The Middle East Channel

Mideast news brief: 13 protesters killed in the Syrian town of Homs

Mideast news brief: 13 protesters killed in the Syrian town of Homs

13 protesters killed in the Syrian town of Homs

Syrian security forces killed 13 people protesting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Homs. Roula Amin, an al-Jazeera English journalist in Damascus, noted further that “people are complaining that many of the wounded are not going to the hospital, they fear that the security forces will pick them up from their hospital bed. There is also”, she added, “a shortage of blood according to the people we have been talking to.” The deadly events took place as thousands of people across the country took to the streets on a day that also commemorated the departure of French colonialism. And only one day before, Bashar had taken to the airwaves to announce that the government would end the decades-old emergency law by the week’s end. Summing up the atmosphere of the protests, New York Times journalist Liam Stack noted that they “reflected not only a rejection of Mr. Assad’s reforms, which also included a pledge to tackle unemployment and corruption and a law to permit political parties, but a desire to move beyond a political life dominated by the Assad family since 1963.” He added the words of Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh who noted that “everyone is shouting against Bashar personally.”

Headlines 

  • Targeted explosions in Baghdad killed at least 5 and wounded many more at a checkpoint in the heavily securitized Green Zone 
  • Bahrain’s Foreign Minister said Gulf troops in the country will remain as long as the “Iran threat” remains; meanwhile, seven anti-government protesters are slated to go on trial
  • Al-Arabiya reports that 15 have been killed by pro-government militias in Ahwaz in the Iranian province of Khuzestan — since protests began on Friday
  • The U.K. is leading the charged to try and obtain unimpeded humanitarian access to the Libyan city of Misurata, which has seen 7 weeks of brutal fighting between the rebels and Colonel Qaddafi’s forces
  • The Egyptian Foreign Minister will visit the West Bank in the coming weeks, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ own visit to Cairo
Daily Snapshot
 
Ultra-Orthodox Jews burn leavened items in a final preparation before the start at sundown of the Jewish Passover holiday, in Jerusalem, on April 18, 2011. All leavened food, such as bread, is forbidden to Jews during the week-long holiday, which commemorates the Israelites’ hasty departure from Egypt (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images).

Arguments & Analysis 

Iran will not Hinder Plans for a Nuclear-Free World‘ (Tom Donilon, Financial Times) “Two years ago this month in Prague, President Barack Obama proposed steps to advance the goal of “a world without nuclear weapons”. In the 24 months since, we have laid the foundation for these next steps in arms control. But now new action is needed,” writes Donilon, the US national security adviser. “Now, to end illegal nuclear programs and stop proliferation, we will maintain pressure on both Iran and North Korea. Iran, in particular, is trying to exploit the changes sweeping across the Middle East. But the hypocrisy of claiming to support reform in other countries while suppressing it at home is obvious for all the world to see. Some believe that the changes in the region will increase Iran’s influence. In fact the opposite will happen: in a Middle East where more citizens determine their own destiny, Iran will be increasingly isolated by its actions.” Meanwhile, Omer Taspinar writes that the “Arab spring is a mixed blessing for Iran and Turkey.”

‘The Axis of Stability: Why Qatar and the UAE Are So Calm’ (Blake Hounshell, The Atlantic)
“Of all the countries in the Arab world, only two — Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — have seen none of the unrest that has roiled the region over the last few months. Even Saudi Arabia, which has a restive Shiite minority and even a semblance of political dissent, has seen more action; staid Oman has been seeing small, scattered demonstrations over corruption and unemployment for weeks. Which is not to say that there is no discontent, or that average Qataris and Emiratis are satisfied with the amount of say they have in how they are governed (hint: not very much). Spend enough time with the politically aware in either place, and you will hear grievances ranging from rampant nepotism to broken reform promises to the unequal distribution of wealth to fears of being overwhelmed by guest workers. The Qatari government is struggling to rein in an explosion of consumer debt, and many residents of the five northern emirates — the ones not named Abu Dhabi or Dubai — often feel they’ve been left out of the sweepstakes.”

Assad Speech II‘ (Joshua Landis, Syria Comment)
“If [Syrian President Bashir] Assad’s first speech did him no favors, this one served him well. I was apprehensive at first when I saw him speaking without a written script, as he does not seem to have a professional speech writing staff that he trusts. But ultimately he was well served to show his personality, which is appealing. He was straight forward, serious and showed a studied understanding of the countries problems and his regimes short comings. He began by recognizing the ‘fajwa’ or gap that separates the people from the regime. This may have been the single most important line of his talk. The rest was to explain why that gap existed and what he would do to close it. He spoke about the ‘karama’ or dignity of the people – also very important.” The speech in full can be read here. Meanwhile, Wikileaks cables reveal that during the George W. Bush administration the US was covertly backing Syrian opposition groups