Algerians flooded into the streets in celebration April 2 as long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his resignation following weeks of protests in cities across the country. The ailing Bouteflika clearly stepped down to avoid being deposed by armed forces. Just hours before his announcement, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, commander of the National Popular Army, called for "immediate" application of Article 102 of the constitution, which calls for the removal of a president who is too incapacitated to serve. The resignation also came four days after some million protesters filled the streets of Algiers for a "Friday of the Steadfastness"—the sixth consecutive Friday of demonstrations calling for an end to Bouteflika's rule. But a popular chant at the protests was "We want the implementation of Article 7 of the constitution"—which stipulates that "the people are the source of all power." The movement is demanding an end to the entrenched military-dominated regime altogether.
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist, was released from prison on March 29 after serving a five-year sentence, according to his family and lawyer. Fattah was a leading voice among young Egyptians in the uprising of 2011, which ousted president Hosni Mubarak from power after a 30-year period of rule. A prominent blogger and software engineer, he was once described by authorities as "the icon of the revolution."
An Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the besieged Gaza Strip was declared March 26 following two days of Israeli air-strikes and Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of strikes across the Strip, while at least 50 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Residential and commercial buildings were struck by Israeli warplanes, with at least seven Palestinians reported injured. The escalation came after a Gaza rocket struck an house north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven Israelis. (Ma'an) With the air-strikes underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Donald Trump in Washington for the signing of a presidential proclamation officially recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. At the joint press conference, Trump said, "We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv," adding, "We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism." Netanyahu called Trump's recognition a "diplomatic victory," adding that "Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of defense." (Ma'an)
Even amid growing media portrayals that Bashar Assad has won the war in Syria, the first real hope has emerged that the dictator will face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court. A group of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after surviving torture and massacres this week submitted dossiers of evidence to the ICC in an attempt to prosecute Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court's jurisdiction, lawyers in London are citing recent precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction for the crime of forcible population transfers across international borders. London barrister Rodney Dixon of Temple Garden Chambers, representing the group of 28 refugees, said: "The ICC exists precisely to bring justice to the victims of these most brutal international crimes... There is a jurisdictional gateway that has opened up finally for the ICC prosecutor to investigate the perpetrators who are most responsible." In his letter to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Dixon notes last year's ICC ruling on Rohingya refugees, allowing an investigation of non-signatory Burma to proceed. (The Guardian, BBC News)
Following weeks of mass protests across Algeria, long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced March 11 that he will not run for a fifth term—but also said elections that were set for April will be postponed, with no new date set for the polls. There has also been a government shake-up, with Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia to be replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who has been tasked with forming a new administration. But protesters vow to keep up the pressure, demanding that Bouteflika cede power immediately, and, increasingly, that his entire government step down. The protests are on a scale unprecedented since the 1990s when a military coup aborted a democratic process, precipitating a civil war. Algeria's army chief invoked this period in a stern warning to the protesters. "There are some parties who want Algeria to return to the era of extreme pain," Lt. Gen. Gaed Salah said. (Middle East Eye. North Africa Post, BBC News)
Tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets March 1 to oppose plans by long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to seek a fifth term in office. Police fired tear-gas at protesters in Algiers, and more than 50 officers were reported injured, with at least 45 people arrested. The mass demonstration—dubbed the Million Man March—followed week-long protests in more than 30 cities against incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's reelection bid for a fifth term in office. On Feb. 26, the University of Algiers camus was locked down by riot police as hundreds of students Around 500 students shouted "No to a fifth term!" and "Bouteflika get out!" (BBC News, Al Jazeera, AhramOnline)
Bahrain’s highest court on Jan. 28 upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with the then-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Jan. 17 called on the government of Sudan to protect its people's rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the face of mounting violence. Since mid-December, anti-government demonstrations have been taking place in multiple cities across Sudan. As of Jan. 6, a total of 816 people had been arrested, including "journalists, opposition leaders, protestors and representatives of civil society." The government has confirmed 24 deaths but other reports place the number at double that. There have also been reports of security forces following protesters into hospitals and firing tear-gas and live ammunition inside.