The Middle East Channel

Ten candidates officially barred from Egypt’s presidential elections

Egypt's Presidential Elections Commission has rejected appeals from ten candidates who were barred from running in the upcoming presidential elections. A statement released by the commission said, "All appeals have been rejected because nothing new was offered in the appeal requests." Those banned include the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat el-Shater, Salifist backed Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, and Hosni Mubarak's former vice president and intelligence chief, Omar Sulieman. Hundreds of supporters of Abu Ismail have staged protests outside the commission's headquarters in Cairo, where the candidate said, "We are exposed to a conspiracy by parties that you cannot imagine." However, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate who was to serve as el-Shater's backup upon his disqualification, is still in the race. The Election Commission, which makes the final decision regarding candidates' eligibility, will post the final candidate list on April 26, but the roster has already dropped from 23 to 13.

Syria

The ceasefire appears to have broken down, as levels of violence remain high in several regions in Syria. Up to 70 people have been killed by heavy shelling in the Jourat al-Shayah, Qarabis, Bayada, and Khaldiya districts of Homs, areas that have remained out of government control. According to the Local Coordination Committees, clashes continued in Deraa and Aleppo, as well as in the Idlib province where government troops were accompanied by tanks and helicopters. The Syrian government has said it is willing to comply with Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan. However, the regime has only agreed to a small United Nations' observer mission of 250 monitors, and it refuses independent air support despite recommendations of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said, "I think this is not enough, considering the current situation and considering the vastness of the country." Meanwhile, the advance team of monitors has not yet been permitted to operate throughout the country as negotiations on a memorandum of understanding between the Syrian government and the U.N. team have stalled.

Headlines  

  • Former Libyan dissident, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, is taking legal action against former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for complicity in torture in an alleged rendition operation.
  • Activists call for "Days of Rage" to attract attention to repression in Bahrain during the Formula 1 Grand Prix, The opposition Wefaq party meanwhile said it will focus on its own demands for political reform.
  • Palestinian officials delivered a letter from President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining terms for returning to peace talks.
  • Libya's justice ministry said it is close to negotiating a deal with the International Criminal Court that would allow the trial of Saif al Islam be held in Libya.

Arguments & Analysis

Morocco's second spring (Issandr El Amrani, The Guardian)  

"Some recent events suggest that Moroccans will not be infinite in their patience as they await concrete signs that the reformist path has paid off. The protests led by the 20 February movement in 2011 may have tapered off, but they are being replaced by a growing number of strikes and demonstrations over quality-of-life questions. The political crisis may for now have been averted, but this has not stopped growing indignation fuelled by socio-economic grievances. Such protests predate the Arab uprisings and have most often taken place in the country's backwaters, away from tourist hotspots and the hubs of economic activity on the Atlantic coast. In recent months, for example, protests have broken out repeatedly in Taza, a northeastern town typical of this chronically poor, backwater Morocco. They have often been met with violent repression."

The stage is set for a deal with Iran (David Ignatius, The Washington Post)

"The nuclear talks with Iran have just begun, but already the smart money in Tehran is betting on a deal. That piece of intelligence comes from the Tehran stock index; the day after the talks opened, it posted its largest daily rise in months and closed at a record high. Tehran investors may be guilty of wishful thinking in their eagerness for an agreement that would ease the economic sanctions squeezing their country. My guess is that they probably have it right. So far, Iran is following the script for a gradual, face-saving exit from a nuclear program that even Russia and China have signaled is too dangerous. The Iranians will bargain up to the edge of the cliff, but they don't seem eager to jump."

Euro-American misperceptions of the Tunisian Revolution (Benjamin Claude Brower, Al Jazeera English)

"A social crisis threatens Tunisia, as the gap grows between those who have benefited from the revolution and those who have not. The winners are concentrated in the upper and middle urban classes -- lawyers, professors, entrepreneurs -- who now enjoy economic and political liberty, while the working classes have seen little improvement in their daily lives. A reliable barometer of this social crisis are the "Harragas" who debark in small fishing boats for Europe. Their name comes from the Arabic word for "burners", and they "burn" everything -- papers, frontiers and their bridges back home. Having little hope that meaningful change will come from the ballot box, they take to the sea. "Tunisia has no future in Tunisia," President Moncef Marzouki recently said, in a poorly worded call for regional co-operation which resonated unfavourably with the Harragas. More than 30,000 have fled the country since January 14, 2011, and clandestine Tunisian emigrants are appearing now in Algeria, a country that faces its own acute problems of unemployment and poverty."

--Mary Casey & Jennifer Parker

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Bahrain reforms “inadequate” ahead of Grand Prix

Human rights organization Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday condemning Bahrain's failure to implement political reforms the country had committed to after its crackdown on last year's uprisings. The report was issued before Bahrain is scheduled to host the prestigious Formula 1 Grand Prix. According to Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, "With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over." Demonstrators have gathered in recent days to protest the holding of the race and call for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Shiite activist sentenced to life in prison who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 50 days. Violent clashes have escalated over the past week between security forces and protesters. The February 14 youth activist group has called for "three days of rage" from Friday to Sunday. In November 2011, Bahrain's King Hamad commissioned the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report noting human rights abuses and torture. A spokesperson from Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority said that, "sweeping and significant reforms have taken place over the past year and are still ongoing." However, Amnesty International stated it continues to receive reports of excessive use of force and torture, claiming reforms have been inadequate and have "only scratched the surface."

Syria

Six United Nations observers have begun a peacekeeping mission in Syria, attempting to enforce a five-day old truce. Twenty-four additional monitors tasked with aiding the implementation of the United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan will join the initial observers. According to Ahmad Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, the mission "will start with setting up operating headquarters and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand" their roles. Annan is hoping to expand the mission to 200 observers, a number which many still consider insufficient. According to the United States' envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, multiple reports of violence could jeopardize the mission: "Should the violence persist and the ceasefire, or cessation of violence more aptly, not hold, that...will call into question the wisdom and the viability of sending in the full monitoring presence." The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian forces carried out raids in the Hama province village of Khattab on Monday and clashes broke out in the northwestern Idlib province. According to activists, heavy shelling continued in the opposition held Bayada and Khalidiya districts of Homs. Meanwhile, United Nations human rights investigators said they have received reports of the execution of soldiers captured by opposition forces. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated this week will be critical for evaluating the peace plan, elaborating that the United States is optimistic but is making alternative plans if there is a breakdown in the ceasefire. Annan is headed to Doha on Tuesday to consult with the Arab League on next steps.

Headlines

  • Around 1,200 Palestinian inmates have begun an open-ended hunger strike and 2,300 will refuse food for a day marking Prisoners' Day, a day of protest against detainment without trail and "humiliating" treatment.
  • Egypt's election commission is expected to decide on Tuesday which of the appeals will be reviewed from three leading presidential contenders disqualified from running.
  • Iraq's Chief of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, was arrested on corruption charges throwing into question what were believed to be free and fair elections.

Arguments & Analysis

False Witnesses (The Daily Star)

"With the first of the U.N. observers having arrived to Syria, and regime violence showing no sign of abating, it is becoming apparent that the Security Council mission has little to no purpose. Since the "cease-fire," backed by the United Nations, came into effect Thursday, activists say around 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed across the country, with Monday bringing news of continued shelling in several cities. It appears that this U.N. mission, sold as an integral part of Kofi Annan's six-point plan, is more of the same, and perhaps even more dangerous: masking as it does the real extent of the violence and killings, with the observers on a guided tour of the country's calm spots, having been warned that they bear responsibility for their own safety should they stray from the sightseeing tour."

Paradoxes of "Religious Freedom" in Egypt (Tamir Moustafa and Asifa Quraishi-Landes, Jadaliyya)

"The place of religion in the political order is arguably the most contentious issue in post-Mubarak Egypt. With Islamist-oriented parties controlling over 70 percent of seats in the new People's Assembly and the constitution-writing process about to begin, liberals and leftists are apprehensive about the implications for Egyptian law and society, including the rights of Egypt's millions of Coptic Christians. Mindful of these anxieties and pragmatic in its approach, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has backed away from earlier calls for an "Islamic state." Its 2011 election platform opts instead to promote the sharia as a "frame of reference. " Working hard to assuage anxieties both at home and abroad, the Party explicitly calls for a "civil state" and repeatedly stresses the importance of equality of citizenship among Muslims and Christians."

Alert: Bahrain (The International Crisis Group)
"Beneath a façade of normalisation, Bahrain is sliding toward another dangerous eruption of violence. The government acts as if partial implementation of recommendations from the November 2011 Independent Commission of Inquiry (the Bassiouni Report) will suffice to restore tranquillity, but there is every reason to believe it is wrong. Political talks -- without which the crisis cannot be resolved -- have ground to a halt, and sectarian tensions are mounting. A genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition and a decision to fully carry out the Bassiouni Report -- not half-hearted measures and not a policy of denial -- are needed to halt this deterioration."

--Mary Casey & Jennifer Parker

AFP/Getty images