Greater Middle East
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.
In Yemen, the world's worst cholera outbreak is unfolding amid the world's largest humanitarian crisis, according to the heads of three United Nations agencies. "The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60% of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from," said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement. The agencies noted that nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, and "malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition [in] a vicious combination." A fact-finding mission to Yemen over the last three months documented 400,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 1,900 associated deaths. The country's health workers are struggling to stem the outbreak, but have not been paid in months.
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.
Among the formations now in the field against the ultra-reactionary ISIS is the first explicitly LGBT military unit in the Syrian war—the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). With a slogan of "These faggots kill fascists," the militia is part of the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), which is in turn part of the International Freedom Battalion, made up of leftist volunteers from Europe, America and elsewhere who have been drawn by the anarchist-influenced politics of the Rojava Kurds, now leading the ground offensive against ISIS in northern Syria.
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.
A Turkish court on July 18 ordered that six human rights activists, including Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser, remain in custody pending trial for allegedly aiding an armed terrorist group. The activists were arrested on July 5 during a training workshop and are "suspected of 'committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.'" According to AI:
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.
London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.