Archive for March 16, 2017


2017-02-13

Jordan appears to be tightening its grip on religious messages coming out of its mosques but it may be offering its preachers more sticks than carrots.

Jordanian chief justice Ahmad Hilayel resigned two days after delivering a Friday sermon during which he rebuked Gulf states for not stepping up their financial aid to Jordan.

“As an imam of this country and one of its scholars, I am addressing the Gulf’s leaders, kings, emirs, sheikhs and wise men,” he said in a sermon broadcast live on Jordanian state television January 20th from Amman’s King Hussein mosque.

“The (financial) situation has reached a tipping point (in Jor­dan)… so where is your help, where is your money and where are your riches?”

Hilayel said the Jordanian state could collapse if people were to take to the streets, warning that would lead to chaos and destruction as in Syria, Iraq and Libya. “Would you like to see such a scenario (happen in Jordan)?” he asked.

Many criticized Hilayel for embarrassing the government in front of its financial backers in the Gulf and some took issue with his use of the Friday sermon to deliver a political message. Musa al-Odwan, a retired army general and writer, told Al Jazeera that Hilayel had “no business talking politics” as he is a religious judge.

It is thought that Hilayel agreed to resign to save face rather than being fired.

Jordan’s Religious Affairs Ministry on January 10th said it had dismissed 15 mosque preachers and disciplined seven others for refusing to take part in nationwide memorial prayers for Jordanian troops killed in clashes with gunmen who had attacked a tourist site in Karak province.

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed the December 18th attack in which 11 members of the security forces and three civilians, including a Canadian tourist, were killed. The kingdom has been hit by number of ISIS attacks in the past year.

Observers said Jordan may be changing course from its policy of trying to contain hard-line preachers towards a more confrontational approach.

“In the past, the authorities opted for negotiation. Two years ago they released two leading jihadists, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini, in an attempt to co-opt their followers into their own war on Islamic State,” the Economist wrote in September 2016.

“More recently, though, they have gone for round-ups. Hundreds of cells have been broken up. And so far this year 1,100 Jordanians have been hauled before military courts on terrorism charges,” it added.

However, the government would still have to rely on cooperative preachers to do its bidding in reli­gious circles.

One preacher, Ali al-Halabi, issued a religious edict saying that Jordanians must not pray for the souls or attend the funerals of the “terrorists” killed by the army in Karak. Halabi insisted they would still be regarded as Muslims but added that the militants cannot have ordinary burials and the public must always be reminded of their “deviant creeds”.

The government has installed closed-circuit cameras in a number of mosques, although the vast majority of them are not electronically monitored. Local informants attending prayers are reportedly the most common way for the government to keep an eye on places of worship.

Local media reported that the government promised to award bonuses to state-appointed mosque preachers who are “distinguished in their work”. The proposal includes studying the preachers’ sermons as part of the evaluation process.

The Prime Ministry’s coordinator for human rights, Basil al- Tarawneh, said the Religious Affairs Ministry was carrying out recommendations from the Na­tional Center for Human Rights. The recommendations include familiarizing mosque preachers with matters of human rights and “combating extremist thought”, the offi­cial Petra news agency said.

A similar initiative is reportedly being coordinated with the Ministry of Social Development to make mosque preachers more aware of women’s rights.

However, in improvised areas such as Zarqa governorate, where the spread of radicalization is more likely, officials are warning that the housing accommodations for mosque imams are “not suitable for habitation”.

Many of the accommodations are damp and have no access to sunlight as they are built under the mosques, Youssef al-Shalabi, the head of the religious endowment department in Zarqa, said in late January.

Some of the residents are exposed to flooding from nearby mosque toilets, creating a smell that was making some preachers ill.

A government report released last October stated that many of the imams’ children have asthma and other illnesses due to poor housing conditions.

One imam told the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad that he lives with his wife and five children in a 90-sq.-metre residence.

Accommodation is not provided to all imams. Most cannot afford to live elsewhere as they are required to be in the mosque from early hours of the day until late at night due to the timing of prayers.

Such living conditions may put additional strain on the relationship between the state and the imams it employs.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81413.

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2017-02-13

In a span of six days in January, Jordan witnessed several gruesome crimes in which people were killed or injured by immediate family members, creating an unprecedented level of fear of what is known as familicide.

Jordanians followed closely the killings that struck families in various parts of the country. While some saw the attacks as signs of society’s decay, others were simply appalled by the nature of the crimes involving children.

A man in his 20s stabbed his wife and three daughters in Ram­tha, north of Jordan. The mother and two girls died; the third is in critical condition. Also in January, a man shot his brother in the head in Madaba, south-west of Amman and a father killed his 6-year-old daughter before committing suicide.

In other familicide incidents, a man in his 20s killed his sister, who was in her 40s, in front of a hospital in Amman. Police investigated the case of a 26-year-old woman found hanged in her house in Irbid, north of Amman, to establish whether it was a suicide or a death by a family member.

Depression is the main reason behind the incidents, human rights activist Rana Husseini said. “De­pression, in my opinion, is the leading cause in which a father in a moment of weakness goes on a killing spree ending the lives of his own family,” Husseini said.

“Of course, there are other reasons such as cases of schizophre­nia, which is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves and which might appear in a cer­tain age and a certain situation and sometimes it can go undetected,” she added.

Husseini, who has focused on social issues with a special emphasis on violence against women, recalled an incident in 1989 when a high school student killed his entire 11-member family and a friend due to the pressure his family placed on him.

“That crime is considered among the most horrific in Jordan. The 18-year-old boy killed his whole family because he could not face the pressure they placed on him when he failed his high school exams. The student was executed but authorities should have studied this case and dug deeper to see why it happened,” Husseini said.

Drug addiction is also often mentioned as a cause of familicide. A 20-year-old man who decapitated his mother in 2016 was high on a drug called “the joker,” which is a mix of tobacco and lethal substances such as rat poison.

Dr Momen Hadidi, director of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Jordan, said that addiction to drugs such as the joker could cause unpredictable actions.

“Due to the fact that some drug mixtures vary, the effect on a person varies from one to another, which might lead to murder or rape of your closest family members even if it was taken once,” he said.

“Those who take drugs become vulnerable and you cannot predict their actions. They become extremely dangerous and tend to hurt those who are around them, starting with their families.”

Whatever the reasons behind the crimes, they are unjustifiable for Gaby Daw, 49, a social worker.

“Recently, we have been reading more about tragic cases of famili­cide,” Daw said. “Usually there are no apparent signs to suggest that anyone is in danger or will commit such hideous crimes, leaving everyone shocked and in a state of disbelief.

“I believe that the current (socio-economic) situation plays a big role in turning a person into a monster whereby one cannot think reasonably anymore and turns to violence and suicide. Difficult financial conditions, economic crises, depression and mental disorders are all factors.

“I personally witnessed several cases in which a person tried to kill himself just because he was re­jected asylum in a foreign country. When you are desperate you will do anything to hurt yourself, but to hurt your family, your children, this I cannot understand,” Daw added.

A report by Assabeel news website stated that 12 people have committed suicide in Jordan since the start of 2017. In 2016, there were 117 suicides in Jordan compared to 113 in 2015.

Hussein Khazai, a professor of sociology at Jordan University, said weak family ties and poor faith in addition to drugs contribute to these acts in Jordan. “Authorities need to study each case separately and spread awareness about them in the society,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81412.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Jordan’s interior minister lost his job Sunday after criticism following a deadly attack, in a government reshuffle that also saw long-serving foreign minister Nasser Judeh cast aside.

Ten people including a Canadian were shot dead at the popular Jordanian tourist destination of Karak on 18 December, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Following the attack, some 50 lawmakers called for a motion to censure interior minister Salama Hammad.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Hani Mulqi said in a statement from the royal palace that Hammad was being replaced by Ghaleb Zohbi, a lawyer who had previously held the same post.

The same statement announced that Judeh, who had served as foreign minister since 2009, was making way for Ayman Safadi, formerly an adviser to the king and deputy prime minister.

It did not say why the ministers were being replaced. It is the second reshuffle since 28 September.

Last month’s attack in Karak, home to one of the region’s biggest Crusader castles, killed seven policemen, two Jordanian civilians and a female Canadian tourist.

Four assailants were killed by the security forces after an hours-long siege of the castle, where the suspects had fled to after opening fire on police.

IS claimed responsibility on 20 December, saying four “soldiers of the caliphate” used machineguns and hand grenades in the attack.

Jordan is part of the US-led military coalition against IS and has carried out air strikes targeting the extremist group.

It also hosts coalition troops on its territory.

The kingdom was hit by four attacks last year, including a suicide attack in June that killed seven guards near the border with Syria that was also claimed by IS.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-interior-foreign-ministers-unseated-reshuffle-1787269023.

2017-02-26

RABAT – Morocco said Sunday it will pull back from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists.

“The Kingdom of Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken by King Mohammed VI at the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Rabat now “hopes the secretary general’s intervention will allow a return to the previous situation in the zone concerned, keep its status intact, allow the flow of normal road traffic and thus safeguard the ceasefire”, it said.

In a telephone call to Guterres on Friday, the king called on the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Polisario Front threatening a 1991 ceasefire.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before the UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

In the phone call, King Mohammed VI condemned “repeated incursion by armed Polisario men” in the Guerguerat district.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat district near the Mauritanian border, within a stone’s throw of Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last summer started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81693.

2017-03-01

ALGIERS – Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since a crippling stroke in 2013, marks his 80th birthday on Thursday amid persistent doubts over his health.

He suffered a bout of bronchitis in February, forcing German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last minute to cancel a scheduled visit to Algiers and sparking renewed speculation about his future.

“The president has not directly addressed the Algerians since 2012. No Algerian can believe that there is not a power vacuum,” Ahmed Adhimi, a professor of political science at the University of Algiers, said.

In a May 2012 speech, Bouteflika hinted he would give up power at the end of his third term in 2014.

“For my generation, it’s game over,” the president told a room full of young Algerians.

But despite a stroke the following year which forced him to spend nearly three months recovering in France, he fought the 2014 election and soundly beat his longtime rival, former prime minister Ali Benflis.

Bouteflika attended his inauguration in a wheelchair, barely able to deliver more than a few paragraphs of his speech and mumble through the oath of office.

Since then, he has rarely appeared in public, receiving foreign heads of state or government in privacy at his official residence in Zeralda, west of the capital.

– ‘Power vacuum’ –

His opponents repeatedly speak of a power vacuum at the top of government.

But Bouteflika has clung to power, restructuring the army and intelligence services and keeping rivals at bay.

In 2015, he dismissed the Abdelkader Ait Ouarabi, a powerful counter-terrorism chief known as “General Hassan” who was later sentenced to five years in jail for destroying documents and disobeying orders.

The following day, Bouteflika dismissed secret service boss General Mohamed Mediene, a political kingmaker during his 25 years at the head of the DRS intelligence agency.

But the cancellation of the octogenarian’s meeting with Merkel last month rekindled doubts about the state of political life in Algeria.

“Bouteflika’s illness is not a problem in itself,” said Redouane Boudjemaa, a media expert at the University of Algiers.

“The real debate is not about whether the president goes or stays, but about the fate of this system, (which is) corrupt, resistant to any change and ready to keep him president for life,” he said.

For many Algerians, the president’s long disappearances reflect an opaque system dominated by the military.

“I sometimes question the authenticity of the images broadcast on (public) television showing President Bouteflika receiving foreign guests,” said Mourad, a retiree aged nearly 70 who struggles to get by on a derisory pension.

He said he is “convinced that the army has ruled the country since the country’s independence in 1962”.

But Djamel, an employee of Algeria’s state railway company, said Bouteflika had achieved a lot and “sacrificed himself” for Algeria.

“He accepted a fourth mandate to complete the projects he launched,” he said, underlining the division of public opinion on Bouteflika.

A veteran of Algeria’s war of independence, “Boutef” was born on March 2, 1937 in the Moroccan border town of Oujda to a family from Tlemcen, western Algeria.

In power since 1999, he has faced a decade of health problems that have forced him to spend long periods being treated abroad.

A bleeding stomach ulcer dispatched him to Paris for an operation in late 2005, one of multiple stays in French hospitals.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81772.

February 15, 2017

The top human rights organisation in Algeria announced yesterday that it has contacted the UN Human Rights Council regarding France’s refusal to admit to the crimes of its nuclear test program. The French government carried out 17 nuclear tests in the Algerian desert, causing the death of 42,000 individuals; thousands more were left chronically ill due to being exposed to nuclear radiation.

The details were revealed in a statement by the National Secretary of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Houari Kaddour, who is tasked with this issue, during an interview with Anadolu news agency. Kaddour stressed that his organisation “is trying to use all legal means to put the French authorities on trial and prosecute them in all international legal bodies, as well as in the EU, for their crimes.”

Algeria marked the 57th anniversary of the French nuclear tests two days ago. They were carried out between 1960 and 1966; Algeria gained independence from France in 1962. The French authorities still refuse to admit to these crimes and instead have announced that they will pay financial compensation to the victims.

According to Kaddour, his organisation contacted the UN Human Rights council and requested it to look into the crimes. “We also urged the Algerians in Europe to help us find lawyers specializing in international law to file a lawsuit against France in the next three months, before the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in the EU. We also plan to prosecute France in the local courts in Switzerland which specialize in international crimes.”

Kaddour said that his organisation is coordinating with a number of human rights and international bodies in this regard, including all international human rights organisations, international organisations against nuclear testing, and French human rights groups. He noted that the Algerians had submitted over 730,000 compensation cases that were rejected by the compensation committee due to the impossible conditions imposed on the victims. Civilian victims, he added, are not recognized.

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights accused the Algerian authorities of “not putting enough pressure on France to admit to these crimes.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170215-algerians-take-steps-to-prosecute-france-for-nuclear-tests/.

January 11, 2017

What: 1992 elections are cancelled by the military

Where: Algeria

When: 11 January 1992

What happened?

By October 1988, Algerians’ anger was made tangible for the country’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, and deadly protests in Algiers forced the FLN to accept the reality that they were no longer infallible against the masses.

As a result, new constitutional reforms introduced by President Chadli Bendjedid enabled multi-party participation for the first time since the inception of the autocratic FLN regime in 1962. The party which benefited the most from this new introduction was the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), formed on 18 February 1989, whose popularity exploded amongst marginalized Algerians tired of their exclusion from the socio-political environment.

The FIS were able to make considerable gains in their first year by building bridges with the young urban poor. Indeed, it was mainly due to meetings between Bendjedid and FIS’ Ali Benhadj, as well as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, that the October riots began to peter out.

By 12 June 1990, the first free local elections since independence took place, with Algerian voters choosing the FIS and winning 54% of votes; more than double what the FLN received or any other parties.

However, the Gulf War against Iraq in January 1991 provoked a change in the FLN’s tolerance of FIS. Benhadj, a charismatic preacher, delivered an impassioned speech for volunteers to fight alongside Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and this was seen as an affront to the military hierarchy. A strike called by the FIS against the realignment of electoral districts provoked a state of emergency in June 1991 in which parliamentary elections were postponed till December. Soon after, FIS leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Benhadj were arrested and later sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Despite all this, FIS participated in the first round of legislative elections on 26 December 1991 and won with a resounding majority in a voter turnout of 59%. The party was able to secure 231 seats with more predictable gains in the second round of ballots on 13 January 1992. The FLN came second with just 16 elected deputies and Hocine Ait Ahmed’s Socialist Forces Front in third place.

The inevitability of a victory, a first for an Islamist party, was beginning to make the Algerian elite uncomfortable, not to mention elites in Paris who were watching their former colony. For the US, the possibility of a party, despite being democratically elected, that could be hostile to the United States and indeed their interests in the region was enough to justify the FLN’s forthcoming action, which led to a bloody civil war that lasted until 2002.

On 11 January 1992, the military stepped in, cancelling the electoral process and banning FIS as a party which was later completely dissolved by March. According to the Algerian authorities, 5,000 FIS members were arrested. However, French researcher Gilles Kepel put the number at 40,000 members, including then-leader Abdelkader Hachani. President Bendjedid was forced to resign and his successor, a former exiled independence fighter, Mohamed Boudiaf, was sworn in as president. His reign was short-lived by his assassination four months later.

Offshoot organisations of FIS, mainly the Islamic Armed Movement (MIA) and Armed Islamic Group (GIA), saw the military’s actions as a cause for war and a justification to take up arms against the state.

This war would last ten brutal years, with depraved levels of violence recorded towards the latter part by both the military and secret services and militant groups guilty of senseless violence and massacres.

Around 200,000 Algerians would perish in the war, 18,000 would disappear and one million forced to leave the country. The state of emergency would only be lifted in 2011 by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held office since 1999, as a response to protests during the onset of the Arab Spring.

Benhadj and Madani were later released in 2003, and in 2005 Bouteflika offered a general amnesty to end legal proceedings against former fighters which was supported by 97% of the country in a national referendum. The Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation was implemented on September 2006, formally reconciling the warring parties and leading to the Algeria we see today.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170111-algeria-how-cancelling-elections-led-to-war/.

February 13, 2017

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Turkmenistan’s Central Election Commission says the incumbent leader has won the presidential election. Commission chairman Gulmurat Muradov told reporters on Monday that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won 97.7 percent of the vote in the gas-rich Central Asian nation. Muradov said the results from Sunday’s election are preliminary and that election authorities still have to count ballots cast in Turkmenistan’s embassies abroad.

Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic since late 2006, when he assumed power after the death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov. The country last year amended the constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years from five, and eliminated the age limit of 70, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.

February 11, 2017

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — The authoritarian president of Turkmenistan is set to sail to victory in Sunday’s election where eight other candidates are on the ballot, but all praise his polices. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic since late 2006, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Berdymukhamedov has made small reforms of the single-party system imposed by Niyazov and some aspects of the latter’s cult of personality, which included naming the months of the year after his family members and mandating all schoolchildren read his book of philosophical musings.

Some of Niyazov’s more notoriously odd initiatives, such as banning opera and gold teeth, also were rolled back. Notably, Berdymukhamedov expanded public access to the internet and increased compulsory education from nine years to 12.

Under Berdymukhamedov, a law was adopted to allow non-government parties, although these parties are strictly vetted. The candidates nominally competing with Berdymukhamedov have been allowed to meet with voters in theaters and cultural centers, but the encounters were not televised and no debates were held.

The country last year amended the constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years from five, and eliminated the age limit of 70, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.

Meanwhile, Berdymukhamedov has established a considerable personality cult of his own. He is regularly shown on state media successfully acquitting himself in a wide array of physical and competitive disciplines, such as horse-riding, racing cars, cycling, sailing and lifting weights. More recently, the president has taken up music with gusto, on occasion regaling wildly applauding crowds with performances on the guitar and piano.

State television reported on how during a pre-election visit to a gas refinery last month, Berdymukhamedov watched as workers serenaded him on a severely out-of-tune guitar. Later, the president was shown strumming the same guitar — now properly tuned — and performing a song of his own composition as workers clapped along.

Authorities in Turkmenistan have secured quiescence among the country’s 5 million people through a combination of authoritarianism and generous welfare subsidies, like free household gas and salt. But the state’s ability to dispense that largesse has come under intense strain as the price for natural gas — Turkmenistan’s only significant export commodity — has plummeted.

Until a few years ago, Turkmenistan could count on selling gas to China, Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran have recently stopped buying the fuel, however, following pricing disputes. Turkmenistan is placing strong hopes on an ambitious plan to build a gas pipeline serving Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but construction so far is underway only in Turkmenistan.

The economic crisis triggered by the collapse in gas revenue has led to devaluation of the national currency, the manat, and shortages for many staples including cooking oil and sugar. Because of the intense secrecy which the government imposes on economic data, there are few ways of being certain about the depth of the problem.

Although tight visa procedures make it difficult for outsiders to visit, Turkmenistan has built an elaborate resort complex on the Caspian Sea. Gas revenues spurred a spectacular construction boom in the capital Ashgabat, turning swaths of the city into gleaming white marble residential towers flanking wide, lightly trafficked thoroughfares.

Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.

January 24, 2017

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — A court in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday upheld a life sentence for an ethnic Uzbek journalist in a case that has drawn international criticism. Azimzhan Askarov was convicted in 2010 for stirring up ethnic hatred, a charge related to ethnic unrest in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010 when more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced.

The majority of those convicted for taking part in the deadly clashes have been ethnic Uzbeks. Askarov, who can appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court, shouted out after Tuesday’s decision that he would go on hunger strike in protest.

Askarov’s case was sent for review last year after the U.N. Human Rights Committee in April urged Kyrgyzstan to release him, finding that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial.

Askarov’s lawyer, Tolekan Ismailov, told reporters that his client would appeal the ruling, which he dismissed as unlawful. Askarov had been documenting human rights violations by the police and prison authorities in his hometown near the Uzbek border for more than 10 years before he was arrested in 2010.