Greater Middle East
Winning international headlines July 20 was the seizure by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) of Albu Kamal, one of the three major crossings on the border with Iraq, after a brief battle. (Al-Arabiya, July 21) The FSA is linked to the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC), whose leaders this week visited the United Nations in a bid for international support. (World Policy blog, July 19) The SNC is clearly being groomed by the West, and is generally portrayed in the media as the sole leadership of the Syrian revolution. However the SNC/FSA is but one of several coalitions struggling to bring down the Assad regime.
Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on July 19 ordered the release of 572 people who had been convicted by the military. Morsi, Egypt's first elected civilian president, had formed a committee to review all the cases of prisoners who had been sentenced by military courts since the beginning of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak last year. Activists and international rights groups have repeatedly called for Egypt to end the practice of civilian trials by military commissions, which have been criticized for not meeting the requirements of independence and impartiality. Morsi also commuted the life sentences of 16 individuals to seven years imprisonment. Earlier this month Morsi appointing a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of protesters in last year's demonstrations. 9,714 individuals have been released out of the 11,879 Egyptians detained by the military since last year's uprising.
An Omani court on June 25 began a hearing against protesters who have been accused of defamation and illegal assembly. The Omani authorities have arrested more than 30 individuals who had been protesting against the government to demand political reform, promote human rights and call for the release of detained human rights defenders. The court proceedings opened with hearing the case against 15 protesters, four of whom have been charged with defamation and incitement to protests and strikes in an oil facility, and the remainder of whom have been charged with illegal assembly.
Turkey on June 24 called a NATO meeting to discuss a response to the shooting down of one of its warplanes by Syrian forces the previous day. Ankara accuses Syria of shooting its F-4 Phantom over international waters without warning, and denies it was on a spy mission. While acknowledging that the plane briefly entered Syrian airspace, Ankara says it was on a routine test of Turkey’s own radar system. Damascus says the jet was shot down less than a mile from Syria's coastal province of Latakia.
Thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo's Tahrir Square June 19 to protest the ruling military council's assumption of new powers, amid contesting claims by both presidential candidates of victory in the weekend's election. "General Ahmed Shafik is the next president of Egypt,'' said a spokesman for his campaign, asserting that the candidate won some 500,000 votes more than Muslim Brotherhood challenger Mohammed Mursi. Protesters chanted "Down with military rule!" The rally was jointly called by the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6 Youth Movement to oppose a decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolving the Islamist-led parliament, following a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling last week decried as a "military coup." (AlJazeera, June 19; Ahram Online, June 15; Aswat Masriya via AllAfrica, June 14)
Yemeni officials announced June 12 that government troops have recaptured two al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula strongholds in the country's south after a month-long offensive against AQAP, which seized the areas more than a year ago. Officials said Yemeni troops and tribal allies took full control of Abyan's provincial capital, Zinjibar, and the town of Jaar to the north. They said government forces also re-opened the highway linking Abyan with the southern port of Aden. (VOA, June 12) The next day, airstrikes destroyed a car parked near a house in the AQAP-held town of Azzan, Shabwa province, leaving nine dead. AQAP charged in a statement that the strike came from a US drone. (AP, June 13)
In the wake of the May 25 massacre in Houla, shock and revulsion reverberate across the world—except among "anti-war" voices in the West, those supposedly most concerned with war crimes and mass killings of civilians. Kind of funny, eh? Amnesty International calls for action from the International Criminal Court, finding: "The Syrian military's barrage of shells, mortars and rockets and raids on the residential area of Teldo...left at least 108 dead, including 34 women and 50 children." Said AI's Middle East director Philip Luther: "The high civilian death toll—including scores of women and children—in Houla must spur the Security Council to act in unison and immediately refer the situation in Syria to the ICC." Since then, the annual UN "Children and Armed Conflict" report has been released, accusing the Assad regime of torturing kids:
An Egyptian court on June 2 found former president Hosni Mubarak guilty of complicity in the killing of protesters during last year's uprising and sentenced him to life in prison. The court also found former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli guilty of the same charge and sentenced him to a life term. But corruption charges were dropped against Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal. And six senior security officials, including former head of the now-disbanded State Security Investigations service (SSI), were acquitted. During the protests that resulted in the overturning of his 33-year regime, Mubarak ordered government officials to use gunfire and other violent measures to subdue demonstrations, resulting in some 850 deaths. Mubarak's 10-month trial marks the first time a former Arab leader has been held accountable for his actions in a court of law.