Saturday, March 29, 2014
After Sisi's declaration of his candidacy to the presidency, do you see Egypt headed to democracy or dictatorship? [It is as if Al-Jazeera was asking if the Pope is Catholic!!]
So far, 94% have voted that Egypt is headed to dictatorship.
By Ali Abunimah
Israel lying low
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has cooperated with Bashar al-Assad's regime, writes the author[AP]
Bashar al-Assad's support for armed groups might lead to his regime's demise.
The Syrian State Army's victory in the battle of Yabroud in early March is widely seen as evidence of the regime's increasing military dominance in the Syrian conflict. But this win is undermined by two strategic mistakes by President Bashar al-Assad, which are likely to eventually lead to his demise. Those mistakes revolve around the growing influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the National Defence Force (NDF).In attempting to quell the opposition in 2011, Assad opened prison doors, letting out jihadists who later became the founders of ISIS, a radical group that has been terrorising the Syrian population, and in doing so, confirming the regime's narrative that it is engaged in a fight against Islamist extremism. Reports from Syria show that the regime has been cooperating with ISIS both directly and indirectly, allowing ISIS access into certain towns, refraining from bombing areas under ISIS control, and even buying petrol from oil wells run by ISIS in the north.
But this strategic alliance with ISIS will backfire once ISIS becomes self-reliant. Like other mercenary groups, ISIS has been profiteering from the war economy. In Iraq, the group has reportedly become largely self-financing due to its control of oil wells. If ISIS in Syria heads in the same direction - a highly likely scenario - then it will become very difficult for the regime to control it.Assad later sponsored the creation of NDF, a name given to groups of "shabeeha" (pro-regime thugs) and mercenaries operating in a decentralised manner across Syria, which have been armed by the regime as a measure of "self-protection" against jihadists. As with ISIS, the NDF has also profiteered from the war, leading to the rise of several warlords whose economic stature has made it difficult for the regime to rein them in.
Even though the NDF is largely composed of Alawis, Christians, and Druze, its mercenaries have been indiscriminate in their raids on Syrian neighbourhoods, sometimes attacking regime loyalists. This has led to growing dismay among the Alawi and other minority populations, who have started staging protests in rural Latakia against the NDF, calling on the regime for protection.
In looking at the above two trends, it appears that Assad first contributed to the creation of a problem - jihadism - then sought to create a solution for it - the NDF. But both the problem and its "solution" are slipping out of Assad's control. Because he needs the NDF to fight jihadist groups not linked with the regime, like al-Nusra Front, he will be forced to continue arming the NDF.
As the NDF becomes less reliant on regime funding, Assad will need to sustain NDF support to maintain its loyalty. The more the NDF is empowered, the less able the regime will be to meet the protection demands of minority groups threated by the NDF. As for ISIS, Islamist extremist groups rarely stay loyal to their original sponsors once they feel empowered enough to begin to set their own agendas.Empowering those two groups may have helped Assad in the short term, but the long-term implications will not be in his favour. The power structure in Syria is changing from a top-down dictatorship into a decentralised, almost-failed state, one where different regions and even neighbourhoods are under the mercy of semi-independent groups.
Those groups' independence and influence grow as the conflict continues. Although Assad remains influential today, his strategic mistakes will eventually lead him to become captive to the volatile groups he has helped create, and whose loyalty he will need to buy in order to stay in power. But by then, staying in power will cease to mean having significant political or military influence.
Assad's own undoing may, therefore, not be at the hands of the opposition, but the result of his own shortsighted strategic decisions.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Rejects Desperately Needed Cross-Border Routes
MARCH 28, 2014
(New York) –The Syrian government’s refusal to allow aid to enter the country through border crossings held by opposition groups is undermining aid deliveries to hundreds of thousands of desperate people. The government’s refusal violates the international laws of war.
In a resolution adopted unanimously on February 22, 2014, the UN Security Council demanded that “all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders.”
Since that date, the Syrian government has for the first time allowed assistance to enter the country through Qamishli, a government-held border crossing on its northern border with Turkey. But the government has reiterated its categorical rejection of UN requests to ship aid through other border crossings in Turkey and Jordan that are opposition-held.
“No one should be fooled by Syria’s agreement to open a single border crossing in the north,” saidNadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria’s refusal to consider allowing aid to enter through border crossings controlled by the opposition means that the situation of the vast majority of people in desperate need of help remains unchanged.”
The opposition-held border crossings are the only effective and secure way to reach the more than 3 million Syrians that the UN reports need assistance in opposition-held areas. While Syria’s position has limited UN humanitarian aid operations through these border crossings, non-governmental organizations have attempted to help fill this gap through aid deliveries in opposition-held areas accessible from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, but many needs are not being met.
Aid delivered through the Qamishli crossing is being distributed mostly by the government and government-affiliated organizations, raising concerns about whether it would reach civilians in opposition-held territory.
According to a report to be presented to the Security Council on March 28 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Syria also continues to block aid to an estimated 175,000 civilians in areas under government siege, while armed opposition forces block aid to an estimated 45,000 civilians in other besieged areas. The secretary-general’s report also estimates that 3.5 million people in 258 “hard to access” places inside Syria urgently need assistance.
Human Rights Watch conducted a field investigation in one such location, Bab al-Salam camp, near the Syrian town of Azaz, in mid-March. The camp, which can be reached in 10 minutes on foot from the Turkish border, houses over 16,000 internally displaced people, according to the camp director. The camp residents–most of whom had fled the city of Aleppo and nearby countryside because of the government’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment–were not receiving adequate levels of humanitarian assistance, despite their proximity to the Turkish border. Camp residents were getting only one meal a day and did not have adequate access to medication, medical personnel, and treatment facilities. Shelter and sanitation conditions in the camp were inadequate.
Three other new camps have been built in the neighboring village of Shmareen in recent months to house the thousands of people fleeing Aleppo according to the Bab al-Salam camp director. He told Human Rights Watch that each camp housed 13,000 to 15,000 people, who were also suffering from restrictions on deliveries of humanitarian assistance.
Syria insists that assistance for opposition-held locations should enter Syria through government-controlled crossing points and then be transported across conflict lines. In practice, this means aid convoys are forced to travel circuitous routes as much as 10 times as long as the more direct routes, across dozens of checkpoints, jumping through bureaucratic and logistical hoops at every turn. Since the Security Council passed the resolution on February 22, the government has only allowed three cross-line convoys into opposition-held territory.
“It’s an outrage that Syria insists that people within walking distance of the Turkish border can’t get assistance by the closest and safest route,” Houry said. “Syria’s arbitrary refusal to agree to the use of opposition-held crossing points sentences hundreds of thousands of Syrians to deprivation and disease.”
Fighting between opposition groups has also cut off delivery routes to some areas in northern Syria across conflict lines, and extremist armed opposition groups have threatened aid deliveries. The Secretary-General’s report notes that in one case a convoy could not reach two locations, in part because one of the armed groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, failed to give adequate security assurances. In another case, an armed opposition group beat Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers near the central prison in Aleppo.
International humanitarian law requires all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate the “rapid and unimpeded passage” of humanitarian aid to civilians at risk, including in areas under siege. The laws of war also require parties to the conflict to allow free passage for civilians who wish to leave these areas.
In addition to blocking humanitarian aid through opposition-held border crossings, Syria blocks humanitarian aid deliveries to areas under siege. The Security Council resolution demands that all parties “immediately lift the sieges of populated areas,” including government sieges in Homs, Moadamiya and Daraya in Western Ghouta, Eastern Ghouta, and the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk in south Damascus, and sieges by opposition armed groups on Nubul and Zahra.
In one case the Secretary-General described, a UN convoy with permission to enter Moadamiya was denied entry on March 18, as pro-government forces would only allow deliveries into government-controlled areas. The previous day, the convoy was subjected to lengthy searches, and government security officials refused to allow it to carry medical supplies into Moadamiya.
Given the overwhelming needs in areas bordering Jordan and Turkey, UN humanitarian agencies should undertake cross-border operations, Human Rights Watch said. The UN should also increase support to non-governmental organizations that are delivering aid across these borders. Donors should provide expanded funding for those operations as well.
The Security Council, which explicitly expressed “its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution,” should impose punitive measures against the Syrian government for its clear failure to comply, Human Rights Watch said. Such measures should include an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses, targeted sanctions on those responsible for serious violations, and referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“How long will Syria’s civilians be left waiting for the most basic humanitarian assistance,” Houry said. “Rather than wait for a green light from Assad, the UN and donors should expand lifesaving operations across the borders now.”
Situation at the Bab al-Salam IDP camp
Bab al-Salam camp residents said they were getting only one meal a day, which the camp director confirmed. Human Rights Watch also saw mothers pleading with camp managers for milk coupons so they could feed their young children.
Residents were living in tents pitched on dirt that had been turned into mud by recent rain. The tents had not been winterized. The number of latrines in the camp was insufficient because of its rapid growth. Residents were constructing improvised bathrooms that resulted in open sewage pits across the camp. An open-air sewage line, which residents said originated from the Kilis 1 camp in Turkey, runs directly through the Bab al-Salam camp. Residents had placed a footbridge across the sewage line so that they could move around the camp.
Residents told Human Rights Watch that when it rained, sewage from the Kilis 1 camp and from the improvised bathrooms overflowed into tents and pathways. “If it’s like this now imagine the smell in summer,” one resident said. The Bab al-Salam camp director also told Human Rights Watch that the camp was suffering from infestations, including mice and rats, and that camp staff did not have pesticides to curb the problem.
Residents said they didn’t have adequate access to medication, medical personnel, and treatment facilities. While people with serious war injuries were transported to Turkey for care, those with chronic or other diseases were only able to get service at two medical clinics in the camp staffed by a total of eight doctors and seven nurses.
The camp director said that in some cases patients had to be smuggled into Turkey for dialysis treatment or other care. The director also said that the hospital lacked adequate medications including for leishmania–a vector-borne disease that causes welts on the skin.
By Brian Whitaker
President Obama is due in Riyadh today in what is being portrayed as an effort to patch up US-Saudi relations. Hopefully, one item not on the agenda will be further cooperation in combating terrorism.
Last month a new anti-terrorism law came into force which basically defines terrorism as any activity that the Saudi authorities don't approve of.
Top of the list of new "terrorist" crimes in the kingdom is "calling for atheist thought in any form".
This might seem utterly bizarre but in Saudi terms it does have a certain logic. Since the entire system of government is based on Wahhabi interpretations of Islam, non-believers are assumed to be enemies of the Saudi state.
The kingdom's Basic Law (the Saudi equivalent of a constitution) is full of things that non-believers would find objectionable:
- Article 1: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet (God’s prayers and peace be upon him) are its constitution …
- Article 6: Citizens are to pay allegiance to the King in accordance with the Holy Qur’an and the tradition of the Prophet, in submission and obedience …
- Article 7: Government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition.
- Article 8: Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the premise of justice, consultation, and equality in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah.
- Article 9: The family is the kernel of Saudi society, and its members shall be brought up on the basis of the Islamic faith …
- Article 11: Saudi society will be based on the principle of adherence to God’s command …
- Article 13: Education will aim at instilling the Islamic faith in the younger generation …
- Article 23: The state protects Islam; it implements its Shari’ah; it orders people to do right and shun evil; it fulfils the duty regarding God’s call.
In 2012, a poll by WIN/Gallup International found that almost a quarter of people interviewed in Saudi Arabia described themselves as "not religious" and of those 5% declared themselves to be convinced atheists. Extrapolating that figure on a national scale suggests there are about 1.4 million atheist terrorists living in Saudi Arabia.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
ISTANBUL, March 27 (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday denounced as "villainous" the leaking of a recording of top security officials discussing possible military action in Syria to the video-sharing site YouTube.
Turkish authorities ordered the shutdown of the site.
Erdogan's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the posting a "declaration of war," an apparent reference to an escalating power struggle between Erdogan and rivals.
The anonymous posting was an audio file with photographs of the officials involved.
It followed similar releases on social media in recent weeks that Erdogan has cast as a plot by his political enemies, particularly a Turkish Islamic cleric based in the United States, to unseat him ahead of March 30 elections.
The posting took the campaign to a higher level, impinging on a highly sensitive top-level meeting of security officials.
"They even leaked a national security meeting," Erdogan said at a campaign rally. "This is villainous, this is dishonesty ... Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?"
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the recording.
The account posted what it presented as a recording of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussing possible military operations in Syria with Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of military Staff Yasar Guler and other senior officials.
Speaking to reporters in Kutahya, Davutoglu confirmed the meeting took place and said, "A cyber attack has been carried out against the Turkish Republic, our state and our valued nation. This is a clear declaration of war against the Turkish state and our nation."
Turkish authorities said they had taken an "administrative measure" to impose a block on YouTube, a week after they blocked access to microblogging site Twitter.
Erdogan has been the target of a stream of anonymous internet postings suggesting his involvement in corruption. He denies the allegations and accuses a former ally, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, of unleashing a campaign to undermine him before Sunday's elections.
Posted by Zarathustra at 3:00 PM
States who cling to the death penalty are growing more and more isolated.
© Rajput Yasir / Demotix
At a Glance
Iran and Iraq caused a sharp global spike in the number of executions carried out in 2013, bucking the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty, Amnesty International found in its annual review of the death penalty worldwide.
Alarming levels of executions in an isolated group of countries in 2013 - mainly the two Middle Eastern states - saw close to 100 more people put to death around the world compared to the previous year, a jump of almost 15 per cent.
“The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful. But those states who cling to the death penalty are on the wrong side of history and are, in fact, growing more and more isolated,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings. They can’t undo the overall progress already made towards abolition.”
The number of executions in Iran (at least 369) and Iraq (169) saw the two countries take second and third place in the death penalty league table, with China topping the list. While the number of executions in China is kept secret, Amnesty International believes thousands are put to death every year.
Saudi Arabia (79) and the USA (39) take fourth and fifth place with Somalia (34) in sixth place.
Excluding China, at least 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012.
People were executed in a total of 22 countries in 2013, one more than in the year before. Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Viet Nam all resumed use of the death penalty.
Despite the setbacks in 2013, there has been a steady decline in the number of countries using the death penalty over the last 20 years, and there was progress in all regions last year.
Many countries who executed in 2012 did not implement any death sentences last year, including Gambia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, where authorities again suspended the use of the death penalty. Belarus also refrained from executions, meaning Europe and Central Asia was execution-free for the first time since 2009.
Twenty years ago, 37 countries actively implemented the death penalty. This number had fallen to 25 by 2004 and was at 22 last year. Only nine of the world’s countries have executed year on year for the past five years.
“The long-term trend is clear – the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. We urge all governments who still kill in the name of justice to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately, with a view to abolishing it,” said Salil Shetty.
In many executing countries the use of the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy; no information is made public and in some cases the authorities do not even inform family members, lawyers or the public in advance of executions taking place.
Methods of executions in 2013 included beheading, electrocution, firing squad, hanging and lethal injection. Public executions took place in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
People faced the death penalty for a range of non-lethal crimes including robbery, drug-related and economic offences, as well as acts that should not be crimes at all such as “adultery” or “blasphemy”. Many countries used vaguely worded political “crimes” to put real or perceived dissidents to death.
Iraq saw a stark rise in executions for the third year running. At least 169 people were put to death, an increase of almost one-third on the year before. The vast majority were convicted under vague anti-terrorism laws.
In Iran, there were at least 369 executions officially acknowledged by the authorities in 2013. Credible sources pointed to many hundreds more taking place in secret, bringing the total to more than 700.
Saudi Arabia continued executing at the same high levels as the previous two years (at least 79 in 2013). For the first time in three years, Saudi Arabia executed three juvenile offenders, in breach of international law.
Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia accounted for at least 80 per cent of executions worldwide excluding China.
There were some limited positive developments in the region. No one was executed in the United Arab Emirates for the first time in three years, and executions dropped in Yemen, for the second year running.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, only five countries executed: Botswana, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan together carried out more than 90 per cent of the region’s executions. Reported executions in Somalia jumped from six in 2012 to at least 34 last year.
In Nigeria, four men were hanged in the first executions in seven years. This followed statements from President Goodluck Jonathan which gave a green light to a resumption of executions in the country.
Across the region, several states, including Benin, Ghana and Sierra Leone, took significant steps towards ending the death penalty, either through reviewing constitutions or proposing amendments to penal codes that would abolish capital punishment.
The USA was once again the only country to carry out executions in the Americas, although four fewer people (39) were put to death in 2013 compared with 2012. The state of Texas accounted for 41 per cent of all executions. Meanwhile, Maryland became the 18th US state to abolish the death penalty. Several Greater Caribbean states reported empty death rows for the first time since Amnesty International began keeping records in 1980.
Viet Nam and Indonesia both resumed executions last year. Indonesia used the death penalty for the first time in four years - five men were put to death in 2013, including two executed for drug trafficking.
China continued to execute more people than the rest of the world put together, but with the death penalty treated as a state secret reliable data is impossible to obtain. There were limited signs of progress in the country, with new legal protections introduced in death penalty cases, and the Supreme Court announcing an end to the practice of organ harvesting from executed prisoners.
No executions were reported in Singapore and several death row prisoners had their sentences commuted. The Pacific sub-region continued to be a virtually death penalty free zone, despite threats from Papua New Guinea to resume executions.
For the first time since 2009, Europe and Central Asia was an execution-free zone. The only country still clinging to the death penalty is Belarus, although it did not put anyone to death in 2013.