The Middle East Channel

Violence and protest flare ahead of Bahrain’s Grand Prix

Heavy clashes have continued across Bahrain between anti-government protesters and security forces ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix set for Sunday. Bahrain's main opposition society al-Wefaq has called for major protests to be held Friday. Pro-democracy groups have demanded the race be canceled over the kingdom's poor human rights record and slow pace of reform. Bahrain's crown prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa, has admitted his country is "not perfect" but insists progress is being made, and that "we are in a much better position than last year." He urged Bahrainis not to politicize the race. F1A President Jean Todt, said in an email, it is "our firm belief that sports, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress." On Friday in a joint statement, F1's chief executive and commercial-rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone maintained that Bahrain is a safe place to race and said the event will go on as scheduled.

Syria

The United Nations Security Council has reached agreement on a non-binding statement on the Syrian conflict, after the prodding of U.N. humanitarian officials who have said the war has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe. In a U.N. Security Council briefing, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said 25 percent of Syria's population of 22 million people is internally displaced, and 1.3 million people have fled the country. Amos appealed to the U.N. Security Council to approve cross-border relief operations to address humanitarian needs inside Syria. The security council has been deadlocked since the beginning of Syria's uprising in March 2011, but reached a rare consensus issuing the statement saying, "The escalating violence is completely unacceptable and must end immediately," continuing that it "urged all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria." Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating what some U.S. officials believe to be the first credible indications that chemical weapons have been used in fighting in Syria. According to four senior U.S. officials, witness accounts and preliminary testing of samples from Syria have increased suspicions that Syrian forces have used chemical agents. However, other U.S. officials are skeptical, concerned that Syrian opposition forces could have tainted the samples.

Headlines  

  • An estimated 32 people were killed and 65 others wounded in a suicide bombing inside a busy café in Iraq's capital Baghdad Thursday night ahead of the April 20 provincial elections.
  • The U.S. Defense Department is expected to announce next week a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as a means to counter Iranian threats.
  • -- By Mary Casey

MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Syria’s defiant Assad slams West in TV interview

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in a rare television interview Wednesday, accusing the West of attempting to colonize his country. He said the West will pay a high price for what he claimed was support for al Qaeda in Syria's conflict. The Assad interview was broadcast by pro-government al-Ikhbariya TV, on Syria's Independence Day, which commemorates the end of the French occupation in 1946. Assad seemed to have hardened his stance on the war saying, "There is no option but victory," and maintained that he will not step down, asserting "no to surrender, no to submission." Additionally, he rejected claims of a sectarian element in the conflict stating, "I can say, without exaggeration, that sectarianism is less pronounced in Syria now than at the beginning of this conflict." Assad also criticized Jordan for allowing rebel fighters to move freely across the border. His comments came as the United States and Jordan announced that 200 U.S. Army specialists in intelligence, logistics, and operations are being sent to Jordan to work with Jordanian forces to mitigate border violence. Meanwhile tensions are increasing along Syria's ceasefire line with Israel over concerns that violence will escalate along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his growing fears of weapons falling into the wrong hands in Syria, and stressed "we are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises."

Headlines

  • The United Arab Emirates has arrested seven members of a suspected al Qaeda-linked cell who it claimed were plotting attacks against the Gulf country.
  • Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered the transfer of ousted President Hosni Mubarak from a military hospital back to Tora prison. Meanwhile, judicial sources announced the former leader's retrial will begin May 11.
  • Iran has ramped up the installation of advanced centrifuges at its underground Natanz nuclear plant despite tightening international sanctions.
  • Pro-democracy activists are stepping up demonstrations in Bahrain ahead of Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix.
  • President of Iraq's Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, announced parliamentary elections will be held in September.  

Arguments and Analysis

Is The Jordanian Monarchy In Danger? (Asher Susser, Crown Center for Middle East Studies)

"The Jordanian monarchy is going through one of its most difficult periods ever. The Arab Spring has emboldened the opposition by eroding the deterrent effect of the notorious "fear of government" (haybat al-sulta) in the Arab world in general and in Jordan in particular. Additionally, economic stagnation and austerity measures driven by the International Monetary Fund have led to unprecedented discontent among the regime's traditionally loyal East Banker elite and tribal base. In this Brief, Prof. Asher Susser analyzes the various factors that have led to the current crisis engulfing the Jordanian monarchy. However, he concludes by cautioning that the lack of a viable alternative to the Monarchy makes the situation in Jordan, though tenuous, manageable for the time being."

Turkey's unruly rule of law (Firdevs Robinson, OpenDemocracy)

"Writing about Turkey requires a conscious effort to avoid clichés.

Within the last week, the Parliament approved a long-awaited reform package, bringing the Turkish Penal Code into line with the European Court of Human Rights. We all cheered - only to be brought down to earth by the sentence passed on the world-renowned pianist Fazil Say for posting a ‘blasphemous' tweet. It is difficult not to say, ‘one step forward; two steps back' 

Equally, when government interference in the media seems to have reached unprecedented levels, with more and more critical voices  silenced each day, descriptions like "the world's biggest prison for journalists" seem less of a cliché.

To draw a clear line between Turkey's perception of itself and reality has become more and more difficult."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/ DIMITAR DILKOFF