] to its former excellent state.

"At the same opportunity, I would like to know which citizens' national sentiment was harmed by my signature. For example, was it the Kurds in Syria - some of whom have been stripped of various natural rights such as citizenship in the country to which they belong, which they defend, and which they take part in building, and who are subject to security and political suspicion that presents them as disloyal to the homeland? In all honesty, I do not believe that my signature on the [Beirut-Damascus] declaration harmed their national sentiment, or the sentiment of millions of Ba'th party members who gather under the flag of the ruling party...

"If my signature on the declaration does not harm the nationals sentiment of the Kurds, and of the Ba'th members, we must wonder how harm was caused to the [national sentiment] of the women and children, the unemployed youth in Syria, and the emigrants fleeing the living conditions [in Syria] for foreign parts. How was it harmed among the pensioners and housewives mired in worry about life and about obtaining food for their families at a time of inflation, impoverishment, unemployment, and merciless corruption?..."

Also in his affidavit, Kilo set out what he saw as the real causes of harm to Syrian national sentiment - among them the Ba'th Party's failure to achieve its goals, Syria's inability to get back the Golan Heights, the growing relationship with Iran, economic backwardness, the crises in education, health, services, and culture, and chronic corruption and violations of human and civil rights.

Riyadh Al-Turk: The Trials Are Aimed at Silencing the Opposition

In an interview posted on the liberal website www.metransparent.com, oppositionist and former political prisoner Riyadh Al-Turk condemned the prison sentences being given to oppositionists, and claimed that they were aimed at silencing and intimidating them:

"No court in Syria gives people a fair trial. [Fair trials] ended with the establishment of the regime of tyranny, which harmed the judiciary authority as an independent institution, forcing the judges to act out of partisan motives and to accept the dictates of the military. In parallel to the [regular] courts, [this regime] established the emergency courts, such as the High State Security Court and the field courts.

"At this point, we see no difference between the regular court and the emergency court - after all, they are both subject to the orders of the security apparatuses, who acquired the title of 'justice police' by means of exploitation and aggression...

"Declaring a state of emergency over 40 years ago opened the door wide for the military regime to violate and make a mockery of the state's laws. For this reason, at trials of political detainees and those detained for the offense of expressing an opinion, we see grave charges based on sections of the penal code that are aimed at keeping the detainees in prison for long periods of time.

"The bottom line is that these are political trials aimed at preventing the [detainees] from exercising the right to express their opinion and to participate in public life, as guaranteed by the constitution. [These accusations] are aimed at the opposition, in order to silence the voices of its activists, and, ultimately, to intimidate the people and to encourage them to distance themselves from the public [arena]...

"We must condemn the authorities, who harm the freedoms of the citizens. We must judge them, instead of [them] judging us."(5)

Former Syrian MP Ma'moun Al-Homsi Calls for International Action

Following the sentencings, oppositionist and former Syrian MP Muhammad Mamoun Al-Homsi published, on the Damascus Declaration website, a call to the E.U. to be firmer in its stands regarding the Syrian regime:

"...The 12-year [prison] sentence received by the prominent oppositionist Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani [is] a severe affront to the sentiments of the Syrian people, and a new attempt to convey a message to the opposition that it can expect assassinations or imprisonments. [It is also an] affront to the international community and its calls.

"This is also a message to the American administration, following [U.S. House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's visit to Damascus and the Sharm Al-Sheikh meeting of [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice and [Syrian Foreign Minister Walid] Al-Mu'allem.

"This message, whose importance is critical, exposes the truth regarding this regime: [namely that] the price of a [Syrian] oppositionist doctor's visit to the U.S. is 12 years' imprisonment.

"Our people's pain has increased in light of this painful reality and the deterioration in the human rights arena - from the barbaric trials, some of which were public but most of which were carried out in darkness, to the sentences handed down to attorney and human rights activist Anwar Al-Bouni and, today, to Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani. [The Syrian people] protests against the international community's failure to take more aggressive stands vis-à-vis the serious deterioration taking place in Syria.

"The Syrian people is renewing its call to the E.U. and its parliament to take more effective stands against this regime - and, first and foremost, [to threaten] to recall their ambassadors if [the Syrian regime] continues on this path of arrests and trials, and to force it to release the prisoners it is holding for expressing an opinion as well as the prisoners of conscience, and to hold new parliamentary elections under international oversight."(6 )

In an interview with the liberal website www.aafaq.org, Al-Homsi expressed his support for pressure by the international community aimed at regime change in Damascus. Calling on the American people not to let terrorist regimes "vanquish freedom and the free people," he urged them to help the Syrian people get rid of those who bear most of the responsibility for the bloodbath in the Middle East. He also rejected the argument that the U.S should conduct a dialogue with what he termed the tyrannical regimes in the region, saying that this would mean that the terrorist regimes had triumphed over the U.S.(7)

As a symbolic protest, at a May 21, 2007 press conference in Beirut, Al-Homsi declared his decision to run in the Syrian presidential election on May 27. (According to the Syrian constitution, the parliament nominates a single presidential candidate who is then submitted for approval in a referendum; additional candidates are not allowed to participate. Bashar Al-Assad received 97.62% approval in the recent referendum). In his published declaration of candidacy, he attacked Syria's totalitarian regime, calling it "the last stronghold of Stalinism." Following are excerpts from his declaration, as it appeared in English on the Free Syria website:

"Citizens compete in every country in the world for the presidency, except in Syria. Since the arrival of the Ba'th party to power, the 'renovation' slogan was created, at the time of self-renewal of the [presidential] term, thus turning Syria into an absolute, inherited, royal family state. This has led, practically and definitely, to the suspension, even in form, of what remains of the sovereignty of law, equality between citizens, and alleged equal opportunities. In all the countries of the world, citizens are entitled to elect and be elected. They are also entitled to submit applications for positions in public administration departments [-] notably, the position of the presidency, except in this totalitarian regime, the last stronghold of Stalinism...

"Oh, Syrian citizens: The self-renewer of his [presidential] term has become the head of organized crime in the worst form of state terrorism and the most fiendish of robbery and murder gangs. He buried the sprouts of freedom and democracy, buried national independence, authorized bribery, destroyed education and health, established a parasitical and fragile economy, made for corruption a state and agents, smuggled the stolen wealth of the people outside the country, and led the Syrian people to a state of poverty unprecedented in its history...

"I am a citizen like any Syrian citizen, being subject to the rightful and legitimate constitutional conditions for candidacy to the Presidency of the Republic. Moreover, thousand[s] like me are also qualified and worthy of such [a] post. I love and respect my family, my neighborhood, my town, and my Syrian homeland with its miscellaneous creeds and confessions. I venerate faith in God Almighty, and I have utmost respect [for] the freedom and democratic rights of the people as well as [for] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I hope that you may accept my candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic of Syria as a legitimate right and a national obligation in challenge of a ... void and corrupt renovation, in support of your bold attitude to circumvent the forces of the Damascus Declaration as leverage for democratic national change."(8)

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East.

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Some related posts:

- Syria under Totalitarianism

- The Beirut-Damascus Declaration

- Syria's Independence: Free Anwar al-Bunni

- Totalitarian Baath and Free Anwar al-Bunni

- Free Kamal Labawani

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6.21.2007

Egypt Democracy Watch

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

Previous "Egypt Democracy Watch" on Middle East Policy:

April 2007

December 2006

October 2006

July 2006

Egypt's Constitutional Amendments


Egypt Democracy Watch:
(Covers the latest two months)

Source: The Egypt Monitor


The Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth Elects its First Board

The newly created Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth (EULY) elected its first board of directors on June 1st, 2007. Thirteen candidates run for the ten board seats. EULY is an initiative to unite the efforts of Liberal Youth in Egypt regardless of their party or non-party affiliations.


Attempts at Imploding the Judges Club

Presidents of two Judges Clubs from the provinces made an attempt to split from the main Judge's Club headquartered in Cairo. The plan aimed at making creating a federation of Judges Clubs nation wide, hence diminishing the role of the main Club in Cairo. However, Judges from Asyut- one the the two rebel Clubs- challenged the Club's president to withdraw his project and stay loyal to Cairo's headquarters or else vote him out of office. The president of the Asuyt Club sent apologies to the Judges at the end of May.

Reformist Judges consider that this to be the regime's attempt to implode the Judge's Club because of the Judges's positions on independence of the Judiciary and democracy.


A Unified Law for the Buidling and Repair of Places of Worship

The speaker of the People's Assembly (PA) declared that the lower House will pass a new law concerning the building and repair of places of worship. The new law aims at creating a unified law for all places of worship of the three national religions of Egypt: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is currently easier for Muslims to build places of worship. The PA is to base the new law on the recommendation of the National Council of Human Rights.


Muslim Brotherhood Leaders Trial Adjourned

The military tribunal trial for the 33 leaders of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was adjourned to July 15. The military court refused to release on bail Khairat Al-Shater, second deputy leader of the MB. Further, the authorities did not allow the media or international observers, including former US general attorney Ramsey Clark into the trial location.


Public Transport Workers on Strike

In early May hundreds of public transport workers went on strike to protest their poor remuneration. The workers complained that their salaries do not exceed LE 500 ( around US $ 90 ) a month after ten years in service. On May 2d they prevented 250 buses from resuming their duties.


Ayman Nour Suffers Injuries in Jail

The jailed leader of the Ghad- Tomorrow- Party suffered 16 injuries on May 12. Nour accused the authorities of inflicting these injuries as part of his generally poor treatment in jail. The authorities are investigating Nour's complaints. Pictures of the injuries were published in the Ghad party website.


The Wafd Party Boycots the Shura Elections

On May 7th, 2007 the Higher Committee of the Wafd Party decided that the party will not participate in the Shura Council- Upper House- elections due to start on June 11, 2007. The Wafd party refuses to participates the Upper House elections as long the House does not have real legislative powers. The party also raised concerns on the new laws on electoral supervision perceived as not being conducive to fair elections.


Clashes Between Muslim and Copts Over Church Building

Sectarian clashes erupted in the Giza village of Bamha on May 11, 2007 over the construction of a Church. A plot of land and rumor concerning the building of a Church without proper permit seems to be behind the clashes. On the Coptic side, there were 11 injured, 25 houses and 5 shops burned down. The village priest accused the Mosque's Imam of sparking this sedition- a first in the 6000 inhabitant village.

A controversial reconciliation session took place as it did not settle the issue of compensating for damaged properties. The Pope Shenouda III asked the Copts to accept reconcilation and reject compensation, which angered many Copts.


Leading Figures in the Jihad Organization to Review their Ideology

Dr Ahmed Hussein Egueza, who served a 15 year jail sentence, declared that he is joining the revisionists in the Egyptian Jihad Organization. He mentioned that the ideologue and founder of the Egyptian Jihad Organization, Dr Sayid Imam Al-Sherif, is leading this initiative. The Egyptian Jihad Organization was considered to be a model for groups such as al-Qaida, whose deputy chief- Dr Ayman Zawahri- was once a leading figure. Al-Zawahri opposes the revisionist trend in the Egyptian Jihad organization.


Parties Committee Agrees on a New Party

On May 24, the government controlled Parties Committee agreed on the creation of a new party, the Democratic Front (DF). The DF has a liberal ideology and is founded by former NDP reformers. It is the 24th political party in Egypt and the third liberal party after the Wafd and the Ghad- Tomorrow - Party.


More the 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members Arrested

The authorities arrested more than 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in order to prevent them from running and campaigning for the Shara Council elections- Upper House- due to start on June 11, 2007. The MB considers this to be a regime attempt to limit the success of the MB in the mid-term Shara elections.


Assistant Secretary General of the Wafd to Represent Egyptian Liberal Parties in the Arab Liberal Forum

Representatives of four parties, the National Democratic Party, the Ghad- Tomorrow- Party, the Democratic Front and the Wafd agreed to be represented by Sameh Ebeid, assistant secretary general of the Wafd party, to represent Egypt in the stirring committee of the Arab Liberal Forum (ALF). The previous ALF meeting took place in Casabalnca- Morocco- and the next meeting will take place in September in Cairo. The ALF is a pan-Arab initiative to promote liberalism.


Government Support for NDP Parliamentarians

An independent member of parliament, Gamal Zahran, accused the government of supporting the districts of MPs from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), while neglecting the district where the opposition won. The MP wanted to interview government officials on this matters as he maintains that he has copies of checks from the government to mosques, hospitals and schools of the districts controlled by the NDP, whereas no such donations are given in the districts that elected opposition MPs. The NDP MPs prevented the opposition from entering a motion to present the case to the Central Auditing Authority.


Journalist Syndicate Concerned about Anti-Terrorist Law

The board of the Journalist Syndicate expressed its concern over comments made by Fathy Sourour -- the speaker of the People's Assembly (PA)- Lower House -- who declared that the new Anti-Terrorist Law will also be used against media outlets that encourage terrorism. The Syndicate is concerned that the new law could be misused in a way to curb freedom of the press.


MB Deputy Leader Aquited by Civilian Court

The second deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Khairat al-Shater, was acquitted by Cairo Criminal Court -- a civilian court -- together with 11 other MB members. Brotherhood leaders are still concerned, however, because Shater and his companions are still being tried in a military court.


Military Courts to Begin Hearings on MB Cases

On April 26, the military court started hearing the cases of 33 Muslim Brotherhood leaders accused of money laundering and threatening the security of the state. The military courts are appointed by president Mubarak; the emergency law enables him to use these courts without appeal in sensitive cases.


State Council to View Nour's Release for Health Reason

The State Council will consider releasing Ayman Nour -- leader of the Ghad party -- for health reasons on May 22, 2007. Nour's Lawyers are hoping that the highest court in Egypt will release Ayman Nour because of his poor health condition and aim to prove that the ministry of interior manipulated evidence in this case.


El Ghad Party Launches a Radio Station

The Al Ghad party recently launched a web-based radio station. The station started broadcasting every night from 8 pm to 2 am Cairo time at http://www.elghad.org/.


Wafd Party Launches a New Website

The Wafd party launched a new website (http://www.alwafdparty.com/) to highlight its activities, program and important officials. The new site is the second website owned and operated by the party.


New Conflict Between Government and the Judges

The government plans to extend the retirement age to 70 for judges, which many judges see as an attempt to keep pro-government judges in power.


Ministry of Interior Considering Releasing main Extremist Militants

The ministry of interior is considering the release of Abboud el-Zomor, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for his role in the assassination of the late president Anwar Sadat. The ministry is also considering the release of several members of the Jihad organization as well as their leader Sheikh Sayed Imam. All of these detainees have renounced violence.


Egyptian Expatriates Taking Legal Action against the Referendum

Egyptian expatriates decided to take legal action against the controversial referendum on the constitution, claming that Egyptian nationals living abroad were not invited to participate.



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6.16.2007

Post-Tribunal Lebanon and Middle East Totalitarian Axis

Another Anti-Syrian Parliamentarian Assassinated

Naharnet
13 Jun 07

Al-Moustaqbal Movement Parliamentary Deputy Walid Edo, an outspoken critic of Syria, was assassinated by a powerful car bomb blast that also killed his elder son, Khaled, and four other people in Beirut's seaside Manara district Wednesday.

A Ranking police officer said the booby-trapped car, parked between the Long Beach and Sporting Club swimming facilities, was detonated as Edo and his son left the beach.

"Their bodies were hurled by the powerful blast and found about 20 meters from the explosion site," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Edo's two body guards and two civilian pedestrians also were killed in the powerful explosion that wounded 10 other people in the district usually crowded by beach fans.

Tongues of flame shot up in the sky from the gutted remains of the booby-trapped car as fire fighters fought the blaze to prevent it from spreading to other vehicles parked in the crowded and plush district.

Ambulances, their sirens wailing, raced to evacuate victims, some of them in swimming suits stained with blood.

Army and police patrols set up checkpoints across Beirut and around the capital in an apparent search for culprits in the crime.

Security officials believe the bomb was detonated by remote control and "they are looking for culprits," the source said.

Edo's assassination is the second targeting a member of the legislature since the Nov. 21, 2006 assassination by unidentified assailants of MP Pierre Gemayel, another member of the anti-Syrian March 14 majority alliance.

That brought down to 126 the number of MP's serving in Lebanon's 128-seat unicameral house which is to elect a new head of state succeeding Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud whose extended term expires on Nov. 22.

No successor for Gemayel has been elected because Lahoud rejects approving bills adopted by Premier Fouad Saniora's majority government.

The March 14 majority alliance has blamed the Gemayel assassination on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Syria has denied the charge.

The alliance says Syrian intelligence agents are out to assassinate majority MPs to prevent the bloc from electing an anti-Syrian president succeeding lahoud.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in Sept. 2004 by a Syrian-orchestrated constitutional amendment.

The Majority blames Syria for a series of assassinations targeting Lebanese politicians, beginning with the powerful blast that killed ex-Premier Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005.

Also killed were MP Jibran Tueni, MP Bassel Fleihan, Journalist Samir Qassir and Commnist Party leader George Hawi.

Communications Minister Marwan Hamaden and Defense Minister Elias Murr escaped assassination with major wounds as did Television journalist May Chidiaq.

Syria denies involvement in the crimes which are being investigated by a U.N. team that would refer its findings to an international tribunal set up by the U.N. Security Council.

Syria rejects cooperation with the tribunal.

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Damascus and Tehran's Wager on a Bargain Policy with Washington

Raghida Dergham

Al-Hayat
15/06/07

Some Middle Eastern regimes are betting on what can be described as great bargains. Part of their strategies is to prepare to conclude deals in order to avoid trials and investigations resulting from their violations of international resolutions and laws. Another part focuses on terrorism as a fundamental pillar of their strategies, as these regimes resort to political assassinations and pay mercenaries to destabilize more than one spot in the region. Another part consists of triggering wars to reach deals that guarantee that these regimes remain in power. A well-studied escalation is fundamental in all three cases; therefore, expectations are increasing of a hot summer in more than a country. The allies in the axis of escalation are pretending to be very much confident and are claiming they can play their cards firmly, calmly and resolutely. The truth is, however, that they are having these adventures with worn-out nerves and that their escalation will have a boomerang effect on them, as it will tie the rope of isolation around their necks. The fire raging among the Palestinians could lead to a meaningless 'victory' for the regimes feeding sedition and for Hamas, which has staged a bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority. In fact, winning the military battles in Gaza will kill its political future in the West Bank. In addition, the strategy of using the Palestinian elements in Lebanon is a great stab in the back of the Palestinians themselves, as both these elements and the people are the biggest losers.

The Palestinian militants serving as mercenaries for regimes and using the Palestinian Cause in a scandalous blackmail will pay a heavy price. Therefore - and unfortunately - the Palestinian people will incur one more time the costs of their desperate factions' adventures. This time Lebanon will not be the only ransom of this alliance of escalation because this alliance is simultaneously operating in Palestine and Iraq. Then, the winds of surprises could blow in a way that the ships of bargaining and bartering may not wish to face.

Everyone is closely observing the other and keeping hidden cards that may have a value and be used as mere instruments of dodging. There are now separated railroads for trains that have left the station and can no longer be controlled. Hence, there is increasing talk about potential rifts in the axes of the regimes and militias in Iran, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Also, increasingly people are saying "enough is enough" referring to how the axis of escalation is making too many miscalculations and having too many adventures.

Resuming political assassinations in Lebanon and targeting MP Walid Eido are part of a strategy aimed at liquidating the parliamentary majority by murdering one MP after another. President Emile Lahoud believes he is holding the keys of power by refusing to approve a decree calling for by-elections. Meanwhile, by preventing the election of new MPs to replace those assassinated, he is making a big mistake and is digging more and more the abyss into which he will fall. The trial is on the way, and all those contributing to the murders of Lebanese youths and leaders will be tried, no matter how high up and powerful they are.

The international tribunal was set up by a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. This resulted from the losing bet of those who thought they had killed the tribunal simply by barring a Parliament meeting that should have concluded the treaty for the establishment of the tribunal, which has been signed by the UN and the Lebanese government and ratified by the Security Council. By-elections will be held in El-Metn and Beirut to elect two MPs to replace Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido, killed by a despotic force thirsty for power. This will take place regardless of Lahoud and his allies's thinking that their perfect way of swimming would save them from drowning in the sea where they bypass legitimacy and ignore patriotism.

The efforts aimed at disrupting the presidential elections and making Lebanon slip into a constitutional vacuum will not remain unaccounted for. The Security Council is now directly responsible for investigating into the attempts of undermining its resolutions. Among these resolutions is the one No. 1559, which demanded that presidential elections be held according to the constitution and without any foreign interference and influence.

Practically speaking, failing to implement that article of Resolution 1559 makes Emile Lahoud an illegitimate president. As for intentionally hampering the electoral process, this is another effort that will be taken into account when his file is discussed in more than a place and more than an accusation are leveled at him. If the Lebanese president can read history properly and learn the lessons, he must think about those in the Arab region who ultimately made miscalculations. He must carefully examine the international tribunal prerogatives to try those suspected of being involved in the political assassinations in Lebanon, in particular of former PM Rafik Hariri and his companions and, finally, MP Walid Eido, his son and the other innocent victims accompanying them. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Nicholas Michel, made it clear that the subordinate is not the only responsible for terrorist murders, but that those in charge will be tried, as well, on crimes against humanity if the investigation establishes a premeditated pattern in linking a number of terrorist assassinations. The chief/ subordinate aspect, which is strongly opposed by Damascus and its allies in Lebanon, does not apply on one single subordinate and one single national president. This is the rhetoric of law, which is above individuals and posts, hence the panic and its upshot.

Panic has a local dimension inside Lebanon as well as an international one. As the battle in Lebanon has become clear to everyone under all its aspects, Hezbollah and parties of the like have to choose to whom they really belong and are loyal. This is the Lebanese army's battle against Palestinian and Arab and Islamic multi-national militias. If Hezbollah loves, belongs to and thinks like them, it will maintain its positions and all Lebanese will know the nature of this party as well as who it serves and is loyal to. On the contrary, it may take the strategic decision to be a Lebanese party serving its grass-root Lebanese basis and eager to protect the country's stability and prevent Lebanon from falling into the clutches of the terrorism that is being exported to it. If it did so, today this party's leadership would have a rare chance to surprise the Lebanese people. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has the opportunity to take the initiative, put the Lebanese army in the frontline of his considerations, express Hezbollah's readiness to voluntarily disarm in compliance with Resolution 1559, and join the army to protect Lebanon.

The Lebanese government has, for the first time, submitted reports of the Lebanese army to the UN. They prove with figures and dates Syria's involvement in the military reinforcements received by the terrorist Fatah al-Islam, which is fighting the Lebanese army and using Palestinian refugee camps for its military operations against the state hosting the refugees. These reports drew a horrific picture of the movement of weapons and armed elements and the re-armament of Palestinian and non-Palestinian militias inside Lebanon across Syrian-Lebanese borders.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN envoy tasked with following up on the implementation of Resolution 1559 had submitted the report to Security Council members during a closed-door session before the Lebanese government requested that the report be circulated as an official UN document.

In his report, Larsen unveiled information showing that arms, equipment, and armed personnel have been crossing through the Syrian-Lebanese borders "in violation of UN Resolutions 1559 and 1701," where the first resolution calls for the dismantling and disarming of the Lebanese and the non-Lebanese militias, "while the opposite is now taking place by the re-arming of the militias.", while Resolution 1701 imposed an arms embargo on Lebanon under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Nevertheless, arms continue to flow across the Syrian borders "in violation" of the binding resolution.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon seems unable to fully comprehend the significance of the Lebanese government's decision to submit the army's report to the UN, settling instead for his trademark statements, which he tends to repeat whenever there is a crisis, namely "I am concerned," and "My concerns are growing,", or "I am deeply concerned."

Instead, Ban Ki-Moon should have acted decisively and responsibly upon receiving the Lebanese government's report, which came only 30 hours before the assassination of MP Walid Eido, especially since he has been receiving a deluge of information tying the escalation in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp and the onslaught of mercenary militia in Lebanon to the UN Security Council's decision to establish the international tribunal.

Ban Ki-Moon claims that he has received assurances and confirmations from the Syrian leadership during his visit to Damascus more than two months ago. However, these pledges continue to be under consideration and remain unimplemented till this day.

Therefore, the least that the UN secretary general should do inline of his political and moral obligations toward a nation being ravaged by assassinations and mercenary militias is to immediately demand the Syrian government's implementation of the international resolutions calling on it to put an end to the smuggling of arms, the arming of the militia, its evasion of the demarcation of the boarders, and to immediately accept the international surveillance of the lawless borders.

Instead of the language of drifting diplomacy along the lines of "All region's leaders must respect Resolution 1701," Ban Ki-Moon should resort to serious and earnest diplomacy and firmly approach Syria's President Bashar Assad, and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and demand the immediate fulfillment of their pledges to him, declaring that he will not accept anything short of respect of the resolutions while at the same time candidly warning them of the consequences of failing to abide by these resolutions on their relationship with him in his capacity and the UN Secretary General.

It is unacceptable for the UN secretary general to continue with his silence especially that his envoy has submitted a report, warning of an imminent danger and detailing gross violations and breaches of resolutions, which Ban Ki-Moon is in charge of protecting and upholding today.

What adds salt to the injury is the fact that the spokesman of Ban Ki-Moon's office remained silent, giving no reaction for four full hours after the assassination of Walid Eido, which is an indication of either ignorance of the impact of delaying the reaction of the UN secretary general or of an unjustified excessive caution that has been dominating the mentalities of Ban Ki-Moon and his aides.

The danger of this attitude is that assassinations are coming back and Lebanon is being ravaged, while Ban Ki-Moon continues to over occupy himself with caution and with waiting for replies to his drifting diplomacy and its indecisive, far fetched demands.
Therefore, should the new secretary general fail to reconsider his position, he will be vulnerable to criticism and the questioning of his ethical and political leadership.

However, he still has opportunities other than those at the hands of the UN Security Council, especially since he is the author of the reports that will be submitted this month to the Security Council's mission to evaluate the surveillance of the Syrian-Lebanese borders and to verify the degree of commitment to Resolution 1701, which banns the flow of arms to anyone inside Lebanon apart from the Legitimate government.

Ban Ki-Moon also faces the responsibility of accelerating the transformation of the establishment of the international tribunal from a mere resolution to a reality, and to cut the timeline envisaged by the UN legal department for achieving this objective from the proposed year as this will lead to the saving of lives and to slightly immunize Lebanon against an escalation looming through external and internal wills, either in the form of more assassinations or the consolidation of the militia structures.

Ban Ki-Moon is fully capable of giving priority to finding a location for the international tribunal as soon as possible. The financial aspects of such a move don't appear to be the problem even though it is of great importance to the Secretariat General of the UN, also the appointment of the judges and the prosecution panel should not take months.

Should the court's location be settled on, then this period must be cut by half given the fact that funding does not pose a problem, and that Serge Brammertz, the head of the independent panel investigating the assassinations, had agreed to remain in his post until the end of the year; a time interval that could realistically be used to complete the arrangements for setting up the court.

In the meantime, the people of Lebanon should not pin hopes on the miracle of enacting the court within a month or even six months because the task is complicated and because the international tribunal is not a ready key but rather needs many arrangements. The tribunal is also not the only deterrent for the terrified against their pathetic escalatory adventures.

The Arab League Council is another key podium to shed light on what is being done to Lebanon, and who is behind it. Therefore, filing officially documented complaints with the Arab League Council is critically important as these complains and reports, will be used to indict those behind the escalation in Lebanon, whether external, neighboring, or internal forces including the Palestinian militia and the mercenaries and those funding or arming them in violation of the international resolutions.

These violations will lead to punitive measures and a political and economic isolation through new resolutions targeting Syria and Iran, who were demanded by resolutions under Chapter Seven of the UN charter to stop middling in Lebanon and using it as a battlefield for a proxy war serving the objectives of their regimes.

Damascus and Tehran might be tempted to believe that Washington's need for them in Iraq would force it to turn a blind eye on their violations in Palestinian and Lebanon as they back Hamas's onslaught against the Palestinian Authority.

They are, however, taking a great risk, not only because they misinterpret and underestimate Gorge Bush's resolve when it comes to Lebanon and his waning patience with them as they toss Lebanon back and froth like a ball while his secretary of state begs for their sincere cooperation in Iraq, but they are taking a risk because the Palestinian Authority holds in its hands the trump card of withdrawing from the national unity government and divorcing Hamas by offering it a chance for victory in Gaza, since it has a choice of taking a defeat and abandoning Gaza to Hamas while it focuses its efforts exclusively on the West Bank.

Should the Syrian and the Iranian regimes, be contemplating to once again resort to proxy wars in Lebanon and Palestine without paying the price and without being held accountable, then they are mistaken as they, along with their allies have become entangled in issues that go beyond politics and into the domain of law and the international tribunal, which permanently closes the doors before bargaining and tradeoffs.

For their demand of the US to provide guarantees for their survival in return for abandoning their partners or even abandoning each other is subject to the degree and extent of these regimes' involvement in terrorist assassinations, both in the past and those to come, as blackmail, too, enters the domain of surveillance and prosecution.

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- The International Tribunal for Lebanon

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Comes Into Force

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Some related articles by Nassim Yaziji:

- The Struggle for the New Middle East

- Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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6.12.2007

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Comes Into Force

Hariri court to come into force automatically on June, 30

AFP, June 8, 2007

UNITED NATIONS , June 8, 2007 (AFP) - In line with a Security Council ruling, an international court to try suspects in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri is to come into force automatically Sunday, but will not be up and running for several months.

On May 30, 10 of the council's 15 members passed a resolution setting Sunday as the date on which a 2006 agreement between the United Nations and the Beirut government to establish the court is to enter into force.

Five members, including veto-wielding Russia and China, abstained, objecting to a decision that bypasses Lebanon's constitutional process.

The UN ruling was also condemned by the powerful pro-Damascus Shiite movement Hezbollah as illegal and as "an aggressive interference in (Lebanon's) internal affairs."

Syria, Lebanon's former power broker, was widely blamed for the Hariri killing but has denied all involvement.

Hariri, who was a leading opponent of Syrian domination of Lebanon, was killed along with 22 others in a massive bomb blast in Beirut on February 14, 2005.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's Western-backed government charges that the opposition is working at the behest of its masters in Damascus to block the court.

Sunday's date for the entry into force of the court was set under a so-called "sunrise clause" to give the rival Lebanese sides a final chance to break their deadlock over the tribunal.

But in the absence of a domestic accord, Belgium's UN Ambassador Johan Verbeke, who chairs the Security Council this month, said Friday: "the sunrise clause is being activated."

"This is an automatic clause so it will be entering into force automatically as of June 10," he told reporters.

Verbeke said the council did not plan any formal meeting on the case either Sunday or Monday.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned last week that Damascus would not cooperate with the tribunal and deplored "the speed with which the Security Council decided on a tribunal without unanimity either on an international or Lebanese level."

In any case, the court will not be up and running for several months, diplomats and UN officials say.

The tribunal is to be held in an as yet undetermined "neutral" location. For reasons of security, administrative efficiency and fairness, the location will be outside Lebanon, with both Cyprus and Italy mooted as possibilities.

It will include a three-member trial chamber -- two foreigners and one Lebanese -- and a five-judge appeals chamber -- two Lebanese and three foreigners.

All foreign judges are to be named by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who will also appoint the prosecutor from nominations made by a panel of two international judges.

Meanwhile, the UN probe of the Hariri case continues under the leadership of Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz. Last March, he said the murder was most likely politically motivated and spoke of progress in the investigation although he did not identify any suspects.

Nine suspects, including Lebanon's once feared top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have however been under arrest for about two years over the murder and may stand trial before the international court.

Four of the main suspects were Syria's key security generals in Lebanon until Damascus was forced to complete a troop pullout from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years of military dominance.

They include presidential guard chief General Mustafa Hamdan, former general security chief General Jamil al-Sayed, ex-internal security head General Ali al-Hage and former army intelligence director General Raymond Azar.

U.N. investigators have implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the suicide truck bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. Syria denied involvement.

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Suspects Under Arrest in the Hariri Murder

Naharnet
31 May 07

Nine suspects, including Lebanon's once feared top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for about two years over the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri.
The nine may stand trial at the international tribunal which the U.N. Security Council decided in a binding resolution on Wednesday should come into force by June 10.

Four of the main suspects were Syria's key security generals in Lebanon until Damascus was widely accused of the Hariri murder and forced to complete a troop pullout after 29 years of military dominance.

They include presidential guard chief General Mustafa Hamdan, former general security chief General Jamil al-Sayed, ex-internal security head General Ali al-Hage and former army intelligence director General Raymond Azar.

Since they were arrested in August 2005, the four have been held in a special building at the Roumieh central prison, in a mountainous village northeast of Beirut.

They are accused of murder with premeditation, attempt to murder with premeditation, terrorist actions, as well as the possession of weapons and explosives, according to judicial sources.

As the international tribunal due to try the Hariri murder is governed by the Lebanese criminal law, the four may be sentenced to death if found guilty.

The four security chiefs have all denied links to the Hariri murder and have demanded they be released, according to their defense lawyers.

Sayed has also written a letter to the United Nations commission of enquiry requesting his release as he has never been formally indicted.

During the massive protests that followed the Hariri murder in a February 2005 bombing attack, demonstrators carried "wanted" posters of the four generals.

A few months after the detention of the four, five other suspects were rounded up. They are Lebanese Mahmoud Abdel-Al, his brother Ahmad Abdel-Al, Ayman Tarabay and Mustapha Misto as well as a Syrian national whose identity has not been revealed.

The five are accused of hiding information, misleading the investigation and selling pre-paid telephone cards to suspects in the Hariri murder case, according to judicial sources.

Mahmoud Abdel-Al, a member of the Islamic charity Al-Ahbache which has strong links with the Syrian regime, was reported to have called President Emile Lahoud and Azar on their personal mobile phones minutes before Hariri was murdered, a U.N. inquiry report said.

While Lahoud's office has denied the president took a phone call from a suspect just before the murder, a spokesman later acknowledged that someone had phoned one of the office mobiles but did not speak to the president himself.

Ahmad Abdel-Al is named as another suspect by the U.N. report which exhaustively details phone calls he made to Hamdan and other top security figures in the days leading up to the blast.

U.N. inquiry reports said that U.N. interrogators have interviewed at least five Syrian nationals as suspects, but none of them has been jailed.

They include Brigadier General Rustom Ghazaleh, the former Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon who once dominated Lebanese politics.

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Related Materials:

- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- The International Tribunal for Lebanon


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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6.05.2007

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the latest issue of Arab Reform Bulletin (May 2007) Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Headlines:

  • Status of Political Parties
  • Recent Developments in Political Party Laws
  • Algeria: Run-Up to Elections
  • Egypt: Political and Legislative Update
  • Palestine: Interior Minister Resigns
  • Mauritania: New Government
  • Syria: Democracy Activists Jailed; Results of Parliamentary Elections
  • Jordan: Former MP Arrested; Crackdown on Press
  • Bahrain: Controversy over Minister Corruption Charges
  • Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch Denounces Torture in Prisons
  • Yemen: Government Closes Gun Markets
  • Upcoming Political Events

Contents:

Status of Political Parties

The status of political parties varies significantly across the Arab region. Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Yemen allow political parties—including Islamists (parties whose main goal is the establishment of an Islamic state or the implementation of sharia)—to compete in elections. In Morocco, however, the government blocks some parties, such as the Justice and Charity Association, from full participation. Tunisia has a multiparty system, but forbids religiously-affiliated parties. In Egypt, Islamist parties are banned, but members of the illegal Muslim Brotherhood have run for office as independents. Syria is effectively a one-party state and allows only candidates vetted by the ruling Baath party to run for office; these have not included any Islamists.

Yemen is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula to allow political parties. In Bahrain and Kuwait, all political parties are illegal, but candidates across the political spectrum compete in elections with the backing of political societies. Parties are also illegal in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Independent candidates run for posts in parliaments with limited powers in Oman and the UAE. Qatar will hold its first legislative elections this year. Saudi Arabia does not hold legislative elections but independent candidates participated in the country's first municipal elections in 2005.


Recent Developments in Political Party Laws

Jordan: A coalition of political parties is planning to appeal the constitutionality of the political parties law endorsed by parliament in March 2007. According to Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front Zaki Bani Irsheid, the law “violates the constitution and restricts political and party life.” The law raised from 50 to 500 the number of members necessary for registering or maintaining party status and raised the minimum number of districts from which parties must draw their members. Political parties have one year to comply with these requirements or they will be disbanded.

Egypt: Several provisions of the recent constitutional amendments, passed by parliament and approved in a referendum in March, affect political parties. An amendment to Article 5 stipulates that “It is not permitted to pursue any political activity or establish any political parties within any religious frame of reference (marja'iyya) or on any religious basis or on the basis of gender or origin.” A revision to Article 62 paves the way for a change to a mixed system of party lists and individual districts, which would disadvantage candidates who do not belong to recognized parties. Amendments to Article 76 stipulate that only registered political parties that hold at least one seat in either the People's Assembly or the Shura Council may nominate a candidate in any presidential election that takes place in the next decade. (Thereafter, a party would need to hold 3 percent of seats in each chamber, or the equivalent number of seats in one chamber).

Syria: There is speculation that a new political party law might be passed before the presidential referendum on May 27, 2007, but opposition groups and democracy activists are skeptical. The Baath Party conference in June 2005 announced that a law authorizing independent political parties would be issued soon but did not mention abolishing article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which enshrines the Baath as the ruling party. Observers believe that a new law will enforce licensing conditions whereby new parties must be neither Islamic nor based on sub-Syrian nationalism (Kurdish for example).

Bahrain: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ratified a controversial new law of political associations in August 2005, which stipulates that associations may not be based on class, profession, or religion and raises the minimum membership age from 18 to 21. After months of protesting the law, the main political societies (al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the National Democratic Action Society) decided to register under the new law in October 2005. The parliament's legislative and legal affairs committee has repeatedly rejected proposals to transform political societies into legal parties with official rights to operate in the Kingdom on the grounds that it is "premature" to legalize full-fledged parties as doing so could endanger the “newly launched democratic experiment in Bahrain, which favors a gradual practice of politics.” The government states it will accept the legalization of parties if parliament so decides. Such a development would make Bahrain the first Gulf country to allow political parties.

Morocco: Parliament endorsed new legislation in July and October 2005 that tightens controls on party registration and forbids the establishment of political parties with a religious, linguistic, ethnic, or regional basis. Some provisions have created heated debate between political parties in Morocco, particularly the stipulation that only political parties that win 5 percent or more of the vote in parliamentary elections are eligible for public funding.


Algeria: Run-Up to Elections

Nearly nineteen million eligible voters will choose among 12,229 candidates from twenty-four parties and independent lists competing for 389 seats in the People's National Assembly in elections on May 17. Algeria is one of the few countries that provide legislative seats for citizens living abroad; eight seats represent the Algerian community abroad.

Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) is expected to maintain its position of dominance in the new parliament; the National Democratic Rally (RND) is expected to take second place. Opposition groups are accusing the government of blocking the main opposition party, al-Islah, from contesting the poll. Minister Noureddine Zerhouni stated that Abdallah Djaballah was no longer the party's authorized leader because he had not held a party congress as required by law. Djaballah announced his party will boycott the elections, but a small faction of al-Islah that contests Djaballah's leadership may participate. Al-Islah won forty-three seats in the 2002 elections.

Algerian journalists Arezki Aït-Larbi, correspondent of the French daily Le Figaro, and Saad Lounes, former editor of the daily El-Ouma, are facing political and legal harassment according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Click here for details.


Egypt: Political and Legislative Update

The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court overturned on May 15 a May 8 ruling by a lesser administrative court that President Hosni Mubarak's order to try thirty-four members of the Muslim Brotherhood before a military court was not valid and that they must be tried before a civilian court. The new ruling effectively clears the way for the resumption of the military trial of the detainees. The detained Muslim Brotherhood members, including second deputy leader Khairat al-Shatir, are facing charges of terrorism and money laundering.

In a separate case, two Muslim Brotherhood MPs, Sabri Amer and Ragab Abu Zeid, were arrested on April 29 in the governorate of Menufiyya and released twenty-four hours later. Parliament voted May 9 to lift both MPs' immunity. Twelve other members of the movement arrested with them remain in custody.

Parliament endorsed a law on May 8 that raises the official retirement age for judges from 68 to 70, in a move critics claim aims to keep long-time partisans of the NDP in key judicial positions ahead of Shura Council elections in June. The Judges Club, which has led a campaign for judicial independence since the 2005 parliamentary elections, opposed the change but announced that judges will abide by it. The government has repeatedly raised judges' retirement age over the past fourteen years.

The People's Assembly endorsed on April 21 a new military tribunals law that creates an appeals process for military personnel or civilians sentenced by military courts. Representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wafd, and leftist parties opposed the law on the grounds that it is a superficial attempt to justify the recent amendment of Article 179 of the constitution, which gives the president the authority to remand civilians suspected of terrorism offenses for trial in military courts.

The government ordered on March 25 the closure of the headquarters of the Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services, which offers legal aid to Egyptian factory workers and reports on labor rights issues. The Ministry of Social Solidarity blamed the center for inciting labor unrest around the country. According to media reports, there were more than 200 labor protests in Egypt during 2006. Click here for details.

Al-Jazeera journalist Howaida Taha was sentenced by an Egyptian court on May 2 to six months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US $3,518) on charges of spreading false information “that could undermine the dignity of the country” in connection with an al-Jazeera documentary about torture in Egypt. Taha was briefly arrested in January and is currently free on bail in Qatar, pending appeal. Click here for details.

Egyptian blogger Abdel Monem Mahmoud was detained on April 15 for fifteen days on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and defaming the government with his reporting. Mahmoud was detained for six months in 2006. Click here for details.

Palestine: Interior Minister Resigns

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi resigned on May 14 in frustration over a surge in factional violence in the Gaza Strip, casting the future of the two-month-old Palestinian unity government into doubt. According to al-Qawasmi, neither Fatah nor Hamas would give him the power necessary to integrate competing security agencies into a unified force capable of reestablishing order. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya of Hamas will temporarily take charge of the interior ministry.


Mauritania: New Government

Mauritania's new president Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdullahi, elected on March 25 in the country's first free presidential election, appointed on April 28 a cabinet composed primarily of technocrats and led by Prime Minister Zeine Ould Zeidane, a former central bank governor who came in third in the presidential race. Most of the twenty-eight cabinet members are first-timers and have no previous association with the authoritarian rule of President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, while two candidates served in previous governments. Click here for a list of cabinet members.


Syria: Democracy Activists Jailed; Results of Parliamentary Elections

Syrian courts sentenced four prominent activists to prison sentences. Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa were sentenced to three years in prison each on May 13 on charges of weakening national feeling, fomenting sectarian rifts, and spreading false information. Kamal Labwani, a Syrian activist who was arrested in November 2005 after returning from a visit to the United States was sentenced on May 10 to twelve years in prison for contacting a foreign country and “encouraging attacks on Syria.” On April 24, a Damascus court sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni to five years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2,000) for “spreading false or exaggerated news that weakens national sentiment” and for his membership in an unlicensed human rights center. Kilo, Issa, and al-Bunni were arrested in May 2006 after signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for improved Lebanese-Syrian relations based on respect for each country's sovereignty. Click here for details. The Syrian government seized on May 2 the assets of former MP Mamoun Homsi who was arrested for five years in August 2001 for seeking to “illegally change the constitution.”

The Nationalist Progressive Front (NPF), a coalition of the Baath party and nine other parties that has ruled Syria since 1972, won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections on April 22-23, an expected result as two-thirds of the 250 seats are automatically allocated to the NPF. The Baath party won 134 seats and other NPF members won 36 seats. Independent candidates, who have been allowed to run for parliament since 1990, competed for the remaining 80 seats. Syrian opposition groups boycotted the elections. The new parliament unanimously approved on May 10 the nomination of President Bashar al-Assad for a second seven-year term. A presidential referendum is scheduled for May 27, 2007.


Jordan: Former MP Arrested; Crackdown on Press

Former MP Ahmad Oweidi al-Abbadi, was arrested on May 3 on charges of “harming the state's dignity, slandering officials, and violating laws governing e-mail practices” after he accused Jordan's government of corruption in an e-mail to U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Al-Abbadi will be detained for a fifteen-day renewable period pending interrogation. Click here for details.

Jordanian authorities banned the April 30 edition of the weekly al-Majd to prevent a front-page story about a “secret plan” to oust the Hamas-led Palestinian government. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the weekly has been censored on two previous occasions because of sensitive articles. Click here for details. On April 18, the Jordanian government seized a taped al-Jazeera interview with former crown prince Hassan bin Talal. Click here for details.

Bahrain: Controversy over Minister Corruption Charges

MPs from the largest political society and the main opposition group, the Shi'i al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, walked out of the Bahrain parliament on May 8 in protest after their request for a corruption investigation of State Minister of Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Ahmad bin Ateyatallah al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, was denied. The forty- member lower chamber dismissed the motion as only nineteen lawmakers voted in favor of the investigation, two votes short of the majority needed. The corruption charges were first brought to light in a report by former government advisor Salah al-Bandar describing a conspiracy led by Sheikh Ahmad to rig parliamentary elections to reduce the powers of Shi'a. On May 6, a Bahraini court sentenced al-Bandar in absentia to an additional year in jail, adding to a previous four-year jail term handed down in April on charges of sedition.

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch Denounces Torture in Prisons

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Saudi Arabia's government to conduct a comprehensive probe into alleged cases of torture, beatings, and deaths from ill-treatment at prisons across the kingdom. HRW conducted its first significant fact-finding mission in Saudi Arabia in late 2006. Click here for details.

Yemen: Government Closes Gun Markets

Yemen's cabinet decided on April 24 to close all arms markets selling weapons without a license as part of a campaign to collect heavy and medium weapons in a bid to neutralize revels battling army troops in the north of the country. Authorities have accused the rebels, lead by Abdul Malik al-Houthi, of trying to topple the regime and establish an Islamic state. Unofficial reports indicate there are some eighteen arms markets, 300 small gun shops, and 40-50 million weapons in Yemen.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Algeria: Legislative Elections, May 17, 2007.
  • Syria: Presidential Referendum, May 27, 2007; Municipal Elections, August 2007.
  • Egypt: Shura Council Elections, June 2007.
  • Jordan: Municipal Elections, July 17, 2007; Legislative Elections, 2007 (date to be determined).
  • Morocco: Legislative Elections, September 2007.
  • Oman: Shura Council Elections, October 2007.
  • Qatar: Legislative Elections, 2007 (date to be determined).

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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