Weekly Wire – April 1: 31 Experts Send Obama Letter on Yemen Policy; Congress Members Write Bahrain Amb. over Fired Teacher

From Washington

LegislationCommittee Hearings - DC Event Coverage

Regional News and Analysis

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From Washington


Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced S.653 to provide for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) cosponsored. The text of this bill is not yet available.

Committee Hearings

No relevant committee hearings were attended by POMED staff this week.

DC Event Notes

Tuesday (3/26)

  • POMED and the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East put on an event titled “Rethinking U.S. Policy toward Yemen.” It featured Hafez al-Bukari, Steven Heydemann, and Danya Greenfield. Stephen McInerney moderated.

Thursday (3/28)

  • The American Islamic Congress hosted an event titled “Two Years After Tahrir,” featuring Dwight Bashir, Eric Trager, and Safei-Eldin Hamed. John Pinna moderated.

Friday (3/29)

Also Worth Reading

POMED, in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, sent a letter to President Obama with the endorsement of 31 leading foreign policy experts calling for a broader, more far-sighted policy in Yemen. The letter, a component of the ongoing Yemen Policy Initiative, advocates a more balanced approach that prioritizes the “humanitarian, economic, and political development of the Yemeni people,” which will ultimately be more effective in combating extremism and promoting democracy in Yemen. Signed by former diplomats, security specialists, scholars, and policy experts, it argues that, despite efforts by the U.S. government to address Yemen’s long-term development and humanitarian needs, “our increased reliance on drones undermines our long-term interest in a stable, secure, and sustainable partner in Yemen.”

Amnesty International published a report titled “Turkey: Decriminalize Dissent—Time to Deliver on the Right to Freedom of Expression.”

Special Announcement

Please join POMED for our 5th annual awards reception and silent auction on Thursday, April 11 from 7-9pm at Fathom Gallery in Washington. We will be honoring Boshra al-Maqtari of Yemen, Ibrahim El Houdaiby of Egypt, Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply, and Amb. Mark Palmer (posthumous) with this year’s Leaders for Democracy awards. Reserve your tickets here, or contact Alex Russell at alex.russell@pomed.org with any questions.

Regional News and Analysis

Members of Congress Write Bahraini Ambassador over Fired Teacher: Ten members of Congress signed a letter to Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Bahrain’s Ambassador to the U.S., expressing concern over the termination of Jalila al-Salman from her teaching position. They characterize the termination as “the latest in a long line of efforts by the Government of Bahrain to punish Ms. al-Salman for exercising her rights” and urge the ambassador to advise the Ministry of Education to reverse its decision and to compensate al-Salman for her unpaid wages during the termination. Emile Nakhleh wrote,”To save the monarchy, King Hamad must commit himself, in word and deed, to building a genuine democratic constitutional monarchy.” Nakhleh said that the promised reforms of 2001 “turned out to be a charade.”

Bahrain Overturns 21 Medics’ Convictions: Twenty-one Bahraini medical professionals charged with links to anti-government activities were acquittedBrian Dooley of Human Rights First told BBC, “These medics have finally been vindicated after being mistreated or tortured in custody.” Ahead of the acquittal, Human Rights First said in a press release, “Though the 23 medics awaiting tomorrow’s appeal verdict have not been detained, several other Bahraini medics have remained in prison after separate convictions in cases stemming from perceived association with the protests.”Imprisoned Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja wrote to the international media describing prison conditions. Zainab and her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja recently began dry hunger strikes after being refused family visits. Zainab says that she refused to wear “convicts’ clothes” because she hadn’t committed a crime as a “small act of civil disobedience.” Al-Khawaja’s health has worsened. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported that she “is at risk of organ failure, cardiac arrest or coma at any time.”

Shura Council Approves Controversial Laws: Egypt’s Shura Council passed in principle a draft law further restricting rights to protest and requires organizers to notify police three days prior to a demonstration the time, route, and demands of the demonstration. Protesters must be 200 meters away from government, legislative, or judicial buildings. Human Rights Watch has said the law will restrict Egyptians’ ability to effectively protest. The Council also approved in principle a contentious draft NGO law severely restricting the funding of such groups. Several Council members refused to pass it until the cabinet submitted its draft on the same issue. A court postponed its decision on the legal status of the Muslim Brotherhood as an NGO. The decision is unlikely to remove the Brotherhood from power. The Supreme Administrative Court similarly postponed a verdict until April 7 on challenges to the suspension of parliamentary elections to allow the president, Shura Council, and Justice Ministry time to demonstrate that they had authorized the appeals. President Mohamed Morsi announced that he expects parliamentary elections to occur in October and the parliament to be in place by year’s end.

TV Satirist Arrested for Insulting the President: Television satirist Bassem Youssef was arrested on charges of insulting President Mohamed Morsi, denigrating Islam, and spreading false news with the goal of disturbing order. The prosecutor-general issued a warrant for Youssef’s arrest on Saturday, and Youssef turned himself in for questioning. He was released on bail Sunday, but he may still face charges. Heba Morayef, Egypt Director at Human Rights Watch, called the arrest “an escalation in an attempt to restrict space for critical expression.” Prosecutors summoned opposition figures for questioning on violent protests following Morsi‘s speech in which he vowed to hold accountable anyone found to have incited the violence. The summons was based on complaints filed against 169 individuals by Brotherhood members injured in clashes. Among those called were Khaled Ali, Ziad el-OleimiAlaa Abdel-Fattah, and Mohammed Adboul-Ghar. Regarding the recent protests and controversial subsequent arrests, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “When there is violence, we urge the government to thoroughly and credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and to bring perpetrators to justice in a way consistent with international standards for the rule of law.”


Kerry Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq: Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Baghdad to reinforce U.S. commitment to the country. He met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss Iranian flights carrying arms to Syria as the State Department reported that Iraq has only inspected two flights from Iran to Syria since agreeing to do so last July. Kerry also addressed provincial elections in Anbar and Ninewa, which were scheduled for April 20th, but were postponed by Iraq’s Council of Ministers, citing violence and threats to election workers. Stephen Wicken and Ahmed Ali argued that “the move enhances the provincial campaigns of Maliki and his allies and directly limits key Sunni rivals.” They add that the postponement and Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc’s Cabinet boycott “makes clear that the provincial elections will be fought with every tactic at key players’ disposal, with little regard for legal, constitutional, or democratic principles.” Reider Visser examined the postponement’s political dynamics and found that it may be illegal.


Bedoon Activist Released: Kuwait released Bedoon activist Abdulhakim al-Fadhli after he was acquitted of attacking a policeman. He had been held without bail for 103 days. He gave a speech at an event organized by the Popular Committee to Organize the Movement.

Analysis of Mikati’s Resignation: Dexter Filkins suggested that the recent resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati was sparked by conflict in Syria and that Lebanon’s politics are increasingly polarized by loyalties to the opposing parties within Syria. Bilal Y. Saab argued that Mikati’s resignation ends a “worthwhile political experiment in moderate centrist politics” in the country and that Hezbollah misguidedly “misreads” its position in society as it deviates from its “first-order” priority of resistance to Israel.


Libyan Ambassador to U.S. Resigns, Oman Takes in Qaddafi Family: Ali Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the U.S., has resigned. Aujali served as Qaddafi’s representative to Washington since 2009 and quit his post at the onset of the country’s civil war in February 2011 to represent the opposition forces. Aujali turned down an offer in January to serve as Libya’s foreign minister, citing personal reasons. Meanwhile, Oman granted asylum to Qaddafi’s widow Safia, daughter Aisha, and sons Hannibal and Mohammed. A Human Rights Watch report documented the “systematic destruction” by Misratan militias of Tawergha, a community accused of aiding Qaddafi’s forces in 2011. The report detailed suspected arson and targeted demolitions in the city of over 40,000 after fighting there had stopped, indicating a concerted effort to prevent Tawerghans from returning home. Fred Abrahams assailed the Libyan government for not taking action to protect civilians under attack and faults the U.N. for failing to address the plight of the Tawerghas.

Alawites Meet in Cairo, Denounce Assad: Members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s minority Alawite sect met in Cairo to encourage other Alawites and opposition groups to join the struggle against his government. The attendees, nearly 150 opposition figuresfear their community is inexplicably linked with Assad’s diminishing fate. They called on Alawites and members of the army to lay down their arms. A number of anti-Assad Alawite activists were prevented from leaving Syria to attend the meeting. David Ignatius described a battle over influence on the political and military activity among the Syrian opposition.

SNC Leader Announces Resignation, Continues Working: Syrian National Coalition chief Moaz al-Khatib announced his resignation, citing lack of international support. Neither the opposition’s presidential office nor its general assembly accepted his resignation. Sec. John Kerry, reaffirming support for the opposition, said such changes are “almost inevitable,” but that the opposition will ultimately succeed. The SNC took Syria’s seat the at Arab League after Qatar’s emir invited it to replace Assad‘s government. Al-Khatib led the coalition’s delegation and was joined by the newly-elected interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto. Elizabeth O’Bagy examined the Free Syrian Army’s efforts to increase tactical coordination, legitimacy and efficacy of the recently-elected Supreme Military Council among rebels and argues it could “provide a mechanism for stability.”


General Warns of al-Qaeda Threat: U.S. Africa Command General Carter Ham warned that al-Qaeda is attempting to establish a presence in Tunisia. Ham, with Ambassador Jacob Walles, held meetings with the Tunisian prime minister and other senior officials to address the country’s security concerns, citing “good governance, education, and economic development” as the best ways to counter al-Qaeda’s influence. The Interior Minister announced that Tunisia’s Supreme Security Council planned to establish “crisis cells” to monitor and combat terrorist activity in the country. David Gartenstein-Ross urged the U.S. to press Tunisian officials to prosecute vigilantes responsible for acts of violence, obstruction of justice and threats to freedom of expression perpetrated by hardline Salafists. Fearful of challenging violent Islamist groups, Gartenstein-Ross faults the government for failing to maintain order and eroding citizens’ faith in the authorities.

The Weekly Wire is produced by POMED Policy team members Andi Waddell, Bill Hess, Brian Braun, and Connor Goddard.


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