Archives for April 2011

News roundup — April 30

Syrians escaping violence flee to Turkey

About 250 people raced across the Syrian border into Turkey, government officials said Saturday, a flight that reflects the fear and violence gripping the Arab nation.

The people hustled to the southern Turkish Yaylidagi district in Hatay province on Friday afternoon, according to local and federal government officials.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said the government is trying to determine more about the people and how and why they chose to leave Syria.

“They just came to the border post and want to go in without passports. They were let in,” Unal said. “We are trying to figure out whether this is an individual event or the tip of the iceberg.” (CNN)

Syrian army units ‘clash over crackdown’

Members of two Syrian army units have clashed with each other over carrying out orders to crack down on protesters in Deraa, the southern city at the heart of an anti-government uprising, according to a witness and human rights groups.

More than 500 people have been killed across Syria – about 100 in Deraa alone – since the popular revolt against the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad began in mid-March, according to human rights groups.

While the infighting in Deraa does not indicate any decisive splits in the military, it is significant because the army has always been seen as a bastion of support for the regime. The Syrian military has denied that there have been any splits in the military. (Al Jazeera)

Syrians under siege

“L.A” writes: Syria is known for its complicated sectarian mix. The Assad government and ruling Baath party are run by Alawites, a Shia sect followed by around 12 percent of the population. The majority of Syrians are Sunnis, but there are also Christians of all denominations (10 percent), other Shia, Druze, and a tiny Jewish minority. In recent weeks, the government has cited the threat of Islamist extremism as a reason to crack down on protesters. However, despite the veils and niqabs I encountered, there was little evidence in Douma of either an Islamist or sectarian element to the political demands being made.

“We don’t have Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) in Douma,” one man told us. “They’re just conservative around here.” Later, Alaa said the same thing, explaining that much of the local population belongs to the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam, the most conservative of the four Sunni schools. But there were also Shia and more secular people in the crowd. One young man I met, “Imad,” was secular, university-educated, and worked for a large company. He had been demonstrating alongside laborers wearing dusty clothes and the red and white keffiyeh, and religious conservatives. The diversity was also apparent in the different colored ribbons worn as armbands by the mourners—green for the Shia, red for the Sunni.

In other protest cities, such as Latakia and Baniyas, the demonstrations have been even more mixed, with many Shia and Christians participating. Protests in different parts of the country have generally cut across both religious and ethnic divisions: Ismailis (a Shia sect) in Salamiya near Hama, Kurds in the north, Armenians in Latakia, and Druze in Suweida. (NYRB Blog)

Thousands protest in Damascus after Syrian crackdown

Syria’s loosely organized pro-democracy movement drew tens of thousands of people into the heart of Damascus and cities across the country Friday, a major victory against a government campaign of violence that has killed hundreds of peaceful protesters.

Activists said security forces, who have deployed tanks in some cities, killed 64 people Friday as they tried to crush the 6-week-old protest movement.

In Washington, the White House said President Obama had signed an executive order imposing sanctions on three Syrian officials the United States believes engaged in human rights abuses. (Los Angeles Times)

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Libyan rebel forces reject Muammar Gaddafi’s ceasefire offer

Libyan opposition forces have rejected a ceasefire offer by Muammar Gaddafi and dismissed his regime’s claims that loyalist forces had cut off access to the crucial seaport in the besieged city of Misrata.

In a rambling, defiant speech on state television on Saturday, in which he declared that he was “more sacred [to Libyans] than the emperor of Japan is to his people”, Gaddafi called for talks with Nato, which is conducting air strikes against his forces.

“The door to peace is open,” Gaddafi said. “You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, UK, America, come, we will negotiate with you. Why are you attacking us?”

More than two months into the Libyan revolution, loyalist forces are becoming increasing stretched. In the east, they are preventing the rebel advance near the town of Ajdabiya; in the far west, they are trying to quell a more recent uprising near the border with Tunisia. And just 130 miles from Tripoli, the battle for the industrial city of Misrata continues, with at least six people killed before noon on Saturday. (The Guardian)

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In shift, Egypt warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel’s foes

Egypt is charting a new course in its foreign policy that has already begun shaking up the established order in the Middle East, planning to open the blockaded border with Gaza and normalizing relations with two of Israel and the West’s Islamist foes, Hamas and Iran.

Egyptian officials, emboldened by the revolution and with an eye on coming elections, say that they are moving toward policies that more accurately reflect public opinion. In the process they are seeking to reclaim the influence over the region that waned as their country became a predictable ally of Washington and the Israelis in the years since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The first major display of this new tack was the deal Egypt brokered Wednesday to reconcile the secular Palestinian party Fatah with its rival Hamas. “We are opening a new page,” said Ambassador Menha Bakhoum, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. “Egypt is resuming its role that was once abdicated.”

Egypt’s shifts are likely to alter the balance of power in the region, allowing Iran new access to a previously implacable foe and creating distance between itself and Israel, which has been watching the changes with some alarm. “We are troubled by some of the recent actions coming out of Egypt,” said one senior Israeli official, citing a “rapprochement between Iran and Egypt” as well as “an upgrading of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas.” (New York Times)

Egypt warns Israel: Don’t interfere with opening of Gaza border crossing

Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel’s concern, Army Radio reported on Saturday.

Egypt announced this week that it intended to permanently open the border crossing with Gaza within the next few days.

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt’s uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now. (Haaretz)

Ending the rift between Hamas and Fatah

Adam Shatz writes: The agreement is arguably one of the first diplomatic fruits of the Egyptian revolution. But Barack Obama also deserves some of the credit. Abbas has been humiliated by Obama, and he is clearly angry. As he told Newsweek, ‘It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder, and he removed the ladder and said to me: “Jump.” Three times, he did it.’ The Obama administration also urged Abbas to oppose a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding that Israel ‘immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory’. ‘It’s better for you and for us and for our relations,’ Obama told Abbas by phone, before enumerating the sanctions Palestinians would suffer if the vote went ahead, and warning that Congress might not approve $475 million in aid. In fact, there was little the PA could do to advance Palestinian interests that wouldn’t have put US aid at risk: soon after the unity agreement was announced, Washington chimed in with Tel Aviv’s denunciations of Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation’, and three members of Congress, led by the House foreign affairs chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, threatened to cut off aid.

But Obama may have done Abbas a favour: by revealing in the starkest terms the unconditional nature of US support for Israel – and how slender the rewards are for being America’s man in Ramallah – he has forced Abbas to do something that, for once, may win him some Palestinian goodwill. And he may just be able to sell the agreement – in other words, the inclusion of a party that has not renounced violence or recognised Israel – to the EU, which has become increasingly exasperated with Obama’s timidity on Palestine. The unity agreement may turn out to be a bluff, Abbas’s way of reminding his patrons that he has other options, and that they can’t simply ignore Palestinian interests. But perhaps Abbas and the old men in Fatah are at last rediscovering the virtues of self-reliance. (LRB Blog)


War and truth in Libya and Palestine

Tarak Barkawi writes:

We are told that war is the pursuit of politics by other means. Attributed to Clausewitz, the thought is actually rather comforting. War may be violent but at least it’s rational. It is a sometimes necessary strategy to achieve objectives.

A world is imagined in which armed force is an instrument that can be calibrated, here a scalpel, there a hammer. Violence – the destruction of bodies and things – becomes a means to be assessed for its efficacy in attaining ends.

How much ‘punishment’ will the people of Gaza take before they get rid of Hamas? How much ‘pressure’ needs to be applied before the Gaddafi regime collapses?

Experts offer authoritative analyses. PowerPoint slides are produced, briefings given. Leaders make informed decisions. The balloon goes up. Operation Cast Lead or Unified Protector or some other begins.

Speeches follow; political, legal and moral justifications are made. Politicians and their advisors claim truth in the face of war. They speak of their rational command of force, of the effects it will have among the target populations.

Clausewitz also likened war to a wrestling match. Players in a game know it can take on a life of its own. Each move is countered, and then countered again. They are caught in a system neither side controls, each seeking a dominance that often turns out fleeting.

Like many veteran soldiers, Clausewitz well understood that the enemy always has a vote, that plans are cast aside on first contact, and that outcomes are ultimately unpredictable. Amidst the fog of war, calculations must be made with variable quantities. It was precisely for these reasons that he enjoined politicians and generals to think so carefully about their objectives in going to war.

What Clausewitz actually teaches us is that war is far more likely to make us its servants than we are to make war our instrument. War subjects us to its dynamics, it draws in ever greater resources, and it changes everything, especially but not only for those caught in the direct grip of its violence.


When Montgomery comes to Nabi Saleh

By Mark Perry

On March 24, the Israeli government arrested Bassem Tamimi, a 44-year-old resident of the small Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is just west of Ramallah. Tamimi was arrested for leading a group of his neighbors in protest marches on a settlement that had “expropriated” the village’s spring — the symbolic center of Nabi Saleh’s life.

Tamimi was brought before the Ofer military court and charged with “incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, disobeying the duty to report to questioning” and “obstruction of justice” — for giving young Palestinians advice on how to act under Israeli police interrogation. He was remanded to an Israeli military prison to await a hearing and a trial. The detention of Tamimi is not a formality: under Israeli military decree 101 he is being charged with attempting “verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.” As in Syria, this is an “emergency decree” disguised as protecting public security. It carries a sentence of 10 years.

The arrest of Tamimi marked only the most recent escalation in Israel’s campaign to suffocate the Nabi Saleh movemen: in the two months prior to his arrest, Israeli officials detained more than 18 Nabi Saleh youths; over the last two years, nearly 15 percent of Nabi Saleh’s population has spent time in Israeli jails; half of those arrested have been under the age of 18 and the youngest of them was 11. But what is extraordinary about the Nabi Saleh campaign is its effectiveness. The protestors are trained in non-violent tactics. “Our strategic choice of a popular struggle — as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives, and future — is a declaration that we do not harm human lives,” Tamimi has said. “The very essence of our activity opposes killing.”

Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the movement. On the morning of April 8, about 80 villagers marched from Nabi Saleh’s main street towards the settlement. As they crossed into some nearby fields, they were attacked by IDF soldiers with teargas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. The villagers fled, but then reorganized themselves, defiantly linking arms in front of the soldiers. Again, the IDF responded harshly and, by that evening, had arrested six villagers. But these are small incidents in a continuing battle. The protests go on day after day, week after week — and have over the course of the last four years.

Nabi Saleh does not stand alone. The non-violent protests actually began eight years ago in small communities near Israel’s security wall, then took root in the villages of Mas’ha and Budrus; the protests have now spread to towns and villages across the West Bank, encompassing mass rural movements from Hebron in the south to Nablus in the north. The protests have involved dozens to hundreds, and on rare occasions, thousands of villagers. But pride of place for this widespread non-violent resistance movement belongs to Bil’in, a village that (like Nabi Saleh) has seen much of its land taken over by a settlement. The leader of the Bil’in protests is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the head of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall. Like Tamimi, Abu Rahmah has trained his young activists in the principles of non-violence, sparking movable protests that the IDF has found impossible to suppress.

Abu Rahmah, a high school teacher at the Latin Patriarch School in Ramallah, began organizing Bil’in’s protests in 2004, even as the violence of the Second Intifada was beginning to wane. Every Friday after prayers, Abu Rahmah would lead a group of Bil’in residents on a protest march towards a local settlement — and every Friday his march would be intercepted by the IDF.

In one demonstration, an IDF sniper used a .22 caliber rifle to disburse the protesters, killing a Palestinian boy. Twenty-one unarmed demonstrators, among them five children, have been killed in non-violent West Bank demonstrations since the beginnings of the movement. In the village of Nil’in in 2008, American activist Tristan Anderson was paralyzed after an IDF soldier fired a high velocity tear gas canister at his head from a distance of 15 meters. In December of 2009, IDF soldiers raided Abu Rahmah’s home, arrested him for incitement, and sentenced him to 12 months in prison. At the end of his sentence, the IDF asked his sentence to be extended for another four months, describing Abu Rahmah as “dangerous.” The court agreed.

Abu Rahmah has become a symbol of the protests. While in prison, he smuggled letters to his supporters, including one — written this last February — that has become a kind of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” of the movement. “Ofer is an Israeli military base inside the occupied territories that serves as a prison and military court,” he wrote. “The prison is a collection of tents enclosed by razor wire and an electrical fence, each unit containing four tents, 22 prisoners per tent. Now, in winter, wind and rain comes through the cracks in the tent and we don’t have sufficient blankets, clothes, and other basic necessities. Food is a critical issue here in Ofer, there’s not enough. We survive by buying ingredients from the prison canteen that we prepare for our tent. We have one small hot plate, and this is also our only source of warmth.”

One month after penning this letter, Abu Rahmah was released, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s arrested again — and shut inside one of the half-dozen Israeli military prisons and administrative facilities that dot the West Bank. Israeli tactics, the mass arrests, and the use of live fire have been condemned by a long list of human rights organization. But not by the United States.

Just how much do the Bil’in-Nabi Saleh protests worry Israel? One widely circulated article from the popular Israeli political daily Yediot Ahronot described Naji Tamimi, who helped his cousin Bassem organize the Nabi Saleh movement, as “a pied piper” who “fans the flames of violence.” (Despite the fact that not one Israeli has died as a result of the protests.) The article went further: “Even though it hasn’t been proven, it seems that sources connected to the Palestinian Authority are directing the activities and that the funds paid out to the youths is coming from donations from organizations registered abroad.” Not proven — because it’s not true. In fact, while Fateh and Hamas officials monitor the protests (PA officials have come to Nabi Saleh — before scuttling back to their offices in Ramallah), they have been careful not to interfere in them. They view the protests as a credible and powerful movement that is better left alone. Hamas leaders agree. “We wish them well. We hope they succeed. We support them. We are staying away,” a senior Hamas official says.

A group of international activists have been helping the Nabi Saleh protests. Jonathan Pollak, a 29-year-old native of Tel Aviv, has found himself at the center of the protests — and has written about them extensively. “I grew up in a progressive home,” he says, “but I don’t think that anyone in my family could be described as a radical. I came to Nabi Saleh and realized I had to help. What’s happening here is just wrong.” Joseph Dana, a New York native and journalist, works alongside Pollak. He came to Israel to find his Jewish identity. “I haven’t found it,” he says. “What I found instead was an army that arrests children.”

Pollak, Dana, and other international activists are working to bring attention to the Nabi Saleh movement and have escorted diplomats from Europe through the village. A few low-level American diplomats from Jerusalem have come to Nabi Saleh, but no senior American officials have visited. “The international community has been asking for years where the Palestinian nonviolent movement is,” Joseph Dana says from his home in Jerusalem. “Well, here it is. And the Americans are nowhere to be found.”

Pollak and Dana are being modest. While the events at Nabi Saleh and Bil’in have been largely ignored in the United States, they have sparked a simmering conflict between Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers. The IDF has taken the side of the settlers, arresting hundreds of young Palestinians (many of them minors) and using (in one case) the testimony of a 14-year-old boy to condemn the movement’s leadership. “They kept him up all night, shouting at him,” Dana says. “He was frightened, alone. Finally, he did what they wanted. If you can imagine, Israeli soldiers subjecting a child to mental torture.” While the world’s attention has been diverted by the events in Tahrir Square, Israeli officials have struck back against what may well be the greatest threat to their settlement project — condemning non-violent protesters as “terrorists” and standing aside while settlers have taken more and more land from unarmed and defenseless people. Israel has poured increased funds into countering the protests, deployed more and more soldiers to stop them, and escalated the arrest of its leaders — breaking down the doors of their homes in pre-dawn raids designed to frighten and intimidate them. Nothing has worked.

Unfunded and unnoticed, Bassem Tamimi, his cousin Naji, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, and a handful of others have organized and trained battalions of young men and women in the art of non-violent resistance. Bassem Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the protests. They are growing, and spreading. The movement is now in the hands of Bassem’s wife, Nariman, who vows to fight on. She has already spent time in an Israeli jail, but remains undeterred. “There is no knowing what the future holds,” she says from her home in Nabi Saleh, “but our path is clear and so is our goal. We know well that it is possible to achieve it, and we will continue to fight for it. To a great extent, the question of our victory is also one that should be directed to the American people and their government — are you on the side of justice and victory, or on the side of continued oppression?”

The Arab Spring has seen revolutions come to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. In each revolution, U.S. President Barack Obama has praised the crowds seeking democracy and freedom. Again and again he has talked of the need to fight extremist violence. He has paid homage to the young men and women who have brought freedom to Egypt and Tunisia. He has supported those defending themselves in the streets of Benghazi, Sanaa, and Damascus. His talisman has been non-violence, his pole star the American civil rights movement. In Cairo, in June of 2009, President Obama linked the Palestinian quest for freedom to the American civil rights movement. “Palestinians must abandon violence,” he said. “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.” He was right. So why is it that now — when finally, Montgomery has come to Nabi Saleh — he chooses to remain silent?

Mark Perry is a military and political analyst and author of eight books, including Partners In Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace, and most recently Talking To Terrorists.


News roundup — April 29

Scores killed on Syria’s ‘day of rage’

Dozens of people have been shot dead by Syrian security forces, activists claim, as tens of thousands took part in anti-government rallies dubbed a “day of rage”.

Activists said at least 50 protesters were killed across the country on Friday, although Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the death toll.

At least 15 people were reported killed near Deraa where security forces fired on thousands of protesters trying to enter the besieged southern city, sources told Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin.

Deraa has been the scene of regular demonstrations since protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s rule began last month, but the city has also borne the brunt of weeks of government repression.

The government claims its forces are battling “extremist and terrorist groups in the town” and said two soldiers were killed on Friday.

“Deraa has been under siege since Monday morning. Residents from the surrounding villages were trying to break the siege as they tried to get supplies,” our correspondent said. (Al Jazeera)

Crunch-time for the Syrian regime

Peter Harling writes: Seen from Damascus, the crisis that is gripping Syria is fast approaching crunch-time. The regime appears to have stopped pretending it can offer a way out. More than ever, it portrays the confrontation as a war waged against a multifaceted foreign enemy which it blames for all casualties. This narrative, which informs the security services’ brutal response to protests, has cost the authorities the decisive battle for perceptions abroad, at home, and even in central Damascus — a rare bubble of relative calm that has now entered into a state of utter confusion.

The primary benefit of observing events from the Syrian capital is to measure just how unreliable all sources of information have become. Local media tell a tale of accusations and denials in which, incredibly, security services are the sole victims, persecuted by armed gangs. Where the regime initially acknowledged civilian martyrs and sought to differentiate between legitimate grievances and what it characterized as sedition, such efforts have come to an end.

For its part, the foreign media, denied access by the regime, relies virtually exclusively on material produced by on-the-ground protesters, the dependability of which has proven uneven. The novel phenomenon of “eye-witnesses” further blurs the picture. Outside observers have sought to counter the state-imposed blackout by recruiting correspondents, often haphazardly, flooding the country with satellite phones and modems. Several cases of false testimonies have cast doubts on such procedures but, for lack of an alternative, they largely continue to shape coverage of events. (Foreign Policy)

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The Arab Spring reaches Palestine

Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the siege of Gaza about to be lifted, and Washington’s favorite Palestinian, Salam Fayyad, directed to vacate his position as prime minister — these aren’t the changes Obama believes in. But since all that the US and Israel have been intent on doing in the name of the so-called peace process is preserving the status quo, they have effectively consigned themselves to the roles of political spectators in the New Middle East. Expect a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Israel Lobby and its representatives on Capitol Hill over the coming days.

In an editorial, The Guardian says:

The Arab spring has finally had an impact on the core issue of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It came in the form of a draft agreement between Fatah and Hamas which took everyone by surprise. There are three chief reasons why, after four years of bitter and violent conflict between the rivals, Fatah acceded to all of Hamas’s political conditions to form a national unity government.

The first was the publication of the Palestine papers, the secret record of the last fruitless round of talks with Israel. The extent to which Palestinian negotiators were prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate Israel surprised even hardened cynics. The Palestinian Authority found itself haemorrhaging what little authority it had left. The second was the loss to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, of his closest allies in Hosni Mubarak and his henchman Omar Suleiman. While they were still around, Gaza’s back door was locked. But the third reason had little to do with either of the above: Abu Mazen’s faith in Barack Obama finally snapped. For a man who dedicated his career to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation, the turning point came when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement-building. In doing so, the US vetoed its own policy. To make the point, the resolution was drafted out of the actual words Hillary Clinton used to condemn construction. Fatah’s frustration with all this has now taken political form.

Israel’s politicians reacted darkly to the news of reconciliation. From right to left, they shared an assumption which is out of date. It is that they retain the ability – and the right – to dictate what sort of state Palestinians will build on their borders. Having spent years fashioning the environment, the penny has yet to drop that a future environment composed of free Egyptians, Jordanians and even possibly Syrians could well fashion Israel’s borders. Even after Mubarak fell, the consensus was that Cairo was so preoccupied with internal problems that it lacked the energy to make foreign policy.

Not so. Yesterday foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi announced that Egypt would shortly be lifting the siege of Gaza. These events pose a direct challenge to the status quo that Israel, the US and the EU have fashioned. Do they now subvert the will of the Egyptians they claim to champion? Does the US do what it did the last time Fatah and Hamas reconciled at Mecca, and pull the plug on the unity government? Do the Quartet threaten to withdraw the PA’s funds, because, as is very likely, Salam Fayyad will no longer be there to disburse them? The US could twist Fatah’s arm, but Fatah might just sign on the dotted line all the same.

Jack Shenker reports:

The emergence of a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah on Wednesday took most observers by surprise, but behind the scenes a new cast of players had been moving the relevant pieces into place ever since a popular revolution ousted the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

His regime had long declared publicly that Palestinian unity was a key foreign policy objective, and the rhetoric made sense. Hamas was proving a troubling neighbour in the Gaza Strip on Egypt’s north-eastern border and Cairo had every interest in locking the political Islamists down into a more moderate political framework. Moreover, Egypt’s stewardship of the negotiations boosted its flagging regional status and helped to ensure US political support – and money – kept flowing towards Cairo.

Egypt’s hated spymaster Omar Suleiman was placed in charge of the unity drive, but below the surface Egypt was more interested in the appearance of reconciliation talks than it was in the reality. Israel and Washington had no genuine desire to see a unified Palestinian government, and Egypt’s thinking followed suit – until, that is, nationwide protests erupted against the regime in late January, and Suleiman was promoted to vice-president in a failed attempt to shore up Mubarak’s position.

Given the country’s internal chaos, few expected his replacement, Murad Muwafi, to devote much energy to the issue of Palestinian factionalism, but in fact Muwafi took the issue seriously – so seriously, in fact, that no fewer than five Israeli delegations were dispatched to his offices in the space of a few weeks in an effort to ward off any unity deal.

Muwafi’s stance was shaped partly by the ascendancy of the career diplomat Nabil el-Arabi to the position of foreign minister in Egypt’s interim government. Arabi had a reputation for saying some decidedly undiplomatic things regarding Egypt’s close alliance with Israel under presidents Mubarak and Sadat, and as part of an internal battle to wrest control of some policy issues away from the secret services – where they had drifted under Mubarak – and back under the auspices of the foreign ministry, he began making loud and relatively critical noises about Israel, marking an important shift in rhetoric. “It is time to stop managing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it’s time to end the conflict,” he said earlier this month.

Egypt, in short, was now ready to take Palestinian reconciliation seriously, and that shift in mindset coincided with further regional turmoil: the uprising in Damascus, where most of Hamas’s leadership is based. With the long-term future of their host – Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad – in doubt, the group’s top brass knew it could not risk alienating the Egyptians at the very moment Cairo was finally mounting a genuine push to bring Hamas and Fatah together.

Haaretz reports:

Egypt’s foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to 10 days, steps will be taken in order to alleviate the “blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation.”

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt’s uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.

The Guardian reports:

Hamas has insisted on the departure of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister favoured by Israel and the west, under a deal agreed with its rival faction Fatah for a unity government, according to sources in Gaza.

The Islamist organisation also said it would keep control of the Gaza Strip under the accord, which is expected to be formally signed by leaders of the two factions in Cairo next week.

The plan drew further criticism on Thursday from Israel, which has said it would not deal with a Palestinian government that included members of Hamas.

However, the interim Hamas-Fatah government will have no involvement in negotiations with Israel. Talks will still be conducted by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, headed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.


Out of Syria’s darkness come tales of terror

Robert Fisk writes:

In Damascus, the posters – in their tens of thousands around the streets – read: “Anxious or calm, you must obey the law.” But pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez have been taken down, by the security police no less, in case they inflame Syrians.

There are thieves with steel-tipped rubber coshes on the Damascus airport road at night, and in the terminal the cops ask arriving passengers to declare iPods and laptops. In the village of Hala outside Deraa, Muslim inhabitants told their Christian neighbours to join the demonstrations against the regime – or leave.

And they are true. Syrians arriving in Lebanon are bringing the most specific details of what is going on inside their country, of Fifth Brigade soldiers fighting the armed units of Maher Assad’s Fourth Brigade outside Deraa, of random killings around Damascus by the ever-growing armed bands of Shabiha (“the mafia”) from the Alawite mountains, of massive stocking up of food. One woman has just left her mother in the capital with 10 kilos of pasta, 10 kilos of rice, five kilos of sugar, box after box of drinking water.

In Deraa – surrounded, without electricity or water or supplies – the price of bread has risen 500 per cent and men are smuggling food into the city over the fields at night.

But it is the killings which terrify the people. Are they committed by the Shabiha from the port city of Lattakia – created by the Assad family in the 70s to control smuggling and protection rackets – or by the secret police to sow a fear that might break the uprising against Assad? Or by the murderers who thrive amid anarchy and lawlessness? Three men carrying sacks of vegetables outside Damascus at night were confronted by armed men last week. They refused to stop. So they were executed.


News roundup — April 28

Gaddafi arms Libyan ‘home guard’ – minimum age 17

Muammar Gaddafi is arming Libyan 17-year-olds to build a “home front” against Nato military intervention and the possibility of rebels from the east of the country reaching largely loyalist towns and cities in the west.

As part of the drive towards an unofficial civilian army, the government is releasing thousands of AK-47 assault rifles into communities and is organising classes in the use of weapons.

At a women’s training centre in the town of Sbia, 30 miles south of Tripoli, young women crowded round a trestle table as a soldier wearing camouflage fatigues and thick red lipstick demonstrated how to field-strip and reassemble the guns.

Officials said the minimum age for weapons training was 17, although the centre was crowded with girls as young as seven who were schooled in loyalist chants and waving portraits of Gaddafi. (The Guardian)

EU scorns Bahrain over death penalties

The death sentence imposed on four Bahrainis caught up in the Shiite uprising is a “deplorable” act, the president of the European Parliament said Thursday.

Bahraini authorities announced via the state-run news agency that four men were sentenced to death and three others were given life-in-prison terms for the reported killing of two police officers during demonstrations in March.

Bahrain is facing international scrutiny for its response to the Shiite uprising. Opposition leaders accuse the ruling Sunni minority of cracking down on healthcare workers and hospital patients in order to downplay the severity of the violence. (UPI)

Bahrain ‘torture service’ official to attend royal wedding

The former head of an agency accused of torture and human rights abuses is expected to be a guest at Friday’s royal wedding, the Guardian has learned.

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa is a former head of Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) and will attend the wedding in his role as the current Bahraini ambassador to London.

British sources confirmed he had been invited and a spokesperson for the Bahraini embassy in London said he was expected to attend. (The Guardian)


The post-Islamist revolutions

Asef Bayat writes:

How should we make sense of the revolts that have engulfed the Arab world? Some observers see them as postmodern revolutions, diffused and leaderless, with no fixed ideology. Others view them as the next wave of democratic and liberal revolutions. Most commonly, they are described as youth revolutions, since young people played a key role in initiating them. Still others argue that they may be Islamist revolutions and will turn the region into a theocracy resembling Iran. In the United States, this is the position that many Republicans hold. The Iranian hard-liners concur, insisting that the Arab revolts are inspired by Iran’s 1979 Islamic takeover.

Religious factions have been involved in the Arab protests to an extent — al-Nahda has in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood has in Egypt and Syria, and the Islamic opposition has in Yemen, for example. But in truth, the revolutions transcend the Islamist politics that reigned in the region just a few years ago. In a 2008 essay on the future of Islamic revolutions, I suggested that the Iranian experience “may well remain the first and the last Islamic Revolution of our time,” for the “growth of democratic sensibilities and movements [in the Middle East] is likely to push Islamism into the ‘post-Islamist’ course, paving the way for a democratic change in which an inclusive Islam may play a significant role. The outcome may be termed ‘post-Islamist refo-lutions’ [a mix of reforms and revolutions].”

Post-Islamism is not anti-Islamic or secular; a post-Islamist movement dearly upholds religion but also highlights citizens’ rights. It aspires to a pious society within a democratic state. Early examples of such movements include the reform movement in Iran in the late 1990s and the country’s Green Movement today, Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party, Egypt’s Hizb al-Wasat, Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), and Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Each was originally fundamentalist but over time came to critique Islamist excess, its violation of democratic rights, and its use of religion as a tool to sanctify political power. They all eventually opted to work within the democratic state.

The protest movements underlying the current revolutions seem set to follow these earlier post-Islamist experiments. So far, religious rhetoric has been remarkably absent, even though the participants of the Middle East’s many uprisings remain overwhelmingly people of faith. In Tunisia, protesters’ central objective was to establish a democratic government. Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the founder of Tunisia’s main Islamist party — Islamic Nahda — has publicly rejected a Khomeini-style state and has declined to run for president in future elections. Similarly, in Egypt the revolution demanded “change, freedom, and social justice” and was broadly secular. In fact, the major religious groups — Gamaiyya Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiyya, a Salafi movement that controls 500 mosques and scores of schools and associations; al-Azhar, the main establishmentarian Islamic institution; and the Coptic Church did not initially back the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood’s old guard joined reluctantly and only after being pushed by the group’s younger members.

Libya’s rebel movement and provisional government, the National Council, is composed not of Islamists or al Qaeda members but of a mix of the secular and faithful, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, regime defectors, and activists working to end Muammar al-Gaddafi’s oppression. According to their spokesman, Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, a human rights lawyer, Islamist presence is minimal, since the country’s Islamists were, for the most part, crushed by Qaddafi long ago. And in Yemen and Syria, where protesters are also demanding democracy, there has also been no evidence of a major Islamist presence. In Bahrain, of course, the protests have taken on a sectarian dimension, since the monarchy is Sunni and the population is Shia, but the mainstream opposition still has largely secular demands: an elected government, a free press, the right to establish organizations, and the end to religious discrimination.


Arab Spring: a discussion on Libya, Egypt and the Mideast

A discussion on Libya, Egypt and the Mideast with Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal, author of “Miral” and journalist Issandr El Amrani on Democracy Now!


God save the Arab kings?

Brian Whitaker writes:

One of the less-discussed facts about the wave of uprisings in the Middle East is that the Arab monarchies are still relatively unscathed. The regimes most seriously challenged by popular protests – in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria – have all been republics. This may seem odd to Europeans whose revolutions over the centuries have been mainly about overthrowing kings.

To some extent, the apparent resilience of Arab monarchies may be a matter of luck. Most of them are in the Gulf and they have oil, which means they can (and do) use their money to buy off discontent. That does not apply to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, however, and oil wealth has not saved the Gaddafi regime from trouble in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Another possible explanation is that Arab monarchs, in the eyes of many of their citizens, have a stronger claim to legitimacy than republican leaders who came to power – or clung on to it – in dubious circumstances.

The monarchies base their legitimacy on religious or tribal roots. The rulers of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the Emirates all came from old and prominent tribes and the “right” to rule was derived from their families’ status.

The Sabah family, for instance, was a clan of the Anizah tribe which migrated from Nejd – the central plateau of Saudi Arabia – to Kuwait in the 18th century and has ruled locally ever since. The Khalifa family was another clan from the same tribe that had arrived in Bahrain about the same time. The Thani family that rules Qatar is a branch of the Bani Tameem tribe and also arrived from Nejd in the 18th century.

The Saudi royal family has tribal roots too, though its main claim to legitimacy today is religious – so much so that the king’s religious title, Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines (Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam) takes precedence over his royal title.

Similarly, the king of Jordan is official guardian of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, regarded as Islam’s third holiest site. Jordan’s current monarch, Abdullah II, also boasts of being a “43rd generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad”. Meanwhile the king of Morocco embodies both “spiritual and temporal authority” and is known as Amir al-Mu’mineen – the prince (or commander) of the believers.

Although rule by birthright might seem an inherently objectionable form of government, the tribal and religious background makes it difficult to challenge in what are often highly traditional and patriarchal societies. In the monarchies where there have been significant protests, such as Morocco, Oman and Jordan, demonstrators have been demanding reform but without questioning the ruler’s right to govern – which is still very much a taboo. (Bahrain is a special case, where a Sunni Muslim minority rules over a Shia majority, making the legitimacy question much more obvious.)


Gaza’s Salafis under scrutiny

Jared Malsin writes:

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were shocked the week before last when an Italian activist and journalist, Vittorio Arrigoni, was kidnapped and then murdered by a self-proclaimed Salafi jihadi group. Arrigoni, a bighearted man who I met several times during a recent two-month stay in Gaza, was well known around the Strip as a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. “I come from a partisan family,” he once told an interviewer. His grandparents had fought and died while fighting fascism in Italy. “For this reason,” he said, “probably, in my DNA, there are particles that push me to struggle.”

In a YouTube video Arrigoni’s captors demanded that Gaza’s Hamas government release Salafi prisoners from its jails within 30 hours or they would execute their hostage. With police closing in, the captors apparently decided not to wait for their own deadline and killed him the same day. Last Tuesday, Hamas-affiliated police and security forces surrounded three suspects in a house in the Nuseirat refugee camp. Nuseirat is where the Salafi group Tawhid wa Al-Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad) is based. As documented in a video, Hamas authorities brought Hisham Sa’idini, the leader of Tawhid wa Al-Jihad, whose release the kidnappers demanded, from prison in an attempt to negotiate their surrender. Police also summoned the mother of one of the suspects, a Jordanian citizen, to aid in the negotiating process. According to Hamas officials, the standoff ended in a shootout in which the Jordanian threw a grenade at his two accomplices then shot himself.

In the initial days after the murder, Hamas officials insinuated that the perpetrators of this inexplicable crime were Israeli agents, although they were reluctant to make this statement unequivocally when speaking on the record. Of course, no evidence has emerged publicly to support this conspiracy theory. Others, particularly in right-wing Israeli and U.S. circles, seized on Arrigoni’s murder in order to depict the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian society at large, as a monolithic den of fanatics. It ought to go without saying that this is not the case. Gaza’s people, who belong to a wide and overlapping spectrum of religious and political views, universally condemned the murder. Similarly, all political parties, including Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and even Salafi leaders, denounced the killing.

Beyond the tragic events of the story itself, however, Arrigoni’s death highlights a complex political context, a web of power relations among various actors in Gaza including Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Salafis, other Palestinian factions, and the international community. At the root of these dynamics is the Israeli and Western policy of isolating Gaza and ignoring Hamas. The crippling four-year-long blockade of Gaza has created the conditions of human misery and desperation in which a handful of people have turned to extremism. A new report from International Crisis Group states that the blockade has amounted to “an assist provided to Salafi-Jihadis, who benefit from…Gaza’s lack of exposure to the outside world.”


A more militarized CIA for a more militarized America

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The first four Directors of the CIA (from 1947-1953) were military officers, but since then, there has been a tradition (generally though imperfectly observed) of keeping the agency under civilian rather than military leadership. That’s why George Bush’s 2006 nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to the CIA provoked so many objections from Democrats (and even some Republicans).

The Hayden nomination triggered this comment from the current Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: “You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence. The CIA is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency.” The then-top Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, said “she hears concerns from civilian CIA professionals about whether the Defense Department is taking over intelligence operations” and “shares those concerns.” On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi cited tensions between the DoD and the CIA and said: “I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden worried that the CIA, with a General in charge, will “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department.” Even the current GOP Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, voiced the same concern about Hayden: “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”

Of course, like so many Democratic objections to Bush policies, that was then and this is now. Yesterday, President Obama announced — to very little controversy — that he was nominating Gen. David Petraeus to become the next CIA Director. The Petraeus nomination raises all the same concerns as the Hayden nomination did, but even more so: Hayden, after all, had spent his career in military intelligence and Washington bureaucratic circles and thus was a more natural fit for the agency; by contrast, Petraues is a pure military officer and, most of all, a war fighting commander with little background in intelligence. But in the world of the Obama administration, Petraeus’ militarized, warrior orientation is considered an asset for running the CIA, not a liability.

That’s because the CIA, under Obama, is more militarized than ever, as devoted to operationally fighting wars as anything else, including analyzing and gathering intelligence. This morning’s Washington Post article on the Petraeus nomination — headlined: “Petraeus would helm an increasingly militarized CIA” — is unusual in presenting such a starkly forthright picture of how militarized the U.S. has become under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner:


Wall Street tames Washington

Jim Hightower writes:

They came, they saw, they conquered. This line pretty well sums up a little-reported but important story about the new tea partiers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

No sooner had they arrived than the corporate lobbying corps came to visit, saw what these supposed rebels were made of and quickly conquered them without a fight. The forces of big business needed only to lay out some campaign cash — and quicker than you can say, “Business as usual,” the budding lawmakers snatched up the money and immediately began carrying the lobbyists’ corporate agenda.

Check out the financial services subcommittee, which handles legislation affecting Wall Street bankers. Five tea partiers got coveted slots on this panel, and all five were suddenly showered with big donations from such financial lobbying interests as Goldman Sachs. Now, all five are sponsoring bills to undo parts of the recent reforms to reign in Wall Street excesses.

Steve Stivers of Ohio, for example, hauled in nearly $100,000 in just his first two months in office — 85 percent of it from the special interests his committee oversees. He insists that the cash he took from Goldman Sachs and others has nothing to do with his subsequent support of bills that Goldman is lobbying so strongly for. Stivers claims that his sole legislative focus is on jobs for Ohio’s 15th district.

Really? Among the deform-the-reform bills that Steve is carrying is one to let Wall Street giants avoid disclosing the difference in what the CEO is paid and what average employees make. Another would exempt billionaire private equity hucksters from regulation. I can see that these bills are great job extenders for the barons of Wall Street, but how do either of them create a single job in his district?


News roundup — April 27

Fatah and Hamas reconciliation agreement

The rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas agreed Wednesday to reconcile and form an interim government ahead of elections, after a four-year feud, in what both sides hailed as a chance to start a fresh page in their national history.

Israel said the accord, which was brokered in secrecy by Egypt, would not secure peace in the Middle East and urged Abbas to carry on shunning the Islamist movement, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 after ousting Fatah in a civil war.

Forging Palestinian unity is regarded as crucial to reviving any prospect for an independent Palestinian state, but Western powers have always refused to deal with Hamas because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

“We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah’s negotiating team in Cairo. “Elections would be held in about eight months from now,” he said, adding the Arab League would oversee the implementation of the agreement. (Reuters)

A separate peace

Zvi Bar’el writes: For the past four years, it has been clear to Fatah and Hamas that they had no alternative but to reach a reconciliation. The controversy was over the price. Even now, when the draft agreement is signed, the portfolio allocation, the type of election, the date of the election and the designated ministers and prime minister have yet to be agreed on.

The successful implementation of the reconciliation agreement is largely dependent on both sides recognizing that they will have to make decisions and cooperate without outside help. There is no certainty that Assad, who navigated Hamas’ diplomatic moves, is in a position to continue setting the Middle Eastern agenda, as he had hoped after Mubarak’s fall. It is clear to Fatah, and especially Mahmoud Abbas, that General Tantawi’s Egypt is not Mubarak’s Egypt and the Egyptian public pressure to open the Gaza border and the regime’s readiness to respond would deprive him of the main leverage over Hamas.

The reconciliation has direct bearing on Abbas’ intention to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Such a state would include the Gaza Strip, as had been agreed in the Oslo agreement and as Abbas reiterates constantly. Abbas will not be able to pass himself off as one who represents the Palestinian people without reconciling with Hamas, especially when Gaza has played such a major role in evoking international sympathy, perhaps even more than Abbas’ infrastructure in the West Bank.

Operation Cast Lead, the Turkish flotilla and the prolonged blockade of Gaza, as well as Israel’s settlement policy, helped Abbas persuade world leaders to remove their support from Israel’s position and adopt the Palestinian-state idea.

The reconciliation was enabled, among other things, by the fact that Hamas will not be obliged to recognize Israel, because if the United Nations recognizes the Palestinian state, Hamas’ specific recognition would be meaningless. Hamas will be part of a Palestinian government making sovereign decisions. Hamas has already said in the past it was willing to recognize all the agreements and decisions accepted by the Arab League, including the Arab Initiative.

Even the United States will not be able to object to a united Palestinian government, in which Hamas is a partner. After all, it had agreed to accept and even support, economically and militarily, a Lebanese government in which Hezbollah was partner. Nor will the United States and Europe be able to object to general elections in the territories, or deny their results, when the West is demanding Arab leaders implement democratic reforms.

Israel could find itself isolated yet again if it objects to the reconciliation or the election. (Haaretz)

* * *

Shock in Syria: the messy and unlikely alternatives for Bashar

David W. Lesch writes: Early this year, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad portrayed his country as being different, almost immune from the uprisings that had beset Tunisia and Egypt. The mouthpieces of the Syrian regime consistently echoed this arrogance, even to the point of siding with the protestors in their Arab brethren countries. They pointed out that the septuagenarian and octogenarian leaders of these states were out of touch with their populations. They were also corrupt lackeys of the United States. The implication, of course, was that Asad, a relatively young 45, was in touch with the Arab youth. He also confronted the United States and Israel in the region and supported the resistance forces of Hamas and Hizbullah, thus brandishing credentials that played well in the Arab street.

This may have bought him some time, but it was a misreading of the situation—or denial of it. Having met with Asad a number of times over the past 7 years, I can almost guarantee that he was absolutely shocked when the uprisings in the Arab world started to seep into his own country. I believe he truly thought he was safe and secure…and popular beyond condemnation. But not in today’s new Middle East, where the stream of information cannot be controlled as it has been in the past. The perfect storm of higher commodity prices, Wikileaks, and the youth bulge—and their weapon of mass destruction, the social media—have bared for all to see widespread socio-economic problems, corruption, and restricted political space, and authoritarian regimes can no longer shape or contain this information. In this Syria was no different.

One might recognize the stages of shock in Asad, similar to the five stages of grief. Following his denial, Asad displayed incredulity, even anger that fueled a blatant triumphalism, apparent in his initial speech of March 30 that incorrectly placed the bulk of the blame for the uprisings in Syria on conspirators and foreign enemies, thus ignoring the very real domestic problems that lay at the root of public frustration and despair.

Asad then reached the bargaining stage, where one attempts to do anything possible to postpone one’s fate. There is recognition of problems and attempts to address them, apparent in Asad’s speech to his new cabinet on April 16, when he announced the lifting of the almost 50-year state of emergency law, among other proposed reforms. But the protests and associated violence continued. The most dangerous phase could be if Asad withdraws into seclusion, trying to come to grips with the reality of the situation. This is dangerous because Bashar might cede his leadership role to others, and filling the void could be hardliners who advocate an even harsher crackdown. This may be what is happening now. One hopes that Asad passes through this stage very quickly and reasserts himself toward the final one, that of acceptance. (Syria Comment)

Syrian regime sends tanks to Deraa in further toughening of crackdown

Dozens of tanks have been reported to be en route to Deraa, the Syrian city at the centre of protests against President Bashar al-Assad, as a series of EU nations protested at the increasingly bloody government crackdown that is now believed to have killed more than 450 people.

Deraa remained largely cut off to outside communications but sources reported gunfire again on Wednesday. Amnesty International quoted eyewitnesses who said army snipers were shooting at injured people on the streets and those who tried to reach them.

Witnesses reported seeing a convoy of at least 30 army tanks leave an area near the Golan Heights front line with Israel and head south, apparently towards Deraa, where the protests against Assad’s authoritarian regime began six weeks ago. (The Guardian)

Quelling the revolt: will the opposition take up arms?

Joshua Landis writes: Bashar al-Assad is determined to quell the Syrian revolt, which is why he has sent in the military with tanks and is now arresting the network of opposition activists and leaders that his intelligence agencies have been able to track.

There is an element of “shock and awe” to the operation. Tanks are clearly not useful for suppressing an urban rebellion, but they demonstrate the superior firepower of the state and the determination of the president. It is a classic military strategy – go hard and quick. Take out the opposition before t has a chance to harden and develop a durable command a reliable cell structure. This is precisely what the US military tried to do in Iraq. It is what it failed to do in Libya, when it allowed Qaddafi to regroup and regain control of Tripoli and Western Libya after his initial confusion and weakness.

I do not believe that the regime will be able to shut down the opposition. Unlike the Iranian opposition, which was successfully put down, the Syrian opposition is more revolutionary, even if, perhaps, not as numerous in the capital. The Green movement did not call for the overthrow of the regime and an end to the Islamic republic, but only reform. The Syrian opposition is revolutionary. Although it began by calling for reform, it quickly escalated to demand an end to the regime. It is convinced that reform of the Baathist regime is impossible and Syria must start over. It wants an end to the Baath Party, an end to Assad dynasty, an end to domination of the presidency and security forces by the Alawite religious community, and an end to the domination of the economy by the financial elite which has used nepotism, insider trading, and corruption to monopolize the ramparts of trade and industry. In short, the opposition abhors most aspects of the present regime and is working to uproot it. It is more determined and revolutionary than was the Iranian Green movement that Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei successfully suppressed. (Syria Comment)

European leaders threaten Syria with sanctions

Moved by escalating violence in Syria, European leaders warned Tuesday that they will impose new sanctions on Damascus unless President Bashar al-Assad halts his bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The warnings reflected a growing sense of outrage in European capitals since Assad sent tanks and armored personnel carriers into the rebellious southern city of Daraa on Monday, firing at youths in the street and inflicting a death toll estimated by human rights activists at two dozen. (Washington Post)

More than 230 ruling Baath members resign in Syria

Another 203 members of Syria’s ruling Baath party announced their resignation Wednesday in protest of the deadly crackdown on protesters, raising the number to 233, according to lists seen by AFP.

The latest group to step down were members from the Houran region, which covers the flashpoint town of Daraa in the south of the country. Earlier 30 members resigned from the restive city of Banias in northwest Syria. (AFP)

* * *

NATO says it is stepping up attacks on Libya targets

NATO plans to step up attacks on the palaces, headquarters and communications centers that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi uses to maintain his grip on power in Libya, according to Obama administration and allied officials.

White House officials said President Obama had been briefed on the more energetic bombing campaign, which included a strike early on Monday on Colonel Qaddafi’s residential compound in the heart of Tripoli, the capital.

United States officials said the effort was not intended to kill the Libyan leader, but to take the war to his doorstep, raising the price of his efforts to continue to hold on to power. “We want to make sure he knows there is a war going on, and it’s not just in Misurata,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity in discussing military planning.

The NATO campaign, some officials said, arose in part from an analysis of Colonel Qaddafi’s reaction to the bombing of Tripoli that was ordered by President Ronald Reagan a quarter-century ago. Alliance officials concluded that the best hope of dislodging the Libyan leader and forcing him to flee was to cut off his ability to command his most loyal troops.

“We don’t want to kill him or make a martyr out of him in the Arab world,” said a senior NATO diplomat familiar with the evolving strategy. “But if he sees the bombing happening all around him, we think it could change his calculus.” (New York Times)

All the tribes of Libya are but one

A statement in French by 61 Libyan tribal leaders, delivered to Bernard-Henri Levy. Automated translation by Google Translate.

We, heads or representatives of the tribes of Libya, met today in Benghazi, around Daihoum Doctor, member of the National Transition Council. Faced with threats to the unity of our country, facing the maneuvers and propaganda of the dictator and his family, we solemnly declare this.

Nothing can divide us.

We share the same ideal of a Libya free, democratic and united.

Every Libyan has certainly had its origins in a particular tribe. But he has complete freedom to create family ties, friendship, neighborhood or fellowship with any member of any other tribe.

We train, we, the Libyans, a single tribe, the tribe of Libyans free, fighting against oppression and the evil spirit of division.

It is the dictator, trying to play the Libyan tribes against each other, dividing the country and rule. There is truth in this myth, it has fed an ancestral opposition today to a rift between tribes of Fezzan, of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

Libya tomorrow, once the dictator gone, will be a united Libya, including the capital Tripoli and will be where we are finally free to form a civil society according to our wishes.

We take this message, told a French philosopher, to thank France and through France, Europe: it is they who have prevented the bloodshed that we had promised Gaddafi, it is thanks to them and with them that we build Libya free, and one tomorrow.

Rare view from Libya’s western mountains shows rebel gains against Qaddafi

Evidence of the ferocity of the fighting in Libya’s western mountains was clear Monday at the Nalut central hospital. One young rebel lay dead under a shroud; nobody yet knew his name. Some were too badly injured to talk. One said a battle that day – in which loyalist troops were forced to retreat six miles with heavy losses – was a “big victory.”

“It is the heart that is fighting,” said the fighter as he lay in a hospital bed. He refused to be pictured wearing an oxygen mask “because they will say Qaddafi is winning.”

Few journalists have so far crossed into these western mountains, but the picture now emerging is that of a heavily outgunned militia – perhaps better organized than the rag-tag rebels in the east – that has leveraged local knowledge, international support, and deep-seated anger at Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi into unlikely victories. (Christian Science Monitor)

Gadhafi’s grip on western Libya may be slipping

Moammar Gadhafi has suffered military setbacks in recent days in western Libya, a sign that his grip may be slipping in the very region he needs to cling to power.

His loyalists were driven out of the center of the city of Misrata, a key rebel stronghold in Gadhafi-controlled territory. A NATO airstrike turned parts of his Tripoli headquarters into smoldering rubble. And rebel fighters seized a border crossing, breaking open a supply line to besieged rebel towns in a remote western mountain area.

Front lines have shifted repeatedly in two months of fighting, and the poorly trained, ill-equipped rebels have given no evidence that they could defeat Gadhafi on the battlefield. The Libyan leader has deep pockets, including several billion dollars in gold reserves, that could keep him afloat for months. And his forces continue to bombard Misrata from afar, unleashing a fierce barrage Tuesday on the port – the city’s only lifeline to the world. (AP)

NATO initiatives not seen decisive in Libya war

The Western bombing campaign in Libya is now in its sixth week but despite a series of eye-catching NATO initiatives there is little sign of a decisive military shift that will bring a quick end to the war.

And there are few signs either of significant divisions within Muammar Gaddafi’s government that would hasten a political solution to the conflict.

NATO, which took over the air campaign from a coalition led by France, Britain and the United States a month ago, can point to some successes in protecting civilian populations in eastern Libya from attack including in Benghazi and Ajdabiyah.

But the siege of Misrata continues and the commander of the NATO operation, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, conceded on Tuesday that the alliance had yet to remove the threat posed to civilians by Gaddafi’s forces. (Reuters)

From a Qaddafi daughter, a glimpse inside the bunker

Aisha el-Qaddafi, the daughter of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, likes to tell her three young children bedtime stories about the afterlife. Now, she says, they are especially appropriate.

“To make them ready,” she said, “because in a time of war you never know when a rocket or a bomb might hit you, and that will be the end.”

In a rare interview at her charitable foundation here, Ms. Qaddafi, 36, a Libyan-trained lawyer who once worked on Saddam Hussein’s legal defense team, offered a glimpse into the fatalistic mind-set of the increasingly isolated family at the core of the battle for Libya, the bloodiest arena in the democratic uprising that is sweeping the region.

She dismissed the rebels as “terrorists” but suggested that some former Qaddafi officials who are now in the opposition’s governing council still “keep in touch with us.” She pleaded for dialogue and talked about democratic reforms. But she dismissed the rebels as unfit for such talks because of their use of violence, hurled personal barbs at President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and, at one point, appeared to disparage the basic idea of electoral democracy. (New York Times)

* * *

Secret case against detainee crumbles

The secret document described Prisoner 269, Mohammed el-Gharani, as the very incarnation of a terrorist threat: “an al Qaeda suicide operative” with links to a London cell and ties to senior plotters of international havoc.

But there was more to the story, as there so often is at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba. Eight months after that newly disclosed assessment of Mr. Gharani was written by military intelligence officials, a federal judge examined the secret evidence. Saying that it was “plagued with internal inconsistencies” and largely based on the word of two other Guantánamo detainees whose reliability was in question, he ruled in January 2009 that Mr. Gharani should be released. The Obama administration sent him to Chad about five months later.

The secret assessment of Mr. Gharani, like many of the detainee dossiers made available to The New York Times and other news organizations, reflected few doubts about the peril he might have posed. He was rated “high risk,” and military officials recommended that he not be freed. But now, a comparison of the assessment’s conclusions with other information provides a case study in the ambiguities that surround many of the men who have passed through the prison at Guantánamo Bay. (New York Times)

These Guantánamo files undo the al-Qaida myth machine

Jason Burke writes: Hidden deep in the leaked Guantánamo files is a small but important trove of information, too historical and too technical to have commanded much space in newspapers keener on hyperventilating about “nuclear al-Qaida hellstorms” this week. Each of the 700-plus files includes a short biography of its subject. These cover his “prior history” and “recruitment and travel” to wherever he became fully engaged with violent extremism and, with brutal if unintended efficiency, demolish three of the most persistent myths about al-Qaida.

The first is that the organisation is composed of men the CIA trained to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan who then turned on their mentors. In fact among the bona fide al-Qaida operatives detained in Guatánamo Bay there are very few who are actually veterans of the fighting in the 1980s, and none of these were involved with groups that received any substantial technical or financial assistance from the US, even indirectly via Pakistan.

The second is that an “international brigade” of Islamist extremists was responsible for the Soviet defeat. The records make it clear that their combat contribution was negligible.

The third myth is that most of those currently waging “jihad” against the Crusader-Zionist alliance or the “hypocrite, apostate regimes” of the Muslim world were actively recruited by al-Qaida and brought, brainwashed, to Afghanistan to fight or be trained. The descriptions of almost all those in Guantánamo genuinely associated with al-Qaida shows that in fact they spent much time and money overcoming many difficulties to find a way to reach al-Qaida. They were not dumb or vulnerable youths “groomed” to be suicide bombers; they were highly motivated, often educated and intelligent, men. (The Guardian)

Sinai explosion cuts Israel gas supply

An explosion early Wednesday on a gas pipeline in the northern Sinai Peninsula cut supplies of Egyptian natural gas to Israel for the second time this year, according to Israeli and Egyptian officials, in what many here suspected was an act of sabotage by local Bedouin or possibly Palestinians.

The blast came as the authorities in Cairo began to investigate public suspicions of corruption and mismanagement by the former Mubarak government in its gas export deal with Israel. It also prompted renewed calls in Israel for the country to reduce its dependency on outside sources and speed up development of its own newly found gas fields.

“Regional instability is likely to continue in the near term, and we must attain energy independence,” Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister of Israel, said in a statement.

Details of who carried out the attack remained unclear. Egyptian security officials said a package containing TNT caused the blast. There were no immediate reports of casualties and it was not known how long repairs would take. (New York Times)


News roundup — April 26

The epic Arab battle reaches Syria

Rami G. Khouri writes: Syria is now the critical country to watch in the Arab world, after the homegrown regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, and the imminent changes in Yemen and Libya.

The Syrian regime headed by President Bashar Assad is now seriously challenged by a combination of strong forces within and outside the country. His current policy of using force to quell demonstrators and making minimal reform promises has lost him credibility with many of his own citizens, largely due to his inability to respond to his citizens’ reasonable demands for democratic governance. His downfall is not imminent, but is now a real possibility.
The next few weeks will be decisive for Assad, because in the other Arab revolts the third-to-sixth weeks of street protests were the critical moment that determined whether the regime would collapse or persist. Syria is now in its fourth week. Having lost ground to street demonstrators recently, the Assad-Baathist-dominated secular Arab nationalist state’s response in the weeks ahead will likely determine whether it will collapse in ruins or regroup and live on for more years.

Assad should recognize many troubling signs that add up to a threatening trend. The number and size of demonstrations have grown steadily since late March, making this a nationwide revolt. Protesters’ demands have hardened, as initial calls for political reform and anti-corruption measures now make way for open calls for the overthrow of the regime and the trial of the ruling elite. Some portraits and statues of the current and former president are being destroyed, and government buildings attacked. More protesters openly call for the security services to be curbed – an unprecedented and important sign of the widespread popular loss of fear of security agencies that always bodes ill for such centralized systems of power.

Syria intensifies crackdown on protests

Syrian security forces have arrested at least 500 pro-democracy activists, a rights group said, as the government continues a violent crackdown on anti-government protests across the country.

The arrests followed the deployment of Syrian troops backed by tanks and heavy armour on the streets of two southern towns, the Syrian rights organisation Sawasiah said on Tuesday.

The group said it had received reports that at least 20 people were killed in the city of Deraa in the aftermath of the raid by troops loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Monday. But communications have been cut in the city, making it difficult to confirm the information. (Al Jazeera)

European leaders urge Syria to end violence

European governments urged Syria on Tuesday to end violence against demonstrators after President Bashar al-Assad sent tanks to crush opposition in the city of Deraa where an uprising against his rule first erupted.

“We send a strong call to Damascus authorities to stop the violent repression of what are peaceful demonstrations,” Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Rome.

International criticism of Assad’s crackdown, now in its sixth week, was initially muted but escalated after the death of 100 protesters on Friday and Assad’s decision to storm Deraa, which echoed his father’s 1982 suppression of Islamists in Hama. (Reuters)

NATO says it is stepping up attacks on Libya targets

NATO plans to step up attacks on the palaces, headquarters and communications centers that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi uses to maintain his grip on power in Libya, according to Obama administration and allied officials.

White House officials said President Obama had been briefed on the more energetic bombing campaign, which included a strike early on Monday on Colonel Qaddafi’s residential compound in the heart of Tripoli, the capital.

United States officials said the effort was not intended to kill the Libyan leader, but to bring the war to his doorstep, raising the price of his efforts to continue to hold on to power. “We want to make sure he knows there is a war going on, and it’s not just in Misurata,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity in discussing military planning.

The NATO campaign, some officials said, arose in part from an analysis of Colonel Qaddafi’s reaction to the bombing of Tripoli that was ordered by President Ronald Reagan a quarter-century ago. Alliance officials concluded that the best hope of dislodging the Libyan leader and forcing him to flee was to cut off his ability to command his most loyal troops. (New York Times)

Libyan mountain refugees tell of fearsome assault

Refugees fleeing Libya’s Western Mountains told of heavy bombardment by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces as they try to dislodge rebels in remote Berber towns.

The capture of the Dehiba-Wazin crossing on the Tunisian border by rebels last week has let refugees flee in cars or on foot along rocky paths, swelling the numbers of Libyans sheltering in southern Tunisia to an estimated 30,000 people.

While the world’s attention has been on the bloody siege of the western rebel stronghold of Misrata and battles further east, fighting is intensifying in the region known as the Western Mountains.

“Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi’s troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing,” said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family from Kalaa in the heart of the mountains. (Reuters)

Egypt ex-minister put on trial for shootings

Habib al-Adly, Egypt’s ex-interior minister, has gone on trial in Cairo for the second time.

He is accused of having ordered the shooting of demonstrators during protests that toppled the former regime.

Adly has been charged along with six former aides, the state news agency reported on Tuesday. His case has been adjourned until late May.

He is also being held responsible for insecurity that prevailed after police disappeared from the streets of Cairo in the early days of the protests.

According to an official toll, 846 people were killed and several thousand wounded during 18 days of massive nationwide street protests that forced president Hosni Mubarak to quit on February 11. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen’s opposition ‘agrees to Gulf plan’

Yemen’s opposition has agreed to take part in a transitional government under a Gulf-negotiated peace plan for embattled leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside in a month in exchange for immunity for him and his family.

A spokesman for an opposition coalition said on Monday that his group had received assurances in order to accept the deal.

“We have given our final accord to the [Gulf] initiative after having received assurances from our brothers and American and European friends on our objections to certain clauses in the plan,” Mohammed Qahtan said.

He added that the Common Front, a Yemeni parliamentary opposition coalition, had notified Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) secretary-general Abdullatif al-Zayani of the decision.

But many pro-democracy protesters, who are not members of the coalition that agreed to the peace talks, appear to be unconvinced by the Gulf-proposed deal and have called for fresh demonstrations, as security forces continued their crackdown. (Al Jazeera)


How Obama leads from behind

Ryan Lizza writes:

This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine. One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. “When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,” he said in a recent interview with NBC News.

Obama’s reluctance to articulate a grand synthesis has alienated both realists and idealists. “On issues like whether to intervene in Libya there’s really not a compromise and consensus,” Slaughter said. “You can’t be a little bit realist and a little bit democratic when deciding whether or not to stop a massacre.”

Brzezinski, too, has become disillusioned with the President. “I greatly admire his insights and understanding. I don’t think he really has a policy that’s implementing those insights and understandings. The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical: ‘You must do this,’ ‘He must do that,’ ‘This is unacceptable.’ ” Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”

The one consistent thread running through most of Obama’s decisions has been that America must act humbly in the world. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Obama came of age politically during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment. Obama believes that highly visible American leadership can taint a foreign-policy goal just as easily as it can bolster it. In 2007, Obama said, “America must show—through deeds as well as words—that we stand with those who seek a better life. That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope.”

In 2009 and early 2010, Obama was sometimes criticized for not acting at all. He was cautious during Iran’s Green Revolution and deferential to his generals during the review of Afghanistan strategy. But his response to the Arab Spring has been bolder. He broke with Mubarak at a point when some of the older establishment advised against it. In Libya, he overruled Gates and his military advisers and pushed our allies to adopt a broad and risky intervention. It is too early to know the consequences of these decisions. Libya appears to be entering a protracted civil war; American policy toward Mubarak frightened—and irritated—Saudi Arabia, where instability could send oil prices soaring. The U.S. keeps getting stuck in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”


News roundup — April 25

Poll: Over half of Egypt wants end to Israel peace

More than half of all Egyptians would like to see the 1979 peace treaty with Israel annulled, according to results of a poll conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center released Monday.

The poll highlights the deep unpopularity of the three-decade-old treaty, which is central to U.S. policy in the region and was scrupulously adhered to by former President Hosni Mubarak, until his Feb. 11 ouster.

The poll also revealed that most Egyptians are optimistic about where the country is headed following the 18-day popular uprising that brought down the president, and they look forward to greater democracy in their country.

The fall of Egypt’s autocratic leader and the rise of a more democratic system, however, could threaten relations with neighboring Israel.

According to the poll results, only 36 percent of Egyptians are in favor of maintaining the treaty, compared with 54 percent who would like to see it scrapped. (Associated Press)

Iraq’s own Arab spring

Stretched close to the limit by combat in Afghanistan and determined not to get into a ground war in Libya, the Pentagon is stepping up the pressure to maintain a huge US troop presence in today’s largely peaceful Iraq. What might seem at first sight strange and unnecessary is in fact fully in line with the ambitions of those who planned the invasion eight years ago. Whether neocons or “realists”, they always wanted to have a long-term political and military footprint in the northern sector of the Middle East, strategically placed between Syria and Iran.

As with so many elements of the geopolitical strategy he inherited from George Bush, Barack Obama has gone along with it. So it should be no surprise that Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chief of staffs, was in Baghdad on Friday urging the government to amend the agreement under which all US forces have to leave Iraq by the end of this year. Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, was in the Iraqi capital on a similar mission a few weeks earlier.

Both Sunni and Shia protesters were on the streets last week to denounce the US plans, united by a common sense of nationalism that has not been seen since the first year of the US occupation, before sectarian divisions were artificially inflamed. In Mosul around 5,000 people, including provincial council members and tribal leaders, rallied against any extension of the US presence, while supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched in Baghdad. (Jonathan Steele)

Protesters in Saudi Arabia: “Down with the Khalifas, Down with America, Down with Israel, Down with Wahhabism!”

More Syrians are missing, hinting at a wider crackdown

Dozens of residents have disappeared in Syria since Friday, many of them from the restive city of Homs and towns on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, human rights activists said Sunday, amid signs that the Syrian government may widen its crackdown on a five-week uprising that has already killed hundreds.

The disappearances were yet another indication that the government’s decision to lift emergency rule, in place since 1963, might prove more rhetoric than reform. Though the government has proclaimed the law’s repeal on Thursday as a sweeping step, the past few days have proven some of the bloodiest and most repressive since the uprising began.

On Friday, at least 109 people were killed, as security forces fired on protesters in 14 towns and cities. At least 12 more were killed Saturday, when mourners sought to bury the dead from the day before. Another person was reported killed Sunday in Jabla, where security forces fired on residents after the visit of the governor. “We don’t trust this regime anymore,” one protester there said. “We’re sick of it.”

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to set up an international inquiry into the deaths and urged the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on officials responsible for the shootings and the detentions of hundreds of protesters. (New York Times)

Iran ‘targeted by new computer virus’

Iran has been targeted by a new computer virus in a “cyber war” waged by its enemies, according to a senior military official of the Islamic republic.

Gholam Reza Jalali, commander of civil defence, told the semi-official Mehr news agency on Monday that the new virus, called Stars, was being investigated by experts.

“Certain characteristics about the Stars virus have been identified, including that it is compatible with the [targeted] system,” he said.

He said that Iranian experts were still investigating the full scope of the malware’s abilities. (Al Jazeera)


The courage of ordinary people standing up to Gaddafi

Chris McGreal, who is covering the war in Libya for The Guardian and who as the paper’s South Africa correspondent witnessed the end of the apartheid era, says: “Few revolutions have been more inspiring. After years of reporting uprisings and conflicts driven by ideology, factional interests or warlords soaked in blood — from El Salvador to Somalia, Congo and Liberia – Libya’s uprising seems to me more akin to South Africa’s liberation from apartheid.”

He writes:

The Middle East. A man with a car fashioned into a bomb. He disguises his intent by joining a funeral cortege passing the chosen target. At the last minute the man swings the vehicle away, puts his foot down and detonates the propane canisters packed into the car.

It all sounds horrifyingly familiar. Mahdi Ziu was a suicide bomber in a region too often defined by people blowing up themselves and others. But, as with so much in Libya, the manner of Ziu’s death defies the assumptions made about the uprisings in the Arab world by twitchy American politicians and generals who see Islamic extremism and al-Qaeda lurking in the shadows. Ziu’s attack was an act of pure selflessness, not terror, and it may have saved Libya’s revolution.

In the first days of the popular uprising he crashed his car into the gates of the Katiba, a much-feared military barracks in Benghazi, where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were making a last stand in a hostile city. At that time the revolutionaries had few weapons, mostly stones and “fish bombs” — TNT explosive with a fuse that is more usually dropped in the sea off Benghazi to catch fish. The soldiers had heavy machine guns and the revolutionaries, often daring young men letting loose their anger at the regime for the first time, were dying in their dozens as they tried to storm the Katiba.

Then Ziu arrived, blew the main gates off the barracks and sent the soldiers scurrying to seek shelter inside. Within hours the Katiba had fallen.

Ziu was not classic suicide-bomber material. He was a podgy, balding 48-year-old executive with the state oil company, married with daughters at home. There was no martyrdom video of the kind favoured by Hamas. He did not even tell his family his plan, although they had seen a change in him over the three days since the revolution began.

“He said everyone should fight for the revolution: ‘We need Jihad,'” says Ziu’s 20-year-old daughter, Zuhur, clearly torn between pride at her father’s martyrdom and his loss. “He wasn’t an extreme man. He didn’t like politics. But he was ready to do something. We didn’t know it would be that.”

Ziu may have been unusual as a suicide bomber, but he was representative of a revolution driven by dentists and accountants, lorry drivers and academics, the better off and the very poor, the devout and secular. Men such as Abdullah Fasi, an engineering student who had just graduated and was in a hurry to get out of a country he regarded as devoid of all hope until he found himself outside the Katiba stoning Gaddafi’s soldiers. And Shams Din Fadelala, a gardener in the city’s public parks who supported the Libyan leader up to the day government soldiers started killing people on the streets of Benghazi. And Mohammed Darrat, who spent 18 years in Gaddafi’s prisons and every moment out of them believing that one day the people would rise up. [Continue reading…]