Arab Revolution

US tilt to Assad: now it's official

Washington has now made it official that its enemy in Syria is just ISIS and al-Qaeda—and explicitly not the Bashar Assad dictatorship. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN last week that the Coalition has issued a directive to rebel forces operating out if its base in southern Syria (presumably al-Tanf) that they must be exclusively focused on fighting ISIS and not the Damascus regime. "The coalition supports only those forces committed to fighting ISIS," Dillon said. One rebel faction, Shohada al-Quartyan, has refused to accept this ultimatum, and left the base. An unnamed Coalition representative stated: "We are not in the business of fighting the regime. They [the rebels] can't have multiple objectives and we need to be singularly focused on fighting ISIS." (The New Arab, July 27)

Tunisian revolutionaries betray Syrian revolution?

The democratic transition in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been the one real success story of the Arab Revolution, and the Tunisian uprising was also the first that served to spark the subsequent wave. So the Tunisian pro-democracy forces have international responsibilities, seen as keepers of the flame. When the Syrian revolution started in March 2011 (by school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall), it was directly inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. But while Egypt has slipped back into dictatorship, Tunisia continues to consolidate its new democracy. Holding special responsibilities are Tunisia's progressive-left forces—and in particular, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). A leading force in the 2011 uprising, the UGTT was also a pillar of the Tunisia Quartet, which in 2015 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its effort to broker dialogue between various factions and save the country from following Syria, Libya and Yemen into civil war, or following Egypt into a new dictatorship. So it is distressing to read that the UGTT (or its leadership, at least) appears to be following the misguided Western "left" into sympathy for the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.

Egypt sentences anti-Mubarak protesters to life

An Egyptian court sentenced 43 individuals to life in prison July 25 for crimes of vandalism, rioting and attacking authorities. The acts for which the protesters were convicted took place in 2011, amid the outbreak of demonstrations against then-president Hosni Mubarak. The defendants were also fined a combined 17 million Egyptian pounds (approx. $1 million). Ten other protesters were handed down lesser sentences of five or 10 years, while 96 protesters were acquitted of their charges. The convicted parties may appeal their sentences.

Syria: new popular uprising against al-Qaeda

Residents of Saraqeb town in Syria's Idlib province rose up and drove off fighters of the local al-Qaeda affiliate after jihadists fired on a protest demonstration. The incident began July 18, when Saraqeb residents held self-organized elections for the town council, and raised the Free Syria flag from the radio tower in celebration. Fighters from Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) responded by tearing down the flag, trampling it, and firing in the air in a display of defiance. This sparked general protests against the group's presence in Saraqeb. The following day local media activist Musaab al-Ezzo was killed as HTS militants fired on demonstrators. This only escalated the protests; after his funeral the next day, residents marched on HTS positions chating "Out, out, cowards out!" and "Saraqeb is free, Jolani out!"—a reference to HTS commander Abu Mohammed al-Jolani. HTS again opened fire, but in the face of nearly universal opposition among residents they finally withdrew from the town. 

Bahrain sentences rights defender to two years

Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.

Egypt: top court halts Red Sea islands transfer

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government agreed to transfer the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated by a lower court in Cairo, but that decision was overturned by another court. Egypt's parliament last week agreed to go through with the plan despite public protests. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The protesters, however, assert that Egypt's sovereignty over the islands was established before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Syria: popular uprising against al-Qaeda rule

Under the slogan "The People Are Stronger Than You," thousands of local residents have repeatedly taken to the streets of Ma'arat al-Numan, a town in Syria's northwestern Idlib governorate, to oppose the rule of jihadist forces that have seized control there. The protests broke out after the Qaeda-affiliated militia that controls the town, Hayat Tahrir a-Sham (HTS, an offshoot of the Nusra Front) raided the local headquarters of the Free Syrian Army's Division 13, killing and detaining several FSA fighters on June 8. The biggest reported protest came on June 11, when thousands of residents and civil resistance activists waving Free Syrian flags mobilized to demand the release of the detained fighters.  "We will continue to resist [HTS] in the same way that we peacefully resisted the Syrian regime, and endured its crackdown on protests," Khaled al-Hamid, a 22-year-old protest organizer, told independent news site Syria Deeply. (More at Global Voices)

Arab-Berber unity in Morocco protests

Protests continue for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region which has been shaken by unrest since death of a fish-monger at hands of police last year. More leaders of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement," were detained by police in the flashpoint town of al-Hoceima, but protests also spread to cities throughout the country. On June 11, thousands took to the streets of the capital Rabat to demand release of the detained activists. Chants included "Free the prisoners!" and "We are all Apaches!"—a reference to an insult the late King Hassan II aimed at the people of Rif, who are mainly Berbers. The Rif was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011, which prompted a constitutional reform and greater cultural rights for the Berber people. (Irish Times, June 12; Middle East Online, Middle East Eye, June 11)

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