Monday, January 29, 2007

Ashura: The Tragedy of Karbala

Tomorrow, the tenth day in the Islamic month of Muharram, is the culmination of the Twelver Shi'i religious mourning period of 'Ashura. In October 680, Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Shi'i Imam (religious/political leader in this context) and youngest son of the first Imam, 'Ali bin 'Abi Talib, and 72 of his friends and relatives were massacred on the barren field of Karbala in Iraq by the forces of the Umayyad Caliph (king) Yazid bin Mu'awiyah bin Sufyan and his governor Ubayd'Allah bin Ziyad for daring to oppose the caliph's authoritarianism. Husayn fell on the tenth day after losing his son 'Ali Akbar and infant son 'Ali Asghar.
The annual commemoration of this tragic event remains an important period of contemplation and remembrance for Shi'i Muslims around the world, Twelver, Isma'ili, and Zaydi. Processions and passion plays (taziya) are performed from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, the Persian Gulf, Europe, and North America. "O Husayn! Never shall I forget Husayn! Pierced by the spears of his enemies,He whom they abandoned, in Karbala'. May God now never water the plains of Karbala' !" [-Elegy of Rabab]
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794); The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

"In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of [Imam] Hussein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Saad al-Hariri's Foreign Backers: Saudi Arabia

Saad al-Hariri: Saudi Puppet
A supporter of Saad al-Hariri's Sunni Future Movement confronts Lebanese Army troops holding the flag of the Wahhabi-dominated Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government fears rising Shi'i political power in the Middle East and has been fomenting anti-Shi'i sentiment in various countries in the region, in accordance with the anti-Shi'i creed of the kingdom.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sectarian Tension Escalates in Lebanon, Erupts in More Violence

Clashes between student supporters of the National Opposition and the Siniora government erupted on Thursday at the Arab University of Beirut in Lebanon and quickly spread to local neighborhoods. The student factions were quickly joined by supporters from surrounding neighborhoods, primarily Sunnis belonging to Saad al-Hariri's Future Movement and Shi'i supporters of Hizbu'llah and the more secular-leaning AMAL. Snipers belonging to various paramilitary forces were also reportedly lining the rooftops. Lebanese Army troops arrived in force and attempted to restore order to little avail. When the smoke cleared, four people were dead and over 150 were injured. A curfew was imposed from dawn to dusk in Beirut for the first time in over a decade for a day.

Leaders of political parties on both sides called for their supporters to exercise restraint and predictably blamed each other for the violence. However, al-Hariri's supporters were allegedly the first to react violently back in December when Future Movement members attacked Shi'i protestors and killed 19-year-old AMAL member 'Ali Ahmad Mahmoud.

For more information on Thursday's protests, see:

Thursday's clashes coming close on the heels of violent protests on Tuesday illustrate yet again the danger posed by the rising sectarian tensions, which have been further inflamed by financial and vocal public support of the two sides by both members of the Iranian and Saudi Arabian governments. Recently Saudi King 'Abdullah [LEFT] warned Iran against trying to "spread" Shi'i Islam around the Middle East vocalizing the fears of many Sunni Arabs and secular Sunni Arab leaders regarding the rising political power of the Shi'a in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf states and the growing regional power of Shi'i-majority Iran. Former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar met this week with Iranian government negotiator 'Ali Larijani to try and broker a deal between the Lebanese Opposition and the pro-government factions.

For a Sunni-slanted report, see:

Fatah "Democrats"

Masked Palestinian members of the al-Aqsa Brigades, an armed wing of the Fatah party, hold Palestinian teenagers accused of being trained by Hamas, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, 26 January 2007. The Fatah-affiliated militants threatened to kill the hostages if HAMAS did not lift a blockade around a Fatah leader's house in the northern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sliding Toward Civil War? The Coming Failure of Lebanon

In response to calls for a country-wide strike in protest of new economic proposals by the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, tens of thousands of National Opposition and pro-government supporters flooded the streets of cities and regions across Lebanon. By the afternoon, a thick cloud of black smoke from burning tires hung over Beirut. Although the uniformed members of Hizbu'llah, the powerful Shi'i political and paramilitary movement that is one of the 3 large political organizations that make up the Opposition (along with the Shi'i AMAL movement and the Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun) were reportedly well disciplined, Opposition and pro-government protestors engaged in clashes both inside and outside of Beirut. When the smoke cleared today, at least 3 people had been killed.

Siniora and his key allies, Saad al-Hariri (head of the Sunni Future Movement), the socialist Druze hobbit Walid Jumblatt, and the thuggish Maronite warlord Samir Geagea, continued to call the National Opposition an agent for neighboring Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The embattled prime minister promised to remain in power but the wide extent of today's protests further bring into question his ability to do so if the Opposition, as promised, increases pressure on the government to resign.

Perhaps the most disturbing scene was the refusal or inability of the Lebanese military to control both sides of today's protests. National Opposition and pro-government supporters exchanged volleys of rocks and even bullets and physical confrontations pitting Shi'i against Sunni Muslims, Maronites against Maronites, Muslims against Christians, and Christians against secular pro-Syrian socialists. Beirut's airport, which was supposedly guarded by the Lebanese military, was in fact safeguarded by armed Hizbu'llah patrols.

The increasing sectarian tension, which has more to do with "ethnic" identity as opposed to a strictly "religious" identity, clearly shows that all segments of Lebanon's population have failed to internalize the serious social, economic, and political issues that caused their country to explode in an orgy of violence in 1975 and dragged its people into a destructive, 15-year-long civil war. Both the pro-government and National Opposition camps have contributed to the dangerous escalation in such tensions during the last two months, despite attempts by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa [RIGHT] to mediate an agreement between the two sides. The National Opposition leadership continues to call for the government to resign while the government and its supporters continue to insist that the status quo is essentially maintained.
In a speech aimed at the National Opposition, Siniora threatened to use force to end the protests but also promised to engage in further dialogue with his government's critics. Such duality has become characteristic of Siniora's speeches since the National Opposition brought over 800,000 protestors to the streets of central Beirut for its first massive demonstration on December 1, 2006. It remains unclear (though increasingly doubtful) that the government would be able to mobilize a unified national military against National Opposition forces. The Lebanese military units that would probably be utilized against demonstrators are primarily staffed by pro-government Sunni Muslims, Maronite Catholics, and Druze socialists.

"This has been transformed into a coup d'etat. It is a revolt in every sense of the word," said Maronite warlord Geagea, who until 2005 had been serving jail time for ordering the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rashid Karami and the bombings of Maronite churches aligned with his rivals, including the former general Aoun [AOUN, left and GEAGEA, right].

Despite Western focus on the Shi'i-Sunni rift, which is often overplayed, street battles between the allies of the Maronite leaders Geagea and Aoun were some of the most violent, resurrecting images of the mini civil war that the two men waged against one another and against the Syrian army in 1990.

To read press coverage on today's protests across Lebanon, see:

To read an analytical essay on the economic issues underpinning today's protests, see:

Before Tuesday's protests, Hizbu'llah Secretary General Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah accused the government and its allies of inflaming sectarian tensions, particularly the Sunni Muslim supporters of Hariri's Future Movement, which reportedly is backed financially by the Salafi-dominated Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: ""Some of the governing team strive day and night to push matters towards a civil war in Lebanon. Some of them work and dream ... that there will be a Sunni-Shi`ite sedition in Lebanon...We will not go to a civil war."

In accordance with their leaders' rhetoric, National Opposition and pro-government protestors hoisted pictures of them. According to a report in the British newspaper The Independent by longtime Middle East reporter Robert Risk, Sunnis raised portraits of the recently executed former Iraqi Ba'thist President Saddam Husayn al-Tikriti in at least one instance. Perhaps the understatement of the year: the future of Lebanon is extremely grim if such sectarian divisions remain.

To read Robert Fisk's editorial, see:

Monday, January 15, 2007

Saddam's Half-Brother, with Chief Ba'thist Judge Executed

Only weeks after the secretly filmed execution by hanging of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn al-Tikriti, early reports suggest that his half-brother and former Iraqi Ba'thist intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti [RIGHT, with Saddam] and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, once the chief judge on the puppet Revolutionary Court, have also been executed. Both were convicted in the same trial as their former leader after being found to have been intimately complicit in carrying out the mass arrests, torture, and execution/murder of 148 Shi'i Iraqi civilians from the town of Dujayl in 1982. The executions come despite a request by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a major Kurdish political leader, last week to stay their executions for the time being.

Al-Tikriti and al-Bandar's execution comes despite severe condemnation of the alleged "unfairness" of the trial by international human rights groups and self-righteous Sunni Arab autocrats such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the corrupt Persian Gulf princes and "sultans" who are in truth more concerned about the possible precedent set by Saddam's execution. The Sunni Arab response, which has included the elevation of the thoroughly secular Saddam to a "religious" martyr are ridiculous and mind-boggling. Despite the fact that he ordered the murders of hundreds of thousands of people including Sunni Arabs and Kurds, many of the region's Sunni Arabs have held him up as a hero.
Although I share concerns about the timing and method of Saddam's execution [LEFT], the elevation of such a man by many Sunni Arabs is absolutely mind boggling and strongly hints of an increasing desperation among their community at the rising political fortunes of Shi'i Arabs in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf and the continued presence of an increasingly powerful Shi'i-majority Iran to the east. Sunni Arabs who are now so concerned about Iraqi Sunni Arab rights, which are importantly, did not seem to care when Shi'i Muslim Arabs and Sunni Muslim Kurds and Turkmen were being murdered by Saddam....A word for that, HYPOCRISY.

Saddam should not have been executed until after the current trial for the brutal suppression his security forces and military carried out against the Kurds in the late 1980s (the Anfal Campaign). His execution was also carried out in an extremely unprofessional manner. However, in my view he deserved to be executed for the horrific crimes that he unleashed for over a quarter-century on the Iraqi people. Al-Bandar [RIGHT], as chief revolutionary court judge, was a rubber stamp for Ba'thist crimes. Both Barzan al-Tikriti and al-Bandar were closely involved in the executions in Dujayl, though they were also complicit in a laundry list of other Iraqi Ba'thist crimes against humanity including mass arrests, torture, and murder.
None of my tears will be shed for these men.

To read a report of the executions, see: