Raise Your Voice: Angelique Kidjo at the UN  Close

Mosaic Blog

Trouble Brews in Yemen, Words Fly at NAM Summit, and More Top Stories This Week

REUTERS/Mehr News Agency

 

Words fly at Non-Aligned Movement summit

On Wednesday, Al-Alam reported that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Tehran to take part in the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, despite outcry from the United States and from Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran taking over NAM leadership. However, Ban went on later in the week to sharply condemn Iran's denial of the Holocaust during WWII, as well as Israel's right to exist, in a speech at the summit.

Ban's comments were part of a number of verbal attacks at the meeting, which was heavily covered by Mosaic's broadcasters. BBC Arabic reported that the Syrian delegation left the summit's conference hall when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi criticized the Syrian government during his speech, in which he affirmed his country's "full solidarity" with those seeking freedom and justice in Syria. Additionally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Western countries of fabricating crises around the world, and of monopolizing the UN Security Council.


Trouble brews for a shaky Yemen in transition

New protests have broken out in the Yemeni capital Sanaa to denounce the deteriorating security situation in the country, and to demand the dismissal of relatives of deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from their military positions. Al Jazeera reported that this comes after an assassination attempt targeted Yassin Saeed Noman, the most prominent leader of the Joint Meeting Parties opposition coalition.

In addition, Press TV reported another US drone strike in Yemen killed at least eight people in Hadhramaut Province, the second such attack in the region this week. Dubai TV reported the killing of three al-Qaeda members in an air raid in the Khashamir area of the Qatan district, but the source did not specify the origin of the plane that carried out the raid.

Yemen has been experiencing difficulty in restructuring the country's government after the fall of former president Saleh. Earlier this week, members of the Southern Movement in Yemen refused to participate in the national dialogue conference scheduled for the end of the year. They demand the south's secession from the north, which would mean a return to the country's pre-unification division.

More leaders express stance on Syrian Civil War

As the Syrian army's shelling intensified all across Syria this week, Press TV reported that President Bashar al-Assad sat down for an interview with Syrian channel Al-Dunya, saying more time is needed to end the insurgency in his country and that a buffer zone, the idea being championed by "hostile countries" and "Syria's enemies," is unrealistic.

Meanwhile, some leaders expressed their stance on the Syrian war during the NAM summit, most notably Egypt's President Morsi, Iran's President Ahmadinejad, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who opposed any kind of military intervention, as well as criticized the ongoing flow of weapons to insurgents. The head of Russia's army also rejected media reports this week that Moscow was winding down its military presence in Syria, saying that it is not in the process of evacuating its naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus, which it has leased since Soviet times.

 

Image: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks to Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) after his speech during the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency

 
 

Comments (0)

 
Digg it!Add to RedditAdd to Del.icio.usShare on Facebook
 
If Bashar Falls, What Will Happen to Syria's Alawites and Kurds?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing immense pressure to step down from power to end the conflict in his country. Unfortunately, ending the Syrian conflict is not that easy. Syria, like most countries in the Middle East, has kept a precarious balance of power between religious and ethnic groups for centuries. Assad stepping down may be the drastic change that the Syrian people need, but it could also have disastrous consequences for some of these groups.

 

Let us examine two of the largest minority groups in Syria-- Alawites and Kurds-- and see how they fit into the scene of this ongoing conflict.

Alawites

 

Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

 

The ruling al-Assad family is part of the Alawite community, which is a minority religious group in Syria and constitutes about 12 percent of Syria's population (2.1 million people). The term Alawite or Alawi comes from the name "Ali," referring to the fact that they are followers of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad.

While Alawites are classified as a distant branch of Shia Islam, many Muslims consider Alawite practices, such as drinking wine and believing in reincarnation, to be heresy. As such, Alawites have long suffered persecution, and have taken to keeping their beliefs behind a veil of secrecy.

Alawites have held a disproportionate amount of Syria's political and economic power since Bashar's father Hafez seized power in the 1970s. Sunnis, who comprise about three-quarters of the population and ruled the area for centuries, have resented this imbalance. However, the mostly-Alawite Assad government has been largely tolerant of other ethnic and religious minorities. The government has also enjoyed the support of neighboring Shiite political groups, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aside from Damascus, the Alawites of Syria are concentrated in the country's northwest, along the Mediterranean coast, in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus. They are joined by significant Alawite minorities in Turkey's southern Antakya Province (formerly Antioch) to their immediate north, and Lebanon's northernmost district of Akkar to their immediate south.

South of Akkar, the Jabal al-Mohsen neighborhood in Tripoli (Tarabulus) is also mostly Alawite in a bastion of conservative Sunnis, and has experienced clashes with the anti-Assad Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood for decades. The fighting in Tripoli has only increased with the escalation of the war in Syria.

Many Alawites in the country fear a backlash against their community if Bashar al-Assad were to step down from power. Even if they are not pro-Assad, they fear being "massacred" by Sunnis once they are no longer under the protection of the Syrian army.

Kurds

 

Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)


Most of Hasaka Governorate, which is in the northeastern tip of Syria, forms a small part of the geocultural region of Kurdistan. This historically Kurdish region includes the majority of southeastern Turkey, the northern border of Iraq, most of the western border of Iran, and a small portion of Armenia. There are some 30 million Kurds living in this region, making them the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.

Kurds are also one of the largest ethnic minorities in Syria, consisting of about 10 percent of the Syrian population (2 million people). They have been regularly discriminated against by the Syrian government, and were considered stateless for decades until earlier last year, when Bashar al-Assad granted them Syrian citizenship in a bid to prevent them from joining the growing opposition against his regime. This bid was largely unsuccessful, and many Kurds have joined the uprising with the hope of securing their autonomy as a separate Kurdish state within Syria, if not establishing Kurdistan as a nation, to the dismay of neighboring countries.

When the fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army intensified in western Syria this July, Syrian forces withdrew from the Kurdish northeast to strengthen their fronts against the FSA in western urban areas such as Aleppo and Damascus. The withdrawal left Syrian Kurds almost completely in control of their own region for the first time, much to Turkey's chagrin, which fears that the Kurdish region in Syria could become a haven for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

At the moment, the region is one of the safest and most secure in the country, due in part to Kurds preventing both the Syrian army and the FSA from entering. However, many are worried that once the greater conflict is resolved, either the Syrian regime or the opposition will try to take back the Kurdish region, something that the newly-autonomous Kurds will not take kindly to.

Possible consequences of regime change

Neighboring countries fear that the fall of the Assad regime will lead to the fracturing of Syria along ethnic and religious lines, which would almost inevitably create complications in the greater region. King Abdullah of Jordan has said that the creation of an Alawite state along the predominantly-Alawite Syrian coast may be Bashar al-Assad's "Plan B." The creation of an independent Kurdish state in Syria's east may lead to more calls for Kurdish autonomy, even for a unified Kurdistan, in the surrounding Kurd-populated areas. Additionally, the influx of Syrian refugees will change the demographic makeup of the countries surrounding Syria, which could upset other precarious balances of power and lead to new conflicts years down the line.

 

Images:

1. Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

2. Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)

 
 

Comments (1)

 
Digg it!Add to RedditAdd to Del.icio.usShare on Facebook
 
This Week in Syria: New Aleppo Violence as Free Syrian Army Falls Under Scrutiny

 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 

In Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army made a "tactical withdrawal" from the strategic neighborhood of Salaheddine last week, citing a shortage of ammunition. According to BBC Arabic, they have returned and opened new fronts in the city, including a push to control Aleppo International Airport, as well as the military airfield adjacent to it.

However, Aleppo City and some of the governorate proper is coming under heavy fire from the Syrian Army. On Thursday, Dubai TV reported that at least 80 were killed in an air strike on the town of Azaz, which is about 50 kilometers from Aleppo. There were also air raids on several Aleppo neighborhoods on Friday.

The Free Syrian Army, known in Arabic as al-Jaish al-Suri al-Hurr, also came under scrutiny this week after videos surfaced showing alleged FSA members participating in a morally questionable execution in Aleppo and kidnapping a Lebanese national, the latter of which the FSA denied. New TV showed the footage of a what appears to be a "shabeha" getting his throat slit by an FSA member, alongside footage of the FSA with a captured Syrian Army pilot. According to Dubai TV, however, the FSA claimed that both the kidnapping of Hassan al-Miqdad of the powerful al-Miqdad family, as well as the group involved in the abduction, were fabricated by the Syrian regime in an attempt to fuel strife between Syrians and Lebanese.

In the south of the country, Damascus also experienced heavy fighting this week. Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday that the Free Syrian Army detonated a bomb under a fuel truck near Umayyad Square. The FSA said that the bomb had targeted a meeting of the Syrian Air Force, but the explosion was also very close to the UN observers' hotel. The bombing was followed by clashes in the neighborhood of Kafr Susa, which is near the prime minister's office.

Meanwhile, at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation's latest summit in Mecca, Algerie TV reported that Syria was suspended from the OIC, and the leaders agreed to continue pursuing the political solution and a peaceful solution to the crisis that would guarantee the country's unity and sovereignty during the violence. The meeting ended by confirming support for oppressed Muslim people, and with calls to combat strife between Islamic teachings, as well as countering terrorism and extremism.

 

Image: A man cries in front of houses destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo, August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 
 

Comments (0)

 
Digg it!Add to RedditAdd to Del.icio.usShare on Facebook
 
Myanmar's Unwanted Muslims: A Look at the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

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

 
 

Comments (0)

 
Digg it!Add to RedditAdd to Del.icio.usShare on Facebook
 
This Week in Syria: The Battle for Aleppo, and Breakthroughs Abroad

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.

 

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


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

 
 

Comments (0)

 
Digg it!Add to RedditAdd to Del.icio.usShare on Facebook
 
123456...