Morality police arrested after deaths

        Five of the Mutaween were arrested on Monday following recent deaths. Ahmed al-Bulawi, a fifty year old man, died during interrogation by the Mutaween. Twenty eight year old Salman al-Huriasy was killed while being detained by them. Another woman was seriously injured because she jumped from a four story building to avoid the Mutaween.

        The Mutaween are religious police employed by the Saudi government to enforce its civic values. The official title of the service is the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”  They enforce Islamic Sharia law follow through its broad discretionary powers. It also ensures that the deeply religious codes are followed. For example, it inspects clothing to make sure that people dress appropriately and that shops are closed for prayer.  According to the BBC, there are 3,500 government sponsored officers, and thousands of other volunteers to supplement its force.

         The religious police have been criticized since March 2002 when fifteen schoolgirls were killed in a fire. Male rescuers were prohibited from attempting to rescue the girls because they were unveiled. The Mutaween has since relaxed its broad enforcement techniques. For example, they have stopped beating women with sticks, solely because their faces were showing.

 

        The two men who died were Ahmed Bulawi and Salman al-Hurisasy. Bulawi was arrested by the Mutaween for “illegal seclusion with a female, who was not his wife.” He was in a car with a woman. It turned out that the woman was a relative of his wife. During the interrogation process of the Mutaween, fifty year old Bulawi died of a heart attack. Al- Hurisasy was arrested for offenses relating to alcohol. According to his family, he was dragged out of his house to be interrogated while the Mutaween beat him.  He died during detention from his wounds.

The Saudi government has tried to silence the growing uprising. The Saudi state news agency released a report that the leader of the religious police would be very firm on prosecuting its members. He stated that he has created committees to review procedures and raise his control on the agency to reduce the number of errors committed.

The difficulty with the organization is the fact that there is no membership requirements to become a member of the Mutaween. Anyone can become a member at any time, making it impossible to stop an impostor from enforcing the vague mandate of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.  Therefore, the offenses cannot be dealt with unless the Mutaween has strict membership requirements, and its discretionary power of the religious police is limited. Otherwise, people like Bulawi and al-Hurisasy may continue to die. 

BBC News. Saudi hold five religious police. 4 June 2007.
BBC News. Saudi Minister rebukes religious police. 4 November 2002.
Reuters. Saudi religious police hold review after deaths. 6 June 2007.
Yahoo News. Saudi religious police quizzed over man’s death. 3 June 2007.

Amnesty International Report on Eve of 40th Anniversary of West Bank Occupation

June 5 will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  Before the end of the war, Israeli military forces occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  Throughout the occupation, Israelis and Palestinians experienced 40 years of economic hardships and fierce fighting between themselves and each other.

In its report, Amnesty International outlined several human rights violations that are currently being committed by both sides of the continuing conflict.  Most of the report focused on Israel’s failure to follow international law in regards at its obligations as an occupying power.  The primary criticism was the building of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank and the management of border crossing.  The report also criticized various Palestinian organizations for targeting Israeli citizens, including settlers. 

The report recommended that an international organization be created to monitor the parties’ compliance with international law and suggest corrective measures in cases of noncompliance.  In addition, the international watchdog should ensure the accountability of Israel and Palestine to humanitarian law and should investigate and prosecute violations.

The Israeli government has rejected Amnesty International’s report and claims that it is one-sided.  The Israeli government states that it has not violated international law and that it has the right to defend itself against Palestinians intent on terrorizing Israelis.

The Report:
Amnesty International:  “Enduring Occupation”  June 2007. 

For more information please see:

BBC:  “Amnesty Seeks Mid-East Watchdog”  4 June 2007. 

ME Times:  “Israel Rejects Amnesty Criticism Over Barrier”  4 June 2007. 

Person smuggling network caught in Western Sahara

         The Moroccan police made 14 arrests related to a major smuggling ring in Western Sahara. The arrests were made after a shootout which occurred in the city of Dajla in southern Western Sahara. It was the result of a three month investigation to discover a major gang responsible for smuggling immigrants into the Canary Islands. The group’s leader, however, escaped by boat to Mauritius.
       

        The person smuggling industry to the Canary Islands has been a problem which has always plagued the islands. However, lately gangs have gotten involved in the industry and there has been a six-fold increase in the smuggling industry. Last year, over 30,000 immigrants were caught trying to illegally immigrate into the Canary Islands. The number of illegal immigrants arrested in a single weekend can reach 700.       

        The smuggling industry has thrived as gangs have preyed upon desperate people who are seeking to get into the European Union through Spain. It has caused the death of many immigrants en route, and threatened the lives of survivors through severe hypothermia and dehydration because of the poor traveling conditions. The passenger’s goal is to get a job and support their relatives at home, yet the gangs fleece the migrants.

           The gangs usually charge a very high rate for the migrants forcing the migrants to sell all that they own to gain passage on the ship. Following the initial payment, the gangs usually try to exhort more money from the passengers to guarantee better conditions on the boat or a better chance or immigration. Finally, when the passengers have traded everything they have they reach Spain and hope not to be arrested. If they are caught, they are repatriated back to their original countries, restart the process to procure the riches of Europe.

Typically Spanish. Moroccan police break up immigrant network in Western Sahara. 29 May 2007.

International Herald Tribune. Gangs profit from Smuggling of Illegal immigrants into Europe. 20 March 2007.

Africa Cast. Spain repatriates 750 migrants. 21 May 2007.

Iraqi Refugees Turn to Desperate Means

    The UN estimates that 1.2 million Iraqi refugees have entered Syria since the beginning of the Iraq war.  However, the Syrian government’s numbers put the number of refugees to be higher.  As violence increased in Iraq in the recent months, there has also been an increase in unaccompanied women refugees and women-headed households entering Syria.  These women, many supporting families, are living in a country where the cost of living and unemployment rates are both increasing.  Many of these women find that their only marketable asset is their bodies.  They face a difficult choice – engage in prostitution or be forced to return to Iraq.   

     Prostitution is a forbidden topic by the Syrian government.  However, in recent months the government has been acknowledging this growing problem.  The Syrian government is sympathetic to these women and is careful not to deport them.  However, little else is being done to help these women or to offer alternatives to prostitution.

For more information please see:
NY Times:  “Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria”  29 May 2007.

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.