Some Saudi Arabian officials evidently feel that their country's blasphemy laws -- which treat transgressions as hudud or "limits," punishable by death in some cases -- are too lax. To rectify the situation, Reuters reports, the government is considering regulations that would criminalize insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, or elements of Sharia:
'Within the next two months the Shura Council will reveal the outcome of study on the regulations to combat the criticism of the basic tenets of Islamic sharia,' unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter told al-Watan, adding that there could be ‘severe punishments' for violators.
Criticism penalised under the law would include that of the Prophet, early Muslim figures and clerics, it said.
‘The (regulations) are important at the present time because violations over social networks on the Internet have been observed in the past months,' the sources said.
What is puzzling about the proposed legislation is what exactly it would fix. Saudi officials do not appear to be hamstrung by the existing legal apparatus, which metes out justice to dozens of blasphemers every year. In fact, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, meaning that judges already issue rulings based on their own interpretation of the Quran. According to Human Rights Watch, this means that blasphemy convictions are often handed down without citing any legal basis. As a result, anything from insulting the Prophet's companions, to mocking religion, to using "un-Islamic terminology" can get you convicted of blasphemy.
Nor do lily-livered judges or lenient sentences appear to be the problem. In 2008, for instance, a Mecca appeals court upheld the death sentence for Sabi Bogday, a Turkish national, who allegedly insulted God during an argument. In this case, the testimony of two witnesses was sufficient to prove Bogday's guilt.
In fairness, the death sentence for blasphemy seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Flogging and prison time are more standard fare. Still, the argument that Saudi's blasphemy laws are too permissive has a decidedly hollow ring.
Indeed, even the charge that social media is frustrating efforts to keep Saudi's public sphere squeaky clean doesn't hold water. Earlier this year, for instance, 23-year-old Hamza Kashgari was extradited from Malaysia to stand trial after he tweeted that the Prophet was merely inspirational, not divine.
The rumblings in Riyadh, then, probably have less to do with a perceived blasphemy pandemic and more to do with the ruling family's growing unease with the democratic transitions now underway in much of the Middle East. Although it has historically kept the country's religious establishment at arms-length, recent events have convinced the royal family to take all the support it can get.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Now that Turkey has confirmed that one of its fighter jets was shot down Friday by Syria, I'd like to share this brilliant gem from a now-defunct blog called Syria Exposed, written in the Céline-like voice of a disgruntled former soldier in the Syrian army nicknamed "Karfan" -- which means "disgusted" in Arabic.
Here's a classic bit from 2006 about Karfan's experience working to protect the homeland from the Israeli air force:
Back when Karfan was forced to serve his country and waste two years of his already-useless life in the army, he was assigned to a radar unit in Lebanon. That was because his degree was in electronic engineering and all, although he himself did not have the slightest idea what did he study during those years he spent at university. Regardless of that fact, service at a radar station was both the most useless and most dangerous service in the Syrian Army. They were not allowed to ever turn on those junk backward radars the Russians had bullied Syria into buying. If they operate them, the Israelis would detect their location, send missiles and blow the whole thing up. You cannot think of any more useless way to spend a year and a half of your life: you have to sit inside a dead piece of junk that is supposed to detect enemy's airlines, but you cannot turn it on because if you do, it would be blown away, with you in it of course. The biggest fear was that one asshole up in the upper command, might actually take the risk and order them to turn the radars on one of those days. Every one there knew what would happen then; they code named it: The Suicide Order.
The rest of the post is great, too. Karfan, where are you now?
This morning, Turkey made the startling announcement that it had lost contact with one of its F-4 military jets near the country's southern border with Syria, and that it had launched search-and-rescue efforts for the plane's two pilots.
Details about the incident are still fuzzy. Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News is reporting that Syrian authorities have apologized to their Turkish counterparts for downing the aircraft (and cooperated on the rescue mission), while the BBC notes that the Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting and that witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia have told BBC Arabic that Syrian air defenses shot down an aircraft. But none of the key details -- the plane's mission, the cause and location of the crash, the whereabouts of the pilots -- have been nailed down.
"We've lost a plane and as yet we don't know have any information as to what happened and whether it was brought down," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference on Friday.
Even with the shifting facts, it's worth asking: Could this incident -- or an incident like it -- trigger more aggressive action against Syria by the international community? After all, Turkey is a member of NATO, and Article V of the Washington Treaty outlines the alliance's commitment to collective security:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
A day after 9/11, NATO invoked this very provision for the first (and, to date, only) time, pledging to support U.S. military retaliation if it were determined that the terrorist attacks had been perpetrated by foreign nationals. The United States soon satisfied this condition in briefings with NATO members, but ultimately chose to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan outside the NATO framework. (It's also worth noting that NATO forces are involved in plenty of operations that don't involve Article V.)
If Turkey has reason to believe that Syria shot down its plane, might NATO respond in a similar fashion? It's not an entirely unreasonable question. The bloody and protracted crisis in Syria has poisoned relations between Ankara and Damascus, and Turkey suggested in April that it might turn to NATO under Article V to help protect its border in response to incursions by Syrian forces -- a threat Syria condemned as "provocative."
But Kurt Volker, the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, points out that Article V simply offers NATO allies an opportunity to consult with one another and does not necessarily entail a military response. If Turkey wanted to bring today's incident to the alliance, it would most likely instruct the Turkish ambassador in Brussels to work with NATO's secretary-general on calling a formal meeting to discuss the episode and formulate an appropriate response.
"A response could be anything from a statement reiterating the inviolability of security guarantees to members coordinating activities so that they can respond to further attacks on Turkish interests," Volker says.
He doesn't believe today's incident alone will alter the international community's response to the Syrian conflict, but he does think a NATO meeting on the matter could nurture a broader discussion about how to intervene militarily in Syria outside the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly opposed such action. One scenario, he adds, could be Western and Arab countries joining forces to create "safe zones" in Syria, support the Syrian opposition, and conduct aerial strikes against Syria's offensive military assets.
"I do get the feeling that the patience of the international community is growing thinner," Volker explains. "With the recent village-by-village slaughter [in Syria] and brazenness of the Russians in trying to arm the Syrians, I think we may be approaching a point at which this kind of coalition intervention is more thinkable than it was a couple months ago."
James Joyner, the managing editor of the Atlantic Council, points out that if Syria shot down the lost Turkish plane in Syrian air space, it would not be considered an attack under NATO's charter. Even if NATO determines that Syria attacked Turkey, he adds, he doesn't think the alliance has any appetite for going to war with Syria.
"It would be one thing if Syria sent ground troops into Turkey and started shooting," he says, "but shooting down a plane that might have been surveilling Syrian air space is just a different animal than that. This is more of a harsh words and sanctions kind of thing, and frankly there's not much more of that that we can do in terms of Syria."
Update: After an emergency security meeting, Prime Minister Erdogan's has issued a statement indicating that Turkey believes it was indeed Syria that shot down its fighter jet and that the pilots have yet to be found. Most ominously, the statement added that Turkey would respond decisively once it had established exactly what took place today, according to the BBC.
A Syrian military spokesman also issued a statement on the Turkish jet, noting that "an unidentified aerial target" had "violated Syrian airspace" on Friday morning and that "the Syrian anti-air defenses counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it directly as it was 1 kilometer away from land, causing it to crash into Syrian territorial waters west of Om al-Tuyour village in Lattakia province, 10 kilometers from the beach." The aircraft, the spokesman added, "was dealt with according to laws observed in such cases."
Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
A correspondent in Doha, Qatar, sends in these pictures of Libyan ex-foreign minister and spy chief Musa Kusa taking a stroll near his "villa" in the outskirts of town. During the war, following his dramatic defection from Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, Kusa first fled to London before setting up shop at the five-star Four Seasons Doha, where he was often seen enjoying Italian cuisine and smoking in the lobby, I'm told:
Funny story: a retired CIA case officer, whose name I won't share, was coincidentally placed into a room next to Kusa's, a fact my source discovered when the ex-diplomat at one point was banished from the lobby by either the hotel or his Qatari hosts, and had to resort to pacing the hall outside his room. At one point, Kusa knocked on the former CIA guy's door and asked for a cigarette; on another occasion he tried to enter the wrong room by mistake. Eventually, the Qataris (and the hotel management) got sick of him and he moved out.
In any case, as you can see, Kusa's new digs are not quite so luxurious:
Move over, WikiLeaks: There's a new sheriff in town.
The shadowy hacker collective Anonymous struck again late Sunday evening, exposing the email accounts of top aides to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and posting the passwords online for all to see (most of them were -- literally -- "12345").
Expatriate Syrians pounced, gleefully delving through this treasure trove and pulling out newsworthy gems (some even joked about sending replies from the accounts, for example, "Curse your soul, Hafez"). There were few smoking guns, but one email, from U.N.-based press aide Sheherazad Jaafari to Damascus-based press aide Luna Chebel, was particularly interesting. It advises the presidential office on how to best handle Assad's Dec. 7 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. If this is the quality of staff work Bashar al-Assad is getting... well, it explains a lot:
Please let me know if you need anything else.
Barbara will be here on the 2nd and the interview will be on the 4th because she is leaving on the 6th so that would give you some time to do the editing.
After doing a major research on the American Media's coverage on the Syrian issue and the American Society's perspective of what is happening on the Syrian ground, I have concluded some important points that might be helpful for the preparation of the upcoming interview with Barbara Walters.
I based my research on online articles written about the Syrian issue, my personal contacts with the American journalists, my father and Syrian expatriates in the States.
The Major points and dimensions that has been mentioned a lot in the American media are:
* The idea of violence has been one of the major subjects brought up in every article. They use the phrases "the Syrian government is killing its own people", "Tanks have been used in many cities", "airplanes have been used to suppress the peaceful demonstrations" and "Security forces are criminals and bloody".
· Bloodshed is another subject brought up in the American media. There is no mention of how many "soldiers and security forces have been killed". They think that bloodshed is done by the government to attack the "innocent civilians" and "peaceful demonstrators". Mentioning "armed groups" in the interview is extremely important and we can use "American and British articles" to prove that there are "armed gangs".
· The American audience doesn't really care about reforms. They won't understand it and they are not interested to do so. Thus, a brief mention of the reforms done in the past couple of months is more than enough.
· It is very important to mention the huge economical and political transformation that Syria has gone through in the last 11 years. Somehow, there needs to be a clarification that reform started since H.E took the office.
· It is hugely important and worth mentioning that "mistakes" have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized "police force". American Psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are "mistakes" done and now we are "fixing it". Its worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings.
"Syria doesn't have a policy to torture people" unlike the USA, where there are courses and schools that specializes in teaching police men and officers how to torture criminals and "outlaws". For instace, "the electric chair and killing through injecting an overdose amount of medicine"...etc.
*We can use Abu Ghraib in Iraq as an example.
· The comments that follow any article in the American Media are a very important tool to use in the interview. The Americans now believe that their government has failed two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are asking their government to stop interfering in other countries businesses and sovereignty and to start taking care of the American internal issues.
Obama popularity's decline and incline through the past 3 years:
· It is worth mentioning that when Obama asked H.E to step down he himself have had a 70% decrease of his popularity in the States.
· It would be worth mentioning how your personality has been attacked and praised in the last decade according to the media. At one point H.E was viewed as a hero and in other times H.E was the "bad guy". Americans love these kinds of things and get convinced by it.
Facebook and You tube:
This is very important to the American mindset. The fact that Facebook and youtube are open now-especially during the crises- is important.
The International media:
· We should mention that in the first month the international media was allowed in Syria. Both al Jazeera and al Arabia's offices were open but when they started to manipulate what is happening and "make up facts", the Syrian government became more cautious about who will enter the country.
10) Civil war in Syria and the neighboring countries:
We can use Noland and Hillary's statements encouraging armed groups to not give up their weapons as a "clear" way of asking for a civil war in Syria.
11) The opposition:
* a brief mention of the opposition "figures". Syria doesn't have an opposition leader with a "ready" agenda; they are all from the previous generation. The opposition was asked to meet by the Syrian government but most of them refused to attend.
The government's crackdown, the bloody regime, civil war, security forces and violence, Tanks, you tube torture clips, Pres. Assad IGNORES the bloodshed and the "help" of other countries and the Arab League", Army defectors, Robert Fords return to the US for "Security reasons", Syria is an authoritarian government.
The Broadcasting hours and channels:
· The interview will be broadcast across ABC News platforms - including World News, Good Morning America, This Week, ABC Radio, a full edition of Nightline, and full-length treatment across the digital space (for ABC News this now includes Yahoo as well - which means you can reach as many as 100 million people. ABC News and Yahoo recently joined forces - which is another reason why so many people now bring their interviews to us).
The exact dates/times for all these broadcasts depends on when the interview is done.
This is all ABC News - every platform. The entire interview would run on ABC News Digital; "Nightline" will devote an entire broadcast; "World News" at least one night, maybe two; "Good Morning America" a segment; "This Week" a segment. And so on.
Thanks to Fadi Mqayed for the pointer.
The tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a Connecticut-sized thumb of a nation sticking out of the side of Saudi Arabia, played a huge role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, pushing for a no-fly zone and sending significant amounts of weapons, advisers, and supplies to support the Benghazi-based rebels. Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel cheered on the rebel fighters and hosted prominent opposition figures on its airwaves. The country also helped set up a satellite channel for the interim National Transitional Council, and provided its leaders with housing in swank hotels in downtown Doha. Last week, I attended a victory party hosted by Qatar in the capital city's restored souq, which was festooned with banners congratulating the new Libya on its liberation.
In recent weeks, however, some Libyan political figures have been ramping up their criticism of Qatar for allegedly favoring Islamist leaders like exiled cleric Ali Sallabi and Tripoli Brigade leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, over more secular-minded folks, and for circumventing the NTC.
Until now, such criticism has been couched in polite, but firm terms: Thanks for helping liberate us, but you need to butt out now. Qatar even signed an agreement pledging non-interference in Libya's internal affairs.
But yesterday, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, Qaddafi's longtime foreign minister and later U.N. ambassador who broke with the old regime in a dramatic, tear-filled speech in New York on Feb. 25, unloaded on Qatar. Shalgham, mind you, is still Libya's ambassador to Turtle Bay.
On possible Qatar led coalition in Libya - Shalgam: I don't understand this coalition & I don't accept it
Shalgam: Even the Libyans don't understand this (possible Qatar led coalition) Qatar leading America & France? Who is Qatar?
Shalgam: Does Qatar even have an army? Qatar only has mercenaries, from Nepal & from Bangladesh & from Pakistan.
Shalgam: What capability does Qatar have? Our brothers from Qatar helped us but I fear Qatar will meet the fate of Gaddafi's megalomania.
Shalgam: Qatar might have delusions of leading the region. I absolutely do not accept their presence (in Libya) at all.
Shalgam: The number of Libyan martyrs & injured & missing, if you count them, is greater than the number of Qatar's residents.
Shalgam: What is Qatar doing there (in Libya)? Qatar isn't neutral with all parties. Qatar will gather these weapons & give them to others.
Shalgam: Libya is in no need of Qatar's money. It was Nato that played a decisive role.
Shalgam: The professionals who run the oil & banking industries in Qatar are Libyans.
Shalgam: What makes Qatar so special that it sets up an operations room (in Libya) to lead Britain & the US, this is totally unacceptable.
Shalgam: All of Qatar isn't worth a neighbourhood in Libya. The Libyan experts are the ones who are leading Qatar.
Shalgam: We don't need Qatar in anything, thanks for their efforts, we will decide our own destiny, we don't want them to interfere
Shalgam: We don't consider them neutral in Libya, they are backing certain people, we know their names.
Shalgam: We don't need America or Qatar, we have officers and everything. | Question from anchor - "Was Qatar forced on the Libyans?"
Shalgam: This is unacceptable. There was no document. They gathered in meeting in Doha. Qatar forced Qatar (on Libya)
Shalgam: Sheikh Mustafa Abdul Jalil (NTC head) went to Qatar with apolitical people who don't know the background & didn't read the document
Shalgam: They accepted the document. I warn our brothers in Qatar, if they continue this path to dominate Libya they would be delusional.
Shalgam: We will resist the Qataris by all means. We will not accept to be used by Qatar.
Shalgam: We will not accept to be a new emirate that belongs to the new "Emir of the Believers" in Qatar.
Shalgam: I do not rule out Qatar setting up a Hezbollah party in Libya. We don't want a foreign country to interfere.
So much for gratitude! Let's see how the Qataris respond.
During his last, desperate days, Colonel Qaddafi may have turned to an old friend, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for help in trying to avert the international action being undertaken by NATO's forces.
In a letter published by French weekly tabloid, Paris Match, Qaddafi allegedly wrote to Berlusconi, asking him to help stop the bombing and "turn the page" on the relationship between the Libyan people and Italy.
One quote, translated from Paris Match's website:
Stop the bombings that kill our Libyan brothers and our children. Talk to your [new (striped)] friends and allies (1) to achieve [a solution that guarantees the great Libyan people the total freedom of choice that leads (striped)] that this aggression continues against my country (1).
The controversial relationship between Berlusconi and Qaddafi has been well publicized. In 2009, Berlusconi shut down Rome's largest park to allow Qaddafi and his entourage of female body guards to set up a Bedouin style camp during a state visit. This comes on top of the extensive economic relations between Italy and Libya; along with being Libya's largest trading partner, Libya's sovereign wealth funds had invested in many Italian companies, including football club Juventus F.C. Initially, Berlusconi opposed the NATO mission over Libya, but had an about face in August, as he stood beside interim Prime Minister Jibril, announcing the release of frozen assets to the NTC.
If this letter is true, Berlusconi may have been one of the last world leaders to have received direct communication with Qaddafi before his death. South African President Jacob Zuma may have been the last to meet the Colonel, after an attempt in late May to negotiate an end to the fighting.
LIVIO ANTICOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Muammar Qaddafi didn't have many friends left in the days before his death, but the ones he'd maintained were still publicly supporting him against mounting odds. Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who blames Western meddling for the unrest in the Middle East, praised Qaddafi loyalists for "resisting the invasion and aggression" and asked "God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Qaddafi." Another Qaddafi ally, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, refused to recognize Libya's interim government, called for the country's new leaders to negotiate with their fugitive ruler, and expressed sympathy for the Qaddafi regime, which, in his view, had been torn asunder by the "machinations of the imperialists." In Cuba, Fidel Castro condemned the "genocide" and "monstrous crimes" committed by the United States and its NATO allies in Libya.
While Castro and Mugabe haven't yet made public statements about Qaddafi's death today, Chavez has already offered a eulogy. Upon returning to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba, El Universal reports, Chavez expressed outrage at Qaddafi's "murder," declared that the "Yankee empire" will "not be able to master this world," and said "we will remember Qaddafi forever as a great fighter, a revolutionary, and a martyr."
The state-run news outlets in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are dutifully expressing their solidarity with Qaddafi as well. Venezolana de Televisión reports that Qaddafi was "assassinated" -- a verb we're not seeing much in the coverage today -- while the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias ridicules Western leaders (the "patrons of aggression against Libya") for invoking freedom and democracy today while waging a military campaign in Libya and establishing crass commercial ties with its new leaders. The analyst Raimundo Kabchi tells AVN that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "practically authorized and encouraged" Qaddafi's "assassination" during her recent visit to Libya.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's commentary, meanwhile, comes in the form of an obituary. The ZBC explains that while Qaddafi's "anti western, anti imperialism approach" made him an "enemy of the west" (surely it had nothing to do with the Berlin nightclub or Lockerbie bombings), his "strong military support and finances" won him "several allies across the African continent" (including, of course, Zimbabwe). "Rebel forces" may have killed him today, the news outlet adds, but Qaddafi was really toppled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, who "interfered in the Libyan uprising targeting Colonel Gaddafi using their airstrikes and killing thousands of civilians in the process." The ZBC meditates on Qaddafi's legacy:
He will be to many a hero who went down fighting and exposed the west's decolonising mission in Africa in order to secure the continent's rich resources, that is oil in the case of Libya.
Retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a member of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, echoed ZBC's view today, according to the Global Post, warning of the "beginning of a new recolonization of Africa." Qaddafi, Mhandu argued, "won elections and was a true leader. It is foreigners who toppled him, not Libyans. Qaddafi died fighting. He is a true African hero." (Mugabe's political opponents told Voice of America that Qaddafi was the architect of his own downfall and that his death was a step in the direction of democracy).
Qaddafi's friends aren't limited to a handful of anti-Western world leaders, either. The Daily Beast reports that Qaddafi's former nurse Oksana Balinskaya, who's returned to Ukraine, is mourning the loss of her former boss, whom she considers a "brave hero" for making a last stand in his hometown of Sirte. "Why should we hate him or think of him as tyrant, if he gave us jobs and paid us well?" she asks.
Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi King Abdullah has had a busy week. First was his slow-motion legalization of women's suffrage this past Sunday. Today, there's news that the sentence of 10 lashes for a woman convicted of the crime of driving while female has been revoked by the king.
The AFP reports:
Saudi King Abdullah has revoked a sentence of 10 lashes imposed on a woman for breaking the ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom, a Saudi princess said Wednesday on her Twitter account.
"Thank God, the lashing of Sheima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I'm sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am," said Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
"In tough times we stand together; in good times we celebrate together," the princess said. "I'm proud to be Saudi. To all Active Saudi women thank u for ur efforts."
Several months ago, a video surfaced on the Internet of a woman protesting the ban by driving and posting her commentary as she did it. While that did not cascade into the wider changes that have been associated with the Arab Spring, the subsequent protests were a cultural earthquake that had many within the kingdom questioning the meaning of this movement. As FP's Simon Henderson reported on Monday, Saudi Arabia is facing multiple challenges in the coming future, one of which is the cultural direction of the country.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
The sudden resignation Tuesday morning of Al Jazeera director-general Wadah Khanfar sent shockwaves through the Arab media world, leading to intense speculation about whether the relative freedom the satellite network had enjoyed is about to come to an end.
In his 8 years at the helm of the network, Khanfar built it into a news powerhouse in the Middle East and beyond, angering the United States and nearly every Arab regime and -- arguably -- helping take a few of them down. He presided over the opening of Al Jazeera English, the widely praised international spinoff, which recently pried open the U.S. cable market after years of a de facto boycott. Al Jazeera's Arabic-language reporters, in particular, have taken bold risks to report the news, and not only during the Arab Spring. Some of them have paid with their lives.
Khanfar is at the top of his game. So why did he resign? In his departing note to staff, he said only that it was because he had "decided to move on" and that he had been discussing his "desire to step down" for some time.
"Upon my appointment," he wrote, "the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position."
But is that the whole story? A couple theories are making the rounds, none of which seem to be based on any inside information. So what follows is purely speculative.
One potential clue is Khanfar's replacement: Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of the royal family. Al Thani is not a journalist; he is an executive at QatarGas, a state-affiliated natural gas producer. Given that the chairman is Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, another royal family member, this may not ultimately be such a big deal. But the optics certainly don't look good.
There were already strong reasons to question just how much editorial independence the network really has. The U.S. State Department clearly views Al Jazeera as a tool of Qatar's foreign policy; one cable from November 2009 claims that the Persian Gulf state uses the channel "as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by al-Jazeera's broadcasts, including the United States." Al Jazeera devotes suspiciously little time to covering the politics of the Gulf; for instance, after Qatar's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, criticism of the Saudi royal family dropped dramatically.
In recent weeks, the details of conversations between U.S. officials and Al Jazeera executives, including Khanfar, had been the subject of much chatter in the Arab world (Omar Chatriwala details that story for FP here). One October 2005 cable describes U.S. officials presenting Khanfar with the findings of a Defense Intelligence Agency report complaining about the network's coverage, and him agreeing to remove a particularly inflammatory slideshow from Al Jazeera's website. The cable was taken out of context and seized upon by the network's critics as evidence of a CIA-Qatari conspiracy to manipulate Arabs in the service of U.S. foreign-policy goals.
Middle East Online is running with the headline "WikiLeaks topples Al Jazeera director." But if Khanfar somehow had to resign because of the cable controversy, which has hurt Al Jazeera's credibility in certain quarters, it doesn't wash that his replacement would be a member of the Qatari royal family. Middle East Online also reports that unnamed Qatari officials were already looking to cashier Khanfar over a supposed dispute with Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian intellectual and former Knesset member who lives in Doha (and appears frequently on Al Jazeera).
So perhaps something else is going on. My sense from watching the Arabic network's coverage over the past few months is that it had more or less dropped the pretense of independence, and at times seemed like the official network of the Qatari Foreign Ministry. For instance, its Libya coverage was utterly over-the-top, enthusiastic cheerleading for the rebels -- and it just so happened that Qatar was heavily engaged in overthrowing Muammar al-Qaddafi. When Qatar brokered a peace agreement between warring factions in Darfur, Al Jazeera broke away from its normal coverage for two hours to show the final announcement. And, as many have noted, the Arabic channel's usual aggression has been noticeably lacking when it comes to Bahrain.
It's hard to imagine a hard-charging guy like Khanfar -- who clearly has his own ideological leanings -- putting up with that sort of thing for very long. So maybe he just didn't want to toe anybody's line. Whatever the reason, Arabs will be watching closely to see if his successor clips Al Jazeera's wings.
Correction: Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani is not a former minister of commerce, as I originally wrote. And QatarGas is technically state-affiliated but not state-owned.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
With the Libyan rebels now largely in control of Tripoli, and two of Muammar al-Qaddafi's sons in custody after a stunning final assault of the capital, the answer seems clear: absolutely.
Many have criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" in Libya, but that strategy now seems utterly vindicated. It was Libyans themselves, with significant help from NATO, Qatar, and the UAE, who liberated their country from Qaddafi's grip -- a fact about which they are fiercely and justly proud. It required little from American taxpayers: As of Thursday, NATO operations had cost the United States around $1.1 billion, according to CFR's Micah Zenko -- a rounding error.
Of course, there will be problems. Not only is Tripoli not yet fully secure, but two regime strongholds -- Sirte and Sabha -- appear to remain in regime hands. Libyan state TV is still, incredibly, on the air. The "brother leader" remains at large, as do his sons Muatassim and Khamis Qaddafi, as well as his intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi. They may try, Saddam-style, to mount an insurgency (though the speed of Qaddafi's collapse in Tripoli suggest they will find few takers).
The National Transitional Council won't have an easy time of governing, either. Not only is it not clear how much loyalty it commands among the fighters, but Libya has effectively no institutions: It was a state run for the benefit of the Qaddafi family and its shrinking circle of friends and allies. There is little history of political pluralism in Libya, and no doubt many grievances and cleavages lurk below the surface. (Reuters journalist Michael Georgy raises some important concerns to this effect here.) There will likely be intense disagreements over how to distribute Libya's oil wealth, how to account for the last 42 years of despotic rule, how to incorporate Islam into the state, and how to disarm and integrate the disparate fighting brigades that overthrew Qaddafi. There will be a temptation to overly centralize power, fueled by oil receipts concentrated in a few hands. Hopefully, any conflicts that arise will be resolved peacefully.
But these problems seem manageable over time, and it is in any case hard to imagine any Libyan government worse than Qaddafi, whose rule was not only deeply repressive and arbitrary at home but also destabilizing abroad. I disagree strongly with those, like CFR's Richard Haass, who would like to see some kind of foreign stabilization force -- not only is it not going to happen, but it's best if Libyans handle their own affairs as much as possible. They will make mistakes, but these will be their own mistakes. It's now their country once again.
And that's the best news about the fall of Qaddafi. It is the only case so far in which Arab revolutionaries themselves will get the chance to overhaul the old order. In Tunisia and Egypt, the old regimes are still very much in power -- at least until new elections are held and new constitutions are written. And even then, gaining full civilian control over the military and the security apparatus will be a years-long struggle. Libya has the chance to wipe the slate clean, and given what a terrible system is being overthrown, that alone seems like reason enough to celebrate.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
The noose around Bashar al-Assad's neck is getting tighter.
With the extraordinary midnight statement Sunday by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, demanding the "stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed" in Syria and withdrawing the Saudi ambassador from Damascus for "consultations," the Syrian president's isolation is nearly complete. The remarks came after a milder Gulf Cooperation Council statement last week that, in hindsight, ought to have been seen as a warning.
Kuwait also withdrew its ambassador Monday, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was on his way to Damascus to deliver "a very sharp message" to Assad, in the words of an anonymous senior Turkish diplomat quoted by Hürriyet Daily News.
“[Turkey and Syria] will sit down and talk for one last time … even though one should not exclude dialogue, even in wartime,” another Foreign Ministry official told the paper. “The talks will show whether the ties will be cut loose or not … If a new [Turkish] policy is to be outlined on Syria – that’s the last meeting.”
Yet for all the drama of leading Middle Eastern powers finally expressing their exasperation with a brutal crackdown that has lasted for nearly 5 months -- and escalated dramatically during the holy month of Ramadan -- none of these countries are yet calling for Assad's ouster, as France and the United States have done. Arab states are still signaling that the Syrian regime has a chance to stay in their good graces by carrying out those two favorite words of disingenuous tyrants everywhere: "dialogue" and "reform."
As Nabil el-Araby -- whose tenure as Arab League chief thus far has been characterized by toadyishness and willful naivete -- put it Monday, "Do not expect drastic measures but step-by-step persuasion to resolve the conflict."
Once you're done laughing at the notion that the League of Arab Dictators has any idea what will satisfy the Syrian people, consider this: Does anyone really still think Assad is capable of solving this thing? Not only is the Syrian regime pushing back against the external criticism, insisting it is responding to "sabotage acts" by armed Islamist gangs, but the crackdown has empowered the very elements of the regime least amenable to a democratic transition. Moreover, as Assad himself noted in his interview with the Wall Street Journal in January, it is fruitless to make changes under pressure:
If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform. This is first. Second, if you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action; and as long as what you are doing is a reaction you are going to fail.
I expect that over the next few days, we might see fewer provocative moves -- like this weekend's bloody assault on the eastern city of Deir az-Zour, which seems to have provoked King Abdullah's ire -- from the Syrian regime. Perhaps Assad and friends will announce a fresh round of "reforms" -- always, of course, with trap doors and escape hatches that render them meaningless. But at this point, Assad seems doomed; after so much bloodshed and anger, any genuine political solution will inevitably lead to his ouster. His wisest course of action now is to find a safe place to spend his retirement (perhaps Vogue will give him a job?).
I imagine a loose coalition of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States will now be working toward a soft landing for Syria -- looking for high-level defectors who could negotiate with opposition leaders and carry out what political scientists call a "pacted transition." But it's hard to imagine this working either, given that the military and security services are so tightly controlled by the Assad clan and that the opposition is so diffuse and fragmented. There is nothing comparable to the relatively upright Tunisian and Egyptian militaries in Syria, whose army has been shelling cities and towns across the country. And there is nobody for the regime to negotiate with who can guarantee calm on the streets.
The whole Baathist system has to come down, and it probably will. The only questions now are how long it will take, and how much more innocent blood will be shed in the process.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen's defense ministry today claimed its forces killed a senior al Qaeda leader, Ayedh al Shabwani, in southern Yemen on Tuesday. In a statement on its website, the ministry said the man was killed during intense fighting in the largely lawless southern part of the country. Al Shabwani was on Yemen's most wanted list and has evaded previous attempts on his life -- including an air strike in January, 2010 on a location where he was thought to be hiding.
The government has been battling al Qaeda militants in the south without much to show for it, so far. In the past two days, 10 soldiers were killed. 90,000 people are thought to have fled the fighting. (Yemeni officials say the United States is providing logistical support and also carrying out strikes from the air and sea.) For the past several months, al Qaeda has been taking full advantage of the power vacuum playing out in the country -- especially since President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to leave for Saudi Arabia to recuperate from injuries suffered in an attack on his palace in June. Since then, there have been questions about who is actually calling the shots.
Given the flood of bad news, an announcement that a major al Qaeda figure is dead would surely be seen as a major achievement for the government. There's only one problem -- there are serious doubts being raised about whether al Shabwani was really killed. After all, this wouldn't be the first time the Yemen government has claimed they got him. Some opposition groups and analysts have said the announcement was just an attempt by the government to show it had the upper hand in the fighting -- when in reality it didn't. They say the timing of the announcement -- so soon after the air raid -- was suspicious.
"The government is looking for victories right now even if they are lies," a Yemeni al Qaeda analyst, Said Obeid, told Reuters.
Some Yemeni officials conceded there was reason to be skeptical. "They have a right to some doubts because there has been a lack of precision in some past information given, but our media announces the news as we receive it from the area," one official told Reuters.
How desperate is Muammar Qaddafi to raise cash? According to a new report, the Libyan leader is trying to unload the country's fleet of 22 shipping vessels as economic sanctions and continued fighting take a toll on the regime.
According to the report from Petroleum Economist, which covers the energy industry, two companies based in Hong Kong and Singapore are in talks to buy the ships from the General National Maritime Transport -- a company under the control of Qaddafi's son, Hannibal. A source close to the discussions said the younger Qaddafi is "desperate to have access to money."
Can you blame him? The United States and other countries have frozen his father's assets ($30 billion alone in the United States; and another $5.1 in Canada, Australia, and Britain). And there is evidence that Qaddafi's regime is running low on fuel. Late last month, one of his largest oil pipelines was cut off by rebels -- slashing his reserves by somewhere between a third and a half. The government has reportedly sunk to smuggling fuel into the country from Algeria and Tunisia to bypass sanctions. In Tripoli there are long lines to fill up tanks at gas stations, and more people are using bicycles to get around.
A U.S. intelligence official told the Daily Beast this week: "[Qaddafi's] not going to run out of fuel tomorrow, but over the next month or two he'll have to make tough decisions about how to continue."
Sanctions have taken a toll as well, with Qaddafi finding it difficult to do business around the world -- even Turkey seized control of Libyan assets earlier this month.
Without cash or fuel, Qaddafi's grip on power is showing signs of slipping -- U.S. officials say there are indications of growing discord among his troops. At the same as he is looking for cash, he may also be eyeing the exit door -- quietly negotiating with several countries on a deal that could see him step down from power, but avoid prosecution.
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from around the world are planning to fly into Tel Aviv's airport in hopes of traveling to the West Bank. Over 700 people have already scheduled flights and as many as 1,200 are expected to arrive at Ben-Gurion between Thursday and Friday. Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister, responded to the planned ‘aerial flotilla', saying:
"These hooligans who try to break our laws will not be allowed into the country and will be returned immediately to their home countries."
Five activists have already been arrested upon arrival. While airport security is on high alert, activists like Nicolas Sheshni say there is no plan to riot or cause disruption:
"We have no intention of staging a political protest inside Israeli territory. We only want to tour Palestine and show solidarity with the Palestinian people."
Sheshni and 300 other French activists hope to plant olive trees in Ramallah and tour the ancient city of Bethlehem. Travelers usually conceal their intent to travel to the West Bank for fear of facing immediate deportation. But in the next several days, many activists will declare Palestine as their final destination, protesting their lack of ability to visit Palestinian friends and family. Dozens of Israeli security forces are now stationed at Ben-Gurion. Friday flights from Europe will be directed to a separate terminal and passengers will undergo thorough immigration procedures.
Netanyahu defended Israel's plan to deport the activists:
"Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs and trouble-makers into its territory. That is how all countries behave and that is how Israel will act. We must prevent the disruption of normal life for Israeli citizens."
Maritime efforts of pro-Palestinian activists have been paralyzed in Greek ports, but who knows what the skies will hold in the coming days.
llee_wu via Flickr Creative Commons
If it hadn't been clear already, it should now be obvious that the military junta running Egypt -- the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- is doing a terrible job.
Once again, thousands of angry protesters have taken over the area in and around Tahrir Square, amid the worst scenes of violence in Cairo since the events of Jan. 25 and Jan. 28. Intense battles involving rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and massive amounts of tear gas are ongoing even now, nearly 24 hours after they began.
The details are sketchy, but from what I can piece together from online accounts, what happened was this: For the past few days, families of those killed during the revolution have been camped out in front of the state television building, demanding justice and accountablity for the deaths. Yesterday, some of them heard about a commemoration that was happening a few blocks south for families of martyrs, and wanted to attend. As it turned out, the event was to commemorate members of the police killed during the uprising, and the protesters weren't admitted. An ugly scuffle broke out, which you can see here:
Things quickly devolved from there, as the families and their supporters took their protest over to the Interior Ministry. Cairo's famous thugs -- some accounts say from the neighborhood' others suggest they were plainclothes police -- suddenly made an appearance, fighting broke out, and then the black-clad Central Security Forces drove the demonstrators back to Tahrir Square. A few thousand protesters arrived to bolster the protesters, and a nasty street battle has raged ever since (you can listen to the Guardian's Jack Shenker's account here) -- creeping ever closer back toward the hated Interior Ministry. This was what the scene looked like last night:
If the riot's origins are murky, so are its aims. What's clear is that the anger is mounting. Alaa Abd El Fattah, a well-known Egyptian activist, probably spoke for many when he tweeted, "dont ask me how it started, Ive no idea, most of us don't care, there is police and there is us, there is tear gas and there is rocks." The clashes have become a contest of wills between the street and the police, with neither side willing to back down. Dozens, if not hundreds, have been injured, ad hoc medical clinics have been set up, and the April 6 protest movement has called for a sit-in.
Here we go again?
There are mixed reports about the health of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- recovering in Saudi Arabia from an attack on his palace earlier this month -- and whether he's planning on returning home to his embattled country anytime soon.
Reuters quotes a Western diplomat saying, "We believe he was seriously injured.... He is not coming [home] in the coming days, he is not coming [home] anytime soon."
Last week, an aide to Saleh gave CNN a different take, saying the president would return soon, possibly even last Friday. Obviously, that didn't happen, but aides have told other news organizations that his health is improving and "he is receiving guests, giving instructions on day to day affairs in Yemen, including a power cut and fuel shortages."
Saleh is still signing official documents -- he sent a cable yesterday congratulating Djibouti on its national day -- and hasn't officially appointed his deputy as acting president. There have been no public reports of negotiations on a transition, and Saleh's party officials talk about punishing his attackers rather than ending his rule.
Bloomberg News spoke to advisors who have visited the president at the hospital in Saudi Arabia. They said he suffered burns to his face and underwent plastic surgery last week to repair the damage. He's lost weight and his voice is weak, but he is alert and is in physical therapy. He could return to Sanaa by early July, one Yemeni official said.
Ahmed al-Soufi, another Saleh advisor, told al-Arabiya that the president would make a media appearance within the next two days, his first time since the attack.
So is Saleh truly on the mend and planning his return to Yemen?
Don't count on it, says Bernard Haykel, a Yemen expert at Princeton University.
"Clearly he is in very bad shape or you would have heard him speak by now," Haykel said. "But he has a vested interest in showing he's still active."
And the close advisors that keep promising a Saleh return any day now?
"He has a group of people who depend on him for their own survival," Haykel said. "They have a vested interest as well in maintaining the fiction that everything is fine and he'll come back. I don't think we should take at face value what that machine is saying. They are making calculations about their own survival."
Yemeni prisons have been criticized as overcrowded and undermonitored radicalization factories where the government sometimes stuffs people it doesn't know what to do with -- at times without trial. And every few years, a spectacular mass escape makes headlines. The latest breakout came today in the southern city of al-Mukalla. Somewhere between 40 and 60 prisoners -- who reportedly had ties to al Qaeda -- attacked the guards and seized their arms from inside, while armed gunmen attacked from outside, according to news accounts. Al Jazeera reported that among the prisoners were convicted terrorists and men being held in protective custody pending trial.
Some of the escapees might have been militants who had returned from Iraq, according to Gregory D. Johnsen, an analyst at Princeton University and a former Fulbright fellow in Yemen.
"The fact that they have experience fighting in Iraq makes them particularly dangerous," Johnsen said. "Plus, they've been in a Yemeni prison for quite some time. People go into prison and come out much more radical. Many of the suicide bombers we've seen in Yemen in recent years have come out of prison."
"It goes to show the situation is deteriorating in the country," said Christopher Boucek, an associate in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East Program. "The U.S. has been concerned about the prison system in Yemen for a lot of reasons. They don't know who is there and how long they are being held for. The Yemeni prison system is not very transparent at all."
In fact the only time the outside world tends to get a glimpse of it is when militants are able to break out, which happens alarmingly frequently. Here are three of the biggest breaks in the past few years.
June 2010: Aden
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took credit for a jailbreak at the country's intelligence headquarters in the southern city of Aden. At least 11 people were killed during the raid that freed about 10 people.
The details were the most shocking: The armed gunmen were dressed in military uniforms and were able to storm the headquarters during the morning flag salute. The gun battle lasted for at least an hour.
Boucek and Johnsen said the names of the escapees weren't ever released. But the raid was an embarrassment for the government and showed AQAP's ability and daringness.
February 2006: Sanaa
In perhaps the most consequential moment in the evolution of AQAP into the potent force it is today -- Johnsen calls it the "genesis moment" for the group -- 23 prisoners escaped through a tunnel and into a nearby mosque. There were suggestions that they had help from the inside.
"Al Qaeda had been basically defeated before that," Johnsen said. "They didn't have the infrastructure in the country before. This was when the organization got its start."
In particular, two men who got out that day became integral leaders of the group -- Nasir al-Wihayshi and Qasim al-Raymi. Wihayshi, who once served as Osama bin Laden's secretary, merged the al Qaeda branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, creating what many U.S. officials believe is the biggest terrorist threat in the world today.
April 2003: Aden
This escape happened from the same building as the 2010 incident -- the intelligence headquarters in Aden. Abdul Rauf Nassib, an al Qaeda leader in Yemen, reportedly helped 10 militants -- who were suspected of taking part in the USS Cole attack -- escape.
One of the prisoners was Jamal al Badawi, who might be the most escapee person in Yemen. He was later recaptured, sentenced to death for his involvement in the Cole attack, and then escaped again in the 2006 breakout. In 2007, he turned himself in and was set free again by Yemeni authorities after pledging loyalty to the president and vowing not to carry out other attacks.
As the international community watches the Syrian crackdown in horror, Syrian security forces employ even more deadly means of intimidation and interrogation. Over ten thousand Syrian refugees are believed to be seeking refuge in Turkish refugee camps and border towns such as Jisr al-Shughur have become epicenters of mass graves, torture and now, rape.
Four teenage sisters from the Syrian-Turkish border town of Sumeriya are now among the growing number of rape victims in Syria. Though reportedly recovering in a Turkish hospital, the women could face a lifetime of shame in a country where honor killings have been reported to restore a family's honor.
When news spread of the sisters' plight, a group of men from a nearby town vowed to marry the women, defying tradition and more importantly, defying the string of mass rapes used by pro-government forces in desperate attempt to squelch the revolution. Horrifying stories are now emerging: soldiers kicking down the doors of sleeping women; young girls being forced to serve as sex slaves for the military. Musab Jani, a young man who supports the mission to marry victims of rape, stated that:
"Dignity and reputation are the most important things for Syrians. And women are a big part of this and the regime knows it. So for this reason, they do this to us as the opposition."
Rape has long been used as a weapon of war, decisively used to destroy the morale of a country and its people. But it seems there is a wave of hope on the horizon, led by activists like Mohammad Merhi, a makeshift refugee camp pharmacist, hopes that he too will marry one of the four sisters, even though he has never met them.
"I know that these girls suffered. They were taken against their will. I don't care what they look like, the point is to stand by them, and I do with all of my heart."
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
During the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Arabs joked that Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were following the same playbook -- which came to be known as the Arab Tyrant Manual. NPR described it as a three-step process, including "strengthening the security service," "promise political reform," and "buy off unrest."
But there's actually a lot more to the manual than that, and its application varies from place to place depending on circumstances -- though the overall failure of these tyrants to "get it" is remarkably consistent.
In March, at the height of the revolt in Libya, a few Twitter users, led by Iyad ElBaghdadi(@iyad_elbaghdadi) and Amira al-Husseini (@JustAmira), crowdsourced the rules of this manual and compiled them using the #ArabTyrantManual hashtag. A few of my favorites:
@iyad_elbaghdadi: Say that the protests started as a pure youth movement but were "hijacked" by a foreign agenda
@L_Auvergnate: Pretend you're open for dialogue and will do the necessary while killing protesters
@iyad_elbaghdadi: Say that you "got the message" and "will act on it soon". Don't mention what "soon" means.
@EG_Freedom: Shut down communications and kill businesses even tho protesters will publish videos anyway when the inet comes back up.
@studentIslam: You never wanted to be a dictator. Your service to the people proves that.
Compare to the Syrian state news agency's summary of Assad's speech today. Some choice excerpts:
Foreign conspiracies: "President al-Assad asserted that Syria, throughout all of its history has been facing conspiracies against it for several reasons, some of which are linked to Syria's important geographic and political status and others are linked to its political stances committed to its principles and interests.
Dialogue: "A committee on national dialogue was formed for the sake of launching a national dialogue which includes all social, intellectual and political segments in Syria in an institutional approach, the president added."
Vague promises of reform: "'The urgent demands of people have been implemented before the beginning of the dialogue...we lifted Emergency Law and abolished State Security Court; we issued an organizing law for the right to peaceful demonstration. A committee was formed to set the draft bill for the new election law as another committee was formed to set legislations and the necessary mechanisms to combat corruption,' said President al-Assad."
Failure to shut down communications: "‘What do we say about these political stances? What do we say about the media pressure and the advanced phones that we're finding in Syria in the hands of saboteurs? What do we say about the falsification that we all witnessed?' President al-Assad added."
Service to the people: "President al-Assad said ‘I met people from all the spectrums of the Syrian society, demonstrators and non-demonstrators and the truth is that I consider these meeting as the most important job I've ever had as a person in charge despite the frustration and pain in the general atmosphere yet I can say that the benefit was amazing. They showed great love and amity toward me I have never felt before.'"
That said, Assad is admittedly in a bit of a pickle here. Even if he did want to take serious steps to reform, in line with the demands of Turkey and the West, a few factors might be holding him back. One is that there are a lot of other people in Syria with a vested interest in the status quo, including but by no means limited to members of his own family. His brother, Maher, controls the most elite units of the military, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, controls the intelligence services. A bevy of cousins, notably Rami Makhlouf, control the economy. Members of Bashar's Alawite sect dominate the commanding heights of the security services. All of these people stand to lose if things change, and Assad likely feels he needs to protect the interests of this wider circle -- lest some of them decide to move against him.
Then there is Assad's patron, Iran, which has reportedly supplied help putting down the uprising and has little interest in seeing a process of political reform take root in Syria. And what about the Arab Gulf monarchies? A few of them have made official statements of support to the Syrian regime, and even though they have stayed most silent, their interest is in seeing Assad weakened but not overthrown altogether. They'd like to see him brought low so that he comes begging for cash, and they can peel him away from Iran. That seems unlikely -- why would he trust them? -- but that sort of thing has never stopped Arab regimes from pursuing a given strategy.
So he's stuck with the manual.
The first of several likely trials for former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali kicked off today in a Tunis criminal court. He's charged with embezzlement, money laundering, and drug trafficking (police allegedly found about 4.5 pounds of cannabis when they searched his palace). Ben Ali, the first leader to fall during the Arab Spring, fled with his family to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. He has not returned to Tunisia and is being tried in absentia on charges that could net him up to 20 years in prison. What have we learned today so far?
1. There's still plenty of anger, six months after the revolution.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse and disrupted the proceeding on several occasions, chanting, "How long will he be allowed to flee?" They want Ben Ali extradited from Saudi Arabia. And the AFP reports that one protester inside the courtroom was escorted out after an outburst. Tunisia's press has welcomed the trial. The Tunis-Hebdo newspaper said, "For the first time in our long history, a president-come bloody and predatory dictator will be judged."
2. The Tunisian press has blossomed since Ben Ali's ouster.
See the previous bit of writing. Needless to say, the press was kept on a much tighter leash under Ben Ali's reign. But now, the Interior Ministry is encouraging reporters to pursue factual journalism. And, according to the Africa Review magazine, more than 70 media companies have applied for licenses in the capital Tunis since the revolution.
3. The rules you help create can sometimes come back to bite you.
Ben Ali was being defended by a team of public defenders and not his French lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne. Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia, Al Jazeera reports. His Tunisian legal team asked the judge for a postponement of the trial. They said they needed more time to prepare a defense.
4. We're learning more about how "The Family" really worked.
The Wall Street Journal examined the court papers filed against Ben Ali and interviewed a number of investigators working on the case. It found that the levels of corruption were far greater than thought. "Administrators who are freezing assets of more than 100 Ben Ali family members say they are uncovering an economic network so vast that untangling it too quickly could disrupt Tunisia further," according to the paper. "Instead of closing down businesses owned by Mr. Ben Ali's relatives, for example, authorities are in most cases allowing them to operate under court-appointed managers."
Meanwhile, the judge today detailed what investigators found when they searched the presidential palace and private residence. In addition to the illegal drugs, there was also 43 million Tunisian dinars ($31 million) in cash, as well as jewelry, arms, and archeological artifacts -- all obtained illegally, according to the judge.
5. Ben Ali thinks he's still president.
In a statement released today, Ben Ali gave his first account of the events that led him to flee. He said he only flew to Saudi Arabia after being persuaded by presidential security that his life and the lives of his family members were in danger, based on information about an assassination attempt supposedly passed along by "friendly" foreign intelligence services. His plan, he said, was to fly his wife and children to safety but then return immediately. The plane, however, returned to Tunisia without him, contrary to his orders, he said. "He did not leave his post as president of the republic and hasn't fled Tunisia as he was falsely accused of doing," the statement said.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for al Qaeda. Since the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the terror network has suffered additional losses that analysts say are taking a heavy toll on the group.
Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month (though al Qaeda hasn't confirmed his death, reports of which have been incorrect before). And last week, an al Qaeda leader in East Africa -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed -- was killed by Somali forces in Mogadishu. Mohammed was the most wanted man in Africa.
Analysts and U.S. officials say the deaths have created a power vacuum.
"The organization is in a great deal of turmoil," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy. "It's trying to sort itself out with what's going on."
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said Kashmiri and Mohammed were key operational figures, not easily replaced due to their long pedigrees of planning and executing attacks.
"They are especially important because they would have been looked on to plan and implement any acts of retribution [for bin Laden's death] from al Qaeda," he said. "Their killings knock them seriously off balance."
Of course, al Qaeda is well-known for its ability to replenish its ranks. Analysts like Hoffman and Evan Kohlmann, who has consulted with the U.S. government, see a few key names potentially emerging to fill the void.
1. Saif al-Adel
Born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963, according to the FBI. Currently believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region.
Al-Adel was reportedly named the interim chief of Al Qaeda after bin Laden's death. After the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was eventually put under house arrest. In 2008, Iran swapped him for a diplomat taken captive by al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Signature attacks: Has played a hand in many al Qaeda attacks, allegedly dispatching Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and aiding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.
Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images
A Bahraini security court sentenced 20-year-old student Ayat al-Qurmezi to one year in prison yesterday. The young woman, infamous for her February recitation of an anti-government poem in Pearl Square, has been found guilty of speaking out against the king and inciting hatred. Her poem has become an international symbol of the Bahraini opposition:
We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams
Down with Hamad
Al-Qurmezi has been in captivity since March. She was rumored to have been raped and tortured after an alleged phone call was made from doctors at an army hospital in April. Yesterday, a relative confirmed that her face had been shocked with an electrical cable, she was forced to clean the prison bathroom with her hands, and held in a near-freezing cell for days at a time. Ayat al-Ghermezi has incited a rally cry for free speech in Bahrain, where female students, doctors and professors have become targets of government crackdown on civil rights.
She is not the only poet to face such harsh punishments recently in the Middle East. Waleed Mohammad al Rumaishi had his tongue cut out after reciting poetry in support of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, civil servant and poet Moneer Said Hanna wrote a five-lined satirical poem about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is now serving a three year sentence, as well as paying a fine of over $16,000. Syrian poet, Faraj Bayrakdar, now fuels the revolution from Sweden after enduring over 13 years of torture in prison where he would carve pens from wood splinters and make ink from tea leaves in order to write poetry.
Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but for Ayat al-Qurmezi and her fellow dissident poets, the message is quite clear.
John Moore/Getty Images
On Sunday, for the first time since January 25, the Arab world's attention was riveted not on scenes of protesters castigating their own governments, but on much more familiar imagery: that of Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation.
For months, Palestinian and Arab activists had planned to mark May 15 -- Youm an-Nakba or "Day of the Catastrophe," which usually takes place the day after Israel's independence celebrations -- with a civilian march on the occupied territories. For Arabs, Nakba Day represents a day of mourning, a time to commemorate the expulsion during the 1948 war of Palestinians from their villages and homes, press for the right of refugees to return, and denounce the Jewish state.
In past years, Nakba Day has generally passed without much fanfare: demonstrations around the world and in Palestinian villages, occasional attempts to march on Israeli-held territory, met with force.
But this is 2011, and things were rather different on Sunday. In Lebanon, a group of hundreds of Palestinian refugees tried to stream across the border and were fired upon by both Israeli and Lebanese troops. Near the Erez crossing in Gaza, IDF soldiers fired on Palestinians seeking to cross into Israel. Near Ramallah in the West Bank, a large crowd battled tear-gas-wielding riot troops with rocks and Molotov cocktails. And in Syria, another large crowd swarmed over the fence along the disputed line that separates the two countries and made it into Majdal Shams, a Druze village in the Golan Heights, before being rounded up by the IDF. (Jordan and Egypt prevented smaller crowds from reaching the border.) Altogether, more than a dozen Palestinians were killed and dozens more wounded by live fire, according to the New York Times.
Al Jazeera Arabic went large with its coverage, deploying a split screen to show the events live, while thousands more followed developments on Twitter using the #nakba tag. So did Syrian state television, happy to change the subject from the domestic demonstrations of the last few months. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hailed the protesters, addressing them directly: "You are adamant to liberate your land no matter how many sacrifices you make and the fate of this [Jewish] entity is to fade." Hamas declared the onset of a third intifada; its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, declared that changes sweeping the region would "lead to the collapse of the Zionist project in Palestine and victory for the program of the nation." Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egyptian security forces violently dispersed a large crowd demonstrating in front of the Israeli Embassy, arresting a number of well-known revolutionary Twitterati.
Somewhere in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad is smiling for the first time in weeks.
All of this sounds a bit like the old Middle East, doesn't it? Arabs raging impotently at the Jews instead of their own brutal rulers? And yet the narrative that the Arab revolutions were never about Israel has always been wrong, or at least incomplete. For Arabs living under authoritarian regimes, Israel (and America's support for Israel) has long been seen as an important reason for their subjugation. Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak bucked popular opinion by selling gas to Israel below market rates and enforced a widely reviled blockade of Gaza. In Tahrir Square, there were plenty of chants denouncing Mubarak as an Israeli and American agent, no matter what Thomas Friedman says.
Yet there is nothing impotent about Sunday's tactics, which put Israel and its American ally in an incredibly tough position. Whatever Assad's cynical motives for allowing and even encouraging the protesters to reach the Golan ("See, Bibi, you need me after all!"), Palestinians now have a powerful tool at their disposal, and there will no doubt be attempts to replicate the feat. As Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn puts it, "The nightmare scenario Israel has feared since its inception became real -- that Palestinian refugees would simply start walking from their camps toward the border and would try to exercise their ‘right of return.'"
Even more awkward for the United States, Netanyahu is due to visit Washington in a few days in what will likely be one long exposition of the words, "I told you so." If he is smart, he will announce a serious plan for peace and get out ahead of the most serious threat to Israel's security since the 1973 war. If he is true to form, he will use the opportunity to double down on his argument for the status quo.
President Obama has planned two speeches for the coming week: one for Thursday, billed as a disquisition on the Arab Spring, and another an address at the AIPAC conference. With George Mitchell's resignation, the peace process is officially dead. The Arab street now understands its power -- people clearly aren't going to sit around quietly waiting until September for the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state. The BDS movement ("boycott, divestment, sanctions") is gaining steam internationally. There will be more marches, more flotillas, more escalation, more senseless deaths.
What is Obama going to say now?
Jalaa Marey/JINI/Getty Images
What does grief and courage sound like? It sounds a lot like the voice of Perditta Nabbous, the wife of Libyan citizen journalist Mohammed Nabbous, 27, who was shot and killed last Saturday by forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mohammed was the charismatic voice and face of Libya al-Hurra, the online TV station he set up in the early days of the uprising. Mo, as his many fans and supporters around the world called him, was attacked while trying to record footage from Benghazi.
"He got so furious because nobody was taking pictures and videos," Perditta told me, after many Western journalists fled Benghazi ahead of a furious assault by Qaddafi's troops. Mo had been trying to reach the wreckage of a downed Libyan jet -- which later turned out to belong to the rebels -- when his car came under heavy fire. He died in the hospital several hours later. "He said, ‘I need to get proof of the plane so people will believe this,'" Perditta said.
She is 8 months pregnant. "I want Mohamed's child to live," she told me.
Her voice growing stronger, she called for the U.S.-led strikes on Qaddafi's air defenses and troops to continue. Here it is in her own words. I can't put it any more powerfully than this:
"We started this in a pure way, but he turned it bloody. Thousands of our men, women, and children have died.
We just wanted our freedom, that's all we wanted, we didn't want power. Before, we could not do a single thing if it was not the way he wanted it.
All we wanted was freedom. All we wanted was to be free. We have paid with our blood, with our families, with our men, and we're not going to give up.
We are still going to do that no matter what it takes, but we need help. We want to do this ourselves, but we don't have the weapons, the technology, the things we need. I don't want anyone to say that Libya got liberated by anybody else.
If NATO didn't start moving when they did, I assure you, I assure you, half of Benghazi if not more would have been killed. If they stop helping us, we are going to be all killed because he has no mercy anymore.
On Monday, a relief ship carrying medical supplies docked in Misrata, a town west of Benghazi that has been besieged for weeks by Qaddafi's tanks, snipers, and RPG-wielding troops. The ship, which included donations from the German aid organization Medeor, was arranged by Nabbous and his friends and supporters, who are vowing to keep the channel alive. Says Perditta, "We have to make what he started go on."
At the Al Jazeera Forum this weekend in Doha, where dozens of Arab political figures and activists of all persuasions gathered to discuss the dramatic events sweeping the Middle East, there was a lot of optimism in the air. One Egyptian organizer, YouTube starlet Asma Mahfouz, even expressed her hope that next year's forum would be titled "One Arab Nation With No Borders."
Pressed over lunch about the risks of it all turning sour, one Emirati political scientist told several of us, "Let them dream. These youth have never had the chance to dream before. It is good to have dreams."
But outside of Tunisia and Egypt, Arab dreams are fast becoming Arab nightmares. In Libya, a spontaneous popular uprising is turning into a civil war -- one that the rebels are rapidly losing. In Bahrain, protests that began as a call for civil rights and constitutional reform have devolved into ugly sectarian street battles; and as Saudi forces intervene to protect the ruling Sunni monarchy, the situation risks sparking a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yemen is kicking out foreign journalists as tribes cowboy up and activists talk of an impending bloodbath. Iraq's hapless government is clamping down on political freedom. And all of this is taking place against the backdrop of rising oil prices, a hopelessly stalled Middle East peace process, and an epic natural disaster in the world's No. 3 economy.
There are some bright spots: Morocco's King Mohammed VI seems to understand at some level that he needs to embrace change lest he be swept up by it; Jordan has remained surprisingly calm even though its monarch, King Abdullah II, has thus far only pretended to get it; Kuwait already had a relatively vibrant political scene; and quiescent Qatar and the go-go United Arab Emirates don't seem at risk of any unrest whatsoever. But in general, the region's autocrats are responding as they always have to popular anger: with a combination of brute force, comically half-baked reforms, and economic bribes.
What will happen next is anybody's guess, but I find it hard to be optimistic in the short term. Much depends on how the democratic transitions in Tunisia and especially Egypt go, but it will be many months before the dust settles there. In the meantime, the rest of the region is ablaze. And as they did with Iraq, Arab leaders will now eagerly point to Libya and Bahrain as cautionary examples of what happens when citizens take to the streets.
Meanwhile, the region's two traditional problem children -- Lebanon and Palestine -- haven't even joined the fray yet. Burgeoning youth protest movements in both places are calling on their bickering, ineffective leaders to get their acts together in the name of national unity, but the forces of the status quo are far stronger. It's hard to imagine Hezbollah and Lebanon's March 14 movement in Lebanon, or Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, putting aside their differences and coming together for the common good. And Iran and its pal Syria haven't begun to make trouble yet. Now that Saudi Arabia has thrown down the gauntlet in Bahrain, the gloves may come off -- especially if the U.N. special tribunal ever gets around to indicting Hezbollah figures for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
None of this is to say that there is some magic formula that the United States could have employed to avoid this dangerous state of affairs. U.S. influence in the region is fast evaporating, as evidenced by the fact that its ostensible allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- are now flaunting their rejection of Washington's advice: Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly about to debut an absurdly disingenuous peace initiative, and Saudi troops just rolled into Bahrain a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged King Hamad to compromise and embrace political reform. The Pentagon didn't even get a courtesy call.
But what happens next will have huge repercussions for U.S. national security, and will present President Obama will terrible dilemmas in the region. If Saudi troops kill Shiites in Bahrain using American weapons, what will he say or do? Iran wasn't behind any of these uprisings, but if it starts creating mischief, how should he respond? What if Yemen turns into another Somalia? What if Palestinians rise up against Israel in a third intifada? If Egypt's transition goes badly? Right now, coming up with tough questions is a lot easier than providing answers.
When one woman made a mistake at work, her boss called her a "stupid fucking female" and spit in her face. She was later stalked, sexually harassed, and raped. Another woman got drunk with her coworker, who was her superior, when he raped her. She spent the next two years forced to continue working with him; her work assignments were downgraded because she took medication to cope with the trauma of the ordeal. A third woman was sexually harassed by a supervisor and raped by a coworker. When she sought help from her workplace's chaplain, she was told that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped" and was recommended to attend church more often.
Where do these women work?: The U.S. military.
These are the stories of some of the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in an Eastern Virginia federal court yesterday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The litigants are current and veteran service members, 15 women and two men, and they charge that, even twenty years after the landmark Tailhook case, the military has allowed a dangerous culture of rape and sexual abuse to proliferate. Specifically, Gates and Rumsfeld are charged with running "institutions in which perpetrators were promoted; ...in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subject to retaliation...and ordered to keep quiet."
Since 2005, when Congress mandated that the Defense Department create a task force on military sexual assault, other similar efforts have attempted to do something about this increasingly egregious problem. Last March, the Pentagon released the latest Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military which showed an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military during fiscal year 2009 (equivalent to one-third of female service members reporting sexual violence). The Pentagon even says that reported incidents probably represent only 20 percent of those that actually occur.
While sexual assault in the military carries its own unique implications -- a particularly high-stress workplace environment, a traditionally male-dominated work culture, a strict mandate to follow superiors' orders, among much else -- the military is not the only workplace where women (and men) are assaulted. According to one statistic, one out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And, on average, 36,500 incidents of rape and sexual assault happen annually in the workplace.
This year, that number unfortunately includes Lara Logan. The CBS news correspondent is recovering in an American hospital after being sexually assaulted and beaten by a mob in Tahrir Square last Friday. The media firestorm surrounding Logan's ordeal ranges well into the vulgar. As Jezebel points out, "media outlets are clamoring to respond -- in the most offensive way possible" detailing Logan's looks, sex life, and past experience reporting from war zones and other dangerous places, implying that she had it coming.
Today, journalist Nir Rosen (who has written for FP) resigned from his fellowship position at New York University's Center on Law and Security after some heavy backlash to his critical tweets of Logan, including "Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Debbie Sclussel, an extreme right-wing commentator, wrote that Logan "should have known what Islam is all about."
Sadly, the "Muslims did it" argument has found its way into the mainstream. Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post noted that Egypt is a place where women "are not free to pass through the street without being groped and catcalled." The Daily Beast, today, ran a piece titled "Egypt: Unsafe for Women." Even film critic Roger Ebert joined the debate, tweeting: "The attack on Lara Logan brings Middle East attitudes toward women into sad focus."
While the statistics on women's experiences in Egypt are terrible and alarming -- 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women visitors have experienced harassment -- Egyptian culture is by no means the only one where rape, sexual assault, and harassment are embedded and pervasive.
Sadly, Logan's story is not an isolated event: Not isolated to an attractive foreign reporter pursuing a story, not isolated to those 18 days in Tahrir, not isolated to broader Egyptian culture, not isolated to the experience of women in every country around the world. Yet the way this incident has been explained in popular media -- as a result of Logan's looks, her job, and the unique cultural environment in which she was working -- reduces Logan's experience into a singular, rather than societal, problem.
Perhaps the most unique thing about these cases is that they are so public. As we can see in the cases of the 17 service members suing the Pentagon, and the countless others who remain silent, sexual violence in the workplace (and everywhere else) is notable not for its rarity but for the stigma and difficulties attached with reporting it.
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