Category Archives: Arab Spring

How Egypt’s Activists Became ‘Generation Jail’

Joshua Hammer reports for The New York Times:

Image result for How Egypt’s Activists Became ‘Generation Jail’[…] It was just six years ago that Ahmed Maher was celebrated around the world as a symbol of freedom and democracy. In January 2011, as the leader of a social-media-savvy network of young activists called the April 6 Youth Movement, Maher mobilized hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and across the country that took down President Hosni Mubarak. The movement was considered for a Nobel Peace Prize, and Maher traveled across Europe and the United States talking about the Arab Spring and Egypt’s future with the likes of Ban Ki-moon and Lech Walesa. But the hopes that were raised by the revolution dissolved into sectarianism and chaos, and Maher’s aspirations were extinguished within two years. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, seized power in July 2013 and outlawed protests. Five months later, a judge found Maher guilty of illegal demonstration, rioting and “thuggery” and sentenced him to three years in jail. Another judge added six months to Maher’s sentence for “verbally assaulting a public officer while on duty” after he demanded that the police remove his handcuffs while in court for a 2014 appeal. Maher spent almost all of that period sealed in a small cell in a solitary-confinement wing at Tora Prison, a notorious complex on the outskirts of Cairo, built during British rule, that houses about 2,500 political prisoners and common criminals. Hidden behind 25-foot-high walls, the vast compound encompasses seven prison blocks, ranging from a minimum-security facility for policemen and judges convicted of taking bribes to the supermax “Scorpion Prison,” a labyrinth of cells largely reserved for Islamists and April 6 leaders.

Today Maher is nominally a free man, but the restrictions on his movements are stifling. The regime is deeply concerned that he could revive the social-media network that brought his followers to the streets six years ago. As it was explained to Maher, “tweets can lead to demonstrations, and demonstrations can lead to revolution, and that will bring down the regime and create martyrs,” he said. “So if you are tweeting, you are like a terrorist.”

Every day for the next three years, Maher must spend 12 of every 24 hours at his local police station, a “surveillance period” intended to ensure that he refrains from anti-regime activity. Under Egyptian law, he told me, low-risk felons “have the right to have their surveillance inside the home with a guard downstairs. But they are using this surveillance as punishment. It is a kind of control to keep me all the time under pressure.”

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Massive Protests In Morocco Following Death of Fish Seller: Interview with Miriyam Aouragh

Amy Goodman speaks with Miriyam Aouragh, a Dutch-Moroccan anthropologist and democracy activist based in Britain. She’s a lecturer at the University of Westminster in London, and she is writing a book on the February 20 movement in Morocco. (Democracy Now!)

Vijay Prashad on the ‘Ruthless’ Bombing of Yemen and Palestine, How Libya Mirrors Iraq, and the U.S. Election

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez are joined by Vijay Prashad to discuss a number of issues covered in his latest book: The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution. Prashad briefly covers the conflicts in Yemen and Palestine, how the regime change operation in Libya mirrors what happened in Iraq, and whether there are any differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to the outside world. (Democracy Now!)

How the Arab World Came Apart: Interview with Scott Anderson

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to Scott Anderson about his in-depth new report, Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. Occupying the entire print edition of this week’s New York Times Magazine, it examines what has happened in the region in the past 13 years since the the U.S. invaded Iraq through the eyes of six characters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Anderson is also author of the book, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East(Democracy Now!)

Patrick Cockburn’s New Book ‘Chaos & Caliphate’ Serialised in the i

Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year at the 2013 Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. This past week his latest book Chaos & Caliphate was exclusively serialised in the i.

Bahrainis Rally Against Regime, Formula One Racing Event

Press TV reports:

Bahraini people have held an anti-regime demonstration in the Persian Gulf kingdom ahead of the upcoming Formula One Grand Prix

The demonstrators carried anti-Formula One banners reading, “Racing on Persecution” and chanted slogans against the race during their march in the village of Diraz, west of the capital, Manama, after Friday prayers.

The second round of the Formula 1 season is scheduled to take place in Bahrain this weekend.

Such protests have been held annually in recent years ahead of the major sport event.

Bahrainis slam the hosting of the Formula One race as a failed attempt to restore Manama’s international image.

Manama hopes the event will highlight progress and improvements in the country’s human rights situation.

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High On The Arab Spring, We Forgot Syria Was Shia

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

Just before I left Syria last month, a tall and eloquent Franco-Lebanese man walked up to me in a Damascus coffee shop and introduced himself as President Bashar al-Assad’s architect. It was his task, he led me to understand, to design the reconstructed cities of Syria.

Who would have believed it? Five years after the start of Syria’s tragedy – and within six months of this, remember, the regime itself trembled and the Western powers, flush with dangerous pride after destroying Gaddafi, predicted the imminent fall of the Assad dynasty – the Syrian government is preparing to rebuild its towns and cities.

It’s worth taking that embarrassing trip down memory lane to the early spring and summer of 2011. The US and French ambassadors visited Homs to sit amid tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators calling for the overthrow of the Assad government. EU diplomats were telling the political opposition not to negotiate with Assad – a fatal mistake, since the advice was based on the false assumption that he was about to be overthrown – and journalists were gathering with rebels in eastern Aleppo for the inevitable march of liberation on Damascus.

The Assad regime, came the message from the Washington think-tanks and mountebank “experts”, had reached – a cliché we should all beware of – the “tipping point”. La Clinton announced that Assad “had to go”. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared that Assad “did not deserve to live on this planet” – although he failed to name the galaxy to which the Syrian President might retire. And I complied with an Independentrequest to write Assad’s obituary – for future use, you understand – and still it moulders in the paper’s archives.

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Egypt, five years later: A human-rights catastrophe of America’s making

Ganzeer writes for Creative Time Reports:

Egypt, five years later: A human-rights catastrophe of America's makingFive years ago this month, thousands of Egyptians filled Tahrir Square and ignited a mass uprising that lasted 18 days and drove strongman president Hosni Mubarak from office. It seemed to augur a bright future for freedom and democracy in Egyptbut five years, multiple referendums, two parliaments, two presidents, and scores of dead bodies later, Egypts present looks just like its past. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisis crackdown on dissidents spreads: at the end of last year the Interior Ministry raided cultural institutions, including a publishing house and art gallery. Sisi, as well as his minister of religious endowment, have both warned citizens against taking to the streets on the January 25 anniversary. Yet nobodyat least not in the White Houseseems to care.

Even before assuming office, Sisi was already responsible for an estimated death toll of at least 817 during the brutal clearing of a peaceful sit-in in Rabaa Square on August 14, 2013. And under his administration the Egyptian Armed Forcesoperations in Sinai have reportedly killed more than 2,000 people so far, including an unknown number of civilians (the Egyptian government acknowledges virtually no civilian deaths). The Egyptian people are so disillusioned that hardly anyone showed up to vote in the most recent parliamentary elections. Not even fatwas could get people to the pollsand why should they vote, when Sisis actions have made it clear that their votes do not matter? But none of that is stopping the United States from supporting him.

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The Arab Spring began in hope, but ended in desolation

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

arab-spring-graphic-2.jpgArab Spring was always a misleading phrase, suggesting that what we were seeing was a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy similar to that from communism in Eastern Europe. The misnomer implied an over-simplified view of the political ingredients that produced the protests and uprisings of 2011 and over-optimistic expectations about their outcome.

Five years later it is clear that the result of the uprisings has been calamitous, leading to wars or increased repression in all but one of the six countries where the Arab Spring principally took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are being torn apart by civil wars that show no sign of ending. In Egypt and Bahrain autocracy is far greater and civil liberties far less than they were prior to 2011. Only in Tunisia, which started off the surge towards radical change, do people have greater rights than they did before.

What went so disastrously wrong?

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Why Does the West Need Sisi?

Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton is joined by several guests to discuss the visit of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the UK this week. Khalil Al-Anani is an Associate Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and Resident Senior Fellow at Middle East Institute, David Hearst is the editor of the Middle East Eye, and Marwa Maziad, a specialist on Middle East Politics and civil-military relations in the Middle East. (Inside Story)

FIFA needs change, but this democracy-crushing choice is grim

Marina Hyde writes for The Guardian:

In any sane world, the spectacle of a man from one of Earth’s most oppressive regimes pontificating about a presidential election would be regarded as so obviously absurd as to be self-satirising. And yet, as hardly needs explaining, Fifa is not a sane world. Never mind Kansas, Toto – I don’t think we’re even in Oz anymore. Is there a world beyond even the world that’s through the looking glass, a place where the Red Queen and Humpty Dumpty actually seem quite rational compared to some monstrous arsehole from the Bahraini royal family presenting himself as a change candidate?

The monstrous arsehole in question is Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, whose ascent to football primacy has been a classic riches-to-riches story. Wondering what he might have achieved had he not been held back by his connections is one for another day. He can only play it as it lays, and Sheikh Salman currently declares himself under increasingly heavy pressure to stand as a candidate in Fifa’s presidential election.

According to his good self, he is being urged to stand “by a growing number of senior football administrators, Fifa members and personalities of public life”. And shame on all of them – but we’ll come to that shortly.

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The rise and fall of Arab revolutionary discourse

Ramzy Baroud writes for Japan Times:

[…] The Arab Spring has not, as of yet, achieved any of its objectives, for neither bread is available in abundance, nor is freedom any closer, nor is social justice at hand. It did, however, energize Arab elites, armies and regimes, which became more aware than ever of their own vulnerabilities.

Fear is now gripping most Arab countries that once thought of themselves as invincible and of their own people as forever docile. That realization has resulted in a massive regional conflict and political realignments, which have turned every single Arab popular revolt into a regional conflict or war that crossed borders, inspiring extremist groups and inviting yet more Western intervention and war.

The Arab world, and the Middle East in general, has not experienced such a major geopolitical upheaval since the early 20th century, when Ottoman territories were divided among old colonial European powers, all the way to War World II. The outcome of this upheaval is likely to be as earth-shattering as these past experiences, if not more, due to the popular element in these conflicts.

But one of the most defining shifts of Arab Spring priorities is the reversal of the narrative from its basic, innocent, unifying, empowering and popular articulation into a complicated, cunning, disuniting, disempowering and elitist one, where the people do not matter in the least.

Language is an essential tool if one aims to understand political priorities of any historical phase situated in time and place. The language at work in the Middle East is one that speaks of a conflict between regional rivals, utilizing sects, tribes and religions to achieve political objectives.

As for the people, they are increasingly pushed back to the margins, only to emerge briefly when state ceremonies compel them to wave flags that long ceased to hold much national meaning, and posters of rulers — smiling, triumphant and, as ever, brutal.

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Arab Spring Success Story Tunisia Has NATO to Thank for Recent Woes

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

[…] So far Tunisians seem to be trying to keep the situation under relative control, but the nation’s heavy dependence on tourism, and the fact that the attack targeted tourists could seriously threaten their already shaky economy to provoke draconian effects by the government.

If the Arab Spring’s big success story was to indeed collapse, the real culprit is NATO, whose insinuation of itself into one of the Arab Spring’s biggest disasters, neighboring Libya, played a major role in turning that huge nation into a lawless trainwreck full of jihadist factions, including the one responsible for attacking the Tunis museum.’

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Tunisia’s security nightmare long predates the Arab Spring

Rory McCarthy writes for The Conversation:

[…] Jihadi Salafist groups have emerged in force in Tunisia since the Arab Spring, staging small-scale attacks on the military in a mountainous region near the Algerian border, a violent assault on the US embassy in Tunis in 2012 and then the high-profile assassinations of two opposition politicians, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, in 2013. Most worryingly, up to 3,000 young Tunisians have left to fight against the Assad regime in Syria, the largest contingents from any single country. Many joined Islamic State, while others went to the ally of al-Qaeda, Jabaht al-Nusra.

It was easy to explain all this as a side effect of the fall of the Ben Ali regime, often described as an island of secularism in the Middle East. In the chaos that followed Ben Ali’s flight, so these groups rapidly took ground and flourished. In truth, however, radical Salafism had been re-emerging in Tunisia ever since the early 2000s.’

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The Class That Ruled Egypt Under Mubarak Remains in Power: Interview with Professor Seif Da’na

Who Should Be Blamed For Muslim Terrorism?

Andrew Vltchek writes for CounterPunch:

A hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have a pair of Muslim men enter a cafe or a public transportation vehicle, and then blow themselves up, killing dozens. Or to massacre the staff of a satirical magazine in Paris! Things like that were simply not done.

When you read the memoirs of Edward Said, or talk to old men and women in East Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the great part of Palestinian society used to be absolutely secular and moderate. It cared about life, culture, and even fashion, more than about religious dogmas.

The same could be said about many other Muslim societies, including those of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Old photos speak for themselves. That is why it is so important to study old images again and again, carefully.

Islam is not only a religion; it is also an enormous culture, one of the greatest on Earth, which has enriched our humanity with some of the paramount scientific and architectural achievements, and with countless discoveries in the field of medicine. Muslims have written stunning poetry, and composed beautiful music. But above all, they developed some of the earliest social structures in the world, including enormous public hospitals and the first universities on earth, like The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.

The idea of ‘social’ was natural to many Muslim politicians, and had the West not brutally interfered, by overthrowing left-wing governments and putting on the throne fascist allies of London, Washington and Paris; almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular leaders.’

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21st-century censorship: Governments around the world are using stealthy strategies to manipulate the media

Philip Bennett and Moises Naim report for Columbia Review of Journalism:

Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”

It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.

Illustrating this point is a curious fact: Censorship is flourishing in the information age. In theory, new technologies make it more difficult, and ultimately impossible, for governments to control the flow of information. Some have argued that the birth of the internet foreshadowed the death of censorship. In 1993, John Gilmore, an internet pioneer, told Time, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Today, many governments are routing around the liberating effects of the internet. Like entrepreneurs, they are relying on innovation and imitation. In countries such as Hungary, Ecuador, Turkey, and Kenya, officials are mimicking autocracies like Russia, Iran, or China by redacting critical news and building state media brands. They are also creating more subtle tools to complement the blunt instruments of attacking journalists.

As a result, the internet’s promise of open access to independent and diverse sources of information is a reality mostly for the minority of humanity living in mature democracies.’

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Building a British naval base in Bahrain is a ‘symbolic choice’ – for no clear reason

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

‘[…] The most powerful figure in Bahrain is widely regarded as being not King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa but the Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa who has held his office since 1970. Calls for his resignation were one of the main demands of demonstrators three years ago, but he has steadfastly refused to step down.

Bahrain was a British protectorate from the 19th century until independence in 1971, ruled by the al-Khalifa dynasty that has long looked to Britain to shield it from international reaction against domestic repression. From the mid-1960s the head of security on the island was Ian Henderson who had played a role in the suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s. Successive periods of protest were harshly dealt with. Since 2011 Britain has played a role in muting the international reaction to the suppression of the protests by emphasising that a dialogue is under way and reforms are being introduced, though nobody else sees any sign of these going anywhere. It has played along with Bahraini government claims that Iran is orchestrating Shia dissent on the island though there is no evidence for this.’

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Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising (Documentary)

‘Like many countries in the Middle East and beyond, Bahrain erupted with anti-authoritarian protests in 2011 when the Arab Spring took the region and many of its repressive leaders by surprise. While Arab Spring uprisings found favor with many in the West, unfortunately for the people of Bahrain, their own revolution was largely forgotten. But it never went away – for three years, near-nightly protests have been brutally quashed by militarized security forces. Earlier this year, VICE News correspondent Ben Anderson travelled to London to speak with Nabeel Rajab, the unofficial leader of Bahrain’s uprising, and then headed undercover to Bahrain, where he met activists, protestors, grieving parents, and alleged torture victims.’ (VICE News)

In Tunisia, old regime figures make a comeback

Tarek Amara reports for Reuters:

Tunisia cia wfb map.png‘At Tunis airport arrivals terminal last month, hundreds of Tunisians gathered waving flags to greet a special guest — not a sports legend or popstar, but a former minister from ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s government.

‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬Three years after Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” forced the autocrat out and set the North African country on path to democracy, Ben Ali regime old guard are not only making a comeback but are poised again to win elected posts.

After approving a new constitution this year, in October Tunisia will hold its second parliamentary election since the revolt. In November, it will hold presidential elections that are seen as a test of its newly found democracy.’

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Jailed for Protests, Activists in Egypt and Bahrain Turn to Hunger Strikes

Robert Mackay reports for The New York Times:

‘Three years after they helped lead street protests demanding democracy in Egypt and Bahrain, prominent Arab Spring activists in both nations are now starving themselves in prison, hoping to draw attention to intensifying crackdowns on dissent there.

Following prison visits this week, relatives expressed fears for the health of at least two of the activists on hunger strike: Ahmed Douma, a leader of Egypt’s April 6 Youth movement who was sentenced to three years in prison after the military-backed government banned unsanctioned street protests last year, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was given a life sentence for his role in the 2011 protests.’

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Bahrain slashes U.S. human rights report

From Xinhua:

‘Bahrain on Saturday strongly condemned and questioned the findings of the U.S. State Department ‘s 2013 Country Report on Human Rights in the kingdom. The U.S. report sharply criticized Bahrain for what it claimed as arbitrary arrests, torture and other strings of human rights violations. But Bahrain’s Interior Ministry counteracted each points stated in the report, starting with the so-called 52 deaths during the 2011 unrest.

The ministry said that an independent inquiry, Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, found 35 deaths were linked to the unrest from February to April of 2011… The U.S. report also mentioned that Bahrain’s security forces used excess force to quell anti-government protests, but Bahrain said “more police officers died last year than rioters.”‘

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Patrick Cockburn: Prince Andrew praises Bahrain, island of torture

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa shows the UK's Prince Andrew round the Bahrain International Airshow (16 January 2014)‘The Duke of York will be the keynote speaker at a conference in London this Friday celebrating Bahrain as a place of religious freedom and tolerance of divergent opinions. Speaking during a visit to Bahrain last month, he said: “I believe that what’s happening in Bahrain is a source of hope for many people in the world and a source of pride for Bahrainis.” This is very strange, as the island kingdom of Bahrain has a proven record of jailing and torturing protesters demanding democratic rights for the Shia majority, an estimated 60 per cent of Bahraini citizens, from the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy. In its annual report on human rights, the US State Department identifies many abuses, the most serious of which include “citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention”. It draws attention to the fact that “discrimination [has] continued against the Shia population”.’

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Loomio: an Occupy inspired democratic decision-making app

The Arab Spring Never Quite Ended in Bahrain

Olivia Becker writes for Vice News:

[…] The government’s brutal crackdown on opposition leaders and anyone involved in the anti-government protests was widely documented in 2011. The most notorious incident was the violent night-time raid in Pearl Roundabout in Manama, known as Bloody Thursday, that killed four and injured nearly 300 protesters.

Although sectarian conflict is behind the current unrest in Bahrain, the causes of the ongoing political stalemate has deeper geopolitical roots.

The financial and military support the current regime in Bahrain receives from the surrounding countries, including the US, plays a direct role in preventing any solution from being reached.

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Revolution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Bruce Riedel writes for The Daily Beast:

[…] Today the Arab Awakening presents the kingdom with its most severe test to date. The same demographic challenges that prompted revolution in Egypt and Yemen, a very young population and very high underemployment, apply in Saudi Arabia. Extreme gender discrimination, long-standing regional differences, and a restive Shia minority add to the explosive potential. In recognition of their vulnerability, the Saudi royals have spent more than $130 billion since the Arab Awakening began to try to buy off dissent at home. They have made cosmetic reforms to let women sit in a powerless consulting council.

Abroad they have sent tanks and troops across the King Fahd Causeway to stifle revolution in Bahrain, brokered a political deal in Yemen to replace Ali Abdullah Salih with his deputy, and sought closer unity among the six Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies. They also have invited Jordan and Morocco to join the kings’ club. But they are pragmatists too and have backed revolutions in Libya and Syria that fight old enemies of the kingdom.

If an awakening takes place in Saudi Arabia, it will probably look a lot like the revolutions in the other Arab states. Already demonstrations, peaceful and violent, have wracked the oil rich Eastern Province for more than a year. These are Shia protests and thus atypical of the rest of the kingdom. Shia dissidents in ARAMCO, the Saudi oil company, also have used cyberwarfare to attack its computer systems, crashing more than 30,000 work stations this August. They probably received Iranian help.

Much more disturbing to the royals would be protests in Sunni parts of the kingdom. These might start in the so-called Quran Belt north of the capital, where dissent is endemic, or in the poor Asir province on the Yemeni border. Once they begin, they could snowball and reach the major cities of the Hejaz, including Jeddah, Mecca, Taif, and Medina. The Saudi opposition has a vibrant information technology component that could ensure rapid communication of dissent within the kingdom and to the outside world.

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Patrick Cockburn: Are protesters overthrowing a brutal despot, or merely bad losers at the polls?

Patrick Cockburn writes for Th Independent:

[…] Revolutionaries must have some idea of what they are going to do once they have displaced the powers-that-be. It is not enough to say that anything is better than the status quo, particularly, as happened in Egypt and Syria, when people find their lives are getting worse. What happens when foreign powers, once so eager to support the risen people, want a share of the political cake? The success of those first uprisings meant that the revolutionaries, always better on tactics than strategy, had lethally few ideas about what to do next.

But the formula that brought them to power still works. In the past eight months, governments in Turkey, Thailand and Ukraine have been destabilised by prolonged mass protests. In the case of Egypt a giant demonstration on 30 June led directly to – and was portrayed as giving legitimacy to – a military coup on 3 July. In Istanbul it was Taksim Square and in Kiev it was Independence Square that were the stages on which revolutionary dramas were played. But what is at issue now is very different from 2011. This is not obvious, because television reporters often produce the same simple-minded story as before. Downplayed and even unstated in reports from Kiev, Cairo, Bangkok and Istanbul was that this time the protesters were confronting democratically elected leaders.

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New Saudi counterterrorism law alarms activists

From AP:

Saudi Arabia put into effect a sweeping new counterterrorism law Sunday that human rights activists say allows the kingdom to prosecute as a terrorist anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent.

The law states that any act that “undermines” the state or society, including calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia, can be tried as an act of terrorism. It also grants security services broad powers to raid homes and track phone calls and Internet activity.

Human rights activists were alarmed by the law and said it is clearly aimed at keeping the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family firmly in control amid the demands for democratic reform that have grown louder since the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in 2011 and toppled longtime autocrats.

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Setbacks to bring quieter Qatar foreign policy but no U-turn

From Reuters:

Qatar may tone down its pushy foreign policy, chastened by setbacks in Syria and Egypt, but is likely to keep supporting Arab Spring revolts and bankrolling Islamist influence, albeit a little more quietly.

The tiny state provided much of the armed muscle behind the Arab rebellions, while its aid for Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt alarmed neighboring Gulf monarchies who see the Islamist movement as a threat to their own hereditary authority.

Under a long-standing policy of international self-promotion, Qatar earlier mediated in disputes from Somalia to Lebanon, and became the enfant terrible of the Gulf Arab dynasties by using its al Jazeera TV to attack authoritarian rule beyond its borders and promote Islamist views.

But rebel defeats in Syria, the ousting of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3 and a failure to host planned Afghan peace talks in June exposed as over-hasty Doha’s dreams of becoming a heavyweight international power-broker.

The wealthy gas exporter got its comeuppance, critics say, and must now be more circumspect abroad, defer to regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, and focus on priorities at home such as building projects before it hosts the 2022 soccer World Cup.

Last month’s accession of a young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, after the abdication of his father, gives Qatar an opportunity to make a fresh start, the argument goes.

People who know Qatar, however, do not expect any U-turns.

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Tunisia: Second Opposition Leader Assassinated In Last Five Months

Belkis Brahmi outside the hospital in Ariana (25 July 2013)

From the New York Times:

With a brazen hail of bullets, gunmen assassinated a prominent opposition leader on Thursday as his family watched, inciting nationwide outrage and exposing a deepening political divide in Tunisia, the last bastion of relative stability among the Arab countries convulsed by revolutionary upheavals over the past two years.

The assassination of the opposition leader, Mohamed Brahmi, was the second time in five months that a leading liberal politician was fatally shot. Many suspected that Islamist extremists were responsible and warned that they threatened the kind of pluralistic democracy envisioned in Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, which inspired the Arab Spring revolutions.

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