August 31, 2011 – News Review

Gaddafi sons send mixed messages, Al-Jazeera

“We would like to tell our people that we are well and good. The leader [Muammar Gaddafi] is fine. We have more than 20,000 armed youths and we are ready to fight. I tell our men to strike back against the rats,” Saif is quoted as saying on pro-Gaddafi TV.

However, Saadi said in a TV interview that he had his father’s authorisation to talk to National Transitional Council [NTC] to stop the bloodshed in Libya.

“We acknowledge that they (the NTC) represent a legal party, but we are also the government and a legal negotiating party,” he said.”

Iran concerned that West will benefit from Arab uprisings, The New York Times

“Iran’s supreme leader admonished the West and Israel on Wednesday not to seek advantage from the antigovernment uprisings convulsing the Arab Muslim world, delivering the warning in a nationally broadcast speech that appeared to reflect new unease in Tehran over the course of events among its strategic neighbors, particularly Syria.”

“Jawad Ahmed al-Sheikh, 14, was hit in the Shiite village of Sitra during a small protest after Eid al-Fitr prayers, the Gulf kingdom’s main Shiite opposition group said on its Facebook page.  It posted a picture of the dead teenager with his face covered in blood, saying the tear gas canister was fired from close range.”

Firms aided Libyan spies, The Wall Street Journal

“Libya went on a surveillance-gear shopping spree after the international community lifted trade sanctions in exchange for Col. Gadhafi handing over the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and ending his weapons of mass destruction program. For global makers of everything from snooping technology to passenger jets and oil equipment , ending the trade sanctions transformed Col. Gadhafi’s regime from pariah state to coveted client.

The Tripoli spying center reveals some of the secrets of how Col. Gadhafi’s regime censored the populace. The surveillance room, which people familiar with the matter said Amesys equipped with its Eagle system in late 2009, shows how Col. Gadhafi’s regime had become more attuned to the dangers posed by Internet activism, even though the nation had only about 100,000 Internet subscriptions in a population of 6.6 million.”

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Egyptian citizens voice foreign policy concerns


In new Egypt, foreign policy not just for diplomatsReuters in Al-Masry Al-Youm:

Ahmed al-Shehat clambered up the façade of Israel’s high-rise Cairo embassy, scaling over 21 floors, to pull down the flag of the Jewish state and replace it with Egypt’s national colours.

“Raise your head high – you are Egyptians,” thousands cried as Shehat, now known as “Flagman,” tore down the white and blue Israeli flag to applause, fireworks and nervous inaction from hundreds of soldiers and police at the scene.

Egyptians long unable to display their hostility to Egypt’s perceived passive and often complacent ties with Israel under former president Hosni Mubarak were showing they were no longer afraid to vent their frustration in public.

The generals ruling Egypt since Mubarak’s overthrow in February are faced with a dilemma to pursue a more assertive policy towards Israel in line with public opinion, while still protecting the integrity of a peace treaty that gives them billions of dollars in US aid.

“The Egyptian policy towards Israel has not been very popular in the last 15 years and the public wants a more assertive policy towards Israel,” Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere of the American University in Cairo said.

“The deep-seated feeling among a majority of Egyptians – including those that support peace – is that policies towards Israel are too soft and sometimes complacent. This policy has to change and this is what these events point to,” he said.

Protesters camped in front of the Israeli embassy for more than a week to show their anger over the killing of five Egyptian security men when Israeli forces pursued militants blamed for the death of eight Israelis.

Police tried to take Shehat away for questioning when he descended but the crowd grew angry and they released him. Beside removing the flag, there was no damage to the embassy.

“I saw that Egyptians have been killed and I had to break the barrier of fear and weakness,” Shehat said at a news conference last week. “The people wanted to bring the flag down .. so I felt I had to make millions happy.”

The protests have dwindled and the Israeli flag flies again over the embassy on a sidestreet near the Nile’s western bank.

But critics say Egypt’s government came out looking weak from the worst crisis with its neighbor since Mubarak’s overthrow because it flip-flopped on a threat to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Egypt demanded a joint investigation into the killings and an apology. Israel expressed regret over the deaths but stopped short of apologizing, and officials have made contradictory noises on whether to accept the joint probe.

Diplomats tried to calm worries that the 1979 Camp David treaty might be under threat and protesters outside the embassy only called for a more assertive stance from Cairo.

“Just because the people are demanding their rights after an Israeli assault on our soldiers is not a call for or in pursuit of war,” commentator Ahmed al-Sawy wrote in al-Shorouk daily.

In Mubarak’s Egypt, ties with Israel were often treated as a security concern with criticism kept under a tight lid but this latest episode points that public opinion is here to stay and is likely to play a role that was previously sidelined.

“The previous regime managed to ignore public opinion. This cannot be done anymore. Any government – this government or any future government – will have to pay more respect to what the public wants,” Fishere, a career diplomat and writer, said.

The former president withdrew envoys to Israel in the past, notably during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago and during the 1982 war in Lebanon. It was rare for news of Egyptians being killed by Israeli cross-fire to even make it into newspapers.

But since the uprising, security censorship has largely subsided and newspapers rushed to give details of the events at the border, publishing initial findings from security sources that show an Israeli unit had entered into the Sinai peninsula.

The protests took place across Egypt, some of them breaking out in the remotest of provinces unused to street politics.

“The Egyptian army would be mistaken to think the relationship with Israel will remain a pure security matter, that the people have no right to discuss or approach,” political analyst Khalil Anani wrote in al-Hayat newspaper.

“We can only imagine what the reaction would have been if this crime was committed on Israeli soil by Egyptians,” he adds.

Egypt’s rulers must find a way to absorb public rage while ensuring the integrity of Camp David. Opening up to public opinion, without being swept away by it, would be one option.

“Sustainable foreign policy needs people’s support but on the other hand, foreign policy and national security cannot be simplified or reduced to simple, even if legitimate, strong public feelings,” Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, director of al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political studies, said.

The army’s dilemma might be temporary as the policies of an unelected government are a softer target than those of a government with a popular mandate, and elections to choose a new administration are due to take place later this year.

The government “will still have to be open and responsive to public opinion, but they will not be hostage to small groups that can mobilize a few thousand in a rally,” said Soltan.

Whether the public has any ability to change the rules of the game and not just complicate the picture for decision-makers will depend on how well and fast they organise.

“Eventually, not immediately, public opinion could be a game-changer if it is sustained and if it takes shape in some form of an institutionalized way,” Fishere added. “That would be a more democratic regime.”


Qaddafi domestic spies monitored citizen email, daily life in Libya

Qaddafi’s spies fled internet surveillance center in a hurry, The National (U.A.E.)

By Rolla Scolari (Foreign Correspondent)

Aug 31, 2011

TRIPOLI // The room on the ground floor of this six-storey building in Tripoli is now deathly quiet. The doors of the metal filing cabinets lining the walls fall carelessly open and their contents are scattered across the floor.

But until recently, this was a major hub for Col Muammar Qaddafi’s pervasive spy network: an internet surveillance centre for a regime that had become obsessed with the perils posed by internet activism, especially as Arab Spring upheavals erupted in recent months.

It was here that agents working for the colonel eavesdropped on emails and chat messages of Libyans in an attempt to ferret out opposition to the regime. And they did it with the aid of technology acquired from the West.

On the office walls are posters with detailed instructions for the spies on how to operate the surveillance equipment. “How to locate any person owning a cell phone in the country, even in idle mode,” says one. “Refreshment rate is every minute,” says another.

The laminated posters and English-language training manuals strewn across the internet surveillance centre bear the name of Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA. A posted warning with the Amesys logo reads: “Help keep our classified business secret. Don’t discuss classified information out of the HQ.”

With the aid of the sophisticated internet traffic monitoring and filtering equipment, the regime detailed every aspect of the lives of the Libyans caught in its surveillance web. Thousands of dossiers on individual Libyans and left in the basement of the spy centre contain photos and fingerprints, as well as information about their families, the cars they drove and the places they worked. The files also contain transcripts of emails and chat messages.

One transcript, dated December 29, 2010, quotes one email as saying: “There will be a demonstration for water and electricity in the Tripoli neighborhood of Hadba, right in front of al Khadra hospital”. The agent in charge of this file, a woman with initials “WG”, has underlined the location with a blue pen.

Another transcript is dated January 19, 2011, nearly a month before the anti-Qaddafi uprising began in Benghazi. “Nothing will happen” if we wait for teachers, doctors and lawyers to take to the street, the author of the intercepted message writes. “We need to work on mosques, where all the Libyans go to pray.”

Col Qaddafi’s electronic snoopers were particularly interested in human-rights monitors such as Heba Morayef of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, who oversaw the group’s Libya reporting. Files monitoring at least two Libyan activists include emails written by her, as well as messages to her from them.

In one email, dated August 12, 2010, a Libyan activist in Benghazi pleads with Ms Morayef to help him after he and his friends have been accused by authorities of providing information abroad about the human-rights situation in Libya. “We need someone to help,” the activist writes.

All of the activist’s conversations with reporters at Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel, also are transcribed. The transcriptions consist of news of demonstrations taking place in Benghazi.

While Col Qaddafi established an elaborate surveillance network soon after he took power in a military coup nearly 42 years ago, the lifting of trade sanctions by the international community in 2004 in exchange for handing over the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and ending his weapons of mass destruction programme proved a great boon. Libya massively upgraded its snooping technology.

The Tripoli spy centre served multiple functions. In addition to electronic snooping, there are thick-walled rooms in the basement that were used as detention cells, says Mahmoud Al Kish, 34, who says he was held there a decade ago.

“I was here for a year,” says Mr Al Kish, shaking as he entered the building again. “They arrested me because I had a beard and I was praying at the mosque. They called me a ‘terrorist’. Everybody was slapping me.”

It is not known how many spies worked here, but they appear to have fled in haste. There appeared to be no attempt to destroy the files. And on Monday, the snooping equipment was still beeping.


August 30, 2011 – News Review

Surrender Deadline Set for Gaddafi Forces, Al-Jazeera

“Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said on Tuesday that forces loyal to Gaddafi, including those in the town of Sirte, have until Saturday to surrender or face a military assault.

“By Saturday, if there are no peaceful indications for implementing this we will decide this manner militarily,” he said. “We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer.”

Libyan rebel fighters have been massing outside Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, preparing for an assault against his loyalists if negotiations with tribal elders fail to peacefully transfer control of the town over to the new government.”  Read more at: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/08/2011830133244699250.html

U.S. Sanctions Syrian Foreign Minister and Assad Adviser, the Wall Street Journal

“The U.S. Treasury Department said Tuesday that it had blacklisted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, a former ambassador to Washington, and Bouthaina Shaaban, a top political and media adviser to President Assad.

Both officials had served as important diplomatic channels to Damascus in recent years as the Obama administration sought to improve relations with Syria. Mr. Moallem had also played a central role in failed peace talks between Syria and Israel.”  Read more at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903352704576540623693640518.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Unfriending Assad: Turkey, Iran, and Even Hizballah Begin to Rethink Syria, Time Magazine

“Will the wily Nasrallah continue to stick with the regime, which has been an invaluable conduit for weapons and money from Iran to Lebanon, even as Assad falls deeper into international and regional isolation? Does Hizballah really need him, given that it holds so much sway in Lebanon, including its main transit points by air and sea as well as its porous land border with Syria? Will Hizballah break from Assad or will he break from it? The thing about friendships is that, sometimes, other interests get in the way.” Read more at: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2090927,00.html#ixzz1WY6NCutE

Activists Pray in Tahrir Square, Call for Civil State, Al-Masry Al-Youm

“Dozens of activists on Tuesday demonstrated in Tahrir Square to call on Egypt’s ruling military council to fulfill the demands of the 25 January revolution.

Members of the April 6 Youth Movement and Mohamed ElBaradei’s presidential campaign called for punishing those accused of killing protesters during the revolution and a firmer stance toward Israel after Israeli forces killed five Egyptian officers at the border.” Read more at: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/491008


If the Arab Spring Turns Ugly

The New York Times – OPINION
By VALI NASR
Vali Nasr is professor at Tufts University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.”

THE Arab Spring is a hopeful chapter in Middle Eastern politics, but the region’s history points to darker outcomes. There are no recent examples of extended power-sharing or peaceful transitions to democracy in the Arab world. When dictatorships crack, budding democracies are more than likely to be greeted by violence and paralysis. Sectarian divisions — the bane of many Middle Eastern societies — will then emerge, as competing groups settle old scores and vie for power.

Syria today stands at the edge of such an upheaval. The brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is opening a dangerous fissure between the Alawite minority, which rules the country, and the majority Sunni population. After Mr. Assad’s butchery in the largely Sunni city of Hama on July 31, on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni group, accused the regime of conducting “a war of sectarian cleansing.” It is now clear that Mr. Assad’s strategy is to divide the opposition by stoking sectarian conflict.

Sunni extremists have reacted by attacking Alawite families and businesses, especially in towns near the Iraq border. The potential for a broader clash between Alawites and Sunnis is clear, and it would probably not be confined to Syria. Instead, it would carry a risk of setting off a regional dynamic that could overwhelm the hopeful narrative of the Arab Spring itself, replacing it with a much aggravated power struggle along sectarian lines.

That is because throughout the Middle East there is a strong undercurrent of simmering sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites, of whom the Alawites are a subset. Shiites and Sunnis live cheek by jowl in the long arc that stretches from Lebanon to Pakistan, and the region’s two main power brokers, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, are already jousting for power.

So far this year, Shiite-Sunni tensions have been evident in countries from Bahrain to Syria. But put together, they could force the United States to rethink its response to the Arab Spring itself.

Sectarianism is an old wound in the Middle East. But the recent popular urge for democracy, national unity and dignity has opened it and made it feel fresh. This is because many of the Arab governments that now face the wrath of protesters are guilty of both suppressing individual rights and concentrating power in the hands of minorities.

The problem goes back to the colonial period, when European administrators manipulated religious and ethnic diversity to their advantage by giving minorities greater representation in colonial security forces and governments.

Arab states that emerged from colonialism promised unity under the banner of Arab nationalism. But as they turned into cynical dictatorships, failing at war and governance, they, too, entrenched sectarian biases. This scarred Arab society so deeply that the impulse for unity was often no match for the deep divisions of tribe, sect and ethnicity.

The struggle that matters most is the one between Sunnis and Shiites. The war in Iraq first unleashed the destructive potential of their competition for power, but the issue was not settled there. The Arab Spring has allowed it to resurface by weakening states that have long kept sectarian divisions in place, and brutally suppressed popular grievances. Today, Shiites clamor for greater rights in Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while Sunnis are restless in Iraq and Syria.

This time, each side will most likely be backed by a nervous regional power, eager to protect its interests. For the past three decades the Saudi monarchy, which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni Islam, has viewed Iran’s Shiite theocracy as its nemesis. Saudis have relied on the United States, Arab nationalism and Sunni identity to slow Iran’s rise, even to the point of supporting radical Sunni forces.

The Saudis suffered a major setback when control of Iraq passed from Sunnis to Shiites, but that made them more determined to reverse Shiite gains and rising Iranian influence. It was no surprise that Saudi Arabia was the first Arab state to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus earlier this month.

(Click on the graphic below to enlarge it and see the region’s Points of Confrontation.)

Points of Confrontation

Points of Confrontation


Arab Muslims mark the first day of Eid al-Fitr holiday as regional violence abounds

The Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long celebration of Ramadan.  On Eid al-Fitr, large celebrations and religious ceremonies are held, particularly in honor of the end of the daylight fast that Muslims undertake during Ramadan.  The celebrations do not begin until the crescent moon can be seen in Saudi Arabia. (Learn more about Eid al-Fitr across the world in Eid al-Fitr 2011: A Celebration of the End of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Celebrations Begin – in Pictures.)

Nonetheless, during this Eid celebration the Muslim Arab population remains a people in turmoil. Profiled below are the latest political situations in the Middle East on this Islamic holiday.

SYRIA

EGYPT

Cairo, Egypt: Muslims gather to pray at the start of the three-day feast Eid al-Fitr.

Egypt military rulers pardon 230 civilians in army prisons 

“Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of  the Armed Forces (SCAF) and Egypt’s defacto leader, has  pardoned 230 people languishing in prisons following military  trials. The gesture has been made to coincide with the post-  Ramadan Eid holiday.

The amnesty is restricted to those with no prior convictions to  their name, a list of which has been published in the dailies.

Those to be released includes people detained in Cairo at the Balloon Theatre and Tahrir Square on 28 and 29 June following clashes between families of the revolution’s martyrs and unknown thugs.”

LIBYA

Libyans burn the Libyan national flag of Muammar Gaddafi as they celebrate the first Eid Al Fitr in Green Square after his fall, in Tripoli August 29, 2011.

Joy and tears as Eid arrives in post-Gaddafi Libya

“With one day to go before the Eid celebrations, people started to emerge onto the streets to buy food for the family meal. But unlike previous years, they will have to make-do with no new clothes or extravagant menus that normally include a variety of dishes and sweets.

The capital city of two million people is still struggling to regain normalcy following the six-month uprising that saw the end of Gaddafi, who was loathed and feared by most of his country’s 7 million people.

Shops and businesses are still closed. Electricity, water and communications are still cut. People are still sheltering at home and only emerge to do their daily shopping in their local market.”

YEMEN

Protestors dance with ceremonial daggers on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen.

Yemenis mark Muslim holiday by calling for President’s ouster

“Thousands of protesters rallied against the president on Tuesday during Eid al-Fitr celebrations. The protests come a day after Mr. Saleh again vowed to hold presidential elections and enact reforms. State-run media reports quote him as saying his government can find constitutional solutions to overcome the “dangerous phase” in his country’s history that is threatening its unity and democracy.”

BAHRAIN

Poet Ayat al-Qurmezi was released from Bahraini jail in honor of Eid al-Fitr.

Bahraini female poet among those pardoned by King

“The Bahraini government said that a 20-year-old woman, who had sparked international outrage over her imprisonment, was among those pardoned to mark the beginning of the Eid holiday.  The woman, Ayat al-Qurmezi, had been sentenced to one-year in prison for publicly reciting a poem she had written that was critical of the small Kingdom’s crackdown on the uprising that left hundreds jailed.”

Have you ever participated in an Eid al-Fitr celebration?  If so, share your experience with us in our comments section below!


August 29, 2011 – News Review

Turkish Leader Says He Has Lost Confidence in Assad, The New York Times

“Clearly we have reached a point where anything would be too little too late,” the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, told his country’s Anatolia news agency, expressing frustration that Mr. Assad’s violent crackdown on protesters has continued past the 15-day window in which Turkey had said it expected a change.

“Today in the world there is no place for authoritarian administrations, one-party rule, closed regimes,” Mr. Gul said, adding that such governments could be “replaced by force” if their leaders did not make changes.

“Everyone should know that we are with the Syrian people,” he said.

Gaddafi Family Members Flee to Algeria, Al-Jazeera

“The wife of Muammar Gaddafi, Safia, his daughter Aisha, and sons Hannibal and Mohammed, accompanied by their children, entered Algeria at 08:45am local time [0745GMT] through the Algeria-Libyan border,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday published by the APS news agency.

However, it gave no information on the toppled Libyan leader, whose whereabouts has remained a mystery since fighters opposed to his government seized control of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, last week.

Algeria said their arrival had been reported to the United Nations and to the head of Libya’s Transitional National Council [NTC], now widely recognised internationally as the country’s legitimate government.”
Interview: Shahira Amin on Broadcasting in Egypt, the Guardian

“Following demonstrations from media workers and a shift in news coverage after the revolution – protesters were transformed from “thugs” to “heroes” – it seemed that the country’s state media were becoming more open. Amin, however, believes they have gone backwards. “The army is in complete control. They have simply replaced Mubarak and they are even more intimidating.

“Every news item gets checked before it is broadcast, which wasn’t the case before, they just had a monitoring system. Media channels still get press releases. Before they were from the presidency and interior ministry, now they’re from the SCAF [supreme council of armed forces]. Threats and rumours have been spread to discredit me, which scares a lot of other journalists.”

Bahrain King Calls for Peaceful Co-Existence, Gulf News

“Hundreds of students and employees were dismissed upon recommendations by ad hoc investigation teams before the authorities said that they should be reinstated. The University of Bahrain and the Bahrain Training Institute have allowed around 340 students back while several employers took back their employees. However, the reinstatement movement has been slow in some large companies.

King Hamad said that the last few months were painful, and even though Bahrainis lived in the same country, some had forgotten about the inevitability of co-existence.

“We must not swerve from our trust and faith in our common future, regardless of the diversity of our sects. Otherwise, we lose our trust in one another as brothers, colleagues and citizens in this beloved country,” he said.”