Greater Middle East
A Saudi Arabian court on Jan. 12 sentenced to death a member of a militant cell convicted of producing explosives used in a May 2004 suicide attack on a western company operating in Saudi Arabia's northwestern port city of Yanbu. According to reports, the court also handed down sentences ranging from three to 12 years to 10 other co-defendants convicted of lesser offenses, including financing the attack and sheltering those involved. Reports indicate that the attack stemmed from a 2003 al-Qaeda initiative, which sought to interfere with relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. The accused have 30 days to appeal their sentences.
An Egyptian court Dec. 30 sentenced 139 supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi to two year prison terms on a variety of charges including rioting and sabotage. The protestors were arrested during a July 15 protest in Cairo, where Morsi's supporters demanded his reinstatement. Morsi was ousted from office as president in early July, when the Egyptian military took control of the government and suspended the nation's constitution. Egyptian state media reported earlier in December that Morsi will be tried on charges of espionage and terrorism along with 35 other defendants, many of whom are also former high-level officials and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also in December Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Egyptian government to reverse its decision to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, calling the label politically driven. In September an Egyptian court banned the Brotherhood, after having previously banned several media outlets for their alleged support of the group—the latest in several such moves against the pro-Morsi media.
A massacre at Adra, outside Damascus, is being attributed to the Nusra Front, which on Dec. 16 may have killed over 100 civilians after seizing the town, targetting Alawites, Druze, and Christians. Some civilians were reportedly "saved" by regime army troops, who stormed houses where they were being held. These claims are aggressively plied by the official media in countries that back the Assad regime (Russia Today, Voice of Russia, Tehran Times, Xinhua) and the "alternative" media in countries that oppose the Assad regime (Antiwar.com, Intifada Palestine—which is, very significantly, not based in Palestine, where Assad is actually very unpopular). The anti-Assad Linux Beach blog is skeptical about the claims, noting that the presumably more objective BBC News account put the death toll at 10, not the 100 attributed elsewhere to anonymous regime sources. Linux Beach also engages in the cyber-sleuth routine to argue that some photos supposedly taken by the jihadists of bodies they'd mutilated were actually recycled from other, unrelated atrocities (a trick the Assad-supporters are always accusing the mainstream media of). Linux Beach more astutely points out that the Adra claims come just as "the death toll from a 10-day Syrian regime air offensive on Aleppo rebels passed 400," in the words of AFP. Most have been killed by the regime's improvised "barrel-bombs," seemingly designed to win the maximum number of civilian casualties. ("Aleppo rebels" actually means rebel-held areas of the city; we may assume a high proportion of non-combatant deaths.) A Google News search for "Aleppo" brings up such mainstream US sources as the Washington Post, LA Times and CNN. Pretty predictable, eh?
Egypt's interim government on Dec. 25 officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group following the bombing of a police station earlier this week that killed 16 people. The official label allows the government to prosecute any member of the party, including anyone giving money to the party. The announcement, which sparked protests and demonstrations across the country, came in spite of the fact that Ansar Jerusalem, a jihadist group responsible for attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for the bombing. In response to the announcement, US State Department expressed concern, empasizing that Egypt should maintain an inclusive political process.
Congressman Keith Ellison, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Kristin Stoneking of peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) are among a group of US leaders and activists who on Dec. 20 launched a "rolling hunger strike" in solidarity with Syrian civil resistance figure Qusai Zakarya. That day was the 25th in Zakarya's hunger strike to protest the siege of over 30 towns in Syria. From the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, Zakarya proclaimed, "I want to live free before I die," noting that Syrians are dying daily of malnutrition because military blockades have prevented food and medicine from coming into their areas—with approximately one million people now affected.
An Egyptian court on Dec. 22 sentenced three human rights activists to three years in prison and fined each of them $7,000 for violating the country's controversial new anti-protest law. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel were convicted of participating in an illegal protest and allegedly assaulting policemen during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. The three men were among a group that protested in late November against the new law that circumscribed citizens' right to protest in public. Douma was arrested earlier this month according to a posted tweet. The men also played a key role in the protests that forced the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but more recently they have joined other activists in protesting many of the actions of the country's current government. Proponents argue that this new law will maintain peace and order while opponents claim that the law is an attempt to reppress dissent.
Elements of the US national security establishment have clearly got their money on Bashar Assad. Ex-CIA director Michael Hayden on Dec. 12 outlined three options for Syria's future at the annual Jamestown Foundation counter-terrorism confab: "Option three is Assad wins. And I must tell you at the moment, as ugly as it sounds, I'm kind of trending toward option three as the best out of three very, very ugly possible outcomes." Option one was ongoing conflict between radicalized sectarian facitons. Option two, which Hayden considered the most likely, was the "dissolution of Syria." (It isn't explained why this option ranks two if it's the most likely.) This, in turn, "means the end of Sykes-Picot... it sets in motion the dissolution of all the artificial states created after World War I." (AFP via Maan News Agency, Dec. 13)