The Middle East Channel

Defense Lawyers Quit Egypt’s Trial of Al Jazeera Journalists

The lawyers for two of three Al Jazeera journalists being tried in Egypt on charges of fomenting violence have quit accusing the Qatar-based news agency of a "vendetta." The lead defense lawyer, Farag Fathy said "Al Jazeera is using my clients" and that the network was "fabricating quotes" attributed to him. Additionally, the court has demanded defense lawyers pay $170,000 to view footage prosecutors say shows the journalists fabricated news reports to incite unrest. The trial has been adjourned until May 22, and the journalists have again been denied bail. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, who has been held without charges since August 2013, has been transferred to solitary confinement after smuggling a video out of Tora prison highlighting his deteriorating health. Elshamy has been on hunger strike for 107 days protesting his detention.

Syria

A car bombing killed at least 43 people in the Syrian province of Aleppo near the Bab al-Salam border crossing into Turkey. The area is the main route used by Syrians refugee fleeing into Turkey. The region has been controlled by the Islamic Front's Tawhid Brigade, which has been engaged in fierce fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since January. Iran has reportedly been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been offering $500 a month as well as Iranian residency and has been training Afghan fighters. Meanwhile, growing frustrated with the inability of the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is exploring other options for providing aid, including circumventing the Syrian government. Additionally, Kerry stated he has seen evidence suggesting that Assad's forces have used chlorine gas in attacks on rebel fighters and civilians in recent months, which would be against the weapons convention signed by the Syrian government.

Headlines

  • The operator of Turkey's Soma coal mine, Soma Holding, denied negligence saying it was still unclear what caused the accident in which authorities have said 18 people remain missing.
  • The United States has expressed concern over lack of progress in nuclear talks with Iran meanwhile a U.N. report on Iranian ballistic missile development poses another challenge to negotiations.
  • Israeli forces killed two Palestinians at clashes during Nakba Day demonstrations.

Arguments and Analysis

'Fathers of the Revolution' (Wendy Pearlman, Guernica)

"Statistics tell us that violence in Syria has left at least 150,000 dead, 9 million forced from their homes, and 9.3 million in need of humanitarian aid. But by the time numbers are published they are already out of date. In the West, the Syrian conflict connotes sectarian war, humanitarian crisis, Islamic extremism, and chemical weapons. It is easy to forget that, for many, this nightmare began with a dream.

I have interviewed more than 150 Syrian refugees, and they describe the start of protests in the spring of 2011 as their break through a barrier of fear. They raised their voices against a system that denied them voice. Though initial demands were only for reform, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad responded ferociously."

'The General's New Suit' (Mona Oraby, Jadaliyya)

"Among the many tragedies of Egyptian politics today, and especially over the last ten months, is that many have uncritically accepted Sisi's visual transformation forgetting that he has already shown us what he stands for. As the youngest member of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that has ruled Egypt on and off starting in February 2011, Sisi was among those who advocated for virginity tests to be performed on women protesting in Tahrir. He remains unapologetic for the October 2011 deaths of dozens of unarmed Coptic Christians during the Maspero massacre in what SCAF defended as the protection of state institutions. If Egyptians have forgotten the horrid images of military tanks crushing people to death, what else has escaped public memory? Plenty, it turns out. It is not uncommon for people to say that the deaths at Rab'a al-Adawiyya and Nahda Square never happened. And if they did, the Brothers were given fair warning of what was coming and, well, terrorists do not have rights anyway."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Turkish Trade Unions Strike Over Soma Mine Disaster

Trade unions in Turkey are holding a one-day strike after an estimated 282 people have been killed and over a hundred remain missing after an explosion and fire at the Soma coal mine. Protesters assembled in Turkey's cities furious over what they say has been an extreme deterioration in working conditions since formerly state-run mines, including the one near Soma, were leased to private firms. In Izmir, the closest large city to Soma, Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations of around 20,000 protesters. In Soma, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forced to take refuge in a supermarket when confronted by an angry crowd calling for his resignation. Erdogan has been expected to announce his candidacy for the presidential election in August. However, such a disaster hitting the working class, which makes up a significant portion of his support base, could pose another hurdle to the prime minister whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has faced mass protests and a corruption scandal over the past year.

Syria

Two London Times reporters covering the Syrian conflict have crossed over the border to Turkey after being abducted by a "rebel gang" near the northern Syrian town of Tall Rifat. While held by the group, reporter Anthony Loyd was shot twice in the leg and photographer Jack Hill was severely beaten. The journalists were released after local commanders from the Islamic Front intervened. Meanwhile, foreign ministers from 11 Western and Arab countries have gathered for the Friends of Syria meeting in London Thursday to discuss new ways to support the Syrian opposition as well as how to deal with the humanitarian crisis. On Wednesday, the United States conducted joint military exercises with Jordan and the U.S. Treasury Department designated two leaders of al Qaeda-linked militant groups as "global terrorists."

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London reiterating support for the Palestinian people and mentioning the door remains open for the peace process.
  • Qatar has announced reforms to its labor laws however did not set a deadline for implementation and failed to ease concerns over conditions for the country's 1.39 million foreign workers.
  • Lebanon's parliament has failed for the fourth time to hold a vote to elect a new president, adjourning to May 22, just three days ahead of the expiration of President Suleiman's term.
  • In an interview with Reuters, former Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for the resumption of U.S. military aid and requested "American support to fight terrorism."

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Syria Matters' (Nader Hashemi, The Cairo Review)

"Hoping that the conflict in Syria will simply go away seems to have been the unstated policy of the Obama administration for much of the last three years. This view is widely shared by the American public. Tired of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, this sentiment is certainly understandable. The United States has effectively lost these wars and the cost to America's self-image and its economy has been enormous. Yet the conflict nonetheless continues to haunt our collective consciousness and to hold our attention. For three distinct but interrelated reasons-rooted in basic ethics, global security and normative political values-the conflict in Syria profoundly matters for our world today. In the absence of global leadership that prioritizes this crisis, the conflict will continue to destabilize the broader Middle East and its ramifications will be felt far and wide for years to come."

'The untold story of Yemen' (Ramzy Baroud, Al Arabiya)

"But why are we too hesitant to tell the Yemeni story as it is, with all of its complexities and details? Are we intimidated by the sheer intricacy of the story? Or is it because we remember Yemen whenever it is convenient to do so?

Western media knows Yemen whenever al-Qaeda threatens western interests, or when angry tribesmen blow up an oil pipeline.

Throughout much of 2011, Arab media covered Yemen around the clock promoting an indiscriminate "Arab Spring" narrative, with little regard to the distinctiveness of the Yemeni story. When the spring didn't deliver what it promised, Yemen was disowned and forgotten."

'Onward, Christian Soldiers' (Jonathan Cook, MERIP)

The group of Palestinian Christians led by Nadaf has established a Forum for Christian Recruitment, which is advising the government on how to advance enlistment. Nadaf articulates their thinking: "We have broken through the barrier of fear. The time has come to prove our loyalty, pay our dues and demand our rights. Because the State of Israel is our heart, Israel is a holy state, a strong state, and its people, Jews and Christians alike, are united under one covenant."

The overwhelming majority of Christians appear unpersuaded by such appeals and oppose military service, voluntary or otherwise. But Israeli officials employ a combination of pressures -- arrests, threats of prosecution for incitement and civil suits for financial damages -- to intimidate the scheme's critics."

-- Mary Casey

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images