Greater Middle East

Egypt: labor repression amid Ikhwan crackdown

A mixed force of Egyptian Interior Ministry and military troops with armored bulldozers moved into the two protest camps maintained by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi shortly after dawn Aug. 14. The smaller camp in Nahda Square was cleared relatively quickly, but clashes raged for most of the day around the main camp near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque—leaving at least 200 dead and 10 times as many wounded. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) put the death toll as high as 300, while authorities said some of the protesters were armed and that 43 members of the security forces were among the dead. Ikhwan leaders have been rounded up, and a 30-day state of emergency has been declared. Street clashes have spread to Alexandria and other cities, and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei has resigned in protest of the repression.

Syria: 'sectarian cleansing' on both sides?

A Syrian rebel offensive targeting Alawite villages close to President Bashar Assad's hometown of Qardaha in the coastal governorate of Latakia has seen some 200 people killed and left nearly 3,000 families displaced since the start of the month. Both the Free Syrian Army and jihadist factions including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Mujahedeen Brigade are taking part in the "battle to liberate the coast," the Alawite heartland where support for Assad runs deepest. FSA military commander Salim Idriss told Saudi-owned news network Al Arabiya that his forces are fighting against regime troops, not Alawite civilians, and pledged that there would be no reprisals. Rebel forces have taken control of 11 Alawite-majority villages since the offensive began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Al Arabiya, Aug. 13; Al Bawaba, Aug. 7)

Bahrain blogger's lawyer detained: rights group

A human rights activist for Frontline Defenders on Aug. 9 reported that the lawyer representing a Bahraini blogger held by authorities has been detained himself days after alleging his client had been tortured while in police custody. Abdul Aziz Moussa is representing Mohamed Hassan, who acted as a media contact point for various foreign news stories, which included coverage of anti-government protests and police crackdowns in Bahrain. Hassan was taken from his home in July by men associated with the Ministry of Interior and detained incommunicado at the Criminal Investigation Department. Moussa was detained on August 8 after he reported on Twitter the visible signs of torture he had seen on his client Hassan. Front Line Defenders considers that the arrest and detention of Hassan and Moussa to be directly related to their activities in defense of human rights.

Yemen: US terror alert enflaming conflict?

An apparent US drone strike in Yemen's Marib province—the fourth reported in the last 10 days—killed four purported al-Qaeda militants Aug. 6. The strikes come as the Yemeni government is "deeply disappointed" in the US decision to evacuate embassy staff, an official said. "It plays into the hands of al-Qaeda," the official warned. (LAT, Aug. 6) On the same day as the new drone strike, tribesmen in Marib shot down an army helicopter, killing eight soldiers, during a clash as workers attempted to repair a main oil pipeline blown up by saboteurs. (AFP, Aug. 6) Fighting has also returned to the capital, with least one killed in clashes between soliders and troops of the ostensibly disbanded Republican Guard, who were holding a protest in central Sanaa. (BBC News, Aug. 2)

Yemeni pro-democracy leader barred from Egypt

OK, here's one to file under "all too telling irony." Egyptian authorities have banned Yemeni rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman from entering the country for "security reasons." Karman was held at Cairo airport on arrival and sent back to Yemen. The first Arab woman to win the Nobel peace prize had voiced support for loyalists of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and protested his ouster by the military. Karman was due to make an appearance at a Cairo sit-in by Morsi supporters. The Anti-Coup Alliance said Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, also a Nobel laureate, "is to be held responsible for banning activists and Nobel Prize winners from entering Egypt." (AFP, Aug. 4)

Egypt: 'Third Square' protesters reject army, Morsi

At least 100 were killed and hundreds injured July 27 as Egyptian security forces attacked Muslim Brotherhood supporters holding a public sit-in at a square outisde Rabaa al-Adawia mosque in northwest Cairo, bringing the toll in repression since the fall of President Mohammed Morsi to over 200 dead. Five were also killed in Alexandria the previous day, and rival demonstrations were reported from cities and towns throughout the country. Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued a call for the Brotherhood's opponents to take to the streets in mass demonstration of support for the military. But with Rabaa al-Adawia square occupied by Morsi supporters and Tahrir Square now held by Morsi opponents responding to al-Sisi's call, a relatively small group of protesters established a vigil in Giza's Sphinx Square, calling themselves the "Third Square" movement. Their banners and flyers call for Egyptians to reject both Morsi's "religious fascism" and  "the army's continued political role."

Kuwait court acquits politicians of insulting leader

An appeals court in Kuwait on July 22 overturned the criminal convictions of three former members of parliament for criticizing the Emir, the nation's leader. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights helped break the story internationally via Twitter, when its director posted a short statement regarding the acquittal. The three men were convicted in February of insulting Emir Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at a protest in October. As members of parliament, they initially spoke out against new election laws and several other issues dealing with flawed civil procedure. The same flaws they addressed later led to the dissolution of the parliament. The Kuwait government has not yet indicated if it will choose to appeal this decision to the supreme court.

Syria: sectarian, ethnic fighting spreads

A rocket strike near an important Shi'ite shrine in the southern suburbs of Damascus killed one of its custodians July 19. The gold-domed Bibi Zainab shrine, said to hold the remains of the daughter of Shia founder Imam Ali and ground-daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, is now being protected by hundreds of volunteer Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Hezbollah troops. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened "grave retribution" if any harm befalls the shrine. (Reuters, July 20) Shi'ites held mass rallies in Islamabad, Karachi and other Pakistani cities against the attack on the shrine. (GeoTV, INP, July 12)

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