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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Persian Gulf

YEMEN: President addresses supporters, vows to resist 'saboteurs'


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Friday he would confront challenges from opponents, whom he called “saboteurs,” and said they should use the ballot box if they want to end his nearly 33 years in power.

“We will confront a challenge with a challenge. Whoever wants power should head to the ballot box.... Stop playing with fire,” Saleh said as tens of thousands of people rallied in counterdemonstrations outside the presidential palace in Sana for and against his rule.

Timeline: Conflict in Yemen

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YEMEN: Amnesty International calls for end to government's use of deadly force


Amnesty International has called on Yemeni authorities to stop using unnecessary deadly force against anti-government protesters. The action came  after security forces opened fire on demonstrations Thursday in the capital, Sana, and the city of Taiz, killing at least two.


Videos posted online  are said to show thousands of protesters in the streets of Taiz on Thursday, chanting and marching past security forces, then fleeing from what sounds like gunfire.

The appeal from the London-based human rights group came ahead of marches planned Friday on the presidential palace from a protest camp near Sana University.

Yemen's ruling party has dubbed Friday a "Day of Unity" while anti-government protesters are calling it a "Day of Determination."

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YEMEN: Qatar withdraws support for GCC agreement; expert warns of violence


Qatar has pulled out of the Gulf Cooperation Council's effort to negotiate an end to Yemen's political crisis, blaming the country's embattled president for the stalemate.

Qatar was among Gulf nations pushing a deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 32 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Three months of massive street protests have demanded the autocratic ruler's immediate departure, and a government crackdown has killed about 150 people.

The six nations of the regional alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council are worried that Yemen's growing instability could destabilize other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Timeline: Conflict in Yemen

Yemen's official news agency said Friday that Saleh's party accused Qatar of siding with the protesters and welcomed its withdrawal from the talks.

Benedict Wilkinson, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute based in Cairo, talked Thursday about what was expected Friday.

Q: So it seems the big question is whether there will be major violence Friday and if so, what that will mean for the Saleh regime and the GCC?

A: I think there is widespread and, increasingly, entrenched anger (particularly in urban areas) at the repeated acts of violence carried out by government forces against its own citizens. The wounding and killing of the protesters is actually fueling the resolve of the protesters rather than diluting it.

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BAHRAIN: Human rights official details abuses, fear and anger


Reports of human rights abuses following antigovernment protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain have increased in recent days, as 21 opposition leaders stand trial in a military court accused of, among other things, attempting to overthrown the monarchy. Brian Dooley of New York-based Human Rights First was denied entry to the trial in the capital of Manama on Thursday, and spoke afterward about conditions there and his interviews with victims of recent violence.

Q: Why did you want to be at the trial today?

A: The outcome of that trial is enormous -- the whole mood of the country hinges on that. It won't all just go away because the emergency laws are lifted.

Q: What is it like in Bahrain now?

A: We're in a strange, very tense lull at the moment where people are waiting very carefully to see what people's mood will be.

Q: The king has announced that the state of emergency will end two weeks early, on June 1, but it was announced today that Gulf Cooperation Council troops will remain in Bahrain afterward. What does that mean?

A: It's not going to be business as usual or a return to normal. And remember, people being detained now won't finish June 1. The military courts will continue.

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BAHRAIN: GCC troops to remain, face increasingly radicalized youth


Sunni monarchs determined to maintain control after crushing opposition protests in the kingdom of Bahrain may soon face a new threat from increasingly alienated youths in the majority Shiite nation.

On Thursday, Bahrain’s state news agency reported that troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council are expected to stay on even after the country’s state of emergency is lifted June 1.

Sheikh Khalifa Al Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Defense Force, told the state news agency that the forces, known as the Peninsula Shield, were sent to Bahrain after protests erupted in February to defend against foreign threats, including Iran. He said Iranian, Iraqi and western agents helped orchestrate the anti-government protests.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Earlier this week, the GCC, a group of six Persian Gulf nations formed in 1981, invited Jordan and Morocco to join in what some analysts have called a consolidation of power by the “Sunni Kings’ Club” in the face of popular Shiite uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.

Salman Shaikh Picture Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said gulf leaders, led by Saudi Arabia, have become a “club of counterrevolutionaries” trying to reestablish an old order, with some resistance from Qatar and Kuwait, which is home to a sizable Shiite minority.

So far, gulf leaders have achieved an “uneasy calm” in Bahrain, he said, but have been unable to broker a political agreement there or in Yemen that would transform the states into constitutional monarchies.

“If you don’t come to some sort of political agreement, you’re going to have a young generation of Shiite youth who will not forget this and will be radicalized,” Shaikh said. “The danger is that they won’t be listening to anybody except maybe Iran.”

Already, he said gulf leaders may have missed their chance in Bahrain, where the government’s violent suppression of protests and alleged torture of political dissidents and medical staff, reported this week by Al Jazeera, has weakened their ability to negotiate with the opposition.

“A lot of young Bahrianis I talk to now dismiss those people, especially young Shiite Bahrainis, and seem to be moving on,” Shaikh said of the government.

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BAHRAIN: Activists tortured before trial, rights group alleges

Lkvkuhnc A pro-democracy activist in Bahrain appeared to have been beaten and possibly tortured before he appeared in court this week, according to the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch.

Abdulhadi Khawaja was one of 14 defendants, mostly opposition leaders in the Persian Gulf state, who were charged with seeking to “topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country,“ Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday. Seven others were charged in absentia.

When Khawaja's wife and daughter spoke with him briefly after he appeared  in court Sunday, the first time they had seen him since his arrest April 9, he told them he had suffered four fractures to his face, including one to his jaw that required four hours of surgery.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Khawaja's daughter Maryam told Human Rights Watch that her mother and sister met with him for 10 minutes after the initial hearing.

“She said her father had gone on a hunger strike to protest his ill treatment and his lack of access to a lawyer," according to a statement released by Human Rights Watch. “She also said that he told his wife and daughter that he had been tortured, but could not describe details because the family meetings took place in the presence of security guards."

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MIDDLE EAST: 'Arab Spring' has yet to alter region's strategic balance


Editor’s note: This post is by Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of Carnegie's analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the positions of The Times or its blog.

Salem_color_medium3 (1) Despite their sweeping repercussions for both domestic and international players, the Arab uprisings have not led to a dramatically new regional order or a new balance of power. This could change, particularly if developments in Syria continue to escalate.

While Iran has welcomed uprisings against Western-backed regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, it dealt harshly with its own protesters and has been worried about recent events in Syria. Moreover, countries that threw out pro-Western dictators are not moving closer to Iran.

Egypt's and Tunisia’s future foreign policies are more likely to resemble Turkey's in becoming more independent while remaining allied with the West. And Iran's soft power has decreased as its regime looks increasingly repressive and new models of revolutionary success have emerged in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world.   

Carnegie logo Turkey, for its part, bungled the opportunity to take advantage of this historic shift to bolster its influence in the Arab world. The Arab uprisings are effectively calling for the Arab world to be more like Turkey: democratic, with a vibrant civil society, political pluralism, secularism alongside Islam, and a productive and fairly balanced economy. However, after expressing clear support for Egyptian protesters, Turkey has hedged its bets in Libya and Syria.

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BAHRAIN: King announces early end to emergency rule as opposition stands trial


Bahrain's king announced plans Sunday to lift the Persian Gulf state's emergency rule on June 1, two weeks earlier than the official end of the three-month rule, imposed March 15 in an attempt to halt anti-government unrest.

The announcement by King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa appeared timed to distract a world audience from the trial of activists accused of attempting to overthrow the monarchy amid protests by the country's majority Shiite population.

At least 30 people have been killed since protests began in February in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

In a speech last month, the country's crown prince defended the government crackdown.

"We were immensely concerned that some of our youth were pushed toward a destructive path and that the nation was drawn along with them," Prince Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa said, according to an official transcript.

"We took necessary action to preserve lives and the livelihood and interests of all the people, based on our commitment to Islamic and Arab values," he said.

King Hamed's declaration that he would suspend martial law early gave no details of what would take its place, including whether the nighttime curfew would end or the numerous checkpoints be dismantled, according to the Associated Press.

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BAHRAIN: Government shuts down newspaper critical of crackdown

Picture 16 Sunday's print and online editions of the independent Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat were blocked as authorities reportedly accused the daily of fabricating news in its coverage of the widespread anti-government protest movement that rocked the country last month.

Al Jazeera reported that Al Wasat had been critical in its coverage of the state's response to the popular uprising. Security forces violently ousted demonstrators from Manama's Pearl Roundabout and allegedly open fire on peaceful marches. 

Editor Mansour Jamri, speaking to the Financial Times, denied the allegations against his paper, describing a "sustained campaign" against the publication.

“They [the authorities] say someone was working with them, so maybe something was planted so they could come back at us," Jamri told the Financial Times [registration required]. "All we can say is we never intended to fabricate news."

The targeting of media outlets is the latest indication of a widening crackdown by the Sunni-dominated government against the protest movement, which is driven largely by the country's majority Shiite population.

At least 24 people have been killed since the unrest began, the government announced last Tuesday, and activists say hundreds more have been arrested in recent weeks as Bahraini and other Gulf Arab forces set up checkpoints around the small island nation to monitor citizens' movements, especially in and out of Shiite areas.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Image: Al Wasat's Web portal was blocked on Sunday.

BAHRAIN: Freed political prisoners join protests

Prisoner march
Some political prisoners freed just hours earlier joined anti-government protesters marching through the capital of Manama, Bahrain, on Wednesday, but local rights groups say hundreds more remain in prison. Meanwhile, the protest movement shows no signs of losing steam.

The move by King Hamed bin Isa Khalifa to free about 100 prisoners is intended to appease protesters who took to the streets last week demanding reform but have begun calling for an end to the monarchy following a crackdown by authorities that left at least seven people dead and dozens wounded.

"Allowing the people to protest and releasing those people are positive moves," Ibrahim Mattar of the main Shiite Wefaq party told Reuters.

But the king's gesture did not satisfy opposition and human-rights groups, which have been demanding a promise to transition to a constitutional monarchy and the release of all prisoners of conscience.

"The main point we are waiting for is the initiative for political reform. Until now, they didn't promise anything," Mattar said. "If they don't say it, we are wasting our time."

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights was also critical of the government, tweeting on Wednesday: "About 100 political prisoners had been freed but another 400 or so are still held."

Maryam Khawaja, who works for the center, tweeted "ppl r chanting for the fall of the entire regime in the march of free prisoners."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Freed political prisoners join protesters in the streets of Manama, Bahrain. Credit: Maryam  Khawaja / Bahrain Center for Human Rights

MIDDLE EAST: In wake of WikiLeaks scandal, Arab leaders are cautious on Iran censure

GCC Nahyan

Arabian peninsula states have adopted a conciliatory tone on Iran a little over a week after U.S. diplomatic cables released by the watchdog site WikiLeaks appeared to show serious anxiety among Arab leaders over Tehran's growing power, and even enthusiasm in some corners (and at certain points) for a military attack on its controversial nuclear program.

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Atiyyah stopped short of an outright repudiation, but he described the content of the leaked cables as "guesses or analyses that can hit or miss" and that "generated misunderstandings," according to the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper.

The council wrapped up a two-day summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday, gently calling on Iran to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program in order to end sanctions against Tehran. The closing statement also reiterated Arab support for Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program.

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MIDDLE EAST: Arab media play down WikiLeaks reports of support for Iran war

Picture 5 Well, this is awkward.

Many of the same Arab governments that called for an investigation into U.S. war crimes based on the WikiLeaks Iraq war log continue to ignore revelations in the latest trove of leaked documents that show Arab leaders pushed the United States to use military force against Iran.

Headlines in the heavily state-controlled Saudi media were dominated by news of King Abdullah's ongoing physiotherapy, while the top story in the Emirati newspaper, Al Bayan, centered on Prince Mohamad bin Rashid's praise for the country's progress toward "transparency." Most mentions of the WikiLeaks documents in official Arabic news outlets were scrubbed of any reference to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing instead on U.S. attempts to control the damage to its diplomatic relations.

Even the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, considered one of the most credible pan-Arab news outlets, tread lightly in its coverage and generally refrained from repeating the most incendiary quotes from the heads of neighboring states.

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