Archive for category Middle East/Africa

How Yemen became the most wretched place on earth

Nov 30th 2017 | ADEN, HODEIDA AND SANA’A

A report from a conflict zone the world ignores

ALONG the road from the port city of Hodeida to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, rugged mountains rise sharply from a coastal plain, then level off, giving way to a raised plateau. Old stone farmhouses overlook terraced fields, fed by mountain rains. To the south are lush forests, where baboons and wildcats live. Yemen’s vast deserts spread to the east. The diversity of the landscape is breathtaking. But amid all this natural beauty, there is misery.

Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East even before the outbreak of war in 2014 between Houthi rebels and government forces. The conflict has heaped devastation upon poverty. Since fighting began Yemen has suffered the biggest cholera outbreak in modern history and is on the brink of the harshest famine the world has seen for decades. The conflict has shattered the water, education and health systems. The UN says that it is the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis. Three-quarters of the population of 28m need help.

The war in Yemen, and looming humanitarian catastrophe, has gone largely unnoticed beyond its borders. The fighting is rooted in old conflicts and now involves many groups, sucking in Yemen’s neighbours. But no single force has emerged that is strong enough or competent enough to hold the entire country together, making the prospects for peace dim. Read the rest of this entry »


The war the world ignores

Economist (Leader)
Nov 30th 2017

How—and why—to end the war in Yemen

A pointless conflict has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world

YEMEN lost the title of Arabia Felix, or “Fortunate Arabia”, long ago. It has suffered civil wars, tribalism, jihadist violence and appalling poverty. But none of this compares with the misery being inflicted on the country today by the war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, a Shia militia backed by Iran.

The UN reckons three-quarters of Yemen’s 28m people need some kind of humanitarian aid. Mounting rubbish, failing sewerage and wrecked water supplies have led to the worst cholera outbreak in recent history. The country is on the brink of famine. The economy has crumbled, leaving people with impossible choices. Each day the al-Thawra hospital in Hodeida must decide which of the life-saving equipment to run with what little fuel it has.

Perhaps the worst of it is that much of the world seems unperturbed (see Briefing), calloused by the years of bloodshed in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, and despairing of its ability to effect change. To be cynical, Yemen is farther away from Europe than Syria is; its wretched people do not, on the whole, wash up in the West seeking asylum. Read the rest of this entry »


What will give Egypt’s ruler ‘legitimacy’?

A pivotal question leaps from political science departments to the street.

By Thanassis Cambanis | Globe Correspondent
July 21, 2013

CAIRO — The troop of bearded Islamists carried wooden clubs and wore motorcycle helmets. They marched in time beneath a sweltering noonday sun, rehearsing for the clashes they expected any minute with the Egyptian army. A military ultimatum was set to expire that evening, and the president was about to be deposed.

When they finished their drill, however, they didn’t want to talk about street fighting. Instead, they started a heated debate over a point of political theory—specifically, whether it is acceptable to question the legitimacy of a popularly elected leader.

“If they threaten President Morsi’s legitimacy, everyone will pay for it. There will be an Islamic revolution,” said a 49-year-old construction worker named Taha Sayed Ali, a lifelong member of Gamaa Islamiya, the group that waged an armed insurgency in Egypt in the 1990s.

What grants legitimacy to a leader? The question usually arises in the abstract realm of political theory, but in today’s Egypt, it has become one of visceral, daily importance. How big does a crowd of protesters have to be to indicate an elected leader is no longer the voice of his people? When do self-interested or authoritarian policy decisions go so far as to invalidate the mandate of an elected government? On the streets of Cairo, these questions have come to occupy the center of a serious, messy conversation about how to build a healthy and accountable new state. Read the rest of this entry »


The Arab spring – Has it failed?

Despite the chaos, the blood and the democratic setbacks, this is a long process. Do not give up hope

The Economist
Jul 13th 2013

ROUGHLY two-and-a-half years after the revolutions in the Arab world, not a single country is yet plainly on course to become a stable, peaceful democracy. The countries that were more hopeful—Tunisia, Libya and Yemen—have been struggling. A chaotic experiment with democracy in Egypt, the most populous of them, has landed an elected president behind bars. Syria is awash with the blood of civil war.

No wonder some have come to think the Arab spring is doomed. The Middle East, they argue, is not ready to change. One reason is that it does not have democratic institutions, so people power will decay into anarchy or provoke the reimposition of dictatorship. The other is that the region’s one cohesive force is Islam, which — it is argued — cannot accommodate democracy. The Middle East, they conclude, would be better off if the Arab spring had never happened at all.

That view is at best premature, at worst wrong. Democratic transitions are often violent and lengthy. The worst consequences of the Arab spring — in Libya initially, in Syria now — are dreadful. Yet as our special report argues, most Arabs do not want to turn the clock back. Read the rest of this entry »


Analysis: Iran moderate’s poll triumph is mandate for change

By Marcus George
DUBAI | Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:51pm IST

(Reuters) – Iranian voters weary of years of economic isolation and tightening political restrictions threw down a blunt demand for change on Saturday by handing a moderate cleric a landslide victory in a presidential election.

Having waited throughout Friday night and most of Saturday, millions of Iranians at home and abroad greeted Hassan Rohani’s victory with a mix of euphoria and relief that eight years under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were finally over.

That Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, trounced hardline “Principlist” rivals most loyal to the theocratic system and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Friday’s contest left many in the Islamic Republic in shock.

A second surprise was that the country’s first presidential poll since a disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009 appeared to be free and fair.

His victory goes some way to repairing the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, badly damaged four years ago when the disputed poll led to mass unrest. And it may herald an increase in political space for the sort of reformist groups which bore the brunt of the security crackdown that ended the disturbances. Read the rest of this entry »


Rohani Leads in Early Iran Results

Wall Street Journal
June 15, 2013.

BEIRUT—Iran’s preliminary election results show that the candidate backed by the opposition and reformist political factions, Hassan Rohani, is leading in polls by a landslide, giving a decisive victory to Iranians calling for change.

Mr. Rohani has 51.76% of the estimated 12 million counted votes, with the second runner up, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, scoring only 15.78%, according to official preliminary results announced by the Interior Ministry.

Mr. Rohani needs 50% plus one vote to win the presidency and if early results are an indication, the election might not go to a runoff as predicted.

Conservative candidates did poorly in vote counts so far, especially the candidates perceived to be the closest to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The current nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, ranked fourth and Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister, was fifth. Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who made the economy his top campaign issue, ranked third. The votes for all three men are below 13% so far.

Iran analysts and media pundits say if Mr. Rohani wins with a large margin, it should serve as wake-up call for Mr. Khamenei and his circle of conservative advisers that their hard-line policies ranging from the standoff over the nuclear issue to the dire state of the economy have been rejected by the majority of the population. Read the rest of this entry »


It’s Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves

Seumas Milne
The Guardian
20 November 2012

The US and Britain stand behind Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. Justice requires a change in the balance of forces on the ground

The way western politicians and media have pontificated about Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, you’d think it was facing an unprovoked attack from a well-armed foreign power. Israel had every “right to defend itself”, Barack Obama declared. “No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

He was echoed by Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, who declared that the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas bore “principal responsibility” for Israel’s bombardment of the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, most western media have echoed Israel’s claim that its assault is in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks; the BBC speaks wearisomely of a conflict of “ancient hatreds”.

In fact, an examination of the sequence of events over the last month shows that Israel played the decisive role in the military escalation: from its attack on a Khartoum arms factory reportedly supplying arms to Hamas and the killing of 15 Palestinian fighters in late October, to the shooting of a mentally disabled Palestinian in early November, the killing of a 13 year-old in an Israeli incursion and, crucially, the assassination of the Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari last Wednesday during negotiations over a temporary truce. Read the rest of this entry »


Tunisia’s Hamadi Jebali: The face of moderate Islam?

Al Arabiya News
19 November 2011

TUNIS – With deep roots in the fight against anti-Muslim oppression, Hamadi Jebali emerged from years in jail under a repressive regime as a man of compromise and the moderate face of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist party.

The 63-year-old Ennahda secretary general is set to become the north African country’s prime minister under a deal reached by the three main parties, to be approved Tuesday by the newly elected constituent assembly.

With his neatly trimmed white beard, thin-framed glasses and the prayer mark of the pious Muslim on his forehead, Jebali “has been one of the main players on the Islamic scene” in Tunisia, Sofiene Ben Fahrat, editor of Tunisia’s La Presse daily told AFP.

“He notably led the confrontation against the regime of (Habib) Bourguiba,” the father of independent Tunisia who launched a repressive campaign against Islamists and had several of its leaders sentenced to death, he said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gaza crisis has more to come

By Victor Kotsev
Asia Times
Nov 20, 2012

On Sunday night, an Egyptian effort to establish a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza militant factions reportedly collapsed. An Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip loomed, after missiles landed near Tel Aviv for four days in a row – once near Jerusalem, even farther away.

Though nobody was hurt in these specific attacks, they came as a slap in the face of the stated goals of the ongoing Israeli operation: stopping the missile fire and restoring deterrence. Rockets had not been aimed at the heart of Israel for over 20 years, since the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles during the First Gulf War. Therefore, as tanks and artillery units rolled toward Gaza and reserve soldiers were reporting for duty (75,000 initially, an increase of more than 40% of the army’s active personnel), a long and bloody operation appeared to be in store, and only an effective miracle of diplomacy could prevent that.

Pinning down the beginning of the crisis is almost as difficult as forecasting its end. The Atlantic published an elaborate timeline of its gradual escalation, which involved the targeted assassination of a top Gaza militant, Ahmed al-Jabari, as well as the firing of some 150 rockets into southern Israel during the previous weekend. Read the rest of this entry »


Netanyahu’s high-stakes game in Gaza

By Ramzy Baroud
Asia Times
Nov 20, 2012

Many key phrases have been presented to explain Israel’s latest military onslaught against Gaza, which left scores dead and wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flexing his muscles in preparation for the Israeli general elections in January, suggested some. It is Israel’s way of testing the administration of Egyptian President Mahmoud Morsi, commented others. It was a stern message to Iran, instructed a few. Or that Israel is simply assessing its “deterrence” capabilities. And so on.

But there is more than those ready-to-serve analyses. It has been four years since Israel mixed up the cards through an unhindered show of force. Last time it did so was in 2008-09, in a 22-day war it termed “Operation Cast Lead”. Then, it killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. Excluding Israel’s diehard supporters, the general consensus was, including that of many UN and international rights organizations: Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity deserving of international tribunals and due retribution.

Of course, none took place. The US government and media stood as an impenetrable shield between Israel’s accused war criminals and those daring to level accusations. Four years later little has changed. Then as it is now, Israel was embarking on national elections, and since “security” is Israel’s enduring strategy whether in national or international politics, it was suddenly realized that Gaza posed a “security threat”, thus had to be suppressed or at least taught a lesson. Read the rest of this entry »


Hamas and Israel have opened the ‘gates of hell’ in Gaza yet again. And the number of journalistic cliches in hell is growing by the day

Robert Fisk
The Independent
18 November 2012

‘Surgical air strikes’, ‘rooting out terror’, and ‘cyber-terrorism’ cannot conceal reality

Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Here we go again. Israel is going to “root out Palestinian terror” – which it has been claiming to do, unsuccessfully, for 64 years – while Hamas, the latest in “Palestine’s” morbid militias, announces that Israel has “opened the gates of hell” by murdering its military leader, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Hezbollah several times announced that Israel had “opened the gates of hell” for attacking Lebanon. Yasser Arafat, who was a super-terrorist, then a super-statesman – after capitulating on the White House lawn – and then became a super-terrorist again when he realised he’d been conned by Camp David; he, too waffled on about the “gates of hell” in 1982.

And we journos are writing like performing bears, repeating all the clichés we’ve used for the past 40 years. The killing of Mr Jabari was a “targeted attack”, it was a “surgical air strike” – like the Israeli “surgical air strikes” which killed almost 17,000 civilians in Lebanon in 1982, the 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, in 2006, or the 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in Gaza in 2008-9, or the pregnant woman and the baby who were killed by the “surgical air strikes” in Gaza last week – and the 11 civilians killed in one Gaza house yesterday. At least Hamas, with their Godzilla rockets, don’t claim anything “surgical” about them. They are meant to murder Israelis – any Israelis, man woman or child. Read the rest of this entry »


Egypt: The 12 million losers!

By Ali Ibrahim
Al Arabiya News
27 June 2012

Simply following the comments of activists and observers on social networking websites during the press conference held by the head of Egypt’s electoral commission, Farouk Sultan, who was forced by law to issue a lengthy legal preamble before the election result was announced, was fun in itself. These activists, in their nervous state, posted various comments claiming that Sultan’s narrative or use of certain words meant that Shafiq would be declared the winner, only to return later to post other comments claiming that the indications now suggested that Mursi would be declared victorious! Some comments accused the head of the electoral commission of being sadistic, because he did not immediately announce the election result but instead left everyone on the edge of their seats as he reviewed the work of the electoral commission and the difficult conditions it operated under.

Despite a flood of conspiracy theories, claims of voter fraud, and talk about secret understandings being reached behind closed doors, no one was sure of the name of the winning candidate until Farouk Sultan announced that Mohammed Mursi had won ahead of Ahmed Shafiq. Hence a new chapter in post-25 January Egypt has begun, and the challenges of this stage are no less difficult than the previous transitional period, which lasted for around 16 months and was full of turmoil.

There was a winner and a loser, each with a large support base who voted for them, and neither can cancel the other out. The end result was decided by a difference of less than 3 percent, or about 900 thousand votes out of a total of roughly 26 million according to the commission’s figures, including more than 800 thousand invalid votes. In the end, everyone must accept the outcome of the ballot box even if the difference is so small. Read the rest of this entry »


What do Arabs Want?

Mansoor Moaddel

CAIRO – The self-immolation a year ago of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi triggered a wave of popular protests that spread across the Arab world, forcing out dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Now, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, too, seems near the end of his rule.

Together, these movements for change have come to be known as the Arab Spring. But what values are driving these movements, and what kind of change do their adherents want? A series of surveys in the Arab world last summer highlights some significant shifts in public opinion.

In surveys, 84% of Egyptians and 66% of Lebanese regarded democracy and economic prosperity as the Arab Spring’s goal. In both countries, only about 9% believed that these movements aimed to establish an Islamic government.

For Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, where trend data are available, the Arab Spring reflected a significant shift in people’s values concerning national identity. In 2001, only 8% of Egyptians defined themselves as Egyptians above all, while 81% defined themselves as Muslims. In 2007, the results were roughly the same.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, however, these numbers changed dramatically: those defining themselves as Egyptians rose to 50%, 2% more than those who defined themselves as Muslims. Among Iraqis, primary self-identification in national terms jumped from 23% of respondents in 2004 to 57% in 2011. Among Saudis, the figure jumped from 17% in 2003 to 46% in 2011, while the share of those claiming a primary Muslim identity dropped from 75% to 44%.

There has also been a shift toward secular politics and weakening support for sharia (Islamic religious law). Read the rest of this entry »


Syria: bloodshed in Damascus

The Arab spring is at a crossroads; if Assad falls and the country avoids civil war, the revolution may move eastwards

23 December 2011

It is an unseasonably gloomy thought, but nevertheless a true one: all the aspirations, the sacrifice and the triumphs of a momentous year of revolution and upheaval in the Arab world hinge ultimately on events taking place in Syria. The Arab spring is at a crossroads. If Bashar al-Assad’s blood-stained regime falls, and the country stays in one piece and avoids a sectarian civil war, there is nothing to stop the revolution moving onwards and eastwards. The next stop could well be Iran, but none of the monarchies of the Gulf states are secure either. But if Syria disintegrates, it would quickly become a regional battlefield, fed by the rival interests of its neighbours – not unlike Iraq was in 2006 or Lebanon was during its civil war. And then the Arab spring would well and truly have come to a halt.

On Friday a blood-strewn week reached its apogee with a twin bombing of security and intelligence buildings in Damascus, killing at least 40 and wounding 100. The regime pointed the finger at al-Qaida and the state news agency quoted analysts who included US, Israel and Europe in the list of the bomber’s puppet-masters.

The Free Syria Army denied involvement and voiced scepticism. Read the rest of this entry »


Political Islam poised to dominate the new world bequeathed by Arab spring

The Muslim Brotherhood’s success in the first round of Egypt’s elections has added to western fears of an Islamist future for the Middle East. But this does not necessarily mean that democracy and liberal policies face extinction

by Peter Beaumont
foreign affairs editor
3 December 2011

Among the potent symbols of the Arab spring is one that has been less photographed and remarked on than the vast gatherings in Tahrir Square. It has been the relocation of the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the once banned party, now set to take the largest share of seats in Egypt’s new parliament.

Before May this year they were to be found in shabby rooms in an unremarkable apartment block on Cairo’s Gezira Island, situated behind an unmarked door. These days the Brotherhood is to be found in gleaming new accommodation in the Muqatam neighbourhood, in a dedicated building prominently bearing the movement’s logo in Arabic and English.

Welcome to the age of “political Islam”, which may prove to be one of the most lasting legacies of the Arab spring. It is not only in Egypt that an unprecedented Islamist political moment is playing out. In the recent Tunisian elections the moderate Islamist Ennahda party was the biggest winner, while Morocco has elected its first Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

In Yemen and Libya, too, it seems likely that political Islam will define the shape of the new landscape.

None of which should be at all surprising. Indeed, if elections in Egypt and Tunisia had been held at any other time in the past two decades, the same result would almost certainly have ensued, reflecting both the levels of organisation of Ennahda and the Brotherhood and the countries’ cultural, economic and social dynamics. Read the rest of this entry »


Tunisia’s Islamist-led government rejects laws to enforce religion

Al Arabiya News
Saturday, 05 November 2011

Tom Heneghan

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government will focus on democracy, human rights and a free-market economy in planned changes to the constitution, effectively leaving religion out of the text it will draw up, party leaders said.

The government, due to be announced next week, will not introduce sharia or other Islamic concepts to alter the secular nature of the constitution in force when Tunisia’s Arab Spring revolution ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

“We are against trying to impose a particular way of life,” Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, 70, a lifelong Islamist activist jailed and exiled under previous regimes, told Reuters.

Tunisian and foreign critics of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that won 41.7 percent of Tunisia’s first free election on Oct. 23, have voiced fears it would try to impose religious principles on this relatively secular Muslim country. Read the rest of this entry »


Mubarak pleads ‘not guilty’ at Cairo trial

Al Jazeera
03 Aug 2011

Former Egyptian president maintains innocence over charges that include corruption and unlawful killings of protesters.

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ousted president, has denied charges of corruption and complicity in the killing of protesters at the start of his historic trial in Cairo.

At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Mubarak spoke from a hospital stretcher where he lay inside a cage for defendants.

“I categorically deny all the charges,” Mubarak said.

The proceedings, in a temporary court at the Police Academy in Cairo, was shown live on state television. Read the rest of this entry »


Majlis pelancaran Misi Palestin: Mat Sabu tidak dibenar berpidato

By Fazy Sahir
June 19, 2011 | Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Timbalan Presiden PAS Mohamad Sabu mendakwa pentadbiran Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak bertindak mengambil alih misi kemanusiaan rakyat Palestin dalam majlis yang dilancarkan malam tadi.

Ini berikutan beliau dan beberapa badan bukan kerajaan (NGO) Pakatan Rakyat digugurkan dari menyertai majlis Pelancaran Pasukan Lifeline4Gaza (LL4G) Malaysia itu.

Mat Sabu yang dijadualkan menyampaikan pidato dalam majlis pelancaran itu malam tadi di Stadium Badminton Kuala Lumpur, Cheras telah digugurkan daripada berbuat demikian.

Beliau hanya diberitahu oleh pihak penganjur bahawa ucapannya dibatalkan awal pagi semalam dan membuat keputusan untuk tidak hadir dalam majlis tersebut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yemen: Sanaa sees third day of Hashid clashes

25 May 2011

Clashes between the Hashid tribe and government forces have continued since Monday

Street battles between Yemeni security forces and the country’s most powerful tribal federation are continuing for a third day in the capital, Sanaa.

At least 44 people have died in the clashes, which began after forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh moved against a tribal leader’s compound.

The tribal leader, Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, has joined an uprising against President Saleh’s rule.

On Sunday, the president refused to sign a deal to stand down. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mubarak charged over protester killings

By Heba Saleh in Cairo
Financial Times
May 24 2011

Egypt’s state prosecutor has charged Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, over the killing demonstrators during the protests that toppled him and abuse of authority for personal gain.

The decision, which should lead to a criminal court trial, confounds predictions by some analysts and diplomats that the ruling supreme military council would try to shield the ousted president from public humiliation.

Assuming the trial goes ahead, Mr Mubarak will be the first Arab leader to have been deposed by his people in a popular uprising and held to account for abuse during his rule. Read the rest of this entry »