US-approved Syrian opposition group forms governing body
After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "more trustworthy" Syrian opposition last week, New TV reported that a leader in the Free Syrian Army announced that the Free Army is reorganizing its ranks to gain the trust of the international community, adding that his leadership has started to settle inside Syria. The Syrian opposition also announced during its ongoing meetings in Doha that it accepted a proposal to establish a transitional government headed by opposition member Riyad Saif. The initiative, headed by Saif, stipulates creating a unified leadership dubbed the Syrian National Initiative, from which a government in exile will be formed.
World groups organize global day of action in support of Myanmar's Rohingyas; Suu Kyi under fire for ignoring violence
Myanmar's Rohingyas are fleeing Rakhine State after a new wave of attacks from the Buddhist majority. Press TV reported that Rohingya groups around the world held a global day of action for the Rohingyas on November 8. International rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have also criticized Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the issue. The president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, Noor al-Islam, added in an interview during a rally in London that if the persecuted had been Rakhine's Buddhists, Suu Kyi would have spoken out. Additionally, the aid group Doctors Without Borders says its workers have been threatened and stopped from reaching violence-hit areas in Myanmar. The group says thousands are left without medical care in the western Rakhine State as a result, adding that many of the victims are extremely vulnerable.
Tens of Thousands Demand Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai
BBC Arabic reported that over 60 thousand people signed a petition calling for Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 15-year-old girl is recovering in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Britain, after suffering an armed attack by the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Malala and her campaign for education gained notoriety around the world after she wrote her memoirs in the Urdu section of the BBC about life under the teachings of the extremist Taliban movement that rejects girls' right to an education.
Oil Giant Shell Undercuts Iran Sanctions with $1.4B Grain Barter
Dubai TV reported that the Royal Dutch Shell Company aims to circumvent international sanctions imposed on Iran by concluding a swap through which it would pay its USD 1.4 billion debt to the Iranian national oil company with a grain barter deal through the American agribusiness Cargill. Through the deal, Shell would deliver grain to Iran worth USD 1.4 billion, or what amounts to nearly 80 percent of Iran's yearly grain imports. Sources also revealed that the Royal Dutch Shell company, Tehran's second largest customer, imports 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, and continued to purchase oil until the sanctions went into effect on July 1st.
Image: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai talks to her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout
Brahimi-brokered Eid al-Adha ceasefire quickly broken
New TV reported over the week that UN-Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi had been working with the Syrian government on a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a conditional truce on behalf of the Syrian regime, but armed opposition groups such as Ansar al-Sharia rejected the conditions and made their own demands. Sure enough, the ceasefire was broken on Friday, the first day of Eid.
Afghanistan: Dozens killed in Eid suicide blast
BBC Arabic reported on Friday that in the most violent attack in Afghanistan in months, 41 people were killed and at least another 50 were injured when a man blew himself up inside a mosque in the city of Maimana, the capital of the Faryab region in northern Afghanistan, during the early morning prayers for Eid al-Adha. The suicide bomber was reportedly wearing a police uniform. Many of the victims were government soldiers, and prominent local authorities were inside the mosque at the time of the explosion.
Sudan blames Israel for bombing of arms factory in Khartoum
Press TV reported on Wednesday that Sudan has blamed Israel for an air raid on an ammunition factory in Khartoum that killed two people. Sudanese Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman announced that evidence pointing to Israel was found among the remnants of the explosives, adding that Sudan reserved the right to retaliate. Hamas also accused Israel of orchestrating the bombing. However, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday that Israel denied the claims, and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad described Sudan as a "dangerous terrorist state."
More violence erupts against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
Press TV reports that at least 112 Rohingya have been killed in Rakhine State, and homes of Rohingya Muslims have been torched all across Myanmar in a new round of sectarian violence perpetrated mainly by Buddhist extremists. The violence had died down after a spate of killings in August that drove a number of Rohingya to flee the country, but they are again forced to leave their homes in light of the new wave of attacks.
Image: A member of the Free Syrian Army talks on the radio during an operation in Haram town, Idlib Governorate, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Iranian rial falls to all-time low as Western sanctions take hold
The rial has hit an all-time low against the American dollar, trading at 37,000 to the dollar this week, Future TV reported. And as objections against his government have risen, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the presence of a shortage of hard currencies in the Iranian market, and clarified that the Iranian rial was devalued because of international sanctions on Iran. He also said that he sees a psychological war accompanying this external international pressure, which led to the devaluation of the currency.
Tunisian woman accused of indecency after being raped by security forces
Dubai TV reported that the Tunisian judiciary charged a girl with public indecency on Wednesday, after police said they had arrested her in a car under what they described as "suspicious circumstances" this past September. The girl had accused security agents of raping her. After a number of protests worldwide, Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki offered a state apology to the girl, and viewed the security flaw as not being within the security institution, but rather in the mindset of some of its members.
Turkey strikes Syrian targets in retaliation for deadly shelling
Press TV reported that tensions simmered between neighbors Turkey and Syria, as Turkey hit targets on Syrian soil in retaliation for mortar shelling from Syrian territories that hit Akcakale in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa on Wednesday. At least five people were killed and over a dozen others injured.
On Thursday, Al Jazeera reported that Turkey's parliament agreed to allow the government to wage a military operation outside the border if found necessary. Following the decision, anti-war protestors gathered around parliament and clashed with riot police there. Turkey's shelling eventually stopped, but New TV reported that at an AKP gathering on Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new warning to Syria of the consequences of another shelling in Turkish territory.
Jailed Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima dies in custody
On Tuesday, 24-year-old Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima died of an illness while in custody. Press TV reported that he was in jail serving a prison term of seven years for taking part in anti-regime protests. Manama officials said that he was suffering from a hereditary disease. Lawyers said that they asked the court to release Mushaima because of his health, but their request had been denied.
Al-Alam reported that Bahraini regime forces launched a crackdown on his funeral procession in Manama on Wednesday, which was attended by "tens of thousands" of protestors. Al-Wefaq Society accused the Bahraini regime of being behind Mushaima's death, through depriving him of medical treatment and fabricating accusations against him.
Thousands of Jordanians take part in Friday protests despite king's dissolution of parliament
On Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah II decided to dissolve parliament and call for early parliamentary elections in his country, reported Dubai TV. This was likely a preemptive move to head off the massive protests being called for by opposition groups on Friday. However, BBC Arabic reported that thousands still gathered in Amman on Friday for a day of protests dubbed "Friday to Save the Homeland," as called for by the opposition parties, most notably the Islamic Action Front.
Image: Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration against charges of indecency filed against a woman raped by two police officers, in front of the court in Tunis October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
The UN General Assembly's yearly get-together is a time for high-flying international diplomacy between world leaders. The General Debate, in particular, allows all world leaders who participate in the United Nations to deliver a public address to the General Assembly. As such, it has been used as a highly-visible platform by many countries' representatives to push their views.
This year's debate theme was "Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means," which seems a little tongue-in-cheek given the current situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
As BBC Arabic reported that Somali and African forces were closing in on the final al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali gave his remarks at the Assembly, saying that there was no place in Somalia for the "few ideological extremists" in the Islamist group's ranks.
Barack Obama's appearance at the UN was brief, which some say was to avoid tough discussions with other world leaders on Iran and Syria. He honored Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, and condemned the American-made film that criticized Islam's Prophet Muhammad and sparked anti-US riots across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Libya's new president, Mohamed Yousek al-Magariaf, apologized for the attacks, and apologized to the world on behalf of Libya for Muammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule.
With regard to Syria, world leaders condemned the violence across the board, but their approaches to end the conflict varied greatly. According to IBA News, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II both called for Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that the Syrian president's ouster is vital to the success of peace efforts.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported the Syrian regime, and criticized the efforts by the Western world to interfere in what he sees as an internal conflict. Ahmadinejad, in his last speech to the Assembly as a world leader, also spoke of his belief in the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ and the twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, whom Shiites believe will come at the end times with the prophet Jesus to help humanity. The United States and Israel were both absent from the General Assembly Hall when he gave his remarks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the United Nations with a long-anticipated bid to join the UN General Assembly as an observer. The Palestinian Authority previously asked the UN for full member status last year, but had been rejected by the Security Council, which has the Israel ally, the United States, as a permanent member with veto power. Press TV reports that Abbas also lambasted Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. A UN report that came at the beginning of the week and before the General Assembly meeting echoed similar statements-- that Israel must do more to halt the abuse of Palestinian rights.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stole the show by using a prop, which has not been done in the General Assembly since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pulled out a copy of the UN Charter and threw it in the air in 2009. Netanyahu used a picture of a cartoon bomb and drew a red line through it to illustrate how far Iran has come in enriching uranium, and how the United Nations must draw a red line for the country before it acquires enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Press TV analysts expressed concern over Netanyahu's mental health following this incident.
Outside of the Assembly Hall, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast captured the attention of the American channel Fox News after he was attacked by a group of "about 100" Iranian dissident protestors on a New York City sidewalk. He managed to flag down an NYPD police car, but according to Dubai TV, the cops appeared "uninterested."
Image: Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a bomb illustration at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012. Press TV / United Nations
Myanmar's Rohingya population has been suffering greatly since sectarian violence broke out in the state of Rakhine, also known as Arakan, in June. The riots began with the alleged rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine girl by men who were reportedly Muslim, triggering a backlash by Rakhine's Buddhist majority on the Rohingya, in the form of massacres and arson attacks on homes, mosques, and businesses.
Official reports from Myanmar's government have kept the death toll at about 80 since June, but estimates from rights groups say that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, have been killed, and the UNHCR estimates that 80,000 have been displaced, either internally or as refugees to Bangladesh and other countries.
Link TV's LinkAsia has covered the developments concerning the Rohingya since the unrest in June, but the plight of the Rohingyas has also garnered much attention in the Middle East, namely because the group suffering from persecution is historically Muslim. And although the violence in Rakhine State was targeted at Rohingyas, it was also directed towards Muslims in general.
Mosaic has focused on the Middle Eastern and Muslim angles of the conflict, such as Bangladesh's rejection of Rohingya refugees, protests by Iranian students in front of the UN office in Tehran, and the many demonstrations in Indonesia, where Muslim activists in Jakarta have called for Myanmar's suspension from ASEAN, the expulsion of the Myanmar ambassador from Jakarta, and more international action on the issue.
The Rohingyas have been considered foreigners in Myanmar for decades. In 1982, the government passed a law that effectively rendered them stateless. Myanmar considers the ethnic group of 800,000 to be British colonial-era illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengali Muslims" in official releases. However, Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country itself, considers the Rohingyas to be Burmese, and has sent boatloads of refugees back to Myanmar, citing a dearth of resources. Bangladesh has also prevented humanitarian aid groups from continuing to work with the Rohingyas, fearing that the provisions would draw more refugees to the already-impoverished country.
Two of ASEAN's largest Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have offered to directly assist the Rohingyas. Indonesia, which boasts the largest Muslim population in the world, has also vowed to raise the topic of the Rohingya at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's next summit in Mecca next week. Saudi Arabia, which hosts the OIC and reportedly has a Rohingya population of hundreds of thousands, recently condemned Myanmar for what it called the Rohingyas' "ethnic cleansing," and the OIC's Turkish chief, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has followed suit.
Unfortunately, countries and organizations willing to help are finding the refugees difficult to reach. Myanmar and Bangladesh have both restricted aid to their Rohingya populations, leaving the displaced people to fend for themselves. Some Burmese groups have skirted the issue by collecting money for the Rakhine "fire victims," without mentioning the sectarian violence that led to the fires. However, with a severe dearth of food and medical services, Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons are currently struggling to survive. This scene is sadly all too similar to the persecution they have suffered for years, with a similar lack of international empathy.
Image: Amena Akter, a Rohingya from Myanmar cries as she holds her six-day old son, Sangram in the office of the Bangladesh Coast Guard in Teknaf June 19, 2012: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
The Syrian city of Aleppo, known in Arabic as Halab, has been suffering from intense fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army since July. The onslaught has been referred to as "The Battle of Aleppo" by various news outlets, and even "the mother of all battles" by some. This northeastern city is the most populous in Syria, and is of key economic and strategic importance in the fight between the rebels and the regime.
Let's take a look at this week's developments in Syria, paying particular attention to the situation in Aleppo, as well as the recent breakthroughs regarding the Syrian conflict in the United Nations and other countries.
Tuesday, July 31
Syria's Aleppo under heavy fire; 40 regime soldiers killed in fighting
BBC Arabic -The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 40 members of the Syrian army were killed at a police station in Aleppo as part of a number of attacks on police and intelligence stations in the area. In addition, the Free Syrian Army took control of the strategic Adnan checkpoint only a few kilometers away from the city of Aleppo, which allows them to link the city to Turkey. The Salaheddine (or Salah ed-Din) neighborhood is thought to be the focal point of the struggle. Taking control of the city would be considered a strategic gain, and a decisive factor in the power balance between the two sides.
Meanwhile, renewed fighting also broke out in Damascus, notably in the neighborhoods of al-Tadamon and the Yarmouk camp, which is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria.
Wednesday, August 1
Free Syrian Army claims advances in Aleppo as Turkey conducts military drills at border
Future TV - Over one hundred people were killed by al-Assad's brigades, while the Free Syrian Army expanded its control over the countryside of Aleppo. It also waged an attack on several security headquarters in the governorate, and killed Zain Berri, the leader of what is known as the Shabehat al-Berri, a criminal group that killed dozens of anti-regime protestors in Aleppo. This resulted in retaliatory attacks by the shabeha on a number of the Free Army's centers in Aleppo.
Two kilometers away from the Syrian border, the Turkish army conducted a military drill in the Mardin Governorate, after Turkey warned of military intervention to protect Syrian refugees if al-Assad's brigades attack them.
In Damascus, al-Assad's brigades raided a number of neighborhoods amid resistance by the Free Army in al-Qadam and Tadamon, while the Yarmouk camp was subject to tank and mortar shelling, with fears of being stormed.
Thursday, August 2
UN warns that three million Syrians need food aid as Annan quits Syria peace envoy
New TV - International envoy Kofi Annan resigned from his position as a mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League in Syria as the battle in Aleppo intensified. Gunmen seized three police stations, while videos said to have been taken in the Salaheddine neighborhood showed a number of dead bodies. Also, the nearby Menagh Military Airport was attacked by the Free Syrian Army with heavy weaponry, including tanks they had seized.
According to United Nations figures, three million Syrians are in need of food in light of the current crisis. Also, 200,000 residents have deserted Aleppo since the fighting began; a number of them have fled to Idlib Province, particularly to the neighboring town of Dana, which is under the control of the Free Army. However, living conditions there are difficult because of the large influx of people, and reports of shelling that targets bakeries.
Friday, August 3
UN General Assembly adopts Syria resolution
BBC Arabic - A large majority of the UN General Assembly backed a resolution on Syria condemning the government's use of heavy weapons, and criticized the UN Security Council's inability to take action in the face of the ongoing crisis in the country. Ban Ki-moon says that he views the conflict in Syria as a test for the principles of the United Nations, comparing the current international stance to his helpless position before the massacres in Yugoslavia.
The Russian and Syrian ambassadors to the UN objected to the condemnation, with Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari noting that "foreign interference" is helping to push the Syrian people's demands down the Syrian government's list of priorities.
Obama authorizes secret US support of Syrian rebels
Press TV - US President Barack Obama has reportedly signed a secret order, approved earlier this year, authorizing more support for the Syrian rebels in fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The order broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to aid them against the Syrian army. A US government source also confirmed that Washington is collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Image: A boy plays with an AK-47 rifle owned by his father in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo August 3, 2012: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
This week, Amnesty International called on Bahraini authorities to release all "prisoners of conscience" ahead of the appeals of nine medical workers and human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. In light of the ongoing developments in Bahrain, here is a rundown of relevant events, activists, groups, and places that have been featured on Mosaic in recent months.
The Arab Spring swept Bahrain in March 2011 with a series of demonstrations calling for greater political freedoms and more equality for the Shia Muslim minority. The government brutally suppressed the movement, resulting in the deaths of two protestors during rallies on February 14. The protestors' funerals led to an occupation of Manama's iconic Pearl Roundabout, which was destroyed by Bahraini security forces in a deadly raid on February 17. This sparked an uprising that is still underway, with the goal of bringing down King Hamad's regime.
The disheartening lack of change in the status quo since then has been attributed to multiple factors, notably neighboring Saudi Arabia's support of the regime, but also the overwhelming international silence on the issue. Global attention has been drawn away from Bahrain to similar uprisings in the region, and a media blackout, coupled with a crackdown on social media activists by Bahraini regime forces, keeps Bahrain's troubles out of the spotlight.
Nabeel Rajab: He is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and was arrested multiple times this April during protests against the Bahrain Grand Prix. Al Jazeera English has called him the "unofficial leader of the February 14 Movement." In early July, he was re-arrested shortly after posting anti-regime messages on his Twitter account, @NABEELRAJAB.
Abdulhadi Alkhawaja: He is the co-founder and former president of the BCHR. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2011, and famously underwent a 110-day hunger strike that lasted until May 2012 to protest his sentence and draw international attention to Bahrain.
Zainab and Maryam Alkhawaja: The daughters of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja are prominent rights activists themselves. In May, Zainab was interviewed on Democracy Now! with Mr. Rajab following a recent arrest, and Maryam spoke at the UNHRC during Bahrain's human rights review. They tweet in both Arabic and English, as @AngryArabiya and @MARYAMALKHAWAJA respectively.
Al-Wefaq: This Shiite group is the largest political party in Bahrain, but is often outvoted by coalition Sunni parties. They, along with the February 14 Movement, have organized numerous demonstrations against the regime, despite a ban on rallies by the Interior Ministry. They are guided by their spiritual leader, Sheikh Issa Qassim.
February 14 Movement: This opposition youth group is led by anonymous social media activists. It was named after the date the popular uprising began, which was also the tenth anniversary of a charter that ended Bahrain's 1990s uprising and returned it to constitutional rule. The group has no set political or religious affiliations, but has organized marches with al-Wefaq.
Al-Khalifa Family: Bahrain's ruling family has managed to hold on to power in the midst of the unrest, with their Saudi-backed security forces repeatedly quelling the uprisings, but there is growing evidence of internal conflict.
Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia: Like 70 percent of Bahrain's population of 1.3 million, Saudi Arabia's largest province consists primarily of Shia Muslims who speak Bahrani Arabic, and most of its 4.2 million people share intimate historical and cultural ties with Bahrainis. Demonstrations in this region have been similarly suppressed by the Saudi military.
Saudi Arabia: On March 2011, Bahraini authorities called on the mostly Saudi Arabian Peninsula Shield Forces to help contain the uprising in their country. This May, Saudi and Bahraini officials proposed incorporating Bahrain into Saudi Arabia to formalize their growing alliance, but the planned move was met with widespread condemnation.
United States: The US has enjoyed a close military relationship with Bahrain since the 1990s, and the US Navy has been stationed in the strategic Gulf country for several decades. This may have something to do with the superpower's silence on the unrest in Bahrain so far, much to the chagrin of rights activists.
Image: Bahraini protestors marching for prisoners of conscience, July 25, 2012: Al-Alam
Al-Assad's regime suffers major blow as blast kills top Syrian officials
New TV - A severe blow to security in the heart of the Syrian capital Damascus led to the death of the chairman of Syria's "crisis cell," General Hassan Turkmani, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, and his aid Assef Shawkat, the Syrian president's brother-in-law. In addition, top military and security officials were injured. According to reports, one of the security leaders' guards was wearing an explosive belt, and he blew himself up inside the hall as a meeting of the group, also known as "Syria's Generals," was taking place. An opposition group called "Liwa al-Islam Brigades" claimed responsibility on its Facebook page. Syrian leadership hurried to avoid the consequences of these deaths by appointing Brigadier Fahad Jassim al-Freij as the new defense minister.
Russia and China veto Western-backed UN resolution on Syria for the third time
New TV - Russia and China blocked the West-backed resolution on Syria for the third time at the UN Security Council in defense of the Syrian regime. The American, French, and British ambassadors to the UN condemned the move, with US ambassador Susan Rice calling it shameful for the council not to seek a solution to Syria's crisis. In response, Syrian ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari accused the council of failing to support a political solution and of restricting the Annan plan, adding that those who "sympathized with the terrorists and gunmen" should host them in their own countries.
Early elections loom as Kadima quits Israeli ruling coalition
Dubai TV - Israel's Kadima party withdrew from the Israeli government coalition amid disagreement over a new alternative to the current draft law, a move that may lead to early parliamentary elections in Israel, most likely in February. Kadima's main goals in the coalition were to revive the peace process with the Palestinians, and to expand the draft law to include ultra-Orthodox Jews. However, experts say that the Likud party is bowing more and more to pressure from the Israeli right and far-right, and if Israel is heading towards early elections, Netanyahu has a better chance to win with their support, while Kadima head Shaul Mofaz seeks to secure a secular stance.
US navy kills fisherman after firing at boat off coast of UAE
Press TV - A US warship opened fire on a fishing boat in the Persian Gulf on Monday. US officials say the small motorboat ignored repeated warnings to halt its approach before the navy vessel opened fire, but survivors of the attack said they received no warning, and that their boat attempted to avoid any contact with the ship. India calls the killing and injuring of its nationals by the US navy "unfortunate." Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna says that India is in contact with the US and the UAE regarding the incident.
International community remains silent on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar
Al Jazeera - Amnesty International has accused Myanmar's authorities and Buddhist groups in the state of Rakhine of raping, killing, and ethnically cleansing members of the Muslim Rohingya minority, classified by the United Nations as the world's most persecuted race. The Rohingyas say they account for around 5 million people, with the UN indicating that over 800,000 Muslims live in Myanmar. Many have fled nearby locations, but some countries have turned them away, notably Bangladesh, which has decided not to allow them enter the country in fear of what it called serious environmental and social problems. But even worse is that there is local and international silence on the issue. Western countries that have lifted their economic sanctions on Myanmar after it entered a "democratic transformation," leading many to view the country as an investment paradise.
After over 20 years, Sudanese citizens are finally rising up against Omar al-Bashir and his one-party rule. Even a month ago, some Sudanese activists were skeptical that an "Arab Spring"-style revolution could blossom in their country. After all, the Sudanese government has shown that it is willing and able to commit human rights abuses to stay in power; dissenters have kept silent for decades in fear of retribution. So what happened, and why now?
To put it simply: Oil. The secession of the South left Sudan with only 30 percent of its oil production capacity, and the drop in government oil export revenues has resulted in a staggering budget deficit of over USD 2 billion and growing. In mid-June, the Sudanese government announced a new set of austerity measures that included increasing taxes and removing fuel subsidies, which doubled gasoline prices and thus transportation costs. This sharp rise in basic living expenditures was the final straw for an already impoverished nation.
However, it has been Sudan's educated youth who have led the charge. Students from the University of Khartoum were the first to hold protests against the austerity measures, and students from other universities have followed suit. Going back even further, in 2009 a group of students in Khartoum started the peaceful Girifna ("We are fed up") movement, in protest of the National Congress Party's monopoly over the Sudanese government. This group, along with other youth opposition groups, has risen to prominence during the recent protests, thanks to their multilingualism and their savvy use of the Internet to mobilize demonstrators both at home and abroad.
These young people know that Sudan does not have to resort to such drastic measures in order to meet its USD 2 billion deficit. In fact, the government can save five times that amount by cutting military spending. But the Sudanese are beginning to understand that the current regime may not be willing to solve this crisis by giving up the military might that has kept them in power for so long. For example, Friday's Dubai TV report on the arrests of Sudanese protestors in the name of "maintaining security" and fighting terrorists" draws some worrisome parallels to other regimes. This oppressive might, wielded by a man who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has also alienated Sudan from countries that would otherwise be willing to help. And so, faced with a choice between starving slowly and risking their lives for change, the Sudanese people have begun to rise up.
Whether this budding uprising will take root and achieve its goals remains to be seen. The international community has remained quiet for now. But drawing worldwide attention to this crisis, whether it be through the media, business, or politics, will be crucial in pressuring Khartoum to serve the interests of its people. If that pressure is not enough, one can only hope that the world will not stand idly by and watch another Syria take place.
Image: People wait to get fuel for their cars at a petrol station in Khartoum June 21, 2012: REUTERS/Stringer