Arab Revolution

Insurgency re-emerging in regime-controlled Syria

Bashar Assad's Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began back in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army's 5th Division was shot dead Sept. 9 by gunmen on a motorcycle near Busra Harir in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of attacks is escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the "reconciliation committees" attempting to rebuild regime support.

Saudi detention state under scrutiny

Saudi Arabia has denied prominent detainees contact with their family members and lawyers for months, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 6 in a letter requesting access to the country and private prison visits with detainees. The situation raises serious concerns for the detainees' safety and well-being, the rights group said. Saudi authorities have banned in-person visits with prisoners across the country since March to limit the spread of COVID-19. But Saudi activists and other sources say that authorities have also unduly denied numerous imprisoned dissidents and other detainees regular communication with the outside world.

Moment of truth for Sudan peace process

Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups this week, sparking hopes of an end to decades of conflict in the country. The agreement will see rebels given government posts, power devolved to local regions, and displaced people offered a chance to return home. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dedicated the deal—one of his main priorities following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir 14 months ago—to children born in refugee camps, while the UN commended an "historic achievement." But there are reasons to be cautious. Two of Sudan's main armed groups in Darfur and the southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan refused to sign. Abdul Wahid, leader of a faction of the holdout Sudan Liberation Movement, said the deal was "business as usual" and unlikely to address root causes of conflict. With Sudan's economy in freefall, it's also unclear how the transitional government will be able to afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it workable. Previous agreements in 2006 and 2011 came to little. However, with al-Bashir now out of the picture—perhaps soon facing the ICC—things could be different this time around. With violence rising in Darfur and in other parts of the country, there's a lot riding on it.

Libya: Tripoli protests met with repression

At least six protesters were abducted and several others wounded when armed men fired into the crowd to disperse a demonstration in the Libyan capital on Aug. 23. The gunmen, who used truck-mounted heavy machine-guns as well as small arms, apparently belonged to a militia under the informal command of the Interior Ministry. Five days later, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) suspended Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga while an investigation is underway.

Algeria: dissident journalist sentenced to prison

An Algerian court on Aug. 10 sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in prison for speaking out against the government. Drareni, who is well known in Algeria and has a twitter account of roughly 150,000 followers, is editor of Casbah Tribune news website and correspondent for international TV5 Monde and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He reported widely on the Hirak protest movement against the rule of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. At trial, prosecutors used as evidence a Facebook post Drareni shared, calling for a general strike. The court found him guilty of "endangering national unity" and "inciting" unlawful gatherings.

What Beirut blast could mean for battered Lebanon

As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut's port on Aug. 4, the humanitarian implications of the blast in Lebanon's capital will likely not be clear for some time. At least 4,000 people are said to have been wounded, and the death toll from the blast could still rise. Hospitals have been struggling to deal with the influx of injured people as buildings collapsed and windows shattered throughout central Beirut. While the exact cause of the explosion is unclear, government officials said it was related to a large amount of ammonium nitrate confiscated years ago and stored at the port. Ammonium nitrate can be used as both a fertiliser and in bombs, but must be mixed with another substance to ignite.

Saudi Arabia imprisons Yemeni dissident blogger

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women." 

Troops to Darfur as war re-escalates

The Sudanese government is sending more forces to the restive Darfur region, following a new escalation in violence there. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the troops are to protect people during the farming season. Dozens of people have been killed and several villages destroyed in Darfur over the past weeks. The most recent outburst came on July 25, when some 500 armed men attacked Masteri village, West Darfur, killing at least 60 people from the Masalit ethnic group. In a separate incident that same day, another armed group attacked the Um Doss area in South Darfur, killing at least 20 people.

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