April 3, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood and the Revolutions

Troops Fire on Yemen Protest, 6 Killed, 30 Wounded

Associated Press
April 4, 2011

Security forces and plainclothes gunmen opened fire on crowds of Yemenis marching through a southern city Monday, killing at least six and wounding more than 30, in an intensifying crackdown against the uprising against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Witnesses described troops and gunmen, some on nearby rooftops, firing wildly on thousands of protesters who marched past the governor's headquarters in Taiz in the second straight day of violence in the southern city. Some — including elderly people — were trampled and injured as the crowds tried to flee, witnesses said.

Violence has swelled in recent days amid frustration over behind-the-scenes efforts to convince Saleh to step down in the face of a nearly two-month-old uprising. The United States and European countries have been contacting Saleh and his opponents, trying to find a formula for the president to leave his post with a stable transfer of power , an opposition spokesman said.

Saleh has been a key ally of the United States, which has given him millions in counterterrorism aid to fight al-Qaida's branch in the country, which has plotted attacks on American soil. So far, Washington has not publicly demanded that he step down, but the diplomatic effort was a clear sign that the Americans have decided the danger of turmoil and instability outweighs the risks if Saleh leaves.

Mustafa al-Sabri, a spokesman for a coalition of opposition parties, said U.S. and European diplomats who had been in contacts with Saleh had asked the opposition for their "vision" for a transition. In response, the opposition over the weekend gave the Americans a proposal that Saleh step down and hand his powers to his vice president, who would then organize a process for rewriting the constitution and holding new elections, al-Sabri said.

But the 65-year-old president has dug in against the idea.

On Sunday, Saleh took a tough line, saying no negotiations could be held without a "halt to all protests and the mutiny by some units in the military."

"We are prepared to explore the peaceful transfer of authority in the framework of the constitution. But arm-twisting will absolutely not work," he said.

The U.S. Embassy has not commented on its efforts, saying only in a statement over the weekend that "Saleh has publicly expressed his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power; the timing and form of this transition should be identified through dialogue and negotiation."

Saleh has managed to cling to power even after many of his top allies in the government and military abandoned him and joined the opposition because of the harshness of his crackdown on the protesters. The opposition has been holding continual protest camps in main squares of the capital Sanaa and other cities around the country, and hundreds of thousands turned out for the biggest and most widespread marches yet on Friday. At least 97 people have been killed since demonstrations began Feb. 11.

The violence in the mountain city of Taiz began when thousands of protesters down its main street toward Freedom Square, where demonstrators have been camped out, surrounded by security forces.

As the march passed the governor's headquarters, troops stationed there blocked the procession, and clashes broke out, with some protesters throwing stones, witnesses said.

Troops on nearby rooftops opened fire with live ammunition on the crowd and the marchers then turned to besiege the governor's headquarters, said Bushra al-Maqtara, an opposition activist in Taiz, and other witnesses.

"It was heavy gunfire from all directions. Some were firing from the rooftop of the governor's building," said one man in the crowd, Omar al-Saqqaf. He said he saw military police load the bodies of two slain protesters into a car and then speed away.

At least six protesters were killed and more than 30 wounded, some with gunshots to the head and chest, said Zakariya Abdul-Qader, a doctor at a clinic set up by protesters in Freedom Square. Other doctors at the clinic confirmed the figure.

The military has clamped down on the city of nearly half a million, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of the capital, Sanaa. For a second day, tanks and armored vehicles blocked entrances to the city to prevent outsiders from joining the protests. They also surrounded Freedom Square, bottling up the thousands in the protest camp there and arresting anyone who tries to exit.

Saleh's top security official in Taiz, Abdullah Qiran, to oversee security in Taiz, is accused by demonstrators of orchestrating some of the most brutal crackdowns against demonstrators, particularly in the southern port town of Aden, where he was previously stationed until his transfer several weeks ago. On Sunday, police attacked a march by thousands of women in Taiz, sparking a battle with a separate group of male protesters.

Marches in solidarity with the Taiz protesters erupted in the cities of Mukalla, in the east, and Hodeida, on Yemen's western Red Sea coast. In Hodeida, protesters tried to march on a presidential palace in the city but were blocked by security forces, who opened fire with tear gas and live ammunition, said activist Abdel-Hafiz al-Abbasi.

He said three people were wounded.

Protesters massed in a Sanaa square they have renamed Taghyir, or Change, Square, said they too would hold a march Monday in support of Taiz. At the same time, pro-government gunmen in civilian clothes were seen taking up positions on a man boulevard in the capital, raising worries of a new confrontation.

Over the crisis, Saleh has offered to step down in 2013, when his term ends, or as early as the end of this year — if a transfer of power acceptable to him is reached. The opposition fears that Saleh is using the discussions over stepping down to stall for time — either to stay in power or to ensure he is succeeded by one of his sons, a prospect the opposition has staunchly rejected.

But the opposition is not united on their demands. A group of official opposition parties put forward the proposal that Saleh hand over power to his vice president, Abd Rabou Mansour.

The youth activists who have been organizing the protests are distinct from the opposition parties — and many of them have refused the proposal, believing that it would mean an extended transition that would keep Saleh in power for a longer time.

"We refuse any initiative or proposal that doesn't explicitly state the immediate departure of the president and his sons. That is a central issue that we will not put aside," said Adnan al-Odeini, an activist leader of the protests in Sanaa.

Military Rule in Egypt

March 28, 2011

Egypt will hold a parliamentary election in September, its military rulers said on Monday, setting a date that analysts said would suit well-organized Islamists and remnants of former leader Hosni Mubarak's party.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said emergency laws that have helped crush political life for decades would be lifted before elections, but did not say when, and approved a law easing restrictions on political party formation.

"It is a challenge for the new forces that came up as a result of the revolution," said Mustapha al-Sayyid, a political scientist, referring to the timetable for elections. "This period is relatively short for these parties."

Many secular reform groups have been calling on the military, which has governed since Mubarak was deposed on February 11, to extend the transitional period to allow political life to recover from decades of oppression.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group formally banned under Mubarak, has emerged as the country's best organised political force. Other fledgling groups are trying to organize.

"Parliamentary elections will be in September," said Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of the ruling military council. A date for a presidential election, which will follow the legislative polls, had yet to be set, he added in a news conference.

The elections are major milestones on the path set by the military in a transition that will end with the army relinquishing power to a civilian, elected government.

The military also said on Monday a curfew in place since the start of the uprising that swept Mubarak from power was shortened to three hours from 2 a.m. (0000 GMT) to 5 a.m. -- a sign of growing confidence in the police that have returned to the streets in recent weeks to restore law and order.

"The time is short but we will work with all our capacities to take part," said Abou Elela Mady, leader of the recently licensed Wasat Party (Center Party). "It doesn't give us a full opportunity but it's a good start."

The Brotherhood has voiced support for quick elections. But it has sought to reassure Egyptians worried about its relative strength by saying it will not seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority.


The Islamist group and other reformists are discussing the idea of entering the legislative election in an alliance to produce a "revolutionary majority" that will take the lead in drafting a new constitution once the parliament is elected.

The military suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament after Mubarak stepped down. Shaheen said the army would issue a constitutional decree that will provide a legal basis for its rule in the coming days.

The military council said the state of emergency which has been in force since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 would also be lifted before any elections were held.

"We have said before that parliamentary or presidential polls will not be held while emergency law is still in force," Shaheen said.

The military council also approved a law that will ease restrictions on the formation of political parties.

Under the new law, Shaheen said new parties would need the approval of 5,000 members from at least 10 of Egypt's 29 provinces, increasing the number of signatures from 1,000 outlined in a draft law approved by cabinet last week.

The Brotherhood is one of the groups expected to now begin steps toward forming a political party.

A plethora of new parties are expected to apply for an official license from a committee formerly headed by a leading figure in Mubarak's party. Under the new law, it will be headed by a judge.

"The September date is not too soon," said Amr Hashem of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"The argument that parties will need more time to prepare is wanting. Parties will need years, not months, so any delay we are talking about now is not going to make that much of a difference," he said.

Syria's Assad Deploys Army in Port to Keep Order

March 27, 2011

President Bashar al-Assad, facing the gravest crisis in his 11-year rule, deployed the army in Syria's main port of Latakia for the first time after nearly two weeks of protests spread across the country.

State television showed deserted streets in Latakia littered with rubble and broken glass and burned-out vehicles. Damascus cited attempts by 'armed groups', possibly backed by foreign powers, to stir sectarian conflict across the country.

Dozens have died in pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern city of Deraa and nearby Sanamein as well as Latakia in the northwest, Damascus and other towns over the last week.

Witnesses said major cities appeared calm on Sunday, but several hundred men were holding a sit-in at the Omari Mosque in the town of Deraa, the original focus of protests and scene of a crackdown by security forces last week.

Syrian officials had said Assad, 45, who has made no direct public comment since protests began, was expected to make a television address; but by late evening he had not appeared.

The dispatch of troops to the streets of Latakia late on Saturday signals growing government alarm about the ability of the security police to maintain order there. Latakia is a potentially volatile mix of Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Alawites who constitute Assad's core support.

Its residential areas house large secret police complexes.
"There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order," one resident told Reuters. "We do not want looting."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States deplored the bloodshed in Syria, but that a Libya-style intervention should not be expected.

The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries, where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years. Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946.

Assad, a British-educated eye doctor, pledged to look into granting greater freedom but this has failed to dampen a protest movement emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told Al Jazeera television news that the emergency law hated by Syrian reformists for the far-reaching powers it gives to security services would be lifted, but did not give a timetable.

Lawyers say the emergency law has been used by authorities to ban protest, justify arbitrary arrests and closed courts and give free rein to the secret police and security apparatus, which have all severely compromised the rule of law.


In another step to placate protesters, Syrian authorities released political activist Diana Jawabra, her lawyer said, along with 15 others arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of children responsible for the graffiti.

This followed news of the freeing of 260 political prisoners.

Assad also faces calls to curb his pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.

There have also been protests in Hama, a northern city where in 1982 the forces of President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, killed thousands of people and razed much of the old quarter to put down an armed uprising by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Middle East analysts do not rule out a harsh crackdown to crush the current demonstrations.

Syria's establishment, including its army, is dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam to which the Assads belong. This causes resentment among Sunni Muslims who make up some three-quarters of the population.

Latakia is mostly Sunni Muslim but has significant numbers of Alawites.

"An official source said attacks by armed elements on the families and districts of Latakia in the last two days resulted in the martyrdom of 10 security forces and civilians and the killing of two of the armed elements," SANA news agency said.

The source said 200 people, most of whom were from the security forces, had been wounded. Rights activists told Reuters at least six people had been killed in Latakia in two days.

"Decades of pent-up feelings are generating these confrontations. But this is not a mass Sunni-Alawite strife," the Latakia resident told Reuters by telephone. "Cooler heads are prevailing in Latakia."


Deraa is a center of Sunni Muslim tribes who resent power and wealth amassed by the Alawite minority. During protests, a statue of the late Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years until his death in 2000, was toppled.

There were at least three funerals for those killed in the unrest in villages around Deraa on Sunday, which passed off peacefully with no security in evidence. Mourners in one of the funerals chanted: "The people want the downfall of the regime."

Asked about security forces opening fire in recent days, government spokeswoman Reem Haddad told Al Jazeera on Sunday:

"The security forces were given very strict orders not to shoot at anyone and they did not shoot at anyone at all until those people shot at them and at other citizens.

"Now obviously when you have people shooting then it becomes a matter of national security and you can't just have that happening," she said, adding that she suspected foreign powers were involved in the unrest.

The United States, France and Britain have urged Assad to refrain from violence. A week ago they launched a U.N.-backed air campaign to protect opponents of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.


But analysts see little likelihood of heavily armed Syria, which is part of an anti-Western, anti-Israel alliance with Iran and sits within a web of conflicts across the region, facing the sort of foreign intervention seen in North Africa.

Syria also has links to the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and the Lebanese Shi'ite political and military movement Hezbollah.

Assad was welcomed as the fresh face of reform when he replaced his father, a master of Middle Eastern politics who brooked no dissent at home and made the refusal to bend on the Arab-Israeli conflict the heart of Syrian policy for 30 years.

Syria Deploys More Soldiers at Flashpoint Town Deraa

Mar 27, 2011

Syria's army beefed up its presence in the southern city of Deraa, a focal point of bloody protests across the country, and soldiers took to the streets in a northern port where tensions are rising, residents said on Sunday.

The protests, which started in Deraa eight days ago, pose the most serious challenge to the 48-year rule of the Baath Party, and its leader, President Bashar al-Assad.

The demonstrations, in which protesters in some towns set fire to ruling party headquarters, would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in the tightly controlled Arab country.

The army has so far taken a secondary role to secret police and special forces that have been sent to the city to try to quell more than a week of protests in which at least 55 people have been killed in and around Deraa, a rights group said.

The protesters have called for political freedoms and an end to corruption, but they have also directed their wrath at Assad, and torched a statue of late President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years until his death in 2000.

Security forces had fired on protesters on Friday in Deraa and there were reports of more shootings in other parts of Syria. Authorities have blamed the violence on "armed gangs."


The unrest spread to the heavily fortified main port city of Latakia, where, according to a Syrian official source, twelve people -- including security forces, civilians and "armed elements" -- have been killed in two days of clashes.

Latakia is a mostly Sunni city but also has many Shi'ite residents from the Alawite sect who have moved into the city from nearby mountains over the past several decades.

A resident of Latakia said soldiers took to the streets of the city on Saturday night to help secret police and security forces control the city after confrontations between Alawite and Sunni youth.

"Decades of pent up feelings are generating these confrontations. But this not a mass Sunni-Alawite strife. Cooler heads are prevailing in Latakia," the resident said.

He said no tanks or troop carriers were to be seen and the army was restricting its presence to soldiers on foot.

"There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order. We do not want looting," he added.

An official source said security forces had not fired at protesters in Latakia but that an armed group had taken over rooftops and fired on citizens and security forces, killing five people since Friday.


In an attempt to placate protesters, Assad freed 260 prisoners on Saturday and earlier in the week made a rare public pledge to implement reforms, such as "studying" an end to emergency law and proposing draft laws that would grant greater freedoms in the media and the formation of political parties.

But protesters did not seem to be mollified by the promises and in Deraa, at least, they have called for the "downfall of the regime," a refrain heard in uprisings across the Arab world which have unseated the entrenched rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

Syrian authorities said on Saturday the country was the target of a "project to sow sectarian strife."

Syria's establishment is dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, a fact that causes resentment among the Sunni Muslims who make up some three-quarters of the population.

Demonstrations in support of Assad have also take place in Damascus and other cities, where thousands of Assad's loyalists marched or and drove around, waving flags, to proclaim their allegiance to the Baath party.

A Lebanese security source told Reuters that Syrian border police were stopping a number of Syrians entering from Lebanon.

In Beirut, a Syrian protester was slightly wounded when unknown assailants fired a few gunshots at a pro-Assad rally.

Sarkozy Warns Arab Rulers About Libya Precedent

March 25, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned all Arab rulers that they risk Libya-type intervention if they cross a certain line of violence against their own people.

The president told press at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (24 March) that UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorising air strikes on Libya has created a legal and political precedent on the "responsibility to protect."Referring to deadly violence in Syria, he explained:
"Every ruler should understand, and especially every Arab ruler should understand that the reaction of the international community and of Europe will from this moment on each time be the same: we will be on the side of peaceful protesters who must not be repressed with violence."

Sarkozy indicated that he is ready to tolerate a certain level of violence, but that any country which orders its army to open fire on crowds will cross a red line.

"In any democracy there can be demonstrations which can turn violent. But no democracy can accept that the army shoots live ammunition at protesters. This is the position of France and it does not change no matter what the country concerned."

He drew a difference between Egypt, Tunisia and even Yemen, where dozens have been killed but where the armed forces have begun to defect, versus Libya, where Colonel Gaddafi's tanks and planes have waged open war on rebels.

He suggested that the Ivory Coast, where President Laurent Gbago's forces recently fired a heavy artillery shell into a market square, will be next in line for a UN vote on intervention.

Sarkozy noted the political sensitivity of Western military action in the Arab world.

He said that there is a new post-UNSC 1973 model of "world governance. But he added that it can only work if Libya coalition powers "precisely ... rigorously ... scrupulously" stick to the UN mandate to protect civilians instead of playing God on who should take power after Gaddafi.

Recalling the "extremely moving" scenes of Libyan rebels in Benghazi celebrating the arrival of French warplanes and the "extreme importance" of the United Arab Emirates' and Qatari involvement in the coalition, he called Libya a "historic opportunity" for "reconciliation between the two worlds."

"What's at play here is Europe as a political force, with a military means serving its political ambitions, and its relations with the Arab world," the French leader went on. "It's a moment of extreme importance for the political future of Europe and for the future of relations between Europe and the Arab people."

The hawkish speech comes amid criticism of EU "double standards" on tolerating violence in strategically important countries such as Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Palestinian diplomats have also pointed out the EU did nothing when Israeli jets bombed civilians in Gaza in 2009.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad earlier on Thursday put forward a package of political reforms designed to soothe tensions and pulled back troops from the hotspot town of Daraa near the Jordanian border.

More protests are expected after prayers on Friday however, with one Arab commentator describing the al-Assad reforms as "essentially transforming Ba'athist Syria into [pre-revolutionary] NDP Egypt."

Syria protests spread, authorities pull back
Syrian forces shoot protesters, kill 6 in mosque
Syria: dozens more dead, US and France divided

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