Archive for July, 2013


CAIRO (AP) — Escalating the confrontation after clashes that left 83 supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president dead, the interim government moved Sunday toward dismantling two pro-Mohammed Morsi sit-in camps, accusing protesters of “terrorism” and vowing to deal with them decisively.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced Saturday’s bloodshed as evidence of the brutality of the military-backed regime. But many accused the group’s leaders of trying to capitalize on the loss of life to win sympathy after millions took to the streets in a show of support for the military chief who ousted Morsi in a coup.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he would take the popular support as a mandate to deal with violence and “potential terrorism” — a thinly veiled reference to a widely expected crackdown on Morsi supporters in the sit-in camps in Cairo and against radical Islamists in the Sinai peninsula who have been waging deadly attacks against security forces since Morsi was ousted in a July 3 military coup.

The coup followed days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi step down after a year in office as Egypt’s first elected president. The monthlong sit-ins have been the launch pad of street protests that often ended violently when Morsi’s supporters clashed with opponents or security forces.

Islamists led by the Brotherhood staunchly reject the new post-Morsi leadership and insist the only possible solution to the crisis is to reinstate him. Meanwhile, the interim leadership is pushing ahead with a fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year.

The Brotherhood, accused by critics of trying to monopolize power during Morsi’s year in office, routinely claims its supporters are killed in cold blood by army troops, police or thugs sponsored by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. However, witnesses and videos posted on social networking sites show that Morsi’s supporters consistently use rocks, firebombs and firearms against opponents, who behave similarly.

The Brotherhood’s tactic is clearly designed to win sympathy at home and abroad by portraying itself as a victimized party pitted against an army and a police force armed to the teeth. “We urge the United Nations, the international human community … to come down and rescue the hundreds of thousands from the massacre by the live ammunition in the hands of the criminals,” senior Brotherhood leader Mohammed el-Beltagi shouted from the stage at the larger of the two Cairo sit-ins.

“We want intervention by the international organizations … to rescue the people. We urge the Egyptian people to come to our rescue. … The people are slaughtered like sheep”,” declared el-Beltagi, who has an arrest warrant issued against him for inciting violence.

Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s supreme leader, launched a stinging attack on el-Sissi over the latest violence, saying the military chief was leading a “bloody regime” and urging his followers to stand fast.

“Don’t be sad and don’t despair,” he said in a message that heavily quoted from the Quran, Islam’s holy book. Posted on the Brotherhood’s website, Badie said those killed in the latest violence were martyrs who will be rewarded with a place in heaven.

Underlining the tension, the military’s chief spokesman posted on his Facebook page late on Sunday a statement warning pro-Morsi supporters from staging a protest outside the military intelligence headquarters in Cairo.

“The military urges protesters not to approach its installations, particularly the military intelligence building. These are secure installations that have vital importance. Individuals coming close to them or trying to harass those tasked with protecting them can be in danger,” said the statement by Col. Ahmed Ali.

The warning, he said, was triggered by information that the pro-Morsi protesters were planning to march on the military intelligence headquarters late Sunday. The international community, meanwhile, urged restraint.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strongly worded statement telling Egyptian authorities it was “essential” they respect the right to peaceful protest and calling on all sides to enter a “meaningful political dialogue.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also asked security forces to “act with full respect for human rights” and demonstrators to “exercise restraint.” Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, arrived in Cairo on Sunday for her second visit to Egypt this month, a sign of the alarm felt in the West over the continuing bloodshed. She was to meet Egyptian leaders on Monday.

The U.N.’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, also condemned the violence and called for a “credible, independent investigation” into the killings. “I fear for the future of Egypt if the military and other security forces, as well as some demonstrators, continue to take such a confrontational and aggressive approach. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have the right to protest peacefully like anyone else,” Pillay said.

The violence continued Sunday, when deadly clashes during funerals for two of the slain Morsi supporters left two men dead and scores injured in two cities north of Cairo, Port Said and Kafr el-Zayat.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim warned security forces would deal decisively with any attempts to destabilize the country. Ibrahim accused the pro-Morsi side of provoking bloodshed to win sympathy and suggested authorities would move against the two pro-Morsi protest camps outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo and in Nahda Square, near the main campus of Cairo University.

“I assure the glorious people of Egypt that the police are determined and capable to maintain security and safety to their nation with the support of the sincere sons of the country,” Ibrahim said during a graduation ceremony at the national police academy. “We will very strongly and decisively deal with anyone who attempts to undermine stability.”

He depicted the two encampments as a danger to the public, pointing to nine bodies found nearby in recent days. Some had been tortured to death, police said, apparently by sit-in participants who believed they were spies. “Soon we will deal with both sit-ins,” he said.

Setting the stage for more confrontation, the military-installed interim president gave the prime minister the power to grant the military the right to arrest civilians in what government officials suggested was a prelude to a major crackdown on Morsi’s supporters or Islamic militants who have stepped up attacks against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

At least 20 members of the security forces have been killed in Sinai by suspected militants and nearly 250 in the rest of the country, including the 83 killed in Cairo on Saturday. Late Sunday, a member of the army’s elite Saaqa commandos was killed in a mortar and rocket attack by suspected militants that wounded four others in northern Sinai, a stronghold of radical Islamists.

“The more bloodshed there, the more it is impossible to reach a compromise or middle ground,” said Kamal Habib, a prominent scholar in Islamic movements and a former Islamist himself. The two sides, he said, were gearing toward more confrontations.

A senior aide to interim President Adly Masnour, meanwhile, sought to prepare the public for possible action to dismantle the sit-in camps, telling reporters that Morsi’s supporters were armed, terrorizing residents in the area.

“It has now become inevitable for the state to take measures necessary to protect society,” he said. The nation’s highest security body — the National Defense Council — issued a statement saying the pro-Morsi sit-in camps violated Egypt’s national security and warning that “decisive and firm” action would be taken. It also urged the protesters to renounce violence and stop “violence and terrorism and verbal and physical assaults on citizens.”

The council, chaired by the interim president and including the prime minister, defense and foreign ministers, said it deeply regretted the loss of life, but did not blame any party for it. Saturday’s clashes — the deadliest since more than 50 Morsi supporters were killed by troops on July 8 — took place before dawn when police and armed men in civilian clothes opened fire on supporters of the former president as they tried to expand their sit-in camp outside Rabaah al-Adawiya by moving onto a nearby main boulevard.

Civilians, sometimes with weapons, frequently join police in Cairo demonstrations. In some cases, they appear to be plainclothes police, in others residents who back the security forces. Videos posted Sunday on social networking sites showed the Morsi supporters approaching a police line backed by armored vehicles at the entrance of the ramp to a key bridge that runs across the heart of the city. They also showed police and men in civilian clothes pointing their rifles at the protesters, many of whom wore industrial helmets and homemade body armor and stood behind makeshift barricades.

Mohamed Wasfi, a children’s book publicist who videotaped the clashes from his apartment balcony, said the protesters attempted to spill oil on the street to stop cars from approaching the bridge, a tactic used by Morsi supporters last week on an overpass that leads to Cairo’s international airport. Shortly afterward, another group of protesters approached the police line and tore down metal barricades, prompting police to fire tear gas, he told The Associated Press.

He said some protesters fired birdshot at the police, who responded with birdshot and tear gas. Another video, posted by the Interior Ministry, showed protesters hurling stones and firebombs at the security forces from behind their barricades. One masked man was shown shooting at the police with what appeared to be a large silver-plated pistol. The authenticity of the videos could not be independently verified, but they generally conformed with AP reporting.

No army troops were on the scene, but the international community and human rights groups expressed concern the military had allowed the carnage to occur. Human Rights Watch said many of those killed were shot in the head or chest and the killings took place over several hours. The New York-based group said it spoke to witnesses and reviewed extensive video footage of the events. It said medical staff said some of the deaths appeared to be targeted killings because the position of the shots would likely result in death.

Associated Press reporters Aya Batrawy in Cairo and Frank Jordans in Berlin, Germany, contributed to this report.

July 27, 2013

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Thousands of protesters chanting anti-government slogans joined a funeral march to lay to rest an assassinated Tunisian opposition politician on Saturday, a display of the anger threatening the survival of a government once seen as a model in the region for the transition to democracy.

Adding to the tension, a bomb exploded in the early morning underneath a car at the port in Tunis outside a police station. Though there were no injuries, the rare attack helped deepen the sense of unease in this North African country, where two opposition politicians have been shot dead in the last six months, apparently with the same gun.

Mohammed Brahmi’s coffin was carried by soldiers to Jellaz cemetery and buried next to Chokri Belaid, a fellow politician who was killed in February. Brahmi’s widow and five children accompanied the coffin on its route through the capital.

“Down with the party of the Brotherhood,” chanted mourners, referring to the ruling Ennahda Party’s affiliation with the regional Muslim Brotherhood religious group. “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

The latest assassination Thursday has exacerbated the distrust between the ruling coalition led by moderate Islamists and the opposition, which has demanded the dissolution of the government because of its failures to rein in Islamic extremists, turn around the economy and manage the transition to democracy.

Speaking next to the grave, activist lawyer Nacer Laouini called on army chief of staff Gen. Mohamed Salah Hamdi to protect the people from the Islamists — a clear reference to the recent events in Egypt, where the military ousted the elected Islamist president.

“The head of the army is here. We ask the army to be on the side of the people as it always has been and protect Tunisians against Ennahda,” he said. Tunisia’s army, however, has shown little inclination to involve itself in politics up until now, unlike its Egyptian counterpart.

The crowd sang the national anthem several times and with much emotion. But their numbers were nowhere near the hundreds of thousands that came out for Belaid’s funeral in February. Temperatures in Tunis at midday were a blazing 35 degrees (95F), and the funeral took place during the fasting month of Ramadan, when most Tunisians don’t eat or drink during daylight hours.

Following the funeral, hundreds demonstrated in front of the constituent assembly, calling for its dissolution and were met by volleys of tear gas by police who chased demonstrators through the streets.

Opposition politician Mongi Rahoui was also beaten by police, according to local news media. Brahmi’s assassination has spawned protests and further hardened opposition sentiments holding the moderate Islamists elected in 2011 responsible for the lack of security in the country.

Late Friday, a 48-year-old political activist with the same leftist coalition as the assassinated Brahmi died after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister during a demonstration outside a police station in the southern mining town of Gafsa.

The head of the assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, called for calm and urged the 54 members of the elected body who have withdrawn in protest to reconsider their decision so that the work on writing a new constitution could be finished by the end of August.

“It is impossible to dissolve the assembly now and let all our efforts of the last two years go up in smoke,” he said Saturday evening. The Interior Ministry, citing physical evidence and witnesses, said Friday that Brahmi’s assassin was Boubakr Hakim, a known militant and weapons smuggler who was part of the same al-Qaida linked cell alleged to have murdered Belaid back in February.

Hakim is alleged to have shot Brahmi 14 times outside his home Thursday in full view of his family with the same 9 mm semi-automatic handgun used to kill Belaid. He then sped away on the back of a moped.

The Saturday morning bomb blast caused no injuries and only blew out windows in the area but it represents a dangerous escalation for a country that has yet to experience serious terrorist incidents like its neighbors Algeria and Libya.

“As we were leaving the station for a routine patrol, we saw a suspicious package under the car,” police officer Mourad Mliki told The Associated Press. “We went back to the station to tell our superiors and there was a huge explosion — it was set off remotely.”

Mohammed Ali Aroui, the police spokesman, told the state news agency that the remains of the explosive device were being examined by a special team. “The explosion was so strong it was like an earthquake,” said Walid Khammar, a fish seller living near the police station whose car was damaged by the blast.

Tunisians overthrew a longtime secular dictator in January 2011, inspiring the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring across the region. The long-repressed Ennahda party dominated subsequent elections and now rules in coalition with two secular parties.

With two political assassinations and a faltering economy, the opposition says the leadership has lost its legitimacy and is demanding a new government. The opposition accuses Ennahda of turning a blind eye to the rise of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis, many of whom are willing to use violence to push their views.

The government had said it did not want to replicate the repressive anti-Islamist policies of overthrown dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but when thousands of Salafis attacked the U.S. Embassy in September over an anti-Islamic film produced in the U.S., the government cracked down on the movement.

In April, soldiers patrolling in a mountainous region near Algeria tripped a roadside bomb causing severe injuries and sparking a search of the region that revealed the remains of training camps and more hidden explosives.

Schemm reported from Rabat.

AFP – Sat, Jul 27, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned against any plans for an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria as officials met the leader of the war-torn country’s main Kurdish group Friday.

Turkish government officials held talks with Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is seen as the Syrian branch of Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Erdogan confirmed press reports of the meeting and said the PYD’s “dangerous actions” would be on the agenda.

“They will be given the necessary warnings,” said the prime minister, whose government is negotiating an end to the three-decade insurgency by the PKK.

Syrian Kurds made rapid advances in the north earlier this week, expelling jihadists from a string of villages, as mistrust between Kurds and Arabs grows.

Fighting hit a series of ethnically mixed villages in the northern province of Raqa on the border with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The latest violence in those areas has resulted in the death of three people on the Turkish side of the border, killed by stray bullets of shells.

While Muslim’s PYD has announced plans for a temporary autonomous state in Kurdish areas, the jihadists seek the creation of an Islamic state across Syria.

Kurds make up 10 percent of Syria’s total population, with most living in the north of the embattled country.

Since the outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago, most Kurds have tried to ensure that their territory remained free of violence.

In mid-2012, Assad’s forces withdrew from majority Kurdish areas, and Kurdish militia became responsible for security there.

Although many Kurds are hostile to a regime that has oppressed them for decades, they have also tried to keep the rebels out of the areas they control in order to avoid sparking a confrontation with the army.

July 27, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Security forces and armed men clashed with supporters of Egypt’s ousted president early Saturday, killing at least 65 people in mayhem that underscored an increasingly heavy hand against protests demanding Mohammed Morsi’s return to office.

In chaotic scenes, pools of blood stained the floor and bodies were lined up under white sheets in a makeshift hospital near the site of the battles in eastern Cairo. Doctors struggled to cope with the flood of dozens of wounded, many with gunshots to the head or chest.

It was the deadliest single outbreak of violence since the military ousted Morsi on July 3 and one of the deadliest in 2 ½ years of turmoil in Egypt. It was not immediately clear if all the 65 killed were all protesters or if residents who joined the fight against the march were among the dead. The Brotherhood said that 66 Morsi supporters were killed in the Cairo violence.

The extent of the bloodshed pointed to a rapidly building confrontation between the country’s two camps, sharply divided over the coup that removed Egypt’s first freely elected president after widespread protests against his rule.

Authorities talk more boldly of making a move to end weeks of protests by Morsi’s largely Islamist supporters. At the same time, the Islamists are growing more assertive in challenging security forces as they try to win public backing for their cause.

Saturday’s clashes were sparked when pro-Morsi protesters sought to expand their main Cairo sit-in camp by moving onto a nearby main boulevard, only to be confronted by police and armed civilians — reportedly residents of nearby neighborhoods. Police initially fired tear gas but in ensuing clashes, the protesters came under gunfire.

Officials from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their allies decried what they called a new “massacre” against their side, only weeks after July 8 clashes with army troops in Cairo that left more than 50 Morsi supporters dead.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he spoke to Egyptian authorities, saying it is “essential” they respect the right to peaceful protest. He called on all sides to enter a “meaningful political dialogue” to “help their country take a step back from the brink.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also asked security forces to “act with full respect for human rights” and demonstrators to “exercise restraint.” But neither side has shown much taste for reconciliation. Islamists staunchly reject the new leadership and insist the only possible solution to the crisis is to put Morsi back in office. Meanwhile, the interim leadership is pushing ahead with a fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year.

The military-backed authorities appear confident of public support for a tougher hand after millions turned out for nationwide rallies Friday called by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as a mandate against “terrorism and violence.”

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of police, took an uncompromising stance in a news conference after the violence. He accused the pro-Morsi side of provoking bloodshed to win sympathy.

“We didn’t go to them, they came to us — so they could use what happened for political gain,” he said. Ironically, Ibrahim is originally a Morsi appointee, and his then-boss praised him for a tough hand after police killed dozens of anti-Morsi protesters in the city of Port Said earlier this year.

“The Ministry of Interior never has and never will fire on any Egyptian,” he added, saying police only shot tear gas in Saturday’s violence. The minister also said there were plans to bring back “political security” offices dissolved under Morsi. Such offices monitored groups like the Brotherhood, which had been outlawed for decades.

Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said that “exposes” that the regime of Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, is still alive and seeking to reverse the 2011 uprising that toppled him and led to Morsi’s election.

Despite the heavy death toll, the interior minister suggested authorities could take the more explosive step of moving against the two main pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo: weeks-old sit-ins, on outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo and another in Nahda Square in Cairo’s sister city of Giza.

He depicted the encampments as a danger to the public, pointing to a string of nine bodies police have said were found nearby in recent days. Some had been tortured to death, police have said, apparently by members of the sit-ins who believed they were spies.

“Soon we will deal with both sit-ins,” Ibrahim said. Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a longtime pro-democracy campaigner who backed the military’s ouster of Morsi, raised one of the few notes of criticism of Saturday’s bloodshed.

“I highly condemn the excessive use of force and the fall of victims,” he wrote in a tweet, though he did not directly place blame for the use of force. He added that he is “working very hard and in all directions to end this confrontation in a peaceful manner.”

But the image of the Islamists as dangerous and not the peaceful protesters they contend they are has had a strong resonance. Over past weeks, there have been cases of armed Islamist Morsi backers attacking opponents — though the reverse also has occurred. Before Saturday, some 180 people had been killed in clashes nationwide.

Walid el-Masry, one of founders of the youth activist Tamarod movement that led the original wave of protests against Morsi, said he believed the Brotherhood “pushed for (the) clashes. … The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to grab the international attention and have the victim attitude.”

The liberal umbrella group National Salvation Front, which ElBaradei once led, also said it “puts strong blame on the Brotherhood,” pointing to hard-line rhetoric in speeches at pro-Morsi rallies calling for “jihad” and “martyrdom.”

The clashes began after a crowd of Morsi supporters late Friday moved out of their Rabaah al-Adawiyah encampment and installed themselves on a nearby major thoroughfare, blocking it. They began to set up tents there, planning to stay there at least three days, said Mahmoud Zaqzouq, a Brotherhood spokesman. A march also attempted to cut off a major overpass that runs through Cairo.

Police moved in and fired tear gas to break up the crowds at around 2 a.m., and protesters responded with volleys of stones. Gunshots also rang out, seemingly from both sides, said one witness, Mosa’ab Elshamy, a freelance photographer, though he could not tell who started firing.

Armed residents of the area also joined the police side, and there were also plainclothes police carrying handguns, he said. “They aimed at killing the people. They aimed the head and the neck,” said Ahmed Abdullah, a doctor at a field clinic set up at Rabaah al-Adawiya, as he wiped away tears.

At the Rabaah al-Adawiya clinic, men shouted “God is great,” and women wailed as bodies were loaded into ambulances to be taken for examination at hospitals. Bodies of more than a dozen men lay on the blood-splattered floor with white sheets over them.

Ragab Nayel Ali, one of the pro-Morsi protesters, said security forces fired first with tear gas and birdshot. “Protesters replied by hurling rocks and started building walls,” Ali said. Health Ministry spokesman Khaled el-Khateeb said that at least 65 people were killed and 270 wounded. Nine more were killed in clashes in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria since Friday, he said.

Aref of the Brotherhood told reporters that another 61 were “clinically dead.” He did not further explain their condition. The Interior Ministry said 14 policemen were wounded, two with gunshot wounds to the head.

Clashes in Alexandria erupted on Friday and extended into the night as more than 100 Morsi supporters took refuge in a central mosque, holding 17 of their rivals hostage as they tried to fend off a security siege of the building. A security official said the hostages were freed and many of those inside the mosque arrested. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

A leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagy, accused army chief el-Sissi of seeking violence by calling Friday’s pro-military rallies. “This is the mandate el-Sissi took last night — to commit massacres and bloodshed against peaceful protesters denouncing the military coup,” el-Beltagy said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.

2013-07-25

GENEVA – A United Nations body that handles war reparations for Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait said Thursday it had handed over a further $1.07 billion (810 million euros) to the emirate.

The payment, related to damage to oil facilities and resulting financial losses, brings to $42.3 billion the total sum handed out by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC).

Some $10.1 billion awarded by the UNCC to a string of claimants still remains to be paid out.

In addition to Kuwait, more than 100 governments and international organizations have been allocated funds by the UNCC for distribution to 1.5 million successful claimants.

The UNCC was set up by the UN Security Council in 1991, the year that a US-led coalition drove then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait.

Its funds are drawn from a UN-mandated levy of five percent on Iraqi oil exports, whose continued existence has come in for criticism given that Saddam was ousted in 2003 in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60342.

2013-07-25

Majority of political groups are boycotting election for Kuwait’s 50-seat parliament, while few are participating in it.

KUWAIT CITY – Ranging from advocates of Islamic law to Western-style liberals, a majority of political groups are boycotting Saturday’s election for Kuwait’s 50-seat parliament, while a few are participating in it.

Political parties remain banned in the oil-rich Gulf emirate, although these groups act as de facto parties.

Those boycotting are doing it for the second time in a row in protest at the government’s amendment of the electoral law, although the change was confirmed by the constitutional court in June.

These opposition groups along with independent opposition members held no seats in the predominantly pro-government parliament elected in December, but had as many as 36 seats in parliament after February 2012 polls. Both houses were nullified by Kuwait’s top court on procedural flaws.

Kuwait’s parliamentary system is unique as candidates contest polls individually, and the government is normally formed from outside parliament and its unelected ministers automatically become MPs and can vote like elected members.

Among the main political groups boycotting the polls is The Islamic Constitutional Movement, political arm of Kuwait’s Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. The ICM has called for political and economic reforms despite advocating a stricter social order. It has not fielded any candidate and is urging voters to shun the ballot.

The Islamic Salafi Alliance (ISA), a purist Sunni religious group with hardline views on morality, is divided on the issue of taking part in polls as one section is participating and the other is boycotting.

The Islamic Ommah Party is the only party in Kuwait but it is not recognized by the state. With its radical and progressive views on reforms, including an elected government and a full parliamentary system, the party has stayed away from the polls.

The Popular Action Movement is also boycotting. It brings together former legislators headed by veteran former speaker Ahmad al-Saadun. The group focuses on populist issues such as housing and salary increases, besides calling for radical democratic reforms.

Another political group boycotting the polls is The Democratic Forum. It is a liberal group and strong advocate of political and economic reforms with a priority on development. A few of its members defected and are running.

Among the groups that are taking part is The National Democratic Alliance, an umbrella of a number of moderate liberal groups and individuals close to the merchants. It had boycotted December polls but this time has decided to take part after the court’s ruling. Some of its members are still staying away.

The National Action Bloc, a liberal grouping which is not a part of the main opposition, has decided to participate after boycotting last polls.

The National Islamic Alliance, a Shiite group, has publicly supported the election and is fielding five candidates, one in each electoral constituency.

The Justice and Peace Alliance, also a Shiite group, is taking part.

Almost all Bedouin tribes, which boycotted December polls, have decided to take part. Analysts, however, are not expecting a high turnout from tribes.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60345.

MADINAH: YUSUF MUHAMMAD

Thursday 25 July 2013

Of the many historical and archaeological sites in Madinah, visitors are most likely to visit a group of small mosques, commonly known as “The Seven Mosques.”

People visit six small mosques in the region, but add a seventh one, known as the “Mosque of the Two Qiblas” which is about a kilometer away from the others.

The largest of the seven mosques is Al-Fath on a hilltop near the western side of Sal’ mountain. It was built when Umar ibn Abd Al-Aziz was governor of Madinah in the years 87 to 93 after Hijrah (705 CE to 711 CE). It was rebuilt in 575 H (1179 CE). It was then rebuilt again during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abd Al-Majid I in 1851.

The Salman Al-Farisi Mosque is located south of Al-Fath Mosque, 20 meters from the base of Sal’ mountain. It is named after Salman, the companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who recommended digging a trench to fortify the city from an invasion. It has one hall at 7 meters long and 2 meters wide. It was also built while Umar ibn Abd Al-Aziz was governor of Madinah. In 575 H (1179 CE) it was rebuilt on the orders of minister Said Al-Deen Abu Al-Haija. It was rebuilt again during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abd Al-Majid I.

The Abu Bakr Al-Siddeeq Mosque is 15 meters to the southwest of Salman Al-Farisi Mosque. It was reported that Abu Bakr, when he was caliph, prayed Eid prayer there. This is why it was named after him. It was also reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed the Eid prayer there.

The Umar ibn Al-Khattab Mosque is 10 meters to the south of Abu Bakr Mosque, opposite Al-Ghamamah mosque and close to the Prophet’s Mosque. There is not much historical detail about the mosque, but there is speculation that it could be the ancient mosque at Al-Durrah place where Umar may have prayed during his reign as caliph. This would explain why it was named after him. It has an open yard and is eight steps above the ground. Its structure is similar to Al-Fath Mosque, which indicates that the two structures may have been built and renovated together.

The Ali ibn Abi Talib Mosque is east of Fatimah Mosque on a high rectangular hilltop. It is 8.5 meters long and 6.5 meters wide. It has one small step. It is likely to have been built and renovated with Al-Fath Mosque.

The Fatimah Al-Zahra Mosque is known as Mus’ad ibn Mo’az Mosque. It is the smallest of the group and measures 4 meters by 3 meters. It has one small step. It has a similar structure to other mosques in the area and may have been built during the Ottoman era, most likely during the reign of Sultan Abd Al-Majid I in 1851.

Source: Arab News.

Link: http://www.arabnews.com/news/459112.

2013-07-21

TRIPOLI – President of Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) Nouri Abusahmain signed on Saturday night in the city of Al Bayda, 1200 km east of the capital Tripoli, the law on the election of a committee that will draft a new permanent constitution for the country.

GNC, the top political and legislative authority in Libya, approved on Tuesday the law governing the election of the committee after lengthy discussions about the electoral system and electoral quotas for women.

Three Libyan ethnic minorities announced on Wednesday they would boycott the election, the first blow to a democratic process supposed to decide what political system the country will adopt.

Members of the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg communities denounced a law passed on Tuesday under which 60 people will be elected by popular vote to draft a charter, saying that such a constitutional committee would not be “fully representative”.

The constitution will be the first since the 2011 ouster of Gathafi, who often played off one tribe or clan against the other during his 42-year iron-fisted rule.

At a news conference on Wednesday, a group of 12 Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg lawmakers as well as civil representatives for the minority groups said they would not put forward candidates nor vote in the election, expected in six months.

The minority groups object to the fact that the drafting committee will vote on the constitution’s contents, saying that a consensus of members – rather than just a majority – should be required to decide on cultural and other issues affecting them.

“The writing of the Libyan constitution will be based on the vote of the majority and not on the concept of agreement,” Giuma Kusa, of the national Tibu assembly, said in a statement on behalf of the groups. “There will be no voice for minorities; our representatives would be purely symbolic.”

The politicians said they would also boycott sessions of the GNC in protest.

According to the law, the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg will have six seats among them on the committee, whose members will be divided equally between Libya’s three regions: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south.

Abusahmain is from the Amazigh minority. Speaking on state television on Tuesday, he praised the law as a positive step after attempts to draft a constitution had been repeatedly delayed because of political infighting.

Libya desperately needs a viable government and system of rule so it can focus on reconstruction and on healing the divisions opened up by the 2011 war.

Those who will draft the constitution will need to take into account political and tribal rivalries and calls for more autonomy in the east when deciding what political system Libya will adopt. They will have 120 days to draft a constitution which will then be put to a referendum.

Since the overthrow of Gathafi, who ostensibly ruled Libya by a bizarre set of laws drawn up by him in his Green Book, minority groups have been lobbying for more rights.

Gathafi suppressed Berber culture, including its language, and imprisoned dozens of Amazigh intellectuals in the 1980s that he accused of plotting to overthrow the state. The Tibu, a black ethnic group, also say they were persecuted.

“The Libyan people suffered neglect, unfairness and persecution for four decades,” Kusa said. “Some of it was worse for certain communities, namely the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60244.

July 23, 2013

MUSCAT: Oman’s ruler pardoned Tuesday 14 protesters jailed for Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in 2011 calling for more job opportunities and a greater public voice in the tightly run country.

The protests touched off a series of confrontations with authorities, including labor strikes and sit-ins.

The official Omani News Agency said Sultan Qaboos bin Said ordered the pardons to take effect Tuesday for the prisoners. Their sentences ranged from 30 months to five years.

Oman responded to the protests with some reforms such as elections for local councils that have no direct powers but will serve in an advisory role.

Strategic Oman shares control of the Strait of Hormuz with Iran. The narrow waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is the route for one-fifth of the world’s crude oil.

Source: The Daily Star.

Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Jul-23/224745-oman-ruler-pardons-protesters-in-2011-unrest.ashx.

2013-07-24

Beirut says it will recognize as refugees only those fleeing parts of Syria in bid to reduce friction between Lebanese and thousands of Syrian refugees.

BEIRUT – The Lebanese government imposed new entry controls on Syrians on Tuesday in a bid to reduce friction between the host population and the 600,000 who have already crossed.

Ministers said they had no intention of closing the border to refugees fleeing the devastating 28-month conflict in their homeland.

But they said that in future they would recognize as refugees only those fleeing parts of Syria that have been wracked by violence.

“There is an influx that is not motivated by humanitarian needs,” Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas said.

“The security forces are therefore going to start checking whether those arriving at the border come from a war-ravaged area before regarding them as refugees. Those who do not will be granted entry as ordinary visitors.”

Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Fawr said that from next week special teams would start shutting down the unlicensed Syrian-run businesses that have mushroomed, particularly in the eastern Bekaa valley region near the border.

“A security service team recorded 377 illegal businesses in just six villages in the Bekaa,” he said.

“Any refugee fleeing the killings, hunger and destruction is welcome but they must respect the laws of Lebanon.

“They have the right to work to feed themselves on building sites or other sectors but not in trade or in businesses that require a permit.”

Many Syrian refugees are forced to sleep rough on the streets because they can not afford to rent somewhere to live.

But the presence of 600,000 alongside a population of just four million has sparked mounting friction.

A recent opinion poll found that 54 percent of respondents believed Lebanon should close its doors to the refugees. A full 82 percent said that the refugees were stealing jobs from Lebanese.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60312.