Arab Revolution

Syrian anarchist speaks

A few weeks back we examined the anatomy of the Syrian opposition, noting the various factions, how they fit in to the Great Power chess-game now being played over the country—and asking whether there are any independent secular left elements that progressives in the West can support. It was just brought to our attention that on July 28, Solidarity Federation, website of the British section of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association, ran a statement from a  young man identified only by the first name Mazen, who claims to represent a "group of young Syrian anarchists and anti-authoritarians from Aleppo." In plausibly stilted English, he details the eclipse of the civil opposition by armed factions, and the foreign manipulation of the latter—while laying much of the blame for the situation with the Assad regime and its bloody repression. An excerpt:

UN: Syria government has committed war crimes

Syrian forces and their supporting Shabbiha fighters have committed "war crimes and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," according to a report released Aug. 15 by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI). The report found that government and Shabbiha forces are responsible for instances of rape, murder, torture and attacks on civilian populations. The report further concluded that the Syrian government was responsible for the deaths of more than 100 civilians, including women and children, in al-Houla in May. The COI had previously released an inconclusive report suggesting that government forces in Syria played a role in the deaths. The new report confirms that Shabbiha fighters and government forces were responsible for the massacre. The report also notes that anti-government forces have also committed human rights violations, but says that "these violations and abuses were not of the same gravity, frequency and scale as those committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha."

General strike shuts birthplace of Tunisian uprising

A general strike was held Aug. 14 in Tunisia's Sidi Bouzid region to demand the release of detainees and resignation of the governor, the regional head of the National Guard, and the public prosecutor. The strike, called by the UGTT trade union federation, was widely observed, with all public and private businesses shut except the electric company. The detainees had been arrested in protests over the past weeks demanding development of the marginalized region, where water and power cuts are common. Sidi Bouzid is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring; last year's Tunisian uprising was sparked when a street vendor in the city torched himself in December 2010 in protest over his precarious livelihood. (Tunis Afrique Presse via AllAfrica, AFP, Aug. 14)

Syria moves towards sectarian war; Turkey next?

As urban warfare rages in Damascus and Aleppo, presumed rebel gunmen abducted 47 Iranian pilgrims just outside the capital on Aug. 4. The pilgrims were on a bus taking them from the Shi'ite shrine of Sayyida Zainab, about 10 miles south of Damascus, to the airport to return home when they were kidnapped, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. Dubai's Al-Arabiya television aired footage it said it had obtained from Syrian rebels of the captive Iranians, in which the captors charge that they are not actually pilgrims, but members of the Revolutionary Guard.

Egypt requests release of last citizen held at Gitmo

The Egyptian government announced Aug. 2 that it has requested the release of the last of its citizens currently being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Egyptian Tarek al-Sawah, 54, has been held at Guantánamo for 11 years without charges or trial. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel requested al-Sawah's release in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In announcing the request the Foreign Ministry noted that al-Sawah's prior charges of supporting terrorist groups in Afghanistan were dropped by the US military prosecutors and that the Egyptian government will appoint a US lawyer specializing in the rights of Guantanamo prisoners to defend al-Sawah. Since President Mohammed Morsi was sworn in a few weeks ago the Muslim Brotherhood-led administration has sought freedom for many Egyptians internationally jailed for Islamist militancy.

UN rights office urges Sudan to investigate violence against Darfur protesters

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Aug. 3 urged Sudan to initiate an investigation into allegations of excessive force by government security forces against protesters in Darfur four days earlier resulting in eight deaths and more than 50 injuries. The OHCHR urged the government to "promptly launch an independent and credible investigation into the violence and the apparent excessive use of force by security forces" and noted that international standards must be respected in order to provide civilians the freedom of speech and assembly. During the July 31 protest more than 1,000 people, mostly students, blocked roads in market area of Nyala, the biggest town in Darfur, to express their opposition against fuel price increases. The OHCHR stated that it received eye witness reports that security forces used tear gas as well as live bullets against protesters.

AI: Syria forces guilty of crimes against humanity

Amnesty International on Aug. 1 published a report holding the Syrian government responsible for human rights violations in Aleppo that AI claims amount to crimes against humanity. "All-out repression: Purging dissent in Aleppo, Syria" documents how security forces and allied militias routinely used live fire against peaceful demonstrations in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing and injuring protesters and bystanders. AI contends that, as the size and frequency of these anti-government protests in Aleppo increased in recent months, government forces employed "reckless and brutal use of force that inevitably led to peaceful demonstrators being killed and injured." The report "details a wide range of systematic, state-directed violations including the deliberate targeting of peaceful protesters and activists, the hunting down of injured protesters, the routine use of torture, the targeting of medics providing life-saving emergency treatment to the wounded, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances." AI further claims that arrested individuals were routinely tortured, threatened and intimidated while in detention, and reiterates its long-standing calls for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Syria: Palestinians caught between both sides

Large protests began two weeks ago in Syria's largest Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, an enclave of nearly 150,000 within Damascus. Security forces fired on protesters, killing at least five and setting off a cycle of funerals, demonstrations and further crackdowns—which in recent days has escalated to shelling of the camp. Similar violence has hit other Palestinian camps in Syria. More than two-thirds of the 17,500 refugees in the southern city of Daraa fled an attack last month, the UN reported. While many have returned, the camp is under siege, with food and medicine in short supply. Palestinian activists provided AP with the names of 198 refugees killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011—67 in July alone. The Palestinian Authority places the number of Palestinians killed in Syria since the start of the uprising as high as 300.

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