The House Intelligence Committee on July 15 released a declassified "28-pages" (PDF) detailing possible connections between Saudi Arabia and the 9-11 hijackers. Whether the "28-pages" should be released was a hotly debated matter, spanning years as victims' families and lawmakers pressed for the report to be issued. Some calling for the release of the report believed that the US had been attempting to cover up Saudi Arabia's involvement in the attacks. The document acknowledges that "some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government." But other sources, including the 9-11 Commission report, have held that the Saudi government was in no way involved in the attacks. Despite containing only leads to possible Saudi ties to the hijackers, former Sen. Bob Graham applauded the release, saying it would lead to further questioning of the Saudi government's potential involvement. He stated: "I think of this almost as the 28 pages are sort of the cork in the wine bottle. And once it's out, hopefully the rest of the wine itself will start to pour out."
Suicide bombings hit three cities in Saudi Arabia within 24 hours—including Medina, striking near the Prophet's Mosque, resting place of Muhammed and Islam's second holiest site. Four security officers were killed in that attack, which came during Maghreb prayers, as Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. A suicide blast also struck near the US consulate in the coastal city of Jidda, wounding two security officers. And a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shi'ite mosque in the eastern city of Qatif, although only the only casualty there was the attacker. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but the attacks are pretty obviously the work of ISIS. (CNN, BBC News, Al Arabiya, NYT)
Egyptian officials announced on May 15 the conviction and prison sentences of over one hundred demonstrators who were peacefully assembling without a permit. Fifty one individuals were sentenced to two years in prison while another hundred and one individuals were sentenced to five years in prison. The sentences were handed down in connection with the April demonstrations to protest Red Sea islands being turned over to Saudia Arabia. Many believed the islands were apart of an economic deal, and opposed against the government decision, leading to the charges of joining terrorist groups and disturbing the peace. The demonstrations were broken up by police officers who used tear-gas. The courts are permitting the convicted to appeal, as there is a dispute about the evidence and a claim that innocent bystanders were arrested in the disturbance.
Michael T. Klare has a piece on TruthDig about last month's OPEC meeting in Doha, Qatar, where high expectations of a boost to chronically depressed prices were dashed: "In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers." Klare acknowledges the geopolitical factor in keeping prices down: "Most analysts have since suggested that the Saudi royals simply considered punishing Iran more important than lowering oil prices. No matter the cost to them, in other words, they could not bring themselves to help Iran pursue its geopolitical objectives, including giving yet more support to Shiite forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon." But he sees market forces and the advent of post-petrol technologies as more fundamental...
From the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists, March 2016:
Five years after the beginning of the popular Syrian Revolution which demanded democracy and human rights, the Syrian revolutionaries have been decimated through the combined military force of the Assad regime, the Iranian regime with its sectarian militias, Russian air strikes and military assistance on the one hand, and the ultra-terrorist ISIS and other Salafist–Jihadist organizations on the other hand. Nevertheless, a partial reduction of air-strikes by Russia and the Assad regime in early March led to an immediate revival of mass protests of the democratic opposition across the country with banners such as the following in Idlib: "Our peaceful revolution is still in progress until toppling Assad and imposing justice all over Syria."
President Barack Obama is set to announce plans to send 250 more US troops to Syria, media accounts indicate—but they are vague on exactly which forces the troops will be backing. There are already some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but accounts say the new effort will be to bring more Arab militias into the fight against ISIS. The SDF itself was created to ally the Kurdish YPG militia with Arab factions, to give the US-backed anti-ISIS forces greater legitimacy with the Syrian opposition and Arab states. So will the new effort be to bring more Arab fighters under the SDF umbrella, or to have US forces backing Arab factions that resist allying with Kurds?
Thousands marched in Cairo on April 15 to protest President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision to turn two disputed islands over to Saudi Arabia. Crowds chanted slogans such as "Sisi – Mubarak," "We don't want you, leave," and "The people want the downfall of the regime"—the iconic slogan of the Arab Revolution. Security forces responded with tear-gas; at least 25 were detained and are being held on charges of violating Egypt's controversial anti-protest law. More protests are planned for this weekend, and on April 22 security forces carried out pre-emptive arrests of noted activists in an apparent effort to head them off. Cafes in downtown Cairo were raided and activists seized from their homes, prisoners' rights group Freedom for the Brave said in a statement on Facebook. Pre-emptive arrests were also reported in Alexandria and in Gharbeyyia governorate.
For a third year running, Amnesty International's annual report on the death penalty notes an alarming surge in the number of executions worldwide—now reaching the highest total since 1989. At least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of more than 50% over the previous year. Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were leading the field, responsible for 89% of the executions. Iran executed at least 977 in 2015—the vast majority for drug-related crimes—compared with 743 in 2014. Those put to death included at least four who were under 18 at the time of the crime—which Amnesty called a violation of international law. Pakistan continued what Amnesty called as a "state-sanctioned killing spree" that began when a moratorium on civilian executions was lifted in December 2014. Pakistan sent at least 326 to the gallows last year, the highest annual total Amnesty has recorded for that country. Executions in Saudi Arabia rose by 76%, with at least 158 people put to death, Amnesty said. Most were beheaded, with the bodies often displayed in public.