In the fall of 2012, three mothers, along with their infant children, begin serving one-to-two-year prison terms in Iran. Their crime? Being Baha'is in the birthplace of their faith. In February 2012, a man is jailed without charge in Saudi Arabia. Why? According to authorities, for his own safety because he allegedly "disturbed the public order" by tweeting comments deemed to insult the religious feelings of others. In December 2012, an atheist blogger is sentenced to three years in prison in Egypt. His offense? Posting online content that allegedly "insulted God and cast doubt on the books of the Abrahamic religions."
These are just some of the many examples of the contempt that governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) often exhibit toward freedom of religion or belief. Since the onset of the Arab Awakening in early 2011, religious freedom conditions have not improved, but declined. While larger hopes for justice and democracy are experiencing convulsive birth pangs, majority and minority religious believers alike face increasing government repression in many MENA countries; sectarian violence is on the upswing; and violent religious extremism is fueling regional instability.
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As Iran's economy continues to deteriorate, the labor movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes. Iranian labor, encompassing unskilled workers from rural areas and lower-class urban laborers is not a homogenous group. And thus far, Iranian laborers have not joined the opposition Green Movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime's mismanagement, corruption, and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits, and job security -- enough reason for Iranian laborers to organize and oppose the regime. Parallels can be drawn between the Islamic Republic's treatment of the labor movement today and the Shah's treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime's denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker's rights.
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Over the past year a steady stream of youth activists and political critics has filled the dockets of Kuwait's courts. Charged for their actions during street protests or for tweets deemed insulting to the emir, their presence attests to both the emergent confrontational ethos among the younger generation and the erosion of Kuwait's standing as the Gulf's most free political society. But the latest Kuwaiti to appear before the judiciary on the charges of challenging the country's ruler is no ordinary citizen. Musallam al-Barrak is Kuwait's most popular politician, and for some, the conscience of the nation.
His sentencing on Monday to five years of hard labor for a speech he gave in October 2012 has deepened Kuwait's political crisis. For two nights the opposition has gathered by the tens of thousands in solidarity, many defiantly reprising the famous lines directly challenging the emir that led to his conviction. On Wednesday the political standoff turned violent as special forces raided one of his homes in an attempt to arrest him, and allegedly mistreated some of his relatives. That night after Barrak gave a speech punctuated by celebratory gunfire, thousands of his supporters marched on a local police station. Security forces met them with tear gas and stun grenades resulting in many injuries.
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A two-day conference at the University of Bahrain in the capital Manama last week was intended to show the United States and the region that the Bahraini government is making progress toward democratic governance and addressing the grievances of the country's majority Shiite population. But the discussions were less than convincing because there was no empirical data or other direct evidence to support the participants' claims.
Many participants -- Bahraini academics, some government officials, and even U.S. congressmen -- declared that there has been real progress in the ongoing national dialogue, which began anew this winter between the government and factions within the opposition. The majority Shiite opposition is demanding political and economic rights. The dialogue first began in the spring of 2011, after an uprising by the Shiite-led dominated opposition erupted, and has come and gone since then. [BREAK]]
At the conference, while participating on a panel about Bahrain's political situation, I asked several participants to describe in detail the progress they were referring to between the government and the opposition. None of them provided any substantive answers. After the conference was over, I checked in with a few opposition leaders who told me that there have been approximately 10 sessions with relatively low-level government participation, but the government has offered no concessions to meet the opposition's demands and the dialogue has been virtually ineffective.
A second topic that dominated the conference involved whether opposition groups, such as al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, has close ties to, or is even manipulated by, Iran. The consensus was that the group takes orders from Iran when organizing demonstrations against the Bahraini government; some participants even accused some Shiite opposition factions of attempting to establish an Iranian-style theocracy in Bahrain with a cleric as the head of state. At least one participant claimed the opposition was collaborating with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards to try to overthrow the Bahraini government.
Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, and former diplomat John Bolton chimed in to warn of the Iranian threat. "Iran is trying to undermine the government of Bahrain and we need to make sure Iran's aims are not achieved," Burton said. Bolton warned that the threat from Iran is not only Tehran's potential to develop a nuclear weapon, but "the regime has made it clear it aims for hegemony" in the region. A Bahraini participant said he did not blame al-Wefaq for its actions because it "gets its instructions from Iran."
There is little doubt that for more than 30 years Shiite Iran has tried to assert its influence through military force and soft power throughout the Middle East. And nearly every week, leading figures in Iran, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chastise the Bahraini government for its repression of its Shiite population and call for the regime to be toppled. And true, there were attempted, but failed, coups plotted by Iranian agents in the 1990s against the Bahraini government.
But to date, there is no evidence -- at least based upon public information and my own research of the country -- that Iran is working to topple the Bahraini government, even though Tehran would welcome a change in Manama. A member of the royal family agreed with me that a distinction needs to be made between Iran's direct intervention in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and its indirect influence in Bahrain. For example, Iranian state-owned media broadcasts its programming into Bahrain on an estimated 30 media outlets in Arabic. The message is generally that the Sunni Bahraini government represses the Shiite population, and Iran is the guardian of all Shiites.
A distinction should also be made between Iran's religious influence on the Arab Shiites, not only in Bahrain but across the Arab world, and its political influence. Many Shiites, including some in Bahrain, follow the teachings of clerics in Iran as well as those in Lebanon and Iraq.
In addition, even if Iran were trying to destabilize Bahrain, this has nothing to do with the grievances of the opposition. The Bahraini government should not try to cast aside the legitimate demands of the opposition by playing the card of the Iranian threat. If the Bahraini government wants to convince Washington and the region that reforms are underway, officials should provide details instead of focusing on Iran, which only sidelines this discussion.
As part of an attempt to show the Bahraini government is enacting reforms in order to address the marginalization of the Shiites, conference participants stated that most of the 24 recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an over 500-page report authored by the renowned international law expert, Cherif Bassiouni, have been implemented. In fact, Congressman Burton said that 18 of the recommendations have been enforced, but he did not say where he got his information.
The BICI report, issued in November 2011, confirmed that thousands of people were detained and tortured during the heat of the uprising in 2011, and some were killed by government security forces. The report also confirmed that many Shiite had been removed from their jobs for discriminatory reasons. The report called for sweeping reforms, including a restructuring of the police and security forces, an independent media (which in Bahrain is controlled by the state), and an end to repression.
Looking for confirmation on Burton's statement, I asked at the conference if anyone knew which of the BICI recommendations have been implemented. According to U.S.-based human rights organizations -- which have been very vocal about Bahrain's reluctance to take the report seriously -- only a handful of the 24 recommendations have been implemented.
There is much talk these days in Washington of progress between the Bahraini government and opposition groups toward reaching reconciliation. The promotion of the crown prince, considered the reformer in the family, to deputy prime minister has made some in the United States hopeful that the reform process will pick up speed.
Stability in Bahrain is of great importance to the United States. Manama is the home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, whose presence in the Gulf ensures the flow of oil and other energy exports through the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway connecting the Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Because of significant U.S. strategic and economic interests in a stable Bahrain, the Obama administration has declined to adopt a hard line on the Bahraini government's human rights abuses and institutionalized discrimination.
If the conference was any guide, the Bahraini political elites do not want to be perceived as presiding over a repressive state. Therefore, the moderates within the Bahrain government -- those in the crown prince's inner circle -- should seize upon the moment and push for reform. This would be far more effective at improving Bahrain's image and showing a commitment to reform than conferences in which there is little or no talk about addressing the grievances of the opposition.
Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the author of the forthcoming, The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi'a-Sunni Divide, to be published in April by Brookings.
MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are essential to democracy and a key way for people of all political views to band together to influence public debate. But once more, the Egyptian government is threatening to restrict NGOs that receive foreign funds. Exercised about criticism from some of these groups, the ruling party is pushing a bill that would empower the government to decide which groups are allowed to receive foreign funding. That would invite the government to pick favorites, approving foreign funds for lapdogs while rejecting them for critics, particularly human rights groups.
But why are foreign funds so nefarious when received by NGOs yet apparently uncontroversial when received by others? The Egyptian military receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States; does that make it a subversive organization? The Egyptian government is desperately seeking foreign funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF); is that an act of treason? Egyptian businesses are clamoring for foreign direct investment and the spending of foreign tourists; are these acts of disloyalty?
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The role and plight of ethnic minorities in Iranian society tends to receive little attention from Western analysts and policymakers. This may be largely due to the predominance of Tehran as the focal point of Iranian culture, politics, and foreign policy. Moreover, Iran's ethnic minorities have been heavily marginalized by Iran's Persian-dominated Shiite theocracy. The suppression of minority rights has resulted in ethnic insurgencies over the years, some of which continue to bedevil the Iranian regime.
Nevertheless, many Iranian officials, religious leaders, and intellectuals, particularly those associated with the reformist movement, have come to view Iran's ethnic minorities as an essential component of the national fabric. They have also come to realize that the Iranian regime's repression and discrimination against minorities has not only slowed Iran's advancement, but it could one day jeopardize the survival of the Islamic Republic -- and even Iran's territorial integrity.
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Looking at the past 10 years of Iraq's history through the lens of displacement reveals a complex -- and sobering -- reality. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, humanitarian agencies prepared for a massive outpouring of Iraqi refugees. But this didn't happen. Instead a much more dynamic and complex form of displacement occurred. First, some 500,000 Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been displaced by the Saddam Hussein regime returned to their places of origin. Then, in the 2003 to 2006 period, more than a million Iraqis were displaced as sectarian militias battled for control of specific neighborhoods. In February 2006, the bombing of the Al-Askaria Mosque and its violent aftermath ratcheted the numbers of IDPs up to a staggering 2.7 million. In a period of about a year, five percent of Iraq's total population fled their homes and settled elsewhere in Iraq while an additional 2 million or so fled the country entirely. It is important to underscore that this displacement was not just a by-product of the conflict, but rather the result of deliberate policies of sectarian cleansing by armed militias.
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Among the urban elite and diplomatic community in Sanaa, all eyes will turn to the launch of the long-awaited National Dialogue Conference today, a key component of the transition plan agreed upon in November 2011 that ushered out former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in exchange for full immunity. The good news about the internationally-backed agreement is that Saleh was finally forced from the presidency after more than 30 years of autocratic rule and the fighting stopped. The bad news is that it did not address any of the underlying issues that have plagued Yemen since before the uprising and have only been exacerbated in the time since. The National Dialogue, thus, is positioned to tackle the thorniest issues including calls for Southern independence, the restive Houthi movement in the north, the question of federalism and decentralization, constitutional reform, empowering women and youth, and other issues.
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When Saudi activists Abdullah al-Hamed and Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani headed to the Criminal Court in Riyadh on Saturday morning, they knew what was waiting for them. The two founding members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) have been on trial since June 2012, and the judge was expected to hand down his ruling at the session scheduled on Saturday. As the defendants arrived to the court, they were received by more than 100 activists who came to show their support and attend the hearing which was also marked by a heavy presence of security officers with truncheons hanging from their belts.
The government has been accusing al-Hamed and al-Qahtani with a series of charges that include founding an unlicensed human rights organization, seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder, undermining national unity, breaking allegiance to the ruler, disobeying the ruler, and questioning the integrity of officials. These are considered serious charges in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where political dissent in not usually tolerated. It does not allow protests, political parties, or unions. Saudi Arabia is also a main ally of the United States in the Middle East.
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On Friday, February 22, I flew from London to Dubai to participate in a conference jointly organized by the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) -- where I work -- and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). The theme of the conference was "The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World," and my paper was entitled "Bahrain's Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives." The one-day event was scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 24 at the AUS campus. However, the LSE abruptly pulled out of the conference on Thursday after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government intervened to inform AUS that no discussion of Bahrain would be permitted. By leaving their decision until the very last minute -- the weekend immediately prior to the conference -- the authorities may have hoped that AUS and the LSE would accept it as a "fait accompli" and proceed. To their credit, the LSE immediately withdrew from the event, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual control of the event that threatened academic freedom." With many of the U.S.-based workshop speakers already in Dubai or in the air, we took the decision to continue with our trip; for me it was the first leg of a three-country visit in the Gulf, and I also had been invited to lecture at Zayed University on February 25.
On arrival at Dubai International Airport, I was stopped by immigration officials and separated from the two LSE colleagues with whom I had been traveling. My passport clearly had triggered a red flag in the system and the official called over his supervisor. I was separated from my colleagues and taken to a backroom where security personnel examined each page of my passport in minute detail. An official then disappeared with my passport for 45 minutes before returning with a representative from Emirates Airline who informed me that I was being denied entry to the UAE and sent back to London. I had to purchase my own ticket to fly back to Gatwick -- but not before randomly being approached by an airport staffer who asked if I would complete a customer satisfaction survey.
The last time Erkan Yildirim visited his imprisoned wife, Pervin, she told him about her recent meeting with their colleague, Fatma. "Pervin said Fatma was very sluggish, that her eyes were slowly darkening, that two or three people had to bring her to and from the bathroom," says Yildirim, nearly choking on the words. At that time, Fatma had been on a hunger strike for more than a month.
What his wife said next, however, was even more troubling. Pervin informed Yildirim that she was about to begin her own indefinite hunger strike.
The Bahraini government seems to understand freedom of expression a bit like Lance Armstrong understands clean cycling. Like Lance, it prefers to play by its own rules and attack critics rather than accept normal standards. The Kingdom has invented a curious definition of free expression where criticizing members of the ruling family on Twitter can land you in court. The Bahraini regime's credibility is as damaged as that of world cycling -- the government needs to implement drastic measures that go beyond public relations to restore international trust.
Bahrainis can't say they weren't warned. On September 9, Bahrain's Ministry of the Interior announced it would "soon tackle crimes related to defamation and abuse on social media networks." A senior official in the ministry noted that "some people were using the communication technology to abuse national and public figures through the Internet," and that the ministry "had received many complaints from public figures affected by such acts who have demanded action against this."
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
Libya's embattled transitional government is not only struggling to appoint a cabinet, disarm its powerful militias, and deal with the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It is also locked in a tense battle with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over where to try Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and the former regime's mysterious intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Since the fall of Qaddafi's regime and the assertion of a newly sovereign Libya, the ICC's intervention has degenerated into a controversial and, at times, acrimonious battle between Libya's new rulers and the Court over where the highly prized indictees should be tried. Over the past year, Libya's transitional government has sought to demonstrate its effective sovereignty to its citizens and the world by proving itself able and willing to prosecute senior members of the Qaddafi regime. At the same time, the ICC has striven to establish itself as an effective institution that can have positive effects on post-conflict accountability. However, the fight over where to try Saif and Senussi may ultimately serve to undermine the aims of both the ICC and Libya -- not to mention the pursuit of post-Qaddafi justice.
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Bahraini human rights activists who went to Geneva to tell the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) about the kingdom's ongoing government crackdown are again being targeted, this time in the wake of last week's conclusion to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. In May, several activists were threatened on social media and criticized in government-friendly newspapers because they appeared in Geneva to participate in the UPR. At that time, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the HRC, reminded the Bahraini government that "we are all duty bound to ensure that nobody is persecuted on his return to his country for having participated in meetings of the human rights council or other bodies." Bahrain clearly didn't understand her message.
Right now, Bahraini activists who gave their side of the story in Geneva as part of the UPR are being targeted by government-supporting media in Bahrain. The Al Watan newspaper has featured their names and also published a photo with the activists' faces ringed in red. In Bahrain, such a "ringing is red" is taken as a threat and has often been a precursor to arrest. Newspaper reports suggest the activists have "contributed to the distortion of Bahrain's reputation abroad." One human rights defender, Mohammed Al Maskati, said he received death threats by phone while in Geneva. Such developments signal a further escalation of suspicion about what's happening in Bahrain. The one thing that Bahraini officials, U.S. government leaders, the opposition, and international NGOs all seem to agree on is that things are bad and probably getting worse.
Egypt's January 25, 2011 revolution gave the country's workers a golden opportunity to press their agenda. Workers played a key role in the wave of societal unrest that led to Hosni Mubarak's downfall, and after the long-time president's departure many restrictions on political organization and dissent were relaxed. But workers have not been able to seize that opportunity to cohesively advance their demands. Instead, fragmentation has emerged as the dominant feature of post-Mubarak labor politics. Egyptian workers have struggled to find their own voice as they navigate the legacy of state control over labor organizations and a complicated new political situation.
In the years preceding the revolution and in the lead-up to Mubarak's ousting, Egyptian workers demonstrated their willingness to pioneer new forms of collective action, take risks to engage in collective action, and push the boundaries of their relationship to the state. Workers have become even more emboldened in the post-Mubarak period. Egypt's political leadership will thus need to take workers' concerns seriously if it is to avoid continued social and political unrest. One of the key questions for Egypt's transition is precisely what system will be used to regulate workers' representation.
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After widely applauded elections, Libya is preparing to draft its first democratic constitution after more than 40 years of Muammar al-Qaddafi's dictatorship. A 60-person committee will draft the constitution and reckon with key social issues facing Free Libya, including national identity and human rights, state and religion, and the distribution of political and economic power. The committee must frame a state in a country once characterized by weak social or political organization.
The process by which the constitution will be written is unclear. The National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which served as Libya's interim parliament after the ouster of Qaddafi until the July 7 election of the General National Congress (GNC) -- had proliferated a constitutional declaration to govern the transitional phase. The declaration called for the congress to appoint 60 experts to a constitutional committee, 20 from each of Libya's three historical provinces in the west, east, and south. But the NTC amended the declaration the week prior to the election, stating that the members of the constitutional committee would be elected rather than appointed.
In a region home to governments with a long history of Internet censorship, Jordan has long stood out as a model of relative freedom. Since its arrival in the kingdom in the mid 1990s, free and open access to the World Wide Web has not only been maintained but indeed championed by King Abdullah II, since he came into power in 1999. An unfiltered Internet has been largely credited for cultivating a burgeoning IT sector that has come to represent roughly 14 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), as well as a new wave of youth-driven, Internet-based entrepreneurship in a country where unemployment ranges between 13 percent (official) and 30 percent (unofficial).
With such context in mind, many Jordanians were surprised at the government's announcement this August that it would be amending the country's notorious Press and Publications law to include articles that would seek to restrict Internet freedoms. The draft legislation includes articles that would hold online media accountable for any comments left by their readers, and would prohibit them from publishing any comments deemed irrelevant to the published article. Moreover, online media organizations would also be required to archive all comments left on their sites for at least six months. However, the most troublesome amendment essentially requires online media to register with and obtain a license from the Press and Publications Department, paying a fee of roughly $1,400 (lowered from an initially proposed $14,000), and giving the government the ability to block sites failing to comply. Bringing online news sites in to the folds of the Press and Publications law would therefore require them to be mandatory members of the Jordan Press Association, and undergo the same regulations governing print publications, including appointing an editor-in-chief who has been a member of the association for a minimum of four years.
his dazzling blue eyes and angelic smile, 10-month-old Besir lights up any room
he's in. But the only rooms he's ever seen are the insides of tents and cargo
containers. "He's never lived inside a house," says his mother, Hasret, 21,
bouncing him on her knee.
The steel container we're sitting in on this baking August day is one in a sea of 1,120, lined up in rows over a vast gravel field in southeastern Turkey. An average of six people live in each container. Water and electricity are sporadically available, and food is scarce. Most families know they have lost their houses and belongings forever. Most children don't have any toys, or even a change of clothing. Few people know how or when they will be able to move out of the camp.
On March 15, I sat through a ten-hour civilian court session with the Bahraini medics whose verdicts were announced yesterday. The session was part of their prolonged appeal of military court convictions handed out in September -- convictions based on tortured confessions. Although the charges against each of the 20 medics include offenses such as "occupying the hospital" and "smuggling weapons," it's no secret that these accusations and the trails themselves are politically motivated, meant as punitive measures for the medics' decision to treat injured protestors in February and March of 2011, when a wave of pro-democracy protests broke out in Bahrain. The medics were also targeted because they told the international media the truth about the extent of the violence perpetrated by the Bahraini security forces against civilians.
During coffee breaks at the March hearing, I chatted with the medics and others about likely outcomes. Around that time, a Bahrain government official had indicated that charges against 15 of the 20 medics would be dropped and prosecutions would only continue against the remaining five. When this announcement was raised by a defense lawyer, the judge dismissed it as media speculation. Yesterday, we found out that he was right.
John Moore/Getty Images
In Egypt, on every street and in every alleyway, there has been one topic of serious debate over the past few weeks: today's presidential elections, the country's first of any suspense or consequence. Figures from Egypt's formerly quasi-underground opposition stare down from billboards blanketing the country. Leading civilian candidates debate on television for the first time in Egypt and the Arab world. It is not quite a democracy -- Egypt remains a military dictatorship, albeit one in flux -- but it is a bumptious mirage of what Egyptian democracy might look like in 2016 or 2017, if there are free, peaceful elections at the end of this next president's term. Charges and recriminations will begin soon enough, and everything will look inevitable in hindsight. But the days ahead of the polls were memorable for their mix of resurgent hope, pride, and the anxiety of real suspense.
Is it time for Kofi Annan to declare that his bid to resolve the Syrian crisis has failed? A growing number of Western diplomats argue privately that he should. U.S. officials have stated publicly that Annan's peace plan "is failing," and the Saudi foreign minister has said confidence in his efforts is "rapidly falling." Syrian security forces continue to target dissidents, rebel forces remain active, and there have been attacks on convoys carrying U.N. monitors -- reinforcing the case that Annan should admit defeat.
The former U.N. Secretary-General has made it clear that he knows his mission is close to failure. But it's very difficult for him to call the whole thing off. While violence has continued in Syria at what Annan calls "unacceptable" levels, the death-rate has generally been lower than prior to the "ceasefire" he engineered in April. But whoever is attacking the U.N. observers probably wants to foment a full-scale war, and fighting appears not only to be on the rise again but also to be spreading into Lebanon.
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) warmly accepted the international community's military and political support for dislodging the Qaddafi government, and vowed to build a new state that would respect human rights. But it seems to be veering off course. Not only is it rejecting international human rights monitoring and the ICC's jurisdiction, but more troubling still, it has passed some shockingly bad laws, mimicking Qaddafi laws criminalizing political dissent and granting blanket immunity to any crimes committed in "support" of the revolution.
The NTC has a lot on its hands, and building a new administration from the ground up is no small feat. Its biggest challenge has been asserting authority over the armed groups in most towns, villages and city neighborhoods who are responsible for most abuses in post-Qaddafi Libya. The militias hold about 5,000 of the country's roughly 8,000 detainees. Some have been held for up to a year, outside Libyan law, without any charge or judicial process. Numerous cases of torture and even deaths in custody have been documented.
Last week's shutdown of Sanaa's airport by security forces seeking to reverse President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi's dismissal of top brass loyal to the ancien regime exemplified exactly where Yemen is stuck.
After three decades under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, elements within the transitional civilian government are eager to move forward, with ambitious plans to reform the country's legal and security infrastructure. But they lack the muscle to rein in the security forces, implicated in many of the worst human rights abuses during last year's uprising yet still operating their fiefdoms. Restoring law and order requires a major restructuring of those security forces and a strong dose of accountability for the killings of hundreds of peaceful protesters and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
The Formula One (F1) has always been a loss-leader for Bahrain. The country pays a fee to host it -- estimated to be at least $40 million each year -- and doesn't recoup this in direct ticket sales. Rather, the race is supposed to stimulate business worth hundreds of millions of dollars through its knock-on effect on other business. A 2008 study commissioned by the state sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat, suggested that the race added $600 million -- or about 2.7 percentage points -- to Bahrain's gross domestic product (GDP) that year. This is mostly through the boost that the race gives to tourism, including flights on Bahrain's state-owned Gulf Air, and through the development of Bahrain's international "country brand," as millions of viewers around the world watch the race on television.
But this year, tourism is unlikely to perform well -- and if anything, the "country branding" impact looks likely to be negative. Internationally, the publicity around the race has drawn attention to the country's continuing protests and violence, to a new Amnesty International report on the continuing allegations of torture and human rights abuses, and even to a controversial video that shows police taking part in the looting of a Shiite-owned supermarket. Without the race, these developments might not make the news in the West.
Algeria has thus far kept a relatively low profile amidst sweeping regional change in the Middle East and North Africa. The oil-rich country, often characterized as "untouched" by the Arab Spring, saw no Tahrir Square or Avenue Habib Bourguiba, and, accordingly, has drawn minimal attention from international media. Although Algerians do not loath Bouteflika like Libyans did Qaddafi or Egyptians did Mubarak, they do have similar grievances -- high unemployment, inadequate housing, and a dearth of social services. A recent increase in protests across the country that have resulted in clashes with security forces reflect growing social anxiety, and a number of attempted self-immolations, including one just over a week ago in the Tiaret governorate, reveal that Algerians are actively interested in effectuating change. A cursory look at the situation might therefore suggest, as has some recent analysis, that revolution looms; a closer examination reveals that, at least for the moment, this is probably not in the cards. But while an increasing trend of social discontent will likely not yield drastic change from below, it may motivate Algerians, who have a history of abstention, to turn out in greater numbers in the legislative elections to be held next month, hoping to cast their votes for a party that will address their demands.
On April 17, 2012, M. Cherif Bassiouni, international Arab legal expert and Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry joined Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch for a short conversation at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies. Among the topics covered: Bahrain's response to the BICI recommendations, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immunity deal, a war crimes tribunal for Syria...and why Muammar al-Qaddafi's sex addiction will make it difficult to convict Saif al-Islam.
The United Nations should establish an investigation commission to collect evidence about war crimes in Syria to prepare the ground for any future investigation, leading Arab international law expert Cherif Bassiouni told Foreign Policy during a wide-ranging interview yesterday following his talk at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies [videos of both the interview and the talk will be posted shortly]. He warned that Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh should not count on his immunity deal holding up, discounted the ability of Libya's courts to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and blasted Egypt's post-revolutionary trials as focusing on flimsy, marginal cases which avoided dealing with systemic, institutionalized corruption.
Also, he explained that Moammar Qaddafi was a sex addict whose heavy use of Viagra badly affected his decision-making -- which could complicate the ICC's efforts to convict Saif al-Islam (FP's web editors wanted that to be the lead, for some reason).
The government of Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh unveiled its new draft electoral law this week. Promulgated by the government, and then issued by royal decree, the new law now goes to parliament for study and debate. The response has been swift, with the debate occurring not only under the dome of the Jordanian Parliament, but also throughout society -- from street discussions, to cafes, to the twitterverse. Political parties in particular have been quick to condemn the new law, with the opposition threatening an electoral boycott that would render the whole process meaningless. Today, activists are participating in major demonstrations protesting the proposed law and commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 unrest that led to the liberalization process in the first place.
These demonstrations, then, are not new. The kingdom has seen street demonstrations almost every Friday since December 2011 calling for various aspects of reform: combating corruption (especially in the context of the economic privatization process), checks and balances between the branches of government, a more independent judiciary, a reduced role for the mukhabarat in public life, and new more democratic laws on parties and elections. As the winds of change swirl around the region, leaving trails of violence and unrest across almost every Jordanian border, Jordanians themselves have continued to pursue reform rather than revolution. Whether or not that situation takes a more dramatic turn depends on the extent of successful and meaningful reform in the kingdom, with the electoral law as one key piece of the overall puzzle.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany resume again this weekend, with Tehran giving hints that it may take a more constructive attitude to negotiations than it did during the previous round in 2011. Iranian nuclear officials have suggested that Iran might curtail its 20 percent uranium enrichment program, which would meet almost halfway the expected demands of the United States and its so-called P5+1 negotiating partners.
The United States and its allies reportedly plan to demand the immediate cessation of uranium enrichment to 20 percent, and a closure of the hardened Fordow enrichment plant, possibly in exchange for promises of no further sanctions. If the United States and its international partners are able to achieve these objectives, they will significantly slow Iran's progress toward having the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, score a victory for the two-track policy of diplomacy and economic pressure, and provide a template for more fully resolving outstanding issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program in future talks.
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