Greater Middle East

Turkish troops in Kobani incursion

Hundreds of Turkish troops in armored vehicles crossed into northern Syria Feb. 22—apparently to evacuate forces guarding an historic tomb, demolishing it, and moving the remains to a different site. The remains of Suleyman Shah were moved to a location in Syria closer to the border, and a Turkish flag raised at the new burial site near Esmesi (Aleppo governorate). Turkey considers the site sovereign territory, so it is unclear if it has now abandoned claims to the previous site and transfered them to the new one. The Damascus regime (which has long since lost control over the north) condemned the incursion as "flagrant aggression," saying Turkey had informed its Istanbul consulate of the operation but not waited for Syria's consent. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his armed forces had carried out a "successful operation which is beyond all kinds of appreciation." Ominously, the column of Turkish armor swept through the border city of Kobani on its way to the site—an unsubtle message to the autonomist Kurdish fighters there. (BBC News)

ISIS and the neocons: fearful symmetry?

Daniel Neep of Georgetown University in Discover Society last month provided a refreshingly skeptical overview of the various plans for redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East, in a piece entitled "The Middle East, Hallucination, and the Cartographic Imagination." We call it the balkanization agenda of the most hubristic neo-conservatives, although Neep doesn't use those terms ("DC policymakers," he says). He discusses how these ideas have been broached by imperial officialdom, e.g. in Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' writings in the Armed Forces Journal, and Wilson Center wonk Robin Wright in the New York Times. Neep's piece is most interesting for its comparative maps of all the schemes that have been floated. They all pretty much amount to the same thing: Iraq and Syria divided into Sunni and Shi'ite zones, an independent Kurdistan, Hijaz breaking off from Saudi Arabia, and so on. The irony is that all these theorists blabber on about how the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement created "artificial states," while the drawing of new maps by Beltway wonks merely replicates the hubris of Sykes-Picot!

Bahrain: investigation of opposition online content

Bahrain's Ministry of Interior initiated a criminal investigation on Feb. 17 into alleged illegal content posted by the country's main opposition group, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. Al-Wefaq regularly publishes content to its website and Twitter account, including pictures of protests against the Sunni majority party. Feb. 14 marked the four-year anniversary of a Shiite uprising in Bahrain and hundreds took the streets to protest a lack of political reform and the imprisonment of Al-Wafeq leader Sheikh Ali Salman. The alleged criminal content involves pictures of wounded protesters from the weekend protests, and claims that the authorities fired buckshot and tear gas to disperse protesters. Al-Wefaq is accused of publicly inciting hatred against the government, encouraging illegal rallies and distributing false news.

Rights groups call for release of Syria activists

A coalition of 71 human rights groups released a statement (PDF)  on Feb. 16 urging the Syrian government to release three prominent human rights defenders on the third anniversary of their imprisonment. The statement identifies the three men, Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, as Syrian journalists who were arrested in a raid of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and who have been detained and tortured on charges of "publicizing terrorist acts" under Syria's Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. Despite being formally charged one year ago, their trial has been repeatedly postponed, and the government's applicable 2014 amnesty grant has not been honored. The organizations claim that the men are being persecuted for their legitimate human rights work by being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and call for the immediate release of these three men and anyone who is being arbitrarily detained by the Syrian government.

Morsi goes on trial over espionage allegations

An Egyptian court on Jan. 15 put ex-president Mohammed Morsi on trial over accusations of spying and leaking information to Qatar. Prosecutors, as part of the country's continued crack down on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, allege that Morsi endangered national security by leaking to Qatar state secrets and documents that exposed the location of Egyptian weapons and revealed a portion of the country's foreign and domestic policies. Egypt's relationship with Qatar has been strained since Qatar continued to support Morsi and Islamists after the his ouster in July 2013. Since taking over after Morsi, current President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has instituted an intense national security campaign against Islamists.

Kurdish forces drive ISIS back from Kobani

Kurdish forces continue to drive ISIS militants back in the Kobani area and have retaken more than 100 villages from the jihadists since pushing the last of them out of the urban center following a 130-day siege two weeks ago. Fighters of the Peoples Protection Units (YPG). supported by Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army forces and US-led air-strikes, have now reached the village of Karamox, 20 kilometers east of Kobani. Kurdish forces claim gains against ISIS in every direction. Among key villages retaken from ISIS, which had held them since September, are Kofi, 25 kilometers south of Kobani, and Rovi, a stop on the road linking Kobani with Aleppo. On the western front, the Kurdish forces are now positioned  at Karako village, 20 kilometers from Kobani's urban center.

Amnesty: Egypt covering up protester deaths

Amnesty International (AI)  said Feb. 1 it has gathered evidence that the Egyptian government is covering up the deaths of more than two dozen people in protests on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising. Twenty-seven people died in protests last week, including two women, a 10-year-old child and two members of the security forces. AI found that security forces fired shotguns and tear gas against nonviolent crowds and failed to stop clashes among protesters for several hours. The rights group said its investigators have reviewed testimonies from witnesses, photographs and video footage, but the government has threatened and detained witnesses present at the demonstrations to keep them from testifying against security forces. Prosecutors are also reportedly refusing to reveal where the detained protesters are being held and have not permitted lawyers to file complaints. AI is urging that:

UN rights experts urge Oman to release activist

UN rights experts on Jan. 30 urged the Omani government to release Said Ali Said Jadad, a human rights activist. Jadad, who promoted democratic reforms, was arrested last week with no warrant and charged with undermining the prestige of the state, inciting demonstrations, steering up sectarian strife and offending state officials. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai believe Jadad's detention may be retaliation for communicating with international organizations, noting that Jadad has been arrested several times after visits from representatives of the UN. The