The Middle East Channel

Egypt rejects licenses for eight U.S. civil society groups

Egypt's Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry rejected the applications of eight United States-based civil society organizations for licenses to operate in the country. According to Egyptian state media, the requests were denied on the grounds that their work would violate Egyptian sovereignty. The groups include the Carter Center, which has been active in Egyptian election monitoring; Coptic Orphans, a Christian group; and Seeds of Peace, an organization that gathers Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli youth together at a camp in Maine. The lawyer for Coptic Orphans, Negad al-Borai said, "I don't understand how a charity group like the Coptic Orphans, which works with over 35 churches in Egypt to provide medical and social aid, was rejected." The decision came after a December 2011 government crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the subsequent arrest of several U.S. NGO workers, which severely strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. The rejection of the applications occured the same day that France denied an  Egyptian request to issue international arrest warrants for 15 employees of U.S.-based NGOs, established in Egypt, who no longer reside in the country. Tensions between the United States and Egypt have recently abated, but human rights activists are concerned that recent actions taken by the Egyptian government imply a renewed crackdown.

Syria

Syrian forces have reportedly returned in full force after the United Nations observers leave beleaguered towns and cities. According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees, 50 people were killed during a tank and shelling assault on Hama after monitors departed the city. The observer mission also reportedly visited Homs, after previously being denied access, as well Zabadani and opposition strongholds near the capital of Damascus, where they encountered thousands of protesters calling for the end to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, Syrian pro-government television reported a car bombing in Damascus Tuesday that killed one Syria intelligence officer and wounded three other people. Syria's Ikhbaria television blamed the attack on "armed terrorists" but no one has claimed responsibility. The recent dramatic rise in violence is testing Kofi Annan's peace plan and the U.N. observer mission, which is set to expand to 300 monitors.

Headlines  

  • The head of Egypt's ruling military council ratified a law barring anyone who held high office under the Mubarak regime from presidency, effectively disqualifying Ahmed Shafiq.
  • Israel legalized three West Bank settlements which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas considered a response to last week's letter laying out preconditions for peace talks.
  • Iran said it had "sustained no damage" after cyber attacks on the oil ministry and national oil company.
  • Iraq has called back its ambassador to Turkey after days of antagonistic exchanges. 

Arguments & Analysis 

'Algeria ruling party mutiny reflects race for power' (Lamine Chikhi, Reuters)

"The party at the heart of power since Algeria's independence from France is convulsed by an internal revolt that may be an early skirmish in the battle to succeed 75-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Less than a month before the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN, competes in a parliamentary election, an influential faction within the party has tried to oust Secretary-General Abdelaziz Belkhadem."

'America should pull its fleet out of Bahrain' (Emile Nakhleh, Financial Times)

"The huge US naval presence in Bahrain has not improved western security in the Gulf; has not altered Iran's behaviour; and, more important, has not silenced the anti-regime opposition in the Gulf and in other Arab countries. Nor has it given the al-Khalifa and other Sunni regimes more legitimacy. Instead, its presence has arguably increased Iran's belligerence and given Sunni regimes, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the false impression that Washington has given them a licence to kill their own people. Moving the US military presence from Bahrain to "over the horizon" would be a clear signal that Arab dictatorship will no longer be tolerated, whether in Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or elsewhere."

'Analysis: The multiple sins of the Brothers' (Noha El-Hennawy, Egypt Independent)

"First, their perplexed performance has exposed what many observers perceive as political immaturity, to an extent that some of their prominent backers in intelligentsia circles have turned against them. The columns of Islamist writer Fahmy Howeidy are a case in point. Recently, Howeidy - long known for his Brotherhood sympathies - bashed their decision to field a presidential candidate (they had previously promised not to), saying they lack administrative skills and political expertise. He deemed them unfit to rule the country. Second, the group's credibility must have been shaken in the eyes of nearly 13 million voters who cast ballots in its favor, hoping that Parliament would be able to fix their urgent problems. Third, the group damaged its relations with revolutionary forces in a way that seems beyond repair, portraying itself as a reactionary camp allegedly interested in secret deals with the generals."

--Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP

The Middle East Channel

Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix runs despite mass protest

The Formula One Grand Prix ran as scheduled on Sunday in Bahrain despite mass protests against the race. Demonstrators criticized the Bahraini regime for attempting to portray stability while continuing human rights abuses and repression. The racetrack was highly guarded, preventing demonstrators from gathering en masse. However, protesters assembled in the majority Shiite villages surrounding the capital of Manama. Sports journalists were granted access to cover the F1, but many news outlets, including The Times, were denied visas to limit coverage of the demonstrations. A group of British-based Channel 4 journalists were arrested and subsequently deported from Bahrain for filming a demonstration on Sunday. The media team's driver, Ali, was reportedly beaten and also detained along with prominent human rights activist, Dr. Ala'a Shehabi. Both were later released. One demand of protesters is the release of rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has undertaken an over 11-week hunger strike while incarcerated. The verdict from Bahrain's appeals court on his case was set to be delivered on Monday but the decision has been postponed to April 30.

Syria

Violence continues across Syria after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday extending the observer mission from 30 to 300 members, with an up to three month mandate. There are currently eight monitors on the ground touring Syria, trying to preserve a truce brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that has been challenged by regular violent attacks. The monitors sought access to the beleaguered city of Hama, and while Syrian state television, SANA, reported the mission visited the city on Sunday, opposition activists say the observers were brought to Rastan, a rebel held city to the south. Neither report has been confirmed, however an activist attested to the U.N. visit, saying that the city has been quieter. "We don't see the tanks anymore, they just hide them in government installations. But the troops are still around. The truce has had an effect but not to the extent that we can demonstrate freely." Two monitors have been stationed in Homs, after the team visited the restive city over the weekend and attacks have appeared to have subsided. Clashes were reported in the Damascus suburb of Douma. According to the Damascus Revolutionary Council, "Regime forces backed by tanks stormed Douma under heavy gunfire." Adding an additional layer to the conflict, the Washington Post reported that there has been an influx of Islamist extremists into Syria attempting to take advantage of the insecurity to broaden their influence. Saturday's Security Council resolution meanwhile expressed concern that the cessation of violence between the regime and the opposition is "clearly incomplete" and threatened "further steps" if there is not full compliance, which according to the United States, France, and Britain would mean increased sanctions. The European Union announced new sanctions on Syria on Monday, an act which was condemned by Russia. 

Headlines  

Arguments & Analysis

Bahrain's Formula 1 is an insult to country's democratic reformers (Maran Turner, CNN)

"Unified: One nation in celebration" is the jubilant slogan of this year's Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain. The irony could not be harsher: while sports fans look forward to this glamorous race, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists is close to death in protest of his ongoing unlawful detention. Solidarity protests in the streets continue to be brutally suppressed. From the perspective of a majority of Bahrain's population, it is not one nation. And it is certainly not celebrating... It is time for the international community, sports fans or not, to call on the small kingdom to set things right, release peaceful human rights advocates like Mr. al-Khawaja and others, and start the reform process. The government should never have imprisoned Mr. al-Khawaja, who had only been exercising his internationally-protected rights of free expression; releasing him now is not only the humane thing to do -- it is a crucial step towards real unity and celebration.

Militants and Politics Bedevil Yemen's New Leaders, (Kareem Fahim, New York Times)

"Two months after a new president took office, Yemen's fledgling interim government has found itself overwhelmed by a set of dangerous new challenges to the country's stability, including a series of a bold attacks by a resurgent militant movement in the south and a festering political standoff in the capital. In the last few weeks, the new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has faced open defiance after he tried to dismiss or reassign officials loyal to his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years. In the south, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes that intensified after insurgents attacked an army base and seized heavy weapons, including tanks."

A game changer for Syria? (Randa Slim, CNN)

"The future leaders of Syria will not come from the Syrian National Council or the National Coordination Committee for Change; they will emerge from the ranks of the revolutionary councils that are forming in different parts of the country. These councils bring together an eclectic mix of the most active local coordinating committees, independent activists, community and business leaders and military defectors. They are putting in place an administrative infrastructure that is akin to a local provincial council, handling everything from media affairs to helping families who lost their homes to providing legal aid to jailed activists. They are also coordinating with each other to protect relief supply lines that cross their respective territories. In the process, the leaders in these councils, who hail from Syria's different religious and ethnic groups, are developing political skills, cultivating local constituencies and learning through trial and error the business of governing. In a country that is increasingly polarized along sectarian and ethnic lines, these councils can perhaps provide the glue that keeps the country stitched together."

--Mary Casey & Jennifer Parker

AFP/Getty images