Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon
Patterns in the Arab revolution
The Arab leaders need to recognise their failures in dealing violently with the peoples' genuine calls for freedom.
Marwan Bishara Last Modified: 25 Apr 2011 20:37
A clever promo on Al Jazeera Arabic shows in the simplest and clearest way a pattern of failure on the part of Arab autocrats.
It juxtaposes the grand statements made by Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, since the earliest days of the popular uprising.
All three started by underlining their legitimacy as servants of the state and its people. And when calls for reform intensified they underlined how they seek no glory or position and are more than happy to move on.
And in no time, regimes began to escalate the use of force as they repeated slogans about the greatness of their nations prompting protesters to call for regime change.
Indeed, all autocrats, including those of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, have thus far responded to peoples' demands for serious reforms with oppression. And when that didn't work they turned to empty appeasement that was transparently deceptive, but instead of containing the upheavals ended up emboldening the opposition.
It is mind-boggling how these Arab autocrats continued to repeat the same mistakes in reaction to the same intensified popular defiance when the lessons from the fall of their neighbours were too obvious to ignore. And in each and every case they underlined why their countries differed from Tunis and hence immune to dramatic change.
Meanwhile, it's becoming clear that despite the tension and violence, the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Gaddafi will sooner or later join the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, and that no degree of violence will help either leader to salvage their regimes.
Robert Fisk: But what if the spirit of rebellion spread to Iran?
Saturday, 23 April 2011
Fedia Hamdi's slap which sparked a revolution 'didn't happen'
Hamdi denies driving Mohamed Bouazizi to take his own life, as all charges of striking the Tunisian stallholder are dropped
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 23 April 2011 21.00 BST
It was the slap that started a revolution. When the Tunisian street trader Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector last December, he burned himself alive in protest and sparked a wave of anti-government riots that engulfed the Arab world.
True or false? The woman at the centre of the controversy has now denied hitting Bouazizi and claims she was wrongly imprisoned for four months. Fedia Hamdi, 46, who has not spoken publicly about the incident until now, told the Observer that she had been used as a political pawn by the former Tunisian president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. "I feel I was a scapegoat," she said. "I feel there has been a grave injustice and it hurts me to think that no one wanted to listen to my story."
After 111 days of incarceration, Hamdi was freed by a tribunal in her hometown of Sidi Bouzid last Tuesday after defence lawyers demolished the case against her. Hamdi was found innocent of all charges when it emerged in court that only a single person claimed to have seen the slap – a fellow street trader who bore a grudge against her – while four new witnesses testified that there had been no physical confrontation.
Muammar Gaddafi calls for ceasefire in Libyan TV address
Muammar Gaddafi says he wants to negotiate with Nato powers, as air strikes hit government complex in Libyan capital
Nato strike 'kills Gaddafi's youngest son'
Libyan official says son and three of Libyan leader's grandsons killed in air strike, but NATO is yet to confirm deaths.
Last Modified: 01 May 2011 01:00
Gaddafi offers truce but not exit
Defiant Libyan leader says he is prepared to enter a ceasefire only if all sides are involved, but he vows to stay on.
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2011 02:37
Radio Free Libya shakes up Gaddafi regime from Misrata
Rebel radio station offering mix of information, uncensored debate and revolutionary songs is a thorn in loyalists' side
Xan Rice in Misrata
guardian.co.uk, Friday 29 April 2011 15.06 BST
It's not Saigon, it's 40 years on, and there's desert rather than jungle all around. But there is a war and there is a radio station and a breakfast show with a familiar name. Instead of Good Morning Vietnam, it's Good Morning Libya, broadcast from rebel-controlled Misrata every day.
It's the flagship programme of Radio Free Libya, a station seized in February from Muammar Gaddafi, who has permitted no dissenting voice on the airwaves since taking power in 1969. The station, staffed by volunteers, symbolises the defiance of the people of Misrata – and is an object of fury for Gaddafi. His forces shot up the studio, forcing the presenters to move. They also made three unsuccessful attacks, including one by helicopter, on the broadcast tower.
"It's driving Gaddafi crazy that we are still on air," says Ahmed Hadia, the station's general manager. "We want to make him even crazier."
Unlike Vietnam, there are no Beach Boys or James Brown on the morning programme. "When we took over my first challenge was to find a song in the library that did not mention Gaddafi," says Hadia, 37. "That was not easy."
The hour-long show kicks off not with a Robin Williams-style holler but a singsong jingle offering a "good morning to the mothers and the fathers and the sisters and the brothers, from the desert to the sea, from the mountains to the mountains".
There's a weather report (17C in Misrata), a summary of what the world's newspapers are saying about Libya, and a few traditional Arabic songs. Then follows a discussion on nationalism, hosted by two university students who read out listeners' emails or Facebook messages and offer wise words from Socrates.
Still, considering how Radio Misrata – as it was called – operated before February, it marks a radical change. Then, everything revolved around Gaddafi, from the content to the green studio curtains and windowsills.
Wayside town becomes Libyan refuge
In one eastern Libyan community taken over by refugees, families learn to cope with hardships brought by the uprising.
Bahrain gives death penalty to Shia protesters
Four men have been sentenced to death over the killing of two policemen in anti-government protests last month
Agencies in Manama, Bahrain
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 April 2011 11.20 BST
A Bahraini military court has sentenced four Shia protesters to death over the killing of two policemen during anti-government protests last month.
Three other men were sentenced to life in prison in the first verdicts related to a pro-democracy uprising, which was crushed with military help from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
The seven were tried behind closed doors on charges of premeditated murder of government employees. Their lawyers denied the charges.
Hundreds of thousands of Bahrain's Shia-led opposition have called for greater rights and freedoms in the Sunni monarchy. Authorities have detained hundreds since martial law was declared last month to quell dissent.
Government officials have said that four policemen were killed during the unrest in February and March, at least three of whom were run over by cars around 16 March.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders and human rights activists have been detained since emergency rule was declared on 15 March. Earlier this month, the authorities banned media from covering legal proceedings in the country's military courts.
Among those detained are also dozens of Shia professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, including a lawyer who was due to defend some of the seven opposition supporters in the military court.
The lawyer, Mohammed al-Tajer, is one of Bahrain's most prominent human rights lawyers. He has represented hundreds of clients against the state, including Shia activists accused of plotting against the Sunni monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for more than 200 years.
At least 30 people have died since 15 February, when anti-government protests erupted in Bahrain. Four opposition supporters have also died in police custody.
Bahrain is the home of the US navy's 5th Fleet.
Bahrain last issued a death sentence in 2007, and before that had condemned only one person to die over the preceding three decades. That verdict came in the mid-1990s, during the greatest unrest Bahrain had seen before this year's protests.
Bahrain sentences protesters to death
Military court sentences four men to death over killing of police during unrest, state media says.
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2011 11:37
Bahrain: Below the radar
The Arab uprising that has failed to capture the international media's attention.
Listening Post Last Modified: 23 Apr 2011 13:57
Bahrain security forces 'tortured patients'
By Patrick Cockburn
Friday, 22 April 2011
Bahrain's secret terror
Desperate emails speak of 'genocide' as doctors who have treated injured protesters are rounded up
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Thursday, 21 April 2011
The intimidation and detention of doctors treating dying and injured pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain is revealed today in a series of chilling emails obtained by The Independent.
At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, physicians, paediatricians and obstetricians, have been arrested and detained by Bahrain's police in the last month in a campaign of intimidation that runs directly counter to the Geneva Convention guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in conflict. Doctors around the world have expressed their shock and outrage.
One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient.
Many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been "disappeared" – held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics and ambulance staff have also been detained.
Emails between a Bahraini surgeon and a British colleague, seen by The Independent, describe in vivid detail the threat facing medical staff as they struggle to treat victims of the violence. They provide a glimpse of the terror and exhaustion suffered by the doctors and medical staff.
Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops have cracked down hard on demonstrators since the unrest began on 15 February – and the harshness of their response has now been extended to those treating the injured.
The author of the emails, a senior surgeon at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain's main civil hospital, was taken in for questioning at the headquarters of the interior ministry in Manama. He never re-emerged. No reason has been given for his arrest, nor has there been any news of his condition.
In a series of emails, passed on in the hope of drawing attention to the plight of he and his colleagues, the surgeon describes appalling scenes at Salmaniya hospital, with staff being threatened and detained in increasing numbers for treating injured democracy protesters.
"Interrogation committees question me about our role in treating the injured protesters, who are considered now criminal for protesting against the government," he said, shortly before being detained. "We said we were there to treat patients and have nothing to do with politics.
"I don't have good feeling about things going on in Bahrain. So many of our consultant surgeon and physician colleagues been arrested at pre-dawn raids and disappear."
On 17 February, at the start of the demonstrations, he wrote: "It has been a long day in the theatre with massively injured patients equivalent to a massacre. Things are still volatile and [I] hope there will be no more death."
Bahrain's iron fist
Why has the government cracked down so forcefully on protesters and what role are regional powers playing?
Inside Story Last Modified: 17 Apr 2011 08:49
Hosni Mubarak insists he did nothing wrong as Egypt's president
In his first public address since leaving power, deposed leader denies stealing billions of dollars from the state and says accusations of corruption are 'a lie'
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 April 2011 19.56 BST
Egypt's deposed former president, Hosni Mubarak, has made his first public statement since leaving power to deny he stole billions of dollars from his country's coffers. The statement, via al-Arabiya satellite news channel, came hours before he was summoned by prosecutors examining corruption and the killing of pro-democracy protesters.
Egypt's public prosecutor also had Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, detained for 15 days as part of the investigation.
The moves by the prosecutor appear to be a response by the country's military rulers to a new wave of mass protests in Cairo over the weekend to demand action against Mubarak and other high former officials for corruption, and for more immediate steps toward democratic government.
At least two people were killed and dozens wounded after the army opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators who were threatening a new revolution and refusing to leave Cairo's Tahrir square, the epicentre of the movement against Mubarak in February.
In his first public address since he was deposed, Mubarak called any accusations of corruption against him or his family "a lie".
"I will uphold all my legal rights to defend my reputation as well as that of my family," he said. "I have been, and still am, pained by what I and my family are facing from fraudulent campaigns and unfounded allegations that seek to harm my reputation, my integrity and my military and political record."
Speaking on al-Arabiya in a speech recorded on Saturday, Mubarak said he will cooperate with any investigation in order to prove that he does not have property or bank accounts abroad. He also denied similar accusations against his wealthy and once powerful sons, Alaa and Gamal, who have also been summoned for questioning.
But Mubarak made no mention of the parallel investigation of his role in the deaths of more than 360 people at the hands of the police, army and political militia during the mass protests that brought down the Egyptian leader.
The public prosecutor, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, said that Mubarak's rejection of the corruption accusations against him and his family would have no effect on the investigation.
Mahmoud said that Nazif had been detained as part of investigations into squandering of public funds. The public prosecutor also announced he had sequestered land belonging to the Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at Toshka, in the south of the country which is part of a desert reclamation project.
The ruling military council, which took control after Mubarak fell on 11 February, also attempted to defuse the new wave of popular protests by announcing that it will sack unpopular provincial governors appointed by Mubarak.
But more than 1,000 demonstrators rejected demands by the army for them to leave Tahrir square as they pressed for action against the former president and a more swift transition to democracy.
On Friday, tens of thousands of people turned out in the square for the largest protest since the rallies against Mubarak's rule. When thousands remained in the square the next day in defiance of the military's orders to leave, soldiers provoked further outrage by opening fire. Some of the demonstrators who remained in the square yesterday, barricaded behind barbed wire and burned-out troop carriers, called for a new revolution and brandished an effigy of the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
"The people demand that the field marshal be toppled," the protesters chanted.
The soldiers firing on the protesters opens a breach between the military and many Egyptians who had chanted "the people and army are one" at the anti-Mubarak rallies. On Saturday they chanted "the people and people are one" in an open rebuke to the military which some Egyptians who backed February's revolution say is not moving swiftly enough to dismantle the old regime and toward democracy.
The army has promised elections for parliament in September and held a referendum on a new constitution which passed. But it has attempted to ban protests and continues to arrest and torture dissidents despite a professed commitment to freedom of speech.
Ahmed el-Moqdami, who told Reuters he was in a group representing the youth of Upper Egypt, said that the stand-off with the army will continue.
"We will continue the sit-in until our demands are met," he said. "First of all, the field marshal must go. Mubarak must be put on trial and a civilian council must be formed for the transition period."
The military has barred Mubarak, 82, from leaving the country while the investigations continue. He has been living in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Hosni Mubarak's sons detained as Egypt's search for justice begins
Ex-president also formally held in Sharm el-Sheikh hospital under suspicion of corruption
Egypt to open Gaza border crossing
Egypt's foreign minister says Cairo will permanently open the Rafah border crossing to ease Israel's blockade on Gaza.
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2011 16:47
Egypt is to permanently open the Rafah border crossing to ease the Israeli blockade on Gaza, Nabil al-Arabi, the country's foreign minister, has said.
Arabi said Egypt would take "important steps to help ease the blockade on Gaza in the few days to come".
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday, the minister said Egypt would no longer accept that the Rafah border, Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel, remain blocked, describing the decision to seal it off as "shameful".
The announcement came days after Hamas, which controls Gaza, and their secular West Bank rivals Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA), agreed to end their rift and form an interim government to prepare for elections.
In talks before the deal, the two sides had discussed reopening the crossing after positioning PA representatives at the border, a condition in a US-brokered 2005 border crossing agreement between Israel and the PA.
Mahmud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, told the AFP news agency that it was understood that the crossing, which under the 2005 agreement was to be monitored by European Union delegates, would be opened after a unity deal.
A senior official in Jerusalem said Israel was "very concerned" about the implications of the Rafah crossing being open.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Hamas had already built up a "dangerous military machine" in northern Sinai which could be further strengthened by opening Rafah.
"What power could they amass if Egypt was no longer acting to prevent that build-up?" the official said.
Earlier this week, unknown assailants in northern Sinai blew up a gas pipeline supplying Israel and Jordan, the second time it has been sabotaged in 10 weeks.
"We are troubled by the developments in Egypt, by the voices calling to annul the peace treaty, by the rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, and by the upgrading of relations between Egypt and Hamas," the Israeli source said.
"These developments potentially have strategic implications for Israel's national security."
Palestinian officials welcomed the Egyptian move, with Saeb Erakat, the PA's chief negotiator, saying it was one step towards loosening the siege on the Gaza Strip.
"We welcome this step by Egypt. We have been pressing them all the time to end the suffering of the people in Gaza, but the real siege is caused by Israel because there are many border crossing with Israel but only one with Egypt," he said.
"We ask Israel to open all the borders to end this crime against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip," he said.
Hatem Ewidah, the Hamas official in charge of border crossings in Gaza, also welcomed the move, but stressed it was "important to open the commercial crossing with Egypt" to reduce the impact of the blockade.
Shift in power
In a reminder of the border tensions, which is honeycombed with tunnels that supply Gaza with everything from cars and cattle to guns, police announced hours after Arabi's comments that smugglers had shot dead an Egyptian soldier on Thursday.
The border has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after fighters snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.
The blockade was tightened a year later when Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed PA.
The UN has called the blockade illegal and repeatedly demanded it be lifted.
Empowering Egypt's workers revolution
Since the fall of Mubarak, union members formed a new political party and struggle to nationalise their company.
Mubarak deputy quizzed over protest deaths
Omar Suleiman questioned in Egyptian probe into deadly violence used against protesters by Hosni Mubarak's regime.
Turkmen fight for identity in Kirkuk
Iraq's third largest ethnic group complain of cultural erosion in disputed city.
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2011 21:42
The third largest ethnic group in Iraq, the Turkmen have long complained of discrimination, especially in the city of Kirkuk where the local government has been largely controlled by Kurdish parties.
That began to change recently with a Turkmen politician elected as head of the provincial council, but many say more needs to be done to preserve the Turkmens' ethnic identity.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reports from Kirkuk.
Reports: Saleh refuses to sign exit deal
Yemeni president backs away from signing agreement requiring him to give up power in exchange for legal immunity.
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2011 14:27
Yemen opposition: Violence may derail deal
Days before signing a Gulf-sponsored peace pact, a Yemen opposition bloc threatens to quit after more protesters killed.
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2011 08:15
Saleh Defies Call for Resignation as Yemeni Clashes Persist
By Mohammed Hatem and Glen Carey - Apr 25, 2011 1:27 PM GMT
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh defied calls for him to step down immediately, saying he won’t hand power to “insurrectionists” as protesters clashed with security forces in two southern cities in the country..
“We are committed to constitutional legitimacy and don’t accept chaos,” Saleh said in an interview with BBC Arabic late yesterday. “Whom shall I hand it over to? Those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendums.”
Backing away from Saleh, slowly
Shifting US policy in Yemen is influenced by counterterrorism concerns and Saudi Arabia's growing role.
Gregg Carlstrom Last Modified: 20 Apr 2011 10:35
'Islamist politicians' rise in Tunisia
Some secularists fear the newly found clout of religious parties in post-Ben Ali environment.
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2011 18:38
Since the ousting of Zein al-Abedine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian president, politicians with religious outlook are gaining more clout in the country.
Tunisia is one of the most liberal nations in the Arab world, and some are concerned that conservative forces could move the country away from its secular tradition.
Ben Ali's regime targeted Muslims sometimes for just growing a beard or praying regularly. They, like the rest of the nation, now have new found freedoms.
The dilemma is whether people with religious tilt and secularists can now live in harmony.
Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri reports.
Omar al-Bashir: conflict in Darfur is my responsibility
• Sudan leader condemns court for 'lies' over genocide charges
• Britain accused of pursuing regime change
• Critics say he targeted millions in civil war
Simon Tisdall in Khartoum
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 April 2011 20.07 BST
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has said for the first time that he accepts full personal responsibility for the conflict in Darfur that left tens of thousands of people dead.
But in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, his first with a western news organisation since he was charged with genocide by the international criminal court (ICC), Bashir accuses the UN-backed court of "double standards" and conducting a "campaign of lies".
Britain and other western countries were pursuing a politically motivated vendetta against him with the ultimate aim of forcing regime change in Sudan as well as in neighbouring Libya, he said.
"Of course, I am the president so I am responsible about everything happening in the country," Bashir said when asked about the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, where fighting is continuing despite international peace efforts.
"Everything happening, it is a responsibility. But what happened in Darfur, first of all, it was a traditional conflict taking place from the colonial days.
"As a government we fought the ones who were carrying arms against the state, but also some of the insurgents attacked some tribes … so we had human losses. But it is not close to the numbers being mentioned in the western media, these numbers are in fact being exaggerated for a reason," he said. "It is a duty for the government to fight the insurgents, but we did not fight the people of Darfur."
The UN estimates up to 300,000 people died and about 2.7 million were internally displaced as a result of fighting between government forces and their Janjaweed militia allies and the separatist rebel groups in Darfur that peaked in 2003-4. Sudan's government says about 10,000 people died and about 70,000 were displaced.
An international outcry prompted a UN investigation that led the security council to refer the case to the ICC in 2005. In March 2009 Bashir became the first serving head of state to be indicted by the ICC, on seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Three counts of genocide were added in July last year, accusing Bashir in his capacity as president and commander-in-chief of the Sudanese armed forces. Bashir denies all the charges and has refused to surrender to the court.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, a leading anti-genocide pressure group based in Washington, dismissed Bashir's justification of his policy in Darfur. "In my eight trips to Darfur since 2003, the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that a government-sponsored counter-insurgency targeted non-Arab civilian populations by destroying their dwellings, their food stocks, their livestock, their water sources and anything else that would sustain life in Darfur," Prendergast said.
"Three million people have been rendered homeless as a direct result of government policy, not tribal fighting or global warming."
The ICC describes the arrest warrant as "pending" but Bashir said the case against him was wholly political.
Sudan was not a party to the ICC treaty and could not be expected to abide by its provisions, he said. This was also the case with the US, China and Russia.
"It is a political issue and double standards, because there are obvious crimes like Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, but [they] did not find their way to the international criminal court," he said.
"The same decision in which [the] Darfur case [was] being transferred to the court stated that the American soldiers [in Iraq and Afghanistan] would not be questioned by the court, so it is not about justice, it is a political issue."
Bashir launched a fierce personal attack on Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC's chief prosecutor since 2003, who he said had repeatedly lied in order to damage his reputation and standing.
"The behaviour of the prosecutor of the court, it was clearly the behaviour of a political activist not a legal professional. He is now working on a big campaign to add more lies," he said.
"The biggest lie was when he said I have $9bn in one of the British banks, and thank God, the British bank and the [British] finance minister … denied these allegations.
"The clearest cases in the world such as Palestine and Iraq and Afghanistan, clear crimes to the whole humanity – all were not transferred to the court."
Louise Arbour, a former UN high commissioner for human rights and Hague war crimes prosecutor, said: "The crimes committed against millions of civilians in Darfur cannot simply be shrugged off. If Bashir wants to argue that he was not responsible for the atrocities, he should go to The Hague and make his case there."
Turning to Libya, Bashir criticised the US, Britain and France for their military intervention, saying their motives were questionable and their actions risked destabilising Sudan and the wider region.
Their undeclared aim in Libya and Sudan was regime change, he said.
But Khartoum would not offer sanctuary to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, whose removal from power has been demanded by western powers, he added. "This would cause trouble with the Libyan people which we don't need," he said.
"We know that Libya is an important country, it has an important location and long coast on the Mediterranean sea which is facing Europe. In addition to that, the resources of Libya like petrol make it important to other countries like France, Britain and Europe in general.
"It is important for them to see a regime in Libya that would be, if not loyal, friendly toward those countries.
"Regarding us, they [the US, Britain and France] were trying to change the regime in Sudan since 20 years, this is not new news for us.
"We say about the Europeans, we have noticed some positive change in their situation regarding the way they deal with Sudan. The US is being polarised by different power centres, influential power centres inside the US. They are still aiming to change the regime in Sudan."
Asked how the "Arab spring" uprisings might affect Sudan, where Arabic speakers comprise a large majority of the northern population, Bashir said the small protests calling for increased democracy lacked broad support. "It will not have an impact like what happened in Egypt, Tunisia or even Libya, I don't think so."
A reform process was already underway, he said.
Voters register for Saudi municipal elections
Voter registration opens in long-delayed local government elections, but officials again ban women from voting.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2011 23:09
Morocco steps up security after cafe blast
Security forces deployed and cordons set up around major cities after suspected bombing leaves 16 dead in Marrakesh.
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2011 14:51
Moroccan authorities have stepped up security following Thursday's bomb blast at a cafe in Marrakesh in which at least 16 people were killed, including 11 foreigners.
A senior police official said cordons have been erected at the entrances to Morocco's main cities and security forces deployed across the country, "to ensure the internal security of the country".
"Preliminary investigation ... suggests that this was a terrorist act caused by an explosive device," the official MAP news agency quoted Taieb Cherkaoui, the interior minister, as saying on Friday.
Khalid Naciri, a government spokesman, told the Associated Press news agency it was too soon to say who had carried out what he called a terrorist attack.
Interpol, the international police agency, condemned the attack and said it would ensure "the Moroccan authorities investigating this terrible attack have the full support of the global law enforcement community."
French intelligence and anti-terrorism experts will travel to Marrakesh on Friday to help in the probe, a source said.
Police sought to restore calm in the iconic Jamaa el-Fna square, a cultural heritage site frequented by tourists, while investigators worked to determine how it was carried out and who was responsible.
Police were at the site searching for clues on Friday morning, keeping back onlookers who showed up to see the dramatic sight. The explosion ripped off the facade of the Argana cafe, leaving awnings dangling.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, condemned the "cowardly attack" and pledged support for Morocco, which is considered a US ally in the region.
France condemned the blast as being "cruel and cowardly" and confirmed there were French casualties.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, learnt "with consternation of the terrorist attack," his office said in a statement.
"He condemns with the greatest firmness this odious, cruel and cowardly act that has caused many casualties, including French citizens," it said.
The United Nations, Britain, Germany, Spain and the Council of Europe human rights watchdog also condemned the attack.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, described it as "utterly reprehensible, and said alleged links to terrorism were worrying.
Al-Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa stages regular attacks and kidnappings in neighbouring Algeria.
Morocco, however, has been mostly peaceful since it was hit by five simultaneous terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 45 people and a dozen bombers believed linked to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.
Protesters demand reform in Morocco
Demonstrators continue their bid for peaceful social and constitutional reform in the kingdom.
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2011 01:49
Thousands of protesters have participated in rallies in cities across Morocco, demanding social and economic reforms. They called for an end to corruption, and want more jobs for the increasing number of university graduates who face joblessness.
The peaceful protests are predominately working class in tone, demanding constitutional reforms and new parliamentary elections.
The marches on Sunday were organised by the February 20 movement, which has led protests for the past two months, with support from Morocco's best-known Islamist movement, Adl wal Ihsan, which is barred from politics in the North African kingdom.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI has already pledged changes to the constitution for the first time in 15 years, but protesters remain sceptical about the possibility of real change.
Al Jazeera's Caroline Malone reports.
Robert Fisk: Shifting blame to Lebanon may be the method in Assad's madness
Many Arabs were appalled that Mr Obama would apparently try to make cheap propaganda over the tragedy
Monday, 25 April 2011
President Bashar al-Assad's war with his own Syrian people is moving perilously close to Lebanon. Indeed, over the past few days, Lebanese opposition leaders have been voicing their suspicions that the Baathist regime in Damascus – in an attempt to distract attention away from the Syrian popular uprising – is deliberately stirring sectarian tensions in a country which has only just commemorated the 36th anniversary of its own terrifying 15-year civil war, which cost 150,000 lives.
In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, rival pro- and anti-Assad demonstrations were held and the Lebanese Government flooded the streets with troops and internal security force members. Tripoli contains a sizeable community of Alawites, the Shia offshoot to which the Assad family belongs, most of them with close family ties to Syria.
Rather more disturbing was that the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon – the only serious militia in the country and Israel's principal enemy here – accepted Syria's claim that the opposition Lebanese Future Movement MP Jamal Jarrah was involved in what the Assad regime calls the "armed insurgency" in the Syrian cities of Deraa, Latakia, Banias and Aleppo. Syrian television has shown interviews with two extremely frightened men it said had been caught with weapons and one of whom had, it said, confessed to bringing money and guns into Syria on the instructions of Jarrah. The MP and his party have indignantly denied the claim, but a Hezbollah official now says that Jarrah should be brought before Lebanese justice.
So, too, has the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, who visited the Lebanese foreign ministry – obviously on orders from Damascus – to demand that Jarrah be brought to justice. The Future Movement, whose leader, Saad Hariri, remains the caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister in the continued absence of a government in the country, indignantly protested that Ali's move was Syrian interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon. Hezbollah has been busily praising – like its Iranian sponsors – the Egyptian revolution while condemning the demonstrations inside Syria.
So far, most Lebanese have been very careful to distance themselves from the Syrian imbroglio. The Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, wrote in his weekly editorial in Al-Anba last week that because of his "attachment to Syria and its people and its stability", he believed that the authorities in Damascus should "undertake an internal restructuring of their security forces" as other Arab states have already done.
He has a point, of course. For it is now all too clear that the enormous hatred of the brutal mukhabarat secret police in Syria lies at the heart of the protests. On Friday, the security police opened live fire at protesters in 14 separate towns and cities across Syria – clearly a decision taken at the highest level of the regime.
Among those suppressing the protests were soldiers from the infamous Fourth Unit of the Syrian army, which answers directly not to the chief of staff but to President Assad's younger brother Maher, whose name appears on the banners of many of the protesters.
Human Rights Watch, which talks from Beirut directly to eyewitnesses of the massacres all over Syria, now has the names of exactly 76 protesters killed – or murdered – by the security forces over Friday and Saturday. Based on online collaboration, Syrian human rights activists have 112 names. Clearly about 100, including young children, died in a 48-hour period, but some bodies were not taken to hospitals where the state security police were noting their names and insisting that their burials should be private.
It is an odd phenomenon of all the Middle East revolutions that security police gun down protesters – and then gun down mourners at the funerals, and then shoot dead mourners at the funerals of those mourners shot dead the previous day.
According to Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Syria, Nadim Houry, the death toll since the demonstrations began now totals 300. "It's clear that the Syrian security forces are ready to go very far to quell this," he says. "As far as this goes – and the other revolutions – it's a blast from the past. These regimes don't learn from each other – the protesters do. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The language of the regimes – of foreign plots – is falling apart; people don't buy it any more."
Ironically, President Obama was the only international leader to suggest a "foreign hand" in Syria's crisis. He said that Iran was supporting the "outrageous" behaviour of the Syrian authorities.
Many Arabs were appalled that Mr Obama would apparently try to make cheap propaganda over the tragedy – there is, in fact, not the slightest evidence that Iran has been actively involved with the events in Syria – when he might have been dignified enough to have sent his sympathy to the mourners and told the protesters that America was with them.
But as Nadim Houry says, many regimes in the region – the Saudis, the Iranians, the Israelis and Turkey, for example – will be happy if Bashar Assad survives. "The real problem is, where do you go from here?" he says. "The regime has drawn its 'line in the sand'. But it did learn from other Arab revolutions to keep crowds from the centre of cities.
"In Homs, protesters pitched tents in the central square but the security forces arrived en masse and broke them up, tore down the tents and washed the streets overnight. A man living next to the Homs square told me that 'When the sun rose, it was almost as if no one had been there the night before'.
"Then on Friday, when people began to walk into Damascus, they were simply shot down in the suburbs. Only in Banias on Friday did the Syrian mukhabarat leave the city – and the protests there passed off peacefully."