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16 April 2012 - NPWJ News Digest on Middle East and North Africa
UN peace monitors in Syria set to begin mission
By Oliver Holmes, Reuters, 16 Apr 2012
U.N. peace monitors are due to start their mission in Syria on Monday to oversee a shaky ceasefire undermined by persistent violence and the shelling of the opposition stronghold of Homs by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The ceasefire is part of a broader peace plan brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan, but it looked increasingly under threat throughout the weekend as the government vowed a crackdown on a wave of “terrorist attacks” in Syria.
Ten Egyptian candidates barred from elections
By BBC, 14 Apr 2012
Egyptian election officials have barred 10 candidates from standing in upcoming polls, including former spy chief Omar Suleiman and the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater. Ultra-orthodox Salafi Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and long-standing opposition leader Ayman Nour were also banned.
The banned candidates have 48 hours to appeal. Thirteen candidates remain. Correspondents say the move comes as a surprise and looks set to dramatically alter the race.
Was the Arab Spring a step backward for women?
By Hamida Ghafour, The Globe and Mail, 13 Apr 2012
A year ago, women were front and centre in the Arab Spring uprisings – acting as advocates, smuggling ammunition to rebels, being beaten by police alongside men and caring for the wounded. But now they are in danger of being shunted aside by conservative male leaders such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who threaten to roll back the few rights women enjoy.
Some believe that the new Islamists can reconcile themselves with equal rights for women, under liberal interpretations of sharia law. “Democracy is a process and it can’t happen overnight,” says Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Islamic-law scholar and prominent Iranian-born activist, speaking from London. “But feminism is a quest for justice, and Islam is also about justice.”
Others are more skeptical: In a recent speech in Washington, former Kuwaiti member of parliament Rola Dashti said the Islamists’ claims of moderation are “nothing more than a hidden agenda of radical and extremist ideologies when it comes to social issues and citizens’ rights, especially as it concerns women.”
Violence flares in Bahrain after F1 gets go-ahead
By Reem Khalifa and Justin Bergman, Associated Press, 13 Apr 2012
Violence erupted in Bahrain between police and protesters on Friday, hours after Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone declared the Gulf nation safe to host a grand prix next week.
All 12 teams told Ecclestone on Friday they were happy to travel to the tiny kingdom despite the ongoing political unrest and no extra safety precautions being put in place.
Cease-Fire Is Prevailing Across Most of Syria
By Hala Droubi and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, 12 Apr 2012
A fragile cease-fire negotiated by the special envoy Kofi Annan prevailed in most of Syria on Thursday, the first vaguely optimistic signal in months in that nation’s bloody antigovernment uprising. But some deadly clashes were reported and activists said areas that had been riven by violence remained under virtual martial law, with tank deployments, armed checkpoints and rooftop snipers.
United Nations diplomats said they were encouraged by the apparent adherence to the cease-fire on its first day by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and his opponents in the conflict, but emphasized that the government had yet to make good on its pledges under the plan to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from major cities.
Iran official: Only faint chance of war breaking in the Middle East
By Haaretz, 12 Apr 2012
There’s only a faint chance of war breaking in the Middle East, a top Iranian official was quoted by the country’s state-run TV station as saying on Thursday, blaming any regional instability on the presence of Western forces.
The comment by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast came after, on Monday, the U.S. Navy indicated it deployed a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf amid rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.
Row over Egypt's new constitution reflects wider tensions
By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN, 11 Apr 2012
Egypt's administrative court has suspended the country's 100-member constitutional assembly, tasked with drafting a new national constitution. But what does that say about the country's progress toward political reform?
More than a year since President Hosni Mubarak was forced to stand down, the outcome of Egypt's "revolution" remains unclear. The suspension of the constitutional assembly is significant, says Khaled Elgindy, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, because the document it draws up is supposed to be the "fundamental institution of the new Egypt" -- and this throws up questions over its legitimacy.
The row also highlights growing tensions between secular and Islamist groups and the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has not yet handed power to a civilian government.
Palestinian prisoners call for mass hunger strike
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, 09 Apr 2012
As Palestinians prepare to mark Prisoners’ Day on April 17, Hamas leaders called for operatives to kidnap Israeli soldiers to force the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Palestinian prisoners said they are planning an open-ended hunger strike as of April 17 to put pressure on Israel to release them.