Category Archives: Intifada update

Intifada update

Western policymakers shouldn’t accept this Saleh spin

U.S. halted record aid deal as Yemen rose up
As the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, cracks down with increasing violence against peaceful protesters, his regime and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) both repeat the same mantra: political unrest in Yemen is good for al-Qaida.

The US has also suggested that this reading of events is warranted. Defence secretary Robert Gates stated: “We’ve had counter-terrorism co-operation with President Saleh and the Yemeni security services … So if that government collapses, or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’d face some additional challenges out of Yemen, there’s no question about it.”

But Yemeni politics is anything but a zero-sum game. First, President Saleh has not been a particularly reliable ally on counterterrorism matters, and neither is he the only force standing between Yemen as it is now and Yemen as a jihadi state. In fact, many Yemenis believe that the AQAP organisation is little more than a myth or, at least, part of a cynical plot by the regime to maintain power. (Sarah Phillips)

The U.S. was on the verge of launching a record assistance package to Yemen when an outbreak of protests against its president led Washington to freeze the deal, officials say, marking a sharper turn in U.S. policy there than the administration has previously acknowledged.

The first installment of the aid package, worth a potential $1 billion or more over several years, was set to be rolled out in February, marking the White House’s largest bid at securing President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s allegiance in its battle against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group behind the failed underwear bombing in 2009 and the foiled air-cargo bombing plot in October.

For Mr. Saleh, the money would help shore up his shaky political position and reward the risks he took by bucking popular opinion and letting U.S. Special Forces hunt down militants inside his country.

But before the first check could be written, anti-Saleh protesters took to the streets of San’a in an echo of antiregime demonstrations sweeping the region. The Obama administration’s suspension of the new aid put a spotlight on the unraveling of a troubled anti-terror alliance with a man who has ruled Yemen like a family fiefdom for three decades.

The U.S. reversal was the latest and largest episode in an up-and-down history with Mr. Saleh. Throughout much of the last decade, according to U.S. officials, his commitment to cooperating with the U.S. in the hunt for al Qaeda in his country was questionable. By the end of 2009, the U.S. had become encouraged by his willingness to let the U.S. battle the group. But relations foundered a few months later after a U.S. missile strike killed a Saleh envoy. (Wall Street Journal)

Essential readings — Bahrain: origins of the crisis
When I lived in Bahrain a few years ago, the Pearl monument was for me a reliable landmark that helped me navigate the streets of Manama in my rented compact car. Standing 300 feet high, the single white pearl was supported by six dhow sails, representing the six member countries of the GCC who share the heritage of the gulf seafaring culture. The pearl symbolized the Bahraini people’s past as renowned pearl divers and merchants. That past extends back hundreds of years, before the formation of the GCC, before the arrival of the Al Khalifa, before the arrival of European colonial powers looking to secure control over the vibrant Gulf trade. When Bahrainis began to take part in the recent “Arab Spring” sweeping the region, they chose the Pearl Roundabout, named after the monument, as their rallying point. Like demonstrators elsewhere, the Bahraini protesters gathered for political and economic reasons: greater political participation, more jobs, less corruption. Unlike demonstrators elsewhere, Bahrainis faced an additional challenge: the deliberate, carefully calculated political, economic, and social oppression of the kingdom’s Shii majority population by the ruling Sunni Al Khalifa.

Whether the Pearl Roundabout had been chosen by protesters because of its symbolism, its proximity to the Shii villages from which many demonstrators came, or simply because it is the only public space in Manama large enough to host such a rally, the Roundabout today is ripe with symbolism. Much like the hopes and aspirations of those who stood freely in this space to ask for their right to participate in their country’s future, the monument has been destroyed and bulldozed away by order of the Al Khalifa, leaving an ugly scar where the proud monument once stood. The ugliness does not end there: in order to silence these voices, the Al Khalifa called in Saudi troops, arrested bloggers, and confiscated many of those wounded in the demonstrations from their hospital beds and reportedly interrogated, insulted, and tortured them, some to death. Just as disturbing, if not more so, are reports that the U.S., whose 5th Fleet Navy base is located in Manama, cut a deal with Saudi leaders to refrain from criticizing Bahrain’s handling of the protests in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s, and thus the Arab League’s, agreement on operations in Libya.

What are we to make of this heartbreaking outcome of the Bahraini Spring? The following sources offer readers some historical background of the current crisis. This background was not easy to come by. Partly due to its small size, and partly due to its location in a generally understudied region (the Gulf), Bahrain has not received much scholarly attention. Archaeologists have examined its past as the possible seat of the ancient Dilmun civilization, naturalists have studied its flora and fauna, and scholars of the British empire have written about its status as a British protectorate, but few scholars have examined its more recent social or political history. Of those who have, I have chosen the works that best help explain the origins of the current crisis. Also included in this list are sources that present analysis of the international significance of the events currently taking place in Bahrain. For example, a claim that has been repeatedly bandied about by the Al Khalifa is that the mostly Shii demonstrators are taking their cues from Iran. That there is little basis for this claim, and that in fact Bahraini Shiis’ concerns have been decidedly local, has not allayed the fears of Sunnis in the region, or of the U.S.

Today, Bahrainis continue to gather in public to seek justice and greater freedom, despite brutal crackdowns implemented not only by their own government’s forces, but also those of foreign nations. For the interested reader, these few sources will provide a glimpse into Bahrain’s past as a vibrant center of commercial life, transnational trade, and Shii intellectual thought. The era of Al Khalifa rule is also explored here, as well as references to the specific actions, policies, and events that led to the current conflict. For example, while reading the first paragraph of Munira Fakhro’s analysis of the uprising of the 1990’s, one is struck by the similarities between the issues at stake and the response of the state then and that of now, twenty-one years later. This is despite the government’s claims that Bahrain has entered an era of reform. As for Bahrain’s future, analysts here suggest that all depends on the Al Khalifa’s willingness to finally institute real political reform. As long as the U.S. agrees to turn a blind eye and Saudi forces remain on Bahraini soil, regrettably, there is little hope of such an outcome. (Sandy Russell Jones)

Bahrain: free prominent opposition activist
Bahrain authorities should immediately release prominent opposition and rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, or bring him before an independent judge and charge him with a recognizable offense, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch also called on authorities to allow an independent medical doctor immediate and unconditional access to al-Kahawaja, 50, whom witnesses say was badly beaten by riot police when they raided his daughter’s home in the predawn hours of April 9, 2011. Al-Khawaja, an opposition and rights activist, has worked for national and international human rights organizations, including the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Dublin-based Front Line.

“The brutal beating of rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja by police during a warrantless predawn raid adds cruelty on top of illegality,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “He should be released immediately.” (Human Rights Watch)


Intifada update

Friday protests erupt in Arab world
Protests erupted across much of the Arab world on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, with demonstrators killed in Syria and Yemen while Egyptians staged one of the biggest rallies since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall.
Syrian security forces killed 17 pro-democracy demonstrators and two were shot dead in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia local Shi’ites protested in the oil-producing east to call for the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighboring Bahrain.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, perhaps the spiritual home of the Arab protest movement, crowds demanded Mubarak’s prosecution as discontent with military rule grows; but in Oman heavy security prevented a planned demonstration after Friday prayers. (Reuters)

Egypt rallies swell against military
Protesters poured into Tahrir Square in one of Egypt’s largest marches in two months, marking growing frustration among many here at the military’s perceived slowness in removing and prosecuting officials from the deposed regime.

Friday’s “Day of Trial and Cleansing” drew several thousand protesters, one of the biggest gatherings since President Hosni Mubarak was replaced on Feb. 11 by an interim high council of military officers, a show of the abiding strength of Egypt’s youth-led protest movement.

The gathering also demonstrated how the prosecution of lingering elements of the old regime, such as Mr. Mubarak and his top aides and officials, will be a critical task for Egypt’s military officers if they hope to maintain their high standing among the public.

“People feel they are not doing enough—and if they are doing enough, it’s too slow,” said Ahmed Wahba, 41, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is leading Egypt’s transition toward democracy. Mr. Wahba, who was protesting in the crowded square Friday, said the Egyptian public won’t be satisfied until they “see Mubarak in the middle of [Tahrir] Square, locked up or executed.” (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. was told of Yemen leader’s vulnerability
A billionaire Yemeni sheik met with a high-ranking officer from the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa less than two years ago and revealed a secret plan to overthrow President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s longtime autocratic ruler.

Hamid al-Ahmar, an opposition party leader and a prominent businessman, vowed to trigger the revolt if Saleh did not guarantee the fairness of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2011, according to a classified U.S. diplomatic cable summarizing the meeting. The sheik said he would organize massive demonstrations modeled on protests that toppled Indonesia’s President Suharto a decade earlier.

“We cannot copy the Indonesians exactly, but the idea is controlled chaos,” Ahmar told the unnamed embassy official. The embassy, however, was dismissive of the sheik, concluding that his challenge posed nothing more than “a mild irritation” for Saleh.

Today, Saleh is barely clinging to power amid a popular uprising in Yemen that is unfolding more or less along the lines that Ahmar predicted. Several previously undisclosed U.S. diplomatic cables, provided by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks, show that influential Yemenis and U.S. allies repeatedly warned U.S. diplomats of Saleh’s growing weakness in 2009 and 2010. But despite those warnings, the Obama administration continued to embrace Saleh and became increasingly dependent on him to combat an al-Qaeda affiliate that was plotting attacks against the United States from the Arabian peninsula. (Washington Post)


Intifada update

As quiet returns, Syrians ponder the future
Syria experienced its first day of political calm in over two weeks on April 3. The tsunami of protest and youth awakening that swept over Syria as part of the earthquake that hit the Arab world over two months ago has profoundly shaken Syrians. So accustomed to being the “island of stability” in the Middle East, Syrians are now wondering how long the Assad regime can last.

The Baathist regime has presided over Syria for 48 years; Bashar al-Assad has been president for 11 since inheriting power from his father. Although badly bruised and shaken, both remain in firm control. Western accounts of the protest movement in Syria have been exaggerated. At no time was the regime in peril. No officials resigned or left the country as has happened in Libya. Unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian armies, the Syrian army remained loyal to the president, and the protest movement that grew large in the Syrian countryside failed to take root in the cities. The number of demonstrators that turned out in Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, three of Syria’s four largest cities, counted in the hundreds and not the thousands.

Damascus was the only one of these three cities to have demonstrations. There were four in all. The two most significant protests occurred early in the process on March 16 and 17. Dozens of young demonstrators marched through the al-Hamidiyeh and Hariqa souqs on March 16 shouting, “God, Syria, Freedom — is enough,” a chant that became the standard slogan of the movement that spread to other parts of Syria in the following two weeks. The day after, scores of human rights activists and the relatives of political prisoners demonstrated in front of the Interior Ministry. After Deraa flared up, the citizens of Damascus fell quiet rather than jumped on the bandwagon.

Aleppo, a hotbed of Muslim Brotherhood support in the 1970s, was completely unaffected by the anti-government movement. Instead, Aleppines turned out in sizable numbers to support the government.

Hama was also unaffected. It was the city that the Muslim Brotherhood was able to take over in 1982 before having its old districts destroyed brutally by the regime. A friend from Hama was asked, “Why isn’t Hama rising against the regime and taking revenge?” He answered: “Syrians demonstrate for their own reasons. Don’t ever think anyone in Daraa will shed a tear for Hama or the other way around.” He said there is no great Syrian revolution — “just locals having internal issues.” (Joshua Landis)

Will Saleh’s resignation bring democratic reform to Yemen?
As the political battle for Yemen’s future unfolds, the country’s most immediate challenge is to avert a bloody civil war. Yet if Yemenis avoid this outcome by peacefully transitioning power, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s replacements will immediately face a daunting economic crisis, festering regional tensions, and an unstable security environment. Moreover, as Saleh negotiates with elites in the capital, powerful tribal and religious interest groups may drown out the youth and civil society protesters demanding far-reaching democratic reform.

Those currently aligned against Saleh represent a diverse group of unlikely allies. Youth and civil society activists originally initiated the anti-regime protests and stand at their symbolic core. But over time and for various reasons — including genuine support for democratic change, opposition to Saleh’s heavy-handed response to the protests, and political opportunism — established opposition parties, Huthis rebels, some southern separatists, religious leaders, prominent tribal sheikhs, businessmen, and army commanders have joined the protests. Although youth and civil society activists welcome assistance in ousting Saleh, they are legitimately skeptical of the role that some of these forces may play in the future. (April Longley Alley)

Salafists’ wrath turns violent in Egypt
The hostility between Sufis and Salafists, long suppressed in the minds and hearts of both parties, has revealed its fangs for all to see. The shrines built to commemorate and worship saints in the Sufi tradition is a very physical embodiment of the clash in ideology and faith of the two groups. For Sufis these are sacred sites at which to pray and worship through celebration, for Salafists they are an abomination against Islam and the teaching of the Prophet.

This fractious relationship has recently taken a violent turn with the destruction of shrines by Salafists across Egypt, attracting attention to the diverging paths of faith as the attacks spread. The latest act was the burning of the tomb of Sidi Izz El-Din in Qalioubiya, which sparked the crisis and confrontation between the two groups. (Ahram Online)


Intifada update

AFP reports:

Yemeni security forces shot dead 17 anti-regime demonstrators and wounded scores more on Monday, on the second day of lethal clashes in Taez, south of the capital, medics said.

“The death toll has gone up to 17, in addition to dozens wounded,” said Sadeq al-Shujaa, head of a makeshift field hospital at a square in central Taez, updating an earlier casualty toll.

The bloodshed came as demonstrators staged a march on the governorate headquarters in the city about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital to demand the ouster of Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The New York Times reports:

The United States, which long supported Yemen’s president, even in the face of recent widespread protests, has now quietly shifted positions and has concluded that he is unlikely to bring about the required reforms and must be eased out of office, according to American and Yemeni officials.

The Obama administration had maintained its support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in private and refrained from directly criticizing him in public, even as his supporters fired on peaceful demonstrators, because he was considered a critical ally in fighting the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda. This position has fueled criticism of the United States in some quarters for hypocrisy for rushing to oust a repressive autocrat in Libya but not in strategic allies like Yemen and Bahrain.

That position began to shift in the past week, administration officials said. While American officials have not publicly pressed Mr. Saleh to go, they have told allies that they now view his hold on office as untenable, and they believe he should leave.

A Yemeni official said that the American position changed when the negotiations with Mr. Saleh on the terms of his potential departure began a little over a week ago.

“The Americans have been pushing for transfer of power since the beginning” of those negotiations, the official said, but have not said so publicly because “they still were involved in the negotiations.”

Those negotiations now center on a proposal for Mr. Saleh to hand over power to a provisional government led by his vice president until new elections are held. That principle “is not in dispute,” the Yemeni official said, only the timing and mechanism for how he would depart.

The Yemen Observer adds: “Yemen’s opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) has presented a five-point plan on Saturday that outlines the details of how President Ali Abdullah Saleh should hand over power.”

Lamis Andoni writes:

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, insists on believing that his support for the ”resistance against Israel” distinguishes his regime from others in the region and, therefore, makes it immune to the revolutions that have brought down pro-Western presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

His support for Hamas and Hezbollah may make the Syrian president more popular among Arabs, but he is engaged in dangerous delusions if he thinks this makes the killings of peaceful Syrian protesters less reprehensible.

The eruption of Arab revolutions has been a reaction to decades of repression and the skewed distribution of wealth; two problems that have plagued anti- and pro-Western Arab governments alike.

And Syria is one of the most repressive states in the region; hundreds, if not thousands, of people have disappeared into its infamous prisons. Some reappear after years, some after decades, many never resurface at all.

Syrians have not been the only victims. Other Arabs – Lebanese who were abducted during the decades of Syrian control over its neighbour, Jordanian members of the ruling Baath party who disagreed with its leadership and members of different Palestinian factions – have also been victimised.

Syrian critics of the regime are often arrested and charged – without due process – with serving external – often American and Israeli – agendas to undermine the country”s “steadfastness and confrontational policies”.

But these acts have never been adequately condemned by Arab political parties and civil society, which have supported Syria”s position on Israel while turning a blind eye to its repressive policies.

The National reports:

From euphoria to stalemate: this is the epitaph of Bahrain’s recent experience in what some are calling the “Arab spring” of revolutionary movements.

What started out slowly in mid-February drawing a few hundred protesters gradually swelled beyond expectations into what looked like a semi-permanent presence of thousands of protesters who could, at a moment’s notice, be galvanised for marches anywhere in the capital, Manama.

Its base camp at the Pearl Roundabout had a stage, big TV screens, and tents for those who stayed overnight and for the 30-plus political factions and parties spreading their views among the crowds.

It was an exhilarating experience for many Bahrainis, angry about corruption and what they said was the government’s resistance to political reform.

“We saw it as something incredible,” said one woman who became a regular visitor to Pearl Roundabout. “This gave us hope. We felt like, as Barack Obama, said, ‘Yes, we can’.”

Today, the protest movement is in tatters, many of its leaders and activists imprisoned and its followers, most of them Shiite, subject to harsh emergency laws. Where Tunisia and Egypt saw change, Bahrain saw more of the same.

The clampdown continued yesterday, as Bahraini authorities banned Al Wasat, the country’s main opposition newspaper, and blocked its website.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency accused the paper of “unethical” coverage of the unrest.

Several days of interviews with Bahraini Sunni and Shiite political figures, human rights activists and journalists underscore that the tense impasse is due to mistakes on all sides, but principally, in most analyses, to the ascendancy of hardliners in both the government and the protest movement.


Intifada update

The revolution reaches Damascus
Until this week, it appeared that Syria might be immune from the turmoil that has gripped the Middle East. But trouble may now be starting to brew.

On March 18, popular demonstrations escalated into the most serious anti-government action during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s decade-long rule. Security forces opened fire on a demonstration in the southern city of Deraa, killing at least two protesters. The unrest also does not appear to be contained to any one geographical region: Protests were also reported in the northwestern city of Banias, the western city of Homs, the eastern city of Deir al-Zur, and the capital of Damascus.

The demonstrations began on March 15, when a small group of people gathered in Souq al-Hamidiyeh, Damascus’s historic covered market, to turn the ruling Baath Party’s slogans against it. “God, Syria, freedom — that’s enough,” they chanted. The phrase is a play on words on the Baathist mantra: “God, Syria, Bashar — that’s enough.” The next day, around 100 activists and relatives of political prisoners gathered in front of the Interior Ministry in Damascus’s Marjeh Square to demand the release of Syria’s jailed dissidents.

The protests may be small fry by regional standards, but in Syria — repressively ruled under a state of emergency since the Baath Party came to power in 1963 — they are unprecedented. An atmosphere of fear and secrecy makes the extent of discontent hard to ascertain. Sources outside the country said demonstrations took place in six of Syria’s 14 provinces on Tuesday. Those claims were hard to verify, but the government is clearly rattled: It has beefed up the presence of its security forces, a ragtag-looking bunch in leather jackets, across the country and especially in the northeast, home to a large and often restless Kurdish population, and Aleppo. (Foreign Policy)

Demography and Bahrain’s unrest
The introduction of GCC troops into Bahrain has been labeled a foreign “occupation” by the opposition, while the government has hailed it as brotherly support from its neighbors. In fact, this “native-foreigner” issue has a long history in the country and serious political implications not only in Bahrain but also throughout the Gulf.

The Bahraini monarchy has long relied on foreigners not only as military and police forces, but also to shift the political balance in the island kingdom. The opposition in Bahrain, drawing primarily but not exclusively on support from the country’s majority of Shi’i Muslims, has accused the government of fast-tracking the citizenship of carefully selected foreigners in order to change the demographic makeup of the country. The “politically naturalized,” as they are called, are Sunni Muslims mainly from Bedouin tribes in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, and Baluchistan. They are seen as having close ethnic and cultural links to the local rulers. Estimates of their numbers range from 50,000 to 200,000, constituting between one-tenth and one-third of the total number of citizens.

The politically naturalized are mainly employed in the security and defense forces, increasing the perception that they have been brought in to contain the local population. The graphic videos surfacing of the recent attacks by security forces against protestors show actions that involved some foreign or politically naturalized individuals.

This systematic use of foreign forces is a tradition that goes back decades. It was first used in the region by the British in the nineteenth century, when divisions composed of individuals from Baluchistan and the Indian sub-continent were brought in to help establish control over the Trucial coast. It limits the risk of identification with locals and of defection. Fears about loyalty are less of an issue, as long as the right material incentives are provided. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Bahrain clashes: ‘Riot police showed no mercy
CBS Radio News reporter Toula Vlahou was covering clashes between protesters and riot police outside Manama, Bahrain.

Riot police were firing tear gas and advancing toward the protesters. Vlahou and her BBC driver, a local Bahraini who was taking pictures – decided to leave the area. The riot police confronted them while they were in the car. The driver backed up and the riot police opened fire on the car.

“We were attacked by a wall of riot police,” Vlahou said. “We thought they were going to fire tear gas at us. But they fired pellets at us.”

“I had to fall to the ground in the driver’s seat as the driver was driving to get out of there,” Vlahou added.

The riot police began chasing them and continued shooting at the car. A helicopter was hovering above them for the entire time.

Vlahou said her driver believes that a helicopter above saw him filming, and “chased us and actually pursued us because they say him filming the scene.” The neighborhood people were watching from their houses as Vlahou and the driver were being fired upon. One neighbor waved at them to come into the house. The local family ushered them into a prayer room in the back of the house where they remained there an hour. (CBS News)

Yemen unrest: ‘Dozens killed’ as gunmen target rally
Unidentified gunmen firing on an anti-government rally in the Yemeni capital Sanaa have killed at least 39 people and injured 200, doctors told the BBC.

The gunmen fired from rooftops overlooking the central square in what the opposition called a massacre.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh later declared a national state of emergency.

He said he regretted Friday’s casualties but denied security forces had been behind the shooting, as the opposition demanded his resignation.

“There is no longer any possibility of mutual understanding with this regime and he has no choice but to surrender authority to the people,” Yassin Noman, rotating president of Yemen’s umbrella opposition group, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. (BBC)

A terrible day for Yemen
The situation in Yemen is looking increasingly insoluble. The problem is not merely how to get rid of Salih but what will happen after he goes. The longer he clings on, the more difficult it will be to achieve a peaceful transition – and it may even be too late for that already. (Brian Whitaker)


Intifada update

Opposition leaders arrested in Bahrain as crackdown grows
Bahrain arrested six opposition leaders on Thursday, kept the main hospital surrounded by troops and tanks and imposed a nighttime curfew on the center of its capital as it moved to the next stage of its crackdown on reform-seeking protesters, sending the political opposition into crisis.

A day after troops drove demonstrators from the main square and destroyed a month-old tent city there, popular unrest had been reduced to a few minor skirmishes in villages known as opposition strongholds.

There was much defiant talk of keeping the struggle going, but also deep distress.

“We feel cornered and are trying to find our way out,” said Jalal Fairooz, a leader of the Wefaq opposition party in an interview at party headquarters.

A group of Bahraini human rights groups appealed to the United Nations for help. (New York Times)

Bahrain pulls a Qaddafi
It is heartbreaking to see a renegade country like Libya shoot pro-democracy protesters. But it’s even more wrenching to watch America’s ally, Bahrain, pull a Qaddafi and use American tanks, guns and tear gas as well as foreign mercenaries to crush a pro-democracy movement — as we stay mostly silent.

In Bahrain in recent weeks, I’ve seen corpses of protesters who were shot at close range, seen a teenage girl writhing in pain after being clubbed, seen ambulance workers beaten for trying to rescue protesters — and in the last few days it has gotten much worse. Saudi Arabia, in a slap at American efforts to defuse the crisis, dispatched troops to Bahrain to help crush the protesters. The result is five more deaths, by the count of The Associated Press.

One video from Bahrain appears to show security forces shooting an unarmed middle-aged man in the chest with a tear gas canister at a range of a few feet. The man collapses and struggles to get up. And then they shoot him with a canister in the head. Amazingly, he survived.

Today the United States is in a vise — caught between our allies and our values. And the problem with our pal Bahrain is not just that it is shooting protesters but also that it is something like an apartheid state. Sunni Muslims rule the country, and now they are systematically trying to crush an overwhelmingly Shiite protest movement. (Nicholas Kristof)

Brotherhood sticks to ban on Christians and women for presidency
A leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt’s largest opposition group, said on Monday that the MB’s new “Freedom and Justice Party” would continue to stick by its view that Christians and women are unsuitable for the presidency.

Saad al-Husseini, a member of MB’s Guidance Bureau, the highest executive authority within the group, said the new party program will be announced late March after it is approved by the MB’s Guidance Office and Shura Council. Al-Husseini said that although they stick by this view, they “respect all opinions”.

“Our adherence to the jurisprudential opinion refusing the appointment of women or Christians as president does not mean we impose this opinion on the people, who have inherent jurisdiction in this regard,” he said.

“I personally accept for Copts to be appointed in hundreds of positions, including sensitive leadership positions in the country in accordance with the criterion of efficiency and competence, regardless of their proportion in society.”

Meanwhile, MB spokesman Mohamed Morsi said the group is pushing for a civil state, without the tutelage of the clergy. Morsi said the group does not call for a religious state. (almasryalyoum)


Intifada update

Saudi Arabia’s day of little rage
Friday was Saudi Arabia’s “day of rage”, planned for and anticipated for weeks. But, in the event, there wasn’t even a grumble – unless you count the ongoing protests in the eastern province which had been going on for a week.

The protests in the east, where the Saudi Shia minority is concentrated, were mostly to call for the release of political prisoners. However, across the country there was silence. Many were expecting it to be so, but some wonder why.

Two main factors played a role in this silence. The first was the government’s preparation, with the interior ministry’s warning and the senior clerics’ religious decree prohibiting demonstrations and petitions.

During the week there was also a huge campaign to discourage demonstrations. Saudis were bombarded on TV, in SMS messages and online with rumours that the demonstrations were an Iranian conspiracy, and that those who went out in the streets would be punished with five years’ prison and fines in the thousands of riyals.

Finally, on Friday itself, there was an intimidating security presence all over the major cities, with checkpoints on the roads and helicopters flying above. (Eman Al Nafjan)

Inside Egypt’s revolution and the last days of Mubarak
One editor called me recently to ask for examples of over-the-top extravagance on the part of Mubarak’s family and inner circle. He wanted something outrageous, on par with Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection, or Uday Hussein’s bizarre sex parties. There is really nothing to offer on that level.

Instead, Mubarak’s ultimate crime will be treating his people with contempt – openly disrespecting them for so long that many Egyptians lost both respect for themselves and their ability to change anything that was happening around them.

Mubarak’s 29 years in power had a genuinely corrosive effect on Egyptian society and psychology. He took a proud and ancient civilization and presided over the virtual collapse of its citizens’ sense of public empowerment and political engagement. He taught them how to feel helpless, then made them forget they had ever felt any other way. (Ashraf Khalil)

Oman ruler shifts lawmaking powers
Oman’s ruler is granting lawmaking powers to officials outside the royal family in the boldest reforms yet aimed at quelling protests for jobs and a greater public role in politics.

Sunday’s decree by Sultan Qaboos bin Said follows sweeping cabinet shake-ups and promises for thousands of new civil service posts since demonstrations began late last month in the tightly ruled nation.

The decree gives the abilities to make laws and regulations to two councils one elected and another appointed by the sultan. But it is not immediately clear if the sultan would retain veto power. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen police fire on protesters
Dozens of anti-government protesters in Yemen have been injured after security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at demonstrators in the capital.

Witnesses said police and supporters of the ruling General People’s Congress party attacked protesters occupying University Square on Sunday with live gunfire and tear gas.

Several thousand people had gathered in Sanaa early in the day, setting up barricades in an effort to separate themselves from riot police.

Witnesses said most of the wounded were suffering severe effects from tear gas but some were hit by bullets and two of them were thought to be in a serious condition. (Al Jazeera)

U.S. investigates Bahraini security forces in crackdown
The Obama administration has launched an investigation into the role of Bahraini security forces in violent crackdowns on protesters last month, part of a broader reassessment of U.S. security assistance and big-ticket arms sales to long-time Arab allies caught up in a wave of popular revolts.

Antigovernment protesters tried to break through the human wall created by security forces to stop the march held in Riffa, south of Manama, on Friday.

In a March 10 letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs a Senate panel that oversees foreign aid, the State Department said Washington was “investigating the actions of the Bahraini police and Ministry of Interior forces and assessing their conduct in connection with the protests” last month.

In addition, the State Department said “the administration is reevaluating its procedures for reviewing U.S. security assistance and defense sales during periods of domestic unrest and violence and has specifically included Bahrain in this reassessment.” (Wall Street Journal)


Intifada update

Storming Egypt State Security
The video speaks for itself. We stormed into the notorious political police main HQ in Cairo after the authorities didn’t dismantle the apparatus. We did it ourselves.

The end of the video shows an former Islamist detainee who discovered an electric torture tool explaining how he was tortured on it.

Glory to the martyrs of the Egyptian Revolution. (Mohamed Abdelfattah)

Hamas makes first contact with new Egyptian leaders
Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Monday contacted Egypt’s new leadership for the first time since a popular revolt toppled Hosni Mubarak from power last month, a statement from the Islamist group said.

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh telephoned Egypt’s new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to congratulate him on his post and urged him to help lift an Israeli blockade of the coastal territory, a statement from Haniyeh’s office said.

Gaza shares a border with Israel and Egypt. Both countries have limited the movement of people and goods into and from Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007, a policy which has crippled the enclave’s economic growth. (Reuters)

West Bank wind of change
The PLO leadership called for a Day of Rage across the occupied territories on 25 February, following the US veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution one week earlier condemning Israel’s continued settlement building. It sought thereby to deflect growing discontent at the Palestinian Authority (PA) and direct indignation at the US for protecting Israel. Though Hamas also condemned the veto, Gaza remained calm.

In Hebron, a thousand turned out to protest against the Jewish settlements in the heart of the city, clashing with Israeli soldiers (IDF); as the protests spread, the PA sent in their riot police to help the IDF. In Ramallah, the PA failed to mobilise support for their Day of Rage. A day earlier, Palestinian youth had already taken to its streets, in a separate protest, to demand national unity between the PA and Hamas. Scuffles broke out between supporters of PA president Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinians demanding an end to the Oslo accords.

After the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia fell, the PA had moved quickly to counter the spreading wave of people power. Al-Jazeera’s release of the leaked “Palestine papers” in January, exposing a relationship between the Palestinian leadership and Israel based on concessions to, and collusion with, the occupation, had already undermined PA legitimacy. The PA watched nervously as Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, and adopted a policy of containment. The chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned, Abbas declared there would be presidential and legislative elections by September, and prime minister Salam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet.

According to PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib, Erekat’s departure was in response to the Palestine papers, not the events in Egypt. Khatib explained that there was a vast difference between the Palestinian situation and the rest of the region: “The cabinet reshuffle was overdue but the events in Egypt sped it up. Here it’s not the same as elsewhere; there is a democratic process that has been disrupted by occupation and the internal division” between competing authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Though the call for elections suggests the PA’s concern to move with the winds of change, Khatib said it had other intentions: “President Abbas didn’t imagine elections in the West Bank without Gaza. For elections to happen in Gaza, it would require national unity, and I think the chances of that are very low.” The call for elections – a show of intent, not a decree – was “an attempt by the PLO to put pressure on Hamas to go ahead and allow elections in Gaza”. (Joseph Dana and Jesse Rosenfeld)

In Tunisia, political ambiguity breeds violence
Tunisia vibrated with palpable euphoria in the days after mass protests forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to decamp to Saudia Arabia.

A few short weeks on, utopic expectations of a sweeping break with the old regime are colliding with concerns that the country is edging towards political and economic crisis.

“There’s a big discussion underway between those that are concerned that genuine revolution be realised, and those that are really concerned that the power vacuum will lead to chaos,” says Michael Willis, a lecturer at Oxford University’s School of Oriental Studies.

Tunisians are split into two general camps: what might be called the ‘idealists,’ who refuse to rest until every last relic of the old regime has been stripped away, and the ‘realists” who fear that, however imperfect and in need of reform the existing institutions may be, instability and lack of governance could open the way for either the military or the barely-ousted regime to take power.

The idealist group includes a tactical alliance of Islamists, trade unionist and far-left groups, while the reformers include centre-left opposition parties, conservatives, former allies of Ben Ali and independents who have stepped into the political sphere for the first time.

Until the deadlock between the two sides is bridged, the country is floating in a state of limbo.

Lurking in the shadows, both groups are quick to say, are Ben Ali loyalists poised to profit from any ambiguity to re-establish their political might. Each side accuses the other of being infiltrated by former members of the recently disbanded RCD (Constitutional Democratic Rally) party. (Al Jazeera)


Intifada update

Egypt and Tunisia’s unfinished revolutions
It’s been just seven weeks since President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, and just over three weeks since Hosni Mubarak was unceremoniously dumped from the presidency by the Egyptian military — but both countries have already unseated their interim prime ministers. Egypt’s Ahmed Shafiq on Wednesday followed last week’s decision by Tunisia’s Mohammed Ghannouchi to step down, heeding the will of those who had taken to the streets to oust the autocrats who had appointed them. The two countries have chosen different models for their transition to democracy: Tunisia has a civilian government supported by the military; in Egypt, a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken charge and has suspended the constitution. But in both countries, the interim rulers face a crisis of legitimacy, with controversy surrounding some of the personalities now in charge and their transition plans contested by many of the same forces that took to the streets to demand political change. And at the same time, they must deal with the mountain of problems left behind by the dictators, from corruption and cronyism to collapsing state authority and anemic economic performance. (Issandr El Amrani)

Can the richest of all the Arab royal families stem the tide of reform?
The increasing disconnect between Saudi subjects and their rulers, growing stresses in Saudi society, and troubles inside the ruling family all point to turbulence ahead.

Whereas 70% of Saudis are under the age of 30, and their median age is 19, the Saudi cabinet ministers average 65. Some senior princes have held their jobs as ministers or provincial governors for decades; one has governed the Northern Borders Province since 1956. Whereas 40% of Saudi youths have no jobs and nearly half of those in work take home less than 3,000 riyals ($830) a month, every prince (of whom there are probably 7,000-8,000) gets a monthly stipend ranging from a few thousand dollars up to $250,000, according to an estimate in a WikiLeaks cable.

In forums where Saudis are able to express discontent, anger is rising. Out of 1,600 asked in a recent web poll to rate the credibility of statements by Saudi officials, 90% ticked “untrustworthy”. (The Economist)

Egypt security building stormed
Egyptian protesters have stormed the headquarters of Egypt’s state security force in Alexandria, with several people suffering injuries in scuffles with riot police.

Around 1,000 people encircled the State Security Agency building late on Friday, demanding that the officers inside come out or they would storm the building.

Protesters then entered into the building and scuffled with riot police before military forces intervened and took control of the building.

Demonstrators said officers inside had been shredding and burning documents that may have proven past abuses. (Al Jazeera)

Continued disappearance of Iran opposition figures raises concerns of torture
Iranian officials should immediately end the illegal, incommunicado detention of four leading opposition figures: Mehdi Karroubi; Mir Hossein Mousavi; Fatemeh Karroubi; and Zahra Rahnavard, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

The Campaign warns that the incommunicado nature of their eighteen day long detention in an undisclosed location increases the likelihood that the four are facing psychological and physical torture for the purposes of extracting false confessions.

“Arbitrary and incommunicado detention in unknown locations is often associated with torture and ill treatment, and even extrajudicial execution in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s spokesperson.

“Time and again opposition figures in Iran are detained without contact with their families or lawyers, only to undergo abuse and appear on TV weeks later confessing to baseless charges,” he said. (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

Youths ‘attack Algerian protesters’
Anti-government protesters have been attacked in the Algerian capital and an attempt made to lynch a prominent opposition politician, local media have said.

The reports said that protests organised by the National Co-ordination for Democracy and Change (CNDC) in Algiers were violently suppressed on Saturday morning.

According to the the Algerian daily newspaper El Watan, a group of youths tried to lynch Said Sadi, the president of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD).

Dozens of youths wearing banners supporting Abdelaziz Bouteflicka, the Algerian president, forced Sadi to flee in his car after they threatened to kill him in the al-Madania neighbourhood of Algiers, the publication said. (Al Jazeera)

Qatari blogger detained
Amnesty International says a blogger and human rights activist has been detained incommunicado in Qatar and is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

The UK-based human rights group said Sultan al-Khalaifi was arrested on March 2 by around eight individuals in plain clothes, believed to be members of the security forces.

According to information received by Amnesty International, al-Khalaifi had told his wife earlier that day that state security had contacted him, asking him to report to them, but that he did not know why.

The reasons for his detentions and his whereabouts are unknown, Amnesty said in a statement on Friday, adding that it is believed he is being held in the custody of state security. (Al Jazeera)

Bahrain protesters encircle state compound
Tens of thousands of Bahraini opposition protesters encircled a sprawling government compound on Sunday, forcing the cancellation of a meeting of senior lawmakers and further escalating pressure on the ruling Al-Khalifa family to accept sweeping reforms.

Protesters began assembling before 9 a.m., taking up positions at each of the complex’s four gates and repeating opposition calls for the fall of the government. Behind the compound’s gates, hundreds of riot police stood guard, while police helicopters circled overhead.

The protest forced government ministers to abandon their weekly council meeting, where Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa coordinates policy with the heads of Bahrain’s top ministries. Opposition groups cite the resignation of the Prime Minister, who has been in his post for 41 years, as one of their top demands.

Opposition leaders said the demonstration expanded their strategy of escalating pressure on the ruling family by marching on politically sensitive locations across the capital.

“We are attacking peacefully all the institutions of state. This is really a regime change without overthrowing the monarchy,” said Ebrahim Sharif, a Sunni Muslim and former banker who heads the National Democratic Action Society, one of the groups tasked with unifying the opposition’s message. (Wall Street Journal)


Intifada update

Demonstrators in Saudi Arabia demand prisoners’ release
Demonstrators protested in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on Friday to demand the release of Shiite prisoners they feel are being held unjustly.

An outspoken Shiite prayer leader who demonstrators say was arrested last Friday was a focal point of the “day of rage” protest, said Ibrahim Al-Mugaiteeb, president of the Human Rights First Society.

Sheikh Tawfeeq Al-Amer was arrested Friday after a sermon stating that Saudi Arabia should become a constitutional monarchy, Al-Mugaiteeb said. (CNN)

Bahrain: Dangerous statistics and facts about the national security apparatus
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses again its deep concern regarding the mounting dangerous role of the National Security Apparatus (NSA) at the expense of liberties and human rights in Bahrain. A list which the BCHR has obtained reveals that amongst the more than 1000 employees working for the NSA, 64% of them are non-citizens, mostly of Asian nationalities. The king’s relatives occupy the highest posts in the NSA; Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa heads it, in addition to three others from the King’s family.

The aforementioned list also reveals that the NSA is formed on sectarian basis. The percentage of Shiite citizens employed at the NSA does not exceed 4%, and they work as informants and in the low level jobs. While the Shiites, who form two thirds of the Bahraini citizens, are the main target for the NSA. This appears when verifying the sectarian identity of the villages and areas that the Security Special Forces are besieging on an almost daily basis, the organizations that are being targeted, the protest events that are being suppressed, the hundreds of people being arrested and trialed on security charges, and the activists targeted with smearing media campaigns.

Several hurt as Sunnis, Shi’ites clash in Bahrain
Several people were hurt in fighting between Sunni and majority Shi’ite Muslims in a town in central Bahrain on Friday, the first sectarian violence since protests erupted in the Sunni-ruled kingdom two weeks ago.

The overnight clashes were triggered by a family dispute or a car accident, or both, according to different accounts, although the government said the cause of the dispute was “simple.”

“There were about a hundred people involved,” one resident said as police helicopters circled overhead and ambulances rushed from the scene.

Youths with sticks and batons fled the area, residents said. (Reuters)

Protesters converge on Iraq capital
Thousands of people have converged on Baghdad’s Tahrir, or Liberation, Square for an anti-government demonstration, despite a vehicle ban that forced many to walk for hours to the heart of the Iraqi capital.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad that the situation was heading towards a stand-off, as security forces demanded the protesters leave, blocking their route across a bridge leading to the Green Zone, where the government has its base.

Concrete blocks were set up by authorities on all of Baghdad’s bridges ahead of the protests.

“What we’re seeing here is a bit of a test, of how the government will respond when these people clearly want their demands to be heard,” Arraf said.

The protests in Iraq are growing in size, partly because of the instability of the coalition government formed by Nouri al-Maliki, the country’s prime minister, Arraf said.

Iraqis are increasingly unwilling to accept the nature of the democracy that has emerged in years after Saddam’s regime was overthrown.

“This is a new democracy, it’s an unusual democracy, and it’s not exactly what people bargained for,” she said.

“On top of that, people are looking around protests in Egypt and Tunisia … It has shown them, particularly these young people that if they come out and demand their rights, perhaps something will happen.”

The Baghdad demonstration was one of many taking place across the country on Friday, including in the port of Basra and the city of Najaf. (Al Jazeera)

Blowback: Weapons of Mideast oppression, ‘Made in U.S.A.’
The Times’ Feb. 22 article, “Britain, Italy condemned for Libya ties,” provides helpful insight into the uproar caused by British and Italian military aid to Libya. However, readers would be well served by further information on how, with our government’s support, U.S. companies have provided military and crowd-control equipment that has propped up authoritarian governments throughout the Middle East.

Rather than seeing the U.S. as spreading freedom, Arabs who have taken to the streets have experienced “Made in U.S.A.” tear gas used by repressive governments to kill and maim unarmed protesters and crush popular movements for justice.

For unarmed Arab protesters in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Pennsylvania may seem to be the tear-gas capital of the world judging by the labels on the canisters fired at them. Combined Systems Inc. (CSI) is headquartered in Jamestown, Pa., and NonLethal Technologies Inc.’s home is in Homer City, Pa. The apparently defunct Federal Laboratories was based in Saltsburg, Pa. (Los Angeles Times)


Intifada update

Anti-Saleh protests sweep Yemen
A growing wave of protests across Yemen is mounting pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to end his 32-year rule

Several thousand demonstrators turned out yet again in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday for what are now almost daily rallies against him and denied any links to the US.

“The people who come to the square are youths, free youths who have no connection whatsoever to any foreign entity, their only concern is to topple the regime,” Ali Al Sakkaf, a protester, said.

In the town of Sadr, in the country’s south, witnesses said that security forces fired tear gas and shot at hundreds of protesters, to which the demonstrators responded by setting police vehicles alight. (Al Jazeera)

Saleh accuses the US and Israel of destabilizing the Arab world
[O]n Tuesday, Saleh seemed to be turning on Washington. In a speech to about 500 students and lecturers at Sanaa University, he claimed the U.S., along with Israel, is behind the protest movement.

“I am going to reveal a secret,” he said. “There is an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world. The operations room is in Tel Aviv and run by the White House.”

Saleh also alleged that opposition figures meet regularly with the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa. “Regrettably those (opposition figures) are sitting day and night with the American ambassador where they hand him reports and he gives them instructions,” Saleh said.

The Obama administration rejected these claims. White House spokesman Jay Carney called on Saleh to focus on implementing the political reforms demanded by his people instead of “scapegoating.”

Saleh’s relationship with the U.S. has been ambivalent, and he has at times attempted to play down his military alliance with Washington. Anti-U.S. sentiment remains strong in Yemen, as elsewhere in the region, and Saleh’s comments appeared to be an attempt to discredit the protesters by suggesting they are serving foreign interests. (AP)

The looming threat of tribal war
Over the 32 years of his reign, Salih, who is a former tank commander, has paid keen attention to the tribal backgrounds of his general officers and field officers. The majority of the general officers are drawn from Salih’s tribe, the Sanhaan, and many are directly linked with his family and or extended family through marriage. Most notably, the Republican Guard and the Central Security Service, the most able and well equipped of Yemen’s armed forces, are commanded by Salih’s son and nephew respectively. The field officers’ backgrounds are more varied but are still thoroughly vetted in terms of tribal affiliations. The junior officer core is more of an unknown, but even within its ranks there are few southerners and most are still from the northern tribes from which Salih has traditionally drawn most of his support.

The tribal affiliations of Yemen’s general and field officers likely mean that Salih can expect continued loyalty from much of his armed forces, especially if threatened by a Hashid-backed alliance led by members of the al-Ahmar family. The loyalty of his general officers has been further buttressed by often exorbitant salaries that allow them to carve out fiefdoms of their own. Some of the more senior officers are in a position to guarantee the loyalty of their troops, if necessary, with cash bonuses and other perks. Many within the general and field officer cores have also sought to make sure that a majority of the enlisted men within their ranks are from their own tribes and clans, to further guarantee loyalty.

While the tribal affiliations of the Yemeni Army, especially within its officer core, are likely to guarantee a significant level of loyalty to the regime, it should be noted that the Yemeni Army’s morale suffers from poor pay and living conditions. In addition, it was dealt a blow by the prolonged war against the Houthis in northern Yemen. Salaries for enlisted men, despite Salih’s recent promise of an increase, remain low, with many soldiers owed months of back pay. Corruption is also endemic. During the last war against the Houthis (2009-2010), there were numerous reports of officers selling ammunition and supplies and leaving their troops with neither food nor bullets to fight with. (Jamestown Foundation)

Radical cleric demands ouster of Yemen leader
Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, maintained a tenuous hold on power on Tuesday, blaming the United States and Israel for protests across the Arab world, while a prominent radical cleric joined the growing crowds demanding his ouster and called for an Islamic state.

American officials expressed concern about the statement of the cleric, Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a one-time mentor of Osama bin Laden, which introduced a new Islamist element to the turmoil in a country where Al Qaeda is viewed as a grave threat. The protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and that now have spread to Libya, Bahrain and Oman have been largely secular in nature.

Mr. Zindani spoke on an open-air stage before several thousand antigovernment protesters, guarded by 10 men carrying AK-47s and shielded from the scorching sun by two umbrellas wielded by aides. “An Islamic state is coming,” he said, drawing cries of “God is great” from some in the crowd.

He said Mr. Saleh “came to power by force, and stayed in power by force, and the only way to get rid of him is through the force of the people.”

It was not clear how much support Mr. Zindani had among the protest movement. (New York Times)

Army appoints new Egyptian PM
Egypt’s governing military council has accepted the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister, and appointed a former transport minister, Essam Sharaf, to form a new government, according to an army announcement.

The statement was carried on the military’s Facebook page on Thursday and then confirmed by a military spokesman.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces decided to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and appointed Essam Sharaf to form the new government,” the statement said.

The council said it had tasked Sharaf with forming a new caretaker cabinet that would oversee the country’s transition to civilian rule.

Sharaf took part in the mass rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which brought down Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, on February 11 after three decades in power. (Al Jazeera)

Mubarak to be questioned in corruption probe
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is still believed to be at his residence in Sharm el-Sheikh, will be brought to Cairo next week for questioning in his corruption case, said Mustafa Bakri, a former member of parliament.

Bakri, who brought the case against Mubarak and other officials, was told of the development by the Prosecutor General’s office on Thursday.

Attorney General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud issued an order freezing assets of Mubarak and his family on Monday and prohibited them from leaving the country. (CNN)

Iranian activists appeal to UN over missing opposition leaders
A number of prominent Iranian activists have written an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to intervene in the case of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reports.

The letter, published on March 1 on opposition websites, calls on Ban to use all “international levers” at his disposal to ensure the welfare of Musavi and Karrubi and seek their release from detention.

Iranian officials have denied the men have been arrested or detained.

Their family, friends, and supporters along with the opposition website Kaleme, which is close to Musavi, say he and Karrubi and their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karrubi, were taken recently to Heshmatieh prison in Tehran. (RFE/RL)

Iran forces fire teargas at protesters
Iranian security forces fired teargas and clashed with anti-government protesters demonstrating against the treatment of opposition leaders, pro-reform websites reported on Tuesday.

Thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities, chanting slogans against the government, Sahamnews reported.

“Security forces and plainclothes agents fired teargas and clashed with demonstrators in Tehran to disperse them,” another opposition website Kaleme reported. (Reuters)

Saudi Facebook activist planning protest shot dead
Saudi activists alleged Wednesday that state security shot dead a leading online activist, who was calling for a ‘Day of Rage’ on March 11 in the oil-rich kingdom.

Faisal Ahmed Abdul-Ahadwas, 27, was believed to be one of the main administrators of a Facebook group that is calling for protests similar to that have swept North Africa and the Middle East.

The Facebook group, which has over 17,000 members, is calling for nationwide protests and reforms, including that governors and members of the upper house of parliament be elected, the release of political prisoners, greater employment, and greater freedoms.

Online activists said they believe Abdul-Ahadwas was killed by state security and that his body was taken by authorities to ‘hide evidence of the crime.’ (DPA)

Tunisian ministers continue to quit
Three more ministers left Tunisia’s interim government, following the resignations of the prime minister and two others, after weeks of protests about the caretaker authority.

Ahmed Ibrahim, higher education and scientific research minister, told the Reuters news agency he had resigned on Tuesday, while the departure of Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, local development minister, was announced by the official TAP news agency.

Also on Tuesday, private Tunisian radio broadcaster Shems FM reported Elyes Jouini, minister of economic reform, had resigned.

These resignations come after three other high profile politicians quit Tunisia’s interim unity government since the weekend, including prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who stepped down on Sunday. (Al Jazeera)

Oman deploys army units fearing more unrest
Oman deployed troops north of the capital Muscat and near the border with the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, following three straight days of anti-government protests, a government official said.

Oman, ruled by a powerful family dynasty, is the latest Arab nation to be swept up in a wave of regional unrest that has already brought down two leaders and threatened the rule of others.

The center of protests in Oman has been the port town of Sohar, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Muscat, where demonstrators demanding higher salaries and jobs have clashed with security forces.

Police killed a protester in Sohar on Saturday, after demonstrations turned violent. Several government buildings and a supermarket were set on fire, local media reported. (AP)


Intifada update

Saudi activists push for political reform
Democracy activists in Saudi Arabia say the government is closely monitoring social media to nip in the bud any protests inspired by uprisings that swept Arab countries, toppling leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and 20, with more than 17,000 supporters combined, but police managed to stifle two attempts to hold protests in the Red Sea city of Jeddah last month, highlighting the difficulties of such mobilization in the conservative kingdom.

In one case, between 30 and 50 people were detained by police when they gathered on the street, witnesses said. In the second, security forces flooded the location of a protest advertised on Facebook, scaring off protesters.

“They are watching closely what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter,” said Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran. “Obviously they are anxious as they are surrounded with unrest and want to make sure we don’t catch the bug.” (Reuters)

Protests at Bahrain’s parliament
Bahrainis campaigning for democratic reforms in the Gulf Arab state staged a protest outside parliament, demanding that all its members resign over recent protester deaths.

“We came to this parliament to say that you represent the people and you represent us – take an honourable position over the killings by the army,” said Mirza al-Shihabi, one of around 500 protesters outside the building in central Manama on Monday. (Al Jazeera)

Looting reported amid Oman protests
Residents in the northeastern Omani city of Sohar have reportedly looted a supermarket damaged in protests, as demonstrations over economic woes carried on into a third day.

Security forces sealed off main roads to the city on Monday and hundreds of protesters reportedly stormed a police station, while protests spread throughout the city.

Sohar, a city about 200km northwest of the capital of Muscat, was the scene of protests over the weekend, as demonstrators demanded higher salaries, jobs for the unemployed and the removal of some government ministers. (Al Jazeera)

Another Tunisia minister quits
Mohamed Afif Chelbi, Tunisia’s industry and technology minister, has resigned from the government, the official TAP news agency has reported.

Chelbi, who resigned on Monday, was one of only two remaining ministers who had previously served in the cabinet under ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

His departure leaves Mohamed Nouri Jouini, the minister for international co-operation, as the only survivor in the cabinet from the Ben Ali era. (Al Jazeera)


Intifada update

The Economist’s index of unrest in the Arab world

Tunisian interim PM Ghannouchi resigns over protests
Tunisian interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has announced on state TV that he is resigning – a key demand of demonstrators.

He was speaking at a news conference in Tunis, after making a lengthy speech defending his record in government.

Mr Ghannouchi is seen as being too close to former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in an uprising last month. (BBC)

Three people killed as demonstrations turn deadly in Tunisia
Protests in Tunisia turned violent and deadly Saturday, just over six weeks after a popular uprising forced the president out of office, and lit a spark of desire for democratic reform in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Three people were killed Saturday and nine others injured during mayhem in the capital, Tunis, according to a Interior Ministry statement cited by the state-run news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

More than 100 people were arrested, the ministry said, in the area around Habib Bourguiba Avenue, in the city’s center, accused of “acts of destruction and burning.” (CNN)

2 dead as protesters, police clash in Oman, witnesses say
Clashes between protesters and police in the Omani industrial town of Sohar wounded about 10 people Sunday, state media reported Sunday.

At least two protesters were killed, Oman TV editor Asma Rshid told CNN.

“The police shot them because they burned shops and cars in Sohar,” Rshid said. Another source said it was rubber bullets that the police fired. A number of police had also reportedly been injured, but numbers were not confirmed. (CNN)

In Bahrain, Sunni activist’s plight seen as a cautionary tale
Mohamed Albuflasa was different from everyone else taking the stage on the second day of Bahrain’s protests. He was a Sunni Muslim.

The 34-year-old Salafist favored government reform, and he believed he should speak at the rally to promote unity among the country’s Shiite Muslim majority and Sunnis at Manama’s Pearl Square.

Within hours, a security agency had detained him, and he has not been seen since. Even as hundreds of political prisoners were freed this week by King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, Albuflasa remains jailed and his whereabouts a mystery.

“Mohamed’s speech was meant to reduce the fire going on where people create differences between Shiites and Sunnis. He was there to show there is no difference between them. We are all Bahraini,” his brother, Rashid, told The Times this week. “He is not against the royal family and government.” (Los Angeles Times)


Intifada update

23 killed in Iraq’s ‘Day of Rage’ protests
Tens of thousands of Iraqis surged into the streets Friday in at least a dozen demonstrations across the country, storming provincial buildings, forcing local officials to resign, freeing prisoners and otherwise demanding more from a government they only recently had a chance to elect.

At least 23 protesters were killed as Iraqis braved security forces to vent shared frustrations at the nearest government official. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians, they shouted for simple dignities made more urgent by war – adequate electricity, clean water, a decent hospital, a fair shot at a job.

“I have demands!” Salma Mikahil, 48, cried out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, as military helicopters and snipers looked down on thousands of people bearing handmade signs and olive branches signifying peace. “I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this,” Mikahil said, waving a 1,000-dinar note, worth less than a dollar, toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s offices. “I want to see if his conscience accepts it.”

The protests – billed as Iraq’s “Day of Rage” – represented a new sort of conflict for a population that has been menaced by sectarian militias and suicide bombers. Now, many wondered whether they would have to add to the list of enemies their own government, whose security forces beat and shot at protesters and journalists Friday and left hundreds injured.

Six people were killed in Fallujah and six others in Mosul, with the other deaths reported in five separate incidents around the country, according to officials and witnesses. The reports attributed most casualties to security forces who opened fire.

The demonstrators who sparked the crackdown were calling for reform, not revolution, although there were mini-examples of the latter – hyper-local versions of the recent revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Crowds forced the resignation of the governor of the southern province of Basra and the entire city council of Fallujah and chased away the governor of Mosul, the brother of the speaker of parliament, who was also there and fled, too. (Washington Post)

Tribal leader’s resignation is blow to Yemeni president
A leading tribal figure in Yemen announced his resignation from the ruling party on Saturday, signaling a major blow to the embattled leadership of President Ali Abdullah Saleh as demonstrations calling for his resignation continue across the country.

“The Yemeni people would not keep silent on the blood of martyrs shed in Aden and will avenge it,” Sheikh Hussein Al Ahmar said in a speech before a large gathering of tribesmen in northern Amran province, referring to deaths of antigovernment protesters in the southern city of Aden, according to local press reports. He also called for the overthrow the Saleh regime, and the gathering broke out in antigovernment chants.

Mr. Ahmar is a prominent leader in Yemen’s most influential tribal confederation, the Hashids; his brother, Sadiq Al Ahmar, is the chief Hashid leader. Mr. Saleh, the president, is also a member of the Hashid confederation and has been meeting with tribal leaders to garner their support over the past two weeks.

Four days earlier, Mohammad Abdel Illah al-Qadi, a key leader of the Sanhan tribe, a Hashid affiliate that is also the president’s home tribe, resigned because of violence used against protesters. Mr. Qadi, whose father is a powerful military leader, was one of 10 parliament members who resigned the ruling party. (New York Times)

Shi’ite dissident returns to Bahrain from exile
A hardline Shi’ite dissident flew home to Bahrain from exile on Saturday to join an opposition movement demanding that the island kingdom’s Sunni ruling family accept a more democratic system.

“We want a real constitution,” Hassan Mushaimaa told reporters at the airport. “They’ve promised us (one) before and then did whatever they wanted to.”

“I’m here to see what are the demands of the people at the square and sit with them and talk to them,” he said, referring to anti-government protesters camped in Manama’s Pearl Square.

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched from Pearl Square to a former office of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa on Saturday in a new tactic to press demands for the removal of a man who has held his post for 40 years.

Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, is a symbol of the ruling family’s political power and wealth.

The march was the protesters’ first foray into a government and commercial district of Manama. They halted at a compound that also houses the Foreign Ministry. Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime.” (Reuters)

Saudi youths call for rally in Jeddah
A group of Saudi youth has called for a rally in the southwestern coastal city of Jeddah to show solidarity with the pro-democracy uprisings and revolutions across the Arab world.

A group calling itself Jeddah Youth for Change has distributed printed statements, calling on the people to join a demonstration near al-Beia Square in Jeddah on Friday.

“We will not give up our right to peacefully demonstrate,” the flier says.

“We will express our solidarity with the Libyan people who are living the hardship of their revolt against the oppressive and unjust system of Muammar Gaddafi,” it added.

Also in the eastern Qatif region, people are planning to hold a rally on Friday in support of the Libyan revolution and the uprising in Bahrain.

Thousands of people have said they are prepared to attend the protests after Saudi youth named March 11th the Day of Rage on the social networking website, Facebook. (Press TV)


Intifada update

Hundreds of thousands protest across Mideast
Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in cities across the Middle East on Friday to protest the unaccountability of their leaders and express solidarity with the uprising in Libya that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is trying to suppress with force.

The worst violence of the day appeared to be in Libya, where security forces shot at protesters as they left Friday prayers to try to launch the first major anti-government demonstration in the capital. Demonstrations in recent days have been in other cities, and several of those have fallen to armed rebels determined to oust Colonel Qaddafi.

Protests in Iraq also took a violent turn, with security forces firing on crowds in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi and in Salahuddin Province, killing at least ten people. Unlike in other Middle Eastern countries, the protesters in Iraq are not seeking to topple their leaders, but are demanding better government services after years of war and deprivation.

Religious leaders and the prime minister had pleaded with people not to take to the streets, with Moktada al-Sadr saying the new government needed a chance to improve services and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki warning that insurgents could target the gatherings. But on Friday, the deaths came at the hands of government forces.

Demonstrations elsewhere — in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia — were almost exclusively peaceful. (New York Times)

Tahrir protesters call on old guard to go

Thousands of workers strike in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is now being rocked by strikes as the mood of resistance spreads across the region. A socialist in Saudi Arabia reports on how struggles in the Middle East are even spreading to the most vicious dictatorship, which is sponsored by the US

‘I went to my workplace on Thursday of last week, and I found out that there were over 3,000 workers demanding their rights before they called a general strike in the construction site in Saudi Binladin Group. The workers were very angry. Their workplace is one of the largest construction projects in the country, which is worth SR.100 billion.

However, they live in a terrible conditions. One of the workers told me, “I live in a room four metres by three metres with eight people, and for every ten people there is only one toilet.” Another Egyptian worker told me about the working conditions and the restriction of religious freedom: “They are Zionists, they don’t even allow me to pray on time!” (Socialist Worker)

Egyptian workers strike for minimum wage and independent unions

Britain’s two-faced relationship with Middle-Eastern tyranny has to end
Have you been invited to Kate’s and Wills’s wedding at Westminster Abbey on 29 April? No? I didn’t think so. Nor have I.

But Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa has. He happens to be the king of Bahrain, where thousands of people have been peacefully protesting against his unelected royal regime since 14 February. His Majesty’s response? On 16 February, shortly before dawn, he ordered his security forces to storm Pearl Square in the heart of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, where the protesters – emulating those who had gathered in Cairo’s Liberation Square – were camping out. The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the king’s sleeping subjects, killing at least four, including a two-year-old girl, and injuring hundreds of others. The next day, they switched to live ammunition.

Nonetheless, the king of Bahrain has received his gilded invitation from Buckingham Palace, embossed with the Queen’s EIIR royal cypher. The Bahraini monarch is not the only Middle East tyrant to have made the cut. Invitations are reported to have gone out to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan. Then again, given the pace of events in Tunisia and Egypt and the ongoing unrest in Libya, it is a matter of debate as to whether the two Abdullahs or Hamad will still be in power come 29 April. (Mehdi Hasan)

No real freedom without dismantling the secret political police
President Zine el Abbidin of Tunisia and President Mubarak of Egypt may have been ousted, but the terror and control of the secret political police continues unchecked and invisible to the eyes of the international community. Unless the domestic intelligence agencies: the state security investigations apparatus (SSI) in Egypt and its counterpart in Tunisia are immediately dismantled, not only will repression continue, but an underground witch-hunt against citizens who continue to press for genuine democracy will follow. There are signs that this is already happening in Tunisia where politically active citizens have once again felt the secret police force breathing down their necks.

Sihem Bensedrine, a prominent activist who was harassed under Ben Ali’s rule over attempts to set up an independent Internet newspaper and a satellite television channel, said that recently she has been again subject to surveillance by the secret police. Prior to the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, the president’s party established a very complex and pervasive regime for monitoring ordinary citizens through the secret [political] police. According to Nadia Marzouki, a citizen had to avoid entanglements with the authorities, otherwise officials may “interfere with her enrolment at a university, her exams, her wedding or her desire to open a restaurant or shop, buy property, give birth in a hospital, obtain a passport or even buy a cellular phone: After 23 years of internalizing fear, Tunisians became their own censors.”

In post-Mubarak Egypt, the fear barrier over mentioning the SSI is now almost fully breached, but activists affirm that the officers are still in full force. The state security investigations apparatus has, since its establishment under British colonial rule, systematically served to protect the ruling regime by collecting intelligence information and using soft and brutal power against real, virtual or potential sources of dissidence. Since former Minister of Interior Habib al Adly came to power in 1997, he has worked to transform the apparatus into a parallel governance structure that uses repression, coercion and control mechanisms to remind citizens that the big SSI brother is always watching. When Mubarak announced the resignation of the government on the night of the January 28, Habib al Adly was removed from power. Technically, the SSI is supposed to be answerable to the Minister of Interior and it was assumed that the SSI would become redundant once Habib el Adly resigned. Yet what happened next suggested otherwise. Wael Saeed Abbas Ghoneim, one of the youth bloggers, was kidnapped by the State Security Investigations apparatus on January 27 and detained blindfolded for 12 days while everyone was oblivious to his whereabouts. It was assumed that he would be released shortly after January 28; but this was not the case. (Mariz Tadros)

Hamas: The US and Israel are the biggest losers in the Arab uprising
Member of Hamas’s political bureau Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said that the US and Israel are both the biggest losers in the changes taking place in the Arab world as a result of the popular revolutions.

In a press statement to Safa news agency on Saturday, Dr. Zahhar ruled out that the Egyptian revolution could immediately impact the situation in the besieged Gaza Strip due to the ruling military council’s preoccupation with its numerous and complex internal affairs.

Gaza police order male hairdressers to quit working
Hatem Ghoul was on his way to work at his hairdressing salon in Gaza City earlier this week when he got word that his employees had been paid a visit by the police.

They had left a message for Ghoul: could he drop by the police station; there was something they wanted to discuss. And, it turned out, not just him. The other four male hairdressers in the city had similar requests.

Ghoul had been expecting this for almost a year, since reports that Hamas was cracking down on men cutting and styling women’s hair. But Ghoul and his male colleagues in Gaza City continued to work, and no one stopped them.

This week he was left in no doubt. One by one, he told me, the men were called into a room where an unrelated detainee was chained to a wall by his wrists, and told to sign a pledge to give up their profession or face arrest and a 20,000 shekel (£3,400) fine. (The Guardian)


Intifada update

Gaddafi fights for his future as up to 200 die in Benghazi
Libya was approaching a “tipping point” last night as widespread protests against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime were met with increasing violence from security forces.

Dozens of protesters were reported killed by sniper fire from security forces in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, yesterday when violence flared again as crowds clashed after funerals for people killed in fighting on Friday. “Dozens were killed. We are in the midst of a massacre here,” one eyewitness reported.

Clashes were reported in the town of al-Bayda, where dozens of civilians were said to have been killed and police stations came under attack. In all, the death toll was reported to have reached 120. Doctors from Aj Jala hospital in Benghazi confirmed 1,000 people had been injured. (The Independent)

Reports of intense Benghazi violence
Benghazi, about 1,000 km (600 miles) from Tripoli, has been the main focus of the demonstrations against Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Troops opened fire on people attending a funeral there on Saturday, killing 15, both the Associated Press news agency and al-Jazeera television said.

But an eyewitness told Reuters news agency that many more had actually died.

“Dozens were killed… not 15, dozens,” the unnamed eyewitness said, adding that he had helped take victims to a local hospital.

A Benghazi resident told the BBC that security forces inside a government compound had fired on protesters with mortars and 14.5mm machine guns – a heavy machine gun typically produced in the former USSR.

They were, he said, machine-gunning cars and people indiscriminately. “A lot [of people] have fallen down today,” he added. (BBC)

Libyan protesters risk ‘suicide’ by army hands
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is confronting the most serious challenge to his 42-year rule as leader of Libya by unleashing his army on unarmed protesters.

Unlike the rulers of neighbouring Egypt, Gaddafi has refused to countenance the politics of disobedience, despite growing international condemnation, and the death toll of demonstrators nearing 100.

The pro-government Al-Zahf al-Akhdar newspaper warned that the government would “violently and thunderously respond” to the protests, and said those opposing the regime risked “suicide”.

William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, condemned the violence as “unacceptable and horrifying”, even as the Libyan regime’s special forces, backed by African mercenaries, launched a dawn attack on a protest camp in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Britain is scrambling to extricate itself from its recently cosy relationship with Gaddafi, initiated by then prime minister Tony Blair in 2004. That rapprochement saw Libya open its doors to British oil companies in exchange for becoming a new ally in the “war on terror” while Britain sold Gaddafi arms. (The Guardian)

Unrest encircles Saudis, stoking sense of unease
The Saudi and pan-Arab news media have been cautiously supportive of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, with a number of opinion articles welcoming the call for nonviolent change. That may change now that protests and violence have seized Bahrain, which lies just across a 15-mile causeway from the Saudi border. Bahrain is a far more threatening prospect, in part because of the sectarian dimensions of the protests. Bahrain’s restive population is mostly Shiite, and is adjacent to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, an important oil-producing area where the Shiite population has long complained of unfair treatment by the puritanical Saudi religious establishment. They feel a strong kinship with their co-religionists across the water.

“The Bahrain uprising may give more courage to the Shia in the Eastern Province to protest,” said one Saudi diplomat. “It might then escalate to the rest of the country.”

Most analysts say that is unlikely. Although Saudi Arabia shares many of the conditions that bred the democracy uprisings — including autocracy, corruption and a large population of educated young people without access to suitable jobs — its people are cushioned by oil wealth and culturally resistant to change.

Moreover, analysts tend to agree that Saudi Arabia would never allow the Bahraini monarchy to be overthrown. Ever since Bahrain began a harsh crackdown on protesters on Thursday, rumors have flown that Saudi Arabia provided military support or guidance; however, there is no evidence to support that. In recent days, the deputy governor of the Eastern Province, Saud bin Jalawi, spoke to Shiite religious leaders and urged them to suppress any rebellious sentiment, according to Saudi news media reports.

“Saudi Arabia did not build a causeway to Bahrain just so that Saudis could party on weekends,” said Toby Jones, an expert on Saudi Arabia at Rutgers University. “It was designed for moments like this, for keeping Bahrain under control.” (New York Times)

How Mideast autocrats win friends and influence people in Washington
Shortly after 20 Shiite opposition leaders, including clerics and human rights activists, were arrested on the eve of elections in Bahrain last September, U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked about the situation, including allegations of police torture, “given the close relations between Bahrain and the United States.”

Crowley responded, “We are in touch with Bahraini authorities and have expressed our concern. At the same time, we have confidence as Bahrain evolves that you don’t have to make a choice between security and democracy, and that this is the message that we’re sending to the government.”

When asked whether the State Department believes Bahraini government claims that those opposition figures were plotting a coup against the royal family, Crowley dismissed the allegation, saying, “I don’t know that we’re aware of any information along those lines…”

Bahrain’s state media covered the same press briefing with a slightly altered response from Crowley. Their headline read, “America: Bahrain evolves in security and democracy,” with an accompanying story reporting the “spokesman stressed that the United States has confidence that Bahrain is evolving in the fields of development, security and democracy.”

Control of the state media is not the only way the oil-rich island kingdom polishes its reputation. A month before the arrests, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying firms began working for Bahrain.

Qorivs, a lobbying and public relations giant with a roster of high-profile clients from Intel and the Washington Post to Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea, began work under a subcontract with Britain’s Bell Pottinger. Among its goals: to position Bahrain as a key ally in the war on terror and as an advocate for peace in the Middle East. As part of its work, Qorvis pitched major media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, reports O’Dwyer’s PR Daily. (Huffington Post)


Intifada update

View Protests across the Middle East in a larger map

Egypt revolution unfinished, Qaradawi tells Tahrir masses
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a leading Egyptian Islamic theologian popularized by Al Jazeera, returned to Cairo today to deliver a stirring but overtly political sermon, calling on Egyptians to preserve national unity as they press for democratic progress.

“Don’t let anyone steal this revolution from you – those hypocrites who will put on a new face that suits them,” he said, speaking to at least 200,000 who gathered for Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s uprising. “The revolution isn’t over. It has just started to build Egypt … guard your revolution.”

The massive turnout and Mr. Qaradawi’s warning that the revolution is not complete demonstrate that if the military drags its feet on reform, another uprising could begin. And while his sermon was nonsectarian and broadly political, the turnout was also a reminder that political Islam is likely to play a larger role in Egypt than it has for decades. (Christian Science Monitor)

Among Egypt’s missing, tales of torture and prison
Ramadan Aboul Hassan left his house one night about three weeks ago to join a neighborhood watch group with two friends and did not return. The next time their relatives saw the three men they were emerging Wednesday night from a maximum security prison, 400 miles from home, run by Egypt’s military. Some family members said they bore signs of torture, though others denied it.

While many here have cheered the military for taking over after last week’s ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and for pledging to oversee a transition to democracy, human rights groups say that in the past three weeks the military has also played a documented role in dozens of disappearances and at least 12 cases of torture — trademark practices of the Mubarak government’s notorious security police that most here hoped would end with his exit.

Some, like Mr. Aboul Hassan and his two friends, were not released until several days after the revolution removed Mr. Mubarak.

Now human rights groups say the military’s continuing role in such abuses raises new questions about its ability to midwife Egyptian democracy. (New York Times)

Suez Canal workers join broad strikes in Egypt
Hundreds of workers went on strike on Thursday along the Suez Canal, one of the world’s strategic waterways, joining others across Egypt pressing demands for better wages and conditions. The protests have sent the economy reeling and defied the military’s attempt to restore a veneer of the ordinary after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall last week.

The labor unrest this week at textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks has emerged as one of the most powerful dynamics in a country navigating the military-led transition that followed an 18-day popular uprising and the end of Mr. Mubarak’s three decades of rule.

Banks reopened last week, but amid a wave of protests over salaries and management abuses promptly shut again this week. The opening of schools was delayed another week, and a date has yet to be set for opening the stock market, which some fear may plummet over the economic reverberations and anxiety about the political transition.

The military has repeatedly urged workers to end their strikes, to no avail. (New York Times)


Intifada update

Death toll hits 19 in Libya’s “Day of Rage”
The death toll in clashes between protesters and security forces in the Libyan cities of Benghazi and al-Baida on Thursday rose to 19 as Muammar Gaddafi ‘s regime sought to overshadow an opposition “Day of Anger” with its own rally in the capital Tripoli.

Meanwhile, violent clashes rocked the Libyan city of Zenten southwest of Tripoli on Thursday during which a police post and an office of the local revolutionary committee were torched, Quryna newspaper said on its website.

Separately, lawyers demonstrated in front of a courthouse in Benghazi — Libya’s second city after Tripoli — to demand a constitution for the country.

The Al-Youm and Al-Manarawebsites, monitored in Nicosia, earlier reported at least four people were killed in the city of Al-Baida, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Benghazi, on Wednesday.

Sites monitored in Cyprus and a Libyan human rights group based abroad reported earlier that the anti-Kadhafi protests in Al-Baida had cost as many as 13 lives. (Al Arabiya)

Libyans in US allege coercion
In an apparent effort to control the public narrative in the wake of rare protests that have spread throughout Libya, the country’s government is threatening to withdraw scholarship funding from citizens studying in the US unless they attend pro-government rallies in Washington this weekend, Al Jazeera has learned.

Several Libyans studying in the US said they and their peers have received phone calls this week from a man employed by the Libyan embassy instructing them to join rallies in the capital on Friday and Saturday. (Al Jazeera)

Libya cracks down on protesters after violent clashes in Benghazi
Hundreds of anti-government protesters clashed with police and government supporters in Libya’s second city yesterday as unrest spread across the Arab world.

Reports from the city of Benghazi said 38 people were injured in rioting after a human rights lawyer was arrested on Tuesday. Film footage captured screams and the sounds of gunfire as crowds scattered. Water cannon and teargas were used against an estimated 6,000 people. Some protesters armed with stones and petrol bombs had set fire to vehicles and fought with police in the city’s Shajara Square.

Opposition supporters accused the authorities of deliberately provoking trouble to spoil plans for a nationwide “day of rage” that had been called for. (The Guardian)

Syrians protest police beating in Damascus