February 15, 2011

EDITOR: The Arab Revolt has turned viral!

For those who told us that there is nothing to worry about the Gulf joining in the wave of protest, Bahrain has today proven them very wrong! From Algeria in the west, to Iraq in the East, the revolt is spreading like wildfire. Those who have written off the Arabs as undemocratic, are the same people who have financed and supported the dictators across the Arab world.

Even in those countries where, for reasons of deep fear the population has not yet risen, such as in Syria, Libya, or Saudi Arabia, this is a matter of time. As the regional tyrants fall like domino pieces, each one has less power to support him in position. The question is, will the US and its western poodles learn to live and understand, not to mention value, these amazing developments?

The End of the Mubarak Era, by Carlos Latuff

Deaths heighten Bahrain tension: Al Jazeera online

Offering apology, King Hamad vows to investigate incidents but opposition group suspends parliamentary participation.
15 Feb 2011

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Manama reports on the ongoing unrest in the Bahraini capital
At least one person has been killed and several others injured after riot police in Bahrain opened fire at protesters holding a funeral service for a man killed during protests in the kingdom a day earlier.

The victim, Fadhel Ali Almatrook, was hit with bird-shotgun in the capital, Manama, on Tuesday morning, Maryam Alkhawaja, head of foreign relations at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera.

“This morning the protesters were walking from the hospital to the cemetery and they got attacked by the riot police,” Alkhawaja said.

“Thousands of people are marching in the streets, demanding the removal of the regime – police fired tear gas and bird shot, using excessive force – that is why people got hurt.”

At least 25 people were reported to have been treated for injuries in hospital.

An Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain, who cannot be named for his own safety, said that police were taking a very heavy-handed approach towards the protesters.

“Police fired on the protesters this morning, but they showed very strong resistance,” our correspondent said.

“It seems like the funeral procession was allowed to continue, but police are playing a cat-and-mouse game with the protesters.”

The developments came as the king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, made a rare television appearance in which he offered condolences on the protesters’ deaths.

The process of change in the kingdom “will not stop”, the official Bahrain News Agency quoted Sheikh Hamad as saying on Tuesday.

Opposition’s move

Angered by the deaths, a Shia Muslim opposition group has announced it was suspending its participation in the parliament.

“This is the first step. We want to see dialogue,” Ibrahim Mattar, a parliamentarian belonging to the al-Wefaq group, said. “In the coming days, we are either going to resign from the council or continue.”

Al-Wefaq has a strong presence inside the parliament and within the country’s Shia community.

Video from YouTube showing riot police firing on largely peaceful protesters during Monday’s demonstration
Tuesday’s violence came a day after demonstrators observed a Day of Rage, apparently inspired by the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Shias, who are thought to be in the majority, have often alleged discrimination at the hands of the kingdom’s Sunni rulers.

Thousands came out on the streets on Monday to protest, sparking clashes with riot police.

Khalid Al-Marzook, a Bahraini member of parliament, told Al Jazeera that one person had been killed and that three others were in critical condition in hospital following Monday’s violence.

Bahrain’s news agency said that the country’s interior minister had ordered an investigation into Monday’s death.

The interior ministry later issued a statement saying that “some of the people participating in the the funeral clashed with forces from a security patrol”, leading to Almatrouk’s death.

“An investigation is under way to determine the circumstances surrounding the case,” it said.

Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa has also offered his condolences to the dead man’s family.

Online reaction

Amira Al Hussaini, a Bahraini blogger who monitors citizen media for Global Voices Online, told Al Jazeera that there has been a huge outpouring of anger online in Bahrain.

“What we’ve seen yesterday and today, is a break from the normal routine – people like me, that are not necessarily in favour of the protests that are happening in Bahrain at this time, are now speaking out,” she said.

“I am trying to remain objective but I can’t – people are being shot at close range.”

Hussaini said that people in Bahrain were very afraid.

“We are afraid of going out in the streets and demanding our rights. Tunisia and Egypt have given people in Arab countries hope – even if you believe that something is impossible.”

“I personally have no respect for the police – they lie, they manipulate the story,” she said.

“This is being pitted as a sectarian issue – the Shia wanting to overthrow the regime. But it is not a Shia uprising.”

She said that people from all backgrounds and religions are behind the protests.

EDITOR: Israel is getting used to the new realities?

Below is an articles short on analysis but long on deep worries about the future – Israel is coming to realise, gradually, that the world around it is fast changing, and that the old certainties are gone, probably forever. Its crimes might not be defended in the future by all those who have done so in the past.

Israel faces emboldened Palestinian delegation in the UN: Haaretz

Israel’s new UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, will face an atmosphere of support for Palestinian causes in the UN and an uphill battle in generating sympathy for Israeli causes.

Palestinians are vigorously working to get the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement building passed. They are working quickly to get support from the organization’s general assembly before Israel’s new UN ambassador Ron Prosor, takes up his position.

Israel will appoint their new UN ambassador after half a year spent with a temporary representative. Prosor, who has been serving as the ambassador in London will soon send his credentials to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. From there, he will receive the formal authority of a permanent UN ambassador, allowing him to fulfill his role in New York in an orderly way.

Prosor, a veteran diplomat valued in Israel for his work in the foreign service, can expect a difficult time at the UN’s New York headquarters. The list of problems and topics that Prosor will be forced to deal with in the next few months is long and troublesome.

What may surprise him is the degree of sophistication and diplomatic expertise that the Palestinians have become emboldened with in recent months during their work to move their interests forward, especially in behind the screen negotiations.

The new ambassador will soon discover that the absence of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has created an atmosphere of support for Palestinian issues, an atmosphere in the manner of which has not been felt in the UN for years.

The political stagnation, for which Israel is responsible, produced a wave of initiatives including the draft against Israeli settlements and the Russian initiative to dispatch a Security Council delegation to the Middle East to closely examine the reasons for the ongoing crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, ambassadors of central nations in the UN are well aware of the cold relations between the White House administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an awareness which has allowed the atmosphere of criticism towards Israel in the UN continue, even among nations thought to be friendly with Israel.

Israel’s chance to prevent the Palestinians from gaining a majority at the UN on their proposal for an independent Palestinian state is slim. In addition, the new ambassador’s ability to generate sympathy and attentiveness for Israeli claims on topics related to the Middle East in the UN arena is very limited.

High up on Prosor’s list of priorities will be alerting the UN about the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as the ramification of UN resolution 1701, which calls on the Lebanese Army to deploy throughout the country, including in the Hezbollah stronghold of southern Lebanon, and prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more weapons. Another priority will of course be strengthening opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.

Prosor is well known for his work in London against schemes to delegitimize Israel. In the center of the United Nations in New York, he will need all the experience that he acquired in this field.

Egyptian army hijacking revolution, activists fear: The Guardian

Military ruling council begins to roll out reform plans while civilian groups struggle to form united front
Jack Shenker in Cairo
A man takes a picture of his daughter on an Egyptian army tank in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP
Egypt’s revolution is in danger of being hijacked by the army, key political activists have warned, as concrete details of the country’s democratic transition period were revealed for the first time.

Judge Tarek al-Beshry, a moderate Islamic thinker, announced that he had been selected by the military to head a constitutional reform panel. Its proposals will be put to a national referendum in two months’ time. The formation of the panel comes after high-ranking army officers met with selected youth activists on Sunday and promised them that the process of transferring power to a civilian government is now under way.

But the Guardian has learned that despite public pronouncements of faith in the military’s intentions, elements of Egypt’s fractured political opposition are deeply concerned about the army’s unilateral declarations of reform and the apparent unwillingness of senior officers to open up sustained and transparent negotiations with those who helped organise the revolution.

“We need the army to recognise that this is a revolution, and they can’t implement all these changes on their own,” said Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent youth activist. “The military are the custodians of this particular stage in the process, and we’re fine with that, but it has to be temporary.

“To work out what comes next there has to be a real civilian cabinet, of our own choosing, one that has some sort of public consensus behind it – not just unilateral communiques from army officers.”

There is consternation that the army is taking such a hard line on the country’s burgeoning wave of strikes, which has seen workers seeking not just to improve their economic conditions, but also to purge institutions of bosses they accuse of being corrupt and closely aligned to the old regime.

“These protests aren’t just wage-specific,” said Abd El Fattah. “They’re also about people at ground level wanting to continue the work of the revolution, pushing out regime cronies and reclaiming institutions like the professional syndicates and university departments that have long been commandeered by the state.”

The ruling military council has called on “noble Egyptians” to end all strikes immediately.

Egypt’s post-Mubarak political landscape has grown increasingly confused in the past few days, as the largely discredited formal opposition parties of the old era seek to reposition themselves as populist movements. Meanwhile younger, online-based groups are trying to capitalise on their momentum by forming their own political vehicles, and the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will form a legal political party.

After decades of stagnation, the country’s political spectrum is desperately trying to catch up with the largely leaderless events of the past few weeks and accommodate the millions of Egyptians politicised by Mubarak’s fall. “The current ‘opposition’ does not represent a fraction of those who participated in this revolution and engaged with Tahrir and other protest sites,” said Abd El Fattah. But with a myriad of short-lived alliances and counter-alliances developing among opposition forces in recent days, uncertainty about the country’s political future still prevails.

“Despite various attempts to form a united front, there’s nothing of the kind at this point – just a lot of division,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Centre. “You’ve got numerous groups, numerous coalitions, and everyone is meeting with everyone else. There’s a sense of organisational chaos. Everyone wants a piece of the revolution.”

This week a number of formal opposition parties, including the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Tagammu party, came together with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a wide range of youth movements to try and elect a steering committee that could speak with a unified voice to the army commanders and negotiate the formation of a transitional government and presidential council.

Yet those plans have been overtaken by the speed of the military’s own independent proclamations on reform, raising fears that civilian voices are being shut out of the transitional process.

Some senior figures inside the coalition believe the army is deliberately holding high-profile meetings with individuals such as Google executive Wael Ghonim and the 6 April youth movement founder Ahmed Maher in an effort to appear receptive to alternative views, but without developing any sustainable mechanism through which non-military forces can play a genuine role in political reform.

“The military are talking to one or two ‘faces of the revolution’ that have no actual negotiating experience and have not been mandated by anyone to speak on the people’s behalf,” claimed one person involved with the new coalition. “It’s all very well for them to be apparently implementing our demands, but why are we being given no say in the process?

“They are talking about constitutional amendments, but most people here want a completely new constitution that limits the power of the presidency. They are talking about elections in a few months, and yet our political culture is still full of division and corruption.

“Many of us are now realising that a very well thought-out plan is unfolding step by step from the military, who of course have done very well out of the political and economic status quo. These guys are expert strategic planners after all, and with the help of some elements of the old regime and some small elements of the co-opted opposition, they’re trying to develop a system that looks vaguely democratic but in reality just entrenches their own privileges.”

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