Greater Middle East
Following last week's indecisive elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is urging Egyptians to support its presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi in next month's seemingly inevitable run-off with Ahmed Shafiq, the ex-air force chief who was Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister. The Brotherhood is deriding Shafiq and his supporters as "feloul"—a scornful Arabic term for "remnants" of Mubarak's order. (Middle East Online, May 26; Egyptian Gazette, May 25) The Brotherhood's own website Ikhwanweb.com sports a headline reading "Muslim Brotherhood, Freedom and Justice Party: We Seek National Unity to Save Revolution," calling on "all patriotic parties and political players to join hands and face up to [presumably meaning 'stand up to'] the heinous coup of reactionary Mubarak-era leftovers." But Egypt's secular progressives are no more heartened by the Brotherhood than the "feloul." Ahmed Khairy of the liberal Free Egyptians Party called the likely runoff "the worst-case scenario," describing Mursi as an "Islamic fascist" and Shafiq as a "military fascist." (Ahram Online, May 25)
The opposition Syrian National Council is urging the UN Security Council to act after regime forces "massacred" more than 110 people in the town of Houla—half of them children. "Some of the victims were hit by heavy artillery while others, entire families, were massacred," the SNC's Basma Kodmani in a statement. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 50 civilians, including 13 children, were killed in shelling of Houla, in the central province of Homs. But the SNC put the figure twice as high, and said that after the army shelled the opposition stronghold, pro-government militia went house to house and killed residents at close range. (NPR, Sept. 27; Middle East Online, May 26)
Demonstrators marked Jordan's 1949 independence from British rule on May 25 by demanding reform and rejecting government plans to hike commodity prices and taxes to offset a $3 billion budget deficit. Chanting "No independence without reform" and "Do not set the country on fire by raising prices," more than 1,000 people, including opposition Islamists, trade unionists and youth groups, chanted as they marched in central Amman. The demonstration came a day after MPs gave a vote of confidence to Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh's government, which plans to increase commodity prices and taxes as part of an austerity package to avoid the huge deficit in the 2012 $9.6 billion budget. (Middle East Online, May 26)
A court in Bahrain on May 24 sentenced Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of jailed pro-democracy activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to one month in prison for trying to organize an anti-government protest, according to Bahraini opposition groups. The court also fined her $530 on a separate charge of insulting a government employee. Zainab al-Khawaja refused to pay the fine and will face an additional 40 days in prison unless she pays it. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for three months, expressing opposition to the Bahraini government's ongoing trials of pro-democracy protesters. He was sentenced to life in prison n June 2011. Zainab al-Khawaja is scheduled for another hearing this weekend on other protest-related charges.
While the devastating suicide bomb in the Yemeni capital Sana'a grabbed international headlines, the country's ordinary people are increasingly fighting just to make ends meet. In a joint statement, a group of seven charities warned this week that 10 million Yemenis—44% of the population—are undernourished, with 5 million requiring emergency aid. The so-called Friends of Yemen gathering in the Saudi capital Riyadh this week is widely expected to concentrate on shoring up security and the fragile political transition the in the country. In their warning, the aid agencies—CARE, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Mercy Corps, Oxfam and Save the Children—say this focus is preventing action to alleviate poverty and hunger. They say malnutrition rates have doubled in Yemen since 2009, partly as a result of a surge in food and fuel prices. More than half a million Yemenis have fled their homes because of increased violence and the country is also coping nearly 300,000 refugees from Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
An Egyptian court on May 22 convicted five police officers in absentia for the death of protesters last year and sentenced each to 10 years in prison. The men were charged with killing protesters during the 2011 revolution. The conviction was a victory for victims' families who have seen many police acquitted on similar charges. Nearly 200 police officers and government officials, including former president Hosni Mubarak, have been charged in connection with the deaths of at least 846 protesters, but acquittals have been common. Last week, 14 police officers were acquitted on similar charges. Out of 10 cases, there have been nine acquittals and one suspended sentence, causing some critics to accuse authorities of failing to pursue justice for the victims. The verdict in Mubarak's case is due next month.
A suicide bomber killed more than 90 Yemeni troops as they practiced for a parade in the capital Sana'a May 21. The bomber was dressed as a soldier and detonated his explosives-packed vest in the middle of a formation of troops from the Central Security Organization, a paramilitary branch of the Ministry of the Interior. The troops were drilling for the upcoming "National Unity Day" parade at a location near the Presidential Palace. Yemen's defense minister and the military chief of staff were planning on greeting the troops at the rehearsal. Ninety-six troops, many from the Central Security Organization, were killed and at least 300 wounded in the blast, with the death toll expected to rise. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the attack, according to a statement released by the Madad News Agency, an AQAP propaganda arm. "The primary target of this blessed operation was the Defense Minister of the Sana'a regime and his corrupt entourage, and that it came in response to the unjust war launched by the Sana'a regime's forces in cooperation with the American and Saudi forces," the statement said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. (Long War Journal, May 21)
Armed clashes erupted in Beirut between rival Sunni factions May 21, wounding at least six people. The fighting broke out after Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni cleric, and Muhammed Hussein Miraib, both members of the March 14 Alliance, were shot in their car near Tripoli as they reportedly tried to run a government checkpoint. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said that gunmen were using "bombs and machine guns." The March 14 Alliance, which emerged from the Cedar Revolution, sympathizes with the rebellion against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Residents of the northern region of Akkar also blocked off roads and burned tires to protest against the killings. The Beirut fighting follows a week of sporadic clashes in Tripoli, also between pro- and anti-Assad Sunni groups. Gunfire first broke out in Tripoli May 14 as sympathizers of the Syrian rebellion, apparently including many Islamists, tried to approach the offices of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party—which is basically the Lebanese wing of Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party. The march on the party headquarters was a response to the May 12 arrest of Sunni Islamist activist Shadi al-Mawlawi and five others by Lebanon's General Security Directorate. (AlJazeera, Radio Australia, AP, May 21; Foreign Policy, May 15; Now Lebanon, May 14)