Gulf states

Bahrain: protests against British base deal

Protests held in the Bahraini island city of Sitra Dec. 6 against an agreement signed between the kingdom and Great Britain to establish a new military base in the Persian Gulf state. Bahraini opposition figures, including members of the main Shi'ite party, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, also expressed outrage over the deal. (Tasnim, Iran, Dec. 7) The base, at Mina Salman Port in Bahrain, will host Royal Navy vessels including destroyers and aircraft carriers. It is to be Britain's first permanent base in the Middle East in over 40 years. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the new base shows Britain's commitment to a "sustained presence east of Suez"—referring to the wording of a 1968 decision to close bases east of Suez by 1971. (BBC News, Dec. 6)

Bahrain court suspends main opposition group

A Bahrain court on Oct. 28 ordered the country's main Shi'ite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, to suspend all activities. Bahrain's Ministry of Justice filed the lawsuit in July. The ruling means that Al-Wefaq cannot operate for three months in the Gulf island kingdom. The group cannot organize rallies or press conferences, issue statements or use its offices. Earlier this month Al-Wefaq announced it would boycott Nov. 22 elections because it felt that the government did not genuinely engage in reconciliations efforts following protests to the Sunni monarchy in 2011. The group plans to appeal the decision.

Saudi Arabia sentences Shi'ite cleric to death

Sh'iite Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was convicted Oct. 15 of sedition and other charges in Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court and sentenced to death, raising fears of unrest from his supporters in neighboring Bahrain. Al-Nimr has been a vocal critic of the majority Sunni government in Saudi Arabia and was a key leader in the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired Sh'iite protests in the country. Al-Nimr was found guilty of not obeying King Abdullah, not pledging allegiance to him or the state, incitement of vandalism and sectarian strife, demonizing Saudi rulers, calling for the collapse of the state, and insulting relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Disobeying the ruler is a charge punishable by death. Prosecutors unsuccessfully asked that the body and head be put on public display, a severe punishment only rarely carried out. Al-Nimr will likely appeal the sentence, as activists are typically given long jail sentences on appeal despite harsh verdicts.

Bahrain activist charged over insulting tweets

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was charged on Oct. 9 with insulting the ministries of defense and interior over his tweets that alleged Bahrain's security institutions were the first incubators for extremist ideology. Without naming Rajab, the public prosecution statement ordered his referral in remand before the Third Lower Criminal Court on charges of tort and libel in public against official institutions. A court date is set for Oct. 19. The charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to three years. Rajab, who is head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, previously served two years in prison for leading anti-government ptotests, and was released in May.

First US air-strikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The US carried out its first air-strikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Sept. 22. In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the US used "a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles" launched from the USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf. Kirby said that because these strikes are ongoing, he could not give details about where they took place. But an unnamed Pentagon official told NPR the strikes targeted positions near Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital. Planes from five Arab countries participated in the strikes—also not named by Kirby, although FoxNews identified them as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. There was no indication that the Syrian government had been consulted on the strikes, as Damascus had demanded.

Rights experts to Bahrain: release political activist

Independent UN rights experts on Sept. 5 called on the government of Bahrain to release human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja due to the absence of evidence against her. Al-Khawaja was arrested in August upon her return to Bahrain and was charged with insulting the king and assaulting police officers. According to a post on al-Khawaja's twitter account, she has not been permitted to see a lawyer since her arrest. The rights experts expressed concern at the rash of apparent political imprisonment of individuals expressing their freedom of opinion, particularly human rights activists.

Arab intervention force against ISIS?

Egypt's former foreign minister, Mohammed al-Orabi, said Aug. 9 that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will coordinate with Arab countries to send military forces to confront ISIS. Orabi called for an "Arab Alliance" prepared "to repel any aggression or mobilization undertaken by ISIL against Gulf countries." He said "Sisi will intervene quickly to counter any aggression against those countries. Sisi will intervene immediately to protect them." ( The Pentagon meanwhile announced a new round of air-strikes, this time closer to Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidis remain beseiged. Read a statement by US Central Command: "US fighters and remotely piloted aircraft struck one of two ISIL armored personnel carriers firing on Yazidi civilians near Sinjar, destroying the APC." Kurdish Peshmerga forces with US air support opened a road to Mount Sinjar, allowing some 5,000 Yazidis to flee into Syrian territory. (Al Jazeera, AP via Lebanon Daily Star, AP via FoxNews) ISIS-held Mosul is reported to be partially without electricity or water. Foreign oil company personnel are flying out of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, where residents are arming themselves in anticipation of an ISIS assault. (Tehran Times) President Obama said that air-strikes will continue for as long as necessary. "I'm not going to give a particular timetable," he said shortly before leaving for a summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard. "We are going to maintain vigilance." (USA Today)

Kuwait: court upholds 10-year term for tweeting

Kuwait's Supreme Court on July 12 upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Hamad al-Naqi, a 24-year-old member of Kuwait's Shiite minority, was also found guilty of spreading false news that undermined Kuwait's image abroad. The Supreme Court's decision is final and can only be commuted by the Kuwaiti Emir. An appeals court affirmed al-Naqi's sentence in October. The result drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which condemned the decision as a "violat[ion of] international standards on freedom of expression." He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2012, and was originally sentenced in June 2012. Al-Naqi has maintained his innocence, arguing that his Twitter account was hacked.

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