Torture is back in Egypt

Torture has been a powerful radicalizing element in the Middle East.  It was torture that turned Sayed Qutb from a critic of the Egyptian government and the west to one who believed the whole system was corrupt and irredeemable: the only hope was extreme action.  It was torture that radicalized Ayman Zawahiri, now head of Al Qaeda.  And it was torture that created the hatred of the Egyptians for the police and underlaid the explosion of public demonstrations against President Mubarak early this year.  
The police seem unable to avoid the practice in Egypt.  Now that they are back on the streets the Egyptians are at risk of losing much of what they have gained.  Here is an article that appeared in the Bikya Masr website on October 28.

Power and torture in Egypt by Desmond Shephard Oct 28

“We are all Khaled Said” turned to “We are all Mina Daniel” and then on Thursday evening Egyptians began the “We are all Essam” campaign after rights activists and NGOs reported 24-year-old Essam Atta was brutally tortured to death by prison guards at Torah prison in Cairo after they discovered a mobile phone SIM card in his cell.
The images of the slain Egyptian sparked a massive outpouring of anger toward the country’s police, who also shot dead a man just outside the capital on Thursday. The police have returned in full force to Egypt and it has left the country on the edge, with calls for demonstrations beginning to foment once more. Calls for a renewal of revolution have been drifting in for the past day. Activists are angry.
The return of the police, which was largely responsible for the murder of over 850 Egyptians during the 18 days of uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, has shown that they have regained their power over daily life in the country. Random checkpoints, ID checking and detention have once more become the norm on Egypt’s streets.
Essam Atta has become the new Khaled Said – the man who was tortured and murdered in Alexandria in June 2010, who largely began the road to revolution – after he was sodomized by a hose by prison guards, who then tossed his body in front of Cairo’s Qasr el-Aini hospital Thursday evening.
According to the al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation and Torture, Essam Atta suffered a severe drop in blood pressure and heart failure after being tortured by police officials at Tora prison.
There have already been over 2,000 “likes” on the We are all Essam Facebook page, showing that Egyptians can mobilize quickly.
What Thursday’s torture of the 24-year-old represents is the power, corruption and torture intrinsically part of the Egyptian police force. On Wednesday, the two officers who killed Khaled Said were handed baffling sentences of 7 years in prison on manslaughter charges. It signalled to many activists that change had not come to Egypt in the 9 months since Mubarak was ousted. Instead, what we are witnessing is the rise of the police yet again in the country, employing the same tactics that left a country angry, fearful and ready for revolution.
The power the police have in this country is hard to deny. They can come into cafes, interrogate anyone at anytime. Videos showing police torture have done much to spur a mindset change in the country, but the reality is that after decades of state television broadcasting horrendous reports on the glories of the police, cracking through the inherent belief in the military and the police is proving difficult.
One Egyptian mother, who had never heard of a blog and didn’t have a Twitter account, when told that a man had been tortured to death by prison guards wouldn’t believe the military would allow such an incident to occur. “The military would never let this happen, I know that because they supported the revolution and are making Egypt great again,” the 33-year-old woman told me.
Public opinion seems to fall into this line of thinking. Talking with people, the online activists appear out of touch with the majority, even as they espouse arguably the truth about Egypt’s current predicament. The vast majority of Egyptians believe the official government stance on a number of issues, including the Maspero massacre on October 9 that saw the armed forces kill 27 people, police violence, torture and murder. The military, and its police arm, have created an almost monopoly on public discourse that despite the handful of activists on online networks, tend to garner the support of the masses.
Torture is not new to Egypt, unfortunately. From Khaled Said to Essam Atta, hundreds of Egyptians have been tortured by police, electrocuted, beaten and killed. The difficulty now facing Egypt is how to respond. Online campaigns are all good and well, but they will not galvanize the public.
Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the 6th of April Movement, recently said he doesn’t use Twitter because that is not how to reach people. He is right. What is needed, in order to counter the increasing power and monopoly on information in Egypt, is a grassroots campaign that speaks with the people on the abuses that are leaving Egypt in a precarious position less than one month before parliamentary elections are set to begin.
Change can come, but fighting against power and torture in the country continues to prove difficult. In the end, when the rulers of the country had been part of the former regime for nearly two decades, it’s extremely hard to battle against their machine.

A Cry of the Heart from Yemen

So much has been happening in the Middle East and Central Asia — and I have shared none of it here.

Certainly, the world needs to hear this cry of the heart from Yemen. Click on the title to hear a voice of desperation from Yemen.

Is the American Ambassador listening? Who is listening? Will no one listen?

And from Syria: Still, people are going out on the street to challenge an army that has made sure that it has a reputation for brutality against its own citizens — and Bashir Assad wants his country to be regarded as civilized.

Who else feels helpless and ashamed that there is no help for such earnest youthful voices? Is that the best the world can do for them? All I know to do is pray.

The way Egyptian officials honor Al Jazeera: Raid their offices

Al Jazeera has become one of the most valuable sources of information on what’s going on in the Middle East. One wonders if the “Arab Spring” could have taken place without the involvement of the media to broadcast what was going on. Al Jazeera was crucial. But publishing what was happening in the Arab world — what was really happening — made Al Jazeera unpopular.

That the Egyptian government has had no use for Al Jazeera is no surprise. New York Times describes Al Jazeera as “known for attentive coverage of street protests” and “known for its attentive, if not sensational, coverage of street protests, including the Israeli Embassy attack on Friday.” And for reporting on the attack on the Israeli embassy the other day they were raided by “officials” {not thugs?}. Here is what The Times has to say about this affair:

“The raid also came after a warning last week by Egypt’s minister of media, Osama Heikal, that the government would take legal action against stations that “endanger the stability and security” of the nation, and some analysts said they feared the raid could signal a broader effort to curtail the new freedoms of expression experienced since the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak this year.

“The network, Al Jazeera Live Egypt, was founded in the aftermath of the uprising and has become known for its attentive, if not sensational, coverage of street protests, including the Israeli Embassy attack on Friday. The raid forced the network to halt its programming for a period before it resumed broadcasting from Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

“Officials of the Interior Ministry said they had raided the network because it lacked a license, and that neighbors had complained about noise. … But Islam Lotfy, a lawyer for the channel, said the channel had applied for a license in March without a response.”

The raid took form as “officers in plain clothes” entering “without showing a warrant or identifying themselves.” They “confiscated equipment and arrested an engineer operating it.”

But the response of manager of the television channel had an eminently quotable response to all this: “If broadcasting the truth is considered endangering stability,” he said, “then it is an honor for any media outlet to be endangering stability.”

Surprising civility among the victors in Libya

The situation in Libya seems to be taking on qualities most of us didn’t expect. I have supposed that the opposition that came together to fight Ghaddafi’s loyalist forces was a rag-tag collection of volunteers whose only commonality was a hatred of the Colonel. That they, or at least a number of them, had a fair sense of what they wanted the next society to look like was beyond our expectations. We didn’t expect that the opposition fighters would have much of a sense of what to do next – that is, how to establish and observe an organized social order. To the contrary, Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed today [NYTimes 9/8/11] suggests that at least some of the fighters have a reasonable sense of how a society should be operating in the absence of hostilities. He indicates that the people he encountered were already acting as if they were part of an ordered society. No looting – well, limited looting. That’s a surprise. Reasonable treatment of civilians connected with the losing side – this also is surprising. Compared to the way folks behaved in Iraq after Saddam was deposed these Libyan rebels have displayed exemplary courtesy to the losers in this war. Note especially the following statements:

• What’s particularly impressive is the paucity of revenge killings and looting in Tripoli, the capital. There have been a few incidents in which rebel soldiers apparently executed prisoners, and black Africans have been treated abysmally (they are accused of being mercenaries for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi). But the Libyans who served in that hated regime mostly have not been molested.

• I saw many Libyans fleeing for Tunisia, and, presumably, many of them were Qaddafi loyalists. But rebels did not hinder them at checkpoints or pilfer their belongings. And, as far as I could tell, the homes and luxury vehicles the loyalists left behind have been mostly untouched by neighbors and rebels alike.

• I went through dozens of armed rebel checkpoints and was never once asked for a “baksheesh,” meaning bribe or gift.

• Very few of the rebel leaders have been associated with Islamic fundamentalism. One exception is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a military commander in Tripoli, who says he was tortured by the C.I.A. in 2004. Yet he told my Times colleague Rod Nordland that all is forgiven and that he appreciates the American role in the Libyan revolution.

• The mood in Tripoli seems largely tolerant and forgiving, and exuberant about the prospect of democracy. “We are free now,” an engineer named Belgassim Ali told me. “Make a newspaper to support Qaddafi; I don’t mind. But no dictatorship!”

• The rebels have coordinated disparate fighting units and have tried to arrange the surrender of holdout towns like Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, rather than just marching in with guns blazing.

Of course the observations of one person are insufficient to draw generalizations from, but Kristof’s report suggests that these “rebels” are much more prepared to put together a working society than most of us had imagined.

The moral imagination on display in riots and demonstrations: from London to Daraa

One of the qualities that makes human behavior so complex, so difficult to analyze, is the richness of meanings embedded in it. The riots in London are a good example. Ysmine Ryan has written an article comparing the many nuances in the intentions of the Britain rioters with those of the rioters and demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Fredrik Barth [in book carefully snubbed by southeast Asiaianists, Balinese Worlds] has pointed out that folks act with intentions that are informed by their own fund of cultural resources whereas the observers of their behavior must “read” their intentions on the basis of their own cultural resources, which means that the possibilities for misreading of each other can be large, and especially so when the actor’s intentions are nuanced with deeply felt personal sentiments. Actors in fact can seek to convey a whole range of meanings in what they do – rage, fear, frustration, a desire for attention, despair, revenge, greed. Sometimes folks do what they do because to them it feels like the most effective way to express their complex feelings – feelings too complex and deeply felt for words. We’ve all been there: In times of exhaustion and frustration we have all been tempted to lash out.

But from the vantage-point of the observer unpacking the meanings embedded in the behavior of others turns out to be a huge challenge. Critical for the observer is the need to appreciate the meanings embedded in the context. The attempt to understand social explosions like those in London or Tunis or Cairo or Yemen or Daraa demands care and empathy – for all the actors on all sides – if one is ever to appreciate what animates the behavior of collectivities in such social movements. We must be ready to appreciate the contradictory and even self-destructive intentions – some of them base, some of them noble — that animate the behavior of folks in times of stress. If ever there was a complex object of study it is the human imagination.

This article [from Al Jazeera] is rich with the complexities of meaning that inform human behavior. Note, for instance, the statue erected to commemorate one thing, destroyed to commemorate something quite different, and then used by a contemporary artist to convey yet another message, which was, again, destroyed, apparently for reasons considered significant to the state. Meanings upon meanings upon meanings — an illustration of the the multiple and confused meanings that must be read empatheticly if they are to be understood. Anthropology seeks empathy even when we cannot agree.

From the Arab Spring to Liverpool? : The UK riots have unique roots, but British youths’ alienation is similar to the disenfranchisement behind Arab revolts.
Yasmine Ryan: 11 Aug 2011 14:47

In the heart of Toxteth, Liverpool, a mysterious statue appeared in the early hours of July 30.

It was a monument to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who, after being humiliated by police, had set himself alight in an act of protest that was to inflame the simmering rage of hundreds of thousands of people.

Last Thursday, in the London borough of Tottenham, the British police shot and killed a 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan. The following day, the monument in Toxteth – a district that had been the site of racially-fuelled social unrest in the 1980s – disappeared, the monument’s artist told Al Jazeera.

The Liverpool city council was unable to comment on whether it was responsible for having the monument removed, as they were swamped trying to deal with the riots, which spread to Liverpool over the weekend.

Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, and the uprising that followed, happened in a very different context to the British riots.

When Tunisia’s peaceful protesters in the underprivileged centre of the country were slain by the police’s use of lethal force, the country’s middle class poured into the streets to show their outrage, and solidarity.

In Britain, by contrast, people across socio-economic groups are calling on the police to protect them from the seemingly uncontrollable mobs of youths, who, according to the dominate media narrative, seem intent on wreaking havoc for the simple reason that they can.

Yet the artist who created the monument to the young Tunisian street vendor, who wishes to remain anonymous in the commodity-free spirit of his work, told Al Jazeera that his work celebrated universal aspirations of emancipation and social justice.

His unsanctioned “people’s monument” referenced other recent uprisings in the Arab world, including Egypt and Libya.

Commonalities with Arab Spring?

Closer to home, it also referred to the Toxteth riots of 1981. The statue was mounted on a plinth where a statue of William Huskisson had stood until it was mistaken for a tribute to a slave-trader and torn down in the protests against racism and police brutality of 1981 (the unfortunate Huskisson had, in fact, been the world’s first railway victim in 1830).

The myth that has arisen around Bouazizi is relevant to the UK, the artist explained, where the conservative government’s cutbacks have taken their toll on people’s daily life.

“[Bouazizi] represented everyday struggle, his gesture was not politically motivated but about the right to exist, to provide for one’s family,” he said. “I like that fruit and vegetables were the cornerstone of the revolution – not political ideology or other beliefs.”

In any event, such overt political messages or symbols have been largely absent during the riots in the UK, which have been left many commentators stunned by the apparent lack of any political agenda.

Will Davies, a spokesperson for Avaaz, an international organisation that works for social justice and has rallied in support of the Arab Spring, told Al Jazeera that those rioting in the UK were, in stark contrast, not politically minded and were causing “anarchy for anarchy’s sake”.

“Juxtapose that with the situation in Syria, where they’ve finally got the courage to stand up to a brutal regime and they’ve done that entirely peacefully.”

“They should take a long hard look at what is going on in places like Yemen and Syria,” Davies said, noting the state violence and forced disappearances endured by protesters elsewhere in the world simply for exercising the right to peaceful protest or for speaking to the media.

There have, nonetheless, been some attempts to link the UK riots with the string of uprisings in North Africa and Middle East.

For some, emphasising such a link is a way of eliminating any need to discuss the local and national roots to the violence.

The neighbourhood of Toxteth in Liverpool saw some of worst riots over police brutality in 1980s [REUTERS]
Stuart Bell, a British Labour Party MP, told Europe 1, a television station, that “these riots have nothing to do with unemployment, or with government cutbacks. It has its origins in Tunisia”.

Others, meanwhile, have taken a more nuanced approached.

Expressing his frustration with the way the media were covering the unrest, Darcus Howe, a 68-year-old West Indian writer, broadcaster and resident of South London, told the BBC that turmoil was very much a consequence of the British police’s shooting of Mark Duggan, and of routine police bullying.

Parallel to this very local root cause, the writer argued that the social dissent should also be viewed as part of a global movement.

“I don’t call it rioting – I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment,” he told the BBC host.

‘Only then do the media listen to you’

While most other commentators agree it would be a stretch to argue that the Arab Spring in helped to ferment social unrest in the UK, North African activists who had participated in protests against their own governments told Al Jazeera that they felt solidarity with the British youths who have taken to the streets.

. . . [much is excised here]

[For more, click on the title above for a link to the source]
. . .

As a consequence of issues highlighted by those riots, there was social change which benefited the Liverpool community as a whole, he said.

“The dynamic of this riot is very difficult. This riot is not being led by black people, it is being led by youth,” he said. “There’s no colour bar, no gender bar.”

While the rioters have no clear agenda and their behaviour should not be excused, the poet said, the existence of so many restless young people was directly linked to David Cameron’s conservative government cutbacks to community and social services.

“It should be said that the last civil unrest we’ve had in this country was under [former prime minister] Margaret Thatcher, during a similar time of austerity,” he said.

There had been “disproportionate investment” in the upper and middle classes, notably in the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the bank bailouts, while millions of children have received little from their government.

“These are children who now appear to have no purpose. Society does not seem to see them as a significant enough group to invest in.”

The story of Bouazizi captured so much attention because of the sheer desperation embodied by the act of self-immolation. Britain’s youth may be speaking a different language and their violence turned outwards, rather than inwards, but they have no less legitimacy than their counterparts in the Arab world.

Follow Yasmine Ryan on twitter: @YasmineRyan

Source: Al Jazeera

Abuse of Netanyahu’s heckler

Below is an excerpt from Moral Low Ground‘s report on the treatment of a heckler of Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Compare this with my previous entry on the Syrian state’s abuses of its own citizens. There is a difference: at least she wasn’t shot; and there are reasonable constraints on the exercise of such abuse in this country. But this is no way to treat a heckler. RLC

Moral Low Ground 24th May 2011

Code Pink Activist Rae Abileah Attacked by AIPAC Thugs During Netanyahu D.C. Speech, then Arrested in Hospital. Rae Abileah, an activist from the anti-war group Code Pink, was assaulted by a group of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) thugs after she interrupted a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a joint session of the US Congress in Washington, DC earlier today.
According to The Raw Story, Abileah shouted “STOP ISRAELI WAR CRIMES!” and was then tackled by the AIPAC Zionists. She sustained injuries to her neck and shoulder and was taken to George Washington University Hospital for treatment. While there, she was placed under arrest for bravely standing up to Israeli crimes against humanity.
Abileah said she was “in great pain” but her ordeal was nothing “compared to the pain and suffering that Palestinians go through on a regular basis.”
“I have been to Gaza and the West Bank,” she said. “I have seen Palestinians’ homes bombed and bulldozed, I have talked to mothers whose children have been killed during the invasion of Gaza, I have seen the Jewish-only roads leading to ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank. This kind of occupation cannot continue… I feel obligated to rise up and speak out against these crimes being committed in my name and with my tax dollars.”
Bravo, Ms. Abileah. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And yet she was arrested, not the vile war criminal Netanyahu, who presides over one of the most despicably racist, colonialist states on earth? . . .

[Click on the title above for a link to the original article.]

Syria’s betrayal of its own claims to legitimacy

What the regime in Syria has lost in legitimacy is unrecoverable. The reality of that loss can hardly be said more eloquently than in this Al Jazeera report by Hugh Macleod and an unnamed correspondent [probably in Syria]. RLC [Click on the title for a link to the source.]

Secret police are raiding hospitals to round up people who were injured during anti-government protests.
by Hugh Macleod and a special correspondent 24 May 2011

Fawaz al-Haraki had only minutes to live.

As the shots rang out, Abu Haidar and the other protesters ran for cover, grimly familiar with what to do when the mukhabberat (secret police) attacked.

But Fawaz fell, the blood soaking his trousers where the bullet from a Syrian secret policeman had torn into his leg.

It was Friday April 22 in the industrial city of Homs, famous for being the nation’s main producer of jokes and cement.

Few are laughing for Homs or its dirty factory these days. Last Friday, 11-year-old Aiham al-Ahmad became the latest among dozens of people killed in Homs since the city rose up in some of the largest numbers yet seen to call for freedom and an end to the Assad family’s 41-year-old dictatorship.

As the bullets sparked off the street around them, Abu Haidar and two other protesters hauled 42-year-old Fawaz into a car, desperate to get him to a doctor before his time ran out.

But Fawaz, growing pale under a blanket in the backseat of Abu Haider’s car, was already a dead man: Killed not only by a bullet, but by the regime’s decision – appearing, increasingly, to be systematic – to prevent injured protestors from receiving medical care.

From the moment he was shot until the moment he was buried in the ground, Fawaz’s fate was not in the hands of the doctors, friends and family who wished to save him, but in the hands of secret policemen whose actions ensured that he died, and that as few people knew about it as possible.

Nowhere to go

“They have checkpoints everywhere and we knew they could stop the car at any moment, even if we were acting normally,” said Abu Haidar, who has been a consistently reliable source for Al Jazeera’s reporting from Homs since the uprising began.

He had good reason to be worried.

On that same Friday, three other cars ferrying wounded protestors from Homs disappeared after approaching a security checkpoint. One of the drivers, Raed Mehran, had been on the phone with Wissam Tarif, director of Insan, a Syrian human rights organisation, hanging up saying he was approaching a checkpoint.

Several weeks later, Tarif received news that four of the men in the cars had died while the others had been imprisoned.

“It is beyond arbitrary detention. It is people being kidnapped. In many cases injured people are being kidnapped and we do not know if any medical attention is provided or not,” said Tarif.

In Jabla, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the injured from an attack on April 24 couldn’t even be bundled into a car, pinned down inside the Hamwi Mosque by snipers shooting anyone who moved outside.

“We can’t even get to the pharmacy to get medicine because of the snipers on the roofs,” said Dr Zakariya al-Akkad. “All I can do is try and stop the bleeding.” He couldn’t, and 17-year-old Ali Halabi, along with several others, died.

Abu Haidar and his team had managed to avoid the checkpoints, but didn’t spot the plain clothes security men pulling up to them in the car behind. The security men opened fire.

. . . “We were driving really fast and trying to keep our heads down. There were bullets all around. We were risking our lives but also the life of Fawaz because when you are injured like that every moment is important,” he said.

The car swerved down a back alley to escape the mukhabberat.

“It was complete chaos but we know the neighbourhood much better than the security so we managed to escape with our lives,” said Abu Haidar.

Not so for the man they were trying to help: “Because we were forced to make that long journey, Fawaz bled to death.”

Al Jazeera has also reported that security forces, including snipers on rooftops, prevented residents from assisting the dead and dying during the siege of Deraa.

Human Rights Watch documented cases of security forces preventing casualties reaching hospital and firing on protesters seeking to help the wounded in Harasta, a town 12km north-east of Damascus, and also in Deraa.

‘They entered the hospital’

Even without the secret police attacking their car, Abu Haidar said his options for getting Fawaz to a doctor had already been drastically limited: “We were not willing to take him to the national hospital in Homs because we thought he would be arrested and kidnapped there.”

In cases repeated in several different Syrian cities, Al Jazeera has been able to document raids on hospitals by members of the secret police who have snatched injured protestors from their beds and forced them, some on stretchers, into police vehicles where they are driven to what are suspected to be military hospitals.

On April 22, the same day Fawaz died, a young nurse was on duty in the emergency ward of a hospital in Duma, a town 15 km north-east of Damascus, where tens of thousands had been protesting against the regime.

It was her fifth consecutive Friday on call. Before the protests began, the emergency department would receive three or four people per day, usually from car accidents, she said. This Friday, as before, the hospital would admit 30 to 40 emergency cases, almost all of them gunshot wounds to the upper body.

“I was in the hospital between eight and nine in the evening when about 20 security men with Kalashnikovs entered the hospital and asked reception to give them the names of all patients submitted that day,” the nurse told Al Jazeera, speaking on the condition that her identity and the name of the hospital not be revealed.

“We were afraid of them. They asked us to bring them all the wounded, not those who were just normally ill.”

The doctors and nurses were made to escort all 30 injured protesters, some of them carried on stretchers, from their beds to the police vehicles.

“I remember a teenager who was injured in his arm. He was exhausted, but they put him in a car anyway and he was crying from the pain. But I couldn’t do anything for him,” said the nurse. “They told us they were taking them to the military and police hospitals to treat them under their observation.”

On the same day, also in Duma, residents formed a human shield around the gates of the private-run Hamdan Hospital, trying to prevent secret police arresting the 25 injured protesters receiving treatment inside.

“This is the last way we have to protect our wounded from being kidnapped by the secret police,” said a man who took part in the human shield, which he said broke up after security forces fired on it and then arrested several injured patients.

In two other suburbs of Damascus, Berze and Maadamiyeh, Al Jazeera spoke to local doctors who said they had resorted to treating injured protestors in private homes or make-shift field clinics after relatives reported loved ones going missing from hospitals.

Also on April 22, a 13-year-old boy from Maadamiyeh died from a gunshot wound, said a local doctor, after secret police beat his father as he tried to get his son to hospital in neighbouring Daraya.

On April 23, an eyewitness in Deraa described to Al Jazeera how he saw military and plain-clothes security officers kill five people around the state hospital before breaking in and carrying out the wounded on stretchers.

In Homs itself, a week after Fawaz died, members of a local tribe stood watch around the Al-Barr private hospital to try and protect wounded protestors from police raids.

On May 5, Homs residents again formed a human shield, this time around the main hospital in Bab al-Sebah, while last Friday three people were killed when security forces opened fire on locals trying to protect a hospital in Homs’ Al-Waar neighbourhood.

“They prevent patients from being taken to hospital,” said a doctor directly involved in treating patients under the custody of the secret police. “It is something horrible. We feel hate towards this security regime.”

Treated or tortured?

Injured protestors in the custody of security forces also stand less chance of receiving adequate medical care, according to testimony from doctors speaking to Al Jazeera and human rights researchers.

“When we were treating patients from the protests the mukhaberrat said to us, ‘You don’t have to take care for these people, you have to care for the injured security men,'” the doctor who treated patients in police custody told Al Jazeera.

“As doctors we have our priorities, but the mukhaberrat don’t accept our priorities. It’s not like they say, ‘We will kill you if you care for the patients,’ but the doctors cannot say no to them. They are very afraid.”

As Al Jazeera first reported last month, Syrian doctors have come under direct pressure not to treat injured protesters.

Insan, a leading Syrian human rights organisation, documented the case of Hussein Moutaz Issa, 23, who died in police custody after being arrested with a gunshot wound left untreated.

Issa was shot in his right shoulder by security forces while trying to escape door-to-door raids on homes in Madaya, 40 km northwest of Damascus, on April 28. He made it to a neighbour’s house where several eyewitnesses, one of them with a medical background, told Insan they managed to stop the bleeding and the wound appeared non-fatal.

But later that night Issa was arrest and died in police custody, his body left at the main regional hospital in Zabadani. According to a doctor from the hospital who spoke to Insan, Issa had bled to death after receiving no medical attention.

“He was left without medical attention and bled to death,” said the doctor. “This is homicide. I saw the body myself. This young man was not offered any medical attention.”

Even more disturbingly, the body showed marks of torture.

“He was not even left to die in peace,” said the doctor. “It seems that after he was captured he was severely beaten.”

Issa’s death prompted a massive funeral march carrying his body from Zabadani back to Madaya, with thousands of people chanting for the downfall of the regime.
In a graphic and disturbing video from May 19, residents of Deraa display the body of a man said to be 75-year-old Mohammed Hassan Zubi, who was shot in the neck but whose body also bore the scars of severe beating and other torture.

Laid to rest, not in peace

Shot when protesting for freedom, Fawaz Haraki bled to death, like many others, because the actions of Syrian security forces prevented him from receiving the medical attention he needed.

Yet even after his death, the secret police continued to impose their restrictions and repression.

According to Abu Haidar, who delivered the body to them, Fawaz’s family were visited by secret police and forced to sign papers stating they would not bury Fawaz in the central Al Kateeb cemetery – now renamed Martyrs’ cemetery – but instead on the outskirts of the city, in the Tal Al Nasser cemetery, where the authorities hoped few would gather.

It was a scheme the mukhaberrat was using elsewhere. Just hours after residents of Homs gathered to bury Fawaz, to the south, in the Damascus suburb of Berze, a small group of mourners gathered in the dead of night to bury seven-year-oldIsraa Younes, shot by security forces the day before.

Having snatched bodies from the streets of Berze, the secret police forced families of those shot to sign papers stating their loved ones had been killed by “armed gangs” before they would release the bodies for burial.

Families had also to agree to hold the funeral at night. The same practise took place in Duma, only there the protestors, according to the regime’s paperwork, had been killed by “terrorists”.
But Fawaz’s funeral had the power of numbers. Born aloft by a procession of some 6,000 mourners, Fawaz’s body was carried not to the outskirts of the city, but straight to the Martyrs’ cemetery in central Homs, an act of defiance at the last, an assertion of rights in death which the regime had so systematically removed from his life, even in its last minutes.

Grenier on the indifference of the Arab world to the death of Bin Laden

In Al Jazeera [May 13, 2011] Robert L. Grenier has commented on the relative indifference of the Arab world to the death of Osama Bin Laden. I have copied below a portion of that statement that aptly describes the issues that have informed some of the public demonstrations in the Middle East. [Click on the title for a link to the whole article.]

From Al Jazeera

The end of one dream and the birth of another: The Arab Spring has empowered Muslims to create new forms of leadership – dictators and mass-murderers “need not apply”.

. . .

Osama’s resistance was outdated
No matter how steadfast the Sheikh may have seemed in resisting perceived western encroachment, no matter how sincere he may have been in pursuit of his twisted aims, it is difficult to muster great sympathy for a man so utterly misguided, whose takfiri legacy was to inspire the wanton murder of thousands of Muslims by other Muslims in East Africa, in Iraq, and in any number of other places extending from Morocco to Indonesia.
Even in South Asia … – even there, one cannot find the groundswell of popular emotion one might have found had bin Laden been killed, say, in 2002.

Too much has happened since.
The response of the West to 9/11 and the explosion of regional militancy it has inspired has led, ultimately, to a degree of Muslim-on-Muslim violence heretofore unimaginable, employing the most alien and macabre of methods, in what was already a violent part of the world. Even the demonstrations of the usual suspects, from the Jamaat-e-Islami to Lashkar-e-Taiba, have had a ritual, self-serving quality – and their participants betray the dispirited knowledge that they can hope to generate little resonance in the population at large. Indeed, their public outpourings appear to have more to do with them than they do with genuine devotion to Osama.
It was the fate of bin Laden that, in the end, he would become to most in the Muslim world a sterile symbol of ineffectual resistance, fundamentally rejected by those whom he would presume to represent. There is no greater indictment of the legacy of bin Laden than that his appeal was based upon an overwhelming sense of Muslim weakness. It thus is fitting that he should meet his demise precisely when a new generation is rising up to forge a different path, one based on an overwhelming sense of popular strength.

There is precedent for this. I remember well the feeling in the Arab street in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and defied the calls of the West and of the international community to withdraw. I saw it from the streets of Algiers, where mass demonstrations built inexorably in size and vigour as momentum increased for a US-led attack on Saddam’s Republican Guard. Those who surrounded the US embassy chanting pro-Saddam slogans surely had no illusions about the man: He was a thug and a known mass-murderer of his own people, whose greatest atrocities were yet to come. But then and there, the reality of the man counted for little. What mattered was the image, the symbol of a seemingly powerful Arab leader willing to stand up to the West.
Paper tigers
When, in the end, Saddam was overwhelmingly and ignominiously defeated, and his army revealed to be a paper tiger, one might have expected to see a popular explosion. In fact, we saw nothing of the kind. It is the singular fate of the personally discredited symbol to lose all popular support when his resistance is revealed to be a sham – and has come to an end. In the case of the Iraqi dictator, it was like air escaping from a balloon: As Saddam’s legions fled northward in disorder, the headline of a popular newspaper in Algiers said it all: The End of the Dream. In the Arab street, there was a collective shrug, and everyone went back to what they were doing before.
In truth, the promise represented by Saddam Hussein was not a dream, but a nightmare. It should not be the fate of the Muslims to be “liberated” by mass-murderers, whether Saddam or Osama, whose contempt for the core beliefs and aspirations of most of those whom they pretended to lead was palpable.
Instead, and in spite of the many obstacles ahead, one can see in the middle distance a very different sort of liberation, one forged by and for the people themselves, based on models which exist within the Muslim world, and carrying the tangible hope of a future where the leaders are servants to the desires of the people, and not the other way around.

The underside of repression: Fear

Roger Cohen today describes the bunker that Muammar Qaddafi had built for himself because he knew – at least feared — that the day would come when he would have to flee from his own people. So the bunker was made impregnable. Of course it is easy to surmise that that same fear animates the Syrian regime that had not shirked from shooting its own people – even shooting the troops that refuse to do it. Libya, Syria, Bahrain – these regimes, despite affectations of popularity among their citizens, in fact can no longer pretend to rule by popular acclaim. Likewise for the Chinese: All the pretenses of popularity during the Olympic Games have disappeared because they dare long allow public demonstrations of which they have no control – even a church service in Shanghai – for any uncontrolled gathering has the potential of exposing what virtually everyone inside and outside their regimes knows: that they hold power by force; they enforce their position through the exercise of violence or the fear of violence.

Here is part of what Cohen has to say about Qaddafi’s hideout:

I descended 55 steps into the labyrinth of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s mind. The glow of cellphones and a feeble flashlight lit a passage into the darkness. A netherworld unfolded — bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, even saunas — linked by tunnels with six-inch-thick metal doors agape at their mouths. No expense had been spared on this lair.

“You see what the rat planned,” said Farage Mohamed, a manager in an oil pipe company, as he led the way to the base of an escape hatch that emerged deep in the gardens of this sprawling former Qaddafi villa in liberated eastern Libya. “It’s like Hitler’s Berlin bunker.”

So Qaddafi always thought this could happen, even 42 years into his rule. He feared someone might slice away the myths — Arab nationalist, African unifier, all-powerful non-president — and leave him, disrobed, a little man in a vast vault with nowhere left to go. In the twisted mind of the despot now derided here as “the man with the big hair,” his own demise was the tousle-coiffed specter that would not go away.

Strange, then, that the United States and Europe never thought this could happen — not to Qaddafi, or Mubarak, or Ben Ali, or any of the other murderous plunderers, some now gone, others slaughtering their own people, here in Libya, or in Syria, or Yemen. Policy was based on the mistaken belief that these leaders would last forever.

They were paranoid about their fates. We were convinced of their permanence.

Of course it was not just a conviction about their inevitability that drove U.S. policy toward these dictators. It was a cynical decision to place counterterrorism and security at the top of the agenda and human rights — in this case Arab rights — at the bottom. It was about Big Oil interests. And, to some degree, it was about the perception of what served the security of America’s closest regional ally, Israel.

[Click on the title above for a link to the original.]

The Daily Beast has a report on the plans of Libyan members of Al Qaeda to leave Pakistan and join the opposition in Libya. For what it’s worth, the issue is certainly worth following. [For the whole article click on the title.]

Al Qaeda’s Libya Pilgrimage by Ron Moreau & Sami Yousafzai

As debate rages in Washington over whether to arm anti-Gaddafi rebels, an exclusive report by The Daily Beast indicates al Qaeda forces are gearing up to join the rebels and seize power in Libya.

As the battle for the future of Libya continues, the excitement is almost palpable among Libyan-born al Qaeda fighters and other Arabs hunkered down in Pakistan’s remote and lawless tribal area. According to Afghan Taliban sources close to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group, some of the 200 or so Libyans operating near the Afghan border may be on their way home to steer the anti-Gaddafi revolution in a more Islamist direction.

“We have heard a number of fighters have already departed from the tribal area,” says an Afghan commander who is linked to the powerful Haqqani network, a North Waziristan-based organization that shelters many al Qaeda fighters. Others may be on their way. “Libyans and Arabs seem to be getting ready for departure and are eager to go home and fight,” says the Afghan source. “I’ve heard that some fighters are saying goodbye and giving thanks with kind words to their (Pakistani) tribal friends who have been sheltering them.” 

Since the anti-Gaddafi revolution began last month, al Qaeda—especially Libyan-born affiliates—have viewed the fighting as an opportunity to spread their radical Islamist ideology. Indeed, as one Afghan Taliban operative who helps facilitate the movement of al Qaeda militants between the tribal area and Pakistani cities told The Daily Beast earlier this month: “This rebellion is the fresh breeze they’ve been waiting years for. They realize that if they don’t use this opportunity, it could be the end of their chances to turn Libya toward a real Islamic state, as Afghanistan once was.”

If Yahya is successful in reaching rebel-held territory inside Libya, at least he’ll be able to operate with relative freedom, without worrying about Gaddafi’s secret police.

Now, as the White House and NATO continue to debate the possible ramifications of arming the Libyan opposition, the Haqqani network-linked Afghan commander says Libyan al Qaeda affiliates seem to be more “enthusiastic” about the war against Gaddafi every day. And from what the Afghan Taliban commander has seen, there appears to be more than “flickers” of al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, the description given by NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis. According to the Afghan commander, al Qaeda fighters can’t believe their good luck that U.S. and NATO aircraft—the same forces that have dropped bombs on their heads in Afghanistan and Pakistan—are now raining down ordnance against Gaddafi.

So far, Muammar Gaddafi’s clumsy efforts to blame al Qaeda for the popular uprising against his dictatorship would be a joke, if only he weren’t using that claim as an excuse for mowing down so many Libyans. In fact, it’s been many years since Libya has seen significant numbers of radical Islamists—or any other organized opposition, for that matter. Nearly all have been killed, locked up or chased into exile years ago by the regime’s secret police and security forces. Although the country’s most feared insurgent entity, the al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (known in Arabic as Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya), has been seeking to topple Gaddafi since the early 1990s, and up until now, it’s been unlikely that more than a handful who pledge allegiance to Osama bin Laden remain inside the country.

Today, along the tribal border region, al Qaeda’s thirst for more immediate news has led even top leaders like Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan who serves as the movement’s senior Islamist ideologue and bin Laden’s head of operations for Afghanistan, to become almost foolhardy. The Afghan commander says that Yahya and some of his countrymen have even risked visiting villagers’ houses that have satellite television dishes on the roof to watch the latest Western and Middle Eastern news feeds from Libya. Their movements in public areas could easily expose these high value targets to human and UAV surveillance, and a deadly drone strike. 

Over the past few decades, several Libyans have held top roles in al Qaeda. Some traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviets and stayed, eventually teaming up with bin Laden after his return from Sudan in 1996. Taliban sources estimate there were some 200 Libyans with bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Since then some of bin Laden’s senior-most operational aides have been Libyans. One was Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was captured by Pakistan forces in 2005 and is now a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay; another was Abu Lais al-Libi, his replacement as al Qaeda’s third in command, who died in a U.S. Predator attack in 2008. Apart from his hardline sermons and jihadist exhortations that are widely distributed on DVD and posted on jihadist websites, Yahya may be best known for his daring escape along with three other al Qaeda prisoners from the high-security lockup at the American airbase at Bagram in July 2005. Yahya, who is believed to be in his late 40s, is smarter, more charismatic, a more articulate speaker and a more learned Islamic scholar than either Faraj or Lais, according to Afghan Taliban sources.