Greater Middle East

Turkey: 700 Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike

Thousands have held demonstrations in Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir over the past month to show solidarity with Kurdish political prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Turkey. About 70 Kurdish prisoners started an indefinite hunger strike in prisons across the country on Sept. 12. In the ensuing weeks, hundreds more prisoners have joined them, with the total refusing food now standing at 715. Their demands include greater cultural and political rights for Trukey's Kurds, the country's largest ethnic minority that now numbers some 20 million. Most of the strikers are supporters of the outlawed Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the so-called "urban branch" of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is labelled a "terrorist organization." They come from a wide range of backgrounds: journalists, students, teachers, professionals, lawyers, town mayors, and even two elected members of parliament. The strikers’ first demand is the "right to defense in Kurdish"—that is, the ability to give their testimony in Turkish courts in their native tongue. The Turkish government is refusing to consider their demands, and has repeatedly unleahsed repression against protesters marching in support of the hunger strikers.

Bahrain upholds convictions of teachers for organizing strike efforts

A Bahrain appeals court upheld verdicts against two teachers on Oct. 22 for organizing a teachers' strike early last year to support anti-government protests. At their first hearing in front of a military tribunal, the pair were convicted of using their positions as vice-president and president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA) to attempt to overthrow the Bahraini government through a teachers' strike that halted the educational process and "incited hatred" against the regime. No evidence has been presented that they used or advocated violence of any means, according to an Amnesty International backgrounder. Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison while Jalila al-Salman was given a six-month sentence. Abu Dheeb has been detained for 18 months. Al-Salman was in confinement for five months but was released on bail. However, al-Salman has alleged torture while being detained.

Egypt prosecutor orders probe of election fraud

Egyptian Prosecutor-General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud on Oct. 22 ordered an investigation into allegations of forgery during the recent presidential elections. The order came after former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafiq made allegations that ballots were forged and votes were bought by current president Mohammed Morsi. Shafiq added that previous investigations into the allegations were stopped without justification by the presidential election commission. Shafiq, who left for the United Arab Emirates right after his loss in the elections, has faced corruption charges of having misused public funds while in office as minister of civil aviation during the 30-year regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Shafiq has argued that the charges against him are politically motivated. He has also noted that he will remain politically active and return to Egypt soon. The call for the investigation came after Egyptian authorities seized Shafiq's assets as part of his corruption investigation.

Egypt: independent unions under attack

Egypt's new government has launched the most serious set of attacks on workers' rights since the days of Mubarak, according to activists in the independent unions. Hundreds of trade unionists have been sacked from their jobs for organizing since the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi won the presidential elections in June, and pressure from management and the courts has increased in recent weeks. Five dockers in Alexandria were given three-year prison terms in absentia because they blew the whistle on corruption in the state-run Holding Company for Land and Maritime Transport. Workers at the Alexandria Container Company organised a strike demanding the resignation of the Holding Company's board and the return of the wharves to state control, after they were sold off to a Chinese company. The next hearing in the case will be held this week. Meanwhile dockers in Ain Sokhna port, near Suez, were also hauled before the courts on Oct. 18, charged with "incitement to strike."

Lebanon: top security official killed in car bomb

A top Lebanese security official who was bitterly opposed to Syrian leader Bashar Assad was killed Oct. 19 in a car bomb in Beirut that also claimed the lives of seven others and left 80 more wounded. Gen. Wissam Hasan, head of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, was one of eight killed in the mid-afternoon attack in the Christian district of Ashrafieh. The blast was the first car bombing in Beirut since 2008. Hasan led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, and he had also been a close aide to Hariri. Al-Jazeera reported that he was believed to be involved in organizing support for the Syrian insurgents. The opposition March 14 coalition accused Damascus of being behind the attack. "Assad has repeatedly threatened to set fire to the region if the noose tightened on him," March 14 leader Fares Souaid told a television station. (Reuters, Lebanon Daily Star, Daily Star, Al-Jazeera, Oct. 19)

Al-Qaeda faces Syrian revolution with 'crossroads'

After last week's terror blasts in Aleppo, we noted a report in the New York Times to the effect that the US is pressuring Saudi Arabia and Qatar to hold back their support to the Syrian rebels for fear the arms could fall into jihadist hands. Now, the Times runs another story informing us that a "jihadist insurgent group" called the Nusra Front for the People of the Levant has claimed responsibility for last night's suicide attack on an intelligence compound on the outskirts of Damascus—and that the same group also took credit (on a "Qaeda-affiliated Web site") for the Aleppo blasts.

Turkey authorizes Syria 'military operations'

Turkey's parliament in an emergency session on Oct. 4 authorized military action against Syria following deadly cross-border fire—while insisting it was not a war mandate. The vote came as Turkey retaliated for shelling that killed five Turkish nationals. An artillery shell fired from Syria during the clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army there landed on a house in the district of Akçakale in the southeastern province of Urfa; a mother and her four children lost their lives, and another 13 people were injured. Although shells have fallen across the border before, it marked the first time that Turkish citizens were killed by Syrian fire. Although Damascus issued an apology, Turkish retaliatory fire continues, killing several Syrian soldiers. An evacuation of Akçakale has been ordered.

Jihad against the phantom menace hits Sinai

The jihad against a non-existent "film" produced by non-existent "Jews" continues to claim lives, with the most recent attack Sept. 23 launched by militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Israeli troops guarding the border, killing one and wounding another. AFP informs us that an outfit calling itself Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem) took credit for the attack, calling it a "Disciplinary Invasion Against those who Dared Against the Beloved Prophet." The statement posted on Islamist websites read: "As the defence of the honour of the Messenger of Allah is one of our duties and responsibilities, your brothers...carried their weapons and became determined to discipline the Jews for their heinous acts." Hey, read the small print, willya Ansar Bait al-Maqdis? "The Jews" had nothing to do with this one—the non-existent "film" (really just a "trailer" on YouTube) was produced by a Coptic Christian who cynically assumed the fabricated identity of an Israeli-American, and falsely claimed to have Jewish financial backers. Talk about "Anti-Semitism without Jews."

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