Syria's Baath and Online Censorship: the Internet Black Hole

Syria's Baath is, as usual, practicing its Baathism and turning Syria into an "Internet black hole” according to Reporters Without Borders. I would like to congratulate al-Baath on this new exceptional achievement to be added to the long list of its revolution's achievements in Syria.

More than 100 websites blocked in growing wave of online censorship

Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is concerned that the number of websites to which access is blocked in Syria has been growing steadily for the past month. More than 100 websites, including the video-sharing site YouTube, the blog platform Blogspot and the email service Hotmail, are now inaccessible.

“We call on the authorities to explain what is going on,” the press freedom organisation said. “The number of websites rendered inaccessible doubled in two weeks. We do not believe all this suddenly happened for technical reasons as a common feature of all these sites is that they contained criticism of the government. Under the press code, a court order is required to close down a website. We therefore regard this as arbitrary and unwarranted censorship.”

In all, nearly 110 websites are known to be blocked. The latest site to be blocked was Amazon.com on 30 November. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the Syria Computer Society, one of the country’s main ISPs, said the Internet was not censored that these problems originated in the computers of the individual Internet users.

The authorities have been blocking access to the social networking service Facebook on Syria’s Internet servers since 19 November without giving any explanation. The Syrian human rights commission’s site is also blocked, as is another independent human rights monitoring site.

Elaph.com, a news website that is very popular in the Arab world (with around 1.5 million visits a day), is also inaccessible. It has also been censored in Saudi Arabia since May 2006 without any explanation being provided by the Saudi authorities. A Syrian journalist, Habib Saleh, spent 27 months in prison for writing articles for Elaph.com.

Syria has become an Internet “black hole” since Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president. Access to opposition online publications is systematically blocked, while dissidents and independent journalists are hounded mercilessly when they post articles on the Internet. The authorities used a filtering system called “Thundercache” to control online content, as well as to filter for viruses and prevent pirating of video files.

List of blocked sites :

1. http://www.all4syria.org/
2. http://www.alnazaha.org/
3. http://www.thefreesyria.org/
4. http://www.alsafahat.net/
5. http://www.akhawia.net/
6. http://www.jimsyr.com/
7. http://www.syriakurds.com/
8. http://www.ikhwansyria.com/
9. http://www.soriagate.net/
10. http://www.elaph.com/
11. http://www.youtube.com/
12. http://www.asharqalawsat.com/
13. http://www.free-syria.com/
14. http://www.opl-now.org/
15. http://www.blogspot.com/
16. http://www.mokarabat.com/
17. http://www.tharwaproject.com/
18. http://www.thisissyria.net/
19. http://www.arraee.com/
20. http://www.syriaview.net/
21. http://www.thirdalliance.net/
22. http://www.syriatruth.org/
23. http://www.shrc.org/
24. http://www.hem.bredband.net/
25. http://www.dsyria.org/
26. http://www.reformsyria.net/
27. http://www.hadatha4syria.com/
28. http://www.shrc.org.uk/
29. http://hras-syria.tripod.com/
30. http://alhiwaradimocraty.free.fr/
31. http://www.islammemo.cc/
32. http://ahyawatan.wordpress.com/
33. http://www.kurdistan-times.org/
34. http://www.islamonline.net/
35. http://www.savesyria.org/
36. http://www.aafaq.org/
37. http://www.rezgar.com/
38. http://www.asharqalarabi.org.uk/
39. http://www.damdec.org/
40. http://www.yassardimocrati.com/
41. http://www.aaramnews.com/
42. http://www.ahrarsyria.com/
43. http://www.alqanat.com/
44. http://www.atassiforum.org/
45. http://www.amude.net/
46. http://www.efrin.net/
47. http://www.kurdistanabinxete.com/
48. http://www.binxet.com/
49. http://www.yek-dem.com/
50. http://www.sotkurdistan.net/
51. http://www.qamishlo.net/
52. http://www.kurdax.net/
53. http://www.keskesor.info/
54. http://www.hpg-online.net/
55. http://www.islam-kurd.com/
56. http://www.knntv.net/
57. http://www.kurdroj.com/
58. http://www.syriahr.com/
59. http://www.odabasham.net/
60. http://www.pdksy.net/
61. http://www.yekiti-party.org/
62. http://www.middleeasttransparent.com/
63. http://www.alparty.org/
64. http://www.psp.org.lb/
65. http://www.pajk-online.com/
66. http://www.kurdmedya.com/
67. http://www.syrianforum.org/
68. http://www.opensyria.org/
69. http://www.tsdp.org/
70. http://www.kurdnas.com/
71. http://www.kdps.info/
72. http://www.sos-forum.net/
73. http://www.transparentsham.com/
74. http://www.knntv.net/
75. http://www.hotmail.com/
76. http://www.anonymization.net/
77. http://www.surfola.com/
78. http://www.arabtimes.com/
79. http://www.khilafah.net/
80. http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org/
81. http://www.alseyassah.com/
82. http://www.democraticsyria.org/
83. http://www.khayma.com/
84. http://www.tayyar.org/
85. http://www.tirej.net/
86. http://www.almustaqbal.com/
87. http://www.bonjoursham.net/
88. http://www.alquds.co.uk/
89. http://www.facebook.com/
90. http://www.alwatan-alsouri.com/
91. http://www.proxify.com/
92. http://forsyriaorg.powweb.com/
93. http://www.syriatribune.com/
94. http://www.welateme.net/
95. http://www.shril.info/
96. http://www.hamacity.com/
97. http://www.almahatta.net/
98. http://www.islamway.com/
99. http://www.syriaalaan.com/
100. http://www.shabablek.com/
101. http://www.anonymizer.com/
102. http://www.proxyone.com/
103. http://www.proxyweb.net/
104. http://webwarper.net/
105. http://anonymouse.org/
106. http://www.guardster.com/
107. http://jap.inf.tu-dresden.de/
108. http://www.skype.com/
109. http://www.amazon.com/

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Bush Revives Middle East Freedom Promotion

Bush Promotes Freedom, Justice Across the Middle East

Those who desire liberty will defeat extremists, president says

By Merle Kellerhals

14 January 2008

Washington -- President Bush is encouraging the advance of freedom and justice throughout the Middle East during his eight-day trip in the region, but he also is warning of the dangers posed by those who promote extremism, terrorism and insurgency that threaten regional security and undermine societies.

"For decades, the people of this region saw their desire for liberty and justice denied at home and dismissed abroad in the name of stability. Today your aspirations are threatened by violent extremists who murder the innocent in pursuit of power," Bush said during remarks January 13 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The president began his eight-day regional visit by focusing attention on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that would lead to creation of a Palestinian state. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators opened talks January 14 in Jerusalem, led by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie. The talks will focus on sensitive final status issues such as borders for the Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories and the future of some Palestinian refugees. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have pledged to try and reach a conclusion to the talks by the end of 2008.

Another aspect of President Bush's mission to the Middle East is to address substantive regional security issues such as the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and Iran's support for terrorists and insurgencies in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Afghanistan.

"One cause of instability is the extremists supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran is today the world's leading state sponsor of terror," the president said.

While the struggle against the forces of extremism is one of the greatest of our time, Bush said, extremists will be defeated by those who desire freedom and justice -- something extremists cannot take away. Because of that threat, Bush told allies the United States will strengthen its long-standing security commitments in the Gulf region.

Bush arrived in Saudi Arabia January 14 for two days of talks to support peacemaking before concluding his trip in Egypt. Bush already has visited Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

A transcript of the president’s remarks in the United Arab Emirates is available here.


Fostering Freedom, Justice in the Middle East

Desire for liberty greatest weapon against violent extremism, Bush says

(begin fact sheet)

Office of the Press Secretary
(Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
January 13, 2008

Fact Sheet

Fostering Freedom And Justice In The Middle East

During Middle East Trip, President Bush Says Desire For Liberty Is The Greatest Weapon In The Fight Against Violent Extremism

Today, President Bush made remarks in Abu Dhabi about the importance of fostering freedom and justice for the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East. The President spoke about the great new era that is unfolding, founded on the equality of all people before God. This new era offers hope for the millions across the Middle East who seek a future of peace, progress, and opportunity. Unfortunately, these aspirations for liberty and justice are being threatened by extremists who murder the innocent in pursuit of power.

Extremists Are Fomenting Instability In The Middle East

One cause of instability is the extremism supported and embodied by the regime in Tehran. Iran is today the world's leading state sponsor of terror. It undermines Lebanese hopes for peace by arming and aiding the terrorist group Hezbollah. It subverts the hopes for peace in other parts of the region by funding terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad. It sends arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Shia militants in Iraq. It seeks to intimidate its neighbors with ballistic missiles and bellicose rhetoric. And finally, it defies the United Nations and destabilizes the region by refusing to be open and transparent about its nuclear programs and ambitions.

-- Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere, so the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf -– and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.

The other major cause of instability is the extremism and violence embodied by al Qaeda and its affiliates. The United States joins countries in the Middle East that share our commitment to the freedom and security of the region, and we will not abandon these countries to terrorists and extremists seeking to impose their rule of intimidation and murder across the Middle East.

The Desire For Freedom And Justice Is The Greatest Weapon In The Fight Against Violent Extremists

The United States will be a partner in building a Middle East that is growing in peace and prosperity. The United States has no desire for territory -- we seek our shared security in liberty in the Middle East. We believe that stability can only come through a free and just Middle East, where the extremists are marginalized by millions of parents who want the same opportunities for their children that we have for ours.

Leaders across the Middle East are beginning to respond to the desires of their people and taking steps that will help enhance the stability and prosperity of their nations.

• The United Arab Emirates' first-ever indirect election for 20 Federal National Council members represents an effort, that we hope will continue, to make its government more modern and more representative.
• Kuwait held elections in which women were allowed to vote and hold office for the first time.
• Citizens have voted in a municipal election in Saudi Arabia; in competitive parliamentary elections in Jordan, Morocco, and Bahrain; and in multiparty Presidential elections in Yemen.

Free and just societies create opportunity for their citizens, and the United States is encouraged by the movement toward economic freedom we are seeing across the Middle East.

• The World Bank reports that economic growth is strong and rising in the region.
• Saudi Arabia has joined the World Trade Organization.
• Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, and Morocco have signed free trade agreements with the United States.

Unfortunately, amid some steps forward in this region, we have also seen some setbacks. For example, opposition candidates, peaceful protesters, democracy, and human rights advocates and regime critics have been harassed, abused and/or imprisoned and denied their right to exercise many universally recognized human rights. Peaceful protestors have been jailed, and citizens have not been allowed to voice legitimate criticism.

America Is Using Its Influence To Foster Peace And Reconciliation In The Holy Land

Today, Israelis and Palestinians each understand that the only way to realize their own goals is by helping one another. An independent, viable, democratic, and peaceful Palestinian state is more than the aspiration of Palestinians. It is also the best guarantee of peace for all its neighbors -- and the Israelis understand this.

America will do our part. By supporting the legitimate aspirations of both sides, we will encourage reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian people and between Israelis and Arabs, and build a foundation for lasting peace that will contribute to the security of every state in the region.

President Bush Used His Remarks To Speak Directly To The People Of The Middle East

The President reiterated his support for Palestinians' aspirations for a state of their own, and urged the Palestinian people to oppose the extremists and terrorists who represent the greatest threat to those aspirations. He pledged that the United States will help the Palestinian people build the institutions of democracy and prosperity.

The President reiterated that the United States will always stand with Israel in the face of terrorism and support it as it works to ensure the security of its people.

The President said America will continue to support Iraq as it builds the institutions of a free society, and together the United States, Iraq, and Coalition partners will defeat our common enemies.

The President called on the regime in Tehran to heed the will of the Iranian people and make itself accountable to them. The day will come when the people of Iran have a government that embraces liberty and justice, and Iran joins the community of free nations. When that day comes, Iran will have no better friend than the United States.

The President said the United States will stand with leaders across the Middle East as they confront terrorists and radicals. The United States urges these leaders to:

• Join in committing the resources to help the Palestinians build the institutions of a free society.
• Help the citizens of Lebanon preserve their government and their sovereignty in the face of outside pressure.
• Show the Iraqis that they support them in their effort to build a more hopeful nation.

The United States will stand with the people of the Middle East. We share their desire for a free and prosperous future.

(end fact sheet)



Middle East Weekly Wire by POMED

These are some excerpts from the latest issues of Weekly Wire by the Project on Middle East Democracy.

January 14, 2008

Thoughts on Bush's Middle East Trip: President Bush left last Tuesday on a nine-day trip to the Middle East with stops in Israel, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Somehad low expectations for the visit, describing the desire to revive support for Middle Eastern democracy as hopeless, while others urge Bush to use this opportune time to set a new course in addressing tensions with Iran. Another analyst implores Bush to advocate a small, easy-to-build-upon initiative, rather than a grand gesture, for the Israeli and Palestinian people. One article remarks on the irony that four of the six Arab nations on the trip are monarchies and highlight Saudi Arabia as a prominent monarchy of great relevance to US foreign policy. In a different light, an editorial argues that the trip exemplifies Bush's stature as "the most consequential leader in the long history of America's encounter" with the Middle East. Meanwhile, a survey of Middle Eastern media highlighted the Arab consensus that "success will only come if the US puts pressure on Israel." Along with this, some noted with interest the "overwhelming focus on the Palestinian issue and the virtual silence on both Iran and Iraq" in Arab media coverage of the trip. In Abu Dhabi yesterday, President Bush gave what was billed as the "signature" speech of his trip, outlining his policy for the Middle East. Some claimed that Bush veered from advocating democratic reforms in order to emphasize the threat of Iran, while others praised his continuing prioritization of spreading democracy and freedom to the world: "America's 'freedom agenda' is not the cause of its current travails in the Middle East."

Unified or Divided Iraq?: In recognition of the first anniversary of Bush's announcement to escalate U.S. forces in Iraq, analysts urged the necessity of a bottom-up political surge in Iraq to provide legitimacy to local governments and sustain grassroots initiatives. One analyst evaluated the pressures against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticized for not delivering on promises of reform, while others expressed concern over Muqtada al-Sadr's intentions to become an ayatollah in Iraq, or the damage done to internal Iraqi reconciliation by "four ticking time bombs." Others discuss the U.S. interest in a unified Iraq despite Kurdish desires for independence, and suggest that "there should be no aid and no diplomatic legitimacy so long as Iraqi Kurdistan remains a PKK safe haven, sells U.S. security to the highest bidder, and leaves democratic reform stagnant."

Challenges to Democracy in the Arab World: One analystdefended the use of hereditary political power in the Middle East, admitting that while this system clashes with concepts of Western democracy, it provides stability for post-revolution states. An online forum features several prominent voices weighing in on the sustainability of democracy in the Middle East, in reaction to a Charles Issawi quote asserting that, "In the Middle East the economic and social soil is still not deep enough to enable political democracy to strike root and flourish."
Meanwhile, others asked the question: "Does the United States genuinely support democracy in the Arab world-or only when it furthers Washington's interests?"

Shifting U.S. Policy Toward Iran: Many in Washington note thecosts of containing Iran by arguing that rallying Sunni Arab states in favor of such policy is "unsound and impractical" while some declare that bilateral negotiations with Iran are pointless and tough sanctions are the only way to ameliorate the crisis that Iran's stance poses. Analysts in Washington recently discussed the presidential prospects for Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, described by many as"neither reformist nor strictly conservative," who could challenge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 elections.

Potential for a Democratic Pakistan: While many in Washington argue that the U.S. plan to stabilize Pakistan is heading for disaster, many advocate a path to a stable, democratic Pakistan and urge the United States "to use its influence to persuade Pakistan's military to loosen its grip on power and negotiate with politicians with popular support." Some note the particular importance of this in light of the vast disparity between the level of democracy funding and overall contributions to Pakistan by the administration's budget request to Congress last year.

Presidential Candidates, Democracy and Foreign Policy: The 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates showed some small but important policy variations in their opinions on US foreign policy toward Pakistan. While Barack Obama argued that the U.S. should not shy from encouraging democracy in Pakistan, John Edwards seemed to offer tacit support for President Musharraf, and Hillary Clinton expressed concern over "what comes next" if Musharraf were removed from power., One analyst praises Bill Richardson's insight with regard to democracy promotion in the Muslim world after Richardson bowed out of the Democratic President race last week. In the context of an in-depth look at the Democratic Presidential candidates' foreign policy advisors, especially those of Clinton and Obama, some wonder whether a candidate's assemblage of advisors really matters in the end, while others look for conclusions to draw, but don't find many.

In the GOP debate last week in New Hampshire, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney aligned mostly in support of the Bush Doctrine, while Mike Huckabee was gently skeptical of the Bush administration's foreign policy, promising to chart a course "between maintaining stability and promoting democracy" in the Muslim World. A succinct roundup of the exchange can be found here. When the Republican candidates were dealt the inevitable "what should we do about Musharraf" question in last week's tussle in South Carolina, Fred Thompson and many of his counterparts recognized that democracy is in Pakistan's long-term security interest (and therefore our interest) while Ron Paul decried our financial largesse in support of a "military dictator."

Pakistanis' View of Democracy: A new poll conducted in Pakistan, with results revealed in an event here last week, demonstrated strong public support for democracy: when asked "to use the 10-point scale to measure the importance of living 'in a country that is governed by representatives elected by the people,' the mean response of Pakistanis is 8.4." In reaction, a recent analyst criticizes the U.S. government for violating the wishes of a country's people under the guise of promoting freedom. A Pakistani professor offered an in-depth look at the country's uneven electoral history and its contribution to this lack of public confidence in the Pakistani political system.

In the continuing vocal debate following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, some honor Bhutto's contributions to democracy, while others condemn the media's glorification of the Bhutto family, noting that both Benazir and her husband have been charged on counts of corruption in the past. Some drew comparisons between the political situations in Pakistan and Lebanon, relating Benazir Bhutto's assassination to the murder of Rafik Hariro, while others expressed concern over the future of Benazir Bhutto's political party and the Bhutto family's attitude that democracy should be used to avenge Benazir's assassination. While some analysts worry about the political effects of Bhutto's assassination, noting that several political parties, not just Bhutto's PPP, are using her memory to bolster their own campaigns, others expressed concern about Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's inheritance of the leadership of Pakistan's largest party from his mother as the continuation of the trend of dynastic succession in the country and the region.

An Emerging Lebanon Deal? In the Arab League's ongoing efforts to help resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, an agreement in Cairo appears to have been reached, involving the immediate passage of a constitutional amendment to allow Michel Suleiman to become President and the formation of national unity government. Some described the Arab League proposal as giving "the Maronite president more power than he has had since the Taif Agreement of 1989" while some Lebaneseurged caution on the deal, citing the external threat of Iran's influence. One commentator states that the Arab League's efforts will be closely linked to the continuing investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination.

Political State of Turkey: Recent analysis discusses the optimistic political prospects for Turkey, stating that critics and the media have overestimated the danger of Islam to democracy. Others emphasized divisions between religious and secular factions, expressing concern over the stability of the political system. On a different note, one analyst implores that a recent lethal blast in southeastern Turkey be seen against "the backdrop of a domestic struggle over the political and cultural identity of Turkey," indicating that it could endanger the continuance of Turkish economic and political reforms and also undermine Turkey's relationships with Iran, Syria, Israel, and the United States, as well as Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union.

Arab Views on Bush's Trip: A survey of Middle Eastern media highlighted the Arab consensus that "success will only come if the US puts pressure on Israel." Along with this, some noted with interest the "overwhelming focus on the Palestinian issue and the virtual silence on both Iran and Iraq" in Arab media coverage of the trip.

A rare opinion survey conducted last month in Saudi Arabia by Terror Free Tomorrow has produced fascinating results, showing dramatic improvement of Saudi opinion of the U.S. in recent months. In the Christian Science Monitor, Terror Free Tomorrow Executive Director Kenneth Ballen concludes that the people of Saudi Arabia may in fact be the answer to the recurring question, "Where is the voice of the moderate Muslim majority who stand against Al Qaeda, bin Laden, and terrorism?"

December 31, 2007

The Bhutto Assassination and Its Aftermath in Pakistan: Pakistan was rocked this week by the assassination of Pakistani People's Party (PPP) leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto during a political rally in Rawalpindi. Bhutto was shot and also targeted by a suicide bomb blast that killed more than thirty of her supporters at the rally. Many noted the void left behind, while opinions varied as to what's next for Pakistan. Several commentators argued that the elections scheduled for January should be postponed to allow the PPP to regroup and to permit for a more democratic contest, but others claim that the "way to honor Bhutto's legacy is for Musharraf to pick up her banner of relentlessly trying to bring back democracy to Pakistan," by holding elections as scheduled. But some fear that Pakistan has already lost the opportunity for the peaceful transfer of power. One article surveys the possible fate of elections in the absence of the Pakistani political leader who recently enjoyed the most popular support.

Many observers praised Bhutto for "her unwavering devotion to democracy," while others criticize Bhutto's "recklessness," and remember her rule as marked by corruption, ruthlessness, and nepotism, seen as carrying on with her 19-year-old son's ascendance to lead the PPP. Many agree that "In her death, as in her life, Benazir Bhutto has drawn attention to the need for building a moderate Muslim democracy in Pakistan." POMED's Shadi Hamid writes that the threat of Islamist control of nuclear weapons is not the overriding danger that some see, as extremists may have the power to threaten and terrorize but they are not on the verge of a takeover. He also writes that the Middle East will remain a powder keg with frequent destabilizing events such as Bhutto's assassination until the problems of "economic, political, religious, and cultural stagnation" that produce extremism are resolved.

Shifting Political Scene in Iraq: One observer notes how military success in the form of decreased violence in Iraq highlights the need for more political success and looks at U.S. plans to encourage such progress. Another examines the little-reported, recently formed alliance between Tareq al Hashemi, head of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, and the two major Kurdish parties, led by Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, while the political and military struggle between Iraqi Shiite leaders Muqtada al Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Abul Aziz al Hakim continues. And another commentator draws attention to statements from Iraqi government officials indicating their distrust of paramilitary Sunni Awakening Councils.

Lebanese Stalemate Carries on into 2008: Difficulties remain as Lebanon's political forces struggle to reach agreement on how to amend the constitution to allow consensus candidate General Michel Suleiman to become president, making yet another postponement of elections likely. A year-end editorial argues that "Lebanon's heartless politicians are betraying its hapless people," and it blames politicians on both sides for the current impasse, noting that "No one - Lebanese or foreign - can rule this country alone. Those who would dispute this fact are victims of their own delusions or someone else's." One Lebanese commentator proposes that reforms toward removing sectarianism from the Lebanese political system begin with the judiciary. Meanwhile, an American analyst argues that the U.S. does not have a foreign policy strategy in Lebanon willing to acknowledge the country's new political reality.

December 24, 2007

US Pressures Lebanon to Elect President: Last week, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch to return to Beirut to tell Lebanese leaders that "The United States believes that it is time now to elect a new president" and to pressure Speaker Nabih Berri "to convene a session of Parliament...to end a three-week power vacuum." President Bush was asked whether he would talk to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to work on ending Lebanon's political crisis, responding that he has "ruled out direct talks" with Assad because "he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hezbollah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq and he destabilizes Lebanon."

Consequences of U.S. Policy in Iraq and Turkey: One observer argued that despite "the much-touted progress in Iraq," "transforming thousands of anti-American Sunni insurgents into U.S.-funded Sunni militias is not without cost," thus, "the surge and American payoffs to Sunni tribal leaders may eventually backfire, producing more instability and possibly a regional war." However, some credited the surge for "bolstering, ever so slightly, the advocates of conciliation and weakening the partisans of sectarian war," and maintain it has led to a compromise in the volatile city of Kirkuk where Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs live. Others commented on the Turkish raid launched on Kurdish PKK separatists in northern Iraq and argued that despite Turkish claims that the US gave permission for the attack, "A US official in Turkey said commanders had not approved the attacks, but had been informed before they took place." Additionally, some say that while President Bush has "promised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Washington would aid Turkey's fight against terrorism," the "increasingly assertive State Department has embraced an ill-advised diplomatic strategy toward the PKK that will likely backfire..."

US Relations with Libya: Some claim that "Muammar Qadhafi provided the Bush administration with a unique post-9/11 foreign policy triumph that has endured-though it has not, as had been hoped, prompted other antagonists to follow in Libya's footsteps." Others commented on the Bush administration's "resumption of diplomatic ties with Libya," arguing that the relationship "is not going as smoothly as the Bush administration had hoped" and that "the US should rethink normalizing relations with Libya" because "The country continues to behave like a rogue state."

The International Community Confronts Iran: One commentator maintains that the international community is "not trying to stop Iran [from] enjoying the benefits of nuclear power...," it is only "Iran's pursuit of proliferation-sensitive activities, particularly its enrichment program..." that concerns the international community. Moreover, "The world put Iran's Islamic rulers on notice" last week when "the 192-member United Nations General Assembly voted its 'deep concern' over escalating atrocities in Iran, such as stoning, repression of female dissidents, and persecution of human rights defenders." Additionally, one observer maintains that "Both the EU and the US should be prepared to enter into direct, comprehensive, and unconditional negotiations with Iran" because "An honest offer of engagement would allow Ahmadinejad's pragmatic opponents to show that it is Iran's president and his controversial policies, not the West, that are at fault."

Despite Delay, New Amendment Allows Election of General Suleiman: Last week, "Speaker Nabih Berri postponed a parliamentary session to elect a new Lebanese president for the ninth time." And Prime Minister Siniora's government has today proposed a draft law for a constitutional amendment to elect army chief Michel Suleiman as president, and has "approved a motion calling for an extraordinary legislative session by parliament as of January 1, to tackle the amendment bill." Meanwhile, Lebanon's opposition has threatened to boycott the presidential vote "unless the ruling coalition agrees to the shape of a future government ahead of the vote." Also, one analyst describes Lebanese Christians as being in a "debilitating dilemma," concluding that "For Christians to survive as a community, they must accept that the only way to do so is through reform of the confessional arrangement...," and "Unless Christians grasp the necessity of deconfessionalizing Parliament, they may find themselves facing a new reality where the Sunni, Shiite and Christian communities are each represented by a third of parliamentary seats," meaning that the "Christians would be the ones surrendering the most power; but more significantly national solidarity would be lost."

Sectarianism and Instability in Iraq: Last week, there were reports that Muqtada al-Sadr may extend the cease fire he declared in late August. One observer noted that "Sadr's stand-down order was consistent with a pattern he had set over the last few years, in which he periodically pulled back to allow rogue elements of his militia to be picked off by coalition forces. Another observer addressed "the concrete walls which have been erected between new Sunni and Shia neighborhoods throughout Baghdad..." and argued that the walls are "making permanent the ethnic cleansing of the last few years, and ensuring that resentments will continue to stymie Iraqi political reconciliation for the foreseeable future." Also, one analyst argued that in Mosul the "calm is now gone" because "al-Qaeda in Iraq and rejectionist Sunni insurgents have opted to abandon surge-bloated Baghdad and Anbar" for Mosul and "with both insurgents and foreign terrorists set up in Mosul, Kirkuk, and their surrounding provinces...the next powder keg of the Iraq War is due to ignite." Additionally, al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri released a new video last week in which he "identifies Iraq as the primary field for jihad..." Moreover, an Iraqi government spokesman announced that "Iraq will need foreign troops to help defend it for another 10 years," but he maintains that Iraqis "will not accept U.S. bases indefinitely."

Turkey Takes on the Kurdish PKK: Last week, "Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq overnight and carried out a small-scale operation against Kurdish separatists" as a result of "public pressure to act after PKK attacks on its security forces..." In response to the raid, the Iraqi Parliament condemned the attack. One pundit argued that "in the larger picture, this operation does not provide a solution to Turkey's Kurdish dilemma." Also, some say that "The raid represents the 'stick' side of the two-pronged Turkish policy effort mounted in recent weeks...that holds the promise of success after several years of enduring PKK attacks that have had mounting success." Others argued that Turkey's actions "whether within Turkey, Iran or the Kurdish Autonomous Region represents a sustained effort by the Turkish military that violate the sovereignty of other nations and the human rights of the Kurdish peoples." Also, "Turkish military authorities arrested Nurettin Demirtas, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party, with Demirtas' supporters claiming that his arrest was political. In addition, some are concerned about a new press bill approved by the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG's) parliament containing restrictive provisions, "including amendments that would allow the government to suspend newspapers..." and require "that editors in chief be members of the Kurdistan Journalists' Syndicate (KJS)."

State of Emergency Lifted in Pakistan: "President Pervez Musharraf lifted the six-week-old state of emergency and restored the Constitution...after passing a flurry of constitutional amendments and decrees to ensure his recent actions would not be challenged by any court." Prior to the reversal of emergency law, opposition leaders had questions for President Musharraf and President Bush. Also, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said that she and others are still "worried that the elections are going to be rigged in favor of the ruling party..." Moreover, according to one analyst "The picture of Pakistan today is bleak" and "the political situation will likely get much worse before it gets better."

Despite Mubarak's Crackdowns, Egyptian Democracy Movement Lives: According to one analyst, "9/11 and the vaguely defined 'war on terror'" were "the perfect opportunity" for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "to summon up his trusty narrative about fighting terror at all costs, especially in justifying his exceptional powers, not to mention his government's growing crackdowns on its own citizens." Yet, another observer noted that "Facebook and YouTube are where the young Egyptian democracy movement lives" and that "There are more than 60 Facebook groups devoted to liberal Egyptian causes" and "many of them have thousands of members." Also, one observer comments on "the movie that everyone is talking about in Cairo these days: Heyya Fauda (It's Chaos)," which "has been predictably championed by the opposition press and criticized by state hacks" and is said to open "with actual footage of the many street protests and altercations between demonstrators and riot police that shook Cairo in the last few years."

Women and Islamic Societies: One analyst highlighted the debate about the state of Muslim women and posed hard questions like: "What can be done about stoning in Muslim countries? Is honor killing a crime of passion or a crime of religion?" Others commented on the "extraordinary case" in Saudi Arabia in which "a rape victim was condemned for associating with a man not her relative," and made a "comparison of Saudi and South African apartheid", and noting differences in Western attitudes toward the two. More recently, Saudi King Abdullah pardoned the rape victim, but pundits say the pardon "was a direct response to an international outcry rather than an effort to reform the kingdom's Islamic sharia courts." Others have "mixed" reactions to the pardon and say that while they are "relieved that the sentence won't be carried out,..."this is not the end" because "there are other injustices still taking place in the Saudi courts." Moreover, others noted that "One must ask these Islamic majority societies to be more consistent with their own values and to stick to justice by refusing to abuse Islam" and that "They must protect the independence of the judicial system and protect innocent people, poor or rich, Muslims or non-Muslims, men and women equally." Lastly, one analyst addressed the notion of "Damsels in distress" and argued that "The west should stop using the liberalization of Muslim women to justify its strategy of dominance."


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News Concerning Middle East Reform

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


  • Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed
  • Palestine: Annapolis Follow Up; Settlement Plans; Attacks on Journalists
  • Jordan: Parliamentary Election Results; New Cabinet
  • Syria: Activists Arrested; Websites Blocked
  • Iraq: Justice and Accountability Law; Sunni MPs End Boycott; Press Freedoms
  • Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Arrests; Torturers Punished; Other Developments
  • Sudan: Cabinet Reshuffle; British Teacher Released; Journalists Fined
  • Gulf Countries: Common Market Pledged
  • Kuwait: Draft Political Parties Law; Questioning of Education Minister
  • Saudi Arabia: Religious Police Cleared; Rape Victim and Her Lawyer Punished
  • Bahrain: Human Rights Defender on Trial
  • UAE: Crackdown on Human Trafficking; Press Freedom Violations
  • Algeria: Local Election Results
  • Tunisia: Journalist Trial
  • Morocco: Arrests of Homosexuals
  • Upcoming Political Events


Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed

On December 11, the Lebanese parliament postponed for the eighth time the session to elect a new president to December 17. The Western-backed ruling majority coalition and the pro-Syria opposition have agreed on Army Commander General Michel Suleiman for presidency, but are divided on the composition of a new government and the constitutional amendment mechanism. Article 49 of the constitution, which stipulates that senior public servants must wait two years before running for president, must be amended before Suleiman can take office. The presidential post fell vacant when former President Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23.

Palestine: Annapolis Follow up; Settlement Plans; Attacks on Journalists

France will host a donors' conference on December 17 in Paris aimed at mobilizing support for President Mahmoud Abbas's government. France has invited 69 countries to the conference, including the 44 states that attended the Annapolis meeting, as well as the European Union member states and major UN donors. Palestinian Minister of Economy Muhammad Hassuneh announced on December 9 that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to mobilize $7.1 billion dollars in aid to revive the Palestinian economy. Click here for more information.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyya on December 5 renewed a call for an unconditional dialogue with Fatah to “heal Palestinian wounds.” He called the November 27-8 Annapolis meeting a “cover for Israeli aggression.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded the following day by declaring that he is open to dialogue with Hamas, provided that it surrenders control of the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile Israeli military officials continue to discuss a possible military incursion into Gaza in response to rocket fire. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on December 5 that the Israeli military “will eventually carry out a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, but we are not in a hurry to do so.”

The White House announced on December 4 that President George W. Bush will travel to the Middle East in January 2008. Specific stops and dates have not yet been announced; Israeli and Palestinian media reported that Bush will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories January 9 to 11.

A December 3 Israeli announcement of plans to build more than 300 new houses in the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem has drawn criticism from the United States and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and prompted Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to urge U.S. intervention to stop the move. The Israel-based activist group Peace Now issued a report on December 4 saying that out of 3,449 illegal settlement buildings, only 107 have been dismantled in the past ten years.

In the Annapolis meeting held November 27-8, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas pledged to seek a peace deal by the end of 2008. On December 2, Olmert announced that Israel was not bound by that target, telling his cabinet that progress will depend on the Palestinian Authority’s ability to restrain Hamas militants. Israeli and Palestinian teams will meet for their first discussions on December 12, and Olmert and Abbas will continue one-on-one meetings. Israel released 429 Palestinian detainees on December 3, the majority of whom were Fatah supporters.

Reporters without Borders issued a statement on November 29 criticizing the increase in physical assaults against West Bank journalists. Since November 23, eight journalists in the West Bank have been attacked by Fatah-controlled forces. Click here for more information.

Jordan: Parliamentary Election Results; New Cabinet

Jordan's Islamist opposition cried foul after suffering a major setback in parliamentary elections. Only six of the twenty-two candidates of the Islamic Action Front won seats in the November 20 elections, compared with seventeen in 2003. The majority of the parliament’s 110 seats went to pro-government independents. Voter turnout was estimated at 42 percent. A statement by the Amman-based al-Urdun al-Jadid Research Center reported significant electoral irregularities including vote buying, breaching the secrecy of voting, and the use of improper identification by voters. Click here for the final election results.

Jordan’s new twenty-seven member cabinet was sworn in on November 25. The new cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, includes thirteen first-time ministers and four women. Click here for the new cabinet line-up.

Syria: Activists Arrested; Websites Blocked

Syrian authorities launched a campaign of arrests against members of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change opposition coalition on December 9. Twenty-three leading members of the Declaration have been arrested as of December 11. The campaign comes a week after the Declaration has held its first conference in Syria on December 1, in which it elected its president and general secretariat, and issued a call for peaceful democratic change. Click here for the Declaration's statement in Arabic. The Damascus Declaration, formed in October 2005, is an alliance that comprises various Syrian secular, nationalist, leftist, and Islamic political groups and activists. Click here for the names of those arrested in Arabic.

On November 27, Syrian authorities arrested former MP Osman Suleiman Bin Hajji, as well as Kurdish activist and Democratic Union Party member Aisha Afandi Bint Ahmed. The two were moved to an undisclosed location and reasons for their arrest have not been announced. Click here for a statement by the Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria.

Internet censorship in Syria is growing, with over one hundred websites blocked, according to a Reporters without Borders statement on December 7. Banned websites include YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, the Arabic electronic daily Elaph, and various websites run by human rights groups and political organizations.

Iraq: Justice and Accountability Law; Sunni MPs End Boycott; Press Freedoms

The Iraqi parliament is debating a draft “Justice and Accountability Law” to replace the de-Baathification law enacted by former U.S. Civil Administrator Paul Bremer. In a November 26 parliament session, Iraqi political forces indicated their support, with the exception of those affiliated to Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr. According to the draft law, Baathists may assume senior state positions, with the exception of sensitive and security intelligence posts, but the Baath party will be barred from political participation. The Baath Uprooting Committee, headed by Ahmed al-Chalabi, will be dissolved and a judicial body will be charged with implementation. Click here for the draft law in Arabic.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, ended on December 3 a two-day parliamentary boycott over the house arrest of its leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi. The Iraqi government insisted that it was protecting al-Dulaimi’s safety after one of his security guards was discovered to possess keys to a car laden with explosives. Al-Dulaimi's son and thirty of his followers were arrested following the incident on November 30. The Front, which holds forty-four of the 275 parliament seats, withdrew its six ministers from the government in August to protest Prime Minister al-Maliki’s policies.

The Kurdistan Regional Government on November 19 prohibited journalists from meeting combatants of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) who have taken refuge in the Qandil Mountains on the border between Iraq and Turkey. Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman Jamal Abdullah said that inaccurate media reports have led to an acceleration of the crisis with Turkey. Several journalists were arrested near the Turkish border as a result of the regional government's decision. Faisal Gazala, correspondent of the satellite television station Kolsat, was also arrested on November 19 by Kurdish security forces near Mosul on suspicions of terrorist activity. Click here for more information.

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Arrests; Torturers Punished; Other Developments

Egyptian police forces arrested thirteen senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood on December 4. They face accusations of belonging to a banned organization, conspiracy against the government, and holding a meeting to plan illicit activities. Authorities also arrested eleven al-Azhar University students affiliated with the Brotherhood on December 6 and twenty-five other Brotherhood members in the Delta region on November 19. Twelve Egyptian human rights organizations and legal associations issued a joint statement on November 20 criticizing Egyptian authorities’ actions and press silence about the arrest campaign. Approximately 400 Brotherhood members are now in detention, most of them without charge or trial, since a crackdown that began a year ago.

An Egyptian court sentenced three police officers to seven years and a fourth officer to three years in prison on November 28 for beating a man to death during interrogation. Under Egyptian law, the sentence for torturing a prisoner ranges between three and fifteen years in prison. Earlier this month, two police officers were sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a man at a police station. Click here for more information.

President Mubarak referred to parliament on November 28 a draft law banning demonstrations in places of worship. The “Law to Preserve the Sanctity of Places of Worship” was passed to the Shura Council on December 4 and will then be sent to the People’s Assembly. The law sets punishment of up to one year in prison and fines of 1000-5000 Egyptian pounds (US$182-910) for organizers of a demonstration and up to six months in prison and fines of 500-2000 pounds (US$91-264) for participants. The law is expected to face opposition in the People’s Assembly, especially from Muslim Brotherhood MPs who hold eighty-eight out of 454 seats.

In elections to the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists held on November 17, pro-government editor Makram Muhammad Ahmed was elected chairman and other pro-government journalists dominated the syndicate’s council. Ahmed promised to advocate abolishing jail sentences for press offenses. Click here for the Hisham Mubarak Center for Law’s statement on the elections in Arabic.

An Egyptian court sentenced Hatem Mahran, editor of the tabloid al-Naba, on November 27 to a year in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,600) for publishing a revealing photograph of an Egyptian actress. He was released on a five-thousand pound (US$912) bail and vowed to appeal the ruling.

Sudan: Cabinet Reshuffle; British Teacher Released; Journalists Fined

On December 10, President Omar al-Bashir reshuffled the cabinet, bringing in six new ministers and a presidential advisor. According to al-Bashir, the cabinet reshuffle is intended to bolster national unity. He also announced the continuation of talks with First Vice President and Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Salva Kiir Mayadrit, on implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The SPLM suspended its participation in the government nearly a month ago, accusing the government of hindering CPA implementation. A cabinet reshuffle was the first in a series of demands presented by the SPLM to the Sudanese president before resuming cooperation. The 2005 peace agreement, brokered by the United States and other Western countries, ended two decades of civil war between the Arab and Muslim-dominated North and the mainly Christian Black South. Click here for a list of the new ministers.

Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan arrested for letting her class name a stuffed bear Mohammed, was released on December 3 after spending eight days in jail. Gibbons was charged with “insulting religion” and sentenced to fifteen days in prison. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir pardoned her after talks with two British Muslim leaders. Click here for more information.

Mahjoub Ourwa, chairman of the independent daily al-Sudani, and Noureddine Medani, the newspaper's editor, were released on November 29 after spending eleven days in prison. The two journalists were detained on November 18 for refusing to pay court-ordered fines of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (US$5,000). Ourwa and Medani were convicted of libel against the national intelligence service for a July 20 report about the arrests of four journalists. The fine was later reduced to 7,150 Sudanese pounds (US$3,600) each, which they agreed to pay. Click here for more information.

Gulf Countries: Common Market Pledged

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) concluded its twenty-eighth annual summit on November 4. The summit’s final declaration announced the launch of a pan-Gulf common market in January 2008 and common currency by 2010. Citizens of the six Gulf monarchies in principle will have equal rights to work in government and private institutions, make real estate and other investments, move freely, and receive education and health benefits in all GCC states. The GCC states have been working toward establishing a common market for the past five years, but implementation so far has been piecemeal. It remains to be seen whether the six states are able to harmonize their different laws, especially on ownership and investment. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to attend a GCC summit, proposed the establishment of security and economic pacts and regional institutions between Iran and the six Gulf States. Click here for the summit’s final declaration in Arabic.

Kuwait: Draft Political Parties Law; Questioning of Education Minister

MPs from the liberal National Action Bloc proposed a draft political parties law on December 8. Political parties are illegal in Kuwait, although political groups act as de facto parties. The Kuwaiti constitution states that political parties should be allowed at some point in the development of parliamentary democracy. Click here for a summary of the draft law in Arabic.

The Independent Islamic Bloc confirmed on December 9 that it will question Minister of Education Nuriya al-Sabeeh in parliament after the Eid al-Adha holiday on allegations of mismanagement. The Islamic Constitutional Movement (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Salafi Movement have not yet declared their positions, while the National Action Bloc opposed the questioning. Al-Sabeeh has been under fire after dismissing several ministry officials. Since February 2006, Kuwait has witnessed the resignation of three cabinets and a major cabinet reshuffle to avoid confrontation with parliament.

On December 5, the parliament postponed, at the government’s request, discussion of a proposed law on purchasing and rescheduling citizens’ loans. The government is currently drafting a law to establish a fund with a capital of 300 million Kuwaiti dinars (US$1.09 billion) to help citizens pay off their debts.

Saudi Arabia: Religious Police Cleared; Rape Victim and Her Lawyer Punished

A Riyadh court on November 28 acquitted two members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the religious police—of responsibility for the death of a 28 year-old man in May. Commission members stormed the man’s house after they suspected him of distributing alcohol, which is banned in the kingdom. The court cited lack of sufficient evidence and dismissed a forensic report that stated the victim was beaten severely. The Commission is a government body charged with upholding Islamic moral values and social discipline. Click here for details.

Lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahem was summoned to a disciplinary committee on December 5 for publicly criticizing a court ruling punishing a victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in prison. Al-Lahem is charged with “insulting the Supreme Judicial Council and disobeying rules and regulations.” His client, known as the al-Qatif girl, was sentenced in November 2006 to ninety lashes for khilwa—being alone in the company of a man who is not an immediate relative—while the seven perpetrators were sentenced to flogging and prison terms ranging from one to five years. All sentences were increased on appeal. Click here for a statement by Amnesty International.

Saudi police forces arrested 208 suspected Islamist militants on November 28. The Saudi Interior Ministry said the suspects have been planning attacks on an oil installation and security forces. Click here for details.

Bahrain: Human Rights Defender on Trial

Mohammed al-Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Center for Human Rights (BYSHR) was charged on November 27 with “activating an unregistered association before the issuance of a declaration of registration.” Bahraini law criminalizes the formation of any group without the approval of the Ministry of Social Development. BYSHR has been active in exposing government human rights violations and is a member of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation. Al-Maskati rejected the charges, citing that the BYSHR was established in accordance with the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory. Click here for more information.

UAE: Crackdown on Human Trafficking; Press Freedom Violations

Dubai announced on December 3 that it had uncovered the largest prostitution network in the Gulf region, arresting over 300 members and clients. According to Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim, the recent crackdown is part of a comprehensive campaign to eliminate prostitution and human trafficking in the region. The UAE enacted a law in November 2006 making human trafficking punishable by life imprisonment and set up a national committee to combat human trafficking in May 2007. Click here for details.

The Arab Network for Human Rights, in collaboration with a number of activists from the United Arab Emirates, issued a statement on November 27 criticizing continued violations of press freedom despite a recent order by Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum abolishing imprisonment for press offenses. According to the statement, government ministries and officials continue to harass journalists and ban publications.

Algeria: Local Election Results

Algeria held elections for 1,541 municipal councils and 48 local departments on November 29. The National Liberation Front (FLN) emerged as the largest winner with 30.5 percent of the seats, followed by its ally in the ruling coalition, the National Rally for Democracy (RND) with 24.5 percent. The centrist Algerian National Front (FNA) won 11.3 percent of the seats. The third party in the ruling coalition, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), won 10.7 percent. Twenty-three parties and many independents contested the elections. The voter turnout was estimated at 44 percent. Despite scattered reports of irregularities, most competing parties expressed satisfaction with the election process. Click here for more information.

Tunisia: Journalist Trial

A local court convicted journalist Salim Boukhdeir on December 4 of “insulting an official while exercising his duty” and “refusing to produce his identity papers to the police.” Boukhdeir was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay a five dinar fine (US$4). The case against Boukhdeir follows a number of recent articles he wrote in the international press accusing close aids of President Ben Ali of corruption. Boukhdeir had staged a fifteen-day hunger strike early in November in protest of government restrictions on the movement of political activists and confiscation of his passport. Click here for more information.

Morocco: Arrests of Homosexuals

Moroccan authorities arrested six men for organizing a homosexual wedding in the northern city of al-Qasr al-Kabir on November 26. Over 600 of the town’s inhabitants staged a protest demanding a government crackdown on homosexuals. Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code stipulates that homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by six months to three years in jail and a fine of 120 to 1,200 Moroccan dirhams (US$15 to 155), but the law is rarely enforced. Moroccan homosexuals were recently allowed to found their own organization, which demands equal rights for homosexuals and aims to combat all forms of discrimination.

Upcoming Political Events
  • France: Palestinian Donors Meeting, December 17, 2007
  • United States: President Bush visit to the Middle East, January 2008
  • Egypt: Local elections, April 2008
  • Qatar: Parliamentary elections, June 2008


Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles