The Middle East Channel

Bahrain bans protests and gatherings citing security threats

Bahrain’s Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid al Khalifah, has banned all demonstrations and rallies citing "repeated abuses" of the rights to freedom of expression by protest organizers. Khalifah has accused the organizers of inciting riots and attacks, as well as calling for the overthrow of "leading national figures." Additionally, he said that participants have failed to ...

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Bahraini riot police forces speak to anti-government demonstrators in the capital Manama on September 7, 2012. Bahraini police used tear gas to disperse dozens of Shiite protesters who tried to gather in Manama to demand the release of jailed opposition figures, witnesses said. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/GettyImages)

Bahrain’s Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid al Khalifah, has banned all demonstrations and rallies citing "repeated abuses" of the rights to freedom of expression by protest organizers. Khalifah has accused the organizers of inciting riots and attacks, as well as calling for the overthrow of "leading national figures." Additionally, he said that participants have failed to adhere to legal regulations. Government spokesman Fahad al-Binali said that the ban would be temporary and mainly intended to "calm things down." Recent clashes between protesters and police officers outside the capital of Manama resulted in the deaths of two policemen. The interior minister said rallies and gatherings would be allowed when security is sufficient to "protect national unity and social fabric to fight extremism." Bahrain’s protest movement started in February 2011 after prodemocracy rallies in the since demolished Pearl Roundabout sparked clashes that killed at least 35 people and injured hundreds. A government crackdown followed shortly afterward, and thousands of activists were arrested. While the government has made some efforts toward reform, human rights groups claim abuses have continued, mainly the detainment of peaceful protesters. Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a representative from the opposition group Al-Wefaq, said, "They don’t want people to express their opinions, their anger." He continued, "This will not take the country to stability." Amnesty International demanded that the ban be immediately lifted saying it violated the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Syria

Syrian state television has reported that an air force general has been "killed by rebels" as government air raids pound opposition targets after a largely ignored ceasefire. Syrian state television reported that General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi was "assassinated" on Monday in the central Damascus district of Rukn al-Din. The opposition Free Syrian Army has taken responsibility for the attack that killed the general adding an air force intelligence official was also killed in the operation. However, contrasting reports state the government killed the general to prevent his defection. Meanwhile, air raids by Syrian forces have escalated on Tuesday, a day after the expiration of the failed Eid al-Adha ceasefire brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. A fighter jet reportedly dropped four bombs on the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, which would be the first account of an air strike within the capital city since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. The British-based Syrian Observatory reported that at least 185 people were killed on across Syria on Tuesday, many in airstrikes in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Heavy air strikes and clashes also hit the opposition held Maaret al-Numan, the strategic town on the highway connecting Aleppo with Damascus. Activists estimated the death toll during the four day ceasefire that began Friday exceeded 500.

Headlines  

  • An electrical fire prompted by celebratory gunfire killed an estimated 25 people, mostly women, and injured 30 others at a Saudi Arabian wedding.
  • An Islamist protester was killed in clashes between police and Salafists at a pro-sharia rally in the Tunis suburb of Manouba.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran has delayed nuclear weapons development by diverting over a third of its medium-enriched uranium to civilian purposes. 
  • French criminal investigators will exhume the body of former Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat in Ramallah in late November on suspicions he died from poisoning.

Arguments and Analysis

New Salafi Party Signals Leftist Trend in Islamist Economics (Mara Revkin, EgyptSource)

"The ideological spectrum of Egypt’s Islamist scene is most often broken down in degrees of religious conservatism and relative commitment to Islamic law. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) occupies the middle-ground, flanked on the left by the moderate Wasat Party and revolutionary-oriented Islamists including former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and his Strong Egypt Party. To the FJP’s right is the ultraconservative Salafi coalition dominated by the Nour Party, which won 28 percent of the seats in the now-dissolved People’s Assembly.

But while religious conservatism is the most obvious metric of comparison between rival Islamist parties, increasingly these parties are differentiating themselves along another ideological spectrum – that of economic philosophy. The recent establishment of a new Salafi political party, al-Sha’ab (the People’s Party), which espouses a novel blend of economic populism and religious fundamentalism, reflects increasing diversity in the economic ideologies of Islamist parties. With the establishment of the pro-labor and borderline socialist al-Sha’ab Party, the Islamist political scene appears to be polarizing into two camps: proponents of free market reforms, in line with the conditions of a proposed $4.8 billion IMF loan, and supporters of redistributive welfare measures aimed at improving conditions for workers, farmers and other disadvantaged constituencies."

Fissures in Hizballah’s Edifice of Control (Mona Harb and Lara Deeb, Middle East Research and Information Project)

"It is quite possible, in fact, that the party’s fortunes will rebound after Asad’s fall, despite the necessary downscaling of its military might. Hizballah may be diversifying its strategies in anticipation of that scenario. On the one hand, the party continues to speak in support of the Syrian regime, though not in the same radical terms. On the other hand, the party is distancing itself from Asad. Perhaps even more telling than the party’s aid of the al-Miqdads’ arrest was the silence of Hizballah’s cadres when one of Syria’s men in Lebanon, Michel Samaha, was detained in August and charged with conspiring with high-ranking Syrian officials to plant explosives throughout Lebanon. [8] Hizballah’s opponents in Lebanon and abroad have accused the party of working with the Syrian regime to assassinate the intelligence officer who spearheaded that investigation, Wisam al-Hasan, on October 19. Such accusations ignore the subtle shifts in Hizballah’s discourse on Syria and overestimate the extent of the party’s domination in Lebanon. Hizballah is beginning to hedge its bets, preparing in its typically pragmatic style for an uncertain regional future."

Tunisia’s Challenges (The New York Times)

"By many measure, Tunisia has the best chance among the Arab Spring countries to transition to democracy. It is a moderate Islamist-led state with close ties to the West. Nearly two years after deposing one of the region’s most repressive autocrats, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are deep into the crucial task of writing a postrevolutionary Constitution.

But a spate of recent violent incidents, including attacks on the American Embassy in Tunis last month, have fueled new tensions between the moderate Islamic government and liberal secularist opposition parties over Islam’s role and the best way to handle extremists. How those tensions are resolved will determine Tunisia’s future as well as the broader regional debate over whether Islam and democracy can co-exist."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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