The Middle East Channel

Bahrain court rejects appeals for activists in 2011 protests

Bahrain court rejects appeals for activists in 2011 protests

Bahrain’s highest appeals court has upheld sentences for 13 activists for their roles in the February 2011 anti-government protests. The sentences, originally delivered by a military court in June 2011, and upheld in an appeals court in September 2012, range from five years to life imprisonment. One of the eight activists receiving life sentences (25 years in Bahrain) was opposition leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who ended a 110-day hunger strike last June in protest of the ruling. This decision will be final, with no further venues for the activists to get the verdicts overturned. Twenty people were originally tried, however seven were tried in absentia and have left the country or remain in hiding. One of the main charges against the activists was "forming a terrorist group with intent to overthrow the system of government." However, the activists maintained they were only seeking democratic reform in Bahrain. Opposition and human rights groups have condemned the sentences. The United States was pushing for acquittals in efforts to avoid further political unrest in the Gulf country in which the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based. An estimated 60 people have died in unrest in Bahrain since February 2011.

Syria

The Syrian opposition and western countries have rejected a peace plan proposed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In his first televised speech since June 2012, Assad remained defiant saying his military would continue to fight rebels, deemed as foreign funded "terrorists." He insisted he will not step down, but presented his peace plan including reforms that would replace the cabinet and constitution. He called for a national dialogue, but maintained he would not negotiate with people with "terrorist" ideas. He condemned opponents as "enemies of God and puppets of the West." The United States rejected Assad’s address as "yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power." U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Assad’s peace initiative "is detached from reality." Foreign ministers from Turkey, Britain, and the European Union maintained their positions that Assad must resign and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said he would endorse an International Criminal Court tribunal against Assad for war crimes. The Syrian National Coalition said Assad has made negotiations impossible by ruling out talks with the rebels. Only Syrian ally Iran backed Assad’s plan rejecting "foreign interference." Meanwhile, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, clashes continued around the capital of Damascus, in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, and on the road connecting Damascus to Aleppo. Violence was reported in the district of Arqaba, just three miles from the Damascus Opera House, from which Assad addressed regime loyalists.

Headlines  

  • Amid increased economic concerns, President Mohamed Morsi replaced Egypt’s finance and interior ministers a day ahead of a meeting with the IMF over a $4.8 billion loan.
  • Israel announced it is building a fence along the border with Syria, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu to "defend this border against both infiltration and terrorism."
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered "State of Palestine" to be used on public documents which were previously stamped with "Palestinian Authority." 

Articles & Analysis

The case for ending U.S. military aid to the Mideast (Corinne Sauer, Robert Sauer, JPost)

"Approximately $3b. was designated as military financing for Israel, while over $4b. was earmarked as economic and military financing for Arab countries – countries whose military programs are in large part designed to prepare for potential hostilities with Israel. 

Egypt, now under the authority of an Islamic government whose assurances it will maintain the peace with Israel are viewed as highly suspect, is the single largest beneficiary among Arab countries, having been allocated $1.58b. last year alone.

The conventional wisdom in US foreign policy circles is that these massive financial gifts are beneficial to both the United States and the recipient countries. In fact, the policy is deemed so important that advocates contend it must be maintained even in the face of a $16 trillion national debt, a $1t. yearly budget deficit and a fast-approaching fiscal cliff. 

But as is often the case with government funding programs, US financial aid to the Middle East has good intentions with bad results.

Most fundamentally, US military aid to the Middle East harms Israeli and regional interests by fueling an arms race that threatens to spiral out of control.

Recent Israeli-produced estimates reveal that for every dollar in US aid received by Egypt, Israel must spend between $1.60 and $2.10 to maintain its qualitative military edge.

Since Israel is usually granted $1.50 for every $1 in aid to Egypt, each American dollar given to Egypt costs Israel between 10 and 64 cents out of its own pocket."

No Jobs and Bad Jobs (Ghada Barsoum, The Cairo Review)

"Productive employment for young people will require long-term, determined and concerted action spanning a wide range of policies and programs. International experience points to three areas of focus that are central for policy interventions to address youth employment issues. First, there is a need for an economic environment conducive for job creation and sustained growth to meet the growing need for jobs. Second, interventions are needed to enhance the skill level of youth, smoothen their transition to the labor market, and encourage entrepreneurship. These are often described as active labor market policies. Third, measures must be pursued to extend social protection to workers within the informal economy. Effective support to youth employment requires an unwavering political commitment and a strong partnership with the private sector, civil society and youth as key partners in the process, according to the ILO. This three-pronged approach places youth employment issues at the heart of economic and social policies.

Job creation is central to any meaningful discussion of youth employment issues. While the government can no longer be the main employer of youth in Egypt, it is the role of the government to enable an environment in which the private sector can develop to its full potential and play a role in generating employment and decent jobs. Forging partnerships with the private sector and civil society organizations would improve youth employment outcomes." 

A weak prime minister (Aluf Benn, Haaretz)

"What happened to him? Is it possible that a successful campaigner like Netanyahu is having trouble – of all the campaigns – with this one, the one in which his victory was a forgone conclusion, the one in which he alone was vying for leadership of the state?

In retrospect it looks like the prime minister was right to put off elections for as long as possible. He apparently understood the mood of the public, which views him as the default choice and not as a desirable leader. Netanyahu, with all his experience, also realized that nothing is certain in an election campaign; they are known to encounter surprises and reversals."

By Mary Casey