Libya's Government of National Accord officially handed power over to a new interim government in Tripoli on March 16, the day after Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh's cabinet was sworn in by the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. This is the fruit of a long and complicated UN-led process with multi-track negotiations. The new leadership faces multiple challenges, including holding elections and restoring much-needed government services. It also needs to unite a country that has largely been in chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, helped by NATO's decision (exactly 10 years ago) to intervene. The new cabinet contains five women, including the ministers of foreign affairs and justice. Together they make up 15% of the leadership—not the 30% delegates to the UN process had promised. But many Libyan women are viewing this as at least a step in the right direction.
In Episode 65 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg offers his presentation on the panel "Kronstadt 1921 and the Social Crises of 2021," part of the online conference Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia, 1921-2021 and Beyond, marking the centenary of the Kronstadt uprising in revolutionary Russia. In March 1921, Russian naval troops mutinied and took over their island garrison as an autonomous zone, in solidarity with striking workers in Petrograd, and to demand greater freedom and power for democratic soviets (worker councils) against the consolidating one-party state of the Bolsheviks. When the uprising was brutally put down, this marked the first time that international leftist forces found themselves on the side of repression rather than rebellion. A century later, all too many on the international "left" similarly find themselves on the side of repression rather than rebellion in Syria. And the dictatorship of Bashar Assad, unlike the Russia of 1921, is by no stretch of the imagination a revolutionary state. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
A Tunisian appeals court ordered the release of jailed activist Rania Amdouni on March 17, following an outcry from civil society and human rights groups. Amdouni had been charged with "insulting police and abuse of morals," which sparked concerns from rights groups over suppression of free speech. Amdouni is the president of Chouf Minorities and a member of the Tunisian Association for Justice & Equality (DAMJ), both organizations concerned with rights for women and the LGBT. She has faced abuse from law enforcement over of her involvement in recent protests against austerity policies and police brutality. Police and politicians have shared her photo on social media with disparaging comments about her appearance and presumed sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, on Feb. 24 convicted a former officer of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months in prison for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent by bus to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The court stated that "Eyad A. had already known about the regular and systematic torture in the prison of department 251 when the demonstrators were arrested... He also expected that the torture was part of a planned, organized action by the government to suppress opposition forces."
Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Feb. 10 after spending a total of 1,001 days—almost three years—in prison. Al-Hathloul had been championing women's rights since 2013. She lobbied especially for the right to drive, as well as for an end to male guardianship laws in the Saudi kingdom. While women were granted the right to drive in 2017, advocates for the change were detained by authorities weeks before it took effect.
President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Frustration over a strict COVID-19 lockdown and a collapsing economy exploded into protests in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, where a government building was set aflame on the night of Jan. 28, and several days of clashes between security forces and demonstrators left one person dead and more than 100 injured. Lebanon is in the midst of a 24-hour curfew, with even supermarkets closed—a measure that authorities defended as necessary given a surge of coronavirus cases that has left the healthcare system struggling to cope. But crippling poverty is on the rise in Lebanon—thanks to an ongoing financial crisis, compounded by the global pandemic and an August explosion at the Beirut port—and some argue that the strict containment rules go too far. Some local aid groups say they have been denied permission to bring help, including much-needed food, to vulnerable families.