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


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