Yemen Closes Two Rivals of the State News Network

        Yemen has closed two independent news networks. The networks www.al-shoura.net and www.aleshteraki.net were shut down because they did not follow government regulations. They were shut down without a court ruling, and are the latest in the government’s growing restrictions on the information about the conflict. Previously, it has silenced television and radio stations, as well as NGOs.  Yemen Journalist Syndicate Secretary-General Marwan Dammaj said, “The Ministry of Information has issued instructions to journalists and editors not to cover the war in Sa’ada in a way that runs counter to the official media’s reporting.”

        The war between the Shiite rebels and the Yemen government has destroyed the Sa’ada region. It has displaced nearly 35,000 people from their homes casting them out to desperate situations. In May 2005, the Yemen government estimated that the conflict caused 552 deaths, almost 3,000 injuries and nearly $270 million dollars of economic damage. The rebel movement began in 2004, by Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, Yemen’s head of the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam. His followers are called the “Shabab al-Mu’minoon,” which translated means Believing Youth. The rebels disagree with the government’s close alliance with America and Israel. Although its vision is unclear, it is clear that the Believing Youth do want to overthrow the government and replace it with the Zaidi imamate, who was ousted in 1962. According to estimates, the Believing Youth have enrolled over 3,000 fighters into their cause.

        The two stations reported the fighting and the human tragedy in the area, and contradicting the state sponsored news sites. This action raises concerns, especially since the government just launched an attack of 30,000 soldiers to defeat the “terrorists.” If the government exclusively controls the information of the media then it is likely that the true conditions of the residents of suffering in Sa’ada may not be known.

Middle East Online. Yemen censors two opposition news websites. 28 May 2007.

Reuters Online. Yemen President says he will consider rebels demands. 22 May 2007.

World Press. Yemen: Fighting in North Hampers Humanitarian Work. 6 May 2007.

Iran Charges Iranian-American Scholar

        Haleh Esfandiari was prevented from returning to the US in December 2006, arrested on May 8, and recently accused of working to disrupt Iranian sovereignty.  Esfandiari, who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, works as the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, in Washington DC.  Part of her job includes planning conferences for Iranian leaders, civil, academic, and governmental, in the US on issues involving Iran.  Last December, while en route to the Tehran airport, her luggage, which held both passports, was confiscated; effectively preventing her from leaving the country.  Since December 2006 and her arrest in early May 2007, Esfandiari was repeatedly interrogated and denied access to legal counsel.  In addition to Dr. Esfandiari, two other Iranian-Americans (Ali Shakeri and Kian Tajbakhsh) are in currently in Iranian prison and a fourth, Parnaz Azima, had her passport confiscated and as a result she is prevented from leaving Iran.

        There are various theories as to why Iran is currently detaining four Iran-American citizens.  First,  that the hard-liners in the Iranian government are hoping to derail US-Iranian talks regarding the war in Iraq.  Second, that the Iranian government hopes to use the detainees as leverage to negotiate a prisoner trade to guarantee the release of the five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq in early January 2007.  Regardless to the reason behind Esfandiari’s and the other Iranian-Americans’ detentions, analysts agree that there is no rational basis and that the detainees should be released.

For more information, please see:

CNN:  “Iranian-American political prisoners”  25 May 2007.

Human Rights Watch:  “Iran: Another Iranian-American Scholar Detained”  24 May 2007.

CNN:  “Iran imprisons 4th Iranian-American”  23 May 2007.

NY Times:  “Iran Accuses American of Revolution Plot”  22 May 2007.

BBC:  “Iran accuses US-Iranian scholar”  22 May 2007.

BBC:  “US-Iranian academic detained in Iran”  9 May 2007.

A rival political party in Egypt

          Egypt has allowed for the creation of a new political party to rival the President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The Democratic Front will be headed by Osama al-Ghazali, a former NDP leader. He split ways with the National Democratic Party over the constitutional amendments passed in March. He was an academic political affairs writer who left the party and the council because he believed that the party leadership was not committed to political reform. The party is planning to focus on a free market economy and fully democratic nation.

         This is a major development in the Egyptian politics because it legitimizes the Egyptian elections. Previously, Mubarak’s party had basically run unopposed and so was able to unilaterally push its own agenda under the cover of the Egyptian constitutional democracy. The only check on the party was through protest and through the rival party of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood had been outlawed, but recently the brotherhood have had key members tried before a military tribunal. According to the BBC, the maxim of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Islam is the solution.”

        According to the government, the amendments fought terrorism and promoted democracy. The amendments were pushed by the government as the end of the emergency powers, which were enacted after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981.  It fought terrorism by allowing the president to send a terrorist case to any judicial authority that the president deems necessary, including military tribunals. Human rights groups are fearful that the unchecked authority given to the president for the prosecution of terrorists will allow for abusive enforcement. Also, it promoted democracy by recommending a multi-party system, but limited those parties by prohibiting a party with a religious affiliation. 

        Opponents believed that the amendments did not end the emergency power, but rather made those powers permanent. It believed that some of the amendments perpetuated the rule of the National Democratic Party, and set up Gamal Mubarak to be the next ruler of Egypt. The amendments further undercut the Muslim Brotherhood, because it did not allow them to organize as a political group, and allowed for the president to prosecute them in any manner the president desires.

        The new liberal party may present a sign of true democracy in Egypt, by creating the tension necessary for the nation to be more accountable to the people. If however, the party does not grow into an actual rival party to the National Democratic Party, then despite its opponents efforts the National Democratic Party may continue to enforce its will unopposed.

BBC News: A Permanent Emergency. 27 March 2007.

BBC News: Egypt Allows New Political Party. 24 May 2007.

Al-Jazeera: Egypt New Opposition Party. 24 May 2007.

Sunday Times New Zealand. Egypt Approves New Party. 25 May 2007.

New exchange of violence in Gaza

        New Internal fighting between Hamas and Fatah broke out Sunday, May 13, killing 50 Palestinians in Gaza.  In addition, military exchanges between Hamas and Israel occurred throughout the week.  In total, 38 Palestinians died this past week as a result of Israeli air strikes; 25 were militants and 13 were civilians.  In contrast, one Israeli has died this week as a result of the Qassam rocket attacks. 

       On Monday, May 21, a rocket killed an Israeli woman in the town of Sderot in southern Israel.  She was the first Israeli death from a rocket since November 2006.  In addition to the death, 16 Israelis have been injured this past week as a result of rocket attacks.  Many of Sderot’s residents have left the town and sought refuge in Jerusalem.

        In addition to trading missile fire, both Israel and Hamas have traded harsh words and threats.  Both parties have refused to negotiate a cease fire.  Hamas rejected Abbas’ call to stop firing rockets and return ti the cease-fire agreement in place prior to the recent outbreak in fighting; as Israeli air strikes continue.  In addition to continuing military action, Israel has vowed to widen their list of targets to include Hamas’ poltical leaders, such as Palestinian Prime Minister Haniya.  On Wednesday, May 23, senior Israeli officials stated tha hte military will target terrorist infrastructure within Gaza, effectively rejecting the notion that a unilateral cease-fire by Hama will divert any increase in military action in Gaza. 

        During an Israeli security cabinet meeting on Sunday, May 20, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert authorized the military to take action against Hamas leaders in the West Bank, as well as Gaza.  Then late-Wednesday and early Thursday, May 23 and 24, raids occurred throughout the Westbank, where over 30 Hamas officials were arrested/  Chief among the arrested was the Palestinian Education Minister, Naser el-Deen al Shaer.  Also arrested were three parliament members, a top official in the PA Interior Ministery, and hte mayors of Nablus, Kalkilya, Bidya, and El-Bireh.  In addition to the arrest, the IDF also shut down 10 Hamas offices in towns throughout the West Bank, including Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, and Bethlehem. 

        While a fragile cease-fice exists between Hamas and Fatah since last Sunday, no resolution to this new violence between Israel and Hamas is in sight.  By the actions and words of the parties, neither seem willing to negotiate and it appears as though both parties are set to destroy the other. 

 

For more information, please see:

BBC:  “Israel hits Hamas politician home”   21 May 2007.

BBC:  “Israel strikes at Hamas in Gaza”    23 May 2007.

BBC:  “Militants reject Gaza truce call”   24 May 2007.

ME Times:  “Abbas calls for truce, Israel seizes Hamas officials”  24 May 2007.

Al-Jazeera:  “Israel arrests 30 Hamas officials”  24 May 2007.

CNN:  “More wounded as Israel steps up strikes against Hamas”  24 May 2007.

Jerusalem Post:  “500 Sderot residents find temporary peace in Jerusalem”  24 May 2007. 

Jerusalem Post:  “Hamas threatens to up resistence”  24 May 2007.

Jerusalem Post:  “IDF arrests Hamas education minister”  24 May 2007.

Thousands Flee Lebanese Camps

         The fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah Al-Islam which began on Sunday has temporarily stopped, and thousands of Palestinian refugees seized the opportunity to flee from the refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared.

        The conflict has rendered the camp almost unlivable. Many in the camp have lost electricity, running water, and drinking water. Already 15,000 residents (of the 40,000 residents) have fled to Beddawi, where they have moved in with relatives, or have filled up schools designated by the United Nations for them. The Lebanese army could not enter the camp because of a previous agreement, they had to shell Fatah Al-Islam from outside the camp leading to less targeted warefare and more civilian casualties. One citizen reported to a Reuters reporter, “It’s mass destruction in there. The dead people are strewn on the streets. Nobody is picking them up.” The fighting has killed 32 Lebanese soldiers, 27 civilians, and between 22 and 60 militants.   

        The fighting does not seem to have an end in sight.  The silence is not an official truce, but rather a lull in the conflict to allow the wounded and endangered to flee. The nation’s instability since the assassination of Rafik Hariri has allowed the area to become prime recruiting grounds for the Fatah al-Islam and similar insurgency groups. The Lebanese military told the insurgent group that they will not negotiate with them and instead with “eliminate the Fatah al-Islam phenomenon.” Al-Jazeera. Fatah’s second in command, Abu Midian, has been killed in the conflict, yet the group has vowed to fight on.

Al-Jazeera: Lebanon refugees talk to Al-Jazeera. 23 May 2007.

Al-Jazeera: Lebanon truce lasts just minutes. 23 May 2007.

Al-Jazeera: Protests in Lebanon refugee camps. 23 May  2007.

Reuters: Palestinians Flee after Truce in Lebanon. 23 May 2007.

BBC World: Thousands Flee Lebanon Violence. 23 May 2007.

Human Rights Watch: Lebanon:Fighting at Refugee Camp Kills Civilians. 23 May 2007.

Lebanese troops battle militants in refugee camp

        Fighting between Fatah al-Islam militants and Lebanese troops on May 20 and 21 resulted in the worst internal violence in Lebanon since the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).  Street fighting broke out in Tripoli on Sunday May 20, when Lebanese troops raided a Fatah al-Islam safe house where suspected bank robbers were hiding.  The street fights led al-Islam militants to take over army posts near the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli.  an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Palestinian refugees live in the camp.  While Lebanese troops have not entered the camp, in accordance with a forty year old agreement with the PLO, they have bombarded the camp with artillery.

        There is great concern over the safety and welfare of the refugees within the camp.  Without food, electricity or medical supplies and with the constant bombardment, the conditions within the camp pose a great threat to civilian life.  Since the Lebanese troops are focusing the attack on the outer perimeter of the camp, the refugees have retreated into the center of the camp.  As a result, the refugees are imprisoned within the camp.  A short lived truce allowed medical organizations to evacuate 16 wounded civilians on Monday, however an unestimated number of injured civilians remain in the camp, with no access to medical care or supplies.  In addition, an estimated 25 civilians have died as a result of the fighting.

        Fatah al-Islam is a Palestinian group and is suspected to be either a Lebanses branch of al-Qaeda or connected with Syrian intelligence.  The Palestinian government has been working with the Lebanese to broker a cease-fire.  However, some within the Lebanese government are determined to destroy the group and the fighters based in Palestinian refugee camps, which they hold responsible to terrorist attacks throughout Lebanon. 

        Regardless as to what affiliation or what the group’s objectives are, this current conflict may cause the fragile Lebanese government to collapse. The government faces international and domestic criticism for their use of force within the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. If the conflict continues, Fatah al-Islam threatens to extend fighting beyond the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. If the fighting escalates, Lebanon

may be drawn into civil war, more devastating than the first.

For more information please see:

Al-Jazeera: “Lebanese Troops shell Palestinian refugee camp” 21 May 2007

Al-Jazeera:  “Clashes between Lebanese troops, rebels leave 38 dead” 21 May 2007.

AP: “Lebanese Army Pounds Palestinian Camp” 21 May 2007.

BBC: “Fighting rages in Lebanese Camp” 21 May 2007.

BBC: “Fresh Clases in Northern Lebanon” 21 May 2007.

Christian Science Monitor: “New Fight Rips at a Fragile Lebanon” 21 May 2007.

The Daily Star: “Army Steps up Shelling of Militants at Nahr al-Bared” 22 May 2007.

The Daily Star: “Palestinian factions offer to help fight Fatah al-Islam” 21 May 2007.

The Daily Star: “22 Troops, 19 Fatah al-Islam Fighters dead” 21 May 2007.

Middle East Times: “Death toll mounts as Lebanon troops pound Islamist” 21 May 2007.