From Arab Spring to Sudanese Summer: It Takes Oil (or a Lack Thereof)

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?


People wait to get fuel for their cars at a petrol station in Khartoum June 21, 2012: REUTERS/Stringer

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


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Protests Break Out in Sudan and More

Al Jazeera

Anti-regime protests sweep Khartoum

Dubai TV - A wave of popular rage is sweeping the Sudanese capital following calls to launch protests from local mosques in condemnation of the deteriorating economic conditions and to demand change. Yesterday, fierce confrontations broke out between Sudanese police and al-Khartoum University students. Anti-riot police used batons and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, in a new development described by the Sudanese opposition as 'the first step towards change.'

Kuwait court dissolves parliament, declares polls illegal

Al Jazeera - Al Jazeera correspondent in Kuwait reported that opposition representatives resigned from the former National Assembly that was reinstated today by the Constitutional Court. This comes after the Constitutional Court issued a ruling voiding the parliamentary elections that were conducted earlier this year. According to the court, since the parliamentary elections are invalid, the current assembly must be dissolved, and the former assembly, whose majority supports the government, is to be restored.

Delayed poll results keep Egyptians on edge and on the streets

Al-Alam - In Egypt, Secretary-General of the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission Hatem Bagato said the presidential election results will be announced on Saturday or Sunday. Bagato said that looking into the appeals presented by both candidates, Mohamed Morsy and Ahmed Shafiq, requires some time. Protests and sit-ins are continuing in Cairo and other Egyptian cities over the military council's decisions and especially the constitutional declaration that limits the powers of the next president. Protestors expressed fear of fraud in the presidential election results after the Supreme Elections Commission decided to postpone announcing the results.

Iran, P5+1 powers fail to settle another dispute

Dubai TV - The talks between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear program have failed in Moscow. The two-day talks ended with the two sides agreeing to meet again next month in Istanbul. Both sides confirmed they have started to tackle critical issues, but warned that significant gaps still exist between them. With this, the Russians have failed to achieve political gains on the international front.

Syrian pilot defects after landing in Jordan

BBC Arabic - Jordan granted political asylum to the defected Syrian pilot Hassan Mari, after his MiG-21 fighter jet landed in Mafraq Airport this morning. Syrian TV had announced contact was lost with the warplane during a training mission in Daraa. Activists said this is the first defection of an air force pilot with his plane since the uprising began.

Dire humanitarian conditions loom in southern Yemen

Al-Forat - Widespread disease, destruction, and a lack of food and medicine, is the status of Yemen's southern provinces, after having been afflicted by war and armed conflicts. This state of the security and humanitarian conditions in Yemen's southern provinces are the result of heated battles between the Yemeni army and armed elements of al-Qaeda. It is a humanitarian crisis that threatens the life of over half a million refugees, who were displaced by battles that caused widespread destruction to the southern regions' infrastructure.


Image: Al Jazeera


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Egyptians Rally in Tahrir for Mubarak Retrial and More

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Egyptians hold the second million-man march within two days

Al Jazeera - Tahrir Square witnessed a demonstration titled the “Friday of Determination”. Following the verdict of Mubarak and some of his regime’s figureheads, masses took the squares and held spontaneous protests; they were not mobilized by any particular revolutionary or political force. The protests, in which thousands participated, viewed the verdict as a step toward reproducing the former regime. The demands varied throughout the demonstrations, and included the implementation of the disenfranchisement law on candidate Ahmed Shafiq, preventing him from participating in the presidential run-off round, and the re-trial of deposed President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, and his regime's figureheads.


Two Sudans disagree over border of demilitarized zone

Dubai TV - The current African-mediated talks between Sudan and South Sudan have stalled once again since they started four days ago in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Both sides have failed to establish a demilitarized zone on their shared borders. Observers believe that both sides do not wish to continue fighting in light of their current crises, and the fear of UN sanctions if they fail to resolve their problems.

Benghazi residents protest unequal distribution of Libya's National Council seats

Al Jazeera - Hundreds of people demonstrated in the Libyan city of Benghazi yesterday, demanding a fair redistribution of the Public National Conference's seats among all Libyan regions. The protestors believe the current distribution of seats is prejudice, as it is based on the population density, and may lead to the monopoly of political decisions. In addition, the protestors expressed their intention to boycott the anticipated parliamentary elections, if their demands are not met.

A look back at Naksa Day, or the Day of the Setback

Palestine TV - Tuesday was the 45th anniversary of the June War, known as the Naksa, or the day of the setback, when tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced. On that day in 1967, Israel launched an attack that targeted a number of Arab countries and occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It changed the geographic and demographic reality in what remained of Palestine, in the years following the Nakba, or the catastrophe, when its land was occupied and its people were displaced. And despite the long years of great pain between 1948 and 1967 that hold the history of dark massacres, the refugees have never stopped waiting for their return. Refugee camps and journeys of displacement remain witnesses to the severity of the occupation that has changed and is still changing the map of this region.

Afghan President Karzai condemns NATO air strike as Panetta arrives in Kabul

Al-Alam - Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the NATO air strike conducted in the southern province of Logar that resulted in the death of 18 people, assuring that targeting civilians cannot be justified. Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Panetta arrived to Afghanistan in a surprise visit. Panetta said the purpose of his visit is to get an assessment from American General John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, of the ability to cope with the Taliban's threats and Haqqani fighters, referring to another network tied to al-Qaeda.

Image: A protester acting as Hosni Mubarak wears a mask depicting the deposed Egyptian president during a mock trial at Tahrir square in Cairo June 8, 2012. Hundreds of activists gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to demonstrate against presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik ahead of a run-off vote, saying they did not want to be ruled by another former military man. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem


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Massacre in Afghanistan: An Isolated Incident or Just another Wave of Violence?

The past several months in Afghanistan have witnessed a rise in the level of violence caused by the ramification of U.S.-committed crimes in the country.


In January, a video of four U.S soldiers in uniform urinating on three dead bodies sparked anger and outrage around the world.Russia Today reported on this incident with a statement from authorities refuting this video saying: "While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticities of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps."


In February, violence broke out in Kabul over the burning of copies of the Quran at the Bagram military base.This led to protests by thousands of Afghans demanding the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Demonstrators also burned the American flag and expressed rage over the ongoing desecration of Muslim sanctities; thirty Afghans were killed in the protests. 


Finally, on Sunday, anger reached a tipping point after a U.S. soldier killed over a dozen civilians on a late-night shooting spree.This latest massacre left 16 civilians dead, most of them children and women.


Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the shooting and demanded an explanation from the U.S., stating, "This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven."


While mainstream media are reporting on just one U.S. soldier, the prime suspect whose identity was just released as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, an Afghan committee investigated the crime and concluded that up to 20 people may have been involved in the massacre.The committee explained, "The villages are one and a half kilometers from the American military base. We are convinced that one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour at the same time", but accounts by the massacre's survivors have yet to be reported by most outlets.  


The number of Afghan casualties has steadily increased since 2009. The 2011 UNAMA report documents, "2,332 civilian deaths and 3,649 injuries by the Taliban for a total 5,981 civilian casualties, an increase of 10% in deaths and injuries attributed to anti-government forces compared to 2010. This accounted for 77% of all deaths whereas Nato and government forces totalled 410 civilian killings and 335 injuries."


These figures indicate the Afghan people are subject to regular violence from multiple forces, both local and foreign.


Afghan protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad province


Image: Afghan protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad province March 13, 2012. The shootings triggered a protest by around 2,000 students in the eastern city of Jalalabad, the first since Sunday's attack, calling for the U.S. soldier to be prosecuted by Afghan authorities in Kandahar. REUTERS/Parwiz


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Inside Syria's Divided Opposition

Seven months into the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the Syrian opposition remains starkly divided on several key issues. According to the BBC, these issues include "the question of whether or not to encourage foreign intervention, whether there should be regime change or dialogue, and whether there should be armed rebellion or peaceful protest."


The Syrian National Council (SNC), which was recently formed in Turkey, and the Damascus-based National Coordination Committee (NCC) are the two main opposition groups that have emerged in Syria. While both blocs agree on overthrowing the current regime, the NCC calls for dialogue with Assad's regime (on the condition that the regime ends the violence against protestors), while the SNC vehemently rejects any form of dialogue. 


While the SNC and the NCC both originally rejected foreign intervention, the SNC membership now seems divided on the issue. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, "some SNC members, especially the youth activists, have been calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone and the protection of civilians including a NATO-led intervention akin to the one in Libya." The NCC calls instead for economic sanctions and other political maneuvers to counter Assad's regime. 


Military defectors organized under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) mark yet another facet of Syria's opposition. The FSA has repeatedly mounted attacks on Syrian security forces and Syrian security forces and army, worrying many that the crisis will escalate into a civil war. A majority of the opposition agrees that protests should remain non-violent, however many youth activists are growing impatient with the slow progress on the political front.


A Syrian protester living in Egypt attacks a member of the Syrian opposition delegation before the delegation was due to meet with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo November 9, 2011.

Many protestors are weary of both opposition blocs, saying they aren't representative of the people and their demands. In an article titled, "Opposing (Some) Arab Opposition Groups," As'ad AbuKhalil warns against endorsing Arab opposition groups simply because they oppose dictatorial regimes. He says, "Some Arab opposition groups may promise democracy and rule of law, while they carry the agenda of a sponsoring tyrannical government… It is our duty…to speak out against those opposition groups who promise to take the people from one form of tyranny to another."


As the protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad continue on a daily basis in Syria, the deepening divide in the muddled Syrian opposition will continue to hinder a resolution to the crisis. In the words of Steven Heydemann, senior advisor for Middle East initiatives at the US Institute of Peace, the Syrian revolution will be  "a marathon" if Syrians cannot unite. 


(Photo:  A Syrian protestor living in Egypt attacks a member of the Syrian opposition delegation before the delegation was due to meet with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo November 9, 2011. Watch New TV's report on the altercation here.



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Occupy Wall Street: An American "Arab Spring"?

"Ever since the Arab Spring, many people here have been pining for an American Autumn," says Charles Blow in the New York Times. "The closest we've gotten so far is Occupy Wall Street." For almost four weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have gathered in Manhattan's financial district to protest corporate greed, corruption, and social and economic inequality, among other things. The movement's website states, "We Are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends." 

Occupy Wall Street protester marches up Broadway in New York

Is Occupy Wall Street the beginning of America's own "Arab Spring"? According to Micah Sifry at techPresident, "America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy" that swept the Arab world. After travelling throughout the Middle East to cover the "Arab Spring" protests, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof said "the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo." 


Many disagree. Blow describes the protests as "a festival of frustrations, a collective venting session with little edge or urgency, highlighting just how far away downtown Manhattan is from Damascus." James Joyner at Outside the Beltway states, "What these movements have in common: frustrated youth loosely organized using social media …It's simply insulting to compare the two."


What can the American protestors learn from the more experienced "Arab Spring" protestors? In a Foreign Policy Magazine article entitled "From Tahrir Square to Wall Street," veteran Egyptian protestor Mosa'ab Elshamy offers his advice to the Occupy Wall Street activists on what makes a successful protest movement. Most importantly, Elshamy says, is that protestors have a unified platform. They must first agree on a set of simple and broad demands in order to attract a wide base of support, which is exactly what Occupy Wall Street lacks, according to most critics.  


Almost one month after the start of protests in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown surprising staying power. The movement has spread to over 70 US cities and has been endorsed by several labor unions, celebrities, and politicians. But will it succeed in bringing accountability and equity to the US financial system, or will it fizzle as protestors are dispersed by a cold New York winter? 


(Photo: Occupy Wall Street protestor marches up Broadway in New York.  Mike Segar / Reuters)


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Saudi Arabia's Forgotten Political Prisoners Emerge From the Shadows

In a report entitled "Saudi Arabia's Political Prisoners: Towards a Third Decade of Silence," the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) describes political imprisonment in Saudi Arabia as  "an epidemic [which] has not spared any sector of Saudi society." According to the IHRC, there are an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia out of approximately 18 million Saudi nationals. The report calls attention to the plight of these political prisoners over the last three decades with hopes that the Saudi government and international community will finally take notice. 


Protests in Saudi Arabia have been ongoing for several months calling for political reform and the release of political prisoners. On Monday, these protests turned violent for the first time when Saudi security forces opened fired at demonstrators. Al-Alam reported that 24 people were injured in the clashes in Saudi's oil-rich Eastern Province. The clashes took place in Qatif and al-Awamiyah, home to a largely Shia population. In an official statement, the Interior Ministry blamed a "foreign country" for the unrest, undoubtedly a veiled reference to Iran, adding that "those involved in sabotage will be dealt with an iron hand." 


Protesters hold pictures of men said to be held prisoner without trial during a protest asking for their release, and the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighbouring Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia's eastern Gulf coast town of Qatif April 14, 2011. Hundreds of Saudi Shi'ites in the oil-producing east took to the streets in protest on Thursday, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and an end to human rights violations, activists said.

In an al-Jazeera opinion piece entitled "Saudi political prisoners long for justice," Hala al-Dosari detailed the case of one mother who appealed to the head of the Interior Ministry for the release of her son, Fahad al-Saeed, arrested nine years ago without trial or charges. The "articulate language and heart-breaking details " of the plea garnered a shocking, first-time response from the government, but one that denied the arrest and detainment of al-Saeed. 


The Independent newspaper reported that protests in the oil-rich kingdom are gaining momentum and are expected spread to more cities. A Facebook page entitled "Revolution of the Eastern Region" is among several opposition websites gaining popularity. What will the spread of protests mean for a country that has long punished political dissidents? 


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Bahrain Jails Medics for Treating Injured Protestors

BBC Arabic reported that a Bahraini military court sentenced one protestor to death for killing a policeman during an anti-regime protest in March. The court also issued harsh prison sentences to 20 medical professionals working at al-Salmaniya Hospital in Manama during the protest movement. Thirteen medics were sentenced to 15 years in prison. According to the Bahrain News Agency, the medics are being charged with "forcefully occupying Salmaniya Medical Centre…possessing unlicensed arms and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news." Several written testimonies of the sentenced doctors indicate that they were physically and psychologically abused, tortured, beaten, sexually harassed, and humiliated while in custody.  

Doctors form a human chain at Salmaniya Hospital fearing an attack by riot police in Manama


On June 14, after Bahrain started the trial of 48 medics, journalist Robert Fisk dispatched an eyewitness account from the hospital to The Independent. He wrote that he saw doctors desperately trying to save the lives of injured protestors shot by Bahraini forces, describing the charges as "a pack of lies."


One of the sentenced doctors, Dr. Fatma Haji, told the BBC that the medics' only crime "was that we helped innocent, helpless people who were just protesting and got injured." In a video to her three-year-old son, she maintained her innocence and expressed hope that when he is old enough to understand, he will be proud of her.


Amnesty International condemned the Bahraini regime for its harsh sentences against the health practitioners. Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme described the charges against the medics as "ludicrous." The Dublin-based human rights organization Front Line also condemned the sentencing after a "deeply flawed and unfair trial." It declared that medical care has been "criminalized" in Bahrain.


In July, Human Rights Watch issued a 54-page report documenting the government's abuses against citizens since February, and called on the Bahraini regime to immediately end its systematic policy of arresting and abusing medical personnel and patients.


(Photo: Doctors form a human chain at Salmaniya Hospital fearing an attack by riot police in Manama, on March 15/ Reuters)


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Has Yemen's Popular Revolution Been Hijacked?

Tens of thousands of demonstrators participated in anti-government protests throughout Yemen today, on what has been called the “Friday of sincere promise.” Since February, Yemen's youth has taken to the street in massive protests and held demonstrations demanding the downfall of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime amid violent efforts by Yemeni security forces to quell protests. The peaceful revolution, however, has seen little progress in the more than six months since its onset. Why has Yemen's revolution lagged so far behind the revolutions of other Arab nations, such as Tunisia and Egypt? Many experts believe the slow pace of Yemen's revolution is due to a lack of unity between Yemen's youth in the streets, opposition groups, and politicians supporting the revolution. Some observers believe the leading opposition group Joint Meeting Parties was too quick to negotiate with a regime that had lost legitimacy, especially as Yemeni's youth has repeatedly expressed its rejection to any negotiations with Saleh's regime or initiatives brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Yemen protestAccording to Foreign Policy Magazine, Yemen's revolution has reached a standstill because it lacks a broad middle class and dynamic civil society. What started as a revolution has now turned into an “elitist struggle for power.” The revolution is said to have been hijacked by tribal leaders and political elites who gave their support to the revolution but who have hidden agendas to gain power. These figures include General Ali Mohsin, a former close ally of Saleh, hardline cleric Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, and leader of the Hashid tribe, Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahman. This question is examined in Press TV's report entitled “Yemen: The Stolen Revolution?” 


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Tonight on Mosaic: Bahrainis plan silent protest for 'dignity'

Bahrain: The Bahraini Coalition for a Republic called on citizens to participate in a silent protest in the commercial center of al-Marfaa called "encircling dignity" in order to avoid an assault by security forces. A number of political societies have also called for "the return to Martyrs' Square," formerly known as Pearl Roundabout, on September 23 and 24. In another development, al-Wefaq Society commended the Jordanian people for refusing to send Jordanian forces to oppress the Bahraini people and described the move as 'admirable.' 


Syria: Russia warned that terrorist organizations could arise in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad's government collapses. Russia has refused to join the harsh US-led sanctions against Damascus and has supported political dialogue rather than military intervention to end the violence in Syria. 


Yemen: Nine people have been killed north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa in clashes between armed tribesmen and Republican Guard units loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Politically, the Yemeni opposition rejected President Saleh's bid to authorize his deputy to sign the Gulf initiative. The Joint Meeting Parties described Saleh's bid as a "political game" and a "maneuver" to cling to power and to "buy more time." 


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