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Tunisian Revolution and the Middle East

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Western leaders urge Libyan factions to allow bombing of Isis fighters


Western officials are scrambling to get authorisation for Libya airstrikes in the coming days before Islamic State captures the strategically important town of Ajdabiya, gateway to the country’s oil wealth.


Fierce fighting is raging in the town, which sits on a rocky plateau dominating the eastern oil ports. Capture will give Isis command of the Sirte basin, home to Libya’s largest collection of oilfields.


British, American and French jets are on standby for strikes from bases across the Mediterranean, with drones and reconnaissance planes already in the air. US special forces are in the Libyan desert, with one unit inadvertently photographed at the western Wattiya airbase last week.


But strikes will not be launched until Libya issues a formal invitation, which military planners hope will be made soon, after the United Nations last week unveiled what it hopes will be a new unified government for the chaotic country.

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Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack


A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses.

They told the militants "to kill them together or leave them alone", a local governor told Kenyan media.


At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.


The Somali based al-Shabab group says it carried out the attack.


The group often carries out attacks in Kenya's north-east.


The bus was travelling from the capital Nairobi to the town of Mandera.


When al-Shabab killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College in April, the militants reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims.

Last year, a bus was attacked near Mandera by al-Shabab militants, who killed 28 non-Muslims travelling to Nairobi for the Christmas holidays.

"The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other," Mandera governor Ali Roba told Kenya's private Daily Nation newspaper.
The militants decided to leave after the passengers' show of unity, he added.

Edited by visionary

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Shi'ite cleric among 47 executed in Saudi Arabia, stirring anger in region
Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric and dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, signaling that it would not tolerate attacks, whether by Sunni jihadists or minority Shi'ites, and stirring sectarian anger across the region.
Hundreds of Shi'ite Muslims marched through Qatif district in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province in protest at the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr, an eyewitness said. They chanted "Down with the Al Saud!", the name of the ruling Saudi royal family.
Nimr, the most vocal critic of the dynasty among the Shi'ite minority, had come to be seen as a leader of the sect's younger activists, who rejected the quiet approach of older community leaders for failing to achieve equality with Sunnis.
Most of the 47 killed in the kingdom's biggest mass execution for decades were Sunnis convicted of al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago. Four, including Nimr, were Shi'ites accused of involvement in shooting policemen.
The executions took place in 12 cities, four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading. In December, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula threatened to retaliate against Saudi Arabia for any execution of its members.
The move further soured relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and its Shi'ite regional rival, Iran, which had hailed Nimr as the champion of a marginalized Shi'ite minority.
The website of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, carried a picture of a Saudi executioner next to notorious Islamic State executioner 'Jihadi John', with the caption "Any differences?", and the powerful Revolutionary Guards said "harsh revenge" would topple "this pro-terrorist, anti-Islamic regime". Saudi Arabia summoned the Iranian ambassador in response.
In Iraq, prominent religious and political figures demanded that ties be severed, calling into question fence-mending efforts by Riyadh that had been intended to boost a regional alliance against Islamic State militants.
However, the executions seemed mostly aimed at discouraging Saudis from jihadism after bombings and shootings by Sunni militants in Saudi Arabia over the past year killed dozens and Islamic State called on followers there to stage attacks.
After the executions, Islamic State urged its supporters to attack Saudi soldiers and police in revenge, in a message on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service used by the group's backers, the SITE monitoring group reported.

Official US Response:

Saudi Executions
Press Statement
John Kirby
Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
January 2, 2016

We have seen the Saudi government's announcement that it executed 47 people.
We have previously expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia and have frequently raised these concerns at high levels of the Saudi Government. We reaffirm our calls on the Government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases.
The United States also urges the Government of Saudi Arabia to permit peaceful expression of dissent and to work together with all community leaders to defuse tensions in the wake of these executions.‎
We are particularly concerned that the execution of prominent Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.
In this context, we reiterate the need for leaders throughout the region to redouble efforts aimed at de-escalating regional tensions.

BREAKING: Iran set to execute 27 Sunni clerics and preachers according to human rights group
11:26 AM

Iraqi PM:

I'm shocked & saddened at Sheikh Nimr's execution by Saudi authorities. Peaceful opposition is a fundamental right. Repression does not last
1:20 PM

Saudi embassy attacked in Tehran: news agency


Angry crowds protesting at Saudi Arabia's execution of a top Shiite cleric hurled petrol bombs and stormed the kingdom's embassy in Tehran Saturday before being cleared out by police, ISNA news agency reported.


The incident came hours after the announcement of the death of 56-year-old cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who had been a key figure in anti-government protests in the kingdom's oil-rich east. The execution prompted strong condemnation from Shiite-majority Iran and Iraq.

Edited by visionary

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Iran says 40 arrested over Saudi embassy attack


An Iranian official Sunday said 40 people have been arrested after Saudi Arabia's embassy was attacked and set on fire following outrage at the kingdom's execution of a Shiite cleric.


The suspects were identified and arrested and other detentions could follow, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

On Saudi embassy attack in Iran: These are not regular civilian protesters. These are organized thugs, connected to radical para-militaries.
8:26 PM


Another embassy attack in Iran makes world headlines. Same organized mobs, same commands, same strategies... And moderates pay the price.
7:29 PM


Iran thugs attack Saudi embassy but don't know what to do with the flag! Can't burn it because has the word Allah.
12:44 AM

Tehran City Council head suggests renaming the Saudi embassy's street name as "Sheikh Nimr". The suggestion to be discussed on Tuesday.
2:53 AM

Edited by visionary

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Saudi Arabia cuts ties with Iran as row over cleric's death escalates


Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday, responding to the storming of its embassy in Tehran in an escalating row between the rival Middle East powers over Riyadh's execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric.


Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh that the envoy of Shi'ite Iran had been asked to quit Saudi Arabia within 48 hours. The kingdom, he said, would not allow the Islamic republic to undermine its security.


Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran early on Sunday and Shi'ite Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted "divine vengeance" for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken opponent of the ruling Al Saudi family.


Jubeir said the attack in Tehran was in line with what he said were earlier Iranian assaults on foreign embassies there and with Iranian policies of destabilizing the region by creating "terrorist cells" in Saudi Arabia.


"The kingdom, in light of these realities, announces the cutting of diplomaticrelations with Iran and requests the departure of delegates of diplomatic missions of the embassy and consulate and offices related to it within 48 hours. The ambassador has been summoned to notify them," he said.


Speaking on Iranian state television, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in Tehran's first response that by cutting diplomatic ties, Riyadh could not cover up "its major mistake of executing Sheikh Nimr".


The United States, Saudi Arabia's biggest backer in the West, responded by encouraging diplomatic engagement and calling for leaders in the region to take "affirmative steps" to reduce tensions.


"We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions," an official of President Barack Obama's administration said.

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It Is likely that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will withdraw their ambassadors from Iran in objection/solidarity with Saudi Arabia
1:40 AM

Iran renames the street housing SaudiArabia embassy " Nimr Street" after the shia cleric Ryad executed a few days ago
2:10 AM

3 Sunni mosques were attacked in Babil last night. No casualties because they were empty. Iraq
4:43 AM


Sadrists are organising a large demonstration in gate of the green zone where the Saudi embassy located because of the execution of Nmr
4:49 AM

BREAKING: Russia ready to act as intermediary to help settle dispute between Iran & Saudi Arabia - @SkyNewsBreakKorniienkoAmpolia
4:57 AM
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Two Sunni mosques bombed, muezzin killed in Iraq


Blasts rocked two Sunni mosques in central Iraq Monday, amid fears of renewed sectarian strife following Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, police and medics said.


As thousands demonstrated against the Gulf monarchy in Baghdad, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to track down the attackers, whom he said were attempting to undermine national unity.


After Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran over the firebombing of its embassy and was followed by Bahrain and Sudan, the protesters demanded Baghdad break off relations with Riyadh.


A man was killed in one of the overnight attacks and a muezzin -- the person appointed to recite the Muslim call to prayer -- was gunned down in the same region south of Baghdad.


In Hilla, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the capital, a police captain said the Ammar bin Yasser mosque in Bakerli neighbourhood was bombed after midnight.

"After we heard the explosion, we went to its source and found that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had been planted in the mosque," he said.


"Residents said a group of people with military uniforms carried out this operation," he added.


A witness said he saw gunmen shoot dead a young man displaced from his home town of Ramadi who had been living in the mosque with his family.


"The armed men killed one of the displaced who lives in the mosque" with his wife and two children, the resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


A Hilla doctor confirmed the death.

Angry protesters break into Saudi embassy in Baghdad


Baghdad, Jan 4, IRNA – Angry protesters, who had gathered outside the Saudi embassy in Iraq to express their grief over the execution of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, crossed security barriers and entered the embassy compound.


The protesters chanted slogans against the Saudi government.


After reading a statement at the embassy compound, the protesters called for halting the process of reopening the Saudi embassy in Baghdad.
They, then, headed for the building of the embassy.


No Saudi diplomats or employees were in the building at the time as the Saudi embassy has not been officially reopened.


Recently, the Saudi ambassador choice in Iraq wrote in a post on his personal page in a social network that he is in full security supported by the Iraqi government.

His remarks, which came simultaneous with the execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia, sparked anger across Iraq.

Sudan has just severed diplomatic ties with Iran. So now that's Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan.
6:53 AM

BREAKING: Saudi Arabia will cut off all commercial ties with Iran, ban its citizens from traveling to Iran: foreign minister
9:49 AM

UAE | Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash: There is an Iranian escalation of sectarian rhetoric on sovereign issues.
12:32 PM
Edited by visionary

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Endowments Ministry instructs imams to prohibit participation in Jan 25 protests


The Religious Endowments Ministry distributed a leaflet to mosques on Monday that instructs imams to prohibit participation in protests on January 25 during Friday sermons.

The leaflet quoted a fatwa issued by Dar al-Iftaa that says protesting on that day violates Islam and is forbidden in accordance with Islamic teachings.

The leaflet described the call for protests on January 25 as a "full crime, and poisoned ominous calls that aim at sabotage, murder and destruction in the country". The fatwa also accused calls for protests as a desire to "get Egyptians implicated in violence and terrorism to serve the enemies of the homeland".

The leaflet said imams should ask people to learn a lesson from other countries in the region that have been destroyed by chaos, and to appreciate the blessings of security and stability. The leaflet also encouraged imams to call on people to unite and build the country rather than destroy it.

Maintaining the security of the homeland and defending it is a sacred duty and harming public property is prohibited by Islam, the leaflet stated.

Informed sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the Endowments Mohamed Minister Mokhtar Gomaa has instructed Endowments departments nationwide to send the names of imams who will not abide by the instructions stated in the leaflet so that they may be deprived of a LE 10,000 bonus disbursed to imams at the end of January and to include them in the ministry's blacklisted employees.

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In case anyone was thinking...maybe things were calming down a bit...nah.

BREAKING Iran bans all products from Saudi Arabia after ties cut
5:36 AM

BREAKING: Iran says Saudi Arabia has conducted a missile strike on its embassy in Yemen
5:53 AM





In other news:

Reuters: security sources say gunmen have opened fire on a tourist bus at a hotel in Cairo - no deaths have been reported
4:57 AM

Update - Reuters: Hospital sources say at least 65 people have been killed in a truck bombing at police training centre in Zliten in Libya
5:38 AM
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Sad article.

‘We caved’


What happened when Barack Obama’s idealistic rhetoric collided with the cold realities of war and dictatorship in the Middle East and beyond.


On a late July day this past summer, a roar filled the sky over Cairo. It was the sound of Barack Obama’s capitulation to a dictator.


Eight new American fighter jets, freshly delivered from Washington, swooped low over the city, F-16s flying in formation. As they banked hard over the city’s center, they trailed plumes of red, white and black smoke—the colors of the Egyptian flag.


For Egypt’s brutally repressive president, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the spectacle was a triumph, symbolizing not only his militaristic power at home, but also his victory over an American president who had tried to punish him before surrendering to the cold realities of geopolitics.


Just two years earlier, Sisi had seized power in a military coup, toppling Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected successor to Hosni Mubarak, himself a strongman of 30 years pushed out in early 2011 by mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In the summer of 2013, Sisi followed his coup with a brutal crackdown that would have done Saddam Hussein proud. His security forces arrested thousands of people, including much of his political opposition, and in one bloody day that summer, they gunned down some 1,000 pro-Morsi protesters (or more) who were staging peaceful sit-ins. The massacre was shocking even by the standards of Egypt’s long-dismal human rights record.


Obama was appalled. “We can’t return to business as usual,” he declared after the slaughter. “We have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and ideals.”

But a fierce internal debate soon broke out over whether and how to sanction Egypt further, a fight that many officials told me was one of the most agonizing of the Obama administration’s seven years, as the president’s most powerful advisers spent months engaged in what one called “trench warfare” against each other. It was an excruciating test of how to balance American values with its cold-blooded security interests in an age of terrorism. Some of Obama’s top White House aides, including his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, and the celebrated human rights champion Samantha Power, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the president to link further military aid to clear progress by Sisi on human rights and democracy. But Secretary of State John Kerry, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Hagel’s successor, Ash Carter, argued for restoring the aid. Trying to punish Sisi would have little effect on his behavior, they said, while alienating a bulwark against Islamic radicalism in an imploding Middle East. “Egypt was one of the most significant policy divides between the White House and the State Department and the Department of Defense,” says Matthew Spence, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.


For months, Obama tried to split the difference. In meetings and phone calls with the Egyptian ruler, by now paranoid and resentful about America’s intentions, Obama and Kerry urged Sisi to respect human rights, while also seeking his help in countering the the metastisizing Islamic State in nearby Syria and Iraq. Sisi did little of either.


In the end, Obama folded. This past March, he called Sisi once again, this time to explain that he would release the cash transfers and delayed hardware—including the F-16s—and end the administration’s threats to block the larger $1.3 billion annual aid package.

“The rhetoric got way ahead of the policymaking,” says Michael Posner, who served as Obama’s top State Department official for human rights and democracy in his first term. “It … raised expectations that everything was going to change.”


He’s never quite melded his rhetoric with his policies,” says Dennis Ross, who served as Obama’s top Middle East aide in his first term. Adds Robert Ford, who was Obama’s ambassador to Syria before resigning in frustration over the president’s policy there: “It seems like we are swinging back to the idea that we must make a choice between supporting dictators or being safe.”


Their views were echoed in many of more than two dozen recent interviews with current and former administration officials, members of Congress, experts and activists—interviews that revealed a striking degree of frustration and disillusionment. Many Obama supporters started out believing that the president had grand ambitions for replacing George W. Bush’s militaristic posture with a more enlightened and progressive approach to the world before coming to believe they had misread a president who was not the idealistic internationalist they had thought he was.


In hindsight, it seems clear that Obama came to office far more focused on showing the world that the Bush era was over than on any coherent strategy of his own for advancing human rights or democracy.


But it didn’t seem that way at the time: Obama’s aides entered the White House full of plans for “dignity promotion”—a favorite phrase of Power’s meant to signal a contrast with Bush’s post-9/11 talk of “democracy promotion” and his second-term “Freedom Agenda” that many came to equate not with Bush’s lofty goal of “ending tyranny in our world” but with imposing Western values on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan at gunpoint.


Obama’s early rhetoric as president suggested a real shift, the hopes for which were reflected in his remarkable receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize during his first year in office; in accepting the award, he acknowledged the struggle of protesters and democrats everywhere. When Obama went to Egypt in June 2009, he gave an address to the Muslim world at Cairo University in which many heard an inspiring celebration of universal values. Freedom, justice, honest government: “These are not just American ideas; they are human rights,” Obama said. “And that is why we will support them everywhere.”


Turkey summons Iran ambassador to the Foreign Ministry to protest media reports linking Saudi executions to Erdogan.

5:24 PM


Turkey strongly condemned the media reports and asked Iran's ambassador to immediately halt the negative news coverage about Erdogan.
5:26 PM


Turkey also told Iranian ambassador that attacking Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad is unacceptable.
5:27 PM

So far diplomatic escalation vs. Iran in Saudi, UAE, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Djibouti, Bahrain, Somalia, Sudan, Kuwait
5:28 PM
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U.S. releases video it says shows Iranian rockets near American warships


The U.S. Navy released black-and-white video on Saturday it said was taken by an American helicopter showing an Iranian Revolutionary Guards vessel firing unguided rockets on Dec. 26 near warships including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman in the Strait of Hormuz.


Iran on Dec. 31 denied that its Revolutionary Guards vessels had launched the rockets as the United States claimed, with a Revolutionary Guards spokesman saying the "false" accusation was "akin to psychological warfare."


The U.S. Navy said the infrared radar footage showed an Iranian "fast inshore attack craft" launching several rockets on Dec. 26 "in close proximity" to the Truman, the guided missile destroyer USS Bulkeley, the French naval frigate FS Provence and commercial ships in the busy waterway.


The dispute underscored the ongoing tensions between the United States and Iran despite last year's international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program.


The video, taken by a Seahawk helicopter, runs about 30 seconds. The Navy said the rockets were fired "within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane" as the Truman and the other ships were passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf.

Arab League Statement Backs Saudi Arabia in Diplomatic Fight With Iran


The Arab League on Sunday backed Saudi Arabia in its continuing diplomatic spat with Iran, triggered by the kingdom’s execution of a dissident Shiite cleric, condemning Tehran for failing to protect Saudi diplomatic sites in the Persian country.

Minus Lebanon and Iraq, of course.

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AP: Pentagon says two U.S. Navy boats are in Iranian custody but Iran has told the U.S. that the crew will be returned "promptly"
4:05 PM

Breaking: IRGC arrests "10 foreign military troops, probably American," inside Iran's territorial waters in Persian Gulf. FARS
3:59 PM

The American troops reportedly were sailing with 2 boats near Farsi island, which located near Iran-Saudi border & hosts an IRGC base.
4:04 PM
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Weary of Chaos, Factions in Libya Consider Peace


Four years after Libya’s revolution, the scars of war are still visible in this city — buildings pockmarked with bullet and rocket holes, graffiti on the walls remembering fallen fighters, and a war museum where rusty ammunition spills across the sidewalk in front.


Misurata became famous for its resistance to an eight-month siege by troops of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011. Its fighters gained a reputation as tough guys, spearheading the final assault on the capital, Tripoli, and catching and killing Colonel Qaddafi. In the aftermath, their militias fought turf wars and ran rackets.


Yet now many of those same fighters are advocating peace. Weary of war and even ashamed at what they had become, some have refused orders to fight, organized their own cease-fire and accused political leaders of causing a civil war.


A majority of the Misurata revolutionary brigades have signed an agreement to protect a United Nations-mediated unity government — and on Friday provided security for members of the government on their first visit to Libya to visit victims of a suicide bombing in the town of Zlitan.


Yet even then, fighters from one of the groups that had signed the agreement refused passage and opened fire on the convoy, a reminder of how difficult forging a unified command in Libya remains.


Despite the divisions, the shift over the last year toward peace is significant, not just because the Misurata militias have been seen as part of the problem that has been tearing the country apart, but because the change of mood could help pull Libya back from the abyss.


“Looking back at the tragedies hurts,” said Ibrahim Ben Ramadan, 31, the former commander of the Liwa Nablous, a group of fighting brigades, and the youngest candidate to run for Parliament in 2014. “I do not feel regret, but you realize people have taken the revolution off its course.”

For the last 18 months, the Misurata brigades have been embroiled in a power struggle with forces in the east led by a former army general, Khalifa Hifter. The two factions have divided the country, and men who together brought down the Qaddafi regime are now on opposite sides of a civil war.


The Misurata brigades form the backbone of Libya Dawn, a powerful political-military faction allied with Islamist groups that holds the capital, Tripoli, and leads the government there.


Ranged against them are anti-Islamist forces in eastern Libya, along with brigades from the western region of Zintan, assembled by General Hifter under the banner of Operation Dignity. They support the internationally recognized government that has taken refuge in the eastern city of Tobruk.


Factions from the two sides have now agreed to a United Nations-brokered peace deal but have yet to put it into action. In the meantime, they have destroyed much of Libya’s second city, Benghazi, wrecked Tripoli’s airport, and in the chaos have allowed the Islamic State to gain a foothold in the country.


Some of Misurata’s young revolutionaries questioned the power grab from the start. “The revolution was a spontaneous thing, there was nothing political in us, it was not an aim to rule,” Mr. Ramadan explained.


In the summer of 2014, at least two brigades opposed orders to fight rival brigades from Zintan for control of Tripoli, but they risked being denounced as traitors and so took part reluctantly, according to several fighters interviewed.


Dissent grew over the months since the Misurata brigades were deployed to control towns and oil terminals far from home, and ordered to pursue the Zintani brigades beyond Tripoli. Fighters began to accuse legislators in the General National Congress of using the brigades to further their political ambitions.

Revolt in Governing Party Shakes Tunisian Politics


Tunisia’s main Islamist party, Ennahda, re-emerged as the dominant faction in Parliament on Monday as mass resignations from President Béji Caïd Essebsi’s secular party continued, largely to protest his son’s position as party chief.


The upheaval in the governing party, Nidaa Tounes, just over a year after it defeated Ennahda in parliamentary elections and swept Mr. Essebsi to power in a presidential vote, had been brewing for months. The splintering is not expected to bring down the coalition government that Nidaa Tounes leads — indeed, a cabinet reshuffle was confirmed Monday evening despite the resignations — but the shift in power is likely to complicate politics going forward. The lawmakers kept their seats in Parliament but are unaffiliated with a political party for now.


Tunisia has been praised for its democratic progress in the five years since a popular uprising overthrew the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, inciting the Arab Spring. But it has had five governments in five years, and many political parties have struggled to find a firm footing.


The mass resignations from Nidaa Tounes began with several founding members, who complained that the party had strayed from its original goals. Among the most prominent is Mohsen Marzouk, who assumed the presidency of the party briefly last year.


Twenty-eight members of Parliament from Nidaa Tounes had resigned by Monday, according to Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a prominent member who resigned. An additional 42 members of the party’s political bureau also resigned, members announced Sunday.


The resignations reduce Nidaa Tounes’s seats in Parliament to 58, while Ennahda holds 69.


Mr. Marzouk and many others said their resignations did not represent a withdrawal of support for the government or the president. Rather, they signaled opposition to the move by the president’s son, Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, to take over the party and try to create a dynastic transfer of power.


Mr. Marzouk, a longtime left-wing political activist who spent time in prison under the dictatorship of Habib Bourguiba, is largely credited with masterminding the electoral success of Nidaa Tounes and President Essebsi.

Mr. Marzouk told hundreds of supporters at a rally in Tunis on Sunday that he had left the party not because of personality clashes but because the party had lost sight of its vision to build a democratic, modern and secular state. Accompanied by 17 deputies who had already resigned from Nidaa Tounes, he said that he particularly opposed the coalition with Ennahda and that he would announce the formation of a new party on March 2.


Mr. Marzouk said he and the deputies would not serve in the government or join the opposition.


Others were more outspoken in placing blame for their departure on the assumption of power by the president’s son. “We are not against his person,” said Ben Ahmed Mustapha, a former parliamentary deputy and senior member of Nidaa Tounes, “but against the political power he acquired in an illegitimate way and against his practice of exclusion of those who have a different opinion from him.”


The break came as Nidaa Tounes held its first national party congress in the town of Sousse over the weekend. At the meeting, the younger Mr. Essebsi was named national secretary in charge of the executive administration and legal representative of the party, which hands him the reins, the national daily newspaper La Presse reported. The party presidency remains unfilled.

Egypt's hollow parliament


Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012. As the drastically reconstituted legislative body convenes this week for the first time in nearly four years, the final step in the restoration of Egypt's authoritarian system of government appears to be complete.


Ever since the July 2013 coup that brought to an abrupt halt the tenuous transition to democracy that followed a popular uprising to remove Hosni Mubarak from power, Egypt's state institutions have been realigned under the authority of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. To be sure, the process has been fraught with external opposition and internal discord but, through it all, Sisi has managed to tighten his grip on power and consolidate his control over the country's governing structures.


Sisi's supposed "road map to democracy", which concluded with the swearing in of the new parliament on Sunday, began with the quashing of all independent political opposition following the military's takeover in 2013.


Beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's long-standing social movement that took the lead in the post-Mubarak transition by winning a series of elections and referendums, Sisi demonstrated that he did not intend to allow the continuation of the opening of the political field to outsiders and challengers.


The military arrested Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, banned his political party, and detained the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership on charges ranging from treason to terrorism.


Security forces confronted Morsi's supporters across Egypt, leading to incidents of large-scale state violence such as the massacre of hundreds of protesters at Raba'a Square in August 2013.


The judiciary did its part in the political realignment that followed by affirming the decision to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, seize its assets, and then sentencing hundreds of its members to death. While many of Egypt's other opposition groups cheered on the coup and its aftermath, the counter-revolution soon turned on them as well.


Leaders of the so-called National Salvation Front which emerged in opposition to the Morsi government aimed for a stake in the post-coup political transition, but they were to be disappointed. Following a state media onslaught that questioned his loyalty to the coup, Mohamed ElBaradei was quickly isolated and retreated into another self-imposed exile.


Hamdeen Sabahi dutifully performed the role of opposition candidate in the 2014 presidential election, which Sisi won with 96 percent of the vote. Egypt's liberal and leftist opposition parties were also marginalised, while revolutionary groups such as the April 6 Youth movement were subject to the coup regime's new laws banning public protests.


In all, security forces have imprisoned more than 40,000 Egyptians in an unprecedented wave of repression roundly condemned by international human rights groups.


Having neutralised all independent opposition within Egypt, Sisi was free to reshape the country's political landscape as he saw fit. But in the ensuing months he would discover that establishing a new authoritarian regime on the ruins of Mubarak's collapsed dictatorship would be no easy task.

Edited by visionary

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Israeli officials urge UN to condemn Iran Holocaust cartoon contest


Iran plans to hold another cartoon contest focusing on Holocaust denial, and Israeli officials have called on the United Nations to condemn the event.


Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to denounce the 11th Tehran International Cartoon Biennial.


In a letter to Ban, Edelstein said that “words cannot describe the revulsion and protestation of the state of Israel and many across the world at the recurring proof that Iran continues in its policy of Holocaust denial.”


The winner of the event sponsored by the Tehran municipality will receive a $50,000 cash prize.


Organizers say the competition is designed to highlight the world’s double standard in defending caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, whose depiction is forbidden in Islam.


The competition scheduled for June 2016 is expected to draw submissions from artists from some 50 countries, Iran’s semi-official IRNA news agency reported in December.

Edited by visionary

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Big victory for Hezbollah in Lebanon

Geagea reshapes Lebanese politics, backs rival Aoun


Lebanese Christian politician Samir Geagea backed his rival Michel Aoun for the presidency on Monday, reshaping Lebanese politics in an apparent break with his Saudi-backed allies that aligns him with a civil war era enemy supported by Hezbollah.


The surprise announcement edges 80-year-old Aoun closer to the presidency, vacant for 20 months, and marks a rare show of unity in a Christian community riven by divisions for decades.


But he must still secure wider backing to secure the position reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon's sectarian political system.


Geagea and Aoun, who fought each other in the 1975-90 civil war, have been on opposite sides of Lebanon's political divide since Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2005.


Aoun is part of the March 8 alliance dominated by the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah. Geagea is part of the March 14 alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, who is in turn backed by Saudi Arabia.


Sitting with Aoun at a news conference, Geagea said the move was intended to rescue Lebanon from political crisis. The government barely functions, paralyzed by rivalries exacerbated by regional conflict.


Geagea said the step "carried hope of getting out of the situation we are in, to a situation that is more secure, more stable - a normal life". Lebanon was on the verge of the abyss, requiring "an unusual rescue operation, regardless of the price", said Geagea, who himself covets the presidency.


The rapprochement may kill off a proposal by Hariri that nominated another Maronite, Suleiman Franjieh, for the presidency in a power-sharing proposal that would have made him prime minister. Both Geagea and Aoun opposed that initiative which was backed by both Iran and Saudi Arabia.


Geagea had been the official presidential candidate of the March 14 alliance until Hariri tabled Franjieh - part of March 8 - as an alternative. Though Franjieh has close ties to Hezbollah, the group has stuck by Aoun.


Geagea called on his March 14 allies to back Aoun after reading a joint declaration that called for a new parliamentary election law and an "independent foreign policy" while declaring Israel an enemy - an important consideration for Hezbollah.


Aoun said the "black page" of the past was over and "must be burnt". "We must leave the past in order to build a future," he said in the conference at Geagea's home in Maarab in mountains overlooking the Christian town of Jounieh.

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Five Years Later, Tunisians Take to the Streets Again


This month Tunisians observed the five-year anniversary of the popular uprisings that brought down Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s long-time dictator. But the citizens of this young democracy don’t seem to be in a celebratory mood. Instead, the nation is on edge after an eruption of protest against unemployment, poverty, and government indifference in several long-marginalized regions of the country.


The unrest began after a young man in the impoverished town of Kasserine climbed a telephone pole and electrocuted himself in despair. He had discovered that his name had been left off a list of potential Ministry of Education employees published by the local government.


If this story sounds familiar, there’s a good reason why.If this story sounds familiar, there’s a good reason why. In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor, set himself ablaze after local officials harassed him for selling fruit from a cart. The incident catalyzed the public’s outrage at the social injustices and lack of opportunities in his impoverished hometown of Sidi Bouzid. The protests that began there were the spark that lit the fires of revolution.


The young man who killed himself this week, Ridha Yahaoui, had also long been incensed by the lack of opportunities in his own hometown. “He was in a sit-in in 2014 with a group of other unemployed young men,” his heartbroken father told a local radio station. “Every time someone from the government visited Kasserine, he’d show up and demand employment opportunities. We heard so many promises. We expected solutions. But nothing.”


“When I got to the hospital to see him, he was in a bad shape,” said Yahaoui’s father, whose name was not given. “He died a few minutes later. Today, I demand the rights of my son and everyone else in Kasserine,” he said, choking on his tears. His call has been heard. The citizens of the town soon took to the streets in support of his son and others like him, accusing the local deputy governor of manipulating the employment list and playing favors. These demands for social justice recall similar moments in December 2010 and January 2011, when tens of thousands of Tunisians demanded the right to employment, dignity and freedom.

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France pledges 1 bln euros to support Tunisia


France pledged to provide 1 billion euros (2.2 billion dinar) over the next 5 years, asserted, on Friday in Paris, Prime Minister Habib Essid.


Essid who is on one-day official visit in France, specified that the support plan funded by the French Development Agency (French:AFD) aims “in one of its axes to help the disadvantaged regions and youths by putting stress on employment.”


He added that the agreement providing for a debt conversion in development projects of 60 million euros (i.e 133.7 millions dinars) was also signed.


These development projects will be achieved in the regions including notably the building of a regional hospital in Gafsa.



Essebsi has been consolidating power of late and pissing off a lot of former political allies along with people across Tunisia upset at corruption and nepotism.

Tunisia's President Essebsi went on TV Friday night, not to reassure the people, but to decree a nationwide curfew
10:09 PM


Tunisia PM Essid in France to discuss security downplayed widespread riots & protests and said "the situation is now under control” (TAP)
10:19 PM


Tunisia's Mufti issued a statement Friday urging demonstrators to resist the urge to demonstrate.. He was appointed this month by Essebsi..
10:24 PM

Edited by visionary

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writers look back at the Arab spring five years on


In January 2011, days after the first uprising in Tunisia and the protests in Tahrir Square, the Guardian invited leading writers from across the Arab world to reflect on the revolutionary fervour sweeping the region. Then, they expressed great optimism for the future. Here, they revisit their responses and ask, is there still room for hope?

Edited by visionary

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State repression in Egypt worst in decades, says activist


The scale of state repression in Egypt is greater today than it has been for generations, one of the country’s most prominent journalists and human rights advocates has told the Guardian.


Hossam Bahgat, an investigative reporter who was recently detained by Egypt’s military intelligence agency, spoke out ahead of the fifth anniversary of the start of Egypt’s revolution on Monday – the run-up to which has seen an unprecedented crackdown by security forces against opposition and dissent.


“This is without doubt the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Bahgat, citing restrictions on media outlets, a spike in the number of political prisoners, forced disappearances, and alleged extrajudicial killings of Islamists by the state.


“The level of repression now is significantly higher than it was under the Mubarak regime, and people from older generations say it is worse than even the worst periods of the 1950s and 1960s [under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser].”


In an effort to ward off any protests half a decade on from the uprising that toppled the former president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian authorities have raided thousands of homes in Cairo and installed new surveillance infrastructure around Tahrir Square.


Preachers have reportedly been instructed by the state to give sermons declaring it a sin to demonstrate against the government, while cafes, cultural institutions and book publishers have all been investigated by security agencies.


Under the country’s protest law, implemented by executive decree soon after the military overthrow of the former Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013, participation in any unsanctioned marches or rallies is unlawful.

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After 5 years, we’re still telling the wrong story about the Arab Spring


By the time it became clear to the world that Egypt's Arab Spring had gone terribly wrong, that the seemingly Hollywood-like drama of good-guy protesters

triumphing bad-guy dictator had turned out to be something much more disappointing, the other revolutions across the Middle East had soured as well.


Today, Egypt is under a new military dictatorship; Libya, Yemen, and Syria have all collapsed into civil wars.


In the years since everything went so wrong, it has become fashionable to blame the naiveté of the revolutionaries or the petty incompetence of transitional leaders. We are still trying to make this a story about the personal accomplishments or failures of individual heroes or villains, but that narrative is just as silly as it was when we first tried to apply in 2011.


The truth is that this was never a story primarily about individual heroes or villains. Rather, it was about something much bigger and more abstract: the catastrophic failure of institutions. It's not a story that is particularly dramatic, and it's not easy to profile for a magazine cover. But when you look at what has happened from the Arab Spring, from its 2011 beginning through today, you see institutional failure everywhere.


That story isn't as emotionally compelling as the one we told ourselves in 2011. But it's a crucially important one, if we want to understand how this went so wrong and the lessons for the world.


The truth is that while the revolutionaries were in fact very brave and the dictators were in fact very bad, the real story of the Arab Spring wasn’t one about individual people being heroic or wicked. Rather, it was a less cinematic — but far more important — story about the dangers of brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions.


Democratic transition, it turns out, isn’t about whom you can overthrow or whom you replace them with. It's about whether or how you can change the vast network of institutions underneath that person.


If you don't make those institutions work — and often, by the dictator's deliberate design, you simply can't — then your revolution is doomed. No matter how many times you topple the dictator, no matter how pure and good your protesters are, it won't be enough. That's the real lesson of the Arab Spring — and it's important precisely because it's not as exciting or emotionally satisfying as the good-versus-evil story we prefer to tell.

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Razan Saffour
Did the Arab Spring actually fail?


Failure appears to be the descriptor looming over one of the most defining moments in contemporary world history.


So far, and by large, the Arab Spring has been examined through a material lens: the tangible achievements of each nation and the repercussions of that nation's uprisings.


It has been a conscious attempt to pit revolutions against each other by polemically categorising the "successful" and the "failed'; and many irrelevant comparisons have been drawn to events in the region over the past 30 years.


All attempts to contextualise the revolutions have done the exact opposite.


To render the Arab Spring a failure is but a reductive assessment, undermining the extraordinary developments that have taken place - and are still ongoing - in the region. These developments are of a political, social and cultural nature - and at the very essence of each has been nothing short of a revolution of consciousness.


If contextualising history meant something today, one could take the example of the Palestinian resistance movement after 1967, which, while failing to uproot the regime of colonisers settling upon its soil, remained a revolution of social structure, national liberation, and heightened consciousness.


The Palestinians then knew well that relying on Arab and world powers would do little to strengthen their cause - and so took it upon themselves to organise; in absence of a state and bureaucratic framework, their organisation was popular and proved by the far the most democratic among all Arab states at the time.

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Signs of torture on student’s body found in Cairo


The body of a Cambridge University student has been found two weeks after he disappeared in Cairo on the anniversary of the 2011 revolution.


Giulio Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Girton College, vanished on January 25 as the country marked five years since the uprising amid heightened security and tension. The Italian was doing research for a doctorate on the Egyptian economy and labour movements: a controversial subject in Egypt, where any anti-state sentiment is crushed

Edited by visionary

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