France Recalls Syria Envoy

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – France recalled its ambassador to Damascus and Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took effect on Wednesday, intensifying diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent eight-month-old crackdown on protests.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising is to sliding into armed conflict.

Hours after the Arab League suspension took effect, Assad supporters threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of the capital, near Assad’s home and offices.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

“New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris,” Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair.

Turkey, now a fierce critic of its former ally, said Syria had failed to honor an Arab peace plan to halt the unrest.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared Syria with Libya, where rebels captured, humiliated and killed Muammar Gaddafi last month.

“The regime should meet the demands of its people,” he said. “The collective massacres in Syria and … the bloodshed cannot continue like this.”

IRAN DEFENDS SYRIA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the Arab League for “acting in a way that will hurt the security of the region.” He told the official news agency IRNA that Syria, an ally of Iran since 1980, had repeatedly pledged to meet legitimate popular demands and enact reforms.

“Unfortunately, some countries believe that they are outside the crisis … but they are mistaken because if a crisis happens they will be entangled by its consequences.”

Saudi Arabia, which is eager to loosen the ties between its regional rival Iran and Syria, said the Arab League was acting in Syria’s interest, not interfering in its affairs.

“What’s important is not about suspending or not suspending (Syria from the League), it’s stopping the bloodshed, starting the dialogue, and withdrawing troops from Syrian cities,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Al Arabiya channel.

Western countries have tightened sanctions on Syria and on Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

In the early months of the uprising, attempts by security forces to crush mainly peaceful protests accounted for most of the violence. But since August there has been a growing number of reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting back.

Activists said Free Syrian Army fighters fired machineguns and rockets at a large Air Force Intelligence complex on the northern edge of the capital at about 7:30 p.m. EST.

A gunfight ensued and helicopters circled over the complex, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Syrian state media did not mention the attack.

The U.S. State Department said it had few details and no direct confirmation of the incident, but blamed Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

“It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. But let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Assad and his regime in dealing with what began as a non-violent movement is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path.”

“HUGELY SYMBOLIC”

A Western diplomat in Damascus described the assault as “hugely symbolic and tactically new,” saying that if the reported details were true it would be “much much more coordinated than anything we have seen before.”

“To actually attack a base like this is something else, and so close to Damascus as well,” said the diplomat, adding that fighting in recent weeks involving army deserters in the town of Rastan and the city of Homs resembled a localized civil war.

“It’s not a nationwide civil war, but in very specific locations, it is looking like that,” said the diplomat.

The Free Syrian Army was set up by deserters and is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who is based in southern Turkey.

It announced this week that it had formed a “temporary military council” of nine defecting officers, led by Asaad.

The statement said the Syrian Free Army aimed to “bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression … and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls,” adding that it would form a military court to try “members of the regime who are proven to have been involved in killing operations.”

Syrian television showed thousands of Assad’s supporters rallying in Damascus and Latakia to mark the day his father Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. It said the crowds were also voicing their rejection of the Arab League’s decision.

“God, Syria, Bashar, that’s all!” demonstrators shouted in central Damascus after turning out in heavy rain to wave flags and posters of the president. Two large posters of Assad and his father hung from a building. “Neither rain nor sanctions will stop us expressing our nationalism,” they said, according to the television report.

The Arab League has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style military intervention, but its ostracism of Syria is a blow to a country whose ruling Baath party puts Arab nationalism at the center of its credo.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media. They blame the unrest on “armed terrorist gangs” and foreign-backed militants who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Hundreds of people have been killed this month, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolt.

Syria says it remains committed to the Arab peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. But human rights campaigners say tens of thousands have been detained since anti-Assad protests began.

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Muslims Count Michael Jackson as One of Our Own

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Iftekhar Hai, San Mateo County Times

THE UNTIMELY death of Michael Jackson became international news, and it has affected many people, including my children and grandchildren.

I dedicate this column to the philosophical and spiritual turmoil I felt when I heard Jackson died June 25 of an apparent cardiac arrest.

He had an extraordinary charisma, absolute innocence and a childlike charm that never left him.

As his music spread all over the world, bringing him wealth and recognition, he slowly transformed his God-given African texture and features into something else.

I could never explain this part of his life to my children.

He appeared to have a genuine concern for children and wanted to offer them a world that was denied to him as a child because of the abuses he claimed to have suffered.

I was very happy for him last year when he reportedly became a Muslim in Bahrain. He had apparently followed the footsteps of his brother Jermaine Jackson, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and found peace when he gave up drinking, drugs and womanizing. Michael Jackson admired this kind of change in him.

So in search of peace, he lived in Bahrain.

For some time, Jackson thought of making an album in Bahrain to promote spirituality and signed a contract. However, when he returned to America, he was too afraid of the consequences of aligning with the Islamic faith.

Islamophobia is a curse in America. He was advised by close associates and sincere friends not to go public with his new found spirituality.

He remained in his own closet of spirituality that few outside his close circle knew.

American pop culture is not about religion but about a world of fantasy — a flamboyant facade. And he sunk deeper and maintained a lifestyle that increased his dependency on drugs.

He lost all peace of mind and self-control to such an extent that his personal doctor said, “I had to wake him up with medication and had to put him to sleep with the help of medication.”

Michael Jackson is a trivial pursuit of American popular culture.

In my culture we say, “this was a bud that was cut before it could fully blossom.”

Practically, we have powerful people who worship money and power and who are constantly defeating any new ideas that challenge the status quo. Jackson — who was sweet, innocent and talented — fell victim.

I am obsessed with the question, “Why couldn’t Elvis and Michael Jackson remain famous, rich and on a musical pedestal and still live a drug-free and spiritual life?”

Ali Akbar Khan of Berkeley was such a musician, who gained great wealth, fame and popularity and left more than 1,000 students who are spiritually elevated musicians.

Michael Jackson’s death to all of us is one that is sobering. One can climb to fame, acquire great wealth and riches, but death comes knocking without much fanfare.

Nevertheless, Jackson’s very public death is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous, talented or wealthy one is, death comes sometimes sooner than later.

He has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane.

Given Michael’s r eported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness and solace.

Iftekhar Hai is president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance and a resident of South San Francisco.

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Six Reasons Why Iran

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Cannot Be Explained in a Twitter Feed

New America Media, News Analysis, Jalal Ghazi

2009-07-05T113323Z_01_TEH02_RTRMDNP_3_IRAN

A policeman stands guard in front of the British embassy during an anti-Britain protest gathering in Tehran, April 1, 2007. Picture taken April 1, 2007. 

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/Files

The world’s attention is on Iran. But the rhetoric of reformists vs. conservatives and students vs. mullahs cannot capture the complexity of what is happening on the streets of Tehran. Here are six reasons why the situation in Iran cannot be reduced to simplistic headlines or Twitter feeds.

First, the post-election crisis in Iran is not only a reflection of divisions between conservatives and reformers. Perhaps more importantly, it has brought divisions within the conservatives to the forefront.

“It is true that most of the armed forces, especially the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, support the Supreme Leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the decision making in Iran is not exclusive to these two men,” said human rights activist Ghanim Jawad on the London-based (ANB-TV) Arab News Broadcast. He pointed to a “vertical division,” not only within the government but also within the society.

Ghanim added, “This vertical division is more dangerous to the Islamic revolution than the eight years of war between Iran and Iraq.” That war, he said, united Iranian society. Now Iranian society is split and there are divisions within the Expediency Council, the Guardian Council, the parliament and the Assembly of Experts -– all important decision-making institutions.

Most significantly, he added, the religious authority in the holy city of Qom is also divided.

Second, the disputed election results provided the spark that ignited the street demonstrations, but there were many other important reasons that pushed hundreds of thousands of Iranians into the streets.

The widely read journalist Fahmi Huwaidi wrote on Al Jazeera.net that “one must acknowledge that this is the first time since the Islamic revolution that people held such large demonstrations to express their anger toward the regime and the supreme leader.”

Huwaidi added, “It is hard to categorize all protesters under one title, but all have anger as a common denominator.” There is anger over the election results, lack of individual freedoms, tense relations with the West, high unemployment and inflation, government support of Hezbollah and Hamas, and lack of rights for Arab, Kurdish and Sunni minorities.

Third, presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi has become the symbolic leader of the reformist movement, but that does not mean that he is the one who created this movement.

During his election campaign he was accompanied by former President Muhammad Khatami everywhere he went because Mousavi was not a good public speaker, wrote Huwaidi.

Many Iranians also question his alliance with pragmatic conservatives who are suspected of corruption, such as the head of the Expediency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Arab author Azmi Bishara wrote on Al Jazeera.net that “corrupt conservatives within the regime such as Rafsanjani rely on reformists such as Mousavi and Khatami as a way to renew their appeal, weaken the Supreme Leader, promote a more pragmatic policy and create better relations with the West.” Bishara, however, warned that the pragmatic conservatives may temporarily agree to reforms, but reverse their position once they are in power.

Fourth, the street demonstrations are not necessarily an indication that Iran is an oppressive government or less democratic than neighboring Arab states.

“The position taken by the Iranian society toward claims of discrepancies in the elections is much better than the position of Arab societies toward similar claims,” wrote Huwaidi. Iranians at least protested on the streets and clashed with police and security forces for 10 days. Arab populations have now accepted election fraud as a fact of life and given up on trying to change it, wrote Huwaidi.

Political writer Ahmad Asfahani told ANB that he was impressed by the “vigorous Iranian society” that gave birth to three populist revolutions in less than 60 years: the uprising that followed the overthrow of Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, the Islamic revolution in 1979, and now, the 2009 street demonstrations.

Fifth, not all of the 20 people who were killed during the demonstrations were protesters. According to Ghanim, at least eight security force members were also killed. This shows that the security forces were not the only side that used violence.

Ghanim told ANB that in this situation it is hard to control either side. He added that this raised questions about who really killed the young Iranian woman Neda Agha-Soltan who became a symbol for the street demonstrations. Ghanem said that it is possible that she was killed by “some groups who wanted to escalate the situation.”

Sixth, the strong divisions within the major governing institutions in Iran show that the Iranian system is more similar to the American system than Arab regimes, whether they are ruled by presidents or monarchs. For example, the strong criticism that the Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has made against the interior ministry as well as the criticism by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in Qom of the Guardian Council shows that Iran has its own system of checks and balances which does not exist in most Arab countries. This also was evident in the televised debates in which Ahmadinejad made strong accusations against senior Iranian officials, including Rafsanjani.

The Iranian system has many discrepancies but the same can be said about the American system. Bishara wrote that the differences between the Republicans and Democrats in the United States are not much bigger than the differences between the conservatives and reformists in Iran. There seems to be no fundamental change in many respects. Iranian mullahs have used their positions to become very wealthy, much as American corporations have used lobbyists to pass laws in Congress that benefit them.

The real question is how Iran will emerge from all of this. If it comes out more powerful, it will be a vindication of the political process in Iran and proof that its system works better than those of its Arab neighbors. That is what really makes Arab countries nervous.

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Who is Behind the Iranian Protests?

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

There is no doubt that there are thousands of Iranian who yearn for real democracy. They are the ones’s who are concerned about the detereorating law and order situation in their country. But what is interesting to note that those who are fomenting violence in Iran are those who have at their back several western intellligence agencies.

It is now a known fact that for the last 12 months these intelligence agencies have been supplying high quality communication devices in the thousands to Iranian youth to provide information in situation like these. Much of these electronic gagdets were sent to Iran from Los Angeles, by Iranian businessmen who recived the hidden grant from sources closer to intelligence agencies.

In 1953, western intelligence agencies played a similar game in toppling the Iranian democratic regime. Now many fear that the same game is being repeated.

The West has laid economic siege to Iran for 30 years. Recently, US Congress voted $120 million for anti-regime media broadcasts into Iran and $60-75 million in funding for opposition, violent underground Marxists and restive ethnic groups such as Azeris, Kurds and Arabs under the “Iran Democracy Program.” Pakistani intelligence sources put the CIA’s recent spending on “black operations” to subvert Iran’s government at $400 million.It is true that majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, western intelligence agencies are playing a key role in sustaining them and providing communications, including the newest method, via Twitter.

The Tehran government turned things worse by limiting foreign news reports and trying to cover up protests.

Several western experts have accused Iran of improper electoral procedures while utterly ignoring their autocratic Mideast allies such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which hold only fake elections and savage any real opposition.They have also ignore the voting irregularities that were witnessed in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 20008, by officials close to republican Party candidate President Bush.

U.S. senators, led by John McCain, blasted Iran for not respecting human rights without making any reference to President Bush torture policy in Guantanamo Bay.

In fact the current feud is between the establishment and former establishment member Ali Akbar Rafsanjani who is waiting to pounce. He heads the Assembly of Experts, which theoretically has the power to unseat Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.his power revolves round him and his family. He is considered the msot shrewed politician of Iran. It is possible that he may manipulate situation to the best of his interests.

But we must not live under any illusion that Rafsanjani would be a pro-western leader. He is as dangerous as the previsiou leader when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambition.

All that we need to do is to wait and see before making a final pronouncement on the current situation.

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Iran: Rafsanjani Poised to Outflank Supreme Leader Khamenei

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Eurasianet

khatami-rafsanjani

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani shown here voting with reform leader former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

(Photo: Amir Kholoosi / ISNA)

Looking past their fiery rhetoric and apparent determination to cling to power using all available means, Iran’s hardliners are not a confident bunch. While hardliners still believe they possess enough force to stifle popular protests, they are worried that they are losing a behind-the-scenes battle within Iran’s religious establishment.

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s – has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull,” said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. “They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets.”

Ayatollah Khamenei now has a very big image problem among influential Shi’a clergymen. Over the course of the political crisis, stretching back to the days leading up to the election, Rafsanjani has succeeded in knocking the supreme leader off his pedestal by revealing Ayatollah Khamenei to be a political partisan rather than an above-the-fray spiritual leader. In other words, the supreme leader has become a divider, not a uniter.

Now that Ayatollah Khamenei has become inexorably connected to Ahmadinejad’s power grab, many clerics are coming around to the idea that the current system needs to be changed. Among those who are now believed to be arrayed against Ayatollah Khamenei is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shi’a cleric in neighboring Iraq. Rafsanjani is known to have met with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s representative in Iran, Javad Shahrestani.

A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.

Meanwhile, the Al-Arabiya satellite television news channel reported that a “high-ranking” source in Qom confirmed that Rafsanjani has garnered enough support to remove Ayatollah Khamenei, but an announcement is being delayed amid differences on what or who should replace the supreme leader. Some top clerics reportedly want to maintain the post of supreme leader, albeit with someone other than Ayatollah Khamenei occupying the post, while others support the collective leadership approach.

To a certain degree, hardliners now find themselves caught in a cycle of doom: they must crack down on protesters if they are to have any chance of retaining power, but doing so only causes more and more clerics to align against them.

Security forces broke up a small street protest on June 22 involving roughly a thousand demonstrators who had gathered to mourn the victims of the government crackdown two days before. Also on June 22, a statement issued in the name of the Revolutionary Guards demanded that protesters immediately stop “sabotage and rioting activities,” and threatened to unleash “revolutionary confrontation” against anyone who took to the streets.

Such a showdown could come later this week. One of the country’s highest-ranking clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri has declared three days of mourning for those who have died in street protests. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s declaration could bring thousands of Tehran residents back out into the streets starting on June 24.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Council, an unelected state body with election oversight responsibilities, announced June 21 that it had found numerous irregularities connected with the June 12 presidential vote. A council spokesman, for example, admitted that the number of votes cast in 50 cities throughout the country exceeded the number of registered voters in those locations. The Guardian Council indicated that there may be as many as 3 million suspect ballots, but stressed the suspected cases of fraud were not such that it could have influenced the outcome of the vote. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly characterized the election as a “divine assessment” of Ahmadinejad’s popularity.

An election analysis released by the London-based Chatham House appeared to confirm that the official results, in which Ahmadinejad was said to have won with nearly two-thirds of the vote, could only have been achieved with massive vote-rigging. The report was based on voting patterns from previous national elections, and on a 2006 census.

“In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, all centrist voters and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups,” said the report, which was prepared with the help of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews. The report also used statistical arguments to dispute the notion that Ahmadinejad was popular in rural areas of Iran. “That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth,” the report said.

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