Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Arab Spring Revolutions - For Beginners

Martyrs Square Tripoli after the Revolution

The Arab Spring Revolutions - For Beginners

Everything you need to know about the revolutions which continue to shake the Middle East.

By Oliver Hotham
What happened?

The Arab Spring was the major news story of 2011, with major protests taking place in Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain and other Middle East countries. Autocrats all over the region were brought down by demonstrators calling for democracy, human rights, and religious tolerance.

Since then the tone has soured. The optimist idealism of the events in Tunisia and Egypt has been replaced with a more pessimistic realism. The ongoing violence in Syria is probably the most prominent example of this - the Assad regime desperately clings to power with no sign of abdicating and, according to the United Nations, 6,200 civilians have been killed by the army on the orders of the government.

It is in 2012 that the consequences of the Arab Spring for the future of the region will become clearer.

How did it begin?

Dissatisfaction with the autocracy of their rulers and economic uncertainly had been growing amongst people in the region for years. But what we refer to as the Arab Spring really started in Tunisia, with a young man called Mohamed Bouazizi who, frustrated with his unemployment, high food prices and the harassment he endured by public officials, set himself on fire in December 2010.

This act of self-sacrifice sparked an uprising in the Arab world which has brought down autocrats who had rules for decades, but has also seen brutal repression of peaceful protesters.

Country after country fell into a state of revolution.

The first major turning point was in Tunisia, as protests brought an end to the 20-year rule of Zine El Abiden Ben Ali on January 14th. Having attempted to stay in power, the insistence of the protesters that "the people want to bring down the regime" and their refusal to compromise emboldened revolutionaries across the region.

But the world really took notice with the protests against president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose junta had ruled the country since the 1950s.

The government was overthrown over the course of 18 days and fell on February 11th.
The uprisings, at this point, had spread all over the region, with Yemen, Bahrain and Syria all engaged in fully-fledged revolutions against their governments.

What was the international response?

The international response was, at first, tepid, and highly dependent on the country undergoing the unrest.

Many of the autocrats being toppled were allies in the 'war on terror'. President Obama, for example, had referred to Mubarak as a "stalwart ally" and "a force for stability and good in the region".

There was also the fear that secular autocrats were a lesser evil compared to the perceived alternative – fundamentalism. In an area with a huge proportion of the world's oil, political instability is never welcomed.

But western leaders, especially after the success in Egypt, began to praise the revolutions.
David Cameron told protesters that "we are on your side". French foreign minister Alain Juppé said: "We must not be afraid of the Arab Spring because it embodies universal values - dignity, freedom, respect for human rights, the right of people to choose their own leaders."

What happened in Libya and why did NATO intervene?

The issue of western involvement in the events in the Middle East came to a head with the uprising in Libya against Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country with an iron first since 1969.

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Gaddafi refused to step down when an uprising took place in February, and a bloody civil war between forces loyal to the opposition Libyan Transitional Council and government loyalists began.

Faced with the Libyan government's brutal repression of protesters and bombing of civilians, the international community began calling for the dictator to stand down.

As the violence escalated, and calls for western intervention in Libya grew louder, Nato moved to enforce the United Nations security council resolution 1973. The resolution called for an 'immediate ceasefire', and permitted the international community to use 'all means necessary short of military occupation' to prevent further civilian casualties.

Nato began its military intervention in the Libyan civil war on March 19th.

The civil war continued, and became into a stalemate until August, as Gaddafi weakened and the rebels began to take city after city, capturing the capital Tripoli on the 28th.

The Libyan Transitional Council declared themselves victorious on October 23rd, three days after Gaddafi was captured and killed trying to escape the western city of Sirtre.

How have events developed in 2012?

The countries whose revolutions were successful in bringing down their dictators have held elections.

Egypt and Tunisia have held parliamentary elections and put into place new constitutions. Libya's interim government is preparing for elections.

But a great number of the protests which began in 2011 are ongoing.

The Yemeni opposition continues to protest against the government, and has been doing so for a year. In the largest protests in the country for decades, thousands of civilians have been killed and the situation has the potential to turn into a civil war between the government, the opposition, and Islamist groups.

Protests continue in Saudi Arabia, where calls for labour, women's and Shia rights have been prominent. The country is notorious for its conservative brand of Sharia and the despotic rule of its royal family.

Bahrain is also still in the grip of a political uprising, with the tiny island nation undergoing a massive campaign of civil disobedience against the ruling Khalifa family. Violence has escalated between protesters and security services, and frustration with the ineffectiveness of the peaceful protests has contributed to this.

One of the most prominent of the ongoing uprisings, and where the situation is worst, is Syria. The Syrian Army has besieged numerous cities to quell the rebellion against the government, which has ruled since 1963. It is estimated that 6,200 civilians have been killed, and politicians in Europe and the US are beginning to call for a Libyan-style intervention to prevent further civilian deaths in the country.

What is the international response to the situation in Syria?

Syria has presented a somewhat stickier situation than Libya - the violence enveloping the country has called for intervention, but unlike Libya, the international community's allegiances are not as clear cut.

World leader have overwhelmingly condemned the Assad regime for its violence, and major European leaders have called for the president to stand down.

However, other major world powers have been more ambiguous with their position towards the Syrian government.

China and Russia, who see the Assad regime as an important ally in the region, have vetoed security council resolutions calling for sanctions, as well as the Arab League's peace plan for the country.

Russia has also continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons. Russia has arms contracts estimated to be worth $1.5 billion with the Syrian government.

So what's next for the region? Will calls for freedom and democracy be as successful as they were in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia? Or will decreased media attention on countries where the struggle continues mean that the protests will be slowly muffled and repressed?

2012 will be the year we find out the real success of the Arab Spring.

Report from Syria

The Revolution comes to Damacus - Homes Under Artillery Attack;contentBody

BEIRUT - Syrian forces intensely shelled the opposition stronghold of Homs as President Bashar Assad's regime also escalated attacks on rebel bases elsewhere, with helicopter gunships strafing areas in the northwest, activists said. The violence comes amid the deaths Wednesday of a French photojournalist and a prominent American war correspondent working for a British newspaper. In all, 74 people were killed nationwide.

Weeks of withering barrages on the central city of Homs have failed to drive out opposition factions that include rebel soldiers who fled Assad's forces. Hundreds have died in the siege and the latest deaths further galvanized international pressure on Assad, who appears intent on widening his military crackdowns despite the risk of pushing Syria into full-scale civil war.

"This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the journalists killed.
The Obama administration opened the door slightly Tuesday to international military assistance for Syria's rebels, with officials saying new tactics may have to be explored if Assad continues to defy pressure to halt a brutal crackdown on dissenters that has raged for 11 months and killed thousands.

American, French journalists killed in Syria
Marie Colvin focused reporting on women, children
Syria blogger reportedly killed in shelling

The White House and State Department said they still hope for a political solution. But faced with the daily onslaught by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, officials dropped the administration's previous strident opposition to arming anti-regime forces. It remained unclear, though, what, if any, role the U.S. might play in providing such aid.
France was outraged over the journalists killed.

"That's enough now, the regime must go," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse identified those killed as French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, 28, and American reporter Marie Colvin, who was working for Britain's Sunday Times.

France's Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, said the attacks show the "increasingly intolerable repression" by Syrian forces. French Communication Minister Frederic Mitterrand said of the journalists killed: "It's abominable."

Syrian activists said at least two other Western journalists -- French reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times -- were wounded in Wednesday's shelling, which claimed at least 13 lives.

Syria's stalwart ally and major arms supplier, Russia, remained behind Assad, but said the bloodshed adds urgency for a cease-fire to allow talks between his regime and opponents.

U.S. softens stance on arms for Syria rebels
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire

The Syrian military has intensified its attacks on Homs in the past few days, aiming to retake rebel-held neighborhoods that have become powerful symbols of resistance to Assad's rule. For the government in Damascus, Homs is a critical battleground to maintain its control of Syria's third-largest city and keep more rebel pockets from growing elsewhere.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, a main base of the rebel Free Syrian Army, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Syrian military helicopters fitted with machine guns strafed the village of Ifis. Syrian combat helicopters are primarily Russian-made, though they also have a number of French choppers.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said troops conducted raids in the Damascus district of Mazzeh district and the suburb Jobar, where dozens of people were detained. In Jobar, the group said troops broke doors of homes and shops and set up checkpoints.

The group also said troops backed by tanks stormed the southern village of Hirak and conducted a wave of arrests.

A Homs-based activist, Omar Shaker, said the journalists were killed when several rockets hit a garden of a house used by activists and journalists in the besieged Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has come under weeks of heavy bombardment by forces from Assad's regime. At least 13 people were killed in Wednesday's shelling, including the journalists, activists said.

The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in repression by the Assad regime against a popular uprising that began 11 months ago. That figure was given in January and has not been updated. Syrian activists put the death toll at more than 7,300. Overall figures cannot be independently confirmed because Syria keeps tight control on the media.

On Wednesday, the U.N. said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would dispatch Valerie Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, to Syria to assess the situation. No date was set.

Twenty of the deaths reported Wednesday were in Homs, where resistance forces include breakaway soldiers. Homs has drawn comparisons to the Libyan city of Misrata, which withstood withering attacks last year by troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi.

Shaker said tanks and artillery began intensely shelling at 6:30 a.m. and was continuing hours later. He said the apartment used by journalists was hit around 10 a.m.

The intense shelling in parts of Homs -- with blasts occurring sometimes just a few second apart -- has appeared to be indiscriminate over the past week, hitting homes and streets randomly. Some suggested, however, that the house used by the journalists and activists was pinpointed by Syrian gunners.

The French culture minister Mitterrand claimed the journalists were "pursued" as they tried to find cover, but gave no elaboration. A campaigner for online global activist group Avaaz, Alice Jay, claimed the group was "directly targeted."

An amateur video posted online by activist showed what they claimed were bodies of two people in the middle of a heavily damaged house. It said they were of the journalists. One of the dead was wearing what appeared to be a flak jacket.

Another amateur video shows the two injured journalists in a makeshift clinic, lying on two separate beds. The French journalist, Bouvier had her left leg tied from the thigh down in a cast. A doctor in the video explains that she needs emergency medical care. Conroy appears in the video and the doctors say he has deep gashes in his left leg.

Many foreign journalists have been sneaking into Syria illegally in the past months with the help of smugglers from Lebanon and Turkey. Although the Syrian government has allowed some journalists into the country their movement is tightly controlled by Information Ministry minders.

Two Journalists and Blogger Killed in Syria

Marie Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, was in her 50s and a veteran foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times for the past two decades. She was instantly recognizable for an eye patch worn after being injured covering conflicts in Sri Lanka in 2001.

Colvin said she would not "hang up my flak jacket" even after the eye injury.

"So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night," she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack. "Equally, I'd rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.

Just recently, Colvin reported to the BBC from Homs about the shelling and mentioned seeing a baby die with shrapnel found on the left chest. "There are 28,000 people in Homs where I am, beseiged. They're here because they can't get out: the Syrians will not let them out, and are shelling all the civilian areas," she said in her report.

CBS News correspondent Vicki Barker from London knew Colvin and offered these thoughts: "I know Marie would say that the deaths of those civilians trapped in Homs are far more newsworthy than her own -- a journalist who chose to be there. But journalism has just lost one of its most courageous and clear-eyed witnesses. And her readers have lost a window into worlds few ever dare to tread, let alone describe. And that's worth taking a minute to memorialize, and mourn."

"This is a desperately sad reminder of the risks journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and the dreadful events in Syria, and our thoughts should be with her family and with her friends," said British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Ochlik, who had set up a photo agency IP3 Press, won first prize in the general news category of the prestigious 2012 World Press Photo contest for his 12-photograph series titled "Battle For Libya."

"I just arrived in Homs, it's dark," Ochlik wrote to Paris Match correspondent Alfred de Montesquiou on Tuesday. "The situation seems very tense and desperate. The Syrian army is sending in reinforcements now and the situation is going to get worse — from what the rebels tell us."

"Tomorrow, I'm going to start doing pictures," he added.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the killings of the journalists, calling them an "unacceptable escalation in the price that local and international journalists are being forced to pay" in Syria.

A statement by Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said there was "no information" about Colvin, Ochlik and other foreign journalists in Syria who entered without official permission, the state-run news agency SANA reported. It warned all foreign journalists to come forward to "regularize their status."

In London, British diplomats summoned Syria's ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, asking Syrian officials to facilitate immediate arrangements for the repatriation of the journalists' bodies and for help with the medical treatment of the British journalist injured in the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had no information that the bodies of the two slain journalists had been carried out of Homs.

On Tuesday, a Syrian sniper killed Rami al-Sayyed, a prominent activist in Baba Amr who was famous for posting online videos from Homs, colleagues said.

On Jan. 11, award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs. The 43-year-old correspondent for France-2 Television was the first Western journalist to die since the uprising began in March. Syrian authorities have said he was killed in a grenade attack carried out by opposition forces — a claim questioned by the French government, human rights groups and the Syrian opposition.

Last week, New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack in Syria after he sneaked in to cover the conflict.

Elsewhere in Syria, the military intensified attacks.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, a main base of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Syrian military helicopters fitted with machine guns strafed the village of Ifis. Syrian combat helicopters are primarily Russian-made, though they also have a number of French choppers.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said troops conducted raids in the Damascus district of Mazzeh district and the suburb of Jobar, where dozens of people were detained. In Jobar, the group said troops broke down doors of homes and shops and set up checkpoints.

The group also said troops backed by tanks stormed the southern village of Hirak and conducted a wave of arrests.

In the Gulf nation of Bahrain, some anti-Assad protesters at a Syria-Bahrain Olympic qualifying football match waved the rebel flag and threw shoes at a small group of pro-regime supporters.;postSpecialReport

Two Western journalists, including veteran American reporter Marie Colvin, were killed in intense shelling by President Bashar Assad's regime in the central town of Homs on Wednesday, according to Syrian activists and the French government.

Activists said both were killed in the shelling of a makeshift media center in the hard-hit neighborhood of Baba Amr early Wednesday morning.

The journalists were identified as veteran American reporter Marie Colvin, who works for The Sunday Times of Britain, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. Both had been working on the front lines of uprisings in the Arab world for months. Their identities were confirmed by the French government Wednesday morning, but CBS News has not independently confirmed Colvin's death.

The latest deaths spurred international condemnation and intensified pressure on Assad to step down and end the violence.

"This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"That's enough now, the regime must go," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
Colvin, who lost an eye to a grenade covering Sri Lanka's civil war years ago, had given a harrowing telephone interview to BBC radio from Homs just days before her death.

Describing the damage caused by a near-constant barrage of artillery from state security forces, Colvin recounted watching a toddler die after being wounded by shrapnel.
Marie Colvin focused reporting on women, children

Just Tuesday, Colvin spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper by phone about the child's death, saying "that baby probably will move more people to think, 'What is going on and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day?'"

Colvin was accustomed to covering violent uprisings, and she lent her insight as a first-hand witness to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's crackdown on opposition protesters to CBS News in an interview almost exactly one year ago (click for video).

John Witherow, editor of The Sunday Times, said in a statement that Colvin "believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice."

The bodies of Colvin and Ochlik were removed from the rubble and were taken to a field clinic as efforts to return them home were under way.

Opposition members said three other Western journalists were wounded in the shelling of the makeshift media center - French reporter Edith Bouvier and British photographers Paul Conroy and William Daniels. Bouvier and Conroy were treated for leg wounds. Daniels' injuries were minor. At least 13 were reported dead in Wednesday's shelling.

U.S. softens stance on arms for Syria rebels
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire
Complete coverage: The Arab Spring

The ferocity of the ongoing bombardment of Baba Amr can be seen in numerous videos posted by opposition activists on Youtube. Click the player below for an example of such video, the authenticity of which cannot be independently verified by CBS News as all independent reporting in Syria has been banned by the Assad regime.

February 22, 2012 3:44 AM

Syria blogger reportedly killed in shelling
By Tucker Reals;contentBody

Ferocious shelling by Bashar Assad's security forces in the battered central Syrian city of Homs claimed at least 45 lives on Tuesday, according to activists, including that of a prominent video blogger whose horrifying images of the bombardment spread across the globe on social networking websites, but failed to spark any intervention from the international community.

In his last posting on Facebook, activist Rami al-Said, told people around world he appreciated their emotional backing, but begged the Syrian people's supporters to rally outside Syrian embassies against the shelling, and told them their inaction would not be forgiven.

Al-Said shot a great deal of the internet video which has been the only window for the world into the 18-day bombardment of Homs - a city so dangerous that few foreign journalists have ventured inside for weeks.

Cell phone videos show horrors inside Syria
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire
Complete coverage: The Arab Spring

Meanwhile, activists also claimed Wednesday morning that two Western journalists were killed in the shelling of Homs. CBS News was working to confirm the identity of the journalists. Reports suggested that as many as four other Western journalists were injured in the shelling of a makeshift media center in the the neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Using the online handle "syriapioneer", al-Said chronicled with multiple daily videos and live streams the targeting of Baba Amr, an opposition-held area of Homs which has been battered by mortar and rocket fire for weeks.

His final Facebook post, which has been reposted by numerous activists, was fateful:
"Baba Amro is being wiped out now, complete genocide, I don't want you to tell us our hearts are with you because I know that, I want projects everywhere inside and outside I want everyone to go out in front of the embassies in al...l countries everywhere because we are soon to be nothing, there will be no more Baba Amr - I expect this is a final letter to you and we will not forgive you."

Al-Rami's live video was streamed online by a site called Bambuser - a feed which has monitored and even relayed to our readers during moments of intense shelling in Baba Amr.

Bambuser's vice president for communications, Eva Voors, posted a blog on the site Wednesday, mourning al-Said as a "very brave Syrian journalist."

According to Voors' post, al-Rami was killed along with three fellow activists by the shelling. He 26, and the father of a 3-year-old daughter.

He posted his last video online just hours before he was killed, according to his fellow activists. It shows just how close to the shelling al-Rami was willing to put himself to show the world what was happening in Homs.

Reports from Libya

Libya court orders civil trial for Gaddafi "loyalists",0,1868288.story

BENGHAZI (Reuters) - A Libyan military court ruled on Wednesday that 50 people accused of fighting for Muammar Gaddafi and helping a mass jail break by alleged supporters of the deposed leader should be freed and tried instead in a civilian court.

Defense lawyers welcomed the ruling, saying most of the accused were civilians and that the military court on a base in the eastern city of Benghazi was struggling to try the case.

"We feel this court is under pressure and... does not have the necessary judicial independence," said Saleh Omran, who represents 17 of the accused, denying that his clients were Gaddafi supporters.

"They helped the prisoners escape from jail because some of those held were their relatives and they were protecting them. It has nothing to do with Gaddafi's men," he said.

A transitional government was appointed in November to lead Libya to elections but it is struggling to impose order on myriad armed groups that toppled Gaddafi last year after 42 years in power.

It has been keen to try Gaddafi's family members and loyalists at home, but human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a lack of rule of law could rob them of the right to a fair trial.

The defendants are facing charges of using force against the revolutionary forces, terrorizing civilians and helping prisoners escape, as well as inciting people to commit crimes. Omran said some of those charges carry the death penalty.

The defendants are part of a militia that helped what officials from the transitional council said at the time were about 300 Gaddafi loyalists escape from custody in July.

Fifteen witnesses called to give evidence on Wednesday did not show up and hearings have been postponed twice since the trial began on February 5, for security reasons and pending a request by some of the lawyers to review the evidence.


Lawyers for the daughter of Muammar Qaddafi have filed a formal petition at the International Criminal Court seeking an authorized copy of the former Libyan leader’s death certificate.

Aisha Qaddafi’s lawyer Nick Kaufman said Wednesday the move is intended in part to show that Libya’s National Transitional Council isn’t capable of holding a fair trial for her brother Seif al-Islam, who was arrested in the country’s remote southern desert in November.

The war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands has previously told Aisha, who is in Algeria, to seek information via Libya’s new authorities. But Kaufman says no part of the new government has responded to her requests for basic information about her father’s death usually accorded to relatives, and it is not clear where she should apply.
Kaufman said by telephone Wednesday, “who are the Libyan ‘authorities?’“

The Hague court, which was authorized by the U.N. to investigate war crimes committed during Libya’s civil war, dropped its case against Muammar Qaddafi after his death at the hands of opposing forces on Oct. 20.

However, the court, known by its acronym ICC, has not yet ruled on the new Libyan government’s plans to try Seif and former Libyan intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi in Libya. The ICC indicted the men for crimes against humanity, including multiple murders, allegedly committed during the former regime’s crackdown on dissent.

Although the court only pursues war crimes cases a country itself cannot or will not try, Libyan authorities must still persuade international judges that the men will get a fair trial, on basically the same charges they would have faced in The Hague.

Judges have asked Libya whether Seif is being held incommunicado, as Kaufman asserts, and whether ICC officials can visit him to check on his health and ask him whether he has legal representation.

The transitional government’s reply was filed confidentially in January.

Kaufman said Libya’s reluctance to disclose the death certificate - copies of which have been widely circulated on the Internet - shows it is even less likely to turn over documents such as an autopsy report, which may contain incriminating evidence.

The court’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the United Nations last year there are “serious suspicions” Muammar Qaddafi’s death was itself a war crime because he may have been summarily executed after being taken into custody.

Kaufman said Libya’s new government has a moral and legal obligation to give Aisha information such as the death certificate, autopsy report and exact location of Muammar’s grave.

“Why are the Libyan authorities claiming they are capable of trying Seif al-Islam when they can’t take care of properly handling a single document?” Kaufman said.

Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:41pm EST

* Neighbours to exchange high-level meetings
* Talks to focus on combatting insurgents, arms smugglers
* Libya, Algeria ties fraught since Gaddafi's overthrow

By Lamine Chikhi and Ali Shuaib

ALGIERS/TRIPOLI, Feb 22 (Reuters) - North African neighbours Libya and Algeria are to exchange high-level visits in an attempt to re-launch cooperation in fighting arms trafficking and Islamist insurgents in the Sahara desert.

Security ties had been effectively on hold since the revolt last year which ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya, because of disputes between Algeria and Libya's new leadership.

Cooperation between the two countries is a crucial component in trying to stop arms smugglers and insurgents, including al Qaeda, using the Sahara desert as a safe haven - a problem made worse by the instability following Gaddafi's fall.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia told Reuters his Libyan counterpart Fawzi Abdel A'al would soon visit Algeria.

"What is important in this issue is security on our borders and stability in Libya, because instability will have repercussions for us," Kablia said in an interview late on Tuesday.
"We will soon welcome the Libyan interior minister, and likewise visits are also planned by Algerian officials to Libya," Ould Kablia said.

The Libyan interior minister confirmed that a meeting was planned with his Algerian opposite number.

Abdel A'al, speaking to Reuters, said there was an agreement that Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia would visit Libya. He did not say when this would happen.


There have been no high-level visits between Libya and Algeria since a NATO-backed rebellion ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule and installed a new leadership.

Algeria's relations with Libya's new leaders have been fraught because Algeria did not back the anti-Gaddafi rebellion and was slow to recognise the rebel leadership.

The tension was heightened when Algeria decided to give refuge, it said on humanitarian grounds, to Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two of his sons who fled there after Tripoli fell to the rebellion.

A series of security incidents in the past weeks have, however, underlined the need for the two countries to patch up their differences and cooperate.

Last month, an Algerian regional governor was kidnapped and taken by his captors across the border into Libya, where he was released about 24 hours later. Algerian security sources said the kidnappers had ties to al Qaeda's north African wing.

This month, Algerian security forces uncovered a cache of weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, believed to have been smuggled in from Libya, a security source briefed on the discovery said.

The Libyan Interior Minister told Reuters the fact that Algerian security forces had found weapons caches was testament to good cooperation with their Libyan counterparts.
Western governments are keen for regional states to work more closely together to combat insurgents in the Sahara desert.

It is an area where al Qaeda mounts kidnappings and occasional attacks on Western targets, and where, in Mali, Tuareg rebels are fighting government security forces.
Those problems have been aggravated by the rebellion in Libya, during which huge quantities of weapons disappeared from Gaddafi's arsenals and Libyan border security largely collapsed.

Western states believe there is a risk that insurgencies in the Sahara could fuel violent Islamist movements in other parts of Africa, particularly Somalia and northern Nigeria, heightening the threat to Western interests.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Syrian General Assassinated

Syrian army general assassinated in Damascus

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press –

BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen assassinated an army general in Damascus Saturday in the first killing of a high ranking military officer in the Syrian capital since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March, the state-run news agency said.

The attack could be a sign that armed members of the opposition, who have carried out attacks on the military elsewhere in the country, are trying to step up action in the tightly controlled capital, which has been relatively quiet compared to other cities.

SANA news agency reported that three gunmen opened fire at Brig. Gen. Issa al-Khouli Saturday morning as he left his home in the Damascus neighborhood of Rukn-Eddine. Al-Khouli was a doctor and the chief of a military hospital in the capital.

Capt. Ammar al-Wawi of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that wants to bring down the regime by force, denied involvement in the assassination, which came a day after two suicide car bombers struck security compounds in Aleppo.

Such assassinations are not uncommon outside Damascus and army officers have been killed in the past, mostly in the restive provinces of Homs and Idlib.

Assad's regime says terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country are behind the uprising, not people seeking to transform the authoritarian regime. The Syrian government says more than 2,000 soldiers and police officers have been killed since March.
Violence in other parts of the country left at least 17 people dead as regime troops pushed into rebel-held neighborhoods in the central city of Homs and seized parts of the mountain town of Zabadani, north of Damascus.

The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March. But that figure is from January, when the world body stopped counting because the chaos in the country has made it all but impossible to check the figures. Hundreds are reported to have been killed since.

Syria's turmoil began with peaceful protests against Assad's rule, sparking the fierce regime crackdown. But it has since grown more militarized as army defectors and armed protesters formed the Free Syrian Army.

After Russia and China last weekend vetoed a Western and Arab attempt at the U.N. to pressure Assad to step down, the FSA's commander said armed force was the only way to oust the president. Western and Arab countries are considering forming a coalition to help Syria's opposition, though so far there is no sign they intend to give direct aid to the FSA.

Arab foreign ministers were to meet in Cairo on Sunday to decide their next step. An Arab League official said the ministers were likely to consider calling for a joint Arab-U.N. team of observers to be sent to Syria to investigate Assad's adherence to past promises to halt the violence.

Damascus allowed in Arab League observers in December, but the mission was halted amid the accelerating bloodshed. The Syrians would be unlikely to accept a new observer team.
The ministers in Cairo also may discuss formally recognizing the main opposition Syrian National Council in a show of support, but such a step does not yet have full agreement among the ministers, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of Assad's top allies, warned Arab countries on Saturday not to give aid to the opposition.

Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters in Tehran on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ahmadinejad said countries in the region that have never held free elections are trying to write a "prescription for freedom and elections for others" with the help of the United States.

"This is the most bitter and ridiculous joke of history," Ahmadinejad said.

On Saturday, Damascus gave Tunisian and Libyan diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters. The move was in retaliation to the north African Arab nations' eviction of Syrian ambassadors earlier this month.

For the past week, Syrian forces have been bombarding rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs, aiming to regain control of one of the main cities involved in the uprising. Activists say more than 400 people have been killed in the campaign.

On Saturday, Syrian troops shelled the Baba Amr district in Homs, killing at least nine people, and another in the Bab Sbaa area, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees said 15 people were killed in Baba Amr on Saturday.

The Observatory also reported that regime troops moved into parts of Zabadani, north of Damascus, after intense shelling and after rebel soldiers pulled back to spare residents' property from further damage. Three people were killed in the bombardment, the group said.
Troops and rebel soldiers battled in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, said Mohammed Doumany, an activist there. The Observatory said troops stormed the Grand Mosque in Douma and detained a number of people who were inside.

The Observatory also reported a rare clash between troops and defectors late Friday in the northern Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun but had no details. It said troops shot dead an activist in the area.

In Idlib, where rebels control some areas, army defectors detonated roadside bombs and hand grenades against military vehicles near the village of Kfar Oweida Friday night, killing at least 10 soldiers, the Observatory said.

Saadi to Lead Counter-Revolution?

Libya asks Niger to hand over Gadhafi's son
(AP) TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya demanded Niger hand over one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons who is under house arrest in the neighboring African nation after he warned in a television interview that his homeland was facing a new uprising.

Mohammed Hareizi, spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council, said Saturday that Niger must extradite Al-Saadi Gadhafi and other ex-regime officials to "preserve its relationship and interests" in Libya.

The demand came days before the first anniversary of the Feb. 17 start of the uprising that led to months of civil war and the eventual ouster and death of the longtime Libyan leader. Al-Saadi Gadhafi and more than 30 other loyalists fled to Niger after Tripoli fell to rebels in September.

Niger Justice Minister Morou Amadou confirmed the demand had been received but said Niger's government has refused to extradite al-Saadi and the others to Libya because they risk being killed. However, Amadou said the government would agree to extradite al-Saadi to the Hague upon request by the International Criminal Court.

Gadhafi's son told Al-Arabiya TV in a telephone interview that supporters of his father's ousted regime "are suffering tremendously" in Libyan prisons at the hands of the country's new rulers. He also said his return to Libya was imminent.

He said he is in contact with people in Libya on a daily basis and claimed "70 percent of Libyans are unhappy with the current circumstances. They are ready to cooperate to change these conditions."

Gadhafi's son pointed to the proliferation of weapons in the oil-rich North African nation as many former rebels have refused to lay down their arms. He said Libyans were tired of widespread chaos.

"There is an uprising that will happen everywhere in the country," he told the station. "This will be a new popular uprising."

He called the new leadership a group of gangsters who are unable to control the various militias in the country. But he also said he was in touch with members of the NTC, which is governing the country until presidential elections can be held, and militia members. The NTC denied Saturday it has been in touch with Gadhafi or any of the former regime officials.

The interview infuriated Libya's leadership. Hareizi said the head of the NTC Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Libya's foreign minister had discussed the issue with their counterparts in Niger and "stressed that they will not tolerate the issue and they will take firm measures." He didn't elaborate.

Al-Saadi Gadhafi's comments echoed complaints about the state of the Libya as the new leadership struggles to impose its authority over the vast desert nation since Gadhafi's regime was overthrown and the autocratic leader was captured and killed on Oct. 20.

International human rights organizations have complained of rampant torture of inmates in makeshift prisons operated by militias accused of seeking to exact revenge against the slain leader's former supporters. According to the U.N., various former rebel groups are holding as many as 8,000 prisoners in 60 detention centers around the country.

Libya's new leaders have promised to step up efforts to rein in the gunmen.

Another Gadhafi son, Seif al-Islam, was arrested in November by fighters in Libya's remote southern desert. He has been held largely without access to the outside world ever since and Libyan authorities say they want to put him on trial at home, despite an arrest warrant issued by the ICC.

Al-Saadi Gadhafi is not wanted by the ICC but is the subject of U.N. sanctions. He fled to Niger in September soon after the Libyan capital Tripoli fell to rebels.

Known for his love of professional soccer, Gadhafi's son reportedly had a colorful past that included run-ins with police in Europe, drug and alcohol abuse

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI | Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:56pm EST

(Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's son Saadi warned on Friday of an imminent uprising in Libya, saying he was in regular contact with people in the country who were unhappy with the authorities put in place after the ousting and killing of his father.

Speaking to Al-Arabiya television by phone - the first time he has spoken publicly in months - Saadi said he wanted to return to Libya "at any minute" after escaping across the border to Niger when National Transitional Council forces captured the capital Tripoli in August.
He said he was in contact from Niger with the army, the militias, the NTC and other members of the Gaddafi family. It was impossible to verify where he was calling from as the station showed only an old still picture of Saadi as a backdrop to his words.

"First of all, it is not going to be an uprising limited to some areas. It will cover all the regions of the Jamahiriya and this uprising does exist and I am following and witnessing this as it grows bigger by the day," he said, referring to Libya.

"There will be a great uprising in the south, in the east, in the centre and in the west. All the regions of Libya will witness this new popular uprising."

A transitional government appointed in November is leading the country to elections in June but is struggling to restore services and impose order on myriad armed groups.

These groups fought hard in the campaign to topple Gaddafi but still refuse to hand in their weapons.

The government lost control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid last month after local people staged an armed revolt, posing the gravest challenge yet to the NTC's authority.

However elders in the desert city dismissed accusations they wanted to restore the late dictator's family to power or had any ambitions beyond their local area.

Saadi told Al-Arabiya: "The Libyan people should revolt against these militias and against this deteriorating situation. The NTC is not a legitimate body ... and is not in control of the militias," he added. "We call on all to be ready for the coming uprising."

"We have to exert pressure to change this situation and to remove this evil doing that exists in Libya. We do not know any such thing as elections. We are a Muslim nation," he said.


Government officials were not immediately available for comment. Mohammed al-Alagy, former interim justice minister and who now heads the human rights council, told Al-Arabiya Saadi's comments were "an attempt to drive a wedge between the Libyan people."

Saadi, a businessman and former professional footballer, said he was in contact with people in Libya. Interpol last year issued a "red notice" requesting member states to arrest Saadi with a view to extradition if they find him in their territory.

"I have daily communications with Libya from Niger and these contacts are not just to start the uprising but also to follow up the status of our tribes, our relatives and the people," he said.

"The situation of the people is deteriorating. I am in contact with the militias, the tribes, the NTC and the national army. I can confirm that more than 70 percent of those who are in Libya now whether they support the February 17th (revolution) or not, all are not satisfied with the situation and are ready to cooperate to change this situation."

Libya is preparing for the first anniversary of the start of the February 17 uprising which began in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libyan armed forces chief Yousef al-Mangoush this week said there were concerns for potential sabotage of the anniversary by Gaddafi loyalists.

"A large number of February 17th members do regret this and we are now in full cooperation with the February 17th and our supporters to change this deteriorating situation," Saadi said. "As for my return, yes I must return to Libya and this will happen at any minute. If I do return I will prevent any revenge."

Saadi said he was also in contact with his family members. Gaddafi's wife Safiya, his daughter Aisha and his sons Mohammed and Hannibal fled to Algeria in August. Saadi's brother Saif al-Islam was captured in the Sahara desert in November and is now being held in the town of Zintan.
"I am in contact with my family inside and outside Libya and in the neighboring countries and in Europe," Saadi said.

"I call on all the elders, the youth, the militias and the tribes to come and to sit with each other and to negotiate with each other and to come up with a true reconciliation."

Mexican authorities said in December they had uncovered and stopped an international plot to smuggle Saadi into the country using fake names and false papers.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Freed From Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis Sing On

Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis face violent Islamists

Fight For Diversity Hinges on Sufis v. Salafis

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
TRIPOLI | Wed Feb 1, 2012

(Reuters) - Freed from Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship, Libya's Sufi Muslims find themselves under renewed pressure from violent Islamists who have been attacking them and their beliefs as heretical.

The desecration of graves belonging to Sufi saints and sages in recent months have put the peaceful Sufis on the defensive, prompting some to post armed guards at their mosques and lodges to ward off hardline thugs.

But the birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, one of the highpoints in the Sufi calendar, is on Saturday and Libyan Sufis are determined to take their traditional processions through the streets to show they will not be cowed.

At a meeting of Sufi scholars to plan the celebrations, Sheikh Adl Al-Aref Al-Hadad said even being driven out of his zawiyah (Islamic school) late last year by Islamists known as Salafis would not deter him from marching.

"I'm worried but I'm not afraid," said Al-Hadad, whose Tripoli school was stormed by armed men who burned its library, destroyed office equipment and dug up graves of sages buried there. They turned the school into a Salafi mosque.

On January 13, extremists crashed a bulldozer through the walls of the old cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, destroyed its tombs and carried off 29 bodies of respected sages and scholars. They also demolished a nearby Sufi school.

Sheikh Khaled Mohammad Saidan, whose Dargut Pasha Mosque faces Tripoli's port, said most Islamists in post-Gaddafi Libya disagreed with Sufis, but peacefully. "But there are no police around and you never know what some people might do," he added.


Sufi lodges from around Tripoli will march on Saturday through narrow alleys of the walled old town, waving flags and chanting poems in praise of Mohammad to the beat of cymbals, drums and tambourines.

To the puritanical Salafis, these practices amount to bida (innovation) and shirk (idolatry), both grave sins that must be stopped, by force if necessary.

Sufism, a mystical strain in both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, dates back to the early days of the faith. Apart from their prayers, Sufi devotions include singing hymns, chanting the names of God or dancing to heighten awareness of the divine.

Revered saints, scholars and holy people are buried in shrines and some are honored with annual pilgrimages. While many Islamic scholars say this is admissible, puritanical schools of Islam such as Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis or the Afghan Taliban consider it heretical.

As pious and peaceful believers, Sufis have been easy targets for violent Islamists seeking political power. The Pakistani Taliban have attacked Sufi shrines and mosques there in recent years and Salafi attacks on Sufis broke out last year after Egypt's protesters toppled President Hosni Mubarak.


Gaddafi had a bizarre and fickle relationship with Islam, using it when it boosted his authority but suppressing it whenever faith seemed to be the first step towards dissent. At one point in the 1980s, anyone going to morning prayers in a mosque risked arrest as a religious extremist.

The dictator denied there was a split between Sunnis and Shi'ites. He blew hot and cold on the Prophet's birthday event known as Mawlid, sometimes limiting it in Libya but leading mass celebrations in African cities in his self-appointed role as a pan-African and pan-Islamic leader.

Traditional religious schools were shut and religious education was reduced to a few basics about Islam and heavy emphasis on memorizing the Koran.

Gaddafi even abolished the Dar al Ifta, the central authority for issuing religious rulings or fatwas, and Libya offered no such advice to its Muslims from 1978 until the office was restored after rebels chased him from power last August.

"He did everything but give people carpets and say pray to him rather than Allah," one imam remarked.

All this undermined Libya's traditional Islam, a balanced Sunni version with Sufi influences. Some Muslims began looking abroad for inspiration, especially to Saudi Arabia, and brought back a more austere Islam that mixed up the religious landscape.
"Nobody knows anymore what they are," said Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed when asked what the majority was in Libyan Islam. "We have 42 years of Gaddafi to thank for that."


Libya's Sufis also worry they are being outflanked politically. Many new religious officials have Salafi leanings, they say, and are appointing Salafi imams to mosques vacated by pro-Gaddafi preachers. Salafi preaching is now widespread on Libyan television and radio, they say.

Salafis have also begun denouncing traditional imams to the authorities, prompting them to be replaced by hardliners. "About half the imams here have been replaced by Salafis," said one imam at a large Tripoli mosque where Salafis in the congregation are campaigning against celebrating Mawlid.

Political parties are starting to form, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Libyan Salafis have not yet announced if they plan to launch a party and contest elections, as in Egypt.
Sheikh Mohammad Jafari, whose mosque is pockmarked from the fighting over Gaddafi's Bab Al-Azizaya compound just across the street, said Sufis had to stand up for their beliefs.

"Sufis uphold the values of love and brotherhood," he said. "We believe in dialogue and difference of opinions. We want to build a Libya of diversity."

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Syrian's Blunt Black Humor in Midst of Revolution

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press

"Top Goon - Diaries of a Dictator" & TV Puppet Show "Who Wants to Kill a Million?"

BEIRUT (AP) — Throughout 40 years of Assad family dictatorship, one thing united Syrians — the culture of self-censorship, fear and paranoia.

But the uprising against President Bashar Assad has unleashed a burst of blunt irreverence and black humor that would have been unthinkable before, when any satire had to be indirect or hidden.

"The type of expression has now shifted, the subtlety has gone," said Rime Allaf, associate fellow at London's Chatham House. "Today, for the first time in recent Syrian history, people are able to get out and say it openly."

Opposition Syrians are pouring contempt on Assad using whatever medium they can, with a humor that also helps them get through the death and destruction in a crackdown that has killed more than 5,400, according to the U.N. The Internet provides a layer of anonymity, which is vital when retribution is a real danger, but the creativity has also spilled into the streets in the banners, signs and songs of the protesters.

"Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator" is one of several new online shows. It was created by 10 young professional artists inside Syria. It uses finger puppets that impersonate Bashar Assad — nicknamed Beeshu in the series — and his inner circle.

In one episode, Beeshu competes against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi on "Who wants to Kill a Million," a play on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." His final question: Will you be able to crush the protests? He answers yes. When he's told that's the wrong answer, he flies into a petty rage, wrecking the set.

In another, he consults with two devils about how to deal with the uprising. They suggest he kill a single protester to scare the others. He proclaims he will kill 30 protesters a day, torture children and shell cities.

"You are completely insane," the devils shriek, running away. "I want to get the hell out of here."

The director of the series, who goes by the online name of Jameel, says the idea is to "break down the wall of fear."

"When you see the shabih (pro-government militiaman) or the president as puppets, you can't take them seriously anymore," he said, asking that his name and location not be used to protect him from retaliation.

More simply, it "elicits a little laugh" from people who are suffering from the crackdown, he said.

Even in the darkest places, Syrians seem to try to extract some fun. The central city of Homs has been one of the worst hit by the regime's crackdown. But as in many rallies, giant protests there often saw crowds dancing, linking arm in arm and doing a sort of joyous simultaneous hop, along with circles of the traditional "debke" dance.

The song "Yalla Irhal, ya Bashar!" — a simple yet powerful rendition which translates into "Come on, Bashar, leave" — is often heard shouted by exultant protesters to the beat of a drum. It's the most popular, but an entire catalogue of protest songs has arisen, full of puns and references to members of Assad's inner circle.

"We are discovering ourselves for the first time," said a 28-year-old Syrian who goes by the name of Samer Lathkani, from the coastal town of Lattakia. "The uprising has awakened patriotic sentiments among young people, now every protest is a thrill."

Kfarnebel, a rebellious village in northern Syria, has become famous for coming up with colorful, amusing banners.

"Aleppo will not rise even if it took Viagra," said one recent banner, criticizing Syria's second largest city, where anti-government protests have yet to take hold.

Some have paid the price for taking it too far.

In August, Syria's renowned political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, 60, was beaten by gunmen who broke his fingers and dumped him on a road outside Damascus after he posted cartoons satirizing Assad on his website.

Ibrahim Qashoush, a Syrian firefighter who wrote the "Come on, Leave, Bashar" song, was murdered in July, his vocal cords cut out and his body dumped in the river in the city of Hama.

Syria had a flourishing theater and comedy scene in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the autocratic regime of strongman Hafez Assad, which his son Bashar inherited in 2000.

Syrian productions were popular around the Arab world for their black, satirical humor.
But it had to be indirect and confined to certain limits.

In one of the 1970s' most famous Syrian political plays, "Kasak ya Watan," or "Toast to the Homeland," the country's top comedian Dureid Lahham kept his satire broad.

His character, swigging from a liquor bottle, has a dialogue with his dead father who chides him over the failures of his Arab generation, particularly the failure to free Palestine.

They get into a debate over which is better, Heaven or Earth, and Lahham argues, "We don't lack a thing here ... Just a little bit of dignity."

It's a far cry from a blunt banner at one recent protest: Assad's face plastered on a pack of Marlboros, reading "the Syrian regime is a main source of cancer and heart and lung disease."

Donatella Della Ratta, a PhD fellow at Copenhagen University and the Danish Institute in Damascus, said the uprising has changed Syria dramatically.

"The sacredness of the leader has been broken. Even widely considered taboo topics such as the Hama massacre of 1982 are openly mentioned and desacralized using dark humor," said Della Ratta, who is focusing her research on the Syrian TV industry.