Archive | December 13th, 2013

It’s Election Time

NOVANEWS
Roger Godsiff needs to read this

Dear All

Imagine this: it’s election time. Politicians are out campaigning for votes. Normally, we’d see the Women’s Institute out too, and Oxfam, and local campaigns on issues from schools to hospitals to housing. They’d be pushing candidates to say where they stand and what they’d do on key issues of the day.

Next election, the gagging law could put an end to that. If it goes through, thousands of organisations will be severely restricted in what they can spend – and what they can do – in the 12 months before voting day. [1] We’d all lose important ways of holding politicians to account and telling them what we think.

The outcry has been huge. [2] A coalition of 100+ organisations is supporting an independent, expert Commission, chaired by a former Bishop of Oxford. [3] It’s just produced a heavy-weight report laying out step-by-step how to fix the gagging law and protect our democracy. [4]

The law’s being debated again next week. So this report needs to gain momentum right now. MPs need to read it, and accept its findings. Please click here to send your MP a copy of the report today:


https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-report

There are early signs the government might make concessions in the House of Lords. Pressure on your MP right now can make that more likely.

How?

1. MPs spend a lot of time in Parliament and are in frequent contact with members of the House of Lords. That means our MPs are a key channel through which we can pile on the pressure in the run up to next week’s votes. We need to push our MPs to talk to Lords and tell them voters are demanding they accept the Commission report.

2. If the Lords do make major changes to the law, it has to go back to MPs for a fresh vote in a process known as “ping-pong”. If MPs are going to vote again, it’s important that they’ve understood the problems AND that they’re under heavy pressure to do the right thing.

Please can you make sure your MP receives a copy of the Commission’s report by sending one to them now, and asking them if they’ll publicly support it?

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-report
38 Degrees members, along with loads of other organisations, have been busy all around the country. Last week, 131 different groups organised to meet their MPs to give them a copy of the 200,000-strong petition against the gagging law. [5] MPs from Bath to Orkney have been challenged to justify their position at public meetings with hundreds of their constituents. [6]

All the pressure seems to be starting to work. In the past few days, Lib Dem peers such as Lord Tyler have started to accept there are problems and to table amendments. [7] So far, these amendments don’t solve all the problems, by a long stretch! But they are positive and they show that our concerns are starting to be listened to. So let’s keep going.

Click here to send a copy of the Commission’s report to your MP now:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-report

Thanks for being involved,

Susannah, Belinda, David, Megan and the 38 Degrees team

NOTES

[1] Guardian: New lobbying bill will affect charities’ ability to campaign on political issues:
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/aug/25/lobbying-bill-charities-campaign-election

[2] Conservative Home: James Legge: A five week pause later, the Lobbying Bill is no better:
http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2013/12/james-legge-of-caupdates-a-five-week-pause-later-the-lobbying-bill-is-no-better.html

[3] The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement:
http://civilsocietycommission.info

[4] The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement: Non-party Campaigning Ahead of Elections, Report 2:
http://civilsocietycommission.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Civil-Society-Commission-Report-2.pd

[5] 38 Degrees Blog: Gagging law petition hand-ins across the country:
http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2013/12/09/gagging-law-petition-hand-ins-across-the-country/
You can see the map of all the petition hand-ins so far here:
http://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/content/gagging-petition-hand-in-map/

[6] 38 Degrees blog: Posts about public meetings with MPs:
http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/tag/public-meeting/

7] Parliament.uk: Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, Amendments to be moved in Committee:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/su050-II-c.htm

Posted in UK1 Comment

Syrian girls advertised for selling in Zio-Wahhabi Media

NOVANEWS
An advertisement circulated in Saudi Arabia for buying Syrian refugee girls.
An advertisement circulated in Zio-Wahhabi media for buying Syrian refugee girls.
An advertisement for buying Syrian girls has been circulating in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, as the deadly war in Syria goes on with no sight in end.

According to al-Watan Arabic language newspaper the advertisement embodies a telephone number belonging to someone enlisted as being a “family counselor,” to help those who are interested.

Al-Watan reported that some social network activists have called the advertisement a form of trade, taking advantage of the crisis in Syria and the basic needs of Syrian refugees.

According to the ad, the asking money for every Syrian girl is 10,000 Saudi rials.

Saudi Arabia has been a strong financial and military supporter of the war in Syria that has already taken more than 120,000 lives.

Syrian refugee girls are falling victim to men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, is increasingly spreading, especially in Jordan refugee camps. There are agent-like people known for brokering a deal that sometimes sell a girl for as much as 300 dollars.

On November 27, Human Rights Watch (HRW) voiced concern about the safety of female refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. The organization said they had been sexually abused in Lebanon refugee camps.

Syrian refugees are facing with dire condition of food and supply shortage and sometimes they have to sell a family member so that others can survive.

 

Posted in Saudi Arabia, SyriaComments Off on Syrian girls advertised for selling in Zio-Wahhabi Media

Russia slams West over Ukraine political crisis

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Ukrainian protesters clash with police on Independence Square in Kiev, November 30, 2013.

Ukrainian protesters clash with police on Independence Square in Kiev, November 30, 2013.
Russia has criticized Western nations for interfering in Ukraine, saying protests against Kiev’s decision to back away from an EU deal were destabilizing the former Soviet state.

The Russian parliament, the State Duma, in a non-binding statement on Tuesday urged the West to “stop mounting external pressure on the politics of a country that is brotherly to us.”

The lower house of parliament also called on Ukrainian opposition forces to “stop illegal actions” over the political crisis, which began when Ukraine decided not to sign a European Union Association Agreement.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Kiev in the largest protests since the 2004-2005 Western-sponsored Orange Revolution in the country.

Protesters are demonstrating against Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s policy to expand trade relations with Russia, while holding off on the EU agreement.

Ukraine says it cannot afford to sacrifice trade with Russia for closer ties with the EU.

Meanwhile, the EU has blamed Russia for Ukraine’s refusal to sign the deal, saying it will not allow Moscow to “veto” deals in Eastern Europe.

Posted in Russia, UkraineComments Off on Russia slams West over Ukraine political crisis

Putin orders Arctic military build-up in 2014

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Russian flotilla headed by the flagship of the Northern Fleet, cruiser Peter the Great, September 2013 (Photo from www.korabli.eu)Russian flotilla headed by the flagship of the Northern Fleet, cruiser Peter the Great, September 2013 (Photo from www.korabli.eu)

Russia will create forces in the Arctic in 2014 to ensure military security and protect the country’s national interests in the region, which President Vladimir Putin has named among the government’s top priorities.

Russia is returning to the Arctic and “intensifying the development of this promising region” so it needs to“have all the levers for the protection of its security and national interests,” Putin said on Tuesday at an expanded meeting of the Defense Ministry Board.

He ordered the ministry to complete the formation of new military units and infrastructure in the Arctic next year.

I would like you to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” the president said in televised remarks.

Russia is reinstating its military base in the Novosibirsk Archipelago (New Siberian Islands), which had been abandoned by the military in 1993, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The islands “have key meaning for the control of the situation in the entire Arctic region,” Putin told the top military brass.

This year, Russia has also started restoring its Arctic airfields including one called “Temp” on Kotelny Island near the city of Norilsk. It is also overhauling urban facilities in Tiksi, Naryan-Mar, and Anadyr.

The surface-to-surface missile cruiser "Pyotr Veliky" (RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneev) The surface-to-surface missile cruiser “Pyotr Veliky” (RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneev)

 

The country is set to continue the revival of other Russian northern airfields as well as docks on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting.

There are plans to create a group of troops and forces to ensure military security and protection of the Russian Federation’s national interests in the Arctic in 2014,” Shoigu confirmed.

Additionally, Russian Senator and well-known polar explorer, Artur Chilingarov, suggested reviving the Academy of Sciences’ Polar Commission – a research institution which existed until 1936.

Back in September, Russia announced it was resuming its permanent Arctic military presence. In a symbolic move, it sent 10 warships and nuclear-powered icebreakers along the Northern Sea Route. This is a shipping lane between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, which runs from the Russian northern port city of Murmansk, along Siberia and the Far East.

In recent years, as the race for the Arctic intensified, Russia has repeatedly reiterated that it is set to retain its position in the region for both security and economic reasons, as well as to preserve its national integrity.

 

The nuclear icebreaker Taimyr (RIA Novosti / Igor Mikhalev)  

The nuclear icebreaker Taimyr (RIA Novosti / Igor Mikhalev)

 

However, other Arctic nations are not going to give up either in their intention of grabbing a share of the region, believed to be rich in oil, natural gas, and deposits of gold and platinum. According to a US Geological Survey, about 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are there, making up about 10 percent of the world’s petroleum resources. The dominant portion of these resources is hidden beneath ice that is shared between five nations bordering the Arctic: Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russia and the US – who have been in a bitter dispute over how to divide up the ‘pie’.

According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an economic zone belonging to a state is limited to 200 nautical miles from the coastline. That area can only be extended if a country provides evidence that the continental shelf is a geological extension of its territory.

Canada confirmed on Monday that it is preparing to include the North Pole as part of its Arctic Ocean seabed claim in the multi-country push to prove jurisdiction over further territory in the area.

Since 2007, Russia has organized several expeditions to prove that an underwater Arctic mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge, is part of its own landmass. It says the ridge is a continuation of the Siberian continental platform and it is not isolated from the Russian plateau.

US President Barack Obama in May unveiled a strategy for the Arctic, asserting that nations must protect the region’s fragile environment and keep it free from conflict. The plan also made it clear the US does not want to be left behind as the other countries eye natural resources and exploit potential new sea routes.

Posted in RussiaComments Off on Putin orders Arctic military build-up in 2014

US defense bill ups funding for joint projects with I$raHell

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americaisraelring

Bill includes $173 million in added funds for U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, including David’s Sling and Arrow • Measure also backs U.S. President Barack Obama’s request of $220 million for additional Iron Dome batteries.

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

A compromise defense bill proposed on Monday by U.S. lawmakers would boost spending on missile defense by $358 million to $9.5 billion, mandating an additional homeland defense radar and increasing funding for U.S.-Israeli cooperative efforts.

Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives Armed Services committees released details of a slimmed-down defense authorization bill for fiscal 2014 late on Monday, calling for a final vote on the measure before Congress leaves for the year.

The bill includes $80 million in additional funding to address the problem that caused a missile defense test flight failure in July, and $30 million for design and development of a new, enhanced “kill vehicle,” the part of the rocket that is used to hit the target missile and destroy it on impact.

In addition to added funding, the measure requires the Pentagon to develop options and plans to improve the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system run by Boeing Co.

The compromise measure also calls for the Missile Defense Agency to deploy another radar to protect the U.S. from long-range missile threats from North Korea, and to ensure that other sensors could be deployed on the Atlantic side of the U.S. to defend against missile threats from Iran.

It earmarked $20 million to fund efforts under way to evaluate a possible additional U.S. interceptor site.

The measure authorizes $173 million in added funding for U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, including nearly $34 million to improve the Arrow weapon system and $22 million for work on developing an upper-tier interceptor. Boeing has worked with Israel Aerospace Industries on the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 interceptors.

It also includes $117.2 million for development of the David’s Sling short-range ballistic missile defense system, which is being developed jointly by Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd. and Raytheon Co., one of the largest U.S. arms makers.

A new interceptor being developed by Israel and the U.S. to counter missiles that are held by Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group passed a second live trial last month, according to a summary released by the committees.

The measure also backed President Barack Obama’s request for $220 million to enable Israel to buy additional Iron Dome short-range interceptors and batteries, and added $15 million to establish a U.S. co-production capability for Iron Dome parts.

Raytheon has a joint marketing agreement with Israeli state-owned manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. for the Iron Dome system.

In addition, the measure requires a report on U.S.-Israeli missile defense cooperation, and better reporting by the Missile Defense Agency on the full cost of operating and maintaining missile defense systems.

The measure also explicitly bans the use of fiscal 2014 funds to integrate Chinese missile defense systems into U.S. missile defense systems, a move aimed at putting further pressure on Turkey to change its mind about choosing a Chinese system over those proposed by U.S. and European firms.

U.S. and NATO officials have said the Chinese system could not work together with existing U.S. and NATO systems.

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Egypt mourns Mandela’s passing

Nelson Mandela
By: Mada Masr

Interim President Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree on Friday instituting three days of mourning to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.

The iconic anti-apartheid leader passed away on Thursday night at the age of 95. World leaders have sent out messages hailing his courage and his conviction, describing him as a source of inspiration for the world.

Presidential spokesperson Ahmed al-Moslemany issued a press statement on Friday saying Cairo mourns the passing of a symbol of freedom, independence and liberation, and that Mandela’s message would always be an inspiration for those seeking justice, truth and welfare.

Egypt and the whole of Africa would always associate Mandela’s name with glory and pride, the statement continued.

In his fight for equality in a racially segregated South Africa, Mandela served 27 years in prison. He later entered politics, and served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy echoed Moslemany’s sentiments, saying the world lost a historic symbol and an African son who, along with other African historic leaders such as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and and Ghanian leader Kwame Nkrumah, led their people towards independence and freedom.

Fahmy said Egypt cherishes its relationship with Mandela during his years of struggle, and the support Egypt offered him throughout his presidency.

Egypt stands with South Africa and Mandela’s sacrifices remain a motivation for the entire continent’s people, Fahmy continued.

Constitutional committee head Amr Moussa also offered his condolences, saying Mandela was a symbol of struggle, wisdom and achievement.

“Mandela lived for principles of truth, freedom, justice and equality. He passed on with respect and appreciation as a source of inspiration for humanity,” Moussa wrote on his Facebook page.

Moussa offered his condolences to the South African people, as well as the Egyptian people who respected Mandela and appreciated his struggle.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former vice president for foreign affairs, also mourned the South African icon on his Twitter account.

“Nelson Mandela: ‘Let freedom reign.’ Humanity has lost its greatest son,” he wrote.

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Morsy Is the Arab World’s Mandela

NOVANEWS

Why we must stand and support the Muslim Brotherhood’s fight for democracy.

Soon after the military coup that deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, I announced that I would join the pro-Morsy demonstration outside of Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya square. My home is in Sanaa, Yemen, but all of us who placed our hopes in the Arab Spring have a stake in what happens in Egypt: I wished to protest the killing, forcible disappearance, and jailing of coup opponents — crimes that have been met with terrible silence from human rights activists and political elites. Not only have such figures refused to condemn such violations of freedom, they have given their blessing and justified such measures.

I declared publicly that I was going to Rabaa al-Adaweya to defend the gains of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution — freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right of the people to select their rulers. For my activism, I have been the target of a massive incitement campaign by the pro-coup media: Regime supporters have threatened me with death, even to put me on trial for spying and interfering in Egyptian affairs.

On Aug. 4, I arrived at Cairo airport with my friend Bushra al-Serabi, the executive director of Women Journalists Without Chains, to fulfill my pledge. I had all the possible scenarios in mind: I thought the Egyptian authorities might grant me entry and then attack me later in the street, or worse, fulfill their threats by arresting, killing, or prosecuting me.

It was an exciting trip, although it didn’t end as I wished. Or begin, to be honest. Upon arriving at the airport, I stood in line to complete the usual visa process. A few minutes later, one officer in the airport recognized me and asked me to go to a special counter where they complete the entry procedures for bearers of diplomatic passports.

At that moment, an unusual commotion began: The officers’ phones would not stop ringing, and I heard one of them whispering on the phone about me. “Tawakkol came! Tawakkol came! We won’t let her in,” he said, as if I was a very dangerous person.

The Egyptian officers informed me that I would be denied entry, and I was soon deported back to Yemen on the same plane on which I had arrived. The authorities gave me no clear answer why: They said that I knew the reason for my deportation better than them, and that my name had been blacklisted based on the request of a security body.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to stand in person with the protesters outside Rabaa al-Adaweya square to echo their legitimate demands. We shouldn’t be ashamed of standing by people who dream of democracy, justice, and a life with dignity — this is our duty. Egypt’s current regime has ousted the first elected president in the country’s history, suspended a constitution that won 60 percent support in a referendum, and completely excluded the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party from political life. There are limited options for those of us who care about Egypt’s future: We can either side with civil values and democracy, or with military rule, tyranny, and coercion.

Morsy was not only Egypt’s democratically elected president, he is now emerging as the Arab world’s Nelson Mandela. The South African leader brought peace and democracy to his country; during Morsy’s one-year reign, Egypt enjoyed freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully, and not a single one of his political opponents were jailed. Even when he was ousted by force, he killed no one, jailed no one, and never resorted to violent resistance. This is unparalleled in the region.

By maintaining this peaceful approach, Morsy and his followers will have a role not less than that of Mandela’s African National Congress. Despite being subjected to killing, arrest, and oppression, Morsy’s supporters have held fast to the democratic process and prevented Egypt from descending into civil war. The free world must recognize their positive role by supporting them and rejecting the crimes committed against Morsy, his party, and pro-democracy figures.

I am not blind to the shortcomings of the previous government: Before the coup, I supported the June 30 rallies against Morsy. But I had had my eyes set on one objective — ending the rift within Egyptian society, and building a country led by partnership rather than narrow majority rule. The military takeover aims to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood and its partners, replacing them through brute force with the losers of a democratic ballot — namely Mohamed ElBaradei and the National Salvation Front.

Democracy can’t thrive under military rule — history is quite clear on this point. In Egypt, this is evident through the terrible violations against rights and freedoms since the coup. The police state is back, and it is even worse than Hosni Mubarak’s.

What is happening in Egypt today is very scary: The coup could lead society to lose its faith in democracy, which will give terrorist groups a chance to breathe again. As al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said in his latest audio message, the Brotherhood won the elections — and still Morsy was deposed. He concluded that democracy was a dead end, an exclusive right in the West, but one that is not accessible to Islamists. Meanwhile, al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Iraq taunt the Muslim Brotherhood by saying that the solution is bombs, not ballot boxes. By blocking peaceful change and weakening the Islamist groups that participate in the political process, the coup leaders support this stance and do the terrorists a favor.

What happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt — the implications of this coup will reverberate over 1,000 miles away, in my home country of Yemen. It is wrong to look at the Arab Spring as an unrelated set of events: The people of the Middle East all rose up against tyranny and justice, and have the same dream of freedom, dignity, and democracy.

All the ousted regimes, as well as the oppressive regimes that have hung on during the Arab Spring, have now blessed Egypt’s coup. But it’s not too late to reverse this trend: Just as policies of oppression can start in Egypt and then spread to other Arab countries, a blossoming democracy in Cairo can easily spread throughout the Arab world. This may be why so many regional and international powers are arrayed against a democratic Egypt. Those who support freedom and democracy in the Middle East, however, should resist the new tyranny in Cairo with all their might.

 

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Ahmed Fouad Negm, Egypt’s ‘poet of the people,’ dies at 84

NOVANEWS
By Salma Abdelaziz,
Egyptian poet, Ahmed Fouad Negm, rallies attendants during a public meeting organized by the opposition movement 'Writers and Artists for Change' in Cairo in 2005.
Egyptian poet, Ahmed Fouad Negm, rallies attendants during a public meeting organized by the opposition movement ‘Writers and Artists for Change’ in Cairo in 2005.

Ahmed Fouad Negm, Egypt’s “poet of the people” whose biting political verses inspired rebellion and taunted successive regimes for decades, died Tuesday in Cairo at age 84.

Negm’s colloquial prose made poetry an act of defiance directly accessible to millions of poor and illiterate laborers often marginalized by the palace-based Cairo government.

“Who are we and who are they? They are the princes and sultans and we are the poor convicts. Solve this riddle and use your brain: See which of us rules over the other? Which of us serves the other?” reads one of Negm’s most popular poems.

Born to an impoverished family of “fellahin,” or peasants, Negm published countless love poems for his maiden, the nation of Egypt, and once said: “The love for a woman exists in the body. It is temporary and passes. But the love for a cause lives in your mind and in your blood forever.”

Negm shot to fame in the 1970s when he began a more than 30-year partnership with a blind oud player known as Sheikh Imam who sang his witty criticism to the music of the pear-shaped, stringed instrument.

“A great renaissance will take place. And we will finally be worth something … And we will never need Syria or Libya again. And an Arab Union will finally be formed with London and the Vatican. The poor will eat sweet potato. And walk around all cocky,” Sheik Imam sings softly with a smirk as the chorus responds with the French refrain “wee wee.”

The sharp-tounged satirist never shied away from controversy, which earned him a total of 18 years in prison and made him a timeless icon of resistance whose words galvanized protesters from Egypt’s 1977 bread riots to the 2011 revolution.

“Prohibited from travel, prohibited from singing, prohibited from words, prohibited from longing…everyday your love brings more prohibition and every day I love you more than the day that passed,” Negm wrote mockingly after the government of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser imposed measures to limit his influence and reach.

The leather-faced poet, famous for wearing the galbya, the long robes worn by Egypt’s common man, often riddled verses with crude insults and funny anecdotes that endeared him to Egypt’s coffee house audience but made him plenty of enemies among the ruling class.

“Regarding the issue of beans and meat an alleged official source decreed … eating Egyptian beans makes you strong as an ox … and Dr. Mohsin added that meat is surely poison. It cause stomach pains and turns you into a thief,” Negm wrote mocking the failure of the state to provide for its growing numbers of hungry and underprivileged citizens.

Affectionately nicknamed Al Fagoumi, Negm won dozens of awards but choose to imitate his art with a humble life in a ramshackle Cairo apartment where he hosted literary circles and continued to feed Egypt’s revolutionary fervor with recent works like the “Brave Man is Brave,” which became a staple slogan in the iconic Tahrir Square.

“Ahmed Fouad Negm is honoured for creating true poetry in vernacular Arabic that communicates deeply with people; for his independence, unwavering integrity, courage and rigorous commitment to the struggle for freedom and justice; for speaking truth to power, refusing to be silenced and inspiring more than three generations in the Arab-speaking world,” said statement by The Prince Claus Fund, which named Negm as its Principal Laureate for 2013.

A rebel to the end, Negm supported the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsy earlier this year. When asked what he would write about Egypt’s new strongman, General Abdel Fatah El Sisi, Negm said: “This man Sisi is sharper than the devil himself. After all is he not a peasant?”

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Jihadist Groups Gain in Turmoil Across Middle East

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Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

An Islamist fighter roamed through Aleppo, Syria, last December. Infighting among jihadist groups has recently mitigated their threat there, but that may not last.

By  and 

WASHINGTON — Intensifying sectarian and clan violence has presented new opportunities for jihadist groups across the Middle East and raised concerns among American intelligence and counterterrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe.

Fighters with the Nusra Front on Aleppo’s outskirts in April. Al Qaeda’s leader sees Syria as a promising staging ground.

The new signs of an energized but fragmented jihadist threat, stretching from Mali and Libya in the west toYemen in the east, have complicated the narrative of a weakened Al Qaeda that President Obama offered in May in a landmark speech heralding the end of the war on terrorism. The leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, raised warnings in an interview on CNN on Sunday when they said that Americans were “not safer” from terrorist attacks than they were in 2011.

The concerns are based in part on messages relayed this year by Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s overall leader, indicating that he views Syria — where the number of jihadist rebels and foreign fighters is steadily rising — as a promising staging ground.

Some analysts and American officials say the chaos there could force the Obama administration to take a more active role to stave off potential threats among the opposition groups fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But striking at jihadist groups in Syria would pose formidable political, military and legal obstacles, and could come at the cost of some kind of accommodation — even if only temporary or tactical — with Mr. Assad’s brutal but secular government, analysts say.

“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”

It is not clear whether or when the White House would be willing to make such an abrupt shift in approach after years of supporting the Syrian opposition and calling for Mr. Assad’s ouster. It would certainly require delicate negotiations with Middle Eastern allies who were early and eager supporters of Syrian rebel groups, notably Saudi Arabia.

One growing source of concern is the number of Muslims from Western countries who have gone to fight in Syria and might eventually return home and pose a terrorist threat. Analysts say at least 1,200 European Muslims have gone to Syria since the start of the war to join the fight, and dozens of Americans.

Across the region, a rising tide of Islamist militancy — fueled partly by sectarian violence and partly by the collapse of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the face of opposition from the country’s military — has contributed to a recent wave of attacks, including deadly bombings in Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula as well as the daily carnage in Syria and Iraq.

The violence has underscored the continuing disarray across the Middle East in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Above all, it is the chaos of Syria, where foreign jihadis appear to be building to a critical mass and have overwhelmed the Western strategy of support for the moderate opposition, that could drive the Obama administration toward greater involvement, analysts say.

But it is not at all clear what form that involvement might take. American officials are unlikely to open a new front of drone strikes in Syria. Other options carry large risks. In early October, American commandos carried out raids in Libya and Somalia aimed at capturing terrorist suspects. The Libya raid was successful; the one in Somalia was not.

To some extent, infighting among the jihadist groups in Syria has recently mitigated the threat there, but it is not clear how long that will last. Mr. Zawahri sent an envoy, Abu Khalid al-Suri, in an effort to resolve disputes between the two main factions, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“To the extent that I am concerned about Al Qaeda the brand, it’s that it is clearly expanding its affiliates, both in number and in some cases in capability,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview. “We’ve got to watch and determine which ones are local, which ones are regional, and which ones are global, and each requires a different approach.”

Those agendas can easily overlap and change, and one place where that appears to be happening is Yemen, the home to Al Qaeda’s most organized and threatening affiliate. A series of clashes in the past month between Zaydi Muslim militia fighters and hard-line Sunnis in Yemen’s remote northwest has led to calls for a wider religious war, and there are reports of training camps being established for that purpose, Yemeni officials say.

In Yemen, as in Syria, this sectarian dynamic may appear to divert the militants’ attention away from the West. But the accompanying radicalization and militancy creates “the perfect environment for Al Qaeda” in a country where the terrorist group already has a strong foothold, said one Yemeni official.

Even as an American drone campaign continues to kill people suspected as militants in Yemen, the Qaeda affiliate based there gained at least $20 million in ransom payments earlier this year from the governments of Qatar and Oman, which paid to free two groups of European hostages, according to American and Yemeni officials. That is enough to fuel their operations for years, the officials said.

A string of recent deadly attacks on Yemeni military targets has also made clear that Al Qaeda “has infiltrated our security services” to a greater extent, the Yemeni official said. In one of those attacks, a band of six jihadists disguised in army uniforms commandeered a military post with dozens of soldiers inside and held it for three days, repelling repeated efforts to free the men.

In addition to the rising number and deadliness of attacks, there are signs of possible cross-pollination among some of the jihadist groups around the region. American officials say that the Yemen-based Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has regular contact with jihadist groups in Lebanon and in the Sinai Peninsula, where there have been near-daily attacks since the Egyptian military ousted the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

Despite extensive Egyptian military efforts to confront them, the Sinai militant groups remain strong and have powerful new weapons — including surface-to-air missiles that could take down airliners — obtained from Libya after its civil war, said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based security analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The disarray in Libya, where the weak transitional government is largely hostile to the nation’s fractious militias, is also a source of increasing concern. Terrorism analysts say southern Libya has become a safe haven for a range of jihadists. “All of our regional partners are very afraid of the instability they see emanating from southern Libya,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II, the commander of American Army forces assigned to Africa.

Other extremist groups are redoubling their efforts across Africa. Last month the State Department branded Boko Haram, the homegrown Islamist insurgent movement in Nigeria, as a foreign terrorist group. Its attacks have left thousands dead in a decade.

“Whether they are dismayed by the way things played out in Egypt or by the growth of Al Qaeda in Syria, the worm has turned in the Middle East in the minds of American foreign policy makers,” said William McCants, an expert on jihadist movements and a former senior adviser at the State Department. “It seems we are back to counterterrorism as a guiding focus for American policy.”

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Gaza power crisis has compounded blockade’s assault on human dignity

NOVANEWS
Amnesty International Australia logo

Israel must immediately lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, including by allowing the delivery of fuel and other essential supplies into the territory without restrictions, said Amnesty International today.

For the last month, all of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents have been living without power for most of the time and in the shadow of a public health catastrophe, after their sole power plant was forced to shut down, causing the failure of several sewerage and water plants.

“This latest harsh setback has exacerbated the assault on the dignity of Palestinians in Gaza and the massive denial of rights they have experienced for more than six years because of Israel’s blockade, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“The blockade has collectively punished Gaza’s population in violation of international law. The power plant shutdown has further affected all aspects of daily life, and the Israeli authorities must lift the blockade immediately, starting by allowing urgently needed fuel supplies into the Strip and working with all relevant parties to avert a prolonged humanitarian crisis this winter.”

The power plant, which until recently supplied 30 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity, ran out of diesel fuel on 1 November. The resulting shutdown has exacerbated an ongoing water and sanitation crisis and has left Gaza residents without power for 16 hours a day.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, all 291 water and wastewater facilities in the Gaza Strip are now relying on standby generators, which are also affected by the fuel shortages. On 13 November a large sewage pumping station failed in al-Zaytoun, south of Gaza City, allowing more than 35,000 cubic metres of raw sewage to spew into the streets.

Local authorities have struggled to clean up the spill, leaving some 3,000 residents wading through sewage. The clean-up finally began on 29 November, according to local residents, following efforts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other agencies, and an emergency donation from Turkey to pay for fuel for critical sewage stations.

“The reason for the flood of sewage was the blockade,” a resident of al-Zaytoun told Amnesty International. “The question is, why is the blockade being allowed to continue? What is our crime? There is no justification for this situation. We just want to live like any other people in the world.”

Ten other sewage pumping stations in the Gaza Strip have been forced to divert sewage to open channels, lagoons, or the sea during the last month, and other stations are close to overflowing.

Before the current crisis, some 90 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage were being dumped into the sea off Gaza every day.

Since the power plant shutdown, more raw sewage is being dumped into the sea. For years, more than 90 per cent of the water extracted from the Gaza aquifer has been polluted and unfit for human consumption due to the infiltration of sewage and seawater and prolonged over-extraction because of Israel’s disproportionate use of water resources.

Water supply to households across the Strip, which was already rationed, has also been reduced since the power plant shutdown. Some 65 per cent of Gaza’s population only receive water once every three or four days.

“For each day that the Gaza power plant does not receive fuel, the risk of a massive public health crisis increases. Access to adequate sanitation and drinking water are fundamental human rights. The power plant shutdown should never have been allowed to happen,” said Philip Luther.

Hospitals and other health facilities throughout the Gaza Strip have been relying on their own generators during the lengthy power outages. But the generators are also affected by fuel shortages, jeopardizing essential services like kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units, neo-natal care, and laboratories, putting patients’ lives at risk.

Businesses, construction, and much agricultural work have also ground to a halt amid the power cuts and shortages of fuel and building materials. This has further reduced the incomes of many households who already had trouble meeting their basic needs.

Bakeries have reduced production and people are forced to queue to buy bread. Transportation throughout the Strip has been curtailed; carts pulled by donkeys are now being used to collect solid waste. The Strip’s schools and universities have also been affected.

Since June 2007, when the Israeli blockade was tightened, Gaza’s energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure has been inadequate to fulfil the basic rights of its inhabitants. They were already poor due to prior Israeli restrictions and decades of neglect.

Before the power plant shut down, Gaza already suffered from a chronic electricity shortage and routine power outages. Since 1 November, the electricity currently supplied to the Strip – which is purchased from Israel and Egypt – covers less than 40 per cent of the population’s needs.

A main factor triggering the shutdown was the Egyptian military’s campaign to destroy tunnels between Gaza and Sinai – more than 90 per cent have been removed since June 2013.

Since early 2011, the power plant was partially run on Egyptian diesel brought in through some of those tunnels – the amount dropped from about 1 million litres per day in June 2013 to around 20,000 litres per week in November.

Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to facilitate construction of new power lines to increase the electricity supply to the southern Gaza Strip and work with Palestinian and Israeli authorities to find a sustainable solution to the fuel crisis.

Background

On 28 June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired eight missiles into the Gaza power plant, destroying all its transformers. Israeli restrictions on imports of construction materials, spare parts, and fuel impeded reconstruction. These restrictions were tightened after Israel imposed a complete air, land and sea blockade on Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas established a de facto administration in the Strip.

As the occupying power, Israel has the primary responsibility for addressing the current crisis by immediately increasing fuel supplies to Gaza. It must also address the long-term crisis by completely lifting the blockade, including by allowing fuel into Gaza without restrictions, allowing construction materials and equipment necessary for repairing and maintaining vital infrastructure, and increasing electricity supplies to Gaza by facilitating the construction of new power lines.

Continuing disputes between the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority over payment and taxes are also a factor in the current crisis. Both authorities must co-operate so that the power plant again receives a steady supply of fuel and can resume operations.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, only about a quarter of the water and sanitation projects in Gaza included in the 2013 Consolidated Appeals Process have been funded.

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