Greater Middle East

Egypt: opposition to appeal constitution vote

The Egyptian opposition on Dec. 23 said it will appeal the referendum that appears to have voted in a new constitution backed by ruling Islamic parties. The opposition has alleged the vote was marred by fraud and irregularities, while the Muslim Brotherhood, the main supporters of the new constitution, claim the referendum has passed with 64% "yes" votes. Official results have not been released yet and are expected on Monday, Dec. 24. The National Salvation Front, the main opposition group, composed of united factions of liberals, socialists and others, had campaigned heavily for the rejection of the referendum.

Syria: Nusra Front makes 'terrorist' list

The US government added Syria's al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant to the "foreign terrorist organizations" list on Dec. 10, with a notice printed  in the Federal Register. In the designation of the Nusrah Front, the State Department called the group "a new alias" for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and said al-Nusrah is under the direct control of AQI's "emir," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurshi AKA Abu Du'a (apparently the sucessor to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi). The Nusra Front, also known as Jadhat al-Nusrah, has claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings in Syria this year, including one that claimed almost 50 lives in Aleppo. "The Department of State has amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 designations of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to include the following new aliases: Al Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, and Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant," the State Separtment press release said.

UAE arrests 18-year-old blogger: report

The Emirates Centre for Human Rights (ECHR) claimed Dec. 6 that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has arrested an 18-year-old blogger as part of a wider effort to crack down on perceived government opposition. The ECHR claims that UAE security forces searched the home of Mohamed Salem al-Zumer and confiscated several electronic devices before arresting him and transferring him to an unknown location. The rights group condemned this arrest and the continued practice of arresting peaceful dissenters. In the statement, the ECHR detailed further restrictive practices:

Syria chemical weapons threat: how real?

The Obama administration is suddely making much of Assad's supposed preparations for a chemical weapons attack on Syria's opposition strongholds. Conspiranoid blogs, including one with the unappetizing name Sic Semper Tyrannis, assert that the supposed intelligence is coming from neocon groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) which is in turn getting the claims entirely from Syrian insurgent sources. However, the lead story on the WINEP website, "How Would Assad Use Chemical Weapons?," starts off: "US intelligence has detected increased activity at Syrian chemical warfare facilities, raising concerns about the regime potentially using chemical weapons (CW) against the opposition." Are the sources for that "US intelligence" WINEP istelf? Could things really be quite that incestuous? And—contrary to the conspiranoid assumption of a neocon-jihadist plot—the jihadists, like al-Nusra Front, seem to have made the neocons a little gun-shy in Syria. Insurgent sympathizers have been placing lugubrious propaganda videos on YouTube (via a stream called SyriaTube) luridly warning of an imminent chemcial attack. NBC News  merely quotes anonymous US "officials" to the effect that "nerve agents" were loaded into warheads, without saying how this was determined. The agents are apparently "precursor chemicals for sarin," the gas that was used by Saddam at Halabja in 1988. Fox News merely cites the NBC account. The New York Times vaguely warns that stockpiles are being moved around to various of Syria's chemical weapons facilities, and that US officlals repeatedly warn Assad will be "held accountable" for their use...

Amnesty: human rights 'catastrophe' in Yemen

A new report by Amnesty International documents a "raft of gross and deeply disturbing abuses" committed by both Islamist rebels and Yemeni government forces during their struggle for the control of the southern region of Abyan in 2011 and 2012, and called for an urgent inquiry. The report, "Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour," examines abuses by Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) when they controlled the governorate of Abyan and other areas in the south of Yemen between February 2011 and June 2012, including public summary killings, crucifixion, amputation and flogging. 

Egypt: high court suspends work in face of protests

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court on Dec. 2 indefinitely halted its operations amid pressure from protestors aiming to block the judges from meeting to rule on the validity of the country's new constitution (PDF). Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi flooded the court, blocking the judges from entering and forcing them to delay hearing a case that would permit them to dissolve the constituent assembly that drafted the new constitution. The constitution was hurriedly approved Nov. 28 in anticipation of the scheduled hearing. On the day after the approval, Morsi set Dec. 15 for a referendum on the new constitution. Tens of thousands of moderate and conservative Islamists gathered around Cairo University in support for the constitution, cheering as Morsi announced the referendum. However, tens of thousands of liberal and secular protesters, who have been protesting Morsi for over a week after he issued a decree vastly expanding his powers, objected to the constitution-writing assembly, stating that the body was unrepresentative after liberal, secular and Christian members had left. Such protesters are calling for Morsi to abandon his decree and begin the constitution drafting process anew, but Morsi dismissed the idea of drafting a new constitution. Mass protests have been scheduled for this week.

Syria: endgame or wider war?

With pitched fighting in Damascus, Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is down across Syria, and mobile phone services also disrupted in some areas. Syrian state TV denied the blackout is nationwide, but Renesys, a US-based network security firm that studies Net disruptions, said Syria has effectively disappeared from the Internet. There is some talk that the Net blackout may be due to insurgent attacks, but the regime seems to be conniving in it, at the very least. Recall that when Mubarak pulled the same stunt in January 2011, it proved to be the 10-day countdown to his overthrow.

Egypt: cries for revolution against 'pharaoh' Morsi

Clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi were reported throughout Egypt Nov. 23, as protesters filled the streets to decry Morsi's decree exempting his decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected. Street-fighting erupted in the governorates of Alexandria, Ismailia, Assiut, Port-Said, Suez, Mahalla, Damietta, Daqahilya, Menya and Aswan. Protesters attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities, including Alexandria. In Cairo's Tahrir Square, thousands chanted "Morsi is Mubarak, revolution everywhere!" When police tried to clear the square with tear-gas, protesters fought back with hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails. At least 18 were injured across the country.

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