Thousands of Egyptians marched to the defense ministry after clashes spurred by unidentified attackers killed an estimated 20 protesters in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo. The violence sparked fears that the upcoming elections would be disrupted. Two leading presidential candidates suspended their campaigns out of respect for the victims. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) expressed "deep regret over the victims and those injured" in Wednesday’s violence. The ruling military maintained it would not seek to postpone elections scheduled for May 23 and 24, with Field Marshal Tantawi committing to transition out of power by the end of June. Meanwhile, three main Egyptian presidential candidates, including Abdoul Moniem Aboul Fotouh, Mohamed Morsi, and Amr Moussa, were referred to the public prosecutor for allegedly breaking campaign rules. Previously disqualified candidates Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, whose ban from the election sparked the Abbasiya protests, and Khairat el-Shater were also sent to the public prosecutor on charges of forgery and insulting the election commission, respectively.
Syrian security forces raided Aleppo University early Thursday morning killing at least four people and arresting up to 200 following a demonstration. The violence began when student supporters of President Bashar al-Assad armed with knives assaulted opposition protesters. According to the British based activist group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a raid by government forces on student dormitories followed with reports of gunfire and tear gas. According to student activist Thaer al-Ahmed, "Some students ran to their rooms to take cover but they were followed to their rooms, beaten up, and arrested." The attack came a day after Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Syrian government of human rights abuses directly targeting civilians. Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught confirmed the report. With the continuous deadly attacks, the United Nations admitted the truce brokered on April 12 has not held, but maintain that the U.N. observer mission is having a positive effect. The head of the observers, Major General Robert Mood, said the mission was slow to get started, but the number of monitors on the ground will double within days.
- The trial of Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who has been accused of "terrorism" and murder and has fled to Istanbul, has been postponed until May 10.
- Jordan swore in a new "conservative" cabinet under recently appoint Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh tasked with implementing reforms.
- Libya has lifted a ban on religious political parties while clamping down on support for the former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi ahead of elections planned for June.
- The head of a Tunisian private television station has been fined for attacking moral values for broadcasting the controversial film "Persepolis."
Arguments and Analysis
‘Terrorists or Fall Guys? The MEK Puzzle’ (Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard)
"The Treasury Department has issued subpoenas to the speakers’ agencies of 11 prominent former U.S. officials, including a governor of Pennsylvania, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and director of Homeland Security, who have given speeches on behalf of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK. Treasury’s action is meant to find out whether Ed Rendell, Hugh Shelton, Tom Ridge, and others have taken money from an outfit designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). However, the nub of the case is whether the MEK merits the designation. The former officials contend that the group of Iranian exiles based in Iraq hasn’t used violence in over a decade and doesn’t fit the State Department’s definition of a foreign terrorist organization. The last time the MEK waged an operation against Americans was in the mid-1970s, and in recent years it willingly handed its weapons over to U.S. troops at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Neither, say its advocates, does the MEK qualify as a threat to U.S. national security, especially given that the organization provided the Bush administration with intelligence regarding Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz."
‘Tunisia: Reform Legal Framework to Try Crimes of the Past’ (Human Rights Watch)
"Tunisia’s first torture case to go to trial following the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali highlights the need to address inadequacies in the legal framework for trying torture crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Many other cases of torture are likely to be filed against former President Ben Ali and his associates, as other victims step forward to file complaints…"Torture was rampant in Tunisian prisons during the 23-year Ben Ali presidency, and blighted the lives of thousands," said Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. "Effective prosecution of torture requires an adequate legal framework as well as political will to end impunity.""
‘Saudi Arabia’s Quandry’ (Bernard Haykel, Bitter Lemons)
"At present, Syria occupies the center of Riyadh’s attention. Initially the Saudis were uncertain what to do about the uprising in Syria. They disliked Bashar Assad but if chaos was to be the alternative, then maybe it was best for him to stay on in Damascus. However, the wanton killing and brutalization of large numbers of Sunnis has become politically untenable for the kingdom. More important still was the realization that if Assad is toppled, then Iran’s influence in the Arab world would be diminished and confined to Iraq. The Saudis have become convinced that Iran represents a real menace and should be dealt with. Syria has therefore become a stage for a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh. The problem, however, is that Riyadh has very few real policy options beyond spending money on the Syrian opposition, which is weak, divided and unable to confront militarily the regime’s forces. It is in Syria that Saudi Arabia’s influence will be put to the test, and Riyadh now no longer views all change as bad, particularly if it vitiates one’s rivals and opponents."
–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey