Egyptian prosecutors opened an investigation on Tuesday against Bassem Youssef, a popular political satirist accused of insulting President Mohamed Morsi. An Islamist lawyer issued a formal complaint against Yousef for his television show in which he has portrayed Morsi as a pharaoh, criticizing his seizure of executive and legislative powers. The investigation has come amid growing fears that Egypt's new constitution fails to protect freedom of expression. On Saturday, Egyptian prosecutors questioned a reporter from the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm news on accusations of "circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration." The story under question stated that Morsi was visiting the hospital where former President Hosni Mubarak is being treated. It was, however, updated to state that Morsi's visit was canceled, and only his wife was there to visit a relative. Egypt's director of Human Rights Watch, Heba Morayef, said there has been a rise in the past four months of criminal defamation cases. Morayef added: "The problem is now we are likely to see an increase in this because criminal defamation is now embedded in the constitution."
Syrian opposition forces have attacked the Afis military airport near Taftanaz in the northwestern province of Idlib on the road connecting Aleppo with Damascus. The Islamist groups al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham Brigade were among the units active in the assault. Al-Nusra Front, which is believed to have ties to al Qaeda, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. Opposition forces have attacked several military installations in recent months as President Bashar al-Assad's air power continues to be a major threat. Additionally, clashes were reported near Aleppo's international airport, reportedly closing the airport. Meanwhile, government forces hit several eastern districts of Damascus where opposition forces have gained territory including Douma, Harasta, Irbin, and Zamlaka as well as the southwestern suburb of Daraya. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights over 110 people were killed in fighting in Syria on January 1, including at least 31 pro-government forces. Up to 45,000 people are estimated killed since the conflict began in March 2011. On Tuesday, a Syrian general defected from the army along with 20 soldiers who fled to Turkey.
- Israel has eased restrictions on building materials for private use into the Gaza Strip.
- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will not tolerate anti-government rallies indefinitely. His opponent, Moqtada al-Sadr, threw his support behind protests.
- Iran's navy has issued warnings to foreign aircraft and warships against approaching its forces during military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz.
Arguments and Analysis
Will Saudi Arabia Ever Change? (Hugh Eakin, New York Review of Books)
On September 25, 2011, the aging ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, gave a remarkable speech to the Majlis al-Shura, the formal advisory body to the Saudi monarchy in Riyadh. Beginning in 2013, the king said, women would be allowed to serve on the 150- member body; and beginning in 2015, they would also be permitted to vote and run for office in municipal council elections.
To most outside observers, these moves were hardly worth noting. In 2011, popular revolts were toppling autocratic regimes across the Middle East; even fellow monarchies like Morocco and Jordan were amending or changing their constitutions to show they would be more accountable to the people. By contrast, the Saudi king's speech conceded no new authority to the Majlis al-Shura, an unelected body with limited powers of consultation only, and Saudis have shown little interest in the largely symbolic local councils, only half of whose members are elected. Moreover, Abdullah's innovations, such as they were, would only happen in the future: the 2011 municipal elections, which took place a few days after the speech, were, as in the past, open to men only.
Requiem for a Newspaper (Andrew Finkel, Latitude Blog, The New York Times)
"That the editor-in-chief of Taraf - a cash-strapped Turkish newspaper that struggles to sell more than 50,000 copies - should resign after falling out with its proprietor might seem like a humdrum story worthy only of an inside page. But in the gloomy landscape that is Turkish journalism, where self-censorship and kowtowing to the government are the norm, recent news that several of the paper's leading lights were throwing in their pens made headlines: Taraf has been a rare brave and independent voice.
Grim reports of the paper's demise were premature; in fact, it soldiers on with a reduced crew. Still, all this has left me feeling like a child caught up in his parents' painful divorce. I had been contributing, unpaid, a weekly column on current events, motivated by the paper's ideals and loyalty to friends who have now resigned. I had watched with pride Taraf's battle against the odds. Now, my optimism is gone."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/MAHMUD HAMS