7.06.2008

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of June issue of Arab Reform Bulletin Published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Kuwait: New Cabinet Appointed After Elections
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Activist Detained
Yemen: Zaidi Rebellion; Local Council Elections
Bahrain; Minister Cleared; Bahraini Jewish Ambassador Appointed
Iraq: Amnesty; Radio Station Closed
Lebanon: Political Deadlock Ended
Egypt: State of Emergency Extended; Bread Riots Resurface; Anti-Monopoly Law
Palestine: Talks Renewed
Syria: U.S. Sanctions Renewed
Jordan: Public Gathering Law Deferred
Morocco: Al-Jazeera Rabat Broadcast Suspended
Algeria: Magazine Issue Banned
Libya: Activist Freed
Sudan: Newspaper Shutdown; Journalist Arrested


Kuwait: New Cabinet Appointed After Elections

On May 17, some 361,700 eligible voters (55 percent of them women) went to the polls to elect deputies for the National Assembly's fifty elected seats (appointed cabinet ministers also join the assembly, raising the overall number of seats to sixty-five.) Voter turnout was reported at 70 percent. The elections took place under the new electoral system, which decreased the number of districts from twenty-five to five, each district electing ten deputies. The results were in favor of those with Islamist and tribal political affiliations; Sunni Islamists took twenty-one of the fifty seats, members of prominent tribes claimed twenty-four (including four liberals), and the remaining five went to those with Shi'i political affiliations. None of the twenty-seven women contenders was elected. Click here for more in Arabic.

Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah reappointed Sheikh Nasser al-Muhammad al-Sabah to head the new cabinet formed on May 28. The fifteen-member cabinet includes two women, two Shi'a, two liberals, and four ministers representing Kuwait's most influential tribes. The reappointment of Sheikh Nasser and the overall composition of the cabinet have already sparked tension between the government and parliament. Click here for more details.

On May 14, Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, who ruled Kuwait for a mere nine days before the parliament removed him due to health issues, died after a long battle with colon cancer. Sheikh Saad had served in various capacities including prime minister, military governor of Kuwait, and crown prince for 29 years.


Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Activist Detained

Secret police arrested reform activist Matrook al-Faleh on May 19 at King Saud University. Since his arrest, al-Faleh has been on a hunger strike. Al-Faleh's statement condemning conditions at Buraida Prison, where fellow activists are detained, is believed to be the reason behind his sudden arrest. Click here for a Human Rights Watch statement.


Yemen: Zaidi Rebellion; Local Council Elections

After days of heavy fighting, the government put down a Zaidi rebellion in a northern suburb of Sana'a on May 28. The Zaidi rebellion, backed by Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, has been ongoing in the northern town of Sa’ada since 2004 and has claimed thousands of lives. Tribal witnesses claim that dozens of rebels and security forces were killed during the stand off. Click here for more information.

On June 1, an appeals court convicted a group of thirty-eight detainees accused of belonging to a terrorist cell supporting the Zaidi rebellion. The court upheld an earlier death sentence ruling against cell leader, Muhammad Abdullah Sharaf al-Din. Twelve of those convicted, including a woman, received sentences ranging from one to three years; three were acquitted. Click here for more in Arabic.

On May 18, elections for provincial governors took place for the first time in Yemen. In the past, all twenty-one governors were appointed directly by the government. Elections were carried out in all provinces except one, where the process was hampered by mass arrests following unemployment protests. Opposition groups boycotted the elections, reportedly because they had few supporters in most governorates. Seventeen of the twenty elected governors are pro-government, while the remaining three are independents. Click here for more information.


Bahrain; Minister Cleared; Bahraini Jewish Ambassador Appointed

On May 8, the Bahraini parliament cleared Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiyatallah al-Khalifain of accusations of tampering with national statistics and providing incorrect data. Al-Khalifain was accused of doing so in order to mask efforts to extend nationality to non-Bahraini Sunnis in order to tip the country’s confessional balance. Click here for more in Arabic.

On May 29, in an unprecedented move, Bahrain appointed a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo, as ambassador to the United States. Previously, Nonoo headed a Bahraini human rights organization and had served in the appointed Shura Council for three years.

On May 31, Bahraini MP and human rights activist Faisal Fulad called on the parliament to abolish the death penalty. The initiative comes after a Bangladeshi worker was sentenced to death in a criminal case. Fulad argued that the death penalty undermines Bahrain's efforts to improve its human rights record, particularly after its election to the UN Human Rights Council on May 25. Click here for more information.


Iraq: Amnesty; Radio Station Closed

The Supreme Judicial Council declared on May 28 that some 74,000 Iraqi detainees should be able to benefit from a recently approved amnesty law. The reconciliation committee called on the government to initiate talks with U.S. forces in Iraq and to expedite the process of settling the issue of detainees. Click here for more in Arabic.

On May 9, security forces ordered the closure of the radio station al-‘Ahd, financed by Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr, on accusations of inciting violence. The decision came as fighting between Iraqi forces and al-Sadr militias intensified. Click here for more information.


Lebanon: Political Deadlock Ended

The May 25 election of General Michel Suleiman as president ended a deadlock that began in November 2007. Suleiman reappointed Fouad Siniora to head the government on May 28, as part of the Doha agreement package that ended deadly clashes between Hizbollah and the coalition government. The agreement also granted the ruling coalition sixteen of thirty cabinet seats, the opposition eleven seats, and left the remaining three to be named by the president. The agreement also banned the use of weapons in internal conflicts and opted for the 1960 electoral law to be applied during 2009 elections. Click here for more information.

On May 13, Future Media Network resumed operations after a five-day absence from the air. During the clash between government and opposition forces, Hizbollah fighters raided and destroyed the network's headquarters, inflicting heavy losses. Click here for more information.


Egypt: State of Emergency Extended; Bread Riots Resurface; Anti-Monopoly Law

On May 26, parliament voted to extend the state of emergency in place since 1981 for an additional two years effective May 31. In 2006, President Mubarak had promised not to extend the state of emergency again and to adopt a specific anti-terrorism law instead. The parliament declared that the alternative law needed significant revisions and that the emergency law was essential to maintaining national security, particularly in light of recent riots and social unrest. Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the government's decision.

On June 7, thousands of villagers in a small city in the northern governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh protested the local authorities’ decision to distribute flour to bakeries rather than individuals and decrease the bread ration per person. Some eight thousand protestors blocked the main road and set tires on fire. In an attempt to restore calm, security forces arrested about fifty protesters, reportedly including women and children. Click here for more in Arabic.
On May 26, the parliament's economic committee approved an amendment to the anti-monopoly law. The amendment stipulated an increase in fines from a maximum of 50,000 LE (U.S. $9,350) to a minimum of 100,000 LE ($18,700), or 15 percent of the total value of product sales of the company in question.

On May 16, the independent daily newspaper al-Dustur launched its website. The launch coincides with increased government censorship of new media; the website of the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya) was blocked for several days in early May.

On May 7, five men with HIV/AIDS were sentenced to three-year prison terms on charges of "habitual debauchery," which refers to homosexual acts in Egyptian law. On May 28, an appeals court upheld the initial ruling in the case. Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the ruling.


Palestine: Talks Renewed

On June 9, Hamas and Fatah delegates headed respectively by Emad Khalid Alamy and Hikmat Zeid ended a two-day meeting in Dakar to address the ongoing political rift. At the end of the two days, both factions signed a statement indicating their commitment to resolving the issues discussed. This initiative follows a series of failed efforts that have taken place in Egypt and in Yemen. Click here for more in Arabic.


Syria: U.S. Sanctions Renewed

On May 7, the U.S. government renewed sanctions on Syria, which have been in place since 2004. The sanctions were extended an additional year on the grounds that Syria supports terrorism, hampers efforts to stabilize Iraq, and meddles in Lebanese affairs.


Jordan: Public Gathering Law Deferred

On May 31, parliament's lower house deferred action on an amended public gathering law proposed by the government. The proposed law has been the subject of heated debates; political parties argue it would stifle the limited freedom of expression they currently enjoy. The law stipulates that all public demonstrations be authorized in advance by the government. Click here for more information.


Morocco: Al-Jazeera Rabat Broadcast Suspended

On May 9, without prior notification, Moroccan officials suspended al-Jazeera's ability to broadcast from Rabat. Communications Minister Khalid Naciri claimed the suspension was temporary, pending resolution of legal matters by al-Jazeera’s Rabat bureau. Observers speculate, however, that the decision was provoked by prominent Egyptian journalist Muhammad Hassanain Haikal's allegations in a May 1 episode of the weekly program “Ma'a Haikal” (With Haikal) that the late King Hassan may have collaborated with the French government in the abduction of Algerian resistance figures. Click here for more information.


Algeria: Magazine Issue Banned

Algerian authorities banned the May 4 issue of the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique, which included an article on Algeria's Kabylie region, home to a Berber population. Editor-in-Chief Marwane Ben Yahmed indicated that the authorities refused to grant the magazine a distribution permit. Algeria has a long history of banning certain issues of the magazine. Click here for more information.


Libya: Activist Freed

Activist Jum`a Boufayed was released on May 28 after a fifteen month detention. Security forces had arrested Boufayed and thirteen other protesters who participated in a peaceful demonstration denouncing police violence in Libya. Human Rights issued a statement welcoming the release.


Sudan: Newspaper Shutdown; Journalist Arrested

Government authorities halted publication of the independent daily newspaper al-Watan on May 14. Security forces seized printed copies of the newspaper and closed down offices for allegedly violating state security. Click here for more information. On the same day, al-Ghali Yahya Shegifat, a reporter and head of the Darfur Journalists Association, was arrested and has since been out of communication. He had previously been arrested by local security services and released shortly there after. Click here for more information.




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