Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

June 2008, Volume 6, Issue 5
Michele Dunne, Editor
Intissar Fakir, Assistant Editor

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Insights and Analysis

Egypt: Interview with the blogger Sandmonkey

Jordan: Rifts in the Muslim Brotherhood
Ibrahim Gharaibeh

Arab World: The Effectiveness of Human Rights Commissions
Moataz El Fegiery

Morocco: MAD about Renewal or Reform?
Andrew Ng

Find out how readers are reacting to articles in the Arab Reform Bulletin. Join the debate by sending your views to the editor at arb@CarnegieEndowment.org.

News and Views

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

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Insights and Analysis

Egypt: Interview with the blogger Sandmonkey

How many internet users are there in Egypt? To what extent does internet use extend beyond those with college educations?

Nobody can give you the exact number. Officially, there are about five million internet users, which means that there are five million people who have accounts with internet service providers. However, we are in a country that thrives on illegal practices such as splitting connections. Then, of course, each connection is used by several people in each household. So I would say that at least 25 million Egyptians use the internet. And whether or not they are college educated has nothing to do with it. School kids learn how to use the computer and introduce their parents to it. The level of penetration is really a lot higher than people would suspect. Computers are now very cheap in Egypt thanks to the government’s “A Computer for Every Citizen” initiative a few years ago.

How do you see the recent protest activity taking place via new media?

It is logical. We live in a controlled society with an oppressive government, so expressing an opinion is asking for trouble. The only place you can do it safely is on the internet. You can do it without your parents ever knowing, because you're not going onto the streets and getting beaten up at a demonstration—you are just doing your homework. In an oppressive situation, people find alternative modes of release and discussion in order to live and breathe.

Can you say more about the gap between generations in Egypt?

When it comes to activism in Egypt, you have two kinds of people playing. You have the generation in their early thirties and under and you have those sixty-five and over. There are thirty years in between, an entire generation that has was born and raised under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. They were raised with the mindset that you just mind your own business. As they grew older, things started to get slightly better for them under Sadat and Mubarak. So people from that generation actually believe that this is the greatest age of democracy and liberty, because—unlike in the days of Nasser--now you can insult the president.

Also, the focus of this middle generation was on earning money, often in the Gulf, where they also picked up certain ideas. Not only did they come back more religious, but many came back with the idea that democracy would not fix things. They think it's not really the fault of the ruler, even if he isn’t democratic. We are bad people; the poor guy, he has to deal with us. It becomes that kind of mentality, which explains the continued acceptance of Mubarak.

How does this contrast to the attitude of younger Egyptians?

Many don’t care at all, but there are others who do and who subscribe to various perspectives from the Muslim Brotherhood to the left and Nasserists. The majority are centrists who haven't read any political science and don't really know the difference between left and right, but they recognize when something is wrong and they want to do something about it. They fall victim to many forms of misinformation, for example the Zionist conspiracy, which is annoying.

From which parts of the political spectrum are the young internet activists? Are there any connections between them and labor protestors?

The activists are not only the Brotherhood and leftist kids, but also liberals. The two biggest headliners for the past two months when it comes to activism have been two members of the liberal Ghad party: Israa Abdel Fatah, arrested for organizing the April 6 strike on Facebook, and Bilal Diab, a student who faced down Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif at Cairo University. In the downtown activist scene, party affiliation is important but at the end of the day there is this idea that whoever is doing the work is a good guy. Regarding the labor movement, it has always been its own thing and has been slowly building over several years. But what the internet activists are doing is helping labor activists in different parts of Egypt contact each other, create informal contacts, and start sharing experiences.

Why do most of the recent protests focus on economic or social issues rather than political ones?

That’s the smart way to do it. You do not talk about corruption in government, you don’t talk about Mubarak succession, and you don’t talk about how bad Mubarak is. You talk about how high the prices are, which affects all of us. Or you talk about the environment—get a Hadith or a Quran verse that talks about environment and you can go from there. That’s how you do it if you want to do it.

Also it is a learning experience for the new activists. I was talking to one of the other bloggers about the strike planned for May 4, for example. We knew it was going to fail because it was too soon after April 6 and it wasn’t well planned. But this is an entirely new generation and you cannot tell them what to do and not to do. Let them try it; if they succeed, good for them and if they don’t, it’s an experience.

Where do you see the activism via new media going?

Of course it’s possible that it will go nowhere or even backwards; look at China and Tunisia. The moment the government wants to clamp down, it can. Even if the kids aren’t afraid, their parents will make them afraid. People are more fed up than they used to be, but whether they will actually do anything is a different story. We have a very strange habit here in Egypt; instead of putting the blame where it belongs we take it out on each other. We have no system of accountability, no system for justice. So if I am oppressed, I have to oppress someone else—within the family, the work place, or the lower classes of society. You see Muslims take it out on the Christians and so on.

Some activists are concerned that the government will take steps such as closing down Facebook. Do you expect that?

I think they closed it down in Syria, so there is that. But it’s not likely here. This is the thing: there was this guy named Ahmed Maher, who was responsible for the May 4 Facebook-organized strike. He was hiding from the police because he knew they wanted his head. Finally, they arrested him and they beat him for hours until he gave up his password. Imagine for a moment that security personnel followed a kid for more than a week because he had a Facebook account. They don’t have the resources to follow all of them. Plus I don’t think the government likes bad publicity. Not even the Saudis block Facebook. You don’t want to push people and take away the things that make them happy and for some reason Facebook makes people happy.

The interviewee writes the blog Rantings of a Sandmonkey. Michele Dunne conducted this interview.

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Jordan: Rifts in the Muslim Brotherhood

Ibrahim Gharaibeh

Debates surrounding the April election of Hammam Sa’id as General Guide of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood reflected the deep internal conflict within the organization. For the past sixty years, the movement has managed to maintain internal unity. Recently, however, internal schisms—traditionally underplayed and kept secret—have become much more salient and public. The movement is wrought with generational, regional, and ideological disagreements; it also faces great external pressures that threaten its unity and its ability to reach consensus on national and regional issues. Most significantly, the recent emergence of a powerful faction with close ties to Palestine’s Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) threatens to divide the movement.

Debates within the Jordanian Islamist movement date to the political opening that Jordan experienced since the 1980s, and they heightened as the movement increased the scope of its political participation. The 1988 establishment of Hamas (as an outgrowth of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood established in the 1930s) and the Jordanian Brotherhood’s declining influence on it also played a role in exacerbating the disagreements. When Jordanian parliamentary life was resumed in 1989, the Muslim Brotherhood did well in parliamentary elections. The movement’s leadership then sought to create a political party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), in cooperation with other independent Muslim figures.

Internal Brotherhood elections in 1990 brought in a new leadership, replacing a faction that had led the movement since the 1970s. The displaced faction included longtime members of the movement’s executive bureau as well as parliamentarians. Although voted out of leadership positions in the movement, members of this faction remained in control of the Islamic Center Society, a religious endowment that runs an Islamic hospital, schools, clinics, and other properties.

After the 1990 elections, the Brotherhood was effectively divided into two groups: moderates and radicals, or what the press called “hawks and doves,” and a struggle ensued over the movement’s financial resources and organizations. The group’s former leadership (the hawks), headed by Muhammad Abu Faris and Ibrahim Mas’ud began to lose control over the movement’s financial resources. Their place was taken by a group of moderates, headed by Ishaq Farhan, Ahmad al-Azayda, Abdullah al-Ukayla, Bassam al-`Amush, and Hamza Mansur.

The first victim of this struggle was the nascent IAF, still at that point in a period of formation and preparation. The old leaders were no longer enthusiastic about the party or any political project over which they had no control. But the IAF did manage to develop, and the party and parliamentary deputies began to constitute a third center of power in the movement, further undermining the authority and influence of the Brotherhood’s leadership. The relationship between the movement and the party became increasingly problematic, culminating in the movement’s decision to boycott parliamentary elections in 1997. Just as the 1997 boycott dealt a blow to the IAF faction within the Islamist movement, a crisis between Hamas and the Jordanian government in 1996 similarly dealt a blow to the Jordanian Brotherhood’s executive bureau.

The 2002 internal elections produced a significant transformation in the Islamist movement, perhaps the most radical shift since the 1970s. A fourth faction, which drew its strength from organizational and financial ties to Hamas, emerged. Leading this faction was a group of Brotherhood activists with ties to Hamas, including Sa’ud Abu Mahfuz, Faraj Shalhub, Yasser al-Ya’atra, Kazim `Ayash, Mu`in al-Kadumi, and Zaki Bani Arshid, who became Secretary General of the IAF. This faction began to use a discourse rooted in regionalism and identity politics, exacerbating differences between Jordanians of Jordanian origin and those of Palestinian origin.

Hamas’s electoral victory in Palestine in 2006 constituted a turning point for the Jordanian Islamist movement. Half of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin and many of them support the Islamist movement. This fact, combined with the 2005 terrorist bombings in Amman, led Jordanian authorities to exert more pressure on the movement.

The Islamist movement’s weak showing in the 2007 parliamentary elections (only six seats, less than a third of their showing in several other elections) gave the Hamas faction the opportunity to call for several organizational initiatives, such as disbanding the Shura council and calling new internal elections. Following fierce competition between moderate Salem al-Fallahat and hawk Hammam Sa’id, Sa’id won the election for General Guide by a single vote. A deal was then struck to accommodate the moderate wing of the Brotherhood by giving it representation in the Shura Council and executive bureau. It is clear, however, that the Jordanian Islamist movement still is at risk of splintering. Divisions that were once seen mostly at the leadership level have now penetrated the movement in a much deeper way.

Ibrahim Gharaibeh is a Jordanian journalist currently living in Doha. Dina Bishara translated this article from Arabic.

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Arab World: The Effectiveness of Human Rights Commissions

Moataz El Fegiery

In the Arab world, what UN literature calls national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have emerged in recent years. A few of them—for example in Morocco and Palestine—have attained a degree of autonomy in confronting governments. Most Arab NHRIs, however, have been unable to establish legitimacy in society because they are seen as government organizations. In addition, the relationship between these institutions and independent human rights groups is often tense, especially when it comes to subjects such as civil rights, political reform, and constitutional reform.

All NHRIs in the Arab world were created by the ruling elite during two waves of activity over the past two decades. The first wave occurred in the 1990s, when governments in certain countries—Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Palestine, and Yemen—launched these institutions as part of a package of policies to shore up wavering political legitimacy at home and absorb social crises. The second wave came in the context of the international and regional debate over political reform during the past five years, which pushed countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar to establish these institutions.

Procedures for appointing members—and whether they guarantee the needed representation of key forces in society—are one factor affecting the autonomy and credibility of NHRIs. NHRI members are appointed in Tunisia, Algeria, Qatar, and Jordan by presidential or royal decision. In Egypt, meanwhile, the partly-elected upper house of parliament appoints the members of the National Council for Human Rights. The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia actually was formed by a group of forty-one intellectuals who then obtained a decree of appointment from the king. By contrast, in Morocco the forty-four member Consultative Council for Human Rights is partly appointed—the king chooses fourteen members—and partly selected by a specified list of political and civil organizations (human rights groups, unions, political parties, university professors), which assures a certain diversity. In Palestine, an independent board of commissioners selects the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights.

Beyond membership, there is the question of what NHRIs actually do in Arab countries. NHRIs are largely consultative in nature, offering advice on national strategies to increase respect for human rights policies and to spread a culture of human rights. In most Arab countries, legislation also allows NHRIs to receive complaints about human rights violations, but the wording of these laws is always vague. Generally legislation does not specify complaint mechanisms or obligate state apparatuses to cooperate with the NHRIs. In some cases NHRIs have undertaken more significant work. Morocco’s Consultative Council, for example, played a major role in forming the Justice and Reconciliation Commission through which the country has come to terms with its past human rights violations.

Meanwhile, the experience of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights typifies the sort of problems NHRIs face creating autonomy from the ruling elite. The Council’s first annual report (2004/5) on the state of human rights in Egypt got high marks for criticizing government and security apparatus practices. The Council has also issued occasional condemnations of government policies and helped to facilitate the work of non-government organizations, notably in organizing the first massive electoral monitoring effort in 2005. But then the Council also falls into the role of defending the Egyptian government, particularly from international critics such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Some of the Council’s leaders denounced, for example, a recent EU Parliament resolution criticizing human rights practices in Egypt, calling it unacceptable meddling in internal affairs. The Council also supported Egypt’s nomination to gain membership in the UN Human Rights Council, despite the reservations expressed by dozens of Egyptian and international rights organizations, which argued Egypt was unworthy of membership considering its own record.

What is most revealing of Arab governments’ intentions on human rights—and the NHRIs’ helplessness—is the recent crackdown in many countries on human rights defenders. The past two years have witnessed a noticeable decline in conditions for defenders of human rights in Arab countries. Measures taken against them have ranged from harassment, restrictions on movement, arbitrary arrest, trial on various charges, the closure of organizations working on human rights, to the refusal to grant legal status to new local organizations or branches of international organizations. Arab NHRIs have been conspicuously silent on such cases. In 2007, the Egyptian authorities arbitrarily shut down two rights organizations—one working on torture cases, the other on labor rights—yet the National Council for Human Rights did not intervene in any serious way. Likewise, the NHRI in Tunisia has yet to condemn the harsh measures taken by the authorities against human rights defenders there.

In the end, political will on the part of governments is what determines the role NHRIs play. Given the deterioration of the democratic transformation in most Arab states and the strained relations between the ruling authorities and civil and political societies, the formation of NHRIs has not led to improvement in human rights situations—with Morocco and Palestine standing as exceptions to some degree. Only if NHRIs are permitted to play their rightful role in mobilizing public opinion, communicating with civil society, and in turn pressing governments will their work move beyond an academic exercise that any scholarly institution could undertake.

Moataz El Fegiery is the executive director of the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies and a member of the board of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. Paul Wulfsberg translated this article from Arabic.

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Morocco: MAD about Renewal or Reform?

Andrew Ng

Since the September 2007 parliamentary elections, Moroccan politics has been shaken up by the formation of the Movement for All Democrats (MAD), an association headed by a man formerly considered the number two in the regime, Fuad Ali al-Himma. Billed as a “national initiative open to all democrats, independent of their political loyalties,” the movement is widely expected to become a party before the 2009 local elections.

Anticipation of the movement’s strength has led most recently to the formation of two cross-party alliances, one aligned with Himma and one against. Though still a political independent, Himma helped orchestrate the four-party “Social Democratic Alliance” announced on May 29. Earlier that week, five parties wary of the MAD came together to form the “Coalition of the Left.”

While little noted outside of Morocco, the emergence of the movement carries notable implications for reform in the kingdom. As with presidential candidate Barack Obama’s rhetoric of “post-partisan politics” in the United States, the movement begs the immediate question of what a broad-based call to transcend the current political system can actually amount to. Under the motto of “renewing the bridges between the people and the elites,” the Movement for all Democrats has appealed for institutional and constitutional reform. But Himma himself has reportedly remarked in private that “reform will not come from the parliament.” The question for the reform-minded is whether the movement will channel its energy toward engaging and strengthening the parliament or bypass it in favor of reliance on Himma’s connections to the palace.

Himma packages himself as a man of the people who can effect change. Born in Marrakech to a school teacher, Himma was selected at random to attend the royal high school in Rabat with the then-prince Mohammad. Himma spent most of the 1990s in municipal and provincial politics in the rural area of Rhamna, which he now represents as an MP and refers to as “Morocco in miniature.” When Mohammad VI ascended the throne in 1999, Himma was assigned the post of Minister of State for the Interior. At the Interior Ministry, the responsibilities of the “vice-king” reportedly included the smear campaign against the king’s cousin Moulay Hicham Alaoui, who began publicly advocating for democracy. Himma also stands accused of organizing the protests against the weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire for its reporting on the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006.

Himma resigned his executive post in August 2007 to stand for parliamentary elections the following month. Rumors that he would be subsequently named prime minister proved false, and he instead assumed the presidency of the powerful Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Islamic Affairs in parliament. He also mobilized a bloc of thirty-six MPs under the banner of “Authenticity and Modernity,” which became the core of both the MAD association and the four-party “Social Democratic Alliance.”

Since its formation the movement has been busy recruiting members and assembling working groups with the aim of preparing policy proposals. The movement compensates for what it regards as the failure of national elites to engage and mobilize citizens and civil society. In fact, the movement is stealing pages from the playbook of the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), which broadened its appeal by cultivating a reputation as an uncorrupt and responsible party. In spite of its purported openness, however, the MAD has ruled out meeting with Islamists, including the PJD.

Ironically, the movement may well absorb some of the anger and alienation that expressed itself in the 37 percent voter turnout and alarmingly high rate of ballot spoilage in the 2007 elections. Himma’s castigation of national elites and parliament resonates with public opinion, while his association with the king actually works in the movement’s favor on balance by lending it credibility. In Morocco, where all major decisions and reforms are facilitated by the palace, the popular appeal of political institutions has corresponded to their proximity to the king. In a 2002 poll by Maroc 2020, 45 percent of respondents expressed a positive degree of confidence in the cabinet (the most important positions of which are royally appointed) versus 35 percent in the parliament and 27 percent in political parties.

Himma’s credentials with the king also carry some appeal because the reforms that the MAD emphasizes and Moroccans prioritize, principally economic ones, are perceived as detached from political reforms. In a national poll conducted last summer by 2007 Daba, Moroccans ranked “strengthening democratic practice” last out of twenty priorities for the incoming government; only 2 percent of respondents identified it as one of their top five concerns.

That the movement will simply renew the political system and not reform it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion, depending upon the movement’s vision for parliament. The more the MAD behaves like a royally-blessed association dismissive of parliament, the more it will reinforce the political status quo. The more, however, the movement builds up a grassroots network that puts the parliament to work and creates pressure among existing traditional political parties to step up—especially as it transitions from a movement into a political party—the less ironic its name will sound.

Andrew Ng is a junior fellow in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Readers React

The recent article by Saif and Leone (“Why Don’t the Benefits of Growth Trickle Down?,” May 2008) provides an informed perspective on the asymmetries in economic development in Egypt and Jordan, but its analysis of why greater benefits are not reaching these countries’ poorest is at points misguided. By ignoring the progress achieved, the authors appear to suggest that the poor’s plight is a consequence of liberalizing economic reforms. 

The authors put forward a number of indicators that they believe evidence that trickle-down is not happening, including disproportionate job creation for foreigners, poor employment opportunities for unskilled workers, and price inflation. Yet there are corresponding positives whose effects will multiply given time and steady fiscal policy. Jordan’s Qualifying Industrial Zones generate taxable revenues as well as put dinars in the pockets of workers who in turn spend them in the local economy. The fact that unemployment is decreasing in Egypt as job opportunities open up for the skilled or educated workforce—those likely to comprise the middle class—indicate that the trickle is flowing downwards. As for the recent spikes in foodstuff and fuel prices, the factors driving them upward have less to do with long overdue price liberalizations and more so with externalities such as a weak dollar, growing demand for feed in emerging markets, droughts, and other countries’ farming and energy subsidies. 

Finding solutions to the difficulties facing the poorer populations of Egypt and Jordan requires that far-reaching institutional reforms occur parallel to those economic. By example, without institutions’ effective protection of property rights or enforceable anti-trust laws, their informal sectors will remain undercapitalized and stagnant while wealth remains concentrated amongst a monopolistic few, and so preventing an expansion of the middle class. Only strong institutions, built on transparency, accountability, efficiency, and merit can provide the environment within which a free market can best perform for all.

Richard Kraemer
Program Officer, National Endowment for Democracy
Washington, DC

I have been heartened to see the discussion generated by the National Democratic Institute’s statement regarding the September 2007 Moroccan parliamentary election (see Meyer-Resende article, April 2008, and Barwig comment, May 2008). It is important that the election generate ongoing debate, particularly within Morocco.

In that debate, it is important to focus on the meaning behind the low voter turnout and high number of invalid votes, with close to 75 percent of potentially eligible Moroccan voters either declining to register, opting not to vote or casting a blank, null or protest ballot. NDI’s election statements had a core message: “The low voter turnout and significant number of protest votes send a clear message to Moroccan authorities regarding the need for further political reform if they hope to inspire greater numbers of Moroccan citizens to engage in the political process.” 

As commentators in the Arab Reform Bulletin have noted, the Moroccan political system includes many complex and interlocking aspects that work together to undermine confidence in political parties and elected institutions. The electoral system is just one of these, serving to fragment political power in the parliament. As post-election research has shown, turning around the troubling decline in confidence in Moroccan democratic institutions will require considerable efforts over time by political parties and, even more crucially, significant political reform by King Mohammed VI. Election day was relatively smooth in administration, but the most important achievement of the election was that it may have allowed a true wake-up call for real political reform in Morocco.

Jeffrey England, Senior Program Manager
National Democratic Institute
Washington, DC

Send your views on what you have read in the Arab Reform Bulletin to the editor at arb@carnegieendowment.org.

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News and Views

Kuwait: New Cabinet Appointed After Elections

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

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

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

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Activist Detained

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

Yemen: Zaidi Rebellion; Local Council Elections

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

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

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

Bahrain; Minister Cleared; Bahraini Jewish Ambassador Appointed

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

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

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

Iraq: Amnesty; Radio Station Closed

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

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

Lebanon: Political Deadlock Ended

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

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

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

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

On June 7, thousands of villagers in a small city in the northern governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh protested the local authorities’ decision to distribute flour to bakeries rather than individuals and decrease the bread ration per person. Some eight thousand protestors blocked the main road and set tires on fire. In an attempt to restore calm, security forces arrested about fifty protesters, reportedly including women and children. Click here for more in Arabic.                                    

On May 26, the parliament's economic committee approved an amendment to the anti-monopoly law. The amendment stipulated an increase in fines from a maximum of 50,000 LE (U.S. $9,350) to a minimum of 100,000 LE ($18,700), or 15 percent of the total value of product sales of the company in question.

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

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

Palestine: Talks Renewed

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

Syria: U.S. Sanctions Renewed

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

Jordan: Public Gathering Law Deferred

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

Morocco: Al-Jazeera Rabat Broadcast Suspended

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

Algeria: Magazine Issue Banned

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

Libya: Activist Freed

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

Sudan: Newspaper Shutdown; Journalist Arrested

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

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Upcoming Political Events

  • Iraq: Parliamentary elections, October 2008

Views from the Arab Media

  • In a May 31 editorial published in the state-owned Syrian daily Tishreen, Editor-in-Chief ‘Isam Dari argues that former White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s new book confirms that the Bush administration’s foreign policy is based on deceptions for which the Arab masses have paid dearly with loss of life, land, and resources. Syria was among the countries most intensely targeted by the deceptions. Against the odds, Syria prevailed and it continues to play a pivotal role in reestablishing peace and stability throughout the region.

Political developments in Lebanon generate heated debate in the Arab media:

  • In a May 27 article in the Lebanese independent daily al-Akhbar, columnist Khaled Saghiya argues that although it successfully ended the political deadlock, the Doha Agreement is a superficial and unsustainable solution to Lebanon’s deep-seated problems. The recent show of international support is not enough to compel implementation of the agreement. As history would remind us, he asserts, it was not the Ta’if Accord that ended the civil war, rather it was the agreement reached among Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Syria on their priorities for the region at the time. Without a similar underlying regional consensus and confluence of interests, the Doha agreement will remain unsustainable.
  • In a May 8 article in the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-awsat, Saudi columnist Abdel Rahman al-Rashed claims that more than any other group in Lebanon, it is the Shi’i population that is bearing the brunt of Hizbollah’s reckless policies. He argues that Hizbollah has committed two grave mistakes: it has ostracized the Lebanese Shi’a population in many areas of the country, and it has cast its fate with Iran’s extremist rulers who, themselves, are fast losing support within Iran.

Several commentaries focused on the relevance of the Palestinian cause:

  • The May 27 episode of al-Jazeera’s “al-Ittijah al-Mu’akis” (The Opposite Direction) raises the question of whether the Palestinian struggle remains a pan-Arab priority today. Iraqi political analyst Kareem Badr argued that the Palestinian struggle was never effectively a pan-Arab priority; regimes hijacked the cause and reduced it into a money making scheme. Ahmad Mubarak al-Shater, Libyan director of the Syria-based Union of Arab Students, stressed that the Palestinian struggle remains the greatest pan-Arab issue to which true Arab leaders are fully committed in theory and practice.
  • In a June 1 article published in the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, Palestinian author Khaled Hroub contends that both Syria and Iran have historically used the Palestinian issue as a means to apply political pressure in the international arena in order to achieve purely nationalistic concessions and goals. History is replete with examples of alliances between “revolutionary” movements on a supposed “ideological” basis, but once one faction ascends to power, political expediency forces it to drop its former allies for the sake of realizing benefits for itself. Adversely, Israel too uses the notion of the Palestinian resistance as a card to engender international sympathy and acquiescence to its expansionist policies, including the building of the wall and the establishment of hundreds of new settlements.

Some commentators focused on the Muslim Brotherhood:

  • Egyptian commentator Muhammad Sa’d discusses the difference between the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and its Egyptian counterpart in a May 14 article on the Egyptian website al-Mesryoon. The author claims that the Jordanian Brotherhood has become a model of transparency and internal reform, and has adopted positions more responsive to constituents due to the fact that the Jordanian government has allowed it to participate in national politics. He contrasts this with the situation of the Brotherhood in Egypt, which has been held back in internal development because it remains subject to government harassment.
  • Former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab questions in an article published May 27 in the Jordanian daily newspaper al-Ra’i the Muslim Brotherhood’s continued support of Hizbollah and its Iranian patrons, as illustrated by Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef’s recent speeches. The author contends that the ambiguous relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Arab world and Iran is incomprehensible. It is not required that the Brotherhood takes a fundamentally anti-Shi’i stand, but it is important for those who speak on behalf of Islam not to become tools for Iran’s ongoing bid for regional power.

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          Read On

          Recent publications on Lebanon include:

          • In "Lebanon Pulls back from the Abyss" Heiko Wimmen claims that despite the recent agreement, Lebanon will remain on the brink of further conflict as long as the regional situation remains contentious (Heinrich Boll Foundation, May 30).
          • "Hope in the Levant," by Marina Ottaway and Paul Salem, discusses the implications of concurrent intra-Lebanese and Syrian-Israeli talks (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 27, 2008).
          • In "Lebanon's Brush with Civil War," Jim Quilty argues that Washington is behind the Lebanese government's provocation of Hizbollah (Middle East Report, May 20, 2008).

          Publications on the Arab-Israeli conflict include:

          • "A Missed Chance for Peace: Israel and Syria's Negotiations over the Golan Heights," by Marwa Daoudy (Journal of International Affairs, vol. 61, no. 2, Spring 2008, 215-137).
          • Nathan Brown argues in his recent policy brief "Sunset for the Two State Solution," that little hope is left for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2008).

          Recent publications on Iraq include:

          • In "Iraq's Past, Present and Future," Ali Allawi discusses the implications of sectarian violence that began in 2006. (Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. 14, no. 2, Spring/Summer 2008).

          Several publications focus on recent elections in Kuwait:

          Recent publications on Egypt include:

          • The April issue of al-Dimuqratiyia (Democracy Review), published by the Ahram Foundation, includes articles on the National Democratic Party, women in politics, and a special report on Arab liberalism. 

          Publications on Morocco include:

          • In "Globalization, Mobile Phones and Forbidden Romance in Morocco," Donna Lee Bowen, Alexia Green, and Christiaan James argue that byproducts of globalization, particularly technology and access to mobile phones, are changing the nature of gender relations (Journal of North African Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, June 2008, 227-41).

          Recent publications discuss U.S. foreign policy:

          • In "Statecraft in the Middle East," former negotiator Dennis Ross examines discrepancies between the means and objectives of U.S. foreign policy (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 3, Summer 2008, 7-22).
          • In "The Folly of 'Asymmetric War'," Michael J. Mazarr argues against the need to overhaul military institutions as a reaction to asymmetric warfare (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 3, Summer 2008, 33-53).

          Recent publications on economic issues include:

          • The June issue of Majalat buhuth iqtisadiya 'arabiya (Magazine of Arab Economic Research), published by the Center for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut, includes articles on: small and medium industries in Algeria, the impact of industrial enterprises on the environment, Egypt and foreign debt, and the effect of inflation on poverty rates in the region.

          Publications on Islamist politics include:

          Other recent periodicals featuring articles on reform-related issues include:

          • The June issue of al-Mustaqbal al-'arabi (Arab Future), published by the Center for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut, includes articles on identity issues and nationalism in the Gulf, civil society groups in Sudan, U.S. engagement in Iraq, and a special report covering the sixtieth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) and its ramifications for Arab regimes.
          • The May issue of Ara' (Opinions) magazine, published by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, discusses Iraq after five years of U.S. occupation, prospects for U.S.-Iranian cooperation, and the role of youth in Gulf society.
          • The spring issue of Rawaq ‘arabi (Arab Gallery) published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, includes articles addressing the renewal of religious discourse, political reforms, upcoming U.S. elections, and the future of human rights in the Arab world. 
          • The May issue of the Gulf Monitor, published by the Gulf Research Center, covers U.S. and Arab failures in Iraq, GCC economic cooperation with the EU, and China in addition to Gulf security issues.

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