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Ed Webb

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.“When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”
  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

Alaa Abdel Fattah undergoes medical intervention by Egyptian authorities amid hunger st... - 0 views

  • The family of Alaa Abdel Fattah, the British Egyptian political prisoner on a hunger and water strike in prison, was informed by Egyptian officials Thursday that he has undergone “a medical intervention with the knowledge of a judicial authority,” they said.
  • The United States is a close ally of Egypt and provides more than $1 billion in military aid to the country each year, but has repeatedly criticized its human rights record. Abdel Fattah’s family has made repeated public appeals to the White House to intervene in the case.
  • Abdel Fattah, who is 40 and a once-prominent activist in the 2011 revolution, has been in and out of prison for the past decade on charges human rights groups decry as attempts to silence dissent. He was sentenced to five years in prison last year after he was found guilty of “spreading false news undermining national security.”
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  • His case has become a central topic at COP27 — especially after an Egyptian lawmaker confronted his younger sister, Sanaa Seif, at a news conference discussing his case.
  • a lawyer in Cairo has since filed a case against Seif, accusing her of “conspiring with foreign agencies hostile to the Egyptian state” and “spreading false news,” among other allegations. The filing alone does not ensure the case will be pursued, but the family said it amounts to an intimidation tactic after Seif’s outspoken support of her brother at the international conference, where Egypt hoped human rights issues would not take center stage.
  • the message #FreeAlaa has spread throughout the conference, garnering support from climate activists. On Thursday, some attendees dressed in white — the color of prison uniforms in Egypt — and gathered for a protest over climate justice and to express solidarity with political prisoners here.
  • The protests would be unthinkable anywhere in Egypt outside the U.N.-controlled zone at COP27 due to tight restrictions on public gatherings.
  • On Thursday, the siblings’ mother — who has waited outside each day this week for a letter from her son — was asked to leave the area of the Wadi el-Natrun prison complex outside Cairo where he is being held.The family’s lawyer, Khaled Ali, then announced on social media that he has been approved to visit Abdel Fattah and was on his way to the facility — his first visit since early 2020. When he arrived, he said, prison officials refused him entrance to the facility — saying the permission letter he received that morning was dated the day before.
  • The family, who last heard from him in a letter last week that he would stop drinking water on Sunday, has repeatedly warned that he could die before the conference ends next week. Seif said Wednesday that she does not know if he is still alive.
  • Several world leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, raised his case directly with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi. Under the terms of his sentencing, the presidency is the only office with the authority to pardon him. But despite days of demands, his family has still not had proof of life or seen any indication he may be released.
  • U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk called on Egypt to immediately release Abdel Fattah. “No one should be detained for exercising their basic human rights or defending those of others,” he said. “I also encourage the authorities to revise all laws that restrict civic space and curtail the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.”
Ed Webb

EU human rights envoy denied access to prisoners - Daily News Egypt - 0 views

  • EU Special Representative was turned away days after Ministry of Interior issued a statement welcoming prison visits from human rights representatives
  • Amid mounting allegations of torture inside prisons and places of detention, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement Tuesday welcoming requests from NGOs wishing to visit prisons.The ministry denies any wrong doing.
  • Lambrinidis met with Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Tuesday to discuss torture and detention conditions. He also addressed the “overpowering police response to protests” and the arrests of peaceful political activists, journalists and human rights defenders.
Jim Franklin

Al Jazeera English - CENTRAL/S. ASIA - US unveils extended Bagram prison - 0 views

  • Bagram, unlike its Guantanamo counterpart, was clearly not going to be shut down soon.
  • "The new prison wing cost some $60 million to build ... and is meant to be part of a new era of openness and transparency," Bays said.
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  • Nor has any civilian lawyer ever been allowed inside
  • the extended prison could hold up to 1,000 detainees, but was at present holding around 700 inmates, including 30 foreign prisoners
  • Bagram is seen as "Guantanamo's lesser-known evil twin".
  • US government still won't release a simple list of names of prisoners who are in Bagram," she told Al Jazeera.
  • Bagram lies in Parwan, a relatively quiet province. The Taliban is not believed to have a significant presence in the province.
Ed Webb

Andy Worthington: Who Are the Two Syrians Released From Guantanamo to Portugal? - 0 views

  • two Syrian prisoners had arrived from Guantánamo and had been released on their arrival in Portugal. Officials added that they are "not subject to any charge, they are free people and are living in homes provided by the state."
  • neither man had any connection whatsoever to international terrorism, revealing, as so often before, that right-wing hysteria about those still held in the prison is largely hyperbole of a kind that, on close inspection, reveals more about the cowardice and xenophobia of those making the claims than it does about the majority of the prisoners themselves.
  • Mohammed al-Tumani's story is also notable for a startling example of how allegations made by other prisoners were regarded as reliable evidence by the authorities at Guantánamo, even when, as in al-Tumani's case, the veracity of these claims was undermined by military officers who had chosen to investigate the quality of the supposed evidence rather than accepting it at face value.
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  • What has not been explained, however, is what happened in the cases of the other 58 men who were accused by the notorious liar, or why Mohammed's father -- whose circumstances seem to have been no different -- was not cleared for release as well.
Ed Webb

State Department Considers Cutting Aid to Egypt After Death of U.S. Citizen Mustafa Kassem - 0 views

  • In a memo sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by the agency’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in early March and described to Foreign Policy, the nation’s most senior diplomat was given the option to cut up to $300 million in U.S. military aid to Egypt over the death of Mustafa Kassem, a dual American and Egyptian citizen who appealed unsuccessfully to U.S. President Donald Trump to secure his release in his final days.
  • In a letter sent late last month, Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chris Van Hollen also urged Pompeo to withhold $300 million in military assistance to Cairo and to sanction any Egyptian official “directly or indirectly responsible” for Kassem’s imprisonment and death
  • In two years on the job, Pompeo has twice decided to overlook human rights considerations to greenlight military aid to Egypt, leading some experts to cast doubt on whether the Trump administration will make cuts even after the death of a U.S. citizen.
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  • Under Trump, the United States has been largely reluctant to challenge Egypt, the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, which provides the Department of Defense with overflight rights and the ability to navigate the Suez Canal.
  • Kassem had been on a liquid-only hunger strike and had not received proper medical treatment before dying of heart failure in January.
  • a State Department official said the agency would not comment on internal deliberations. “We remain deeply saddened by the needless death in custody of Moustafa Kassem and we are reviewing our options and consulting with Congress,” the official said. “In the wake of the tragic and avoidable death of Moustafa Kassem, we will continue to emphasize to Egypt our concerns regarding the treatment of detainees, including U.S. citizens.”
  • In his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy, a long-standing critic of Egypt’s human rights record, has held up $105 million in military aid to Cairo to purchase Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles. Leahy imposed the funding freeze on Egypt two years ago in response to its detention of Kassem, its failure to fully cover the medical costs for an American citizen wounded in a botched 2015 Apache helicopter raid, and its refusal to permit adequate U.S. oversight of its use of American military assistance in its counterterrorism operations in Sinai.
  • The dual citizen—held without charges for much of his six-year detention—insisted he had been wrongly arrested during an August 2013 visit to his birth country that coincided with the deadly Rabaa Square massacre against demonstrators protesting the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi. Kassem’s advocates said he was not involved in the Rabaa Square demonstrations. He was in prison for over five years before an Egyptian court, without due process, sentenced him to 15 years in prison in 2018.
  • There are at least three other American citizens—Reem Dessouky, Khaled Hassan, and Mohammed al-Amash—and two permanent residents—Ola Qaradawi and Hossam Khalaf—detained in Egypt on charges related to their political views, according to a bipartisan group of foreign-policy experts called the Working Group on Egypt that tracks the issue
  • “It is incomprehensible that Egypt, a close ally of the United States that receives some $1.5 billion annually in assistance from American taxpayers, would be less responsive than Iran, Lebanon, and other countries to repeated calls for the humanitarian release of detained Americans,”
  • Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham stopped a provision in the final version of the State Department’s appropriations bill last year that would have withheld nearly $14 million in military aid until Egypt paid off the medical expenses for April Corley, an American mistakenly injured in an attack by Egyptian military forces in the nation’s western desert in 2015.
  • The United States and Egypt set up a structured process of defense meetings to properly resource the nation’s military after the Obama administration suspended aid amid massacres after Morsi’s ouster, but the forum “has long devolved into a grab bag of weapons requests,”
  • “By sending this amount of military assistance for such a long time—when you add it up its $40 billion over decades—what the United States has ended up doing is feeding the beast that’s devouring the whole country,” she said, referring to the Egyptian military.
Ed Webb

Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got 'Rolled' By Turkey and 'Has No Spine' - 0 views

  • Trump got "rolled" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a National Security Council source with direct knowledge of the discussions told Newsweek.
  • The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump's own Defense Department "completely stunned," said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime
  • Turkey has long considered the Kurdish militia in Syria to be a terrorist insurgency, despite the United States providing military and financial aid to the group in its fight against ISIS, the Islamic State militant group. A battle with the vastly superior military of Turkey, a NATO ally, could drive the Kurds into the arms of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian dictator that Washington wants ousted, and by extension into an alliance with Russia and Iran, two U.S. rivals with forces in Syria.
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  • both the Defense Department and Trump on Twitter said they made clear to Turkey that they do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria
  • Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.
  • "To be honest with you, it would be better for the United States to support a Kurdish nation across Turkey, Syria and Iraq," said the National Security Council official. "It would be another Israel in the region."
    • Ed Webb
       
      Hmmm. In what sense? With what effects?
  • Trump told Erdogan he did not want anything to do with ISIS prisoners despite the United States not currently detaining Islamic State prisoners in Syria. The Syrian Defense Forces control custody of the prisoners.Erdogan said Turkey would take custody of the ISIS militant prisoners, according to the White House statement and the National Security Council official Newsweek spoke to for this story
  • the United States chose not to stand its ground to protect Kurdish Forces against Turkish airstrikes as a part of Trump's "America First policy" and his historical views that war is bad for business
  • Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border hours after he issued his strongest threat to launch Turkish forces over the border and into the "buffer zone," between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
  • witnesses observed United States forces withdraw from two observation posts in Tel Abyad and Ein Eissa in northeastern Syria.
  • A senior Defense Department official told Newsweek in January no U.S. general was happy with the decision to pull back U.S. troops from Syria as Pentagon officials feared the withdrawal could spark an ISIS resurgence similar to the Taliban's growing influence and territory in Afghanistan.
  • A complete withdrawal could also potentially give up a valuable regional position to American military forces that threaten United States interests in the region, including the interests of allies such as Israel and, to some extent, Jordan.
  • "We are telling the world, we will use you and then throw you away," the official added. "It's not like they don't have a television in Asia, in Africa, and South America."
Ed Webb

Detainees start hunger strike in UAE prison in Aden - Middle East Monitor - 0 views

  • Detainees have started a hunger strike at a UAE prison in the Yemeni city of Aden, in protest against their non-release despite obtaining a previous decision on the matter
  • Beir Ahmed prison is under the control of Yemeni forces loyal to UAE, the second active member of the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Houthis for four and a half years.In August, separatists of the Southern Transitional Council took control of the governorates of Aden and Abyan (south), with the support of UAE air force that targeted Yemeni military locations, killing and injuring 300 people, according to a statement by Yemen’s Defence Ministry.The UAE had subsequently admitted carrying out the raids but justified this by targeting “armed terrorist groups” in response to an attack by coalition forces at Aden airport. The Yemeni government rejected these justifications and described them as “false.”
Ed Webb

Accountability for Islamic State Fighters: What Are the Options? - Lawfare - 1 views

  • Trump’s sudden announcement that the U.S. would withdraw forces from along the Syria-Turkey border has already had dramatic consequences. Turkish armed forces launched an invasion into northern Syria dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” in response to which the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the predominantly Kurdish military backed by the U.S.-led coalition, has warned that it will be forced to withdraw some of its guards from the Islamic State detention centers and camps to deal with the invasion
  • both the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are taking advantage of the Turkish invasion to launch their own attacks within Syria: On Oct. 9, the Islamic State attacked an SDF position in Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State, and Assad’s Russian-backed forces moved further into Manbij and Idlib. The same day, the U.S. reportedly helped move some of the “most dangerous” Islamic State detainees out of SDF custody but subsequently ordered a halt to any further operations against the Islamic State
  • By some estimates, the SDF is currently holding more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters—including at least 8,000 Iraqis and Syrians and 2,000 foreign fighters—in overflowing temporary detention centers in northeastern Syria. Thousands of family members of detainees are being held in camps for internally displaced persons in the same region
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  • The SDF has consistently asserted that it has limited capabilities to guard these facilities and has continually called for support from the coalition countries. Even before Trump’s announcement on Sunday, the head of the Kurdish forces expressed concern that the camp was at risk of falling under the control of the Islamic State. Despite the general consensus that the status quo was not sustainable, coalition countries have done little to address the problem and there has been no agreement on how to handle these fighters and their families.
  • Iraq reportedly intends to execute at least seven French nationals who were convicted under charges of being members of the Islamic State. There has been little clarity about exactly how these French citizens who had been fighting in Syria ended up in Iraqi detention centers, but experts suspect that they were transferred to Iraq by the SDF at the request of the French government after the French refused to allow them to return home
  • The situation may depend on who—among the SDF, Turkey, Syria and Russia—gains control of the northeastern territory. But if the security surrounding the detainees deteriorates, the Islamic State will likely exploit the situation and create a further opportunity for its ongoing resurgence
  • Although national courts in a conflict region usually provide the most obvious mechanism for criminal proceedings, neither Iraq nor the Kurds controlling territory in Syria have courts that are capable of achieving a just and fair form of accountability
  • a small subset of European governments—along with the SDF—have been calling for some sort of tribunal to deal with the detainees
  • Some see local prosecutions in Syria and Iraq as unrealistic options for foreign fighters, arguing instead for active repatriation followed by possible prosecution in the fighters’ home countries. This is also the option being urged by the U.S. government. Some practitioners even argue that European countries have an obligation to bring foreign fighters to justice under certain international legal instruments (specifically under U.N. Security Council resolutions 2178 [2014] and 2396 [2017]).
  • Countries outside of western Europe, including Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have demonstrated the most initiative in repatriating their nationals. Kosovo, the country that had the highest number of its citizens per capita leave to join the caliphate, has made particularly notable repatriation efforts. In April, for example, the Balkan republic brought back 32 women, 74 children, and four men from SDF custody in Syria. The male returnees were immediately placed in detention, pending prosecution, while the women and children were allowed to return home.
  • some western European examples of the successful handling of returned foreign fighters:
  • European Union has also recently set up a counterterrorism register meant to facilitate prosecutions of returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria. The database is intended to be a repository for information from all EU countries about ongoing investigations and prosecutions of terrorist suspects who fought in Iraq and Syria so that all 28 member states have access to the same data and evidence
  • a growing number of calls for the establishment of some sort of ad hoc international criminal tribunal to deal with Islamic State fighters. Leaders from relevant U.N. agencies, Sweden, the Netherlands and the SDF have raised the idea of an international tribunal located in the region to deal with the detainees
  • President Trump maintains that Turkey will take control of the Islamic State prisoners, but it is unclear whether any Turkish officials agreed to assume this responsibility and the detainees are located further inside Syria than Turkey is expected to occupy during the current phase of their offensive. Even if the Turkish forces did start to police the camps, there is concern that Turkey’s security would be inadequate given the country’s past failures to crack down on and contain Islamic State cells within its own borders.
  • Russian-backed Syrian forces may end up in control of the detainees since the U.S. withdrawal from Syria has created an opening for Assad to strike a deal with the SDF. Given Assad’s history of putting thousands of Syrians into “filthy dungeons” to be “tortured and killed,” the Islamic State detainees would potentially be subjected to severe conditions with no prospect of a fair trial
Ed Webb

A Libyan Revenant | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • After detaining the men for more than a month, the Saudis returned them to Libya, but not to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord or GNA — as they were required to do by international law. Instead, they dispatched them to a rival and unrecognized administration in eastern Libya, aligned with the anti-Islamist militia commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. It was not a repatriation, then, but a rendition. And the Saudis likely knew full well what lay in store for the men at the hands of their bitter foe.In the months ahead, the two Libyans, who hailed from the seaside town of Az Zawiyah west of Tripoli, were incarcerated in eastern Libya’s most notorious prisons, where they were allegedly tortured by pro-Haftar militias
  • Released from captivity a year and half later after pledging support to Haftar, one of the men, a militia commander named Mahmud bin Rajab, reneged on his promise and played a role in thwarting Haftar’s plan in April 2019 to quickly seize Tripoli — a scheme that Saudi Arabia had promised to bankroll and that received military support from the UAE and Egypt, among other countries
  • For the Saudis and their autocratic Arab allies, the saga of the Zawiyans’ captivity was but one blunder in their larger Libyan misadventure, which has handed their rival Turkey uncontested influence over much of western Libya
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  • the Middle East’s proxy wars and ideological rivalries have spilled across borders, ensnaring both the innocent and not so innocent — and perpetuating Libya’s vicious cycles of retribution
  • The Emiratis had been flying hundreds of drone sorties in support of Haftar since the start of his attack, and the resulting psychological impact on the GNA forces had been severe. The twisted remains of Toyota trucks at the Naqliya Camp were evidence of this. Fearing the drones, none of the GNA fighters slept in their trucks anymore, and hardly anyone used them for movement on the battlefield.
  • It would be another three months before the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner Group would shift the momentum in Haftar’s favor by improving the precision of his artillery, and then another two months before a larger Turkish intervention, including drones and Syrian mercenaries, would arrive to save the embattled GNA and turn the tables once again
  • a breezy display of military jargon, one that I’d often encountered among Libya’s young militia commanders. Like many of them, bin Rajab’s military experience was gained through battles during and after the revolution. He rose through dint of charisma, patronage, and social ties rather than formal training
  • In Libya alone, countless citizens have lost their lives to the direct actions of foreign states like Emirati drone strikes, or indirect interference like the continued foreign backing of Libyan militias who murder and torture with impunity. Recently, there are signs of a softening of these harmful regional enmities, such as the end of the Saudi-led embargo of Qatar and Ankara’s quiet engagement with Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. But the damage caused by years of foreign interventions has yet to fully mend.
  • The massacre of up to a thousand Morsi supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood left Libyan Islamists fearing similar suppression in their own country. For their part, Libyan anti-Islamists were emboldened by the ascent of al-Sisi’s friendly regime next door
  • Libya was now split into two warring political camps: the anti-Haftar and Islamist factions in Tripoli, who called themselves “Libya Dawn,” and Haftar’s Operation Dignity based in the east. Foreign powers quickly joined, sending arms and advisers and conducting airstrikes. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia, and France backed Haftar’s side, while Turkey and Qatar backed his opponents.
  • On the evening of their departure, an ambulance took the men to the runway at Jeddah’s international airport. During the drive, a Saudi doctor in a white coat asked bin Rajab questions about his health and took his blood pressure. As he exited the vehicle, someone was filming him with a camera. The Libyan consul, whom bin Rajab was told would be present, was nowhere to be seen. Bin Rajab tried to stall, but a Saudi military officer muscled him onto a Libyan military cargo plane. Inside, the Libyan soldiers who bound his mouth with tape spoke in the dialect of eastern Libya, the territory controlled by Haftar.
  • For over a year, Haftar had denied holding the three prisoners, causing GNA officials to suspect they were still in Saudi Arabia. It was not until Haftar’s LAAF swapped a prisoner with the GNA that an eyewitness, a fellow detainee in Benghazi, provided the first confirmation of their incarceration in eastern Libya. Then, in the spring of 2019, a delegation of elders from Az Zawiyah visited Haftar at his base outside Benghazi, who agreed to release the prisoners, reportedly under pressure from the Saudis. Bin Rajab told me that protests by the men’s friends and families in front of Saudi diplomatic facilities in Istanbul, Geneva, and London played a role, as did growing international scrutiny on the Kingdom in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing. Human rights organizations and foreign diplomats were also raising the Libyans’ case with the Saudi government.
  • By mid-2020, Turkish-backed GNA fighters had forced Haftar’s LAAF out of western Libya and compelled him to accept a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
  • The civil war erupted in May 2014, when Haftar and his militia allies launched a military campaign called Operation Dignity in Benghazi, framed as an effort to eliminate the city’s Islamists, including radical jihadists, and restore security. In fact, the operation was the first step in Haftar’s bid for national power. His public threats to expand his military campaign to Tripoli triggered a countermove by anti-Haftar and Islamist armed groups in western Libya.
  • Libyans have often told me that their fates are being decided abroad and that Libyan elites have all but surrendered their country’s sovereignty to their foreign patrons
  • Libyans still have agency to derail the best-laid plans of foreign capitals
Ed Webb

Middle East Report Online: Hamas Back Out of Its Box by Nicolas Pelham - 0 views

  • by its own reckoning, the attack has resurrected Hamas as a political player in the West Bank. In its attacks on settlers on two consecutive nights in different parts of the West Bank, Hamas demonstrated its reach despite a three-year, US-backed PA military campaign and exposed the fallacy of the PA’s claims to have established security control in the West Bank. “It’s not muqawama (resistance) against Israel,” says ‘Adnan Dumayri, a Fatah Revolutionary Council member and PA security force general. “It’s muqawama against Abbas.”  It also enabled the Islamists to catch seeping popular disaffection across the political spectrum toward a process of negotiations that appeared to Palestinians to be leading into a blind alley of continued Israeli control. Should Abbas fail to negotiate a halt to settlement growth, Hamas in its armed attacks against settlers would emerge from its three-year political wasteland to offer Palestinians an alternative. In contrast to the international media, where the attack was roundly condemned, in Palestine the attack earned plaudits not only from Hamas’ core constituency, but also from a broad swathe of Fatah and secular activists, including some senior actors, disillusioned by 19 years of negotiations based on an ever flimsier framework. Unlike the Annapolis process or the “road map,” the twin Bush administration initiatives that the Obama administration chose to ditch, the current negotiations lack any terms of reference or agreed-upon script. Palestinians ask why Abbas agreed to meet Netanyahu given that none of the Arab targets required to turn proximity talks into direct ones were reached prior to the Obama administration’s announcement of the meeting. When American elder statesman George Mitchell presented the parties with 16 identical questions on the core issues requiring yes or no answers, Israel responded to each with a question of its own. In his August 31 press briefing before the White House meeting, Mitchell again declined to specify if Israel had agreed even to extend its (partially honored) settlement freeze past the September 26 expiration date.
  • To maintain stability, the president’s men have resorted to an increasingly oppressive hand. The PA’s security forces suppress not only Islamist unrest but general dissent -- in late August disrupting a meeting called to protest the resumption of negotiations. Detainees emerge from prisons testifying to interrogators drilling through kneecaps. For all of Fayyad’s claims to have built institutions, in his bid to maintain power and prevent a vote of no confidence, he has neutered the most important, the Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestine’s prime expression of sovereignty. Local elections, designed to showcase the West Bank as the more democratic half of the Palestinian polity, were annulled after its main faction, Fatah, lost confidence in its ability to win, even though Hamas had declared a boycott
  • demographically, Israel is shifting further to the right. Far from shocking Israel into a reality check, the killing of nine civilians from Turkey, a purported ally, in international waters generated an outpouring of self-righteousness. Internationally isolated, Israeli Jews shared the feeling that “the whole world is against us,” and in a surge of patriotism redoubled their support for their government. According to a poll conducted a week after the Gaza flotilla incident, 78 percent of Israeli Jews backed Netanyahu’s policy. Support from Israel’s fastest-growing population sectors, the ultra-Orthodox and national-religious camps, topped 90 percent. The simultaneous news of vast natural gas finds off the coast only underscored these national-religious Jews’ sense of divine protection: They had lost one treasure at sea, gentile approval, and been blessed with another. More trusting in God than Obama, Netanyahu’s government is not configured to sign let alone implement a two-state settlement. For all the external hopes that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni might join the ruling coalition, the prospects for a shake-up in Israel’s political map look at least an election away. Even then, without the emergence of a new, more left-leaning religious force, possibly led by the former ultra-Orthodox leader Aryeh Deri, the nationalist coalition looks set to retain power. Fearful of upsetting his national-religious base, Netanyahu -- always alert to instances of Palestinian incitement -- shied away from condemning Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of Shas, the coalition’s fourth largest party, who on the eve of the Washington parley called on God to kill Abbas and similarly evil Palestinians. Provided he retains the confidence of his nationalist camp, domestically Netanyahu looks secure.
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  • Netanyahu prefers to focus on conflict management, and not the conflict resolution that would most please the Americans. Locally, his prime concern is to ensure that neither Gaza nor the West Bank threaten Israel, and on that score, the August 31 shootings notwithstanding, Hamas’ track record in securing the territory it controls is as good as the PA’s. Though his ministers flinch at saying so, their preference for de facto over de jure arrangements (which would dispel their Greater Israel dreams) tallies more with the agenda of Hamas than that of Abbas. Only pressure from Washington has so far restrained Netanyahu from agreeing to a prisoner release that would win him kudos for recovering Cpl. Shalit, but drape Hamas with garlands for bringing home more Palestinian prisoners than has Abbas. Were it not for external factors, Netanyahu might have reasoned that economic peace stands a better chance of working in Gaza than in the West Bank. In the short term, the late summer shootouts set Israel and Hamas at loggerheads. Down the road, the interests of the rising new guard of religious nationalists in Israel and Palestine might yet converge.
Ed Webb

After a New Massacre, Charges That ISIS Is Operating With Assad and the Russians - 0 views

  • In all, 273 Druze were killed and 220 injured, Druze officials told us.They strongly suspect that the attack by ISIS was carried out in cooperation with the Russian-backed Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and this is corroborated to some extent by ISIS prisoners we have interviewed who are being held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces here in northern Syria.  The Druse politicians and officials came here to try to forge an alliance with like-minded Kurds for mutual self-protection, which is when they told us the details of the massacre.
  • As the ISIS massacres in the Sweida region began just after dawn, mysteriously, telephone land lines and electricity in the area had been cut off. But the news spread by cell phone, and well-armed Druze men came out in droves to defend their population. “The big battle started around noon and lasted until 8 p.m,” said one Druze official who joined the fight. According to the Druze politicians we talked to, there were approximately 400 combatants from ISIS, or Daesh as they are called here, facing thousands of individually armed Druze who rose to fight — and who did not take prisoners. “Currently 250 Daesh are dead,” one Druze official told us. “There are no injured [ISIS fighters]. We killed them all and more are killed every day in ongoing skirmishes in which the Daesh attackers continue to come from the desert to attack. Every day we discover the bodies of injured Daesh who died trying to withdraw. Due to the rugged terrain, Daesh could not retrieve them with their four-wheel-drives. We have no interest to bury them.”
  • The Druze officials said that the Syrian authorities are demanding any surviving ISIS captives be turned over to them, but the Druze are refusing to do so
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  • People in the Middle East constantly speculate about the machinations of their governments and political parties, and rumors are taken seriously since verifiable facts often are hard or impossible to come by. But the Assad regime and ISIS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake. Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation.
  • Assad’s alleged complicity with ISIS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in busses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. ““It is known that Daesh militants in the suburbs of Damascus have been displaced to the east of Sweida in green buses by an agreement with the government: 1,400 Daesh were moved this way to the area east of Sweida and near the Tanf base of the Americans,” one of our Druze sources told us.
  • “Adding to that, 1,000 combatants of Daesh came in a discreet way from the Yarmouk area [a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus] to join the local Daesh, estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 combatants," said one of the Druze officials who talked to us. "We know this by internal sources of the Syrian army. There are still some Druze of the army who leak this information to us.”
  • “On the 24th of July most of the official checkpoints of the Syrian army around Sweida were withdrawn—all around the villages where the massacres occurred,” this Druze official told us. “They hit at 7 a.m., but at night something else was happening. Where the villages are—facing the Daesh area—the Syrian army withdrew the local weapons from the local protection militias. No one knew why. They also withdrew their checkpoint in the area and cut the electricity and local phone service. The regime was a spectator to the massacre.”
  • One of the 10 captured ISIS attackers admits on an interrogation video shared by the Druze leaders that in the village massacres a man from the Syrian government guided them from house to house, knocking on the doors and calling the inhabitants by name so they would unwittingly open their doors to the ISIS attackers.
  • ISIS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, under ISIS protection. Early in the the revolution, Bashar al-Assad released al Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prison to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the ISIS leaders in the battle in Sweida.
  • U.S.-led coalition forces say that in the area patrolled by Americans and their close allies, around 1,000 ISIS militants are still at large. And an estimated 9,000 ISIS militants are still roaming free in Syria and Iraq. And in both places heinous attacks continue to occur.
  • “To safeguard our community and to protect the diversity in the future of Syria, we need to create a crescent against aggressors,” said one of the politicians. Running from north to south, including parts of Iraq, it would protect the Kurds, the Yazidis, Christians, and Druze. “The minorities are looking to the Coalition as the only credible force in the area,” he said, adding, “The crescent strategically speaking would also cut the Iranians from access to the regime.”
Ed Webb

They can't sail for Europe - so what's happening to migrants trapped in Libya? | Middle... - 0 views

  • the group were first taken to an official centre in Zawiya. “There were 1,200 of us, stacked in hundreds in each room,” she says. “We were so tight that we could not lie down, we had to take turns to sleep."
  • “Once we were inside the detention centre, they started to blackmail us. They used the phones they had taken away to contact our friends in Libya and ask for money in exchange for our release or else directly called our relatives, threatening to kill us if they did not find a way to send money."
  • Libya has become the preferred destination for migrants and refugees heading for Europe. In the first half of 2017, at least 2,030 people died or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean for southern Europe. The greatest number set off from Libya.
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  • armed Libyan groups are receiving payoffs to stop boats leaving Libya, in exchange for aid, aircraft hangars and money
  • Laura Thompson of the International Organisation for Migration told AFP on Wednesday that there “are somewhere around 31 or 32 detention centres, and around half are controlled by, or are in the areas controlled by, the government”. She said that nobody knew how many people were being kept in the facilities, where conditions were "extremely bad”.
  • illegal facilities, directly run by armed militias involved in human trafficking and fuel smuggling, often with the complicity of members of the coastguard service
  • Male captives are frequently beaten until they can somehow get relatives to send more money to Libya, or else set to work in factories or oil refineries. Women may end up being trafficked sexually.
  • a UNICEF report released in February, "detention centres run by militias are nothing but forced labour camps, armed robbery prisons. For thousands of migrant women and children, prison is a hell of rape, violence, sexual exploitation, hunger, and repeated abuses."
  • "Europeans think the problem in Libya is politics,” he says, “but we cannot build a government of national unity without a national army."
  • “When the centres are overflowing, migrants are taken out, there is no money to feed them all,” Ibrahim says. “Some guards are good people, but some of them are corrupt.”He hints at the tangled relationship which exists between centre personnel, smugglers, militia and human traffickers, which pass desperate migrants between themselves like a resaleable human commodity.The guards at detention centres may take money from the traffickers, then hand the migrants over.Or smugglers tip off the coastguard when their migrants are due to sail to Europe so that they will be captured and passed to militias.Or militias will seize migrants in the streets on the grounds that they do not carry the necessary documentation, a requirement in Libya. “They pretend to arrest illegal migrants and then keep them in their centres without food and water, take their money, exploit them, abuse women,” Ibrahim says.
  • The coastguard has repeatedly denied that its members are involved in the people-trafficking trade.But a UN report has found that:"Abuses against migrants were widely reported, including executions, torture and deprivation of food, water and access to sanitation. The International Organisation for Migration also reported enslavement of sub-Saharan migrants. Smugglers, as well as the Department to Counter Illegal Migration and the coastguard, are directly involved in such grave human rights violations."
  • Happiness and Bright's mother - I am never told her name - took all the money that their families could spare, then crossed the Sahara, reached the Libyan coast and paid smugglers to take them to Europe. It was then they were captured and brought to Surman.Happiness says that her friend became ill after Bright was born but received no medical aid. “Now her body is in the nearby hospital. It can’t be sent back to her family. She lost her documents at sea, and her family does not have the money to send the corpse.”
  • “They use us as slaves, and when we are no longer needed, they throw us away,” he says. "Humanitarian organisations do not come here. Sometimes some locals come to us with soap and bread. But no international."
  • She too crossed the Sahara, this time to escape Boko Haram. She was determined that her children would not grow up afraid, fearing every day that they would die."I do not care if they [the coastguards] have stopped me, I will try again," she says, looking at her newborn children. "I know it's dangerous. Nigeria is also dangerous. If war does not kill you, hunger will kill you, and here we are prisoners, the same hell. It's worth trying to cross the sea again.”Princess has yet to learn: she will be lucky to escape Libya.
Ed Webb

Turkey to send back Islamic State prisoners even if citizenships revoked | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Turkey has said it will send Islamic State group (IS) prisoners back to their countries of origin, regardless of whether they have been stripped of citizenship. 
  • Turkey had nearly 1,200 foreign members of IS in custody, and had captured 287 during its recent operation in northern Syria
  • It remains unclear whether Turkey will be able to do so in practice. Western countries have often refused to accept the repatriation of citizens who left to join IS in Syria, and have stripped many of their citizenship. Britain has removed citizenship from more than 100 people for allegedly joining armed groups abroad. 
Ed Webb

Will Biden Help Revive the Arab Spring, Starting with Tunisia? - 1 views

  • Saied’s so-called emergency measures remain in place, and the U.S. State Department said Wednesday that no further action has been taken. “We are monitoring and engaged,” a State Department spokesperson told Foreign Policy. Some activists and regional experts say more concrete forms of pressure from the United States are needed. They say preserving democracy in Tunisia will be a test of U.S. President Joe Biden’s central commitment to what he has called a “defining question of our time”—that is, “Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world?” 
  • Critics like Dunne say the administration has fallen seriously short of what Blinken, in a major March 3 speech, said would be a new U.S. policy to “incentivize democratic behavior” and “encourage others to make key reforms … [and] fight corruption.”
  • What is at stake is far more than a somewhat dysfunctional democracy in a nation of 12 million people on the periphery of the Arab world, some experts say. Tunisia’s democratic survival is a test for the whole Middle East—and, indeed, could help provide a long-term solution to the ongoing problem of Islamist terrorism. 
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  • “If this administration wants to be serious about protecting democracy as a broad policy approach, there are really few places more significant.” It wouldn’t cost a lot, Feldman points out. But making clear that Saied’s moves are unacceptable would “show we actually believe in democracy and we’re not being merely situational about it.”
  • the Arab tyrannies and monarchies have been urging Saied on toward more authoritarianism and lumping Ennahdha together with extremist Islamist groups
  • democracy has not been terribly rewarding so far for Tunisia. Saied’s power grab was actually popular among large masses who have complained of rampant corruption and are suffering terribly for basic needs.
  • A report this month from Human Rights First indicated that the restoration of Arab dictatorships may be generating a new generation of terrorists; in Egypt, a harsh crackdown on democracy and human rights activists by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who seized power in 2014, has led to active recruitment by the Islamic State in Egypt’s prison system. 
  • “It’s time to stop saying it’s early days [for this administration] because we’re six months in and there is no palpable new approach.” In February, the Biden administration approved a $197 million sale of missiles to Egypt days after the Egyptian government detained family members of a U.S.-based Egyptian American human rights activist.
  • The president is as much a practitioner of realpolitik as he is an advocate of democracy, and it’s clear his main interest is not in nurturing new democracies but in herding together the mature industrial democracies against major authoritarian threats such as China and Russia.
  • hortly before Saied’s takeover, the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation approved nearly $500 million in aid to strengthen Tunisia’s transportation, trade, and water sectors. Saied’s government is also seeking a three-year $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which answers to pressure from Washington and other major capitals. Washington has other leverage as well: In 2020, the United States signed on to a 10-year military cooperation program with Tunis, and the two sides regularly hold joint exercises. And in the last decade, Washington has invested more than $1 billion in the Tunisian military, according to U.S. Africa Command.
  • Tunisia has had no support for its transition within the Middle East North Africa region and far too little support from other democracies in Europe and the United States
  • “I think we often forget that democratic revolutions are almost never successful on the first attempt,”
Ed Webb

Tunisia sentences opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi to year in prison | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • The Tunisian opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi has been sentenced in absentia to a year in prison, marking the most high-profile escalation in an authoritarian crackdown by President Kais Saied.
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