Greater Middle East

Egypt: violence at Rabaa Square commemoration

At least four were killed in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Egyptian police forces on Aug. 14, first anniversary of the Rabaa Square massacre, in which perhaps 1,000 lost their lives. The deaths were reported from Cairo, Giza, Anwar El-Shawadfi and Ayman Abdel-Hadi. Human Rights Watch released a report two days before the anniversary finding that last years' killings at Rabaa Square were crimes against humanity, and calling for an international inquiry. HRW director Kenneth Roth and HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson were denied entry into Egypt on Aug. 11. Egypt's government said the report was "characterized by negativity and bias." (Ahram Online, Al Jazeera)

Egypt bans Muslim Brotherhood political wing

The Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt on Aug. 9 dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The decision came after the Parties Affairs Committee (PAC), responsible for granting licenses to newly-formed parties in Egypt, issued a report recommending that the party be banned, citing violations of the political parties code of conduct. The FJP was the first party to be approved by the PAC after the revolution. The decision is final.

ISIS take village in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

After a day of fighting, jihadist forces that infiltrated from Syria will withdraw from the village of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and turn over captured security personnel under a 24-hour ceasefire brokered by the local Committee of Muslim Scholars. In return, the militants demanded a statement be issued by Lebanon's army assuring that Syrian refugees in Arsal would be safe from any "revenge" attacks after their withdrawal. Clashes in the village left at least 17 soldiers dead, with several more reported missing. The fighters appear to be from both ISIS and the Nusra Front. The fighting was sparked by the Lebanese army's arrest of Syrian militant Imad Jomaa, who had recently switched allegiance from Nusra to ISIS. Reports indicate that the Nusra militants have already started to withdraw, while it is uncertain that ISIS forces will honor the deal. Saudi Arabia has pledged an emergency $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help fight the jihadists, with the money to help cover a new $3 billion arms deal with France. (Al Jazeera, Daily Star, Lebanon, Aug. 6)

Kuwait: court upholds 10-year term for tweeting

Kuwait's Supreme Court on July 12 upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Hamad al-Naqi, a 24-year-old member of Kuwait's Shiite minority, was also found guilty of spreading false news that undermined Kuwait's image abroad. The Supreme Court's decision is final and can only be commuted by the Kuwaiti Emir. An appeals court affirmed al-Naqi's sentence in October. The result drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which condemned the decision as a "violat[ion of] international standards on freedom of expression." He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2012, and was originally sentenced in June 2012. Al-Naqi has maintained his innocence, arguing that his Twitter account was hacked.

Bahrain files suit to suspend opposition group

Bahrain's Ministry of Justice on July 20 filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend all activities of the main Shi'ite opposition group for three months. The move comes after leaders of the Al-Wefaq party were charged recently with holding an illegal meeting with a US diplomat from the State Department. The lawsuit, however, does not mention the meeting, but rather seeks to suspend the party for violating quorum and transparency requirements. Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman said his party plans to challenge the move.

Gaza and Aleppo: fearful symmetry

Residents of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city under siege and bombardment by regime forces for months now, held a candle-light ceremony July 14 expressing their support for the residents of Gaza, now under Israeli bombardment and invasion. (PMOI, July 15) The Assad regime's "barrel bombs"—oil drums packed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and metal fragments—have killed thousands in Aleppo and other rebel-held areas of Syria this year. Fears of the city's fall to regime forces have risen after the army made gains in the last two weeks, taking the Sheikh Naijar industrial zone in the northeast—seen by some as a "turning point" in the war. (DW, July 15) The same claims were heard when Homs was surrendered to regime forces two months ago.

Egypt overturns ban on Mubarak party members

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters on July 14 overturned a May decision that banned former leaders of the National Democratic Party (NDP) from running in the country's parliamentary elections. An Urgent Matters Court in May accused  the now-dissolved NDP of overseeing corrupt governments, stating that allowing a political return for the former ruling party would bring danger to Egypt. The NDP was disbanded and ordered to liquidate its assets by the Supreme Administrative Court in April 2011, following longtime president and NDP party chairman Hosni Mubarak's fall from power. Many party leaders formed new parties or attached themselves to existing ones. Although the committee that drafted the country's new constitution in 2012 attempted to include an article that would ban NDP leaders from participating in politics for 10 years, the article was dropped after former president Mohammed Morsi was ousted (and another new constitution approved). In its decision, the appeals court said that the lower court lacked the proper jurisdiction to rule on the matter, the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence of corruption that incriminated the leaders, and the prior ruling violated the leaders' constitutional right to political participation. 

Jordan acquits radical cleric of terrorism charges

A three-man civilian panel in the Jordanian State Security Court on June 26 declared radical preacher Abu Qatada (ABBC profile) not guilty of terrorism offences relating to an alleged plot in 1998 on the American school in Amman. The court ruled there was insufficient evidence to find Qatada guilty of terrorism charges for the 1998 plot, but he will remain imprisoned in Jordan for his alleged role in an attempted attack on tourists during the Jordanian New Year celebration of the year 2000. That hearing is scheduled for September and it extends the 20-year timeline of involvement with al-Qaeda in Jordan and the UK. In December Qatada's defense argued the presence of a military judge in the three-judge panel of the State Security Court violated the deportation agreement between the Jordanian and UK governments to provide Qatada with a fair trial, which was established as part of his deportation from Britain last July. Qatada was tried by a three-judge panel of civilians on Thursday, and the composition of the judicial panel of the State Security Court in September may be a point of contention because of its vague and controversial nature as a quasi-military judicial body with civilian judges.

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