Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting a Resource on the Arab Awakening

Seeking information on the crises in the Middle East? Visit http://pulitzercenter.org/ for information on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

According to the organization’s website, “The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences.

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The Pulitzer Center is a bold initiative, in keeping with its deep ties to the family whose name for more than a century has been a watchword for journalistic independence, integrity, and courage.”


Syrian opposition: Homs a ‘disaster area’

Al-Jazeera reports:

Syria’s opposition has called for international intervention in the central city of Homs, one of the focal points of the country’s uprising, calling it a “humanitarian disaster area”.

The appeal, issued on Monday by the Turkey-based Syrian National Council, comes after activists said at least 17 people had been killed in the city on Sunday in an ongoing crackdown by security forces.

In a statement, the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime.”

It also called on the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres.”

The Arab League has called a meeting in Cairo next Saturday on what it calls Syria’s failure to implement a peace plan, announced by the body last week following talks with Syrian officials.

The League said the meeting was called because of “the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis.”

Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, meanwhile criticised the United States for urging suspected gunmen not to hand in their weapons to authorities under an amnesty offer, Syrian state media reported Monday.

“Syria considers the US call an encouragement for the armed groups to pursue their criminal acts against the Syrian people and state,” state television quoted al-Moallem as saying.

According to the reports, al-Moallem made the criticism in letters to his counterparts in Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the Arab League.

On Friday the Syrian government announced details regarding a week-long amnesty period, beginning on Saturday, calling on “citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes, to hand themselves into the nearest police station.”

“The interior ministry assures that those who turn themselves in…will then be freed immediately and it will be considered a general amnesty,” state media said.

However, in a press briefing in Washington DC, Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, advised Syrians against turning themselves in.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn thmselves in to the regime authorities at the moment,” she told reporters.

Arab Spring Spawns Interest in Improving Quality of Higher Education

The New York Times reports:

DOHA, Qatar — Recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa can be traced largely to the region’s youth — millions of young people facing widespread unemployment and seeing a dearth of opportunities ahead of them.

Now, academics are seeking to focus on the role that higher education can play to address their concerns, and the crucial steps that officials need to take to achieve this, like engaging with institutions outside the region, standardizing curriculums and finding alternative sources of financing.

“It is likely that the Arab Spring will certainly affect the governance system of higher education, probably in the direction of more independence, participation and partnerships,” said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education.

The institute presented its new report on the region, “Classifying Higher Education Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa: A Pilot Study,” at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, which completed its third annual conference last week.

The WISE conference, as it is known, is an international initiative financed by the Qatar Foundation, a government-funded nonprofit organization for education, science and community development. This year, the forum brought together 1,200 academic leaders and policy makers for three days of discussions on educational reform.

The study, which lasted two years, includes research on 300 higher education institutions in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Issued in conjunction with the Lebanese Association for Educational Studies and with support from the Carnegie Corporation, the report was released at the summit meeting, its authors say, to underscore that countries in the region are trying to raise their educational profiles. “Many higher education systems in the region are still in transition phase — leaving old systems and coming to new systems,” said Adnan El Amine, co-author of the report, and founder of Lebanese Association for Education Studies. “Over all, Arab institutions’ involvement at the international level is relatively low.”

Part of that can be traced to the varying academic models used in the region — either an American model, a French model, or some combination.

Complicating the situation is the recent expansion of private universities. The private sector made up only 10 percent of universities in 1998, but by 2008 it accounted for more than half of all institutions in the region. The report found significant variation across countries: in some, the share of private universities exceeds 80 percent; elsewhere it is less than 20 percent.

“There is no standardized framework for understanding the region’s institutions,” Ms. Bhandari said. “Having more comparable information like this will lead to a deeper understanding of the wide range of institutions in the Arab world and how they must be financed and supported.”

This is particularly tricky in Egypt, where education funding, which largely came from the government, had to rely more heavily on charitable foundations and private funding this year.

“It’s a difficult transition time and even though funds are available, the terrain in Egypt is not clear to anyone, which creates uncertainty,” said Shahinaz Ahmed, chief executive of the Egypt arm of the nonprofit Education for Employment Foundation. “It took us six months to get back on track and raise funds again, but donors realize that education is a long-term investment that ultimately has high return on investment.”

While analysts say that financing for education should come from governments in the long run, they add that more options must be examined.

“There need to be new ideas in financing, new partnerships created, new ways to look at the old means of financing education,” Carol Bellamy, chairwoman of the Global Partnership for Education. “For too long, the education sector has been allergic to engaging with the private sector, but now we’re seeing more private-sector participation.”

The report also examined the issue of accrediting an expanding number of institutions, and the challenge it poses to mobility for students from Arab countries; the number of universities active in the Arab region rose to 467 in 2009, compared with just 174 a decade ago.

“Quantitative growth of higher education in the past decade has, in many cases, taken place at the expense of quality,” said Mr. El Amine. “Nonetheless, some important steps are being taken to address these challenges and aim for international standards.”

During the WISE conference, the issue of ensuring quality of education, and its link to employing young people, was at the forefront of discussions. “We cannot afford to produce graduates who don’t fit the needs of the market anymore,” said Sheika Mozah bint Nasser, chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation. “We have to have an education system that prepares them for jobs and builds critical thinking in a dynamic environment.”

Bahrain security forces clash with protesters

Al-Jazeera reports:

Security forces in Bahrain have used tear gas and armoured vehicles to drive back hundreds of protesters advancing toward a heavily guarded square that was once the center of pro-reform demonstrations in the Gulf nation.

Witnesses said hundreds of demonstrators marched on Pearl Square in Bahrain’s capital Manama after a funeral procession on Friday morning for the 78-year-old father of an opposition leader.

Ali Hasan al-Dehi died on Thursday morning after reportedly having been severely beaten by riot police during a protest the day before in the village of Dehi. Opposition groups claim he died as a result of his alleged treatment by police.

Al-Dehi was the father of Hussein al-Dehi, who is the deputy-head of the main Shia opposition group. Authorities said he died of natural causes.

Video and images uploaded on social media websites on Friday appeared to show police cars driving at protesters in several locations. Al Jazeera was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said the government had blocked roads to try to prevent people from attending the funeral ceremony.


“Deadly clashes” continue in Syria

Al-Jazeera reports:

At least thirteen people are reported killed in the latest clashes across Syria as the government called on armed opposition members to turn themselves in within one week to qualify for an amnesty.

As massive anti-government demonstrations took place across the country following Friday prayers, two civilians were reported to have been killed after security forces opened fire on protesters in the district of Kanaker in the capital, Damascus.

Two others were reported killed near the Syria-Jordan border. They were shot at while trying to cross the border and flee the country, according to reports.

Four deaths in the Bab Amro area of Homs came a day after 22 civilians were reportedly killed in the military crackdown on protesters there.

“Syrian security forces continue to shell and launch attacks on Bab Amro district,” said Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from neighbouring Jordan.

“At least 10 people were injured, but ambulances were prevented from entering the area to reach the wounded. And we are hearing reports that planes are still hovering over the district.”

The locations of the seven other reported deaths was unclear.

In the port city of Latakia, an activist said he counted 13 security pick-up trucks surrounding the main Arsalan mosque.

He said at least three protesters were wounded by security forces firing in front of the Bazar mosque in the centre of the city.

“They were hit and taken by the security forces. In front of every mosque in Latakia there are several hundred security personnel touting either batons, handguns, or automatic rifles,” he said.

Amnesty deal

The continued violence on Friday came as Syria’s government announced details of a week-long amnesty period, starting from, Saturday.

“The interior ministry calls on citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes, to hand themselves into the nearest police station,” state television said on Friday.

“The interior ministry assures that those who turn themselves in … will then be freed immediately and it will be considered as a general amnesty,” it said.

Friday’s renewed violence appeared to contravene a mediation deal agreed between Damascus and the Arab League on Wednesday which had called for Syrian troops to end their presence in cities and residential areas.

The agreement, which also called for the release of all political prisoners and monitoring of the situation inside Syria by league officials and foreign media, was announced at an emergency meeting in Cairo, where the regional body gathered to discuss plans to ease the violence and end the unrest in Syria.

The peace deal “emphasised the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan”, but members of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella opposition group, have voiced serious scepticism over the government’s willingness and sincerity to put the deal into effect.

“There is no indication on the ground that the Syrian government has at all started implementing the Arab League proposal to end the unrest,” said our correspondent.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country, making it hard to verify reports of violence.

Libya elects new interim prime minister

Video from Al-Jazeera:

Syria and Arab League Reach Consensus

Reported by CNN:

Syria and the Arab League have reached an agreement on a plan aimed at finding a solution to the months-long unrest in the country, state media reported Tuesday.

An official announcement will take place Wednesday at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo, according to Syrian state television and the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

The Arab League has called on Syria’s government to end all violence against citizens, remove tanks and military vehicles from the streets of the country and release political prisoners, an official with the Arab organization said Monday.

The Arab countries made the proposal to Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, on Sunday in a meeting in Doha, Qatar. The Arab League also proposed a dialogue between Syrian officials and opposition members in Cairo starting Wednesday.

The proposals included a time frame for compliance, the Arab League official said.

The Syrian delegation left Qatar without responding to the Arab League letter, according to the Qatari national news agency.

More than 3,000 people have died in Syria since unrest broke out in mid-March, according to the United Nations. CNN cannot independently confirm individual accounts of violence because Syria’s government restricts the activity of journalists.

In early October, China and Russia teamed up to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian response to the protests and called for an immediate end to the government clampdown on the opposition.

Meanwhile, Syrians aiming to write a new constitution for the strife-torn country met Monday for the first time, according to state news reports.

President Bashar al-Assad last month announced the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution within four months, SANA reported at the time. The October 15 announcement was one of several moves the government has made to defuse protests, but they have not calmed the situation within the country.