Greater Middle East

Syria: law to allow political party formation

The Syrian government on July 24 approved a draft law that would allow the formation of political parties to oppose the ruling Baath Party, led by President Bashar al-Assad. The law would permit a political party to be established so long as it is not based on religious or tribal lines and does not discriminate based on ethnicity, gender or race. Though the draft law, along with other concessions made by al-Assad, is a step toward the reform demanded, protestors seek an end to Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which declares the Baath Party leader of the state and society. The bill will likely be presented for debate on Aug. 7, and Parliament must approve the law before it is enacted.

Bahrain: commission begins investigation of protest abuses

An independent commission on July 24 began investigating human rights violations related to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. The chairman of the five-person Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Cherif Bassiouni, announced that the group's investigation would focus on 30 police officers alleged to have committed violations of procedural laws, as well as the country's army. Bahraini authorities have promised that the commission will have access to government files and will be permitted to interview witnesses without supervision. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced in June that Bahrain had agreed to permit a UN commission to investigate human rights violations related to protests shortly after King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa agreed to the investigation. Thirty-three people died during the unrest and more than 400 were injured. The commission is scheduled to publish the results of the investigation by Oct. 30.

Libyan, Syrian opposition score gains on diplomatic front; Yemenis shift for themselves

Istanbul has been a busy place on the diplomatic front over the past two days. In the most significant development, the 32-nation Contact Group on Libya—including members of NATO, the EU and the Arab League—officially recognized the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate government of Libya. Meeting with NTC leader Mahmud Jibril, the United States, Turkey and other delegations conferred on the Benghazi-based rebel council recognition as the North African country's "legitimate governmental authority." The Contact Group statement said dictator Moammar Qaddafi "must leave power according to defined steps to be publicly announced."

Egypt purges security forces as new Tahrir Square occupation gains momentum

Egypt’s ruling military council announced the early retirement of more than 600 senior police officers on July 13, in a bid to appease demonstrators who have for the past six days held a new thousands-strong protest encampment in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The Interior Ministry said 18 police generals and 9 other senior officers were forced into early retirement because they were accused of killing protesters during the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. Additionally, 54 lower-ranking officers implicated in repression during the uprising were shifted to jobs where they would no longer interact with civilians, officials said. Mansour el-Essawy, the interior minister appointed after Mubarak’s ouster, called the moves "the biggest shake-up in the history of the police," citing popular demands "to get rid of all of the leadership that is accused of killing protesters." The new Tahrir Square occupation, led by families that lost loved ones in the repression, has adopted the slogan, "The revolution goes on!"

Sinai pipeline blast halts flow of Egyptian gas to Israel —again

An attack July 12 on a Sinai gas pipeline pumping Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan interrupted supply for the fourth time this year. A guard was wounded in the attack, which witnesses said was carried out by men driving two SUVs, and targeted a monitoring station near the airport in al-Arish, north Sinai’s largest town. The incident comes a week after a separate bomb attack on the pipeline reduced the flow of gas to Israel. No group has claimed responsibility for of the attacks, but authorities suspect Sinai-based Bedouins. The pipeline has long been a source of political controversy in Egypt, particularly since the signing of a 20-year gas export deal with Israel in 2008. (OnIslam, FT, The Guardian, July 12)

Syria: US involvement muddies political waters

Tens of thousands of people again rallied in the army-beseiged Syrian city of Hama on Friday July 8, calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad. Activists said security forces shot dead 13 people elsewhere in Syria during Friday protests, including six in the town of Dumair near Damascus. Amid the continued repression, a Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with defecting soldiers found that troops have been ordered to disperse unarmed protesters with a "shoot to kill" policy. HRW said it "interviewed eight soldiers and four members of the security agencies who had defected since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011... The soldiers...reported participating in and witnessing the shooting and injury of dozens of protesters, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of hundreds."

White House grooming Muslim Brotherhood for Egyptian Thermidor?

On July 4, clashes again broke out between protesters and security forces in Cairo after a court released on bail seven police officers accused of killing 17 protesters in Suez during the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. After an initial outburst of violence at the Cairo courthouse, protesters blocked the highway linking the Egyptian capital to the city of Suez. (Bikyamasr, July 5) As popular patience is growing short with Egypt's interim military rulers, comes word that the White House has sought contacts for dialogue with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Reuters on June 30 quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Syria: deadly repression in Hama, scene of 1982 massacre

Syrian troops are reported to have shot dead at least six anti-government protesters in the city of Hama on July 5, the second day of street clashed in the city center, with residents erecting barricades and burning tires to prevent tanks from advancing. The tanks have been deployed in a ring around the city, with government forces attempting to close the circle on protesters in the downtown area. "Tens of people are being arrested in neighborhoods on the edges of Hama. The authorities seem to have opted for a military solution to subdue the city," Rami Abdel-Rahman, president of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters Hama was the scene of the 1982 bloody repression of an Islamist-led uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez Assad, in which an estimated 30,000 were killed and parts of the city razed. (BBC News, July 5; Reuters, July 3)

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