Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are resorting to vigilante justice in Egypt’s power struggle. During clashes with opponents of President Mohammed Morsi last Wednesday night, the Islamists took prisoners and tortured them with beatings. Eyewitness reports suggest that the police tolerated the attacks.
The Islamists got hold of Mohammed Omar just as he was delivering bandages to a gas station where injured people were being treated. “You’re an enemy of God!” they yelled at him.
“There were five men. They beat me and dragged me away,” says Omar, a computer expert who lives in Cairo. His face is bruised and his eyes are swollen shut, and his wrists are cut from the plastic cuffs they put on him.
They took him to a sort of room consisting on one side of a gate to the presidential palace, with the other walls made up of steel barriers and police officers. Here members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups interrogated and mistreated their “prisoners.”
Mohammed Omar is one of many demonstrators who say they were held by Islamists last Wednesday, in some cases for more than 12 hours. Now, as witnesses are telling their stories of that night, a clear picture is emerging not just of the violence committed by members of the Brotherhood, but also their readiness to mete out arbitrary vigilante justice.
As the battle against Syrian rebels reaches a new stage, Israel is worried that President Assad might use his vast arsenal of chemical weapons against his own people or neighbors — or perhaps even give some to Hezbollah. Though many experts view this as unlikely, Israel is still weighing whether to strike.
The small village of Buqata is located on the Israeli side of the border that extends across the Golan Heights. From here, it’s possible to see deep into Syrian territory. Right at the foot of the hill lies Jubata al-Khashab, a town just 55 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of Damascus, Syria’s capital.
Every day, hundreds of concerned Israelis have been gathering along the barbed wire at the border and using binoculars to gaze at their neighbors in Jubata al-Khashab, who have been subjected to artillery fire in recent days. Thick clouds of smoke have been billowing from concrete apartment complexes there.
The war is close by and, whenever an Arab dictator falls, anxiety spreads throughout Israel: Will the toppling tyrant drag the Jewish state and perhaps the entire region into chaos? This fear already existed back in 2003 when the US and its allies attacked Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. It was a similar story with the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and, to a certain degree, the demise of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Now, this fear has been rekindled.
Last Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw Syrian ruler Bashar Assad on the way to stepping down and thought preparations for a “new era” were underway. The regime in Damascus, though, announced the decisive battle in the power struggle with the rebels — in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, right near the Turkish border.
Last week, Assad deployed thousands of soldiers to the north to win back this city of 2 million inhabitants, where 5,500 regime opponents are reportedly entrenched. A decisive battle in, of all places, Aleppo, this ancient center of trade and commerce, whose old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland subsequently warned of an impending “massacre.”
American nuns are preparing to assemble in St. Louis next week for a pivotal meeting at which they will try to decide how to respond to a scathing critique of their doctrinal loyalty issued this spring by the Vatican — a report that has prompted Roman Catholics across the country to rally to the nuns’ defense.
The nuns will be weighing whether to cooperate with the three bishops appointed by the Vatican to supervise the overhaul of their organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of women’s Catholic religious orders in the United States.
The Leadership Conference says it is considering at least six options that range from submitting graciously to the takeover to forming a new organization independent of Vatican control, as well other possible courses of action that lie between those poles.
What is in essence a power struggle between the nuns and the church’s hierarchy had been building for decades, church scholars say. At issue are questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.
Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference, said in an interview that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness.
“We have a differing perspective on obedience,” Sister Farrell said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”
While some describe the uprising in Syria as a fight for democracy against an authoritarian regime, Islamic politics expert Vali R. Nasr argues that it’s much more “about the implications for redistribution of power between communities in Syria.” Syria’s struggle is between the majority Sunni population and the minority Alawite (Shiite) regime that is also backed by other minorities, Nasr says, comparing the situation to Iraq, where ousted Sunnis fought the majority Shiites until U.S. forces intervened and guaranteed the Sunnis some power. Nasr foresees continuing struggles, and perhaps open civil war, unless the international community can come up with “a plan for an orderly transfer of power from a minority to the majority.”
Is the continued turmoil in Syria a fight between an authoritarian regime and democracy advocates? Or is it more complicated, due to the country’s sectarian divisions?
The uprising in Syria was inspired by the same set of issues and forces that animated protests in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in Libya. The Syrians watched those protests unfold on al-Jazeera, followed it on Facebook, and were inspired by it. The way in which the Syrian regime handled the very first tensions in Daraa kept adding fuel to the fire and has continued to do so. There is no doubt that the uprising in Syria is being animated by pent-up frustration against the way in which the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has monopolized and exercised power.
But the Assad regime is not just a simple, authoritarian regime. It is an apparatus that has maintained minority rule over the majority of the population. And therefore any change in the structure of the regime implies a redistribution of power away from the Alawites and their allies among Christians, the wealthy bourgeois Sunnis, and the Druze, in the direction of the majority population that are Sunnis. That would be a net loss for those in the ruling position, much as the transfer of power in Iraq from Sunnis to Shiites meant a net loss for the Sunni community. And now that there’s been so much bloodshed in Syria, there is palpable fear of a reprisal if the minorities ever lose power to the majorities. The fight is much more about the implications for redistribution of power between communities in Syria than it is about constitutionalism and democracy.
On the evening of Feb. 6, a vice mayor of a major Chinese city who had a reputation as a crime fighter turned up at the American Consulate in Chengdu in an agitated state, telling a tale of corruption and murder that has ensnared the Obama administration in a scandal it wants nothing to do with.
The official, Wang Lijun, sought asylum, fearing for his life even as Chinese security forces quickly surrounded the building and asked the American diplomats inside to turn him over.
Instead, after a frantic debate that reached the White House, Mr. Wang stayed until he could arrange for an official from a Beijing ministry to come 36 hours later and escort him past the local security cordon. The authorities from Beijing took him into custody, and he is now under investigation for divulging internal Chinese affairs to the Americans. If charged with and convicted of treason, he could face a death sentence.
The information Mr. Wang possessed involved Bo Xilai, who was the Communist Party chief in Chongqing until last month and Mr. Wang’s onetime patron before a falling-out led Mr. Wang to seek refuge in the consulate, according to administration officials, Congressional aides, diplomats and others briefed on what had happened.
According to the officials’ version, the American diplomats who oversaw his brief, bizarre stay pre-empted any formal application for asylum because of the difficulties of spiriting him out of the country and questions about his eligibility. Instead, they said, the State Department shielded him from almost certain arrest by police officers loyal to Mr. Bo and ensured he could make his accusations in Beijing.
Those charges brought down Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is now under investigation in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and involved the United States and Britain in the biggest scandal facing China’s leadership in a generation.
“He was not tossed out,” a senior administration official said, referring to Mr. Wang.
Some Republicans in Congress question, however, whether the Obama administration mishandled Mr. Wang’s case and left him to the mercy of the Chinese authorities when he had sought to pass along explosive information that affected a power struggle at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.
The record embezzlement case revolves around the alleged use of forged documents by Iranian businessman Amir Mansour Khosravi to secure loans to buy state-owned companies under the government’s privatisation scheme, the Iranian state news agency reported.
The businessman is accused of securing around 2.6 billion dollars from a number of Iranian banks. 32 people are involved in this corruption case.
President Ahmadinejad has rejected accusations from his hardline rivals that Khosravi had links to the head of his presidential office, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.
The defendants and their lawyers appeared at one of Tehran’s revolutionary courts on Saturday which was open to the press, IRNA reported. The report did not name any of the accused but they are believed to include Amir Mansour Khosravi and
Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Bank Melli, who fled to Canada after the fraud was uncovered last year.
“The activities of Amir Mansour’s development company is an example of an organised band that has undermined the economic security of the society,” said Tehran prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, reading out the 200-page indictment.
The most serious charges relate to being “corrupt on earth” by disrupting the economy through collusion, propagating fraud within banking system, securing wealth by illicit methods, swindling, and using counterfeit documents. If found guilty, the defendants could be sentenced to death.
The trial is likely to compound the power struggle between President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, which emerged in public last year.
The attempted defection of Wang Lijun, recently the top cop in the western city of Chongqing, suggests that China’s ongoing leadership transition will be especially turbulent.
On the 6th of this month, Wang entered the American consulate in Chengdu, the capital of neighboring Sichuan Province, seeking asylum. He spent a day there. Incredibly, his old boss, Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, essentially invaded Sichuan by sending hundreds of his armed security troops to surround the Chengdu consulate in an unsuccessful bid to apprehend Wang.
It’s no surprise that Bo wanted to grab hold of his onetime trusted assistant. Wang evidently was willing to turn over sensitive documents about Bo or his wife, and that looked like it would mean the end of his career. The charismatic Bo has not hidden his desire for a seat on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China. According to the State Department, Wang left the consulate grounds “of his own volition.” He is now believed to be in the custody of state security officials in Beijing after Washington evidently turned down his asylum request.
Why did Wang try to defect? The rumor mills in China are working overtime, but it’s a fact that Wang is famous for arresting about 6,000 triad gangsters, corrupt officials, and others at the behest of Bo. Wang’s tough law enforcement, along with Bo’s political maneuverings, threatened, among others, senior Beijing leaders. Some are even whispering that Hu Jintao, China’s current top leader, engineered the extraordinary events of last week. If that is true, then Xi Jinping, supposedly China’s next supremo, may be vulnerable, as he is believed to be more closely aligned to Bo than to Hu.
In the fall, China’s political transition formally begins at the 18th Communist Party Congress, when the Fourth Generation leaders, led by Hu, are slated to give way to the Fifth. A week ago, every China watcher would have told you that Xi would definitely head the new generation and that the transition would be “smooth.” Now, the handover might well be marked by uncertainty and turbulence instead.
Hamas’ political chief is stepping down after nearly 16 years, leaving the militant Palestinian group with a potential leadership battle just as Islamist allies elsewhere in the Middle East are enjoying momentum from election victories.
Khaled Meshal, who headed Hamas’ headquarters in Damascus, recently informed the group’s leadership council that he won’t stand for reelection, said a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza. It is unclear exactly why Mr. Meshal is choosing to step aside and who is likely to succeed him.
Recent upheaval in the Middle East has been a mixed bag for Hamas. On the one hand, it has empowered groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which controls nearly half of the new parliament, prompting Hamas leaders to boast about an “Islamic Spring” and emboldening backers in the West Bank. But the very same regional changes have cast it adrift from its headquarters in Syria and prompted Meshal to suggest non-militarized confrontation with Israel, to the chagrin of some in the movement.
The outcome of the Hamas leadership change could impact relations with Israel and the US, which consider it a terrorist group, and the rest of the international community.
“It is important to see whether this vacuum will be filled by the moderates or a hawk, because this will affect the future of Hamas and Palestinian politics,” says Mohammed Dejani, a political science professor at Al Quds University who believes the Muslim Brotherhood victory will force Hamas to mellow.
Islamic Spring misread?
“People are misreading the Islamic movements in Egypt and Tunis. It is an Islamic Spring, but it’s not an Islamic Spring Hamas thinks about. There has been a religious revival, but in a sense of moderation and not in a sense of religious fundamentalism.”
Meshal was once considered more of a hard-liner compared to Hamas’ leaders in the Gaza Strip. However, talk of a shift away from military action and accepting a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have made him look like a pragmatist. He has also been spearheading efforts toward reconciliation with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, which support talks with Israel and reject military confrontation.
He had ample reason for the apparent shift. In recent months Hamas started moving staff and families out of Damascus because of the fighting in Syria. Observers believe that Hamas is seeking to open a headquarters in Egypt, and wants to signal that it has the potential to recast itself as more moderate.
Speculation about Mr. Meshal’s departure ranged from losing a power struggle with rivals from the Gaza Strip to a desire to go along with regional trends toward democracy and regime change.
That said, few expect that Hamas’ evolution will be as far reaching as recognizing Israel and approving peace talks. That would risk making the organization look like President Abbas’ Fatah party, which is faulted by Palestinians for failing to win independence though negotiations.
Even with the current signs of change, Hamas risks alienating its foot soldiers in the Gaza Strip with conciliatory moves. Meshal raised eyebrows with his comments on non-militarized grassroots resistance in a December interview with The Associated Press in which he said that grassroots “popular” protests have the “power of a tsunami.”
I know that there is no love lost between the American public (including many posters here) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (president of Iran) and that many would cheer his downfall. However the insane manner in which he is currently being attacked in the struggle between the ruling theocrats and the “elected” government might just give you a slight pause.
Ahmadinejad allies charged with sorcery
Close allies of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being “magicians” and invoking djinns (spirits).
Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds”.
That is the beauty of a “spiritually led” government, why proffer actual charges or evidence against anyone when you can simply accuse your enemies of breaking religious rules or even of being sorcerous enemies of GOD!