Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]

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Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

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U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

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To beat ISIS, the Arab world must promote inclusive politics

Rula Jebreal writes: Last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Jeddah can be summed up in two words: lost opportunity. Why? None of the participants were representative of an independent, democratic or critical voice in the Middle East. Rather, the Muslim scholars who participated were voices of their inept governments, who condemn every dissident voice as a terrorist.

In the backdrop of the conference, President Barack Obama made his case for war against ISIS in Iraq to the American public last week as well. Obama also sent a direct message Muslims around the world that ISIS is not really Islamic and America is not at war with Islam. This message was meant to hit the heart of the Arab Muslim world, but it fell on deaf ears.

Nonetheless, Secretary of State John Kerry is lobbying Arab allies to play a central role to insure the success of the initiative, since ISIS poses a much greater threat to them than it does to the United States. While this is a more responsible strategy on the part of the United States, the truth is that Arab and Muslim states continue to pursue myopic and delusional policies that produce more extremism, rather than countering it. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. mobilizes allies to widen assault on ISIS

The New York Times reports: The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday.

President Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for ISIS. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.

Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said. [Continue reading...]

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Arab ‘leaders,’ viewing #Hamas as worse than #Israel, quietly support destruction of #Gaza

The New York Times reports: Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.

Not this time.

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.

“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.” [Continue reading...]

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ISIS seizes control of Iraq’s entire western frontier

The New York Times reports: The Sunni militant extremists who have seized a broad area of Iraq extended their control on Monday to the country’s entire western frontier, having secured nearly all official border crossings with Syria and the only one with Jordan, giving them the semblance of the new independent state that they say they intend to create in the region.

With the seizure of the Jordan crossing, which militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria first assaulted late Sunday night, the Iraqi military defenses crumpled, as they have in other battlegrounds in the western and northern parts of the country over the past two weeks. ISIS control of the Jordan border raised the risks that its insurgency could menace not just Syria and Iraq, but Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two important American allies.

The border seizure came as Secretary of State John Kerry made an emergency visit to Baghdad for consultations with Iraqi leaders on the need to bridge the country’s deepening sectarian splits and form a new unity government that can halt the ISIS insurgency. That is an enormous challenge, given the polarizing effects of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite whose autocratic tendencies have increasingly been a worry for American officials. [Continue reading...]

BBC News reports: Sunni rebels in Iraq say they have fully captured the country’s main oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad.

The refinery had been under siege for 10 days with the militant offensive being repulsed several times.

The complex supplies a third of Iraq’s refined fuel and the battle has already led to petrol rationing.

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Netanyahu orders strengthened barriers to protect Greater Israel

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli government has decided to build a security fence on the the border with Jordan, a report said, angering Palestinians ahead of talks with US Secretary of State.

The report published on Sunday by Israeli newspaper Maariv said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have the construction started “immediately upon the completion of the fence on the Egyptian border”.

A spokesman for Netanyahu refused to provide details on the plan to “strengthen barriers” or comment on the Maariv report, which was picked up by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

The spokesman of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the reported plans.

“The Israeli premier’s statements on building a wall in the Jordan Valley is only a proactive step to foil (US State) Secretary (John) Kerry’s visit,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told Wafa.

Israel also issued tenders on Sunday to build 1,859 more settlers’ homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, settlement watchdog Peace Now told AFP news agency.

The organisation said that 1,031 plots were offered by Israel’s housing and construction ministry in the occupied West Bank and 828 in annexed East Jerusalem.

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Riots erupt in Jordan: The end of absolute monarchy

Christopher Dickey reports: The blue-eyed king and beautiful queen of Jordan are facing the biggest crisis of their reign. On Tuesday night, riots and protests broke out in many of the country’s cities. Some in the crowd shouted “the people want the fall of the regime.” Others burned the monarch’s portrait. One longtime supporter of the royals even suggested privately “it’s not a question of if, but when” King Abdullah’s rule will end. That may well be an overstatement. The protests only included a few thousand people all told. But the pressures for truly major political reforms are mounting.

“I think this ushers in the beginning of the end of absolute monarchy, not themonarchy,” says Labib Kamhawi, 61, a former political science professor at Jordan University who is now a spokesman for an umbrella group of opposition parties and movements. (Kamhawi is facing sedition charges from the nervous regime for, as he puts it, “saying what I am saying to you.”)

Monarchies traditionally rely on a mystique that blends bloodlines with patriotism, and throughout history the wisest royals have been those who managed to remain above the fray of day to day politics. The latest riots, which started over a hike in fuel prices, show that the 50-year-old Abdullah is finding that game increasingly hard to play.

One buffer after another between Abdullah and popular anger has fallen away: He has named four prime ministers in the last year alone. His powerful intelligence chiefs have toppled repeatedly since he succeeded to the throne in 1999, as he first relied on them for his survival, then fired them and threw them in prison. 
[Continue reading...]

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Video: Jordan claims to have foiled al Qaeda terror plot

If the Arab Spring had for some time appeared to bypass Jordan there are now indications that it is about to erupt and shake the Hashemite Kingdom. Rulers in peril have an uncanny ability to foil terrorist plots.

Last week, Ruba al-Husayni wrote in As-Safir: Jordan was not spared from the repercussions of the Arab revolutions. Despite a few, benign protests — in comparison to the million-man demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, and the use of weapons in Libya and Syria — the Kingdom had to deal with an escalation of demands from political movements on the one hand, and popular demonstrations on the other.

Furthermore, there are those who are calling for curtailing the powers of King Abdullah II, while others are calling for the fall of the monarchy altogether.

Similar to the Arab Spring countries, political Islam groups in Jordan — namely the Muslim Brotherhood — enjoy prominent support in society, and are known for negotiating with the regime.

The fact that the Brotherhood is adamant about boycotting the legislative elections, and called a few months ago for staging weekly demonstrations to demand political reforms, is seen as an attempt to drag the regime to the dialogue table once again. This will lead to the participation of the Brotherhood in the elections, and as a result political representation, which will pave the way for the group to control the regime in the future.

On another note, there are demands calling for the fall of the regime by other forces, which were accused of crossing red lines. These forces have been active over the past month, in which they organized protests in the al-Tafilah neighborhood, one of the largest neighborhoods in Amman.

Activists in the Ahrar Movement from al-Tafilah neighborhood issued a strongly worded statement following the arrest of its members, warning those “in the palaces” that “you are not safe from the Arab Spring.”

The activists said that the Jordanian king is “hiding under the cloak of democracy and freedom,” adding, “You are attempting to conceal the fact that you adopt fascism, and control the fate of the country and the livelihood of the citizens.”

Jordanian political Islam forces have acknowledged the presence of the aforementioned calls — even though they are very few — however, Brotherhood Deputy Comptroller General Zaki Bani Arshid told As-Safir that the Brotherhood “has not and will not adopt such calls.” [Continue reading...]

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The Jordanian spring has begun

Zaki Bani Rashid writes: The call for reform started in Jordan well before the Arab spring. However, it has intensified since – not only because of the Arab revolutions, but also in response to widespread state corruption. Jordan’s reformers are demanding constitutional changes; in particular, changes to our election law so that a truly representative parliament is possible, together with an elected prime minister who is accountable to parliament.

The national demonstrations that took place earlier this month exposed the attitude of Jordanian officials toward reform. The demonstration was organised by the Muslim Brotherhood together with more than 70 independent initiatives. The announcement that the opposition was to hold a peaceful demonstration was met with a concerted campaign to disrupt it. The media even reported that radioactive pollution was present in the area of the demonstration. Various officials prepared a counter demonstration under the title “Loyalty to the King” in the same place, and at the same time.

However, the demonstration went ahead – the largest in the country’s history – putting Jordan on the path of true reform. What is most striking is that this large attendance was drawn from all parts of the country – cities, villages, Bedouin centres and refugee camps – and included many women. The official response had been designed to instil fear; it failed. Many in Jordan now speak of this demonstration as the beginning of the Jordanian spring. [Continue reading...]

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Video — Jordan: A kingdom divided?

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Jordan seeks Palestinian respect by offering Hamas a new home

Zvi Bar’el reports: Jordan’s King Abdullah is not an innovative leader. But last week he surprised Arab leaders and the whole world by becoming the first Arab ruler to call on Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign. “If I were in his shoes, I’d step down,” he told the BBC.

This declaration set off a storm. The king’s advisers warned him that the statement was likely to damage Jordan’s interests – and the kingdom’s relations with Syria even more. Right after the interview, representatives of the Jordanian royal court called Fahad Khitan, the editor of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm, to ask him to delay the next edition so they could insert a few corrections.

So when the paper came out, the king said “Jordan holds that removing Assad would not change the situation and would not solve the problem.” According to an editorial, “the king has not officially adopted the position that Assad should step down; his answer in the BBC interview was made to a hypothetical question, and Jordan does not have an official stance on the question of Assad’s removal.”

But the correction arrived too late. In Damascus enraged supporters of the regime attacked the Jordanian Embassy, though Syria apologized the next day. Within a few days British newspaper The Guardian published a report saying the Jordanian king had offered his services as a mediator between the West’s position on Syria and the Arab League’s, because Abdullah believed that Europe could help reach a solution faster than the Americans.

It’s doubtful whether the Jordanian initiative could change the stance of the Arab League, which is dominated by the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They threatened that if a Syrian was invited to the foreign ministers conference in Rabat, Morocco, they wouldn’t attend.

A political and legal error

Despite his change of nuance, King Abdullah has not been able to escape his troubles at home. Two weeks after new Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh was appointed to calm Jordan’s streets, which had begun to show signs of rebellion, Khasawneh made a startling announcement: “The expulsion of Hamas from Jordan in 1999 was a political and legal error. I will tell you openly, when the expulsion took place, I opposed it.”

The statement was made – not by accident – after a phone call to Khasawneh from Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, congratulating him on his appointment as prime minister. According to reports from Jordan, Meshal is expected to make an official visit to Jordan after meeting in Cairo with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to conclude a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas to establish a unity government.

Khasawneh, a 61-year-old judge who has served on the International Court of Justice, has been absent from the Jordanian political scene for 12 years and did not forge the new approach to Hamas on his own. There have been whispers in Jordan for several weeks now about the forthcoming reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

A no less important question is the thinking of Khasawneh, who was once part of a team negotiating with Israel and took part in the reconciliation with Jordan’s Islamic bloc, to which the Muslim Brotherhood belongs. This is part of the change in atmosphere required for the regime to prove its intention to “bridge between the public and the government.”

The thinking in Jordan is that when Assad’s regime falls, Hamas will need a new home – this is likely to be an excellent chance for Jordan to return to the center of Palestinian politics, from which it has been excluded for a decade. In recent years Egypt held a virtual monopoly; only Syria managed to place obstacles in its path and manipulate Hamas.

Wild card Qatar

The factor apparently stirring the cauldron between Jordan and Hamas is Qatar, which recently held intensive talks with Abdullah in a bid to advance Hamas’ return to Jordan. Jordanian sources say Meshal was to visit Jordan last week, accompanied by Qatar’s crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, but the visit was postponed without explanation.

It appears that Hamas, which has been silent about the brutal repression in Syria, has still not decided which way to go. If Assad falls, and even if Hamas is not asked to leave Syria, the new regime is likely to stop giving it the generous services supplied by Assad.

Qatar could be a comfortable base, but it’s far from the territories, while Jordan is conveniently near the West Bank and Gaza, even if it isn’t offering patronage on the order of Syria or Qatar. On the other hand, Hamas has had no guarantee that Jordan will agree to the opening of Hamas offices, including a communications network and perhaps logistics bases. Hamas also has a problem with Jordanian public opinion; the Jordanian elite, for example, doesn’t understand why Jordan has to reconcile with Hamas after its leadership joined the Syrian-Iranian axis.

A return of the Hamas leadership to Jordan would mark a significant political change in the organization’s position. The establishment of a base in a country that has signed a peace agreement with Israel and is committed to Israel’s security is not something even Israel can object to.

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Jordan starts to shake

Nicolas Pelham writes: To measure the sturdiness of King Abdullah of Jordan against the tide of upheaval sweeping the Arab world, go to Tafila, an impoverished town tucked into a sandy bowl encircled by the Moabite Mountains 110 miles south of the royal seat of Amman. Outside the courthouse where four youths recently awaited trial on charges of cursing the king, a crime punishable in this hitherto deferential kingdom by up to three years in jail, one hundred protesters continue cussing the king, until the order comes from on high to let the four go.

Such protests are growing in intensity and geographic reach, degrading the royal stature with every chant. Last season’s innuendo against his courtiers and queen has become this season’s naked repudiation of the King. In September, demonstrators chanted S-S-S, a deliberately ambiguous call for both the regime’s islah, Arabic for reform, and isqat, overthrow. The protesters outside Tafila’s courthouse dispense with such niceties, spicing the crude one-liners with which Egypt’s revolutionaries toppled Hosni Mubarak with cheeky Bedouin rhyming couplets: “O Abdullah son of Hussein/Qadaffi’s a goner, whither your reign?”

Among the flashy young men who staff the royal court, it is common to dismiss the protests as coming from unruly poor peasants after money and jobs. But in the more sober milieux of their parents where much of Jordan’s business is conducted, the King’s inability to impose his will on the south is a cause of greater unease. For though peripheral and small in number, comprising 10 percent of the kingdom’s six million subjects, the tribesmen dominate the ranks of his security apparatus. If their dissatisfaction grows, some might be tempted, as in Egypt, to jettison their leader in order to preserve their power. Doomsday may yet be far off, but, a former senior Jordanian intelligence official tells me, each month seems worse than the last. By way of comparison he cites Black September of 1970, when an armed force rose up against the King, only this time the forces challenging his rule are those already running the country, not Palestinians opposing it.

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Israeli diplomats leave Jordan ahead of protest

The New York Times reports:

Israel nearly emptied its embassy here of staff members on Thursday ahead of a planned pro-Palestinian rally outside the gates. But officials denied Israeli press reports that the diplomats had been completely evacuated over fear that the building could be ransacked, in an echo of the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo last week.

Paul Hirschson, a deputy spokesman at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said that most of the diplomats in Jordan, including the ambassador, had been due to spend the weekend in Israel anyway, and that they had left Jordan a few hours earlier than they normally would have.

“Nothing has been evacuated,” Mr. Hirschson said. “We are watching what is going on.”

The weekend staff remains in Jordan, though Israeli officials would not comment on specifics — who was staying or whether they remained inside the embassy or not.

The embassy would normally close on Thursday after office hours and reopen on Sunday. Mr. Hirschson said he expected the ambassador and all staff members to be back by Sunday.

The demonstration has been called for 6.30 p.m., when the building would be mostly empty.

Earlier, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper and other Israeli news media had reported that a convoy carrying the Israeli diplomats had left Jordan overnight for Israel.

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Jordan king: Palestinians have more secure future than Israel

Haaretz reports:

Jordanian King Abdullah II said Monday that Israel’s position in the Middle East has deteriorated in the wake of the recent wave of Arab uprisings, telling a group of intellectuals that the Palestinians now have a “more secure future” than Israel.

Israel’s position is “more problematic than it has been in the past”, Abdullah told the group of authors and academics gathered at the royal palace in Amman, according to Army Radio.

The Jordanian king told the group that he had expressed these views on a recent visit to the United States. An Israeli intellectual told the king that he believed that the Arab Spring would serve Israeli interests, whereupon Abdullah answered he felt that the opposite would be true.

King Abdallah also related to proposals advocated by some Israeli rightists that his country fulfill the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. Abdallah called this so-called “Jordanian option” an unacceptable fantasy plan. He said that Jordan can never take the place of a substitute Palestinian homeland.

The king added that no American or European official has ever pressured him to support a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that would come at the expense of the kingdom, according to Israel Radio.

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Jordanians ‘welcome’ King Abdullah by pelting his car with rocks and bottles

BBC News reports:

A group of young men in the Jordanian city of Tafileh have pelted the motorcade of King Abdullah II with stones and bottles, officials say.

The king is unharmed, they add.

The attack comes a day after King Abdullah announced major reforms, promising to relinquish his right to appoint prime ministers and cabinets.

The Jordanian government spokesman later denied that such an attack had taken place.

“The motorcade of his majesty the king was not attacked,” Taher Adwan told Agence France Presse.

A Royal Palace official who accompanied the king said that he had been enthusiastically greeted, not attacked.

“It was a gesture of welcome, not an attack,” he said, according to AP.

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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)

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