Archive for July 23, 2013


2013-07-11

NYALA (Sudan) – In Sudan’s poverty-stricken Darfur region, the merchants of Nyala city’s Al Malja market were among the elite. But now they, too, have nothing.

The men sit on the ground in front of the ashes of their shops, commiserating with each other after gunmen looted and burned the market during fighting between members of the security forces from July 3-7 in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state.

“I lost everything,” says Hussein Mohammed, estimating 150,000 Sudanese pounds ($21,400) worth of his goods were stolen or burned.

“I don’t know what to do. And this is Ramadan,” he said on Thursday, the second day of the holy Muslim fasting month.

A wholesaler, Mohammed brought clothing from Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman and stocked it in Al Malja for sale to local retailers.

His was one of about 20 shops destroyed in the market during the worst outbreak of urban warfare in Sudan’s western region in recent memory.

State officials blamed “differences” among members of the security forces for the battles which killed and wounded about 30 people, according to official media.

The fighting started when security forces allegedly killed a notorious local bandit who also belonged to the paramilitary Central Reserve Police.

Clashes continued off and on for about five days to last Sunday.

“We heard shooting so we closed our shops and ran home,” another merchant, Yahya Haroun, told a reporter who is the first journalist from a foreign news agency to visit Nyala after the unrest.

“Then at 7:00 pm I got a call from one of my colleagues who told me that armed men were inside our shops,” said the clothes retailer.

“I tried to come and have a look but when I saw them and their weapons, I went back home.”

The next day, he returned to find that only the walls of his two shops remained standing, and his entire investment worth about 125,000 pounds was gone.

Now he says he does not know how he will support his family, including an ill daughter.

“I have my own family and I also take care of my sisters and brothers, because my father already died,” Haroun said.

Darfuri members of the Central Reserve Police formerly belonged to the Janjaweed, a government-backed militia which shocked the world with atrocities against ethnic minority civilians suspected of supporting rebels in Darfur.

The rebels began their uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.

Security problems have more recently been compounded by inter-tribal fighting, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes, many suspected to be the work of government-linked militia and paramilitary groups.

In February, a UN panel of experts reported “some incidents in which former members of government militias have forcibly expressed their discontent with the current government, especially against the backdrop of rising inflation and unemployment”.

Darfur’s top official, Eltigani Seisi, said in June that security agencies need a “show of force” against tribal militia violence.

But local police, at least, proved no match for the armed men who raided Al Malja.

“Police were guarding the market but when there was heavy fighting they withdrew,” said one merchant who did not want to be identified.

“Even the police station near our market was burned,” he said.

The man said he lost his entire stock of sorghum and other traditional commodities worth 162,000 pounds, an investment that helped support his children studying at university.

Now not even the walls of his shop are completely standing.

“I don’t know why they did this. We are not a part of their conflict,” said the merchant.

He looked at the ground, his eyes filled with sadness.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60047.

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By Kareem Raheem and Ziad al-Sinjary

BAGHDAD/MOSUL, Iraq

Mon Jul 22, 2013

(Reuters) – Hundreds of convicts, including senior members of al Qaeda, broke out of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail as comrades launched a military-style assault to free them, authorities said on Monday.

The deadly raid on the high-security jail happened as Sunni Muslim militants are re-gaining momentum in their insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government that came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until Monday morning, when military helicopters arrived, helping to regain control.

By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

“The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters.

“The security forces arrested some of them, but the rest are still free.”

One security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity: “It’s obviously a terrorist attack carried out by al Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with al Qaeda.”

A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, around 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, followed a similar pattern, but guards managed to prevent any inmates escaping. Sixteen soldiers and six militants were killed.

CONVOY ATTACK

Sunni insurgents, including the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, have been regaining strength in recent months and striking on an almost daily basis against Shi’ite Muslims and security forces among other targets.

The violence has raised fears of a return to full-blown conflict in a country where Kurds, Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims have yet to find a stable way of sharing power.

In the northern city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives behind a military convoy in the eastern Kokchali district, killing at least 22 soldiers and three passers-by, police said.

Suicide bombings are the hallmark of al Qaeda, which has been regrouping in Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and capital of the Sunni-dominated Nineveh province.

A separate attack in western Mosul killed four policemen, police said.

Relations between Islam’s two main denominations have been put under further strain from the civil war in Syria, which has drawn in Shi’ite and Sunni fighters from Iraq and beyond to fight against each other.

Recent attacks have targeted mosques, amateur football matches, shopping areas and cafes where people gather to socialize after breaking their daily fast for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Nearly 600 people have been killed in militant attacks across Iraq so far this month, according to violence monitoring group Iraq Body Count.

That is still well below the height of bloodletting in 2006-07, when the monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/22/us-iraq-violence-idUSBRE96J09I20130722.

2013-07-21

By Ahmed al-Rubaye – BAGHDAD

With 10 days still to go, July is already second deadliest month of 2013 with death toll significantly higher than those of January and February combined.

Iraqis roundly condemned the authorities on Sunday for failing to prevent a wave of deadly violence including attacks that killed dozens of people the day before.

Another five people were killed in bombings on Sunday as the country struggles against a surge in violence that has plagued it since the beginning of the year.

More than 530 people have been killed in attacks so far this month, and almost 2,800 since January 1, making it the worst year since 2008, according to figures based on security and medical sources.

On Sunday, the death toll continued to mount.

In Taji, north of Baghdad, two roadside bombs exploded near an army base, killing three people and wounding at least 10.

And a bomb exploded in the garden of a house in Besmayah, southeast of the capital, killing two people and wounding four, all from the same family.

The blasts came a day after Baghdad was hit by 12 car bombs, a roadside bomb and a shooting, while another bomb blew up south of the capital. A total of 67 people were killed.

Attacks elsewhere killed another three people on Saturday.

The Baghdad attacks came as residents turned out to shop and relax in cafes after iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

On Sunday, Iraqis sharply criticized the authorities for failing to prevent the bloodshed.

“This is a cartoon government and its security forces cannot protect themselves, let alone protect the people,” one man said sadly near the site of one bombing in central Baghdad.

In Tobchi, a north Baghdad area hit in the Saturday attacks, another man resorted to sarcasm.

“These car bombs come to us from Mars, because the security forces are implementing strict regulations to prevent their entry here,” he said.

A third slammed the aloof attitude of the political elite, who rarely comment on the spiraling violence.

“Iraqis are being protected only by God, because the politicians only care about their positions and personal interests,” he said.

In the first 12 days of Ramadan, 334 people have been killed in Iraq violence.

And with 10 days still to go, July is already the second deadliest month of 2013 with a death toll significantly higher than those of January and February combined.

In May, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a shake-up of senior security officers, but the violence has continued unabated.

Iraq has faced years of attacks by militants, but analysts say widespread discontent among members of its Sunni minority, which the government has failed to address, has fueled this year’s surge in unrest.

In addition to security problems, the government in Baghdad is also failing when it comes to other basic services including electricity and clean water, and corruption is also widespread.

Political squabbling has paralyzed the government, which has passed almost no major legislation in years.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60242.

by Emad Mekay

21 July 2013

President Barack Obama recently stated the United States was not taking sides as Egypt’s crisis came to a head with the military overthrow of the democratically elected president.

But a review of dozens of US federal government documents shows Washington has quietly funded senior Egyptian opposition figures who called for toppling of the country’s now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi.

Documents obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley show the US channeled funding through a State Department program to promote democracy in the Middle East region. This program vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt, after autocratic president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February 2011.

The State Department’s program, dubbed by US officials as a “democracy assistance” initiative, is part of a wider Obama administration effort to try to stop the retreat of pro-Washington secularists, and to win back influence in Arab Spring countries that saw the rise of Islamists, who largely oppose US interests in the Middle East.

Activists bankrolled by the program include an exiled Egyptian police officer who plotted the violent overthrow of the Morsi government, an anti-Islamist politician who advocated closing mosques and dragging preachers out by force, as well as a coterie of opposition politicians who pushed for the ouster of the country’s first democratically elected leader, government documents show.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, interviews, and public records reveal Washington’s “democracy assistance” may have violated Egyptian law, which prohibits foreign political funding.

It may also have broken US government regulations that ban the use of taxpayers’ money to fund foreign politicians, or finance subversive activities that target democratically elected governments.

‘Bureau for Democracy’

Washington’s democracy assistance program for the Middle East is filtered through a pyramid of agencies within the State Department. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is channeled through the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), USAID, as well as the Washington-based, quasi-governmental organisation the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In turn, those groups re-route money to other organisations such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and Freedom House, among others. Federal documents show these groups have sent funds to certain organisations in Egypt, mostly run by senior members of anti-Morsi political parties who double as NGO activists.

The Middle East Partnership Initiative – launched by the George W Bush administration in 2002 in a bid to influence politics in the Middle East in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks – has spent close to $900m on democracy projects across the region, a federal grants database shows.

USAID manages about $1.4bn annually in the Middle East, with nearly $390m designated for democracy promotion, according to the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

The US government doesn’t issue figures on democracy spending per country, but Stephen McInerney, POMED’s executive director, estimated that Washington spent some $65m in 2011 and $25m in 2012. He said he expects a similar amount paid out this year.

A main conduit for channeling the State Department’s democracy funds to Egypt has been the National Endowment for Democracy. Federal documents show NED, which in 2011 was authorized an annual budget of $118m by Congress, funneled at least $120,000 over several years to an exiled Egyptian police officer who has for years incited violence in his native country.

This appears to be in direct contradiction to its Congressional mandate, which clearly states NED is to engage only in “peaceful” political change overseas.

Exiled policeman

Colonel Omar Afifi Soliman – who served in Egypt’s elite investigative police unit, notorious for human rights abuses – began receiving NED funds in 2008 for at least four years.

During that time he and his followers targeted Mubarak’s government, and Soliman later followed the same tactics against the military rulers who briefly replaced him. Most recently Soliman set his sights on Morsi’s government.

Soliman, who has refugee status in the US, was sentenced in absentia last year for five years imprisonment by a Cairo court for his role in inciting violence in 2011 against the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia, two US allies.

He also used social media to encourage violent attacks against Egyptian officials, according to court documents and a review of his social media posts.

US Internal Revenue Service documents reveal that NED paid tens of thousands of dollars to Soliman through an organisation he created called Hukuk Al-Nas (People’s Rights), based in Falls Church, Virginia. Federal forms show he is the only employee.

After he was awarded a 2008 human rights fellowship at NED and moved to the US, Soliman received a second $50,000 NED grant in 2009 for Hukuk Al-Nas. In 2010, he received $60,000 and another $10,000 in 2011.

In an interview with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, Soliman reluctantly admitted he received US government funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, but complained it wasn’t enough. “It is like $2000 or $2,500 a month,” he said. “Do you think this is too much? Obama wants to give us peanuts. We will not accept that.”

NED has removed public access to its Egyptian grant recipients in 2011 and 2012 from its website. NED officials didn’t respond to repeated interview requests.

‘Pro bono advice’

NED’s website says Soliman spreads only nonviolent literature, and his group was set up to provide “immediate, pro bono legal advice through a telephone hotline, instant messaging, and other social networking tools”.

However, in Egyptian media interviews, social media posts and YouTube videos, Soliman encouraged the violent overthrow of Egypt’s government, then led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

“Incapacitate them by smashing their knee bones first,” he instructed followers on Facebook in late June, as Morsi’s opponents prepared massive street rallies against the government. Egypt’s US-funded and trained military later used those demonstrations to justify its coup on July 3.

“Make a road bump with a broken palm tree to stop the buses going into Cairo, and drench the road around it with gas and diesel. When the bus slows down for the bump, set it all ablaze so it will burn down with all the passengers inside … God bless,” Soliman’s post read.

In late May he instructed, “Behead those who control power, water and gas utilities.”

Soliman removed several older social media posts after authorities in Egypt took notice of his subversive instructions, court documents show.

Egyptian women supporters of ousted president Morsi [EPA]

More recent Facebook instructions to his 83,000 followers range from guidelines on spraying roads with a mix of auto oil and gas – “20 liters of oil to 4 liters of gas”- to how to thwart cars giving chase.

On a YouTube video, Soliman took credit for a failed attempt in December to storm the Egyptian presidential palace with handguns and Molotov cocktails to oust Morsi.

“We know he gets support from some groups in the US, but we do not know he is getting support from the US government. This would be news to us,” said an Egyptian embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Funding other Morsi opponents

Other beneficiaries of US government funding are also opponents of the now-deposed president, some who had called for Morsi’s removal by force.

The Salvation Front main opposition bloc, of which some members received US funding, has backed street protest campaigns that turned violent against the elected government, in contradiction of many of the State Department’s own guidelines.

A longtime grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy and other US democracy groups is a 34-year old Egyptian woman, Esraa Abdel-Fatah, who sprang to notoriety during the country’s pitched battle over the new constitution in December 2012.

She exhorted activists to lay siege to mosques and drag from pulpits all Muslim preachers and religious figures who supported the country’s the proposed constitution, just before it went to a public referendum.

The act of besieging mosques has continued ever since, and several people have died in clashes defending them.

Federal records show Abdel-Fatah’s NGO, the Egyptian Democratic Academy, received support from NED, MEPI and NDI, among other State Department-funded groups “assisting democracy”. Records show NED gave her organization a one-year $75,000 grant in 2011.

Abdel-Fatah is politically active, crisscrossing Egypt to rally support for her Al-Dostor Party, which is led by former UN nuclear chief Mohamed El-Baradei, the most prominent figure in the Salvation Front. She lent full support to the military takeover, and urged the West not call it a “coup”.

“June 30 will be the last day of Morsi’s term,” she told the press a few weeks before the coup took place.

US taxpayer money has also been sent to groups set up by some of Egypt’s richest people, raising questions about waste in the democracy program.

Michael Meunier is a frequent guest on TV channels that opposed Morsi. Head of the Al-Haya Party, Meunier – a dual US-Egyptian citizen – has quietly collected US funding through his NGO, Hand In Hand for Egypt Association.

Meunier’s organization was founded by some of the most vehement opposition figures, including Egypt’s richest man and well-known Coptic Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, Tarek Heggy, an oil industry executive, Salah Diab, Halliburton’s partner in Egypt, and Usama Ghazali Harb, a politician with roots in the Mubarak regime and a frequent US embassy contact.

Meunier has denied receiving US assistance, but government documents show USAID in 2011 granted his Cairo-based organisation $873,355. Since 2009, it has taken in $1.3 million from the US agency.

Meunier helped rally the country’s five million Christian Orthodox Coptic minority, who oppose Morsi’s Islamist agenda, to take to the streets against the president on June 30.

Reform and Development Party member Mohammed Essmat al-Sadat received US financial support through his Sadat Association for Social Development, a grantee of The Middle East Partnership Initiative.

The federal grants records and database show in 2011 Sadat collected $84,445 from MEPI “to work with youth in the post-revolutionary Egypt”.

Sadat was a member of the coordination committee, the main organizing body for the June 30 anti-Morsi protest. Since 2008, he has collected $265,176 in US funding. Sadat announced he will be running for office again in upcoming parliamentary elections.

After soldiers and police killed more than 50 Morsi supporters on Monday, Sadat defended the use of force and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, saying it used women and children as shields.

Some US-backed politicians have said Washington tacitly encouraged them to incite protests.

“We were told by the Americans that if we see big street protests that sustain themselves for a week, they will reconsider all current US policies towards the Muslim Brotherhood regime,” said Saaddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American politician opposed Morsi.

Ibrahim’s Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo receives US funding, one of the largest recipients of democracy promotion money in fact.

His comments followed statements by other Egyptian opposition politicians claiming they had been prodded by US officials to whip up public sentiment against Morsi before Washington could publicly weigh in.

Democracy program defense

The practice of funding politicians and anti-government activists through NGOs was vehemently defended by the State Department and by a group of Washington-based Middle East experts close to the program.

“The line between politics and activism is very blurred in this country,” said David Linfield, spokesman for the US Embassy in Cairo.

Others said the United States cannot be held responsible for activities by groups it doesn’t control.

“It’s a very hot and dynamic political scene,” said Michelle Dunne, an expert at the Atlantic Council think-tank. Her husband, Michael Dunne, was given a five-year jail sentence in absentia by a Cairo court for his role in political funding in Egypt.

“Just because you give someone some money, you cannot take away their freedom or the position they want to take,” said Dunne.

Elliot Abrams, a former official in the administration of George W. Bush and a member of the Working Group on Egypt that includes Dunne, denied in an email message that the US has paid politicians in Egypt, or elsewhere in the Middle East.

“The US does not provide funding for parties or ‘local politicians’ in Egypt or anywhere else,” said Abrams. “That is prohibited by law and the law is scrupulously obeyed by all US agencies, under careful Congressional oversight.”

But a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said American support for foreign political activists was in line with American principles.

“The US government provides support to civil society, democracy and human rights activists around the world, in line with our long-held values, such as respecting the fundamental human rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and human dignity,” the official wrote in an email. “US outreach in Egypt is consistent with these principles.”

A Cairo court convicted 43 local and foreign NGO workers last month on charges of illegally using foreign funds to stir unrest in Egypt. The US and UN expressed concern over the move.

Out of line

Some Middle East observers suggested the US’ democracy push in Egypt may be more about buying influence than spreading human rights and good governance.

“Funding of politicians is a problem,” said Robert Springborg, who evaluated democracy programs for the State Department in Egypt, and is now a professor at the National Security Department of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California.

“If you run a program for electoral observation, or for developing media capacity for political parties, I am not against that. But providing lots of money to politicians – I think that raises lots of questions,” Springborg said.

Some Egyptians, meanwhile, said the US was out of line by sending cash through its democracy program in the Middle East to organisations run by political operators.

“Instead of being sincere about backing democracy and reaching out to the Egyptian people, the US has chosen an unethical path,” said Esam Neizamy, an independent researcher into foreign funding in Egypt, and a member of the country’s Revolutionary Trustees, a group set up to protect the 2011 revolution.

“The Americans think they can outsmart lots of people in the Middle East. They are being very hostile against the Egyptian people who have nothing but goodwill for them – so far,” Neizamy said.

Source: allAfrica.

Link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201307220534.html?viewall=1.

2013-07-20

After being among first leaders to congratulate Egyptians, King Abdullah II arrives in Cairo amid heightened political tensions.

CAIRO – Jordan’s King Abdullah II arrived in Cairo on Saturday, in the first visit by a head of state to Egypt since ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, state media reported.

The monarch had been among the first leaders to congratulate Egyptians after the army overthrew Morsi following mass protests calling for him to resign.

Abdullah, who faces challenges at home from Islamists, was met at the airport by military-backed interim Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, the official MENA news agency reported.

Both Jordan and Egypt have been key mediators between Israel and the Palestinians, which the United States says have agreed to lay the groundwork to resume peace negotiations.

Abdullah is likely to discuss the renewed talks with Egypt.

But his visit may also be aimed at conferring legitimacy on the new military-installed regime, which is fighting a public relations war abroad to burnish its credentials as a legitimate regime.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60232.

JUL 19 2013

DAVID ROHDE

The country’s leadership must realize that growing authoritarianism won’t foster stability.

Amman, Jordan — After the Egyptian army toppled President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the U.S. Congress expressed the sentiment of many in Washington.

“The army is the only stable institution in the country,” he said.

In the Western media, Arab Spring post-mortems proliferated, including a 15-page special report in The Economist that asked, “Has the Arab Spring failed?” The answer: “That view is at best premature, at worst wrong.”

Here in Jordan, Arab Spring inspired protests demanding King Abdullah II cede power to an elected government has petered out. A crackdown on the media that shut down 300 websites last month elicited little protest.

“We are witnessing a swift return to a police state,” said Labib Kamhawi, an opposition figure accused last year of violating a law that bars Jordanians from defaming the king. “You will find everything controlled.”

Yet analysts, opposition members and former government officials say that the Arab Spring has paused here — not ended. The underlying economic issues which prompted the protests that toppled governments across the Middle East and North Africa remain in place. Arab rulers and U.S. officials are both mistaken if they think they can rely on generals and regents to produce long-term stability.

“The political energy that was released around the Arab world and Jordan in 2011 has not dissipated,” said Robert Blecher, a Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The problems that gave birth to the Arab uprisings have not been solved.”

What, then, is happening in Jordan? Simply put, Jordanians look north to Syria and southwest to Egypt and are frightened by what they see. Brutal civil wars and street clashes have tempered the desire for rapid change. Though Abdullah limits speech here, he is not nearly as brutal as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And events in Egypt have made young, secular Jordanians loathe to live under the Muslim Brotherhood. In short, Jordanians are waiting.

“I’m less aggressive toward the king because I saw what the Islamists could do, I see what is happening in the region,” said Alaa Fazzaa, the editor of one of the shuttered websites. “I’m waiting for the right time to attack.”

In a region where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30, the economic problems are colossal. And a younger generation bent on economic opportunity and basic political rights will not accept a permanent return to authoritarianism. Jordan is a case in point.

The global economic slowdown halved economic growth in Jordan from 6 percent to 3 percent over the last three years. Jordan’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, with youth unemployment estimated to be twice that. More than 550,000 Syrian refugees have flooded the foreign-aid-dependent, oil- and water-starved desert kingdom of 6 million.

Oraib al Rantawi, the director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies here, said that the biggest concerns that Jordanians express in opinion polls are not political.

“The top five priorities for Jordanians are economic,” he said. “You will find political reform on number 10 or number 11.”

To his credit, Abdullah, 51, is one of the most liberal monarchs in the Middle East. After he ascended to the throne in1999, he was widely hailed as a modernizer. Yet in recent years, his reforms have slowed and popularity ebbed.

A March profile of the king published in The Atlantic provoked fury in Jordan. In the piece, which the palace disputed, the king was quoted as disparaging intelligence chiefs, the Muslim Brotherhood, tribal elders, U.S. diplomats, regional leaders and his own family. He said local politicians had failed to take advantage of reforms he enacted and mocked one nascent party’s social and economic manifesto.

“It’s all about ‘I’ll vote for this guy because I’m in his tribe,'” the king said in the Atlantic story. “I want this guy to develop a program that at least people will begin to understand.”

But critics insist Abdullah’s reforms are illusory. Jordan has a prime minister and an elected lower house of parliament, but the regent can fire the prime minister and dissolve parliament at will. In the past five years, he has sent six prime ministers packing.

Luckily for Abdullah, Jordan’s wing of the Muslim Brotherhood is proving as politically clumsy as its Egyptian brethren. The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood boycotted legislative elections this year. A decent turnout allowed Abdullah to declare the elections credible and left the country’s largest opposition group without a voice in parliament.

At the same time, as fighting rages in Syria and Secretary of State John Kerry pushes for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Washington needs Abdullah. Calls for reform from Washington have grown muted of late.

“In 2011, they were saying do reform and do it quick,” said Blecher, the ICG analyst. “The message is much weaker now.”

Vast economic problems remain in Jordan. Next month, the government will carry out a long delayed, International Monetary Fund-mandated increase in electricity prices. When an IMF required cut in fuel subsides was enacted last fall, riots erupted.

Believing that kings and generals can bring instant stability to today’s Middle East is fanciful. Abdullah must enact sweeping economic reforms, crackdown on corruption and begin to cede power to an elected government. And Washington should encourage him every step of the way.

The clock cannot be turned back in the Middle East. In the short term, more turmoil lies ahead. In the long-run, growing economies, not growing authoritarianism, will foster stability.

Source: The Atlantic.

Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/in-jordan-the-arab-spring-isnt-over/277964/.

By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT | Sun Jul 21, 2013

(Reuters) – The local commander of a Syrian rebel group affiliated to al Qaeda was freed on Sunday after being held by Kurdish forces in a power struggle between rival organizations fighting President Bashar al-Assad, activists said.

However, the pro-opposition activists gave conflicting reports of how the Islamist brigade commander in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad near the Turkish border had come to be free.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamist rebels had exchanged 300 Kurdish residents they had kidnapped for the local head of their group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Other activist groups challenged this account, saying Islamist fighters had freed Abu Musaab by force, with no Kurdish hostages released.

Sporadic fighting over the past five days in towns near the frontier with Turkey has pitted Islamists trying to cement their control of rebel zones against Kurds trying to assert their autonomy in mostly Kurdish areas.

The trouble highlights how the two-year insurgency against 43 years of Assad family rule is spinning off into strife within his opponents’ ranks, running the risk of creating regionalized conflicts that could also destabilize neighboring countries.

The factional fighting could also help Assad’s forces, who have launched an offensive to retake territory.

BELT OF TERRITORY

Assad has been trying to secure a belt of territory from Damascus through Homs and up to his heartland on the Mediterranean coast and, with the help of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, has won a string of victories in Homs province and near the capital.

On Sunday his forces ambushed and killed 49 rebels in the Damascus suburb of Adra, the Observatory said.

The town was once a critical point along the route used by rebels to bring weapons to the capital, but Assad’s forces recaptured it a few months ago and have been working to cut off rebel territories in the area.

To the north, activists reported Turkish troops reinforcing their side of the frontier near Tel Abyad, but the army could not be reached for comment. Turkish forces exchanged fire with Syrian Kurdish fighters in another border region earlier in the week.

The Observatory said the alleged prisoner exchange was part of a ceasefire agreed after a day of fierce clashes in Tel Abyad, but other activists said there was no deal and reported that many Kurdish residents were being held by ISIS fighters.

The Observatory said the fighting in Tel Abyad started when the local ISIS brigade asked Kurdish Front forces, which have fought with the rebels against Assad, to pledge allegiance to Abu Musaab, which they refused to do.

Other activists said the clashes were an extension of fighting that broke out last week in other parts of the northern border zone.

Opposition activists also reported the killing of at least 13 members of a family in the Sunni Muslim village of Baida on Sunday, in what they described as a second sectarian massacre there.

FIGHTING NEAR THE COAST

The killings followed a rare eruption of fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels in the coastal province of Tartous, an enclave of Assad’s Alawite minority sect that has remained largely unscathed by the civil war.

Syria’s marginalized Sunni majority has largely backed the insurrection while minorities such as the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, have largely supported Assad, himself an Alawite.

The Observatory said four women and six children were among those killed in Baida.

“A relative came to look for them today and found the men shot outside. The women’s and children’s bodies were inside a room of the house and residents in the area said some of the bodies were burned,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory.

In May, pro-Assad militias killed more than 50 residents of Baida and over 60 in the nearby town of Banias. In those killings, some bodies, many of them children, were found burned and mutilated.

The anti-Assad revolt has evolved from its origins as a peaceful protest movement in March 2011 into a civil war that has killed over 100,000 people and turned markedly sectarian.

The ethnic Kurdish minority has been alternately battling both Assad’s forces and the Islamist-dominated rebels. Kurds argue they support the revolt but rebels accuse them of making deals with the government in order to ensure their security and autonomy during the conflict.

The Kurdish people, scattered over the territories of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, are often described as the world’s largest ethnic community without a state of their own.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Arbil and Jonathan Burch in Ankara; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/07/21/us-syria-crisis-idUKBRE96J06D20130721.