Greater Middle East

International hunger strike for Syria launched

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.

Egypt: court sentences rights activists to prison

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.

Saudi Arabia sentences activist to prison, lashes

A court in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 15 sentenced political activist Omar al-Saeed to four years in prison and 300 lashes for urging the kingdom to become a constitutional monarchy. Al-Saeed is the fourth member of the pro-democracy group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to be imprisoned for criticizing the Saudi royal family. Human rights activists denounced al-Saeed's imprisonment as another attempt by Saudi Arabia to suppress dissent. Although Saudi Arabia's government has denied that it has stifled dissent, some human rights lawyers contend that the government has arrested peaceful activists who have called for democratic reforms. It is unclear if al-Saeed can appeal his conviction.

Syria: imperialists keep flipping script

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)

Syria: new chemical revelations; aid cut to rebels

Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.

Yemen: war comes to capital

Yemen's ongoing internal war briefly made world news Dec. 5 as a suicide bomber and gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked the defense ministry building in the capital, Sanaa, killing 52 people. One attacker drove a car packed with explosives into the gate of the ministry's compound, then gunmen in another vehicle sped in and opened fire on soldiers and medical staff working at a hospital within the compound. Seven foreign doctors and nurses—from Germany, India, Veitnam and the Philippines—are among the dead. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but authorities of course suspect al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The attack came as Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser is on a visit to Washington. (Reuters, BBC News, Dec. 5)

Lebanon: army seizes strife-torn Tripoli

​Lebanon's government has ordered the coastal city of Tripoli placed under army control amid growing sectarian clashes. The move was announced after a 15-year-old boy was among four killed Dec. 3. It marks the first time since the end of the country's civil war in 1990 that the military has been ordered to take full control of a city. The new violence  broke out when Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood began flying Syrian flags to demonstrate their support for Bashar Assad, and Sunni residents of nearby Bab el-Tebbaneh raised the flag of Syria's rebel coalition. The four killed were Alawites, persumably slain by Sunni gunmen, and sparking Alawite protest marches. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 3; AFP, Dec. 1)

Egypt: blogger arrested in protest crackdown

Police in Egypt on Nov. 28 arrested prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdul Fattah who had taken part in a rally outside the upper house of parliament two days earlier, where protesters were calling for repeal of a new law that bans unauthorized demonstrations. Abdel-Fattah was arrested at his home, according to a statement by supporters. "They [the police] had no search warrant and when his wife, Manal, demanded to see it they were