Yemen haven for refugees

Yemen has become a haven for refugees.  Thousands of refugees have fled from Iraq, Ethiopia, and Somalia to Yemen.  They have sought shelter from warfare and to begin a new life.  This massive influx of people has overwhelmed the Yemen government and is creating a possibility of a future “human disaster.”  (News Yemen) 

Since the Iran-Iraq war, many Iraqis have fled to Yemen.  They have been treated better in Yemen than in Jordan or Syria, and thus, it is an attractive destination for educated and skilled Iraqis.  The 70,000 Iraqis in Yemen have thrived.  They have been treated by the principles of Arab Unity.  This means the Yemeni government has extended “rights to work, education, and social benefits on the basis of their being Arabs.”  (YEMEN: Iraqi migrants, refugees await brighter future IRIN.)   Although the Iraqis have spurred the Yemen economy, the Yemeni government recently passed legislation requiring Iraqis entering the country to obtain a visa to slow down immigration.

The Oromos from Ethiopia have poorly treated in Yemen.  They have sought refuge from Eithopia.  “We have come to Yemen in order to escape persecution, torture and killings by the Ethiopian government,” according to Jamal Abdowaday, an Oromo leader in Sana’a. (ETHIOPIA-YEMEN: Oromo migrants fear deportation.   IRIN).  Their fear of the Ethiopian government has placed them in position without bargaining power, since their greatest fear is deportation.  This has made them susceptible to abuses.  Oromos claim local Yemenis mistreat them. “We are subject to harassment, arrests, and discrimination . . .  Our children can’t go to school. They are deprived of education… They have become like animals confined in small rooms. They can’t play in the streets for fear of being beaten or harassed by local children,” Abdowaday added.  Id.  However, the Yemen government denies these allegations and claims that it has treated the Oromos fairly.

The largest influx of refugees lately has been Somalis.  In July alone, 18,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu.  This has lead to Somalis flooding to Yemen, creating dangerous situations for both the migrants and the Yemen government.  Recently, the UN reported that at least 367 Somalis have died trying to cross into the border.  (Voice of America.)   However, 10,000 Somali refugees enter in Yemen every year, bringing the Somali refugee court to about 64,000 in Yemen.  This influx of refugees has created a strain on the government as it struggles to provide for the refugees. 

The large numbers of refugees has become a difficult problem for the Yemen government.  It strains the nation’s weak economy, and compounds Yemen’s other problems, such as stabilizing the Sa’ana region and eradicating Yemen’s ties with terrorist groups.  Yemen has more closely monitored its media, furthering the problem for the refugees as the voices raising awareness of the refugees’ plight are being quieted.  This could create a future disaster for the refugees, if the Yemeni government cuts corners for the refugees and ignores them to focus on the nation’s other problems, because the plight of the refugees would not be focused on by the official state sponsored media.

News Yemen. Yemen faces critical troubles due to refugees influx. 28 July 2007.

IRIN. ETHIOPIA-YEMEN: Oromo migrants fear deportation. 30 May 2007.

IRIN.  YEMEN: Somali refugees protest perceived injustices. 27 November 2005.

IRIN. YEMEN: Iraqi migrants, refugees await brighter future. 1 July 2007.

Somalia News.  Somalia: Yemen deports Somali refugees. 26 July 2007.

Voice of America. UN: At Least 367 Somali Refugees Killed Trying to Cross Into Yemen. 10 July 2007.

Relief Web. Somalia: Situation Report. 27 July 2007.

International Summit to Discuss Iraqi Refugee Crisis

A summit was held in Amman, Jordan to discuss the refugee crisis.  War and sectarian violence in Iraq has caused over two million Iraqis to leave the country and over two million displaced within Iraq.  During the international conference, Muhammad Hajj Hamoud, secretary general of Iraq’s foreign ministry, warned of a humanitarian crisis.  He urged host countries to help ease the burden of the refugees and not to forcibly deport these refugees back to Iraq while Iraq remains unstable.  He also urged the international community to help the countries shouldering much of the burden by providing more aid and helping asylum-seeking refugees find permanent homes.

The two countries hosting the majority of the refugees are Jordan and Syria.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 750,000 Iraqis sought refuge in Jordan and 1,200,000 fled to Syria.  In May, Jordanian officials claimed that the government spent one billion dollars a year hosting these refugees.  However, despite this large sum of money, many children are not able to receive medical treatment or attend school.  In Syria, refugees have turn to prostitution and child trafficking as means to earn money.

A day prior to the conference, Amnesty International released a statement addressing the refugee crisis.  In the statement, the organization called for “urgent international action” to assist Syria and Jordan to supporting their growing numbers of refugees.  Without international help, especially in the form of aid money, Iraq’s neighbors will not be able to continue to support these large numbers of refugees.  If these countries are not able to support the refugees, many incoming Iraqis will be turned away at the border, forced to return to unsafe and unstable conditions.  In addition, it is likely that many more refugees will be forcibly deported back to Iraq.

For more information please see:
Amnesty International:  “Iraq refugees crisis nears breaking point”  26 July 2007. 

Amnesty International:  “Iraq:  International support urgently needed to address spiraling refugee crisis”  26 July 2007. 

Amnesty International:  “Iraq:  The situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria”  26 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Crisis warning on Iraq refugees”  26 July 2007.  “Iraq urges neighbors to end abuse of refugees”  26 July 2007. 

UNHCR:  “UNHCR deplores forced return of 135 Iraqis by Turkey”  26 July 2007. 

Boston Globe:  “Amnesty urges help for Iraqi refugees”  25 July 2007.

Egyptian Woman Tortured by Police

Shaymaa Muhammad al-Sayed was born a Muslim, but got married to a Coptic man and became a Coptic Christian in 2003. This angered her family greatly.  In 2003, she fled her family, fearing the repercussions of her conversion and marriage.  Her father submitted three missing person reports after she fled, even though she was not a minor.  Reportedly, on July 16, 2007, they saw her in Alexandria, and voiced their desire to harm her. She was arrested July 21, 2007.  According to the police, she was arrested as protective custody to protect the women from her family.  However, while she was arrested she was mistreated.  She claims that the police tortured her through beatings, electric shocks, and even took a photograph of her while she was naked.

Although she had been arrested under the guise of protective custody by being protected from her family, five days later she was released to her family against her will.  While in prison she tried to press charged against her family but was repeatedly denied.  However, the police returned the woman to her family against her will, because of the missing person reports.  She was not a minor, and therefore should not have been returned to her family.  Furthermore, she they had openly threatened her she should have been protected from them, especially without ensuring the woman’s safety.   

The police’s action shows the Egyptian government’s willingness to cater to the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of the Coptic Christians.  The woman chose to flee her family. Yet, she was arrested and tortured by the police, then returned to her family.  Although she had broken the law by converting from Islam, the police should not have released her to a family that openly expressed its desire to kill her.  According to the reports, when the woman was taken away by her family she was immediately dragged and beaten in the graveyard behind the station.  Yet, the police did not interfere.  Furthermore, she was denied her right to press charges against her family for abuse and other related charges. 

This incident by the State Security Investigation force in Egypt compounds the fears of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt. Although Mubarak takes a strong stance against the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist Islam, his stance is undercut with rules making it illegal to convert from Islam to another religion or for a Islamic woman to marry a Coptic man.  These laws give radical Islamics reign to attack those who violate the law.  Also, the laws create more tension to erupt when a person converts to Islam or Coptic Christianity.  The government must eliminate such laws and take a stance to protect its citizens irregardless of the person’s religious background.

BosNewLife. Egypt Police Hands Over Christian Convert To “Fanatical Muslim” Family. 23 July 2007.

Migrant Workers Mistreated in Dubai

    The Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is the world’s tallest tower at 512 meters.  Recently, it passed Tapai 101 at 508 meters.  The construction is ahead of schedule and still has another year and a half of construction.  It is being built by a migrant force of 4,000 Indians. The final completed height of the building is rumored to be around 700 meters tall.  Dubai has been growing at a tremendously rapid pace, because of the rising prices of oil.  As the oil has increased, it has poured money into United Arab Emirates, making it is the central business hub of the Gulf Region.

    The rapid growth of the United Arab Emirate region has created thousands of jobs for construction workers.  In response to the surplus in jobs, Dubai has responded by opening itself to many migrant construction workers, especially from South Asia, to fill the void.  However, since the workers are not United Arab Emirate citizens, they have not been protected by the government.  For example at the Burj Dubai, the 4,000 Indians have been working round-the-clock shifts in the brutal Dubai summer heat.  Also, the workers have no set minimum wages.

    Human Rights Watch created a publication on the topic, “Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates.”  The report shows the slave-like conditions of the migrant worker.  For example, the average salary of the construction worker in 2006 was $106-$250 dollars a month, whereas the nation average salary for a person in the UAE, including the migrant workers, was $2,106 dollars a month.  The workers are being paid less than 10% of the typical salary for the country.  Also, it is common for employers to engage in “security” practices to ensure that workers do not quit such as withholding monthly salaries and denying the workers access to their passports.  The migrants work in poor conditions, causing premature deaths of the workers.  In 2005, 880 corpses of construction workers were returned to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone.

    The government has not protected the migrant construction workers.  In 1980, the UAE passed a law requiring the passage of a minimum wage, however, a law has never been passed complying with the regulation.  Also, the law does not allow a worker to accept a job at a rival company without the consent of his current employer, further tying down workers to bad jobs.  Additionally, the workers cannot assemble themselves into unions to create leverage to force employers to pay them, but instead, the workers who strike will be deported home.  The government has forced employers to pay back wages, yet have not yet publicly penalized an employer for withholding wages, giving the employers no disincentive to treating the workers badly.

    The workers need to be protected by the government.  They are a necessary resource for the UAE to continue to develop into the business capital of the Gulf Region.  The migrant construction workers must be given a minimum wage, and also more substantial rights to be able to protect themselves.   

Al-Jazeera. Burj-Al Dubai ‘world’s tallest tower’. 21 July 2007.
Human Rights Watch. Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates. November 2006.
Human Rights Watch. UAE:Worker’s Abused in Construction Boom. 12 November 2006.

Civil Marriage in Israel

On July 18, Israel’s Justice Minister, Daniel Friedman, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar reached agreement on legislation that would allow limited civil marriages in Israel.  Currently, there is a difference between the state’s and religious requirements to be considered Jewish.  Under Israel’s Law of Return a person needs only to have a Jewish grandparent to be considered Jewish.  However, according to religious authorities, a person needs to have a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism.  This difference leaves about 270,000 Israeli Jews unable to marry in their own country.

This limited bill will apply only to couples where both partners are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.  However, many criticize that this law is too limited and many will still be forced to get married outside of Israel.  The proposed legislation does nothing to address marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew, gentile.  Therefore, while gentile couples and Jewish couples will be able to marry inside Israel, mixed couples will not.

In addition to the limited scope of the legislation, critics also state that the law may isolate and discriminate against immigrants.  Most of the people who fall between the state and Jewish law’s definition of Jew are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  So this legislation marks a first step in recognizing civil marriages and expanding marriage rights.  However, more can be done to recognize full marriage rights of every Israeli citizen.

For more information please see:

Jerusalem Post:  “Amar OKs civil marriage for non-Jews”  19 July 2007. 

Ha’aretz:  “Bill would let non-Jews wed in civil ceremony”  19 July 2007. 

Ha’aretz:  “Government to support non-Jewish civil marriage law”  19 July 2007. 

Middle East Times:  “Limit civil marriage in Israel for first time”  19 July 2007.  “‘Green light’ for civil marriage in Israel”  18 July 2007.

100 Palestinians trapped in Egyptian Airport

        Since the fighting broke out between Hamas and Fatah thousands of Palestinians have fled to Egypt.  The number of Palestinian refugees in Egypt ranges from 4,000 to 6,000.  Egyptian President Mubarak stated that the refugees will remain in Egypt until the fighting subsides between the two factions.  Therefore, he has shut down Egypt’s border to the Gaza Strip, the Rafah Crossing.  He has also shut down air travel from Egyptian Airports to the Gaza trip, which has stranded passengers.

        Consequently, 100 Palestinians have been trapped in the Arish Ariport for about 20 days.  The Palestinians arrived at Arish from various countries. They had planned on stopping in Arish only to make their connecting flight to the Gaza Strip.  Therefore, they did not obtain visas to enter Egypt, because they did not think they would get stuck in the country.  These Palestinians have been forced into a small section of the airport, and have not been allowed to leave for any reason.  The Palestinians have tried to break free, but the police forcefully restrained the crowd, injuring three people.  One of the men told the Middle Eastern Times, “We are sleeping on the floor, we all share one toilet, [and] there is nowhere to take a bath or shower.”   Reportedly, they have survived on water and salt, and currently, have gone on on hunger strike. 

        The Egyptians’ rationale for shutting down the border travel is to protect the Palestinians.  The Egyptian government’s fear is that if the Palestinians enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing, they may be shot by Israelis or Hamas soldiers misidentifying them as smugglers.  The Egyptians have kept the border crossings to Israel open, but many Palestinians are hesitant to cross into Israel.  The Palestinians fear that the Israeli’s will cause them trouble or even arrest them.  Therefore, the Palestinians are stuck in Egypt for an indefinite period of time.  However, the Egyptians are trying to address the problem by setting up free health care facilities to treat the Palestinian refugees.   This help may be too little because 28 Palestinians have already died with health related issues, which could be compounded with thousands of Palestinians crowding the border towns seeking to entrance into the Gaza Strip. 

Daily Star Egypt. Palestinians Trapped in Arish Airport go on Hunger Strike. 9 July 2007.
Middle East News. Palestinians Trapped for Weeks in Egypt. 17 Jul 2007. Palestinians Trapped. 17 July 2007.
People’s Daily Online. Egypt to provide free treatment for stranded Palestinian patients at Rafah crossing. 16 July 2007.

Abbas appoints caretaker government

Following Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, Palestinian president, Abbas, declared a state of emergency.  He dismissed the then prime minister, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh and appointed Salam Fayyad as the emergency prime minister.  On July 13, Fayyad resigned as prime minister but then was re-appointed by Abbas as the interim government’s prime minister.  In addition, Abbas appointed three more ministers and decreed that this new government will remain in power until the next legislative or presidential elections.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s Basic Law, an emergency government may rule for 30 days without legislative approval.  However, as a result of the in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas and Israel’s arrest of Hamas lawmakers, the Palestinian parliament is dysfunctional and was incapable of giving approval.  Fatah and Abbas’s attempts to convene a parliamentary meeting to approve the new government have or will be boycotted by Hamas.  In addition, Hamas’s attempts to convene a parliamentary meeting to declare the new government unconstitutional will be boycotted by Fatah.  In either case, the parliament will lack the quorum necessary to make an official vote.

Palestinian lawmakers who drafted the Basic Law question the constitutionality of Abbas’s actions.  While most agree that Abbas had the right to dismiss Haniyeh as prime minister, many argue that Abbas does not have the necessary authority to appoint an entire cabinet without parliament approval nor the right to suspend parts of the constitution by decree.  Abbas seems to recognize these constitutional pitfalls but states that he will do what is necessary to keep the government functioning in Palestine.

The international community has shown support for Abbas in recent weeks.  Many western governments began sending aid to Abbas and the impoverished Palestinians.  Israel has released some of the withheld tax revenue that it collects for the Palestinian Authority and is set to release 250 Palestinian detainees. 

For more information please see:

Ha’aretz:  “Fatah to boycott parliament session convened by Hamas”  15 July 2007. 

The Media Line:  “‘Abbas to prevent Hamas’ participation in future elections”  15 July 2007. 

The Independent:  “Abbas to form new caretakers government”  14 July 2007. 

Reuters:  “Hamas rejects Abbas’s new government”  14 July 2007. 

Voice of America:  “Palestinian President Abbas rules out talks with Hamas”  14 July 2007. 

Washington Post:  “Abbas rejigs Palestinian government”  13 July 2007. 

Reuters:  “Framers of Palestinian constitution challenge Abbas”  8 July 2007.

19 year old Sri Lankan Maid to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia

Rizana Nafeek is scheduled to be beheaded on July 16, 2007.  She is a 19 year Sri Lankan maid who migrated to Saudi Arabia seeking a better life through employment.  She was barely 17 when she immigrated to be a nanny in 2005, although her forged identification documents stated she was 23.  Eighteen days after she arrived in the country, the four month infant she babysat began choking. Nafeek tried to massage and stroke the child, while she screamed frantically to the child’s mom for help.  Despite all her efforts, the child still died.

Following the incident the child’s family pressed charges against the Nafeek claiming that she strangled the child to death.   The police arrested the girl and interrogated her without procuring a translator for her.  After much coercion the girl signed a confession admitting to strangling the infant to death.  However, when she was given access to a translator at a later time, through the translator she denied strangling the baby and tried to explain what had actually happened.  She also refused to sign a second confession to causing the child’s death.  However, when trying the case the court only contemplated the girl’s first confession to decide her verdict.  She was given no legal representation by either Saudi Arabia or Sri Lanka and was condemned to death by decapitation by the court. 

Nafeek is one of the many young South Asian girls who have migrated to the Middle East seeking employment.   These migrants have benefited their home nation greatly by sending money to family.  For example, there are about 400,000 Sri Lankans working in Saudi Arabia alone.  (UPI Asia Online.)   These workers ought to be protected in court, especially in capital punishment cases.  They need to be protected either by their home nation, or the home nation needs to pressure the sponsoring nation to represent these workers.  Otherwise, it will continue to create more situations where undeserving hired workers will die, and live in fear.

UPI Asia Online.  Commentary: Teenager’s beheading tests Saudi’s sharia law. 13 July 2007.

Des Moines Register. Basu: Tried without a lawyer, teen about to be beheaded. 13 July 2007.

Arab News. Initial Legal Fees Paid for Filing Sri Lankan Maid Appeal. 13 July 2007.

Arab News.  Lankans Appeal to Victim’s Father. 14 July 2007.

International Herald Tribune. Sri Lankan housemaid on death row highlights a surge in Saudi beheadings. 13 July 2007.

Man Stoned to death in Iran

On July 5, local Iranian authorities executed Jafa Kiana near the town of Takestan, Qazvin province.  10 years ago, the Criminal Court in Takistan found Kiana, along with Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, guilty of adultery and sentenced them to death by stoning.  On June 20, a day before the pair was scheduled to be stoned, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, Iran’s top judicial official stayed the execution.  Despite the stay, local officials carried out the execution.

Now, international organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are working to protect Ebrahimi from the same fate.  In December 2002, Shahrudi ordered a ban on stoning.  Despite the ban, the practice still continues.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch argue that until Iran officially removes stoning as a punishment, local authorities will continue to carry out these executions.

Iran is experiencing international pressure for their position on capital punishment.  Not only is Iran facing criticism for implementing stoning as a method of execution, but they are also facing criticism for sentencing adulterers to death.  In the face of this criticism, Iran plans to execute twenty sex offenders by hanging.  Officials refuse to bow to outside pressure on the issue of capital punishment and will continue to uphold the country’s religious beliefs and legal system.

For more information please see:
Guardian :  “Iran to defy west by executing sex offenders”  11 July 2007. 

Human Rights Watch:  “Iran:  Prevent stoning of condemned mother”  11 July 2007. 

Amnesty International UK:  “Iran: Woman faces stoning for adultery”  10 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Iran ‘adulterer’ stoned to death” 10 July 2007. 

Amnesty International:  “Save Iranian woman from execution by stoning”  9 2007. 

Human Rights Watch:  “Iran:  Stop executions by stoning slated for June 21”  20 June 2007.

Yemen ceasefire becomes increasingly fragile

The ceasefire between the Yemen government and the Believing Youth has become increasingly fragile, disturbing Sa’ada residents.

The Sa’ada region has been a bloody battleground for many years.  The Yemen Government is fighting to stop the Believing Youth.  The purpose of the Believing Youth is to overthrow the government and replace it with a Zaidi imamate.  The group is opposed to Yemen’s close relationships with the United States and Israel. Beside self-preservation and overthrowing the government, the group’s purposes are unclear.

The ceasefire was enacted on June 16, 2007 to help the Sa’ada region recover from the warfare.  The purpose of the agreement was to enable the government to give the people in the region the necessary healthcare, food, and agricultural supplies for the Sa’ada people’s survival.  In exchange for the treatment of the people of Sa’ada, the rebels agreed to turn over their weapons to the Yemenite Government.

The continued instability combined with the rebels increasing reluctance to turn over their weapons to the Yemenite government has created a fragile ceasefire.  However, gunfire has been continually exchanged in the Ghamer district between the rebels and the pro-government tribesmen.  The Believing Youth have been hesitant to agree to the initial ceasefire agreement.  They have added additional conditions, as well as, demanding that the government fulfills its obligations before they hand over their weapons.  The government sees this demand as impossible and has tried to negotiate a different agreement.

Furthermore, the rebels have accused the government of launching a media campaign against them, and abducting the rebel soldiers.  These claims are possibly legitimate since the Yemenite government has shut down the competing media outlets to the official news, and has arrested the editor of the leading online newspaper which supported the Believing Youth.  With a strong hold on the media, the government has the opportunity to operate without the necessary scrutiny of the general public.

The ceasefire is necessary for the people in the war-torn region, because the agreement infuses the area with the government aid necessary to rebuild the community.  The battle has taken its toll on the people, leaving killing many civilians, destroying the region’s agriculture, and spreading diseases.  Not only have civilians been killed, but it is difficult for those who are remaining to get jobs and survive.  Recently, UNICEF reported that the children at the regional camps suffer from anemia and leg swelling.  If these problems are not addressed soon, it will give the people in the Sa’ada region a greater reason to overthrow the government, because they will not have anything left to lose. 

Yemen Times. Sa’ada residents fear renewal of clashes. 8 July 2007.
Reuters. Yemen ceasefire strained over arms handover. 12 July 2007.
IRIN. Yemen:Despite Ban on arms, activists warn of increasing violence. 8 July 2007.

Increase in sectarian violence across Iraq

On July 7, a truck exploded in the Iraqi town of Amerli.  Estimates of causalities vary; however the local police reported 140 people are dead, 20 are missing, and more than 270 were injured.  The truck carried over two tons of explosives and was set off during the busy hours of the local market.  The explosion left a twelve foot crater and destroyed more than 50 houses and 45 shops.  Many of the causalities resulted from inhabitants being crushed as the buildings collapsed.  Rescuers worked to remove victims from the rubble and to transport the injured to hospitals.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the bomb, government officials, both Iraqi and American, blame Sunni insurgents, like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. 

In addition to this attack, the past two days saw an increase in violence across all of Iraq.  On July 8, another car bomb exploded in the town of Haswa, located 30 miles west of Baghdad; killing 20 new army recruits and wounding 27 others.  Two more car bombs exploded in Baghdad on July 9, killing twelve and wounding 35.

In addition, 29 unidentified bodies have been found in Baghdad on July 8; among them were the bodies of twelve abducted factory workers.  Officials believe that the workers were on their way home when Shia militants stopped the vehicle and then separated the Sunni workers from their Shia colleagues.  Of the group that was abducted, nine are still missing.

The recent increase in violence caused some Iraqi lawmakers to call for civilians to be given weapons and training to protect themselves.  Prior to July 7, local officials and residents of Amerli asked for an increased police force to provide protection against such attacks.  Many citizens are frustrated with the lack of security against sectarian violence.  Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkoman lawmaker, stated that in the absence of effective policing, residents should be able to take up arms and provide their own protection.

These sentiments were echoed by Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.  He stated that when the police and army are unable to protect civilians, that they have the right to defend themselves.  This idea has had a mixed reception among Iraqis.  Some Iraqis are frustrated by the lack of protection and feel that they cannot count on Iraqi police to provide the necessary security.  Others fear that arming civilians would lead to more sectarian violence and thereby decrease overall security.

For more information please see:

BBC:  “Abducted Iraqi Sunnis found dead”  9 July 2007. 

CNN:  “12 killed in Baghdad area attacks”  9 July 2007. 

The Independent:  “Iraqi politicians call on civilians to arm themselves”  9 July 2007. 

Washington Post:  “In Iraqi hamlet, ‘a funeral service in every house’” 9 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Iraqi PM slams ‘heinous’ bombers”  8 July 2007. 

NY Times:  “Around 150, death toll in Iraq attack among the war’s worst”  8 July 2007. 

Reuters:  “Iraq truck bomb death toll may be 150”  8 July 2007. 

Al Jazeera:  “‘More than 150’ dead in Iraq blast”  7 July 2007. 

CNN:  “At least 117 killing in Iraqi village market blast”  7 July 2007.

Fatwa issued against Liberal Saudi Muslims

In June, an Islamic leader issued a fatwa against liberal Muslims.  Sheik Saleh al-Fozan said, “Calling oneself a liberal Muslim is a contradiction in terms … one should repent before God for such ideas in order to be a real Muslim.”  (Reuters)  The edict has caused liberal Muslims to fear attacks from Islamic militants. 

A fatwa is a religious edict issued by an Islamic cleric.  Typically, a fatwa is used to express disapproval against someone whose actions contradict the issuing cleric’s interpretation of Sharia law.  Sometimes violence follows the issuing of a fatwa.  This happens when militant followers enforce the fatwa by killing the target of the edict.  For example, in 1989 a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie. Although, he has survived the fatwa by going underground for many years, some of his book Satanic Verses translators were killed, as well as his Norwegian publisher. Also, 37 people died while his Turkish translator was targeted.

For this reason the Liberal Muslims are fearful that violence will ensue from this fatwa. “Even if his (Fozan) intention is not calling for violence, the implication is violence,” replied Turki al-Hamad.  (Reuters)  Hamad is a novelist targeted by Saudi Islamists because of his desire to expand the freedom of the individual. 

Saudi conservative Muslims are conflicting with liberal Muslims on whether the influence of the clerics should be limited.  The liberals also desire to limit the Saudi royal family’s power through implementing parliamentary elections.  The discord between the factions of Islam could cause violence amongst the factions.  If this happens it is likely that the Saudi government would have to intercede and the Royal Family would seize the opportunity to cement its power.  If the discord does not lead to open violence, it could create the necessary tension to limit the influence of radical militant clerics. 

Reuters. Saudi fatwa against liberals raise fears of violence. 8 July 2007.
Fars News Agency. Enemies seek to Sow Religious Discord among Muslims. 7 July 2007.
CNN. Iran dissacociates itself from Rushdie death sentence. 24 September 1998.

BBC’s Alan Johnston released in Gaza

On July 4, Alan Johnston was released after spending 16 weeks in captivity.  His car was found in Gaza on March 12.  Prior to being kidnapped, he spent three years as the BBC’s permanent correspondent in Gaza.  For 114 days, Johnston was held captive by the Army of Islam, led by the Doghmush clan.  The group demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in British custody in exchange for Johnston’s freedom.

According to Johnston, he was held in four different locations, two for only a short period of time.  While Johnston was kept in chains and taunted by his captors, he reported that he was not physically harmed until the last half hour of his ordeal.  He was able to track global demonstrations for his release by listening to the radio and these demonstrations were a source of comfort for him.

Also, Johnston stated that Hamas played a large role in his release.  Prior to Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, his kidnappers were calm.  However after Hamas gained control of Gaza his kidnappers became increasingly nervous.  While the Army of Islam had associated with Hamas in the past, Hamas neither encouraged nor condoned the group’s kidnapping of Johnston.  After Hamas gained control of Gaza, its goal was to restore the laws and wanted to secure the release of Johnston.

After Hamas gained control of Gaza, it immediately called for Johnston’s release.  Hamas’s military wing was deployed to the areas where the Dugmush clan’s presence was strong.   However, instead of using pure military force and engaging the Army of Islam in direct conflict, Hamas cut of water and electricity and detained at least five members of the Army of Islam.  While details of his release is still unclear, it is known that Johnston was escorted from a building and driven directly to the house of Ismail Haniya, the recently fired Palestinian Prime Minister.  Later, he arrived at the British Consulate in Jerusalem, where he gave a press conference and rested before returning Britain.

For their role in securing Johnston’s release, Hamas may experience an improved international reception.  Since 2005, when they won a majority in the Palestinian parliament, the Quartet (the US, UN, EU, and Russia) and other western countries refused to work with Hamas.  However, shortly after news of Johnston’s release reached the UK, twenty British MPs signed a motion, calling for greater engagement with Hamas.  The motion recognized that Hamas played a pivotal role in Johnston’s release and that showed that they should be included in reconciliation efforts.  It remains too soon to gauge whether Hamas will be treated differently by the UK or by the members of the Quartet.


For more information please see:
Al Jazeera:  “Johnston case ‘exposes hypocrisy’” 5 July 2007. 

BBC:  “MP urging engagement with Hamas”  5 July 2007. 

Christian Science Monitor:  “Hamas acts to show it’s in charge”  5 July 2007. 

Haaretz: “Hamas delivers proof, at last”  5 July 2007. 

London Times:  “‘I literally dreamt of being free, and always woke up in that room’”  5 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Hamas role in Johnston’s release”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Timeline Alan Johnston abduction”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “BBC’s Alan Johnston is released”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Hamas seeks to gain from release”  4 July 2007.

BBC:  “Hamas arrests over BBC reporter”  2 July 2007. 

The Jerusalem Post:  “Johnston released from 4 month captivity”  4 July 2007. 

The Jerusalem Post:  “Hamas hopes for legitimacy after Johnston’s release”  4 July 2007.

New York Times:  “No fast gain for Hamas after release of journalist”  4 July 2007.

New York Times:  “BBC journalist freed in Gaza”  4 July 2007.

Maid Wandering Bahrain

        Lakshmi Parvathi is an Indian immigrant worker in Bahrain.  She was hired by her sponsor as a maid. Recently, she was found in tattered clothing wandering the streets of Bahrain, following her attempted escape from her employer.  This was the second time she was unsuccessful in her attempt to flee from her abusive sponsor and return to her husband in Andhra Pradesh.  Previously, the police captured her and returned Parvathi to her employer.  The Indian Embassy would not issue her a return ticket, because she had not completed her year long obligation to the employer.  Therefore, she was not legally entitled to a ticket.  Additionally, she was unable to purchase a ticket on her own, because her employer had withheld three months of her wages. 
    Migrant workers are regularly mistreated in the Middle East.  The migrant workers, usually from Asia, are drawn to higher paying salaries.  The wages are usually around $4 for menial jobs. The workers are mostly women.  They usually work as maids at homes and cook, clean, and take care of children.  In exchange for their services, their sponsors provide the workers with housing and transportation.  Thus, the women send their salaries back to support their families. 
    The migrants are in weak positions to stand up for themselves.  Many of the nations fiercely protect their citizens and are repressive toward the migrant workers.  Therefore, it is difficult for the workers protect themselves from their sponsors’ abuse.  For example, when a migrant complains against her employers, it is easy for the employer to retaliate by making a false accusation against the worker.  The sponsors’ word is almost automatically trusted and the worker is quickly tossed in jail.  Once released from jail, the worker is returned to her employer to finish her obligation.  Also, it is difficult for the employee to protest that she is not being compensated her scheduled amount. The reason is that the employer can hesitate to pay the woman until the fulfillment of their obligation.  Immediately, upon the termination of the agreement happen, the woman’s visa expires expelling her from the country, and further isolating the employer from repercussions of the withheld payment.
    The local governments must protect these women.  Abusive sponsors have taken advantage of these women by beating them and also withholding payment from them.  The sponsors need to be made accountable for their actions.  This could be done by the Asian embassies issuing the visas to the sponsors by taking a more proactive approach to protecting their citizens.  For example, each sponsor should have to go to through a verification process.  Thus, it will at least protect the women from serial abusers.  Also, it should charge the sponsors a certain premium on the issuance of the visa to pay for an exit interview of the migrant workers.  The other solution for the women is to place outside pressure on the Middle Eastern countries to monitor the abusive employers.
Gulf Daily News. Maid found wandering in the street. 5 July 2007.
Bits of News. Migrant Workers in the Middle East. 2 July 2007.
Independent Online.  Migrants and the Middle East: Welcome to the other side of Dubai. 28 March 2006.
Middle East Report Online. “Model Employees:” Sri Lankan domestics in Lebanon.

Lebanese Army fires on Palestinian protesters

On June 29, hundreds of Palestinians staged a protest and marched three miles from Baddawi camp to Nahr al-Bared.  Most protesters were Palestinian refugees who fled the Nahr al-Bared camp after fighting began in late May.  The purpose of the protest was to regain access to their home.  Many fear that the damage resulting from the heavy fighting will prevent them from returning to their homes. 

During the march, Lebanese soldiers fired on the protesters, killing two and wounding many more.  Witnesses stated that when marchers drew close to an army checkpoint, the soldiers fired in the air above them.  When the crowd did not disperse, soldiers fired their weapons at the protesters.  While witnesses and protesters stated that the march was a peaceful demonstration, the Lebanese army issued a statement that marchers attacked the soldiers with sticks and knives. 

For more information please see:
ABC News:  “2 shot dead in refugee protest in Lebanon”  30 June 2007. 

New York Times:  “Lebanese troops kill 2 Palestinian protesters and wound 30”  30 June 2007. 

BBC:  “Lebanese army ‘kills protesters’”  29 June 2007. 

Guardian:  “2 Reported killed in Northern Lebanon”  29 June 2007. 

Reuters:  “Lebanese troops fire at Palestinian protest, 2 die”  29 June 2007. 

VOA News:  “Lebanese army fires at protesters outside Palestinian camp”  29 June 2007.