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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Algeria, Lebanon

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  • Zafar Khan
    EGYPT Dancing with Brothers: How did Egypt s belly dancing troupes vote? Published May 26th, 2012 - 17:32 GMT
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27, 2012

      Dancing with Brothers: How did Egypt's belly dancing troupes vote?
      Published May 26th, 2012 - 17:32 GMT


      ot only is the alarm of an "Islamist" clean sweep of Egypt making itself felt in the routine sensational reportage of the foreign media who have been ramping up the notion of no bikinis, booze or tourism for some time now, but locally there are some trades that will feel the pinch more than others. The good denizens of the capital of the Hollywood of the Middle East, are dreading the prospect of a hardline Muslim rule because it might strangle the arts. Nowhere more so than in the popular national exported trade of belly-dancing.

      The spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood, now officially heading the race, seizing the helm of Egypt, is choking the politically, diametrically-opposed current, from the secularist, the leftist to the moderates across the board. It has also paralyzed the less politically-inclined artistic community of the entertainment industry in its wake. A sizeable group of literati, artists and entertainers, not least the belly dancer-brigade, fear that their livelihoods could suffer in a post-revoluton dark dawn.

      A showdown between old and new in Egypt
      We ask to what extent the preliminary results from Egypt's presidential election reveal a country bitterly divided.
      Inside Story Last Modified: 26 May 2012 07:37


      With ballot counting underway in Egypt after two days of historic voting to choose the country's first democratically elected president, indications point to a direct electoral showdown between the country's old and new political forces.

      The candidate of the once outlawed Muslim Brotherhood appears likely to face Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister in a run-off election to decide who will be president.

      The Muslim Brotherhood claim their candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is leading the first round.

      Among his rivals are Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general who briefly served as Mubarak's last prime minister. Presenting himself as a strong opponent of the rising role of religious parties in politics, he is popularly believed to be the favoured candidate of the ruling military.

      Still not out of the race are secular socialist Hamdeen Sabahi and early campaign frontrunner Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

      With no candidate expected to get an absolute majority in the first round, there is likely to be a run-off election in June.

      Elections in Egypt are a sphinx-like riddle
      Any effort to predict the results of the Egyptian presidential election is doomed; but we can try to make some educated guesses.
      By Avi Issacharoff | May.25, 2012 | 9:43 AM


      Egypt's Brotherhood claims early lead
      Counting under way after two days of voting in country's first free presidential election.
      Evan Hill and Matthew Cassel Last Modified: 25 May 2012 20:11


      50 percent turnout in landmark Egypt poll
      Thursday 24 May 2012


      Egypt rivals clash in presidential debate
      Mubarak's ex-foreign minister and one-time Muslim Brotherhood member spar over past records in heated four-hour contest.
      Last Modified: 11 May 2012 07:06


      Egypt's generals wait in the wings as battle for democracy sours
      In Cairo, violence flares between gangs and Islamists. In Alexandria, discontent grows as the country's politicians lose their way ahead of elections. And over them all looms the shadow of an army far from ready to give up power
      Peter Beaumont in Cairo
      guardian.co.uk, Saturday 5 May 2012 22.45 BST


      Egypt's military orders overnight curfew
      Hundreds, including journalists, held after deadly clashes between security forces and protesters near defence ministry.
      Last Modified: 05 May 2012 20:47


      Clashes erupt at mass rally in Cairo
      Thousands protest against recent killing of demonstrators and demand that Egypt's military leaders step down.
      Last Modified: 04 May 2012 17:39


      Egypt deploys army to quell deadly clashes
      Troops intervene as street battle near the defence ministry in Cairo leaves at least 11 dead and nearly 50 injured.
      Last Modified: 11 May 2012 03:33



      Libyan women hope for gains in elections
      Next month's elections to the national assembly present women with a rare chance to step out of the shadows.
      D. Parvaz Last Modified: 18 May 2012 11:07


      Tripoli, Libya - Buoyed by the winds of change sweeping the region, Libyan women are eyeing a far greater role for themselves after next month's national assembly elections.

      The June 19 poll - the first since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi - will see the country electing 200 candidates to the body that will draft the country's constitution.

      Recent polls in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia have had mixed results for women, and the lessons are not lost on their Libyan counterparts.

      In Egypt, parliamentary elections saw less than two per cent of the seats go to women - eight seats, compared to the 64 guaranteed to them by law. It was somewhat better in Tunisia, with 49 women getting elected. However, 42 of the 49 belong to the same party, Ennahda, so the extent to which these legislators represent the face of Tunisian women is questionable.

      Halloum al-Fallah, an independent candidate hopeful from the eastern city of Benghazi, said Libyan women are taking lessons from the Arab Spring in terms of how to fight for their place in politics.

      "We are learning from the mistakes in Egypt and Tunisia, but also learning from what other countries are doing well," said Fallah.

      'New journey'

      New election rules for the 200 seats up for grabs have reserved 80 seats for parties and 120 for independents.

      The candidate list submitted by political parties must contain an equal number of men and women - 40 seats for each - meaning that women could make up at least 20 per cent of the assembly.

      There are no limits as to how many women can run as independents, so what will come of the 120 seats is also uncertain.

      "The problem right now is that there is no flow of information, not even about how many women have applied to be candidates. We don't have a system of information sharing, or who is doing what, where they are. All we know is that there are positive indications that there are many female candidates," said Farida Allaghi, a rights activist who is coaching potential female candidates on how to debate and present their campaign platforms.

      "Even if women don't win, it's the beginning of a new journey for women's political participation."

      Party politics

      Given that political parties need women on their ballots in order to be eligible for the elections, there is a possibility that parties might approach women who will simply follow the fold rather than push to elevate the status of women in Libya.

      "Some political parties will put women on the ballot to get more votes or to be accepted. If I'm elected, I will have to do my bit to motivate them to contribute and to be ambitious," said Salma Ahmed Abu-Zadah, a legal consultant to the military council and potential candidate for Free Democratic Bloc Party, adding that as long as there are women in the assembly, they will work to ensure women's rights are included in the constitution.

      "Women's role now is different than it was before, when [Gaddafi] used women to fill seats, to use them for his image... contributing to his regime."

      The general vibe among women, many of whom found a new place in the community in the course of the revolution, is one of optimism.

      Ayshe Rouemi, who hopes to be a candidate for the United for the Nation party, said that since the revolution, "when the chains and shackles were broken", Libyan women have been confident that they will be included in the country's power structure.

      "Political parties are looking for women now and women can refuse their offers if we are not happy with their place - we can insist that they be put on the top of the ballot," said Rouemi.

      "Just the idea [of] them looking for women for fear of being rejected without us is a good sign."

      The changed circumstances have thrown open new opportunities for many.

      Nourah Ali Salem El-Hebashi, from Tarhouna - 100km south of Tripoli - applied to run as an independent candidate.

      "I am the only person to be nominated to be a candidate from my community - they encouraged me to run," said Hebashi.

      Lingering doubts

      There are concerns, however, that a single party, possibly the Muslim Brotherhood, will execute a power-grab as in Egypt, sidelining women.

      "In Libya, the only way you're going to get rights is through religion," said Alaa Murabit, the founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, a women's empowerment and development NGO in Libya.

      Murabit's is one of the groups helping women realise their political aspirations by organising events that include workshops with female politicians from other countries as speakers.

      One of the Libyan women on the list of speakers of the group's event earlier this week was Majda Fallah, a member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood's shura council and head of the department of combating diabetes and obesity at the national centre for disease control.

      "We want women to participate, and for her participation in a political party to be a real one and a true one, and not to just as a picture, so to speak, or someone who has no effective role," said Fallah.

      "The right understanding of Islam was absent for a while and we want to revive the right understanding of Islam - that women have the right to participate in aspects of life."

      Murabit said Fallah's message was very important as it countered the idea that Muslim women getting involved in politics risked "all hellfire".


      Fouad Hamdan, who is coaching some of the women who have applied for candidacy on how to effectively campaign, said he believes the women have what it takes to win.

      "All of these women up there, they can do… and just for your information all of them [the potential ones attending his workshop] have been asked by men to become candidates… because Libyan men are not so retarded as many think they are. On the contrary, they are much more relaxed and open about women taking such a position in society."

      He said that there are exceptions, and that women will no doubt face some challenges in Libya, which is "a conservative society after all".

      "Let me start with the challenges all of them will have, men and women, because that's the main problem. None of them in this country has political experience, experience in speaking to the media, experience in debating, discussing and listening without freaking out and becoming emotional," said Hamdan.

      "It is basically starting from zero… it's learning by suffering, but you know, I envy them. It's so beautiful. It's so pure."

      Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @Dparvaz

      Gaddafi clung to a fading reality
      As the uprising spread, the Libyan leader still banked on popular support, and wondered why his allies were defecting.
      Gregg Carlstrom Last Modified: 21 May 2012 12:07


      Libyans want answers over deadly Nato airstrikes


      Mohammed al-Gherari lost five family members, including a young niece and nephew, when NATO accidentally struck their compound in the Libyan capital as they slept.

      Nearly a year later, his grief is compounded by threats and allegations from neighbors who believe he and others who survived the attack were harboring a regime loyalist or hiding weapons for Moammar Gaddafi's forces.

      At least 72 civilians, a third of them under the age of 18, were killed by airstrikes, according to a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch — one of the most extensive investigations into the issue. The New York-based advocacy group called on the Western alliance to acknowledge the casualties and compensate survivors.

      The decision by the United States and its allies to launch an air campaign that mainly targeted regime forces and military infrastructure marked a turning point in Libya's civil war, giving rebels a fighting chance. But Gaddafi's government and allies in Russia and China criticized the alliance for going beyond its UN mandate to protect civilians.

      The number of Libyans killed or injured in airstrikes also emerged as a key issue in the war as Gaddafi's regime frequently exaggerated figures and refused to comment on most claims, insisting all targets were military.

      At one point, Libya's Health Ministry said 856 civilians had been killed in 's campaign, which began in March 2011, weeks after the uprising against Gaddafi that erupted with peaceful protests evolved into a civil war.

      The UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on Libya said earlier this year that at least 60 civilians had been unintentionally killed and recommended further investigation.

      Based on investigations conducted in Libya from August 2011 through this April, Human Rights Watch established that 28 men, 20 women and 24 children — 72 civilians in all — had been killed in eight bombings in Tripoli, Zlitan, Sorman, Bani Walid, Gurdabiya and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

      Libya drops ban on religion-based parties
      National Transitional Council amends law that banned parties based on religion, tribe or ethnicity in run-up to polls.
      Last Modified: 02 May 2012 23:37



      Turkish PM Erdogan tells Syrian refugees: 'your victory is not far off'
      Erdogan addresses crowd of refugees at Kilis province camp, a temporary home to 9,000 Syrians
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 May 2012 00.09 BST


      Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Syrian refugees on Sunday that victory for the rebels in their country was not far off and President Bashar al-Assad was "losing blood" by the day.

      Erdogan, who has tried to rally international support against the government in neighbouring Syria over its 14-month crackdown against opponents, was met with enthusiastic applause and shouts of "Long live Erdogan" at the Kilis refugee camp.

      "Bashar is losing blood every day," Erdogan told the crowd of about 1,500 people less than a kilometre from the border.

      "Your victory is not far off. We have just one issue: to stop the bloodshed and tears and for the Syrian people's demands to be met."

      Erdogan addressed the crowd from the top of a bus while military snipers watched from rooftops. Hundreds of police and soldiers guarded the road from the airport to the camp.

      His remarks came on the eve of a parliamentary election in Syria that Damascus has said shows reforms are under way.

      But fighting in Syria continues despite a UN-monitored ceasefire, brokered by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, in place since last month. Fresh clashes erupted on Sunday between rebels and Assad's forces in eastern Syria.

      "We maintain our hopes for the implementation of the Annan plan, but the bad news out of Syria is progressively undermining those hopes," Erdogan later told a news conference.

      "Simply following the Annan plan will not bring about a resolution … A reform process that expands freedom within a parliamentary, constitutional system should start immediately."

      Erdogan added that the number of refugees arriving in Turkey had declined since the ceasefire took effect, and vowed to continue to push the international community, including the UN and Arab League, to apply pressure to Assad's government to end the conflict.

      Members of the crowd at the camp called for a buffer zone within Syria, an earlier Turkish proposal to protect civilians that has failed to gain traction.

      They also chanted: "We want arms for the Free Syrian Army."

      Erdogan has held his former friend Assad personally responsible for the deaths of civilians.

      The UN says more than 9,000 people have died in the crackdown, while the Syrian government says it has lost at least 2,600 of its forces to "foreign-backed terrorists".

      About 9,000 Syrians fleeing violence are sheltering at the camp in Kilis province, comprised of 2,000 container homes. It also has three schools, two mosques and a supermarket. In a sign the refugees' stay is expected to be a long one, authorities are moving occupants of tent cities at other spots along the 550-mile border to the Kilis site, which cost $50m to build.


      Algerians to go to polls in nation left behind by Arab spring
      Fear of return to violence of 1990s – and alleged electoral fraud – help keep the FLN in power
      Eileen Byrne in Algiers
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 9 May 2012 12.47 BST


      Beyond Algeria's north-eastern borderlands, now covered in spring flowers after heavy winter snow, Tunisia has toppled a despised ruling family and is the model for a relatively smooth "democratic transition".

      Further east, Libya has cast aside the Gaddafis, although it is still struggling to find stability, while Egypt continues in full revolutionary turmoil. Across Algeria's still-closed border to the west, Morocco's King Mohammed has ceded some ground to an elected government, which for the first time in history is led by Islamists.

      But as Algeria goes to the polls on Thursday to elect a new parliament, the most striking thing about North Africa's largest country is what hasn't happened, rather than what has.

      The 75-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, of the independence-era National Liberation Front (FLN), has been at the helm for 13 years. In 2008 he secured a third term after changing the constitution to allow it, and secured 90% of the votes in a contest with five other candidates. Opponents described the election as "a tsunami of massive fraud which reached an industrial scale".

      The true turnout figure in Thursday's vote is likely to be extremely low, most of Algeria's semi-free press agrees, as voters stay home in protest at an election process often seen as an insult to their intelligence.

      The country is still run by a closed group of civilians and military who make decisions, including about election results, far from the glare of the media.

      The composition of this inner circle, referred to as "le pouvoir", may have changed slightly over the decades, but the principle is the same. In short, there has been no Arab spring in Algeria.

      If chronically high unemployment among college leavers provided the tipping point for revolution in Tunisia, Algeria simmers with similar frustrations. The hydrocarbons revenues that help the ruling elite continue in power account for nearly 70% of the country's tax receipts, but onshore oil and gas are hardly labour-intensive: the sector provides jobs for only around one in 100 Algerians.

      The most recent IMF figures show that although unemployment overall has eased significantly in the past decade to around 10%, partly reflecting a lower birthrate, among young Algerians it is still obstinately high, at 21%.

      Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's suicide in December 2010 has prompted dozens of copycat suicides and attempted suicides in Algeria.

      The most recent such tragedy was Hamza Rechak, from the town of Jijel on the Mediterranean coast. He set himself alight after police asked him to take down his unlicensed street stall, and suffered for two days before finally dying from his burns on 1 May. As young men from the town took to the streets, attacking police stations and destroying the local FLN office, the police responded with teargas and Rechak's family appealed for calm via local radio.

      Elsewhere across Algeria, as in neighbouring Tunisia, each week brings new reports of impoverished rural communities mounting roadblocks to demand water, domestic gas supplies or better housing.

      In such an oil-rich country, Algerians freely argue, people should not be living in shanty towns half a century after the nation secured, at great human cost, independence from France in 1962.

      So why hasn't Algeria risen up like its neighbours?

      As commentators have repeatedly noted, the population is still "traumatised" by the nightmare of the 1990s, when perhaps more than 100,000 civilians died.

      That internecine conflict began in 1992, when the military stepped in to block an imminent Islamist electoral win.

      By 1999, the official death toll stood at 70,000, and for reasons that have never been fully explained, this was revised upwards to 150,000 and beyond after Bouteflika took office.

      As a result Algerians discount any way forward towards democracy that might degenerate into violence.

      This sentiment is strong among much of the population, but women with families are among the most gravely adamant on this score.

      Young male football fans, meanwhile, last year produced their own satirical take on al-Jazeera's revolutionary drumbeat: instead of the well-worn slogan calling for a regime's fall, they chanted: "The people – want – free hashish!"

      As the same potential voters explain, as well as coinciding with an end to the conflict, Bouteflika's period in office since 1999 has seen some economic improvement.

      New housing and student residences have been built, there is a better financial deal for women on divorce, and – after the Arab spring especially – a liberal sprinkling of grants for the young unemployed to set up small businesses.

      Bouteflika is looking increasingly frail, and his FLN party attracts mainly the vote of the older generation. But he has also courted the football fans, and somehow manages to avoid much of the opprobrium directed at his prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia.

      The ruling circles still determine the tone of much of the media, including the single, state-controlled television channel. A revision to the press law last year means that journalists no longer face prison if they stray over certain red lines in their commentary on the state of the nation, but the extremely heavy fines that have replaced the prison sentences are effective deterrents.

      Media coverage has highlighted continuing tensions in Tunisia – officials refer to an "uprising" there rather than a revolution – and especially in Libya.

      Al-Jazeera television crews are still excluded from Algeria, as they have been since the early days of Bouteflika's presidency.

      Ouyahia leads the RND, a conservative offspring of the FLN that no doubt echoes the hardliners within the pouvoir.

      "There is no lesson in democracy that we need to learn from the Arab spring, because our spring is Algeria," he said last weekend.

      All the talk of change that some parties were deploying in their election campaigning would only cause the country to slide back to the "death and destruction" of the 1990s, and could give malevolent foreign forces an opportunity to encroach on national sovereignty as Nato had in Libya, he said.

      Algerian Islamic leader opposes election
      Al Jazeera interviews Ali Belhadj, the fiery leader who led anti-regime protests of the 1980s, as Algerians go to polls.
      Yasmine Ryan Last Modified: 10 May 2012 11:29


      Ali Belhadj is a hardline advocate of political Islam with a history of inspiring protests in Algeria, and he is a vocal opponent of the legislative elections.

      In 1988, Belhadj became a leader of the street protests that forced the Algerian regime to introduce democratic reforms for the first time.

      He then became the vice-president of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a party advocating an Islamic form of government which quickly won over disenfranchised Algerians hungry for change.

      The military staged a coup d’état on the eve of almost certain victory for the party.

      The FIS has been illegal ever since, but in recent months, Belhadj has once again been rallying supporters in mosques across the country against Algeria's May 10 legislative elections.

      Al Jazeera spoke to him in a phone interview about why he is calling for a boycott of Thursday's elections, his views on the Islamist parties that work with the government, and whether the FIS is still relevant.

      Q: What is your stance on the election boycott?

      A: We are calling for a boycott of the elections. The Algerian regime has denied those calling for a boycott the right to political activities. They were denied access to the media outlets and all other means of communicating their opinions and pointing out the political justifications for the boycott.

      This is why the only people able to remain active are the participants taking part in the elections, who were given complete freedom for action.


      Deadly violence flares in Beirut
      At least two killed in overnight street battles amid fears that Syrian conflict is spilling across border into Lebanon.
      Last Modified: 22 May 2012 00:05


      Deadly clashes have erupted in the Lebanese capital Beirut and residents blocked roads in the country's northern region of Akkar near the city of Tripoli after soldiers there killed two members of an anti-Syrian opposition alliance.

      Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns early on Monday in intense street battles in Beirut, killing two people and wounding at least 18 others.

      "There is an uneasy calm.. streets are relatively empty," Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reported from Beirut.

      "The situation overnight, the clashes that were witnessed in Beirut, were the worst since January 2001 when we saw people take to the streets in protest following the collapse of the government of the former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

      "People who took to the streets were supporters of Saad al-Hariri's movement, mainly Sunnis. they were protesting the death and killing of a Sunni cleric and his bodyguard in northern Lebanon."

      The clashes erupted hours after Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni Muslim religious leader, and Muhammed Hussein Miraib, both members of the March 14 alliance, were shot in their car near Tripoli on Sunday as they "sped through a Lebanese army checkpoint without stopping".

      The fighting, some of the worst in Beirut in years, exacerbated deep political and sectarian divisions, as fears mounted that the conflict in neighbouring Syria was spilling across the border.

      Crisis in Syria

      Our correspondent, reporting from Tripoli on Sunday, said that people in the area had already drawn their own conclusions about the incident and believed the army officer who carried out the shootings was allied with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

      "The bottom line is this: Syria yet again is a dividing issue in this country. The rival groups are divided in their support and opposition to the Syrian government. And this is where the fear lies," Khodr said on Monday.

      "The very fact that the Lebanese army is at the centre of the conflict makes the situation more dangerous. Because the army has always been seen as the neutral institution, the only institution that can hold this politically unstable country together."

      Over the past week Alawites, the sect to which Assad belongs, and Sunnis have been fighting each other in Tripoli, Khodr said.

      "What has become clear here is that Lebanon can no longer continue with its policy of disassociating itself with the turmoil just across the border," Kodr said.

      "The Sunni cleric's funeral will be held later today [Monday] and already there are tensions in the north. It's not clear if we will witness more violence, but what is clear is that as long as there is no solution to the Syrian crisis, this country will be in danger."

      Najib Mikati, the Lebanese prime minister, tried to quell growing tensions on Sunday.

      "The government is determined to continue to shoulder its national responsibilities amid this critical period in Lebanon and the region, and it will take all measures necessary to preserve civil peace," he said in a statement.

      The clashes in Beirut occurred in the neighbourhood of Tarek Jadidah. Sources said they pitted two Sunni factions against each other; one that opposes Assad, and another loyal to a Sunni political figure, Shaker Berjawi, who supports the Syrian president.

      'Direct targeting'

      Lebanon's army released a statement confirming the deaths at the checkpoint but did not give any information on who was responsible or what led to the shooting.

      "The leadership of the army expresses deep regret for the death of the two victims ... It will immediately form an investigative committee comprised of senior officers and military police under the relevant court," the statement said.

      Some troops had recently pulled out of Akkar to prevent tensions from escalating after sporadic fighting over the past week, a security source said.

      Khaled Daher, a member of parliament from the Future Movement party, which is part of the March 14 alliance, said the two men were targeted.

      "If shots were fired at the tyres, we would say there was a mistake. But we consider this a direct targeting from the army," he told Reuters news agency.

      "Frankly, we do not want to see the army here because it works at the service of the Syrian regime," he said.

      Many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon's north sympathise with Syria's uprising against Assad and say that the Lebanese army is taking orders from Damascus.

      Syrian government troops were garrisoned in Lebanon until 2005.

      Beirut-based political commentator Rami Khouri said the recent violence in Tripoli that killed at least eight people and wounded dozens had been linked to events in Syria.

      "You have tensions in the area going back years but this has been exacerbated by the situation in Syria ... Syria is not the primary factor, but it is related," he said.

      Sunni-Alawite fighting erupts in Lebanese port city
      Published: May 13, 2012 12:07 Updated: May 13, 2012 12:07


      BEIRUT: Two people were killed when fighting erupted overnight in the Lebanese city of Tripoli between members of the Alawite minority loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and members of the Sunni majority, witnesses and security officials said on Sunday.

      Rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles were used in the fighting in an Alawite enclave and surrounding Sunni neighborhoods in the port city, 70 km (44 miles) north of Beirut.

      “The clashes peaked at dawn. The sound of gunfire is still echoing in the city,” a Lebanese security official said.

      The fighting underlines how sectarian tensions in Syria could spill over to neighboring Lebanon.

      A small Alawite minority are concentrated in Tripoli, a conservative Sunni city where many residents have been enraged by Assad’s crackdown on the 14-month revolt against 42 years of rule by the Assad family and their Alawite establishment.

      Syria’s Sunni majority are at the forefront of the uprising against Assad, whose sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

      Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure in 2005 after a 29-year presence, but Assad retains big influence in the small but geopolitically important country through his main ally, the Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah, the only Lebanese party that has an officially approved arsenal.
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