M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 21-29 January
Last week’s headlines were dominated by the widespread violence erupting as Egypt marks the 2nd anniversary of the revolution that ousted Mubarak. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest at the current President, demanding that he step down. At least 7 people were killed and an estimated 476 were wounded as the protests spread through Egypt.
More protesters took to the streets in Port Said in opposition to the 21 death sentences issued by the Egyptian court in connection with the deadly riot that broke out last year at a football stadium in the city. At least 74 people were killed in the riot on 1 February 2012, which began just minutes after the final whistle of the game was blown between Port Said and Cairo. During a memorial for those who lost their lives during the football riot, at least 7 people were killed and 630 wounded in a eruption of violence during the march of mourners.
In reaction to the weekend of protests, President Morsi declared a 30 day State of Emergency and a night-time curfew in three cities along the Suez Canal. He has also called for a meeting with his top politicians to resolve the situation. The Egyptian Defence Minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, has warned that the unrest could ultimately lead to a collapse of the state. Failure by the state to find a solution to the conflict “could lead to grave repercussions if the political forces do not act” to stop it. A coalition against Morsi issued a statement containing their conditions, demanding that Morsi accept the responsibility for the bloodshed and agree to form a government of national salvation, echoing previously unmet demands by the opposition.
After five days of protests 50 people have been killed and far more wounded as a result. Egypt’s senate on Monday ratified a law that would grant the armed forces powers of arrest.
Jordanians voted on Wednesday January 23rd in their first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood chose to boycott the polls saying the electoral system had been rigged in favour of rural tribal areas and against the urban poor. An estimated 2.3 million Jordanians were eligible to vote at 1,484 polling stations and were able to choose from 1,425 candidates, competing for a four year term in the 150 seat lower house of Parliament. Wednesday’s elections were based on new electoral framework in which for the first time parliamentarians, not the king, will choose the prime minister.
The result was that the tribal movement won the election sending members of the Muslim Brotherhood out to the streets in protest. It has been reported that most of the contested 150 seats have been won by independent candidates who have tribal rather than political affiliations. The growth of tribalism in Jordan as a political force has slowed the emergence of national parties and curbed the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Current Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour is expected to resign but will be kept on in a caretaker position until a new government is formed when parliament convenes in mid-February.
Last week the White House renewed its call for resumption of Israeli – Palestinian peace talks. President Obama has so far failed to make progress on the stalled peace negotiations, but with the outcome of the Israeli elections and the unexpected shift to the centre-left, negotiations seem be back on the front burner.
At a meeting with top Israeli security officials, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued talks on the civil war in Syria. The fear is that if Syria in anyway looses grip on their chemical weapons, it could be seen as a direct threat to Israel. Israel’s worry is that if Hezbollah or the rebels battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get hold of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, the capabilities of these groups would dramatically change.
Representatives of Syria’s opposition group recently met in a bid to name a Prime Minister-in-exile. The National Coalition, which is widely seen by many Western and Arab countries as the sole repensentation of the Syrian people, discussed the idea of having a government in exile in Istanbul. To further this discussion the opposition bloc were also going to see whether it would be viable to set up an interim government inside rebel controlled areas of Syria.
Last week saw several deadly bombings, with a car bomb killing several in Salamiyeh. While a building used by pro-regime members was hit, killing more then 30 people. In northern Syria rebels have freed over 300 prisoners from a jail near the border with Turkey. The government has jailed tens of thousands of people since the start of the uprising. Most have been convicted without trial, with many held in secret underground cells, while the fate of many are still unknown.
The Syrian refugee crisis has been severely heightened according to UN reports. According to a UN official 3,000 Syrian refugees are arriving in Jordan every day, while an estimated 50,000 are waiting to cross the border. Jordan’s Foreign Minister commented on the situation “what we have seen in terms of influx of Syrian refugees coming to Jordan is….unprecedented, larger then any other time in the last two years”.
In the northern city of Aleppo the bodies of dozens of young men, all apparently summarily executed were discovered. At least 65 bodies were found on the banks of the Quwaiq river in the western district of Bustan al-Qasr. Most had their hands tied behind their backs with gunshot wounds to the head. A captain from the Free Syrian Army reported that many bodies are expected to still be in the water and that the death toll could rise to 100. The city of Aleppo has been for some time divided equally between government and rebel forces, so getting consistent information has become increasingly more difficult.
Written by ICSR Research Intern Mildred Conroy