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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Yemen, Libya, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait

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  • Zafar Khan
    YEMEN Yemen s Saleh decrees general amnesty Contentious pardon comes as fighting between Shia Houthis and Sunni Salafis reportedly grips northern Saada
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2011
      YEMEN

      Yemen's Saleh decrees 'general amnesty'
      Contentious pardon comes as fighting between Shia Houthis and Sunni Salafis reportedly grips northern Saada province.
      Last Modified: 27 Nov 2011 22:08

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/11/20111127155457701441.html

      [VIDEO]
      Ali Abdullah Saleh has pardoned Yemenis who "committed errors during the crisis" that has rocked the country since January and killed hundreds of people, according to state television.

      The announcement on Sunday immediately angered groups who say Saleh can no longer take such decisions, having transferred his presidential powers to his deputy under a Gulf Co-operation Council deal to step down in return for immunity from prosecution.

      The deal signed, on Wednesday in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, stipulates that Saleh - who has been in power for more than three decades but faced 10 months of massive anti-government protests - must leave power within 90 days.

      "The president of the republic has decreed a general amnesty for all those who have committed errors during the crisis," a statement flashed on state television said.

      The reported pardon came as tensions remain high in Yemen, where Saleh returned overnight from Riyadh. Saleh was wounded in the June 3 bomb attack and had to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia.

      "This is in violation of the Gulf initiative by which the president delegated his powers to the vice-president," Hurriya Mashhud, a spokesperson for the opposition, told the AFP news agency.

      "He no longer has the right, nor the prerogative or the capacity to take such decisions," she said.

      The state broadcaster said that the amnesty decided by Saleh "does not include those involved in crime and in the attack against the mosque at the presidential palace compound".

      Suspects who are "members of [political] parties, groups or individuals will be brought to trial," the report said.

      If the agreement goes according to plan, Saleh will become the fourth Arab ruler brought down by mass demonstrations that have reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East.

      This followed a decision on Friday by opposition parties to nominate Mohammed Salem Basindwa, the head of an alliance that led months of protests against Saleh, to form a new government.

      "A presidential decree issued today ... mandated ... Basindwa to form a government of national unity," Saba said.

      Basindwa, a foreign minister from 1993 to 1994, is to form the new government under the deal signed in Riyadh.

      Sectarian fighting

      Against this backdrop of political unrest, reports say at least 25 people have been killed and dozens wounded in sectarian violence in northern Yemen.

      Shia Muslim opposition forces attacked Sunni Islamist Salafi fighters with bursts of shelling, a Salafi spokesperson said on Sunday, a claim which could not be independently verfied by Al Jazeera.

      The shelling, which killed 10 people on Saturday, continued on Sunday afternoon, the Salafi spokesperson said, bringing the death toll to 25 with a further 48 wounded in the latest flare-up in Damaj, about 150km north of the capital, Sanaa.

      The conflict in the north, where government troops also tried to crush Shia Houthi fighters before a ceasefire last year, is one of several plaguing Yemen which plans elections next year to replace Saleh.

      Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthis' political office, disputed the Salafi account of the fighting.

      He told the Reuters news agency that Abdelmalek al-Houthi, the Houthis' leader, had issued orders for a ceasefire but the Salafis rejected it and fought on.

      "We have martyrs and wounded," he said. "We have informed the mediators that the Salafis can have their slogans as long as they refrain from incitement and takfir [denouncing a Muslim as an infidel]."

      Initiative opposed

      The clashes followed a protest in the northwestern city of Saada on Friday, in which Shia Muslim protesters voiced their opposition to the GCC initiative, and called for Saleh to be put on trial.

      In recent weeks, the Houthis have clashed with Salafi fighters, leading local tribal leaders to declare a truce between them.

      It seemed to collapse on Saturday when, according to Abu Ismail Salafi, the Salafi spokesperson, Houthi fighters shelled the town of Damaj.

      Members of the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, the Houthi fighters led an uprising based in the Saada province that Saleh's forces struggled to crush, with Saudi Arabia intervening militarily in 2009 before a ceasefire took hold the next year.

      The Houthis, who effectively control Saada, are deeply wary of Saudi Arabia's promotion of puritanical Sunni Salafi creeds that class Shias as heretics.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemeni opposition leader asked to form national unity gov't
      English.news.cn 2011-11-28 13:45:08

      http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-11/28/c_131274344.htm
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemen names interim prime minister; 25 die in sectarian fighting
      By MOHAMMED GHOBARI | REUTERS
      Published: Nov 27, 2011 23:38 Updated: Nov 28, 2011 00:28

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article539604.ece

      SANAA: Yemen named an opposition leader as interim prime minister on Sunday under a deal aimed at ending months of protests which have brought the country to the verge of civil war.

      However, unrest continued to plague Yemen with violence between Shiite rebels and Sunni Islamists killing at least 25 people in the north — including six foreign citizens, according to the Sunni side.

      Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi named as premier Mohammed Basindwa, a foreign minister from 1993 to 1994 who later joined the opposition, the state news agency Saba said.
      ...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemen's ruler finally agrees to go – but will the regime go with him?
      Saleh is fourth dictator to fall as mounting world pressure and 10 months of protests end his 33-year regime
      THURSDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2011

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/yemens-ruler-finally-agrees-to-go--but-will-the-regime-go-with-him-6267072.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Protesters killed in Yemeni capital
      Five people killed as demonstrators rally in Sanaa against power transfer deal promising President Saleh immunity.
      Last Modified: 24 Nov 2011 11:51

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/11/2011112492051560129.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Saleh orders Yemen deaths probe after exit deal
      By Hammoud Mounassar (AFP) – 6 days ago

      http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gDzW2ZkvdC5dbdhjKtxb3UgsRPrw?docId=CNG.cad707641ecd916ac9059307b8e93856.1c1
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemeni youth say factions 'hijacked' uprising
      Student activists worry that rival military factions have taken over their once-peaceful reform movement.
      Last Modified: 23 Nov 2011 11:45

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2011/11/201111211751266112.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Deaths reported in renewed Yemen violence
      At least 12 dead and dozens wounded in continuing clashes between pro-government forces and protesters.
      Last Modified: 03 Nov 2011 11:08

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/11/20111129401628745.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      LIBYA

      Qaddafi’s daughter calls for Libya overthrow
      By ASSOCIATED PRESS
      Published: Nov 30, 2011 00:04 Updated: Nov 30, 2011 00:04

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article540679.ece

      ALGIERS, Algeria: Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter urged Libyans on Tuesday to overthrow their new rulers, possibly violating the terms of her exile in Algeria.

      In an audio message broadcast on Syria’s Al-Rai television station, Aisha Qaddafi called for a revolt against the men who overthrew her father, the government she said “arrived with the planes of NATO.”

      “My father has not left, he is always among us,” she said, following the traditional 40-day mourning period after his death. “Don’t forget the orders of your father urging you to continue fighting, even if you no longer hear his voice.”

      Qaddafi, Libya’s dictator for 42 years, was captured with his son Muatassim on Oct. 20 and killed by rebels.

      As the Libyan capital of Tripoli fell to rebel forces, Aisha, her mother and two of her brothers took refuge in neighboring Algeria.

      Aisha’s appeal puts her in direct conflict with a promise she and her family members made not to make public statements at the risk of losing their status as humanitarian refugees.

      After similar statements in September, Algerian officials warned that she could be expelled.

      The Algerian regime had close ties with Qaddafi but has since worked to repair strained relations with Libya’s new leaders.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Saif Gaddafi's fear of his fate exposed in recording‎
      In the final act of the Libyan drama, the country's former intelligence chief was arrested on Sunday, as a recording of Saif Gaddafi revealed the favoured son's fear of meeting the same end as his father.
      4:39PM GMT 20 Nov 2011

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8902574/Saif-Gaddafis-fear-of-his-fate-exposed-in-recording.html

      Libya's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi was captured on Sunday in the same southern region as the slain Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's heir was found a day earlier, an official in the National Transitional Council confirmed.

      Saif spent Sunday secreted in the militia stronghold of Zintan, as Libya's interim rulers ignored world pressure and insisted that he be tried inside the country rather than at the International Criminal Court.

      Reports have surfaced that he was discovered in the deep south of the country heading to Niger, wearing Tuareg robes and turban and pretending to be a camel herder named "Abdul Salem".

      Saif al-Islam Gaddafi flitted between fear of being lynched and bravado at the prospect of being executed like his father when his Libyan captors flew him to their mountain stronghold.

      And as a mob outside bayed for his blood, he even found time to worry about the dangers of passive smoking.

      The man who for years was seen as the leading pro-Western reformer within the Gaddafi camp said little to journalists who travelled in the Libyan air force transport plane that took him from the desert where he was captured to the town of Zintan, south of Tripoli, on Saturday.
      However, an audio recording made by Reuters caught some of the conversations on the tarmac in Zintan between Saif, his captors and the aides he was travelling with when he was caught.
      Having spent most of the flight staring out of the window with his back to the other passengers, Saif al-Islam, dressed in flowing Tuareg robes and traditional desert turban, spoke more freely when a crowd surrounded the plane after landing.
      "I'm staying here. They'll empty their guns into me the second I go out there," he said as hundreds of men thronged round the aircraft, fired in the air in celebration and climbed on the fuselage, even trying to prise the prise a door open.
      His reluctance to disembark was hardly surprising a month after his father was captured by revolutionary fighters, beaten abused and killed.
      But it was in stark contrast to his aggressive posture during Libya's civil war, when he called the fighters who eventually toppled his father "rats" and promised to crush their rebellion.
      "I knew it. I knew that there would be a big crowd," he said, peeking out through curtains at the jubilant Zintanis before recoiling in apparent terror. At another moment, his guards tried to assure him word of his capture had not leaked.
      "If I knew this was what would happen, I should have rammed my head through the window," the 39-year-old added in the darkness of the bare metal fuselage, where the portholes were covered for his protection. He appeared to be referring back to the moment when he was caught in the early hours, in a car.
      Between such bouts of fear, while the crowd outside chanted "God is greatest", the younger Gaddafi seemed to regain his mettle. Shortly after saying he expected to be shot on sight, he said he was not afraid of being killed.
      "I have no problem with that," he said.
      Saif al-Islam, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity but now the object of Libyans' desire for a trial on home soil, later seemed to express concern for the safety of his four companions, saying he would rather wait on the tarmac for things to calm down before leaving.
      "I'd rather we stayed an hour or two and left safely so that none of the people with me get hurt," he said. His plane eventually waited on the runway for three hours before he was taken to a safe house in Zintan, exposed briefly to a crowd of people trying to slap him as he left the aircraft.
      Although he clearly seemed to fear for his life and those of his men, Saif al-Islam also seemed worried about the dangers of passive smoking, and at one point seemed torn between the need to keep the mob out and to get fresh air into the plane.
      When men in the plane lit up cigarettes, Saif al-Islam told them they were putting his life at risk: "The plane's sealed and we'll suffocate," he said. "We're going to choke to death."
      When one of the others suggested opening the door for ventilation, however, he appeared to think the armed crowd banging on the walls posed a more immediate threat to his health: "I don't need fresh air, man."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Saif Gaddafi arrested in desert after month-long hunt by Libya's new government
      Saif al-Islam, the son of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has been arrested, according to Libyan justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi.
      By Nick Meo, and agencies in Tripoli11:46AM GMT 19 Nov 2011

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8901065/Saif-Gaddafi-arrested-in-desert-after-month-long-hunt-by-Libyas-new-government.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Rival Libyan militias clash near military base
      By RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI | AP
      Published: Nov 14, 2011 12:06 Updated: Nov 14, 2011 12:06

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article533491.ece
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      TURKEY

      Erdogan apologises to Kurds for mass killing
      Turkish PM issues first official apology over military campaign in Tunceli that killed nearly 14,000 Kurds in the 1930s.
      Last Modified: 24 Nov 2011 06:59

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2011/11/201111245211148456.html

      Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has issued the first official apology for a bloody military campaign that killed thousands of Kurds in southeast Turkey at the end of the 1930s.

      "If it is necessary to apologise on behalf of the state ... I will apologise, I am apologising," Erdogan told his Justice and Development Party (AKP) members on Wednesday in televised remarks

      Erdogan said that the air strikes and ground operations in the city of Dersim - now named Tunceli - killed 13,800 people between 1936 and 1939, according to an official document of the time, that he cited in his speech.

      "Dersim is one of the most tragic events of our near history. It is a disaster waiting to be enlightened and boldly questioned," Erdogan said.

      The offensive took place under the rule of the current main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.

      About 11,600 people were exiled to other regions across Turkey, Erdogan said, citing another official document signed by Ismet Inonu, then leader of the CHP and Turkey's second president after Ataturk died in 1938.

      Turkey was under the one-party rule of the CHP until 1946.

      Erdogan said the archives of his office were open for any research of official documents about the events.

      Opposition blamed

      Erdogan slammed the CHP for the killings and urged the party to "face" that bloody campaign. The current leader of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is from Dersim.

      "Dersim is the most painful and bloody [event] among tens, hundreds of disasters the CHP had caused," Erdogan said.

      "It is not the AK Party and the AK Party government that should face this event and apologise, but it is the CHP."

      Recently, Mehmet Metiner, an AKP deputy, proposed changing the name of Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, which was named after the adopted daughter of Ataturk.

      Gokcen was Turkey's first woman pilot and actively took part in the air campaign against Dersim.

      While Turkey is breaking a taboo on its official rhetoric about the Dersim killings, the country rejects Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the World War I period.

      Armenians say that up to 1.5 million of their kin fell victim to genocide in 1915, when the Armenian community across the country was driven from their homes.

      Turkey refuses to categorise the 1915 killings as genocide, and counters that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian forces.

      Ankara is still battling Kurdish fighters, whose Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) took up arms in southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

      The PKK is fighting for an autonomous Kurdistan and greater cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Turkish bus ambushed by Syrian gunmen
      Pilgrims returning from hajj attacked by men in Syrian army uniforms, wounding two and raising tensions with Turkey.
      Last Modified: 21 Nov 2011 17:34

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/11/2011112110155730765.html

      A bus carrying Turkish pilgrims came under fire in neighbouring Syria as they were travelling back from the hajj, leaving two injured and prompting harsh words from Turkey's prime minister.

      The incident has increased the already mounting Turkish and international pressure on the government of Bashar al-Assad for its deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, as fresh violence on Monday left 16 dead, according to activists.

      Turkish NTV news channel reported on Monday that a bus driver and pilgrim were wounded in the attack at a checkpoint just across the Syrian border. The bus was part of a three-bus convoy returning from Saudi Arabia.

      A video posted online showed the apparent aftermath of the attack, including several shattered windows and one person being carried on a stretcher by ambulance staff.

      Passengers on the bus said they had been told to disembark at a checkpoint by up to eight uniformed Syrian soldiers.

      "They were hidden in their hideouts ... these were soldiers, these were not civilians, their flags were there," a male passenger in his thirties said.

      "One of the soldiers said 'Come, come', he wanted to get me inside, I didn't go inside," the passenger said.

      "I had nothing in my hands, there were seven or eight of them. He cocked his gun at me and said 'Put your hands up'...I shouted for everyone to run, we ran and they started firing at our backs. God saved us," he said.

      The wounded were being treated in a hospital in Antakya, just across the border in Turkey's Hatay province.

      Raised tensions

      Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, warned in a statement on Monday that Syrian President Assad's time in power is limited.

      "You can maintain your grip on power in Syria with tanks and cannons, but one day you will be gone," he said.

      Tensions have been running high between Syria and Turkey as Ankara has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Damascus' crackdown on protests against his regime.

      According to a UN report, 3,500 people have been killed in state violence since protests began in mid-March.

      In the latest wave of violence, the Syrian Revolution General Commission said 16 civilians were killed by security forces and armed Assad loyalists on Monday.

      The western city of Homs, a hub of protests, was the worst hit, with 13 casualties. Two people were killed in Hama and one in Idlib, the Commission said.

      Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Istanbul, said: "This is something which is definitely going to add to the already strained ties between Ankara and Damascus.

      "Turkey is a pivotal country in the attempts by the international community to enforce regime change in Syria. They look at what's happened now as a retaliation by the Syrian government, but they are very cautious at this particular moment."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      MOROCCO

      Islamist party claims victory in Morocco vote
      Justice and Development Party says it is on course to win about a quarter of seats in Morocco's new parliament.
      Last Modified: 26 Nov 2011 19:19

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2011/11/20111126101446239693.html

      Morocco's Islamist opposition party has claimed victory in the country's first parliamentary election since the king introduced constitutional reforms intended to dampen the threat of Arab Spring-style protests.

      Official results are due to be released on later on Saturday, but Lahcen Daodi, the head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), said that it believed it had won, based on reports filed by its own representatives at polling stations.

      Daoudi said PJD had won more than 100 of 395 seats in parliament, describing the polls as a "historic turning point".

      "The figures which we have allow us to say that we will have over 100 seats," he said.

      Early projections by Morocco's state news agency said PJD had won 40 per cent of the vote.

      The party's main rival is the Coalition for Democracy, a loose eight-party pro-monarchy bloc.

      Abbas Al Fassi, Morocco's prime minister, said on Saturday he was ready to enter into a coalition with the PJD.

      "Yes, yes. The PJD's victory is a victory for democracy," Al Fassi said in answer to a reporter's question on whether his Istiqlal party was willing to form a coalition with the PJD.

      If PJD's claimed victory is confirmed, it would be the second Islamist party elected to govern a North African country since the start of the region's Arab Spring uprisings, following Tunisia.

      Democratic reforms

      Around 45 per cent of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots on Friday. International observers described the turnout as "satisfying" in comparison with 2007, when only 37 per cent of eligible voters went to polls.

      Thirty-one parties are vying for the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament, 70 more than during the last election in 2007.

      Sixty of the overall parliamentary seats are reserved exclusively for women, and 30 seats for young people.

      The amended constitution, approved in a July 1 referendum, gives more powers to parliament, government and the prime minister, who now must be appointed by the king from the party that wins the most assembly seats.

      The monarch, however, retains full authority over the military and religious affairs; and still appoints ambassadors and diplomats.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Why has Morocco’s king survived the Arab Spring?
      By Aidan Lewis
      BBC News, Rabat

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15856989?google_editors_picks=true

      Morocco's ruling elite thinks it has skilfully sidestepped the revolutionary fervour sweeping the Arab world by offering a milder, more peaceful vision of change.

      Following Friday's elections, King Mohammed VI is for the first time obliged to choose the prime minister from the largest party, rather than naming whoever he pleases.

      However, many of the protesters who took to the streets in February feel the reforms still fall far short of their demands for a democratic, constitutional monarchy, and have called for a boycott.

      A low turnout in the parliamentary poll would detract from the legitimacy of King Mohammed VI's reforms and could hint at future problems.

      Ahead of the poll, the sleepy calm of the capital, Rabat, was occasionally punctuated by the marches of unemployed graduates. But the country's powerful monarchy and the system that supports it appear to have averted any direct, mortal challenge for now.

      Symbols of power
      Central to the monarchical regime's strength is its longevity - the Alaoui dynasty gained control of most of Morocco in 1664 - and its claim of descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

      "The king has tremendous religious and political capital - it's not just the king but the whole political establishment," says Mohamed Daadaoui, author of a recent book on the monarchy and the "makhzen" - the patronage network that embodies Morocco's ruling elite.

      King Mohammed is aided by a powerful propaganda machine - his image adorns streets and shops across the country.

      Symbolic rituals also boost his status. In an annual ceremony of allegiance, the "bay'a", which is broadcast on national TV, Moroccan officials bow before the king as he parades on a horse.

      Moroccan citizens, many of them poor and illiterate and living in rural areas, "believe that the monarch has a special gift or blessing and they feel that they have some psychological relationship with the king", Mr Daadaoui told the BBC.

      Despite these traditional trappings, the monarchy under the 48-year-old king has taken on a more modern, reformist image.

      His father, Hassan II, ran a notoriously brutal regime between 1961 and 1999. Opponents were tortured and protests repressed.

      In 1965, the interior minister at the time, Gen Mohammed Oufkir, supervised a crackdown on demonstrations in Casablanca from a helicopter while - according to one story - personally spraying rioters with a machine gun.

      But a process of gradual reform began in the final years of Hassan's rule, and continued with his son.

      It included a family law that advanced women's rights and a truth commission that explored abuses under King Hassan - though none of those responsible were prosecuted.

      Taboo breached
      The toppling of long-standing leaders in Tunisia and Egypt at the beginning of the year is widely seen as having caught the Moroccan regime off-guard, at a time when the reform process had stagnated.

      As Morocco's own protest movement took shape, a long-held taboo was breached.

      "It's the first time in Morocco that the king was openly criticised and they didn't shoot people," says Maati Monjib, a political historian at the university of Rabat.

      Instead, the monarchy's response was to promise changes including rights guarantees and more powers for the parliament. These were enshrined in a new constitution that was approved by referendum in July.

      The moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has been buoyed by the recent reforms, and by the gains Islamists have made elsewhere in the region, could win the election and so supply the next prime minister.

      But the party is hardly about to rock the boat.

      Along with Ennahda in Tunisia and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, it places itself within a contemporary movement to reconcile Islam and democracy.

      Coalitions of more secular, royalist parties have tried to smother it and the Islamists have found it hard to directly challenge the king because of his religious status as "commander of the faithful", says Mr Daadaoui. It too is seen by many as being in the pocket of the palace.

      "The PJD here in Morocco is presenting the 'third way' between revolution and the uncertainty of the current system," says Mustapha Khalfi, the head of the party's policy unit.

      "We are presenting the way of reform without losing the stability, the unity of the country - but at the same time furthering the democratic agenda of Morocco."

      'Gentle revolution'
      The message of a democratic agenda and gradual change is one that has gone down well with Morocco's allies in the US and Europe.

      "The Arab World is in the process of changing," says Wahid Khouja, a senior member of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), created in 2008 by a former interior minister and friend of the king.

      "We still don't know the results and what will happen in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria or Yemen. But we'll show the Western world that Morocco can bring about a gentle revolution - that it can travel towards a real democracy."

      In fact, according to analysts, the reforms passed this year are largely cosmetic, and there is no guarantee they will be put into practice on the ground.

      The king retains ultimate control and though parliament has more power, parties are weak.

      "In Morocco elections are never decisive," says Mr Monjib.

      "Why? Because the electoral system is prepared on purpose not to let anyone succeed, so it's impossible to get more than 20% of the seats in parliament and this is to allow the monarchy to dominate."

      He says the manipulation of the party system is just one of the old-fashioned tactics still being deployed to bolster the status quo.

      At the recent Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, sheep were being handed out to voters, and over the last few months, the protest movement has been subject to a smear campaign, arrests, and intimidation at the hands of shadowy groups of pro-monarchy thugs known as "baltaja".

      Just 37% voted in the 2007 elections, and a low turnout is seen as the biggest immediate threat to the regime's credibility.

      Those calling for a boycott have been harassed by the authorities, with almost 100 people called in for questioning over the past month, according to Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

      This has made some protesters more determined in their demands for real change. But it may also have helped divide and deter them as the king, elevated above the rough and tumble of everyday politics, continues to preside.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      The spice of life in Morocco
      By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR | RIMA.ALMUKHTAR@...
      Published: Nov 30, 2011 00:49 Updated: Nov 30, 2011 03:47

      http://arabnews.com/lifestyle/article540705.ece

      Tradition, culture, and how to prepare your own cup of tea

      Moroccan tea is one of the important traditions and cultures of Morocco, and making it is an art form in itself. Made up of green tea and mint leaves, this tradition, which started in Morocco, spread throughout North Africa, southern Spain and to the many Moroccan restaurants all over the world.

      “The first glass is as bitter as life, the second glass is as strong as love, the third glass is as gentle as death,” says the proverb. Moroccan mint tea is a favorite among many people outside of Morocco because of its strong and sweet taste.

      In fact, Morocco is the only country in the Arab world that was not part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks successfully spread coffee culture throughout the Arab world and gave the tea a very minor role. Without the Ottoman influence, Morocco held on to its tea culture, setting it apart from the rest of the Arab world. Even though coffee can be offered in Morocco, it has a French style and taste, unlike Turkish coffee.

      In the Arab world, mint tea is only served after a meal; however, Moroccan tea is served throughout the day due to its popularity. Moroccans take special pride in their green mint tea culture. While being served everywhere, from small gatherings to big ones like weddings, restaurants and even at home, Moroccan tea is ceremoniously prepared in front of guests at formal occasions. In Morocco, green tea is a sign of hospitality friendship, and tradition and is always served when there are guests over, so it is impolite to refuse it.

      Moroccans use a special kind of green tea known as "gunpowder" tea. “When the green tea leaves are harvested, the leaves are rolled into tiny balls and dried,” explained Fatima Al-Zahraa, a tea specialist and owner of a teashop in Marrakech. “Green tea has strong antioxidant elements, and it is also very high in caffeine, so it definitely gives you a healthy energetic boost and refreshing taste.”
      ...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      KUWAIT

      Kuwait’s opposition hails govt resignation
      By ARAB NEWS
      Published: Nov 28, 2011 23:45 Updated: Nov 28, 2011 23:45

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article540032.ece

      KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah on Monday accepted the resignation of the government, the seventh Cabinet to step down in five years, over a bitter dispute with Parliament, official media said.

      The emir asked Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and his Cabinet to remain in a caretaker role.

      Opposition MPs, who have been at loggerheads with Sheikh Nasser over charges he failed to manage the wealthy state, welcomed the resignation. They called for the formation of a transitional government with a new premier before Parliament is dissolved.

      The resignation came one day ahead of a scheduled questioning in Parliament of the prime minister over an alleged corruption scandal involving a number of MPs and on charges of misusing public funds.

      It also came hours before a planned mass rally later on Monday by the opposition.
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