Tag Archive | "Mohamed Ghannouchi"

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Libya’s Only a Part of Mideast Equation

Posted on 18 April 2011 by hashimilion

What’s more important than Libya? At least four other countries.

The outcome of the unfinished revolution in Egypt will affect the prospects for democracy across the region. The outcome in Yemen, where Al Qaeda’s most dangerous branch is headquartered, is important to the struggle against terrorism. A change in Syria, Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world, would upend the balance of power on Israel’s northern borders.

And then there’s the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries have intervened to quell a Shiite Muslim uprising. It might seem odd to include a power struggle in a quasi-country of half a million citizens on a list of major strategic issues, but the crisis in Bahrain qualifies.

About two-thirds of Bahrainis are Shiite, but Sunni Muslims hold almost all the power. After Shiite groups staged increasingly violent demonstrations to demand more democracy, the government cracked down — and when the Bahraini police faltered, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries stepped in with troops.

Opposition groups say more than 400 activists have been arrested; the Bahraini government has refused to disclose the number of arrests. Human Rights Watch has charged that at least seven detainees have died in custody and that some may have been tortured.

Last week, the government announced that it was outlawing the largest — and most moderate — Shiite political party, but then backpedaled after an international outcry.

Why does all this matter? Because Bahrain isn’t the only Arab state on the gulf with a sizable Shiite population. Iraq has a Shiite majority and a Shiite-dominated government. Saudi Arabia is ruled by Sunnis, but it has a significant Shiite minority in its oil-rich eastern province. In all three countries, Shiite Muslims have historically been treated as an oppressed underclass — but now, watching other Arabs win more rights, they’re demanding equality too.

Bahrain matters, as well, because Saudi Arabia treats it as a virtual protectorate. The Saudi royal family doesn’t like to see Shiite Muslim demonstrators demand the head of any monarch; it’s too close to home.

Besides, in the view of many Sunnis, Bahrain’s Shiite protesters look like puppets in the hands of Iran, the Shiite Muslim behemoth across the gulf that has long tried to assert itself as the region’s dominant power.

The fear among many U.S. officials, though, is that the Sunni-Shiite unrest in Bahrain could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Bahraini government stops negotiating with the moderate Shiite opposition, it risks radicalizing its own population — and driving some of them into the arms of Iran. Another outcome could be a conflict between Sunni and Shiite that would cross several borders.

In a worst-case scenario, warned Charles Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-Shiite split could prompt the pro-U.S. government in Iraq to ally itself with Iran, scrambling the basic foundation of U.S. security policy in the area, which aims to make Iraq a bulwark against Iran.

“The strategic stakes in Bahrain are higher than many outside the region appreciate,” Freeman said.

The Obama administration has been urging the Bahraini government to negotiate. Last week, the State Department’s top Middle East hand, Jeffrey Feltman, rushed to Bahrain to try to reopen talks between the government and the opposition.

But the administration has been notably gentle, because it wants the Bahraini royal family to stay in power and it doesn’t want to offend Saudi Arabia.

In a speech last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. “strongly condemned the abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government.” But on Bahrain, she merely warned that “security alone cannot resolve the challenges.” (“We know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense,” she explained.)

Another official said the administration is promoting reform throughout the Arab world, but it’s also reassuring rulers in places such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that it won’t insist on immediate change. “It doesn’t have to come fast,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security advisor Tom Donilon visited Saudi Arabia this month to try to patch up the U.S. relationship with King Abdullah, who was furious when Obama backed the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Both U.S. and Saudi officials said the meetings helped repair the U.S.-Saudi alliance on issues such as Iran. But they said there was no sign of any Saudi moderation on the issue of Bahrain, which the Saudis consider their backyard.

The gulf has long been a central focus of U.S. foreign policy, both because it’s the source of much of the world’s oil and because it’s the frontier between the pro-American Arab monarchies and anti-American Iran.

That’s why the U.S. has a naval fleet there — headquartered, as it happens, in Bahrain.

Now Bahrain is at risk. Hard-liners have opted to use an iron fist, to see whether repression can restore stability; reform, they say, can come later. If they turn out to be wrong, the consequences could be dire.

By Doyle McManus

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Tunisia Seeks To Extradite Ben Ali’s wife

Posted on 22 February 2011 by hashimilion

Tunisia on Monday formally asked Saudi Arabia to extradite the wife of ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and took steps to dissolve his ruling party as protests continued against the struggling caretaker government.

Authorities “have made an official request to Saudi authorities through diplomatic channels for the extradition of Leila Trabelsi, the wife of the ousted president,” state TAP news agency said, quoting the foreign ministry.

Tunis has already asked Riyadh to extradite 74-year-old Ben Ali for his involvement “in several serious crimes aimed at perpetrating and inciting voluntary homicide and sowing discord” among Tunisians.

Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after an unprecedented popular uprising. He was reported last week to have fallen into a coma after suffering a stroke and was being treated in a hospital in Jeddah.

The European Union decided earlier this month to freeze the assets of 46 members of his entourage.

A former hairdresser, Trabelsi is accused of pillaging the country through endemic corruption, putting family members in key government and lucrative business posts.

Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi announced that he had officially requested to dissolve Ben Ali’s powerful Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party, two weeks after suspending its activities and closing its offices.

Despite its seemingly perennial power, the RCD, founded in 1988 by Ben Ali, had a tiny membership of some two million, roughly a fifth of the population.

And while the revolution forced out the former president, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi continues to face protests by angry demonstrators demanding to root out vestiges of the old regime.

About one thousand protesters, mostly students, Monday rallied for a second day in Tunis against what they called the “hypocrites” in the transitional government.

“We want the government to fall. Ghannouchi and his ministers want to stay beyond the period of transition,” said on student organisaer Ali Amdouni.

Ghannouchi was prime minister under Ben Ali for over a decade since 1999.

On January 17, he took the reins of a transitional government of national unity, which included many ministers who were part of the old regime.

The authorities have appointed a panel to prepare free elections due in six months while several opposition parties have demanded the election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.

Meanwhile Tunisian authorities on Monday arrested the suspected killer of a Polish priest who was found with his throat slit last week, which had raised fears extremists could be behind the murder, TAP reported.

Police arrested Chokri Ben Mustapha Bel-Sadek El-Mestiri, 43, a carpenter who worked at the same religious school where the priest Marek Rybinski was employed as accountant, TAP said, citing the interior ministry.

Rybinski was found dead on Friday, provoking condemnation from the transitional government and the main Islamist opposition group Ennahda (Awakening).

Authorities originally attributed the murder to extremists based “on the way” the priest was attacked.

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Tunisia asks Saudi Arabia to Extradite Ben Ali

Posted on 21 February 2011 by hashimilion

Tunisia’s interim government on Sunday asked Saudi Arabia to extradite deposed strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as it faced a second day of protests demanding its resignation.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s government made the official request to Riyadh, where Ben Ali fled on January 14 with his family after weeks of popular revolt against his 23-year regime, said a foreign ministry statement cited by state news agency TAP.

The government acted “following a new batch of charges against the ousted president regarding his involvement in several serious crimes aimed at perpetrating and inciting voluntary homicide and sowing discord between the citizens of the same country by pushing them to kill one another,” it said.

The caretaker government also asked Saudi Arabia for information about 74-year-old Ben Ali’s health following reports this week that he had fallen into a stress-induced coma and was being treated in a hospital in Jeddah.

Two days ago Tunisian officials spurned the reports, saying Ben Ali’s health was “not the government’s business”.

Radhouane Rouissi, Tunisian state secretary at the foreign ministry, said in televised remarks that the government was certain “Saudi authorities will give a positive answer to our demands, which are the demands of an entire people who suffered so much under Ben Ali’s regime”.

Sunday’s requests came as Ghannouchi faced fresh demonstrations, including a protest by around 4,000 people in central Tunis, demanding his resignation.

In Sunday’s rally many protesters waved Tunisian flags and banners proclaiming: “Resignation of the prime minister.”

“We are against Ghannouchi’s government because our revolution has led to nothing with Ghannouchi. This is Ben Ali’s team and it has changed nothing,” said teacher Samia Mahfoudh, 50.

Ghannouchi was prime minister under Ben Ali from 1999 until his ouster.

On January 17, he took the reins of a transitional government of national unity, which included many ministers who were part of the old regime.

The authorities have appointed a panel to prepare free elections due in six months while several opposition parties have demanded the election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.

The government also announced Friday a first set of urgent social measures and ordered reservists to join the army Wednesday to fill a security vacuum.

But protestor Sami Ben Moumen was unmoved: “They are taking us for fools.”

“All members of the government and regional councils have been elected by the former regime, the constitution has been reformed by the former regime. The RCD wants to sow terror,” he said, referring to the banned former ruling party.

Saturday, hundreds of Tunisians also marched to demand a secular state following the murder of a Polish priest, verbal attacks on Jews and an attempt by Islamists to set fire to a brothel.

Meanwhile hundreds of fearful Tunisians fled what they called “real carnage” in Libya on Sunday to head home via the coastal Ras Jdir border crossing, a union official told AFP.

“Hundreds of Tunisians left Libya Sunday through the Ras Jdir border post. There are a lot of people and there is a big bottleneck in the area,” said Houcine Betaieb, a member of Tunisia’s influential UGTT trade union.

“These are people who work there, who have left Libya out of fear that something would happen to them,” he said.

Inspired by events in neighbouring Tunisia, protests have erupted in Libya against the regime of longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi, who has responded with a violent crackdown that Human Rights Watch said had killed more than 170 people.

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