Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Sudan
Cairo street clashes leave more than 1,000 injured
Fighting between police and protesters is worst since Mubarak's fall as new leaders accused of same slow tactics on reform
Jack Shenker in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 June 2011 19.29 BST
The fiercest street fighting seen in central Cairo since the fall of Hosni Mubarak has left more than 1,000 people injured, as popular dissatisfaction with the military-led transitional government boiled over into violence.
In what analysts have labelled a "critical turning point" in Egypt's ongoing revolution, several thousand people clashed with heavily armed riot police in and around Tahrir Square on Tuesday night, leading to dozens of arrests.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces blamed "sedition" for the unrest and vowed to hunt down those responsible. Throughout Tuesday night and yesterday morning protesters chanted demands for the resignation of Egypt's de facto leader, Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, as security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds.
The demonstrations follow five months of accumulated frustration among many sections of the Egyptian public over the slow pace of reform since an 18-day uprising toppled Mubarak and ushered in a military junta, which has promised to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government later this year.
There has been particular anger over the perceived lack of accountability for stalwarts of the old regime. Although some former government ministers have been found guilty of corruption, the trials of the former justice minister Habib al-Adly and Mubarak himself – the two men many hold responsible for the killing of unarmed demonstrators by police – are yet to take place, while police officers accused of unlawful killing continue in their posts and families of the victims report being bribed or threatened to drop their legal cases.
"These clashes are the result of Egypt's new regime trying to reproduce the authoritarian policies and brutal, unaccountable security apparatus that were the tools of dictatorship for the old regime, and they are a critical turning point for the revolution," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at the al-Ahram Centre.
"We are seeing the same tactics – tear gas, bullets, state violence – that Mubarak used, and more importantly we are hearing the same discourse from Egypt's interim rulers. 'This is a plot to destabilise the country, there are shadowy groups trying to sow discord,' claim the cabinet and the army generals, but where is this plot and who is writing it? In fact the only 'plot' is the anger of the people against a political elite that has initiated no real change, and a government that marginalises the poorest in Egyptian society and has little credibility in the eyes of the masses."
The Guardian has spoken to residents in the downtown area who claim that central security forces (CSF) asked them to come and help defend the interior ministry from "criminal thugs" who were allegedly smashing up shops and cars in the area. "We stood with the police for some time and threw rocks at the civilians on the other side," said one man who preferred not to be named.
"We genuinely thought the CSF needed our help – they told us that if the thugs saw ordinary people standing side by side with the police, they would be scared off and calm would be restored. But the CSF then made the situation much worse by deliberately firing into the crowds, which brought lots of peaceful protesters on to the scene and it turned into a big battle. I don't know why the CSF did that but it felt like they wanted to make trouble."
Demonstrators claim that far from being criminals, the civilians on the street were families of those killed during January's uprising. For the past few months the terms "thugs", "criminals" and "counter-revolutionaries" have been regularly deployed by the authorities to describe anyone deemed to be provoking instability in the post-Mubarak era.
The events of the past 48 hours are likely to increase the pressure on the interim prime minister, Essam Sharaf.
"Sharaf is honest and gentle but has offered nothing substantive in terms of change; he's been reduced to a mouthpiece of the military and he must resign," said Abdel Fattah.
"People are realising that despite the rhetoric, no reform is going to be initiated by the political elite. It has to come from the street and I think the next major demonstration in Tahrir which is planned for 8 July will be an example of that."
Court delays Egypt brutality case verdict
Court postpones verdict on policemen charged over death of Khaled Said, whose case helped spark Egypt's revolution.
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2011 08:33
Fresh clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square
More than 1,000 injured as police fire tear gas at thousands frustrated by slow pace of change since Egypt's revolution.
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2011 20:10
'Virginity Tests' in Egypt
The Egyptian military was celebrated for helping to facilitate a peaceful revolution there three months ago. But now accusations have surfaced that they subjected young women to degrading "virginity tests" in what appears to have been an attempt to control the population. One woman told SPIEGEL her story.
Before she describes how uniformed soldiers hit and kicked her and the other young women, ordering them to take off their clothes, lie on their backs in front of gawking soldiers and spread their legs so a man in a white lab coat could test their virginity -- before this, the hairdresser quickly lights a cigarette and pulls the smoke deeply into her lungs.
Salwa Husseini Gouda is a petite woman with gently curved lips and almond-shaped eyes. The 20-year-old looks tired this afternoon, wearing jeans and a headscarf together with a tight-fitting top. She smokes one cigarette after another. The air is heavy with shimmering heat and the Egyptian capital is dusty and loud, as always.
"I have no idea why they arrested me, of all people, in Tahrir Square," she says. "I was standing in front of a tank at that particular moment, maybe that's why." She attempts a grin. "Anyway, people should watch out for me -- I'm a dangerous criminal!"
According to eyewitness reports, men stormed Tahrir Square, center of the Egyptian revolution, on the afternoon of March 9 and attacked demonstrators seemingly at random. They weren't wearing uniforms. "They looked like thugs," Husseini Gouda says. "They called me a whore and hit me in the face." She says she was shocked when the group dragged her and around 20 other women into the Egyptian Museum and handed them over to the military. "I couldn't believe our army was behind this attack," Gouda continues. "But then they took us to a military prison, and from then on, it only got worse."
Egypt arrests ex-Guantanamo detainee
Adel el Gazzar arrested for past conviction hours after returning home.
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2011 19:19
Egypt's military council lifts nightly curfew
Measure imposed during protests against government of Hosni Mubarak is lifted.
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2011 08:08
US-born Israeli denies Egyptian spy claims
Israel fears Ilan Grapel arrest will damage relations with Egypt following Mubarek's deposition
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 June 2011 21.36 BST
Friends and relatives of a US-born Israeli arrested in Egypt on spy charges said Monday that he was a law student living Atlanta with an avid interest in the Middle East – and not a Mossad agent out to sabotage Egypt's revolution, as Egyptian authorities claim. His mother said he arrived in Cairo only in May, countering implications that he was involved in protests as early as February. The arrest of 27-year-old Ilan Grapel has awakened fears in Israel that relations with Egypt will sour now that the president, Hosni Mubarak, has been deposed.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have been cordial at best.
Grapel, 27, was arrested Sunday at a hotel in Cairo. His mother, Irene Grapel, said he was spending the summer as an intern at a legal aid group. A statement from the Egyptian prosecution said Grapel had recently attended protests and "incited the protesters to acts of riot".
Pictures of Grapel were published in Egyptian newspapers, and the semiofficial Egyptian daily Al-Ahram identified him in a headline as a "Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution".
Poll dancing in Cairo
Egyptians generally believe things are looking up after Mubarak, but fears over security and poverty remain.
Soraya Lennie Last Modified: 12 Jun 2011 16:59
Some five months after the fall of Mubarak, Egyptians are happier and more relaxed as they go about the day to day mechanisms of life in the capital, Cairo. A new poll, conducted by the Gallup Centre in Abu Dhabi, attested to this change. It found, for the most part, that Egyptians believe things are looking up.
It was taken a month and a half after Mubarak resigned, between late March and early April. Polls are very rare in Egypt, so there was never much in-depth data on public sentiment beforehand. But anyone who had visited before the revolution can attest Cairo was not a place where contentment was easy to discover. At least for the poor, straining against the weight of corruption and misfortune. Life was an orderly chaos at best, frustrating and necessary. The chaos is still there, although now there is the feeling that there’s a point to it all. A collective burden the masses must bear on the road to a better Egypt.
Many of the wealthy Egyptians are well travelled, some have found education abroad. But the Gallup poll found Egyptians are half as likely to want to emigrate after the fall of Mubarak. Most believe society will become freer and fairer. They have confidence in their futures, in their country. It is clear in the attitudes of 20-something Egyptians, whether they are shopkeepers, taxi drivers or professionals.
But not everything is a bed of roses. The poll found security is of great concern to Egyptians. The police left the streets during the revolution and many have not returned, their previous posts abandoned. Just look around in areas like Maadi, a middle class area pockmarked with embassies, foreign restaurant chains and hip cafes, after sun falls. It's the middle of spring, the air is warm, crimson flowers are in bloom and the trees are green. But there are very few people in the street. There's still an air of apprehension in some places. The poll has found only 39 per cent of Egyptians have confidence in the police – down from 58 per cent in 2009.
Conservative Muslims clash with secularists in Tunisia
Tension over the place of religion in the North African country's public life is rising.
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2011 22:38
Tunisian police have arrested Islamist activists after they clashed with a group of lawyers outside the capital's main courthouse, as tensions rise over the country's post-revolutionary future.
They were demanding the release of their comrades, arrested during protests over a film some said offended Islam.
Six members of the Salafist movement were arrested after they stormed a cinema and broke its glass doors in a bid to stop the screening of the film: "Neither Allah, nor Master" on secularism in Tunisia.
Al Jazeera's Rhodri Davies has more.
Ben Ali and wife 'guilty of theft'
Ex-Tunisian president and his wife were sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison for misappropriating public funds.
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2011 19:25
A Tunisian court on Monday sentenced ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, in absentia, to 35 years in jail each after finding them guilty of theft and unlawful possession of cash and jewellery.
Reading out the verdict and sentence in the courtroom after just one day of deliberation, the judge also ruled Ben Ali and his wife would have to pay fines totalling $65.6 million.
The judge said the verdict on other charges, relating to illegal possession of drugs and weapons, would be pronounced on June 30, according to the Reuters news agency.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 in the face of a popular uprising against his 23-year rule and is being tried in absentia by a criminal court over scores of cases against him and his entourage.
Akram Azoury, a Ben Ali lawyer who is based in Beirut, said earlier that his client "strongly denies all charges they are trying to press as he never possessed the sums of money they claimed to have found in his office".
Others criticised the process, arguing it did not go far enough in answering the calls for justice from the Tunisian people.
"It's not satisfying," Zied Cherni, a Tunisian lawyer, told Al Jazeera. "President Zine al Abadine Ben Ali has obstructed justice when he governed Tunisia, and right now he is manipulating the truth. He has many, many agents here."
"You have to ask, why are they sentencing him right now?" he said, noting the broader political context in the North African country. "There's a shadow government, which is right now trying to manipulate and to mislead the Tunisian people."
Drugs and weapons
Ben Ali, the first leader toppled in a wave of Arab uprisings, faces charges related to theft, drugs and weapons, following the reported discovery of around $27m in jewels and cash plus drugs and weapons at two palaces outside Tunis.
More serious charges, including plotting against the security of the state and murder, will be dealt with at future trials.
Monday's session is only the beginning of a long legal process that may see senior members of Ben Ali's government in the dock over allegations including murder, torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artifacts.
Of the 93 charges Ben Ali and his inner circle now face, 35 will be referred to the military court, Kadhem Zine El Abidine, a justice ministry spokesperson, said.
Five public defenders have been assigned to Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, who is accused in one of the two cases in Monday's trial.
Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia, judicial officials say, meaning a French lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, cannot take part in the proceedings.
In the statement released by Le Borgne, Ben Ali "vigorously denies" accusations against him, claiming most of the weapons found were gifts from visiting heads of state.
"As for the drugs allegedly found, that is a lie and an ignominy ... It is absurd and defamatory,'' the statement from the lawyer said. The trial has "no goal but to accuse yesterday's president".
Ben Ali said in the statement: "I devoted my life to my country and aspire, at the twilight of my existence, to conserve my honour."
Backed by his powerful party that controlled all sectors, Ben Ali governed with an iron fist, suppressing dissent and quashing all freedom of expression.
Saudi Arabia has not responded to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that Ben Ali would not be present for his judgement.
Tunisia: Ben Ali 'deceived into leaving for Saudi'
Ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali says he was not fleeing when he left the country in January.
In a statement issued as his trial in absentia began, Mr Ben Ali said he had taken his family to Saudi Arabia for safety.
Mr Ben Ali said he had intended to return to Tunisia immediately, but the plane left without him, "disobeying my instructions".
He flew to Saudi Arabia on 14 January following a popular rising.
"I was duped into leaving Tunis," Mr Ben Ali said.
He also denied giving orders to fire on demonstrators, something he said could be proved through recorded contacts between the presidency, the interior ministry and other ministries.
But the BBC's Jon Leyne says that for the moment that is not what he is charged with.
The current trial is looking at accusations of corruption and drug smuggling, all of which the former president also denies.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on various charges.
His lawyers said the trial was an attempt by Tunisia's interim government to divert attention from their failure to restore stability in the country.
The Saudi authorities have yet to respond to an extradition request from Tunisia for Mr Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, and there seems little likelihood of them being brought to justice in person.
The Tunisian authorities have been preparing several legal cases against Mr Ben Ali, but Monday's trial will initially cover charges relating to money, weapons and drugs allegedly left behind in his palaces.
Continue reading the main story
He knows every new political authority wants to blame its predecessor and hold it responsible for difficulties it fails to resolve”
Statement by Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's lawyers
Almost 2kg (4.4lb) of drugs, believed to be cannabis, and $27m (£16.4m; 18.7m euros) in cash were allegedly discovered.
Mr Ben Ali is also being investigated on suspicion of murder, abuse of power, trafficking of archaeological artefacts and money laundering.
Speaking through his Beirut-based lawyers on Sunday, Mr Ben Ali mounted a defence of his 23 years as president, which many Tunisians say was marked by autocratic rule, corruption and human rights abuses.
"He would like everyone to know this criminal prosecution is only a false and shameful image of victor's justice," a statement said.
"Is the purpose behind that [trial] to divert the attention of Tunisians from the turmoil that nobody can accuse him of or hold him responsible for?
"He knows that every new political authority wants to blame its predecessor and hold it responsible for difficulties it fails to resolve."
The statement also appealed to Tunisians not to forget Mr Ben Ali's achievements.
"He hopes from his heart that Tunisia escapes chaos and darkness and continues on its path towards modernity," the statement said.
Ben Ali will not attend Tunisia trial for theft and fraud
Deposed leader of Arab country and wife remain in Saudi Arabia, which has not responded to extradition requests
Tunisians still wait to celebrate democracy after the revolution
Six months after the start of Tunisia's revolution, there are few signs of optimism on the streets of the capital
The Guardian, Friday 17 June 2011
Wiping his hands on his apron as chickens turned on a spit, Haj Ali Yocoubi gestured from his restaurant towards a burned-out building and a few carcasses of cars. The chef in his 50s witnessed some of the worst repression of January's Tunisian revolution, when police killed several young protesters in Ettadhamen, this poor, densely populated suburb known as the "badlands" of Tunis. Since then, sporadic rioting has raged past his pavement tables.
Last month Yocoubi closed his restaurant early as the unrest flared following more anti-government protests. A state curfew was imposed as young men went on rampages, burning banks, shops and police stations and looting.
"It's as if people are on a knife-edge. This is a tinderbox. It seems calm but you sense it could blow at the slightest thing," Yocoubi said. "People still can't find jobs. For the first time we feel free to speak out, but there's a political limbo. We hear about democracy, but now we'd actually like to live in one please."
It is six months since the rural fruitseller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in despair at the humiliations of the regime, sparking a people's revolution that ousted Tunisia's dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired uprisings across the region. But Tunisia has yet to properly celebrate its revolution.
The fragile interim government has not inspired confidence, elections have been postponed until October and trust in politicians is low. The same police who once dominated one of the region's most feared and ruthless police states still largely hold their jobs – beating more than a dozen journalists who tried to cover renewed anti-government demonstrations last month.
Bloggers and activists still fear phones tapped. Lawyers say the corruption and dodgy business deals of the old regime continue. The justice system is still compromised. Crucially, the vestiges of Ben Ali's banned former party, the RCD, lurk in the shadows, some regrouping as new parties, others accused of stoking violence and disruption.
Last week 11 people died and about 150 were injured in the desolate southern mining town of Metlaoui, after fierce tribal clashes erupted over desperate competition for scarce jobs. Two local clans brutally fought each other with hunting rifles, axes, iron bars and homemade bombs, some people were knifed to death or had their throats slit – bringing the revolution's total death toll to more than 240.
Among the 92 people arrested in Metlaoui were members of Ben Ali's old RCD party and local businessmen. Many said the old ruling party had deliberately fuelled rumours about job discrimination to spark chaos and destabilise the region.
In Ettadhamen people understood the Metlaoui rage. In the north Tunis suburb several poor estates rub up against each other with an estimated 400,000 people crammed into six square kilometres (2.3 square miles). Many arrived in the country's vast and mismanaged rural exodus of recent decades. Unemployment is high. Some families have only one relative who works, often a cleaning lady, sometimes for a salary of 200 dinars (£89) a month.
Several local people were killed when police opened fire during the revolution protests and there has been sporadic unrest since. The micro-credit NGO, Enda, which has financed many local workers, is now offering micro-loans to people whose shops or small businesses were trashed or looted in disturbances.
"All I want is work," said Hicham Hermi, unemployed for two years after a short stint at a textiles factory sewing labels for big brands. "Unemployment is our biggest problem and it's worse than before. Yet people who worked for the administration under Ben Ali still have their jobs. This revolution was about justice but where is that justice?"
Long-suppressed Shias shape new Iraq
Persecuted by Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Shia population is increasingly influencing the political and religious landscape.
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2011 08:58
Thousands of pilgrims flocked to a Baghdad shrine this week in a vibrant expression of religious identity that would not have been tolerated under the ruler of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is also the first country in the Arab world to be ruled by Shias, with Shia parties now shaping the country's political landscape.
But Shia nationalism is also playing a role in continued opposition to the presence of American troops in the country - with Moqtada al-Sadr, a key Shia leader, putting pressure on Iraqi leaders by threatening to re-activate his militia unless the US completes its withdrawal.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reports from Baghdad as part of our Iraq's Challenge series.
Baghdad: Bombs hail 'worst violence for months'
40 people killed and 82 injured after four explosions hit a mosque, market places and a police patrol
Associated Press in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 June 2011 01.09 BST
Four bombs have exploded in Baghdad, killing at least 40 people in the worst violence the capital has seen in months, Iraqi officials said. An American civilian aid specialist working to improve education in Iraq was killed in a separate attack.
The violence underscores the fragile nature of the security gains in Iraq at a time when American forces are preparing to withdraw by the end of this year.
The first three bombs went off in quick succession in a southwestern Baghdad neighbourhood shortly after 7pm local time on Thursday. One targeted a Shiite mosque, another exploded just outside a popular market, while the third went off inside the market where people were doing their evening shopping ahead of the Muslim weekend, Iraqi police officials said.
The officials said 34 people died and 82 others were injured in the three blasts. An official from Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital confirmed the casualty figures.
About an hour later, a parked car bomb targeting a police patrol killed six people, including one policeman and five bystanders in a different neighbourhood in southwestern Baghdad, said hospital officials.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Sunni extremists such as al-Qaida in Iraq have been known to target Shiite mosques and Iraqi security forces.
It was the worst attack in the capital since a parked car bomb exploded in a northern Baghdad in January, killing 48 people.
The American civilian killed earlier Thursday was named as Dr Stephen Everhart.A US state department spokeswoman said: "Dr Everhart was an American citizen who was working in Iraq for an implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development's Mission in Iraq. He was killed while working on a project to introduce a new business curriculum to a Baghdad university in a programme supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education.
"We are saddened by this tragedy and extend our thoughts and prayers to Dr Everhart's family and loved ones, and to the three other injured victims and their families," she said.
Missing Iraq cash 'as high as $18bn'
Iraq's parliament speaker tells Al Jazeera unaccounted reconstruction money is three times the reported $6.6bn.
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2011 07:08
Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi parliament speaker, has told Al Jazeera that the amount of Iraqi money unaccounted for by the US is $18.7bn - three times more than the reported $6.6bn.
Just before departing for a visit to the US, al-Nujaifi said that he has received a report this week based on information from US and Iraqi auditors that the amount of money withdrawn from a fund from Iraqi oil proceeds, but unaccounted for, is much more than the $6.6bn reported missing last week.
"There is a lot of money missing during the first American administration of Iraqi money in the first year of occupation.
"Iraq's development fund has lost around $18bn of Iraqi money in these operations - their location is unknown. Also missing are the documents of expenditure.
"I think it will be discussed soon. There should be an answer to where has Iraqi money gone."
The Bush administration flew in a total of $20bn in cash into the country in 2004. This was money that had come from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food programme and seized Iraqi assets.
Officials in Iraq were supposed to give out the money to Iraqi ministries and US contractors, intended for the reconstruction of the country.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Iraqi officials argue that the US government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq, hence making Washington responsible for the cash that has disappeared.
Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records.
The US has audited the money three times, but has still not been able to say exactly where it went.
Al Jazeera's Iraq correspondent, Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said: "It's an absolutely astonishing figure - this goes back to 2003 and 2004.
"There is going to be a fairly wide net cast - some of them [involved in mishandling of this money] are thought to be US officials, but many here believe that it is the Iraqis who have filled their pockets.
"Safeguarding the money was up to the Americans ... after the invasion, provisional authority here was run by the American military.
"Piles and piles of shrink-wrapped US dollars came here, but the cash coming in is not the important part - it is what happened to it after [it got here].
"There are no documents to indicate who got it, where it was spent and what was ever built from it."
Sudan: History of a broken land
Sudan once represented the greatest hope for peaceful coexistence between Arab and African, Muslim and Christian.
Special series Last Modified: 23 Jun 2011 12:29
Sudan was the giant of Africa which once represented the greatest hope for peaceful coexistence between Arab and African, Muslim and Christian. That hope is all but gone.
Sudan: History of a broken land goes straight to the heart of the problem, confronting key characters in Sudan's modern history and also hearing the tragic stories of ordinary men and women.
This powerful film provides an excellent grounding to understand a country fashioned by British colonial power and later traumatised by civil war. It sets out to discover the truth behind the tragedy that was – and perhaps still is - Sudan.
Sudan's Nuba people 'targeted by army'
Escalating violence in South Kordofan state is driving villagers to hide in the bush.
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2011 21:23
The Sudanese army has been fighting armed groups in South Kordofan state for two weeks.
The area sits on the tense border between south Sudan and the north. It is home to the Nuba people, who say the Sudanese forces are deliberately targeting civilians.
The government in Khartoum denies the claims.
Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa reports from Juba in Southern Sudan.
Half a million displaced as Khartoum moves to crush Sudan's Nuba people
Fierce fighting raises fears the country's 22-year civil war will be reignited as the government turns on the north's Africans, sidelined in the south's peace deal
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 18 June 2011 23.26 BST
Fierce new fighting along Sudan's volatile north-south divide is raising deep concern for the safety of the Nuba people, the forgotten victims of the country's long-running civil war who are once again under attack by government forces and militias.
The fighting has significantly increased the chances that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war six years ago will collapse, reigniting a north-south war and ending all hopes of peaceful partition when oil-rich South Sudan formally declares itself independent on 9 July.
Many Nuba fought alongside the southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the 22-year war. As black Africans within the Arabised north of Sudan, their hope was that the "New Sudan" promised by the SPLA would end their marginalisation and win respect for Nuba languages, religious observances and culture. The war that began in the 1980s in the Nuba region of South Kordofan was not just a footnote to the war in the south, it was a civil war in its own right, a deep-rooted indigenous rebellion that prompted a declaration of jihad by the Khartoum government in January 1992. Villages were burnt, livestock raided, food stores destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Nuba forced into "peace camps". But the Nuba were short-changed in the CPA. It denied them self-rule and, crucially, did not specify what would happen to the 30,000-strong Nuba rebel army enrolled in the SPLA.
On 5 June, as the Sudanese government army prepared to "control" – disarm – Nuba fighters, fighting erupted in South Kordofan's capital, Kadugli, and spread quickly across most of the region. The battle for Kadugli became a street-by-street war of attrition: Khartoum piled in brigades of regulars and irregulars, and the SPLA relentlessly mortared the army's divisional headquarters.
UN reports seen by the Observer state that "human rights abuses are commonplace and part of the strategy" in the new Nuba war. There are "door-to-door searches, presumably for SPLA elements"; "wide-scale exactions against unarmed civilians with specific targeting of African tribes"; looting of relief offices and warehouses; and "sightings of cattle-trucks with people sitting on their floors, with sentries guarding them".
"They take the young men," one official said. "Are they going to detain them and feed them and give them water for months? I don't think so."
Four days into the war, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (Unmis) warned in an internal report that a humanitarian crisis was already developing "of a magnitude that Unmis… is not sufficiently prepared to counter and the UN agencies are unprepared to deal with".
On Thursday the Nuba leader, Abdelaziz Adam al-Hilu, told African Union (AU) mediators frantically crafting a ceasefire agreement that more than 3,000 people have disappeared – either killed or their whereabouts unknown – "because they are Nuba or belong to the SPLA". He said 400,000-500,000 have been displaced, in a population of approximately 2.5 million, and more than 50 towns had been bombed.
Food, he said, was being used as a weapon, with no flow of goods to rural areas since May. Kadugli airport has been closed to humanitarian flights. Relief coming by road has been turned away.
The war in the Nuba mountains is already being seen through the lens of earlier wars: the north-south war; the Darfur war; the jihad. It is different. The sheer number of armed men under organised command on both sides has never before been matched in Sudan— including more than 60,000 on the government side. In focusing so heavily on the north-south conflict, the international community has underestimated the determination of the Nuba: their fighters are more numerous and much better led than the Darfur rebels, with formidable organisational skills, command capabilities and discipline.
As in the 1990s, Khartoum is closing Nuba to international scrutiny. Unmis has been told to leave by 9 July, the day of partition. In Kadugli, government troops helped Unmis evacuate international relief workers, but then, according to confidential reports, stepped up the "intimidation and obstruction" of Unmis itself. An Unmis helicopter was warned it would be shot at if it attempted to land. An 11 June report said: "International staff are restricted from leaving the [Unmis] compound and the majority of the national staff left are now not willing to leave for fear of their lives." On Friday, after two bombs from an Antonov plane fell 500 yards west of the compound, Unmis said: "The excessive use of bombardment recently is threatening our presence and putting the lives of civilians at high risk."
"The government is bringing an enormous amount of military hardware and reinforcements into Kadugli and doesn't want witnesses," one foreign observer said. "They are trying to make sure we can't report on what they do. It's a war, and a dirty war."
Although the AU team led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki has won both sides' agreement in principle to cease firing, Unmis is so weak and discredited that its capacity to sustain a ceasefire is doubtful. In an attack on an army base in the south-west of South Kordofan last week, the Darfur rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement seized large amounts of heavy weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, and told the Observer: "We will not allow the government to defeat the Nuba."
Most Nuba saw state elections last month as a last chance to achieve democratic change in northern Sudan through a political process. They were confident of victory. But although they won a majority of votes, they won only 21 seats to the 33 claimed by President Omar al-Bashir's National Congress party (NCP). In gubernatorial elections, the NCP's Ahmad Haroun, indicted by the International Criminal Court on 42 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur, was declared victorious over Hilu.
"They rigged the census, the elections, the ballot boxes," Hilu told Mbeki on Thursday. "We tested the NCP over six years. They don't respect agreements, they did not implement the CPA. They declared clearly there is no room in this country for any group except Arabs, and no other religion except Islam."