From the Ground

This blog is meant to accompany reports coming from Arabs across the Middle East. Stay informed by reading the first hand accounts: Mideast Reports. Please contact us if you would like to contribute.

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A Desperate Flee: The Struggle of Syrian Refugees

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By Ariana Siegel

Syrian refugees are flooding camps on the Turkish and Lebanese borders as their government continues to meet protesters with violent repression. The Turkish Red Crescent has reported that over 11,000 Syrians currently reside in Turkish refugee camps, and CBS estimated that around 10,000 more refugees are living on the Syrian side of the border.

According to a New York Times article, refugee camps are woefully undersupplied and unprepared to deal with the massive influx of sick and wounded. Yet these camps often represent the only safe alternative for Syrians fleeing hometowns ensnared in the government crackdown, which has left some 1,400 dead and 10,000 imprisoned.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries recall the terror inflicted upon their villages by pro-regime forces. Many sport gunshot wounds as evidence, while others whisper of homes burned and bulldozed. Democracy Now reported that the Syrian military, led by President Bashar al-Assad’s infamous brother Maher, has pursued a “scorched earth” policy. Neil Sammonds, the Syria researcher for Amnesty International, in a Turkish border village, told Democracy Now that, “livestock is being slaughtered, the crops have been burned, food has been burned, water supply has been contaminated.”

Women on both borders have repeatedly testified to the use of rape as a terror tactic, saying that many flee women out of fear for their honor. Though raped women are sometimes killed in Syria to protect their family’s honor, the Washington Post reported that a group of men from an attacked village called Jisr al-Shoughour have agreed to marry rape victims.

Such human rights abuses are not limited to women, however. Reports have circulated indicating the widespread and indiscriminant use of torture against civilians. NPR interviewed one Syrian activist arrested by the mukhabarat, the Syrian secret police, whose torture began with cable whips and ended with near paralysis.

In a public address last Tuesday, President Bashar al-Assad called for national dialogue and a return to stability, saying, “I call on each person or family who left their city or village to come back as soon as possible, and I affirm the support of the Syrian government for the people who left Jisr al-Shughour and the surrounding villages to Turkey.”

Since these remarks were broadcast, tanks full of pro-regime troops have been sent to the Turkish and Lebanese borders, attempting to force refugees to return to their homes. Though Syrian news agencies reported no violence in these proceedings, BBC reported two civilians shot dead in a town near the Lebanese border.

Thus far, Turks have offered sympathy and support to the thousands of Syrians flooding into their territory. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the Syrian regime’s violent response to protesters “savagery” in a June 10 interview, saying that Damascus was perpetrating an atrocity against its citizens. Some analysts surmise, however, that the divisions between the Syrian populous and its governance pose a quandary for the recently re-elected Turkish minster, who has pursued a ‘zero problems’ policy with neighboring states but also wishes to act as a voice for human rights in the Muslim world.

The three-month-old Syrian movement for change could tip the delicate balance of peace and cooperation between Turkey and Syria. Relations between the two countries remained cold for decades due to disputes concerning borders, water control, and Kurdish political groups. In recent years, however, the Turkish-Syrian relationship has opened up through a free-trade agreement signed in 2004, and in 2009 the two countries launched a symbolic joint military exercise.

Yet with Syrian forces now amassing at the Turkish border in villages such as Khirbet al-Jouz, officials in Ankara have kept an increasingly watchful eye. Initially, Turkish border patrols moved several hundred feet away from the border to avoid confrontation, however the Jerusalem Post reported that Erdogan convened a meeting with top security officials and foreign ministers to formulate a plan of action in the event of a confrontation. Jordanian analyst Salameh Nematt of the regional communications consultancy Pillar Seven reportedly predicted a turnabout in the Turkish-Syrian relationship.

“You see how Turkey has turned around 180 degrees,” said Nematt. “The relations have turned sour, with Turkey calling for the ouster of the regime.”

While Turkey prepares itself to defend human rights at the cost of its foreign relations and the EU continues to slap sanctions on Syria, the Obama administration’s response has remained hesitant. After a public speech in which the President called for Assad to “allow peaceful protests,” the administration fielded criticism from the Washington Post and others, who called on Obama to take a stronger stance for human rights. The Turkish English-language newspaper Hurriyet News reported that Obama and Erdogan have been in communication regarding policy on Syria in the past weeks, a move that holds promise for future interventions.

So far, however, only the goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, has taken a strong stance. Two weeks ago the Hollywood celebrity brought toys and media attention to Syrian children in a Turkish refugee camp. Apparently Obama has adopted the policy: “speak softly and carry a big movie star.”

Ariana is a rising senior at Tufts University majoring in Peace and Justice Studies and English.

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Arab Spring Hits Washington….

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….well not exactly. The Arab Spring is a hot topic around Washington D.C., and below are summaries of recent Middle East related events that I found interesting.

First, this is a video of a joint anti-Bashar and anti-Gaddafi protest outside the White House on June 18th. Demonstrators sometimes number in the hundreds, but I only caught the tail end of activity on this day. They gather in front of the White House every Saturday, and are planning a major rally on July 23rd.

2011 Democracy Awards Roundtable
The National Endowment for Democracy
June 22, 2011

Speakers:
Jamel Bettaieb is a Tunisian activist, teacher, and trade unionist from Sidi Bouzid, the hometown of Mohammed Bouazizi. He is a professor of German at the Sidi Bouzid Institute and is an active member of the “Secondary Education Union,” part of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT).

Radwan Ziadeh is the founder of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria. Ziadeh is also an award-winning researcher, and serves in an advisory capacity to a number of scholarly organizations. He has written ten books and published studies, and is a frequent political commentator in the media, including for Aljazeera, Alarabiya, the BBC and Alhura.

Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk is a leading pro-democracy Libyan activist based in Washington, DC. He currently serves as president of the Citizenship Forum for Human Development and Democracy (CFHDD). Prior to relocating to the United States, Abuzaakouk was a Lecturer in Communications at the University of Benghazi in Libya.

Husain Abdulla, originally from Bahrain, is the director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). Husain and ADHRB work to educate the U.S. Congress and the Administration about the current Human Rights situation in Bahrain and the ongoing uprising in the country.

Atiaf Zaid Alwazir is an independent researcher, blogger (http://womanfromyemen.blogspot.com/), and activist. She worked for leading donor and implementing organizations on programs addressing youth engagement, human rights, women’s empowerment, accountability, rule of law, and good governance. Watch Atiaf on Democracy Now

Sahar F. Aziz is the President of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association, which supports Egyptian-led legal reforms aimed at transitioning Egypt into a democracy. Aziz previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Zahraa Said is the sister of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian businessman who was beaten to death by police because he had video evidence of police corruption.  After his murder, a now-famous facebook page created called, “We Are All Khaled Said,” which was a major catalyst in Egypt’s recent revolution.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Overview:
The roundtable took place before the presentation ceremony for the 2011 Democracy Awards, which were presented to Jamel Bettaieb and Zahraa Siad. The event was hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy . Each of the seven participants was given about ten minutes to speak, followed by a short question and answer session once everyone was finished. The participants’ opening remarks are combined with their Q&A responses in the summaries below.

Event Highlights:
Sahar F. Aziz-
Aziz began the roundtable by talking about the judiciary and the rule of law in Egypt. She noted that although the judiciary has a history of being independent, and Egypt has many laws on the book that guarantee basic rights, the Mubarak regime undermined these institutions. The regime packed the judiciary with national security people, and the emergency law effectively negated any human rights guarantees. She stressed that as Egypt rebuilds, people need to focus on establishing sound political processes rather than becoming mired in the particulars of every issue. According to Aziz, this is the best way to achieve long-term success.

Zahraa Said-
She spoke (through a translator) about the support her family received after her brother Khaled’s death. Many legal obstacles confronted the family when trying to take action against his killers, but ordinary Egyptians saw themselves in Khaled, and thus associated with the “We Are Khalid Said” movement. It was not just Zahraa and her family that felt Khalid’s death, but everyone. In the Q&A Zahraa said Egypt should have a constitution in place before elections occur. By her estimate 75% of Egyptians support that view.

Jamel Bettaieb –
He spoke (through a translator) about the decision to call for Ben Ali’s ouster rather than reform. At first there were calls for reform, but when the government labeled the protestors as traitors and ordered the army to open fire, people realized that they had to choose between change and death. This last statement was met with much applause. When asked about the future prospects for democracy, Bettaieb optimistically cited the fact that Germany did not have a history of democracy before 1945.

Husain Abdulla-
Abdulla stressed the difficulties that Bahrain is currently going through. He said that Bahrain has actually regressed in terms of the freedoms that people have: they have fewer rights now than they did before the uprising. He noted that a large part of the repression is due to interference from the GCC, ‘Bahrain is not just facing the monarchy but a group of countries.’ One positive aspect he mentioned is that Bahrain’s high priced image has now been irreparably tarnished by the crackdown.

Atiaf Zaid Alwazir-
Atiaf focused largely on the youth aspect of the Yemeni revolution. She said that the revolution was started by the youth with support of older opposition figures, but became politicized when the official opposition party (JMP) joined in. Although civil society in general continues to be supported by various NGOs, the youth voice is getting lost. She stressed that fact that protestors have remained peaceful, despite the recent violence that has broken out. She said that many tribesmen have even put aside revenge and weapons, which is nearly unheard of in Yemen. One problem she sees is that the west has portrayed Yemen in terms of political crises that do not accurately reflect the situation on the ground. It is important to remember that five months is a very short time in which to foster complex ideals such as freedom and democracy.

Radwan Ziadeh-
On the hundredth day of the Syrian revolution, Ziadeh was adamant that the opposition movement has reached the point of no return. Despite there being essentially no civil society in Syria, protestors were encouraged by other uprisings across the region to take action. So far they have remained as peaceful as possible. He clearly disagreed with Obama’s ‘lead from behind’ policy, saying that the administration has taken no leadership on the issue what so ever. He laid out two possible paths that would advance the revolution, and hasten the transition to a new government. The first would be if the army started to split and defect. The other option is that the international community takes action by imposing sanctions and passing resolutions.

Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk-
Abuzaakouk was Qaddafi’s classmate at one point, but even that could not save him from being thrown in prison after he joined the opposition. At the roundtable was optimistic and enthusiastic about Libya’s future. In comparison to the often brutal Italian occupation, and the despotism of Qaddafi, there is plenty of room for improvement. The lack of a domestic opposition in Libya means that the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is starting from scratch, which Abuzaakouk sees as an advantage. However, he is worried about the TNC’s financial situation: they are almost broke, and could significantly benefit if the west unfreezes regime assets for humanitarian purposes.

Iran and Syria: Next Steps
House Foreign Affairs Committee
June 23, 2011

Speakers:
Committee Members: chaired by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, ranking member Rep. Berman

John Bolton: Senior Fellow American Enterprise Institute; Former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Mr. Ollie HeinoninSenior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard University). Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Robert Satloff: Executive Director, Washington Institute for Near East Policy 

                                                                                                                                  

Overview:
The hearing primarily addressed the Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs, as well as the American policy implications. Witnesses and members discussed ways to protect America and American interests from the threat of a nuclear Iran or a combative Syria. In addition, the discussion occasionally touched on the current situation in Syria.

Event Highlights:
Opening remarks-
Chairwoman: America needs to pursue an integrated rather than bifurcated policy towards Iran and Syria. The singular goal should be to keep those states from obtaining nuclear weapons, sponsoring terrorism, and otherwise threatening America and American interests. Ros-Lehtinen argued for expanding and strengthening sanctions on Iran and making sure that current tools are used to their “maximum effectiveness.”

Ranking Member: Iran and Syria present a broad range of threats to US security, the greatest of which is their weapon of mass destruction programs. Iran must abide by the Security Council mandate that it stop enriching uranium. This goal should be enforced using peaceful means including sanctions and a more unified international effort to pressure Iran. In particular, sanctions should be imposed on Chinese energy companies doing business with Iran. In terms of Syria, Berman called on the UN to hold Syria accountable for its non-compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In regards to the current situation in, Mr. Berman says that our values and interests unite. The Assad regime has lost “most, if not all,” of its legitimacy, and his departure would help us achieve our goal of breaking the Iran-Syria axis.

Representative Chabot called on the Obama administration to say that the President of Syria “Bashar [al-Assad] must go.”

Testimony-
Bolton (full remarks): Ambassador Bolton said that Iran’s nuclear program is one of the greatest threats facing America. He said that sanctions have not really kept Iran from pursing its goals, and that the US should consider the use of force. With a declining American influence in the region, it is a mistake to think that Iran can be deterred or contained. Bolton sees two options: the first that Iran gets nuclear weapons, the second is that we use preemptive force to stop this from happening.

Heinonin: Heinonin testified that the Iranian nuclear program is much further along than people thought; although he says that it will likely take longer for Iran to acquire weapon grade uranium than Bolton’s estimate of 1.5 months. In regards to Syria, Heinonin supports Syria’s referral to the UN Security Council over its suspected nuclear program. The council should give IAEA the power to further investigate both Syria and Iran.

Satloff (full remarks): Iran and Syria should be addressed together because they represent the two poles of an axis that threatens American interests and security. Satloff says that Iran has tended to get lost during talk about the Arab Spring, but continues to build a nuclear weapons program. He believes that the threat of Iran is greater now than at the beginning of the Arab Spring because the government views the changes in the region as being in their favor. America should counter this threat with strategic setbacks focused in three areas: First, Syria is one area where American values and interests are complementary. We should hasten the demise of the Assad regime. Second, in Iraq we should build security relationships in a way that keeps Iran from “fishing in troubled waters.” Third, in Iran itself we should make it very clear that America is committed to using all means necessary to keep them from building weapons of mass destruction, and we should also strengthen our support for Iranian democrats.

Analysis:
There was little debate, with nearly everyone agreeing that the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs pose a grave and potentially imminent threat to American interests. Any disagreement revolved around the degree of action required by the US. Panelists agreed that at the very least further sanctions are necessary and the possibility of military action should not be taken off the table. In regards to the current situation in Syria the general sentiment was that American values and interests align when it comes to calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

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Meeting of Syrian Intellectuals a Facade

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by Tik Root
On Monday roughly 200 dissidents and independents met in Damascus, for what is being dubbed the first public meeting of opposition figures inside Syria. The goal of the meeting was not political (technically), but rather, as Abdel Karim Rihawi, president of the Syrian League for Human Rights, told AFP: “We will talk so that we can formulate a national strategy on how to end Syria’s current crisis,” stressing that the meeting was not intended to take the place of the “protesters in the street.”

The WSJ reported on the final communiqué from the conference: ‘In a closing statement, participants said they supported the popular uprising and identified themselves as independents with no intent to act as substitutes for other opposition members. “The meeting calls on coordinating the opposition with the popular street movement for national, democratic, peaceful change in Syria.”’

One of the main meeting organizers and spokesmen was Luay Hussein, has been a member of the opposition for decades and spent a significant amount of time in prison as a result. A number of others involved in the conference fit this mold, and I’ll refer to them as the “old guard.” Aljazeera published a list of key participants, although it is not entirely accurate.  For example, Aref Dalila decided not to participate because the number of participants has been “limited to certain people” and “it isn’t clear who determined who was invited.”

It is interesting to note that although this old guard tends to be associated with the 2005 Damascus Declaration, a main opposition group called “The Damascus Declaration coalition” has actually come out against this meeting, according to Malik al-Abdeh, an editor of Barada TV. He added that “…there are three or four opposition figures who spent time in jail, who are actually attending this meeting. But apart from that, all the other people I have seen on the list, they are not known to be opposition figures… [so] this certainly is not an opposition conference, this is just a meeting of intellectuals all discussing the future of Syria under, I have to stress this, the close watchful eye of the Syrian security.”

To add to the confusion, prominent conference attendee Michel Kilo was quoted saying that “The solution to this crisis has to address its root causes. This regime must be toppled and replaced with a democratic system.” He is the main author of the Damascus Declaration, and up until this point leaned toward reform rather than regime change, at least publicly.  I should say that I have not seen the Arabic version of this quote, and I am told that the translation could be off. Kilo might still be in favor of reform.

The conference is coming under fire from opposition figures that believe the window for reform and a national dialogue has closed. On the mild side of the criticism are those who say that people have every right to meet in Damascus, and that everyone in the opposition have the same general goals, but the various groups are taking different paths to get there. A middle of the road view comes from dissident Walid al-Bunni (to the AP): “This meeting will be exploited as a cover-up for the arrests, brutal killings and torture that is taking place on a daily basis.” On the more extreme end, the Local Coordination Committees (umbrella group of Syrian activists) released a statement saying “As a matter of principle, the Coordination Committees of the Syrian Revolution condemn any meeting or congress held under the banner of the regime.” In private conversations others have told me that the group organizing this conference has little support within the country.

The impact of the Damascus conference is still unclear, but it does show that there are still divisions among the opposition that need to be worked out. That said, these groups are much more organized than they were only a few months ago. The start of “national dialogue”, set for July 10th , could be a catalyst that either unites the opposition against the regime or further divides the reformers from the revolutionaries. But that certainly doesn’t meant protestors will be sitting on the sidelines waiting. They continue to come out in full force.

US Sanctions Syrian, Iranian Police for Syria Crackdown [June 29]

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions against a Syrian police unit and key Iranian security officials in connection with Syria’s lethal crackdown on protestors. U.S. officials accuse Iran of providing material support for Syrian repression.

The sanctions announced by the Treasury Department add to a growing list of Syrian and Iranian individuals and entities targeted by the United States, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and members of his inner circle.

Those cited Wednesday for engaging in human rights abuses include the Syrian Political Security Directorate – one of four branches of the Syrian security forces – and the head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, Major General Jamil Hassan.

Also designated, for providing support for human rights abuses, were the chief of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, and his deputy, Ahmad-Reza Radan – who is said to have traveled to Damascus in April to aid the Syrian crackdown.

The Treasury Department said agents of the Syrian political security unit opened fire and killed demonstrators in specific incidents in March in the town of Dar’a and in April in Nawa.

The U.S. sanctions freeze any assets those designated might have in the United States and forbid any dealings with them by U.S. citizens or firms. 

Syria tank assault kills 11 near Turkey border [June 29]

Syrian troops shot dead 11 villagers on Wednesday, residents said, as authorities pressed on with a tank-led assault that has driven thousands of refugees across the northwest border with Turkey.

The assault on Jabal al-Zawya, a region 35 km (22 miles) south of Turkey that has seen spreading protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, was launched overnight, a day after authorities said they would invite opponents to talks on July 10 to set up a dialogue offered by Assad.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the offer, saying it is not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. The Local Coordination Committees, a main activists’ group, said in a statement on Wednesday that 1,000 people have been arrested arbitrarily across Syria over the last week alone.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya, a teacher who gave his name as Ziad, told Reuters by phone that among the dead were two youths in the village of Sarja.

“An eleven-year-old child is also badly wounded by random gunfire. We cannot get him out of the village for treatment because the tanks blocked all roads and troops are firing non-stop,” he said.

Syria Pulls Armed Forces Back From Some Areas [June 29]

The Syrian military and the government’s security forces have largely withdrawn from one of the country’s largest cities as well as other areas, residents and activists said Wednesday, leaving territory to protesters whose demonstrations have grown larger and whose chants have taunted a leadership that once inspired deep fear.

The military’s move out of Hama, where a government crackdown a generation ago made its name synonymous with the brutality of the ruling Assad family, has surprised even some activists and diplomats. They differ over how to interpret the government’s decision there, asking whether the departure points to a government attempt to avoid casualties and another potentially explosive clash in a restive country, or to an exhausted repressive apparatus stretched too thin.

But residents in Hama, the fourth largest city in Syria, have celebrated the departure as a victory that came after one of the worst bouts of bloodshed there in the nearly four-month uprising.

“Hama is a liberated city,” declared one activist who gave his name as Hainin.

All in for freedom in Syria [June 29]

My older brother, Bashir, 26, is one of the thousands of people who have been detained by Bashar Assad’s regime in recent weeks.

At first, we didn’t know what had happened to him. He and two friends had been missing since they went to the northern city of Jisr Al Shoughur on June 10 to secretly film the protests and the army crackdown there. Then, last week, I was watching Syrian state television when my brother suddenly came on the screen. A caption underneath his image said he had confessed to subversive activities.

Bashir, an economics student at the University of Latakiya, is neither very religious nor very liberal in his views. Like most people in Syria, my brother and I often talked about politics between ourselves, but we were careful to stay away from political activity. The secret police watch everyone, and they can twist the most mundane statements and actions into evidence of subversive activity. Even growing a short beard might prompt the secret police to make a report: “His beard is now one centimeter long.” This would then be presented as evidence of Islamist extremism.

Assad Deserves a Swift Trip to The Hague [June 29]

It is time for the international community to take a stand against Syria’s use of violence against its citizens. On Monday the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Muammer Gaddafi and two of his closest lieutenants for alleged crimes against humanity. The United Nations Security Council should now direct the ICC to investigate whether Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is guilty of crimes against humanity. The charge: using lethal violence to repress peaceful demonstrations in support of democratic rule. The Arab League should also assume the same principled position on Syria that it took on Libya.

The international community cannot, nor should it, seek to dictate the fate of any country. We do, however, have a responsibility to support the observation of global norms in every country. Initiating an ICC investigation in Syria now would create a powerful incentive for Mr Assad to choose reform over further repression. Such a choice would be good for the people of Syria, and for the case of democracy and law throughout the region.

Rep. Kucinich Lost in Translation? [June 29]

Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich is blaming mistranslations for a Syrian news report that quoted him as praising President Bashar Assad.

Kucinich was on what he called a fact-finding mission to Syria.

State-owned media quoted him as saying — quote — “There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria…President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians.” Kucinich did go on to reference violence in Syria. Assad’s government has been blamed for at least 1,400 deaths during pro-democracy protests.

Kucinich says the article contained — quote — “…a number of mistranslations and mischaracterized statements.”

It’s unclear how a mistranslation could have occurred since Kucinich speaks English and the article was written in English.

Tweets from Syrian Opposition Conference [June 27]

Luay Hussein: This is the first time we meet in front of our people so we have huge responsibilities.

Munther Khaddam: Peaceful transition to democracy is the way forward.  Anything else is disastrous.

Michel Kilo: The following are my recommendation for a solution.

Michel Kilo: 1- immediate recognition of political parties that are not religious or ethnic in nature

Michel Kilo: 2- clause 8 of the constitution should be “frozen” immediately as trust building measure

Michel Kilo: 3- the opposition should be given immediate license to publish a paper as trust building measure

Michel Kilo: 4- reforming the legal system is a priority

Michel Kilo: These should be immediate trust building measures.

Michel Kilo: Additionally security “solution” should be stopped and army should go back to bases.

Michel Kilo: 80 percent of the Syrian population are under 35.  Where are they in this conference?

Michel Kilo: There is no security solution to the problem of unemployment.

Michel Kilo: Releasing all political prisoners is a prerequisite for national dialogue.

Michel Kilo: Recreating the modern society starts from granting Syrians their freedoms.

Munther Khaddam: There is no middle ground between authoritarianism and democracy.

Munther Khaddam: Trust in the current system is very low.  A transition into a new system is needed.

Shawqi Baghdadi: We don’t claim to represent the street.

Ibrahim Zur (Kurdish opposition): Other Syrians should not look suspiciously at Kurds.

Hasan Al-Ali: Those with Syrian blood on their hands should be brought to justice publicly.

Hasan Al-Ali: Kurds who suffered in the past should be compensated.

Sabah Hallaq: Women should have an integral role in the process of building the new Syria.

Joseph Ibrahim: The conference should also tackle economic issues.

Jaudat Saeed: Arms will solve nothing.  Voting booths will.

Burhan Naseef: The violence and external meddling in Syria are the authorities fault.

Suleiman Yousef: Unacceptable that our constitution has sectarian clause claiming that Islam is the basic source.

Suleiman Yousef: There can be no civil state based on sectarian constitution.

Jalal Naufal: There is a big portion of Syrian society which doesn’t agree with the uprising.

Anwar Mohamad: Syrian opposition should be given space on Syrian state TV and media.

Posted in Syria | Leave a comment

#June28 Martyr’s Day of Rage: EyeWitness and Analysis

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UPDATE: New Video(s) and a roundup from major news source.

The Second Coming of Rage! [First Hand Account]
Reposted with permission from http://theangryegyptian.wordpress.com/. Follow them on twitter @Gsquare86

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Around 6:00 pm I was at the families of martyrs sit-in at Maspero, I found the place somewhat unusually emapty, when I asked, I learned that a group of them together with
supporters had left in a march to the honorary celebration of the martyrs at El Balon Theater in Agoza. I wasn’t able to figure out for sure who organized this “celebration” nor why have the families decided to go and leave the sit-in. Soon enough, a group came back from Agoza telling the story and showing me the footage of police attacking the supporters from Maspero after the families & supporters were denied entry into the theater.

The families from Maspero along with supporters went to get into the theater, and they were denied entry by security saying that they are not the families of martyrs, so four supporters jumped the fence, and that’s when the clashes started. Immediately, the police showed up and started firing tear gas and attacking supporters & families of martyrs from Maspero with electric shocks shown in the video above.

I took this footage and went to Aljazeera Arabic, uploaded it, and was promised that they would report it, and left. As I was passing through Tahrir, I saw a group of familiar Tahrir activists saying that they are going to the interior of ministry to protest against the police attacks in Agoza. There were 2 trucks with plain clothed people heading there as well. I wanted to pass first by the CairoTweetUp first then head to MOI, I showed the tweeps the video and left to MOI with @3effat & @Sarrahsworld.

When we got to MOI, clashes had already occurred between protesters and CSF officers with an exchange of rocks throwing. I saw there @norashalaby & @Tahrekshalaby along with other familiar faces. As things were dying down, all of the sudden, I saw the CSF officers marching with sticks in the air towards Tahrir on Mohamed Mahmoud St. The protesters followed them not understanding whom are they running after. I kept asking what is going on? People who were there before me, told me that “they are running
after thugs who came and threw rocks at the officers in 2 trucks.” Hmmmm these must have been the same trucks I saw in Tahrir earlier, who are these people? unknown.

We, protesters, ran towards Tahrir, and clashes between us and them, pigs, never stopped since until couple of hours ago. Many were injured, including Noor
Ayman @NoorNoor1
, who was shot with khartosh in the head< but he is fine, just couple of stitches. The most disgusting part was the cursing and the words that the CSF pigs were yelling at us while shooting us with tear gas and rock. They were saying, “we will kill
you! you deserve death ya awsaakh!” I threw rocks for the first time from the front of the line. I was not afraid. I was ready to die because freedom is not without blood. I got soficated with tear gas like many others including @alaa @Lobna @salmasaid . I left Tahrir to upload the footage that I have and the pictures that I took before my phone, camera, laptop, and flip all batteries went dead. You will find my videos from the night here soon.

There is a call to stay in Tahrir, few thousands are there already, and more will join tomorrow. Alexandria, Suez, and Port Said also have mass demonstrations. Power of the people. Revolution until victory!!!

SCAF Makes a Mistake [Opinion]
by Chris Opilia from Cairo
Picture: Khalil Hamra/Associated Press

At some point after midnight this evening (or early this morning), Egyptian security forces attempted to disperse an unknown number of people who had spontaneously gathered in front of the Ministry of the Interior to protest delays in the trials of those responsible for deaths of protestors during the revolution. Most of these peoples were family members of the deceased whom Egyptians call the “Martyrs of the Revolution”.

The central security forces elected to open fire upon the protesters with tear gas in a scene reminiscent to this end of this past January. The protestors, in turn, fought back with rocks and chunks of cement and the result was a running street battle during which the protesters were pushed back to Medan Tahrir. Protesters were joined by reinforcements including elements of the baltagiya (hoodlums, trouble-makers) until around two thousand people had gathered in Medan Tahrir. The security forces, however, were reinforced by both armored cars and riot police succeeded in clearing all but a few protestors from the square. However, as I right these words, elements from youth committees (including the Muslim Brotherhood) are moving to Tahrir to support the protestors and the mosque in Tahrir has begun broadcasting statements through its loud speakers demanding that the police stand down as eighty percent of those in Tahrir are revolutionaries .

At first glance these actions may seem to make little sense. Not only was the curfew lifted a couple of weeks ago but the hour was already very late making it likely that the protests would have dispersed themselves within an hour or so especially since they lacked the numbers and supplies to wage a lengthy sit-in. When viewed in the context of both the current public discourse in Egypt and coming events of the next week or so, the rationale of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is revealed.

There is a large segment of the Egyptian society that is unsatisfied with the rushed transition process ushered in by a rushed referendum on constitutional amendments this past March. This referendum set the schedule for the transition process: Parliamentary elections this September (under a mixed system of both proportional and district representation) and presidential elections in November/December. This new government will them appoint a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution. This schedule favors the political organizations with established networks like the Muslim Brotherhood (despite its newly revealed deep schisms), the former National Democratic Party (NDP), the former opposition parties (like Wafd) and the Salafists. Furthermore, the schedule enjoys the support of the army (especially SCAF) who hopes to flee the public eye as soon as possible and return to its historical role of governing the Egyptian state behind the scenes in relative obscurity.

Youth coalitions, liberal intellectuals, and leftist social workers (among many other groups), however, lack the networks necessary to succeed in these rushed elections and fear an Islamist “hijacking” of the revolution. As such they have gathered under the banner of Constitution First in order to pressure SCAF into appointing a constitutional committee to draft a constitution or at the very least adopt a bill of rights that ensures equal rights for all citizens. To further these ends, these factions have gathered more than 15 million signatures on a petition and called for a Day of Rage on July 8, 2011.

In my opinion, given that acceding to these demands means delay the transition process, the SCAF elected to send a message to the Constitution First bloc tonight. Those protesting in front of the Ministry of the Interior are of the same political leanings of the Constitution First bloc. Thus, by violently protesting this demonstration, SCAF gives the bloc a taste of what is in store for them if they follow through with the Day of Rage on July 8, 2011.

This represents a gross miscalculation on the part of the SCAF. First, the behavior is out the textbook of the former regime and thereby enhances the already growing association between SCAF and Mubarak’s repression in the minds of Egyptians. Second, the Egyptian populace is no longer characterized as afraid, apathetic and meek. The January 25 Revolution shattered these barriers and as such violent repression is no longer a deterrence but a provocation.

Therefore – if I dare to hazard a prediction – the July 8, 2011 protests will not only go forward as planned but also likely include a relatively larger segment of the Egyptian society. Furthermore, the object of protest will not be limited to the schedule of the transition process but rather extend to include sharp criticism of the SCAF itself.

For those wanting more information:
Twitter Tags: #Tahrir, #June28, #July8.
http://mubasher.aljazeera.net/
http://bambuser.com/channel/tarekshalaby/broadcast/1778534

News Roundup:
Battle breaks out in Tahrir Square, once again [The Guardian]

Clashes between protesters and security forces engulfed Cairo once again on Tuesday night, as the fiercest street battles since the fall of Hosni Mubarak left dozens injured.

Fighting began after dark, following earlier protests by relatives of those killed during this spring’s uprising.

Armed central security police showered Tahrir Square with tear gas canisters and fired bullets into the air as several thousand demonstrators amassed and called for the resignation of Egypt‘s de facto head of state, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Some members of the crowd tore up paving stones and threw them towards police lines.

The Guardian witnessed successive volleys of tear gas launched into the square and surrounding streets by government forces, including towards areas where ambulances had congregated to treat the wounded. Injured protesters, mostly with head wounds and gas inhalation, were carried to safety on the shoulders of fellow demonstrators.

“Mubarak was nothing – this is the revolution,” said one man caught by tear gas.

Egypt: Fresh clashes erupt in Cairo’s Tahrir Square   [BBC]

The confrontation started on Tuesday when police cleared a sit-in outside the state TV building by families of those killed in February’s uprising, activists said.

The protesters later regrouped outside the interior ministry and clashes broke out with police.
Fighting escalated and moved to Tahrir Square where lines of riot police carrying shields sealed off the main streets and dozens of security vehicles parked in side streets.

As volleys of tear gas rained down, injured demonstrators were seen lying on the ground, some dazed and bloodied.

Tahrir: Revolution Revisited? [Dima Khatib - reporter AJE]

We were at a Cairo Tweet Up, a gathering of tweeps in Cairo. We ended up heading to Tahrir Square. By the time I got there it was midnight. There were about 2000 people as far as I could see and count. There were gas canisters being thrown every few minutes in different directions at the square from the surrounding streets blocked by the police. I could see just ordinary young men. Very few women were around. Some said to me : “Our martyrs sacrificed for us, we won’t let them down.”

Fresh clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square [AJE]

The ruling military council issued a statement on its Facebook page early on Wednesday.

It said the Tahrir events aimed at disturbing the security and the stability of the country in an organised plan.

“The regrettable events that have been taking place at Tahrir Square since last night and till dawn today have no justification except to undermine stability and security in Egypt according to a calculated and coordinated plan in which the blood of the revolution’s martyrs is used to cause a wedge between the revolutionaries and the security apparatus in Egypt to achieve these goals.

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Weekly Roundup 6/26

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Picture: Morocco’s Referendum – Who Will Vote?

MOROCCO:
- Morocco’s King Mohammed VI responded to demands for reform by proposing a new constitution that will be put to a vote on July 1. The more moderate opposition parties are campaigning for a “yes” vote, while others are pushing for a boycott of the referendum. Today tens of thousands took the streets on both sides of the issue.

LEBANON:
– The Lebanese army will stay on alert in Tripoli (city in northern Lebanon), for the next three to six months incase it needs to manage spillover from the conflict in Syria.

- Lebanese authorities have released all Syrian refugees who had been detained for not having proper identity papers. Most refugees arrived from the north.

- Rhetoric between the recently formed March 8th government and the March 14th opposition has intensified over the past two weeks. On Thursday, an official stated that the March 14th coalition seeks to topple the government through democratic means such as street protests.

SYRIA:
– Last Sunday members of the Syrian opposition announced the formation of a “National Council,” although no one really knows exactly who these people are or who they represent.

- Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad announced what, if implemented, would be two major concessions. In his speech on Monday, he called for a national dialogue and political reforms. However, protestors did not believe him and took to the streets chanting ‘Liar!’ The next day Assad announced a second round of general amnesty, although for many this measure is too little too late.

- Foreign Minister Walid Moallem made two odd statements this week. First, he reiterated the regime’s commitment to reform a day after the President’s speech. But this lost most of it legitimacy because it occurred on the same day that security forces raided the dorms of students who refused to join pro-government rallies at the University of Damascus (killing 3, wounding many others). Moallem’s second statement came in response to European plans to impose further sanctions on Syria. He said that sanctions would be tantamount to war, and that “we will forget that Europe is on the map.

- A small number of western journalists have been allowed back into Damascus, although they are under supervision by government minders. This is the first time since the start of protests in March that journalists have openly reported from inside Syria.

- On Thursday there were reports of Syrian troops massing near the Syria-Turkey border in the north. Some see this more as a signal to Turkey than an actual military operation.

- On Friday the EU officially announced further sanctions on Syria. This included sanctioning three members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who are accused of facilitating Assad’s crackdown.

- Also on Friday, the largest number of demonstrators yet took to the streets in defiance of the regime. As many as 20 protestors were killed when the government continued it’s crackdown on protestors. 

EGYPT:
– Egyptian Bedouins are demanding their rights as citizens. They say that currently they are treated as second-class citizens.

- Mohammed el-Orabi was appointed the new Egyptian Foreign Minister. El-Orabi, the former ambassador in Berlin, is replacing Nabil Elaraby was recently named the new chief of the Arab League.

- Last Sunday, the Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation (Fayza Abul Naga) declined a loan from the World Bank because the terms were ‘incompatible with national interest.’

- Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal handed in his resignation, which was accepted by PM Essam Sharaf but turned down by SCAF chairman and de facto President Hussein Tentawi.

- The state security court sentenced a businessman and two Israelis to twenty-five years a piece in prison for spying for Israel. The Israeli citizens were sentenced in absentia.

- Activists have threatened a million-man march on July 8th to protest the army general’s corrupt roadmap to democracy. They are demanding that elections, which are currently scheduled for September, be postponed until after a constitution is put in place.

- Today Senators McCain and Kerry met with field Marshal Tentawi and we reassured that a transition to civilian rule could happen quickly. The two politicians were traveling as part of business delegation to Egypt.

JORDAN:
– It has been a tough week for the media in Jordan. First, an assailant vandalized an Al Jazeera reporter’s car in Amman, and then the Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, Taher Odwan, resigned in protest of the lack of media freedoms. This was a blow to a government that is trying to weather the Arab Spring.

- In other news, the Jordanian government has granted citizenship to tens of thousands of Palestinians over the past three months.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE:
-Despite recent setbacks in the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says that he is committed to moving forward with the process.

- Israeli PM Netanyahu reportedly agreed to 1967 borders as the basis for peace negotiations if Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and resolve the refugee issues outside the Israeli borders.

- Abbas says that if the US can offer a viable solution to overcome the impasse in talks with Israel, that Palestine won’t seek statehood at the UN this September.

BAHRAIN:
– A top Bahrain Cleric and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the recent sentences given to 21 political activists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders. Eight were sentenced to life in prison, while 12 others go long jail terms.

- The government is planning to lift the ban on a leading opposition party (Waad), in the lead up to a national dialogue aimed at easing tensions in the small island nation.

YEMEN:
– Early in the week tens of thousands took to the street calling for Saleh’s son to give up power. The US is also urging an ‘immediate transfer of power.’

- The Yemeni state television administrator fired the news editor and 30 announcers for taking a anti-regime stance and siding with the youth revolution.

- Amid conflicting reports about when he will return to Yemen, President Saleh met with top political advisor Abdul-Karim al-Eryani in Riyadh. He health is said to be improving. Saleh was seriously injured in an assassination attempt, along with other top regime figures, including Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments and Guidance Mohammed Yahya Al-Fusil, who died in Riyadh earlier this week.

- This week at least 100 Yemeni soldiers were killed while battling militants in the southern town on Zinjibar. In addition, 60 prisoners escaped from jail, many of suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda. That said, the opposition, led by General Moshin has vowed to be a dependable ally in the fight against terrorism.

- Yemen’s economy is on the brink of collapse. There is a severe fuel shortage, and other basic services have been interrupted or suspended. The economy has lost over USD 5 billion over the last three months.

-Next week the UN is sending a team of human rights investigators to Yemen. The three-member delegation will spend ten days assessing the situation in the country.

KUWAIT:
-The prime minister of Kuwait – the nephew of the country’s ruler- survived a no-confidence vote in parliament.

IRAN:
– The rift between President Ahmadinejad and the more conservative parliament continues to widen. They continue to clash over issues big and small.

- Iran freed human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi after he spent a year in jail for spreading “propaganda against the regime.”  The government also set a new date for the trial of the two American hikers still in custody. The trial is supposed to conclude by the end of August.

LIBYA:
– The US has had a mixed week when it comes to Libya. Late last week NATO admitted to civilian deaths during a raid, an announcement that came in the lead up to a house vote on whether or not to continue funding operations. This caused skepticism among the public and NATO allies. Two days later the US imposed further sanctions on nine companies owned by the Libyan government. This Friday the house voted not to approve the campaign in Libya, but also voted against restricting funding for operations.

- It is being reported the Libyan rebels are holding secret talks with opposition members in Tripoli as well as indirect talks with members of the Gaddafi government.

- International officials and the opposition have created a detailed plan to rebuild Libya after Gaddafi leaves office. This comes as the defected foreign minister predicts that Gaddafi may leave within a few weeks.

- As of June 22 nineteen states recognized Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) as legitimately representing the Libyan people. Many others have implied legitimacy by sending diplomatic visitors or hosting rebel leaders. Even China has begun to warm up to the rebels. They even welcomed top foreign affairs official Mahmud Jibril to China for talks.

- Clashes between Qaddafi forces and rebels are moving to the Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli.

TUNISIA:
– This amusing article talks about how ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali was tricked into leaving the country.

- To add to his wounds, Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to 35 years in jail and fine of about $50 million. This was on the first of 93 cases against them. In addition, Ben Ali’s nephew was sentenced to 15 years for writing nearly half a million dollars worth of bad checks.

- The World Bank approved a $500 million 30-year loan to help support Tunisia through the transition process.

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Bahrain in the Arab Summer

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Written by contributor from abroad (name withheld for security)

Recently, Sarah Rangwala examined the complexities of the protests in Bahrain through two interviews conducted with two Bahraini citizens, human rights activist Maryman al-Khawaja and businesswoman Rasha Yousif. While these two views hardly constitute a representative sample of the opinions and controversies swirling around the island kingdom these days, this companion piece will provide a little more context for the situation in Bahrain going forward, especially given that many of the major figures in the February-March protests, including Maryam’s uncle, were recently sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

By this point, I’ve heard the term “Arab Spring” – with or without audible quotation marks – more times than I can count. While the name has a lot going for it, it is all to easy to forget the incredible diversity of problems and challenges facing reformers and demonstrators across the Middle East. In Bahrain, as we see in looking through these two interviews, the situation is far from the general conflict of unified people vs. corrupt government that we saw in Egypt and Tunisia (generalization, I know, but bear with me). To be certain, a large part of Bahrain’s population turned out to demonstrate against what they perceived as abusive actions and overreaching by the Bahraini government (largely consisting of Shiite groups but by no means limited to them); at the same time, though, a sizable sector of the population has little to no problem with the current government and sees the Spring protests as a violent, disruptive attack on the state of affairs in the nation. In being cast as Shiite agitators, the demonstrators in Bahrain have to face down not only the entirety of the state apparatus but also many of their fellow citizens.

As the smallest country in the Gulf, Bahrain will continue to be subject to influence and/or interference (or the attempt thereof) by powerful, outside actors, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States. Iran is typically presented as the bogeyman of the three by those backing the current Bahraini government. For Yousif, “Iran supported the uprising and it is now hated by most loyal and patriotic citizens.  To make things worst Iran started threatening the peace of Bahrain directly.” To be sure, there is little love lost between most Gulf residents and the Islamic Republic, but this tack winds up demonizing the Bahraini demonstrators as Shiite pawns of the Iranian clerics to the north. Even official U.S. statements, such as President Obama’s recent speech on events in the region, risk falling into this category; however, officials are usually scrupulously clear in pointing out that they are only concerned with Iran’s “opportunism” in interfering, while dismissing the Republic as the root instigator of the demonstrations.

Saudi Arabia is, of course, the elephant in the room, or perhaps the elephant on the island. For me, one of the defining images of the past spring was a video on Arabiya’s news network the day that Saudi Arabian and Emirati troops moved down the causeway linking Bahrain to the mainland of the Arabian Peninsula, effectively signaling the end of open demonstrations. Even if the King of Bahrain were able to request GCC military intervention (alKhawaja disputes this point in her interview), it seems unlikely that the GCC could move brigades of soldiers and armored cars into the Kingdom with such rapidity in the absence of a good deal of preemptive planning, regardless of the requests of the Bahraini government. While Yousif is correct in noting that the GCC force is “sought as a protector of vital entities in Bahrain”, the important question is just whose interests are being protected; I would suspect that the right to peaceful protest is not high on that list. (Certainly, “peaceful protest” may not be the most accurate term. Anti-government protesters fought back on more than one occasion, with the end result that such demonstrators were not entirely alone among the wounded or killed, although a brief comparison of the numbers involved on either side is required reading before judging that issue.)

And what of that that last name on the list? The United States government continues to take flak for its handling of Bahrain, much as Al-Jazeera’s reputation is starting to falter for its relatively shallow coverage of the Bahrain uprising (among other Gulf nations). The US still has clear strategic investments in the island, namely the base for the Navy’s 5th Fleet, that are unlikely to change in the near future. The gentle pressure for reforms is unlikely to sway criticism from activists that the US shares in responsibility for the events of the spring due to its continued support for the existing government, as noted by Maryam al-Khawaja. As much as the protests sweeping the region are not anti-American in the sense of mobs gathering to protest at the American embassy (a saving grace that the US State and Defense Departments have latched onto in their official commentary on events), the United States has certainly played a part in enabling and supporting many of the regimes that are now under increasing criticism in the region. Unfortunately, as the US is finding, its ability to influence events at this stage may not be equal to its role in bringing them about.

Also see: Human Rights First podcast on Bahrain (6/17)

June 1st marked the end of over two months of a state of emergency in Bahrain. Despite the push from the Bahraini government to convince the world that things are back to normal, the situation on the ground has not improved. The motivations behind lifting the oxymoronic “state of national safety” may have been more of economic interest than a real assessment of the country’s stability. Listen to this week’s podcast and learn more about Bahraini human rights defenders cope with the continuing crackdown post-June 1st.

Formula 1’s decision to restore and then immediately cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix this year is yet another PR setback for the government, as they failed to convince the international community that the country is safe enough for such an event. What is very clear is that the crackdown continues to be rampant in Bahrain, suppressing the pro-democracy movement using fear and violence.

Posted in Bahrain, Other, Syria, Uncategorized | Leave a comment