Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is declaring a narrow victory in the first round of a polarizing constitutional referendum, while opposition members are complaining of polling violations. Unofficial results from the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party show 56.5 percent approval for the new draft constitution with 43 percent of Egyptians' voting against it. However, voter turnout was low, estimated at between 31 and 33 percent. Egyptian human rights groups reported widespread irregularities at polling stations, including preventing some women and Christians from voting, early closure of some polling centers, and incidences of people misrepresenting themselves as judges. Egypt's main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has called for massive protests Tuesday against "large scale fraud" in the referendum. There were some instances of violence over the weekend, however, not nearing the degree of clashes leading up to the contentious referendum. Voting was held in Cairo, Alexandria, and eight other Egyptian provinces on Saturday. Results will not be released until after the rest of the country votes on December 22.
In a rare interview, Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said that neither the government nor the opposition seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad would win the war in Syria. Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim, has rarely been seen since the uprising began in March 2011, and is not part of the Alawite president's inner circle. Nonetheless, he is the highest official to publically state that Assad will not win. In the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, Sharaa appealed for a "historic settlement" involving the U.N. Security Council and the formation of a national unity government. Additionally, the foreign ministry of Iran, Assad's closest Ally, has indicated that support for Assad is not unconditional, calling for an end to violence as well as parliamentary and presidential elections. In past weeks the conflict has hit the capital city of Damascus with the opposition making territorial gains in an arc around the capital. In part of a campaign to rid the area of opposition forces, government warplanes bombed the Damascus Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk on Sunday. According to opposition activists, rocket fire killed at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque. The bombings sparked clashes within the camp between opposition fighters including some Palestinians and pro-Assad fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Five other attacks were reported in the embattled districts of southern Damascus on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Islamist Tawheed Brigade reported it seized a military installation near the northern city of Aleppo, taking "at least" 100 prisoners. If confirmed, the capture would add to several bases recently overtaken by opposition forces in a set back to the Syrian regime.
Arguments and Analysis
Story of a massacre tells of the Alawites caught in the middle (Hassan Hassan, The National)
"On December 9, nearly 200 people were killed in the small Syrian village of Aqrab, which is about 40 kilometres west of Hama. The village has a population of 13,000 people, most of whom are Sunnis, with a minority of about 3,000 Alawites.
The causes of this massacre still need to be independently investigated, but what evidence exists has grim lessons for minority groups and the area as a whole.
The region around the village - a triangle between Hama, Homs and Tartus - represents an explosive sectarian mix. This is where Alawites, Sunnis and Ismailis have lived side by side for hundreds of years, but the regime has successfully pitted groups against each other since the start of the uprising, recruiting thousands of Alawite villagers into the Shabbiha militias."
Getting back out there (The Economist)
THE annual mourning for Zein al-Abdin al-Sajjad, an eighth century martyred Shia Imam, is a relatively minor event, even in Iran where Shias hold power. But in the little island kingdom of Bahrain, where the Shia majority chafes at their subjugation under a Sunni ruling family, the Al Khalifas, it has become another excuse to reclaim the streets. "We celebrate the most minor festivals now, even more than Iran," says Jasim Hussein, a former parliamentarian of Wefaq, a Shia party seeking a negotiated end to the pro-democracy uprising that erupted in February 2011.
The political process has been frozen for the 22 months since the government launched a ferocious clamp-down, backed by troops borrowed from across the causeway to Saudi Arabia, that has left some 90 people dead-a grim total given that native Bahrainis number just 600,000, out of an overall population of 1.3m. Mass arrests, show trials, harsh sentences and incitement to sectarian hatred have blunted the opposition's momentum. Crucial support from liberal-leaning Sunnis has waned, and much of the business community would like to forget the troubles and move on.
But Shia religious activism is more visible than ever. On a balmy night in the old souks of Manama, Bahrain's capital, muscular, black-clad youths chant dirges and chest-thump past shrines adorned with dramatic tableaux of Shia saints. Yet the spirit is festive. Men feast on sweetmeats and hot, saffron-infused sheep's milk freely distributed in stalls. Not a policeman is in sight. "What's there to mourn about," asks a civil servant, who covertly supports Amal, an anti-monarchy group, "when time is on our side."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
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