The Economist names the only democracy in the Middle East, and it isn’t Israel

Article of July 8, 2014

With the rise of Islamist organizations, repressive regimes, and civil conflicts which threaten regional stability, the promise of the Arab Spring of 2011 quickly devolved into an Arab winter.In an expansive article in The Economist, the threat to the Middle East is discussed in appropriately grave terms; Syria and Iraq are in flames while Jordan looms as the next domino to potentially fall. Libya and Yemen, where Islamic terror networks operate with impunity, are labeled “failed states.” Those Middle Eastern nations that are not in danger of imminent collapse are either absolute monarchies or counties which merely maintain the false edifice of democracy.

There is one country, however, which shines as a beacon of freedom for the region. It’s commitment to the rule of law and the maintenance of the basic standards of human dignity serve as an example to its neighbors. No, not Israel, silly. Tiny Tunisia is The Economist’s shining city on the Arab hill.


In fairness, the article, datelined Cairo, which accompanies this deeply misleading graphic is far more informative and measured than the visual representation above. That should come as a surprise to no one; if Vox dot com has taught us anything, it is that one simple graphic will never be able to impart “everything you need to know.”

While the author has a case to make for Tunisia’s shift toward Western democratic standards in the wake of the self-immolation of a native fruit vendor who inadvertently sparked the Arab World’s great but failed awakening, there is less of a case to make for Lebanon as a more democratic nation than neighboring Israel.

While representatives of the government in Beirut often pledge their devotion to secularism, that country has also been a safe haven for fighters allied with Iran and Syria for years. And, while ISIS in Iraq is receiving much of the media’s attention, the Syrian civil war long ago expanded into the Lebanese theater.

Syrian Army officials fighting alongside Hezbollah have been unable to dislodge Islamic radicals hiding out in Lebanon’s near lawless Qalamoun region near the Bekaa Valley.

“[W]ith the Lebanese Army keeping an eye on the outskirts of Arsal, Hezbollah has been monitoring the rugged mountain paths favored by rebels using drones and picking off fighters with ambushes and landmines,” the Lebanon Daily Star reported on Tuesday. “The opposition has launched its own series of attacks in an attempt to regain control over Rankoush.”

The expert added that these fighters would continue battling the Syrian army in Qalamoun and could also coordinate attacks inside Lebanon in an attempt to strike Hezbollah at home.

The prospect of yet another Levant nation falling to ISIS puts the lie to the notion that Lebanon is a model for popular democracy in the Middle East. Though it is not clear that the author intended to even make that case; Israel is barely mentioned in his piece and, when it is, it is only discussed in the context of the fracturing of the Palestinian Authority in the noncontiguous Gaza and West Bank territories.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Angry reactions to the assassination of Nayef

RAMALLAH, (PIC)–  Israel’s assassination of the Palestinian former prisoner Omar Nayef in the Palestinian embassy in Sofia has triggered angry reactions in Palestine and Arab countries. The Arab Organization for Human Rights UK (AOHR) has strongly condemned in a statement issued Friday Omar’s assassination at the hands of unidentified assailants believed to be Mossad agents. There is no doubt that Israeli Mossad is behind the assassination, as it used to carry out similar crimes in different countries in total disregard of international laws and conventions, the statement said. The organization held the Palestinian embassy and the Bulgarian authorities responsible for not providing enough protection for him and for facilitating the crime. Hamas Movement, for its part, said that Israel bears the full responsibility for Omar’s killing, calling for the resignation of the Palestinian foreign minister and the dismissal of the Palestinian ambassador in Bulgaria. Spokesman for the group Sami Abu Zuhri called for the prosecution of the Palestinian ambassador Ahmed al-Madbouh as the crime was carried out in the embassy headquarters. In its turn, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) held “the Zionist state and the Mossad fully responsible for the despicable crime of targeting comrade Omar Nayef Zayed.” “We also hold the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria responsible for failing to protect him, and the Bulgarian government and its security forces who pursued comrade Nayef Zayed for arrest and imprisonment for over three months,” the statement said. “We note the full responsibility of the Palestinian Authority at the highest levels for failing to protect comrade Nayef Zayed from assassination, up to and including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Ambassador Ahmad al-Madbouh.” The PFLP vowed “to pursue in all ways the truth of the assassination of the martyr Omar Nayef Zayed, to stand by the family of our martyred comrade, and to hold accountable those responsible for his targeting and assassination.” The PFLP Secretary General Ahmed Saadat considered Omar’s assassination as a premeditated crime, accusing the Palestinian embassy of collusion in the Israeli heinous crime. The assassination is a part of the PA security coordination with Israeli occupation, Saadat charged. The Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) warned of the serious impacts of Omar’s assassination on Palestinian ex-prisoners. The group stressed the urgent need for providing the Palestinian former prisoners with the needed protection, calling for investigating the assassination circumstances. Along the same line, the Palestinians in Europe Conference strongly condemned the crime targeting the Palestinian ex-prisoner Omar Nayef, considering it a “dangerous precedent”. The conference called for serious investigation into the crime and for holding accountable those responsible for the assassination including the Palestinian embassy and the Bulgarian authorities. The Palestinian Authority (PA) had earlier formed a committee to travel to the Bulgarian capital Sofia to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of ex-detainee Omar Nayef at the Palestinian embassy.  Earlier in December, the Israeli ambassador to Sofia asked the Bulgarian authorities to hand over the Palestinian former prisoner Omar Nayef who lives with his family in Bulgaria since 1994. In a serious move, the Bulgarian authorities detained Omar’s older son in order to exert more pressure on him after he refused to hand himself in to the police.  Since then, Omar Nayef had taken refuge in the Palestinian embassy to escape extradition to Israel.  Born in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, Omar was convicted and sentenced by an Israeli court to life in prison in 1986 for carrying out an anti-occupation attack in occupied Jerusalem.  During his detention, Omar “had been beaten and tortured in prison. He was once put in solitary confinement for 60 days”.   Yet, in 1990, Nayef was able to escape from his guards during a hospital visit and eventually made it out of the country. After living in various other Arab countries for four years, he moved to Bulgaria in 1994 and was later granted permanent residency.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Yemen conflict: Civilians killed in air strikes

Residents say 40 dead in market in Sanaa province, where coalition-backed loyalists are battling Houthis and allies.

Air strikes hit a popular market in Yemen's Sanaa and killed at least 40, residents say [Yahya Arhab/EPA]

Air strikes hit a popular market in Yemen’s Sanaa and killed at least 40, residents say

Air strikes in Yemen have killed 40 people in a market northeast of the capital Sanaa, residents say.

Saturday’s air strikes in the Nehm district in Sanaa province wounded 30 others, they told Reuters news agency, adding that most of the casualties were civilians.

The attack hit Khulaqa market, which is known for selling qat, a mild narcotic that is chewed throughout Yemen, witnesses said.

Residents said the strikes were carried out by the Arab coalition, a force assembled by Saudi Arabia.

The Arab coalition has yet to comment on the report.

The coalition is battling the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in a bid to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Coalition-backed loyalists have been advancing in Nehm against the rebels as they try to close in on Sanaa.

The UN says nearly 6,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which began after the Houthis advanced on the southern port city of Aden, where Hadi had been based.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

The coalition launched in late March 2015 an air campaign against the rebels. Saudi Arabia sees the Houthis as a proxy for Iran, its main regional adversary.

The Houthis and Saleh accuse the coalition of launching a war of aggression.

Rights groups have repeatedly urged the coalition to avoid causing civilian casualties.

READ MORE: Upfront – What is the solution to the war in Yemen?

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch, the monitoring group, accused the coalition of using US-supplied cluster bombs.

The coalition last month announced that an independent inquiry would examine charges of possible abuses against civilians in the conflict.

A panel of UN experts says the coalition has carried out 119 sorties that violated humanitarian law, and called for an international probe.

The Houthi-led rebels have controlled Sanaa since September 2014 and had placed Hadi under house arrest.

But he escaped, intially seeking refuge in Yemen’s second city, Aden, last year before fleeing to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, as the rebels advanced on the southern port.

Hadi returned to the southern city after the loyalists, backed by the coalition, drove the rebels out of Aden and four other southern provinces.

But Hadi and senior officials continue to spend most of their time in Riyadh against a backdrop of worsening security in Aden, the temporary base of the government.

IN PHOTOS: Sanaa – A city of broken glass and shattered hope

Donors at a conference in Qatar pledged on Wednesday $220m of aid to Yemen.

Hadi’s government accused this week Lebanon’s Hezbollah of sending fighters to support the Houthis, saying it had evidence of the Shia group’s involvement.

Also on Saturday, the UAE, a key member of the Arab coalition, said one of its soldiers died in Yemen when his military vehicle overturned.

The UAE has lost more than 70 soldiers in Yemen since the launch of the coalition campaign.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Profile: Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq

Qeeq conducted 94-day hunger strike in protest against the conditions of his detention by Israeli authorities.

Qeeq will remain in custody until May 21 but his "administrative detention" will not be renewed after that [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

Qeeq will remain in custody until May 21 but his “administrative detention” will not be renewed after that

Mohammed al-Qeeq, the Palestinian activist and journalist, has ended his three-month hunger strike and will be released in three months.

The family of Qeeq, who worked for a Saudi media outlet, announced on Friday that he was ending his 94-day fast.

Under a deal with Israel, he will remain in custody until May 21, but his “administrative detention” will not be renewed after that.

The 33-year old journalist was arrested on November 21, 2015. Four days later, Qeeq conducted the hunger strike in protest against the conditions of his detention. He wanted the Israeli military to either charge or release him from the military detention centre where he was being held.

According to his wife Fayha Shalash, Qeeq alleged he was tortured and maltreated by Israeli soldiers during his interrogation.

Q&A: Jailed Palestinian man to be ‘either free or dead’  

Qeeq graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and returned to Birzeit University where he was elected head of the student council and graduated with a Masters in Contemporary Arab Studies.

He worked as a news reporter with the Saudi-owned television network Al Majd. The Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet, alleged that he had incited violence and was involved in “terrorist activities” linked to Hamas, although any intelligence supporting the claim remains classified and the allegations never materialised in the form of criminal charges.

He had previously been jailed on three occasions for activities linking him to Hamas. In 2003, he spent a month in prison and the following year he was jailed for 13 months. In 2008, Qeeq was jailed for 16 months on charges relating to his activities on the student council at Birzeit University.

Last December, Qeeq was informed that the Israelis had issued an “administrative detention” order against him.

The controversial Israeli policy permits prisoners to be held for renewable six-month periods without charge or trial for an indefinite period.

“Administrative detention” is routinely used by Israeli authorities against Palestinians but it is only considered lawful in exceptional cases and as a last resort only.

Thousands of Palestinians have been detained in this manner over the years.

At least 660 Palestinian prisoners are currently being held in Israeli prisons without charge, according to the Palestinian prisoner support and human rights NGO Addameer.

The day after Qeeq received the administrative detention order, he was transferred to Ramle prison after his health deteriorated. Twelve days later he was transferred again, this time to a hospital in Afula, Israel.

The journalist was forcibly treated on January 10 when a medical team at Afula hospital administered salts and minerals via an IV for four continuous days, according to a lawyer who visited Qeeq at the time.

Lawyers for Qeeq lost their initial case demanding his release at the Israeli high court on January 27. The same court ordered a “suspension” of the detention order on February 4 due to Qeeq’s deteriorating condition.

READ MORE: Palestinian hunger strikes: ‘My husband is dying’ 

On February 15, the court rejected his demand that he be released and permitted to travel to a hospital in Ramallah on the West Bank. The court offered to transfer Qeeq to a hospital in occupied east Jerusalem, but he refused the deal.

The medical team rejected further calls from the hospital’s ethics committee to forcibly treat the prisoner, in accordance with Qeeq’s demands not to be treated or receive any medical examination.

“His arrest was very difficult because he was snatched from his family and children at dawn in a barbaric way by smashing down the door to our house,” his wife said.

“He was detained and taken to an unknown location. His arrest turned our lives upside down and we’ve lived in fear and tension because of it.”

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Dozens wounded as Israeli forces repress weekly Palestinian marches

QALQILIYA (Ma’an) — Dozens of Palestinians were wounded across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday as Israeli forces repressed weekly demonstrations against the ongoing military occupation.A Palestinian youth was injured in the head by a tear gas canister and treated by medics on scene, while dozens were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets and suffered tear gas inhalation during a march in Kafr Qaddum.Murad Ishteiwi, a coordinator of the popular resistance committee of the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, said that Israeli forces raided the town right after the march set off, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas.Ishteiwi said that clashes erupted between youths and Israeli soldiers following the raid; youths threw rocks and empty bottles, while Israeli snipers were deployed between olive fields.

Photos from a march repressed by Israeli forces in Kafr Qaddum on Feb. 26, 2016.

Photos from a march repressed by Israeli forces in Kafr Qaddum on Feb. 26, 2016.

Photos from a march repressed by Israeli forces in Kafr Qaddum on Feb. 26, 2016.

Meanwhile in Bilin near Ramallah, Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at protesters as they neared the separation wall, causing dozens to suffer from tear gas inhalation including Kuwaiti journalist Nayif Shahir, 45.A Kuwaiti delegation of journalists led by author Fajir al-Said had participated in the protest.

A Kuwaiti journalist is treated after suffering from tear gas inhalation in Bilin on Feb. 26, 2016.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian was injured in clashes with Israeli forces after military vehicles gathered near the border east of Khan Yunis.

Palestinian protesters near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

Many villages in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem participate in weekly Friday protests, including Kafr Qaddum, Bilin, Nabi Saleh, Nillin, and al-Masara.Israeli forces have come under repeated criticism for excessive use force as well as lethal methods of crowd control that often result in death or injury of protesters.Two Palestinians have been shot dead during clashes between Palestinian civilians and Israeli military forces this month alone, among at least 50 to be killed in clashes since October.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Hamas: Al-Qeiq triumphed for his own people

WEST BANK, (PIC)– The Hamas Movement has hailed the victory that was made by journalist Mohamed al-Qeiq against his jailer after 94 days of hunger strike, describing it as a triumph for him, the Palestinian people and his supporters. In a press release on Friday, Hamas spokesman Husam Badran stated that the legendary steadfastness of journalist Qeiq sent the world a strong message revealing the size of injustice being inflicted by the occupation upon the Palestinian people. “The issue of Qeiq was a just cause and his victory was inevitable. He triumphed for Palestine, the prisoners, al-intifada youth, and his family who tirelessly supported him every day,” Badran said. “This victory constitutes an incentive for us as a people to walk the same path and continue the intifada until its goals are realized,” he added. For its part, the Palestinian Journalist Bloc congratulated the family of Qeiq on his victory. The Bloc stated that the victory of Qeiq exposed the reality of international institutions such as the Red Cross, Reporters without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, which provided nothing other than shy condemnations.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Young man with special needs injured in settlers’ attack near Nablus

NABLUS, (PIC)– A Palestinian young man with special needs suffered injuries when a horde of Jewish settlers physically assaulted him on Friday afternoon at an intersection near Yitzhar settlement, south of Nablus city. Red Crescent paramedics told the Palestinian Information Center (PIC) that settlers severely beat Hasan al-Qadi, from Awarta town, during his presence on a road near the settlement. They added that the young man suffered bruises and injuries and was evacuated to Rafidia hospital for medical assistance. Eyewitnesses also said that the assault on the young man happened in full view of Israeli soldiers. The victimized young man is mentally ill, according residents from Awarta town. The road near Yitzhar settlement is considered one of the dangerous roads in the West Bank because of the daily presence of extremist Jewish settlers on its sides in addition to several military watchtowers that target Palestinian citizens.

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Amnesty: States Must Stop Selling Arms to Saudi for Use in Yemen War

Amnesty International called on states who are selling arms to Saudi Arabia to stop doing so because Riyadh has been using such weapons in its aggression on Yemen.

Campaigners are today calling on governments due to attend the latest round of discussions on the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in Geneva on 29 February to set their hypocrisy aside and stop selling billions of dollars worth of deadly weapons to Saudi Arabia being used to attack Yemeni civilians,” Amnesty said on its website.Yemen strike

In a new report released on Friday, the Control Arms Coalition names France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the US as having reported licenses and sales to Saudi Arabia worth more than $25bn in 2015 including drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles.

“These are the types of arms currently being used by Saudi Arabia and its allies for gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes during aerial and ground attacks in Yemen,” the NGO said.

All the arms exporting countries identified in the report are States Parties or signatories to the ATT, which has the aim of “reducing human suffering” through new global rules for the arms trade, which forbid arms transfers that would be used for war crimes or risk being used for serious violations of international law.

Governments are attending the Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of States Parties to the ATT in Geneva on Monday to discuss how implementation of the ATT will be funded and other logistical details regarding the Treaty’s official Secretariat.

“These countries are arming and aiding a campaign that’s bombing, killing and starving civilians,” said Yemeni researcher Nawal al-Maghafi, who has witnessed the aftermath of recent airstrikes in Yemen and will be attending Monday’s meeting.

“I have witnessed the reality Yemenis are having to endure – watching bodies pulled from underneath the rubble in Sana’a or seeing body parts strewn across the site of a water-plant hit by an airstrike in Hajjah or attending a wedding party only to see it turn into a funeral.

“Yemen needs a peaceful, negotiated settlement. Its people need humanitarian assistance, not more bombs. But instead these countries are helping to escalate this war, aiding a cruel regime that knows it is bombing civilians. This is criminal – literally. And these governments must be held responsible for it.”

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Palestinian ambassador denied access to autopsy of Omar Nayef Zayed; family demanding accountability


The Palestinian Ambassador was denied access to the autopsy of Omar Nayef Zayed today in Sofia, Bulgaria, reported Palestinian and Bulgarian news agencies; according to Omar Shehadeh of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the stated reason given was that Bulgarian law excludes the participation of any Palestinian or other non-Bulgarian doctor.

Shehadeh said that the PLO is following up with Bulgarian officials regarding the independence of the autopsy. Furthermore, that the PLO id forming a Palestinian delegation that is going to Sofia today to investigate the circumstances of the killing of Omar Nayef Zayed. Shehadeh said that the delegation will investigate the responsibility of Palestinian political and security officials at the embassy in carrying out their responsibilities toward Nayef Zayed, as well as that of the foreign ministry, given that the situation and outcome clearly indicates the failure of these agencies to protect Nayef Zayed.

Furthermore, Shehadeh said the Palestinian delegation will investigate the Israeli responsibility for the killing of Nayef Zayed and the role of Bulgarian authorities failing to protect people in Bulgaria.

The Palestinian ambassador, Ahmad al-Madhbouh, was quoted as stating that there were no security alarms, key codes, or even security cameras at the embassy and thus no way to show who came in or out of the building in the early morning. This was the case despite the fact that Nayef Zayed was regularly denied visits from solidarity activists, was prevented from seeing lawyers, repeatedly warned that his wife may be banned from visiting him, and barred from the embassy’s kitchen during the day under “security” precautions, making his life in the embassy difficult on a regular basis, yet not even basic security cameras were installed even at the door of the embassy to record comings and goings.

Omar’s family has denounced the role of the Palestinian Authority, saying that the PA and the Palestinian Embassy are responsible along with Israel for the killing of Nayef Zayed, by failing to provide proper protection for him and placing him under constant pressure while in the embassy. Ma’an news reported that Ahmad Nayef, Omar’s brother, said that “My brother was being directly and indirectly threatened by some individuals at the embassy — especially the ambassador — who demanded him to leave the embassy where he was taking cover after being threatened by Mossad.”

Hamza Nayef, Omar’s other brother, said that “we hold Israel fully responsible for Omar’s assassination and we also blame the Palestinian embassy for not protecting him and thus facilitating his murder.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned his death as a “reprehensible crime,” ordering an investigation into the events in Sofia; the PA ministry of foreign affairs also announced it had launched an investigation. Saeb Erekat called on the Bulgarian government to make all effort to arrest those responsible. Issa Qaraqe, director of the Prisoners’ Affairs Commission, said that the Mossad was responsible for the “heinous crime” against Omar Nayef Zayed, saying that Israel is carrying out international crimes in pursuit of Palestinian strugglers and especially former prisoners. He demanded an international commission of investigation of the crime, calling for the Bulgarian government to prosecute the perpetrators.

The Israeli foreign ministry initially denied requests to comment on the killing in Sofia, but later, a spokesperson vaguely said that it was “not an Israeli issue,” while other Israeli spokespeople attempted to imply that a Palestinian or Bulgarian source could be behind the killing; at the same time, major Israeli media such as the Jerusalem Post strongly implied that an Israeli Mossad assassination of Nayef Zayed was likely.

The killing of Omar Nayef Zayed came only hours after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov returned from a trip to the region, in which he met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, Israeli President Reuben Rivlin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While press reports on the meetings did not mention Nayef Zayed’s case, after the killing, Borissov told Bulgarian media that he had discussed the case with all parties and said that “Bulgaria respects the rule of law.”

(Source / 27.02.2016)

Israeli settlers escorted by army raid village in Salfit district

SALFIT (Ma’an) — A group of Israeli settlers escorted by Israeli military forces raided the village of Yasuf in the northern West Bank district of Salfit on Saturday.The head of the Yasuf village council, Hafith Ebayya, said that a group of Israeli settlers raided the village and attempted to enter the al-Basatin area in central Yasuf.Ebayya said that the settlers were escorted by military vehicles and soldiers, and that a military checkpoint was set up at the entrance of the village.Clashes erupted between dozens of Palestinian youths and Israeli forces.Israeli forces fired live bullets, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at youths and several farmers who were in their fields nearby.Several youths and farmers suffered from tear gas inhalation.An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were looking into the report.Three quarters of Yasuf’s lands are located in Area C — under full Israeli military and administrative control. According to a report by the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), over the years, some 602 dunams (148.7 acres) of Yasuf land have been seized to establish settlement housing.Several Israeli settlements are located near Yasuf, including Ariel, the fourth largest settlement in the West Bank. These settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.

(Source / 27.02.2016)