|Southwest Asia News Digest
Egypt Constitutional Changes Ratified in Popular Vote
March 20 (EIRNS)Egyptian voters have ratified changes in their Constitution, paving the way for parliamentary elections in June, and Presidential elections in the last week of August. The referendum passed by a 70 to 30 margin. But the youth that led the January 25th Movement opposed the changes, and instead proposed that an interim government be established while a new Constitution was drafted and ratified over the next 12 months.
Details on the vote reported here come from Egyptian sources. The "yes" vote on the partial changes in the Constitution was supported by the National Democratic Party (NDP, the former Mubarak party), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and the Salafi movement of Islamists, who opposed any change in the Constitution that might create a separation of mosque and state (the current Egyptian Constitution's Article II establishes Sharia law as the foundation of the Egyptian state). NDP officials were handing out cash to draw out voters, and the MB were distributing sugar and cooking oil.
A source in the January 25th Movement emphasized that the 30% no vote was a significant achievement, and that they would immediately map out a strategy for the June parliamentary elections. The next 90 days will be a period of intense debate and the momentum of the mass strike will intensify.
Palestinian Youth Join Mass-Strike Process
March 18 (EIRNS)The power of the mass-strike process was demonstrated in a profound way in Palestine. After years of political deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Hamas and Fatah, things abruptly shifted this week, as the result of an intervention by the youth of Gaza. On March 15, some 10,000 young people took to the streets of Gaza City, demanding that Hamas and Fatah reach a unity agreement and reconstitute a single government over the Palestinian territory.
The youth were clearly inspired by the revolution in Egypt. As the demonstrations were taking place in the streets of Gaza, back-channel discussions were being revived between Hamas and Fatah, leading to a phone discussion between the top deputy to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salem Fayyad and Hamas head Khaled Mashal.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will be going to Moscow on March 21, and will attempt to travel from there to Gaza to meet with top Hamas officials, to work out details of a National Unity Government (NUG). According to sources close to the negotiations, Fayyad sent a letter to Hamas, proposing details of a NUG, with equal cabinet representation, with Gaza security under Hamas control, West Bank security under Fatah control, and plans for early elections.
Years of deadlock have been at least potentially unblocked by the factor of the youth simply saying that they will no longer tolerate the no-future politics as usual.
Netanyahu Calls for Military Threat vs. Iran
March 18 (EIRNS)The British have deployed their top Sykes-Picot puppet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to threaten Iran with a military strike. In an interview with CNN, he said the West must present Iran with a "credible military action" if sanctions do not shut down its nuclear program.
He raved on, "They have enriched enough material now almost for three nuclear bombs. They still have to re-enrich it again, but that is what they are doing. The only thing that will work is if Iran knew that if sanctions fail there will be a credible military option." Asked what would constitute a credible military action, Netanyahu said: "It means action that will knock out their nuclear facility."
Netanyahu said if military action were taken, he would prefer that it be led by the United States. "This is not just our problem. This is the problem of Europe, and the United States," he said.
He came out in full support of Saudi Arabia for sending troops into Bahrain: "I think they are concerned with a possible Iranian takeover of Bahrain.... Saudi Arabia is working to protect its own interests."
Anglo-Saudi Destabilization of the Gulf
March 16 (EIRNS)Not only did Saudi Arabia deploy thousands of troops into Bahrain, to crack down on protesters demanding political and economic reforms. The move was taken as a direct slap at the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Bahrain just days before the Saudi invasion (at the invitation of the Bahraini Defense Minister). Gates was pushing for calm and negotiations and had, according to one senior U.S. intelligence source, requested a meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, but the request was turned downan unprecedented move by the Saudis. Days later, a similar request by Secretary of State Clinton was also rejected.
According to the source, King Abdullah despises President Obama, and is committed to taking whatever steps are needed to crush all the protests and demands for reform in the Persian Gulf region. King Abdullah and other top Saudi officials have claimed that Iran is behind the destabilizations in Bahrain and Yemendespite the conviction of both the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon that Iran is not involved in any significant way.
The source emphasized that this Saudi-led, and British-backed move to preserve the Sunni Stability Belt, a longstanding anchor of the Sykes-Picot controls over the region, is only going to incite sectarian violence, which could spin out of control. Israel is weighing in with renewed efforts to pressure Obama to endorse a "preventive" attack on Iran.
(See InDepth for an analysis of the Saudi strategy of promoting sectarian violence in the Arabian peninsula.)
Humanitarian Catastrophe Unfolding in Bahrain
March 15 (EIRNS)The events in Bahrain can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe at the hand of the Saudis and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Shi'a villages have been attacked as if one by one, house by house, by a mixed mob of security forces using live rounds, and goons armed with swords, knifes, and clubs. More than a thousand have been injured, and five have reportedly been killed. Reports of helicopters using live ammunition have come from Sitra, the second-largest island, an opposition stronghold since the mid-1990s. Street battles have become the norm, while different parts of the suburbs of the capital, al-Manama, have defended themselves with barricades and check-points.
The Supreme Islamic Council in Bahrain, along with all the six Shi'a parties, has declared the Saudi troops to be invaders.
But the Bahrain issue has become a regional primary issue. Although the head of the GCC said that it will not be allowed for any foreign power to intervene into the Gulf and Bahrain, a clear message to the Americans, it somehow considers that the Saudi and GCC invasion is not an "outside" intervention.
It is notable that the financial district in Bahrain has been blocked from the highway leading to it. This highway passes through Pearl Square, and is the site that witnessed clashes over the weekend. Bahrain is a financial center and an important offshore banking island for the British and the Saudis. Reports about the number of Saudi and other GCC troops vary from a couple of thousand to tens of thousands. As of March 15, Crown Prince Salman ben Hamad has been dismissed and had left to an undisclosed location; the King, his father, has declared an emergency situation, and there are reports that these changes are part of a Saudi backed "coup" in Bahrain.
The regional implications of this escalation are numerous and dangerous. For example, Shi'ite leader Mokhtada al-Sadr has threatened from Iraq, that if Kuwait sends any troops to Bahrain, he will use his armed forces against Kuwait. A strong condemnation of the Saudi invasion was issued by Lebanon's Hezbollah. The Qatif and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia are blowing up, and it is known that the Shi'a population in this region are armed, but have as of yet not been using their weapons.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayep Recep Erdogan is warning of another Karbala massacre, referring to the slaughter of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in Karbala more than 14 centuries ago. And on March 15, the Iranian Foreign Minister said that Iran will not sit on its hands with the Saudi invasion continuing.
Government Violence in Arabia Fails To Extinguish Protesters' Spirit
March 20 (EIRNS)Thousands of Saudi Arabian troops and goons unleashed by the Bahrain royal family have not succeeded in forcing the protesters off the streets. Bahrainis, protesting poverty, high food prices, and unemployment, have set up roadblocks preventing the riot police from entering the village of Malkiya.
In Yemen, the much-detested ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had perched snipers on the rooftops to shoot and kill protesters on March 18, is fast losing support. Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of Saleh's Hashed tribe, has called on him to step down after the deadly crackdown on protesters, saying, "We hail with all respect and observance, the position of the people at the [Sana'a University] square." On March 20, massive crowds flooded into Sana'a University's square in the capital and huge solidarity demonstrations were held across the country.
On March 20, Saleh dismissed his entire cabinet after a number of resignations over the attack on the protesters. Yemen's Tourism Minister, Nabil Al-Fakeh was the first to resign.
In Oman, about 200 workers at two refineries staged demonstrations March 20, demanding higher wages, as a series of concessions by Oman's veteran ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said failed to quell protests.
In Saudi Arabia, where protests were banned weeks ago, dozens protested outside the Interior Ministry in Riyadh to demand the release of prisoners. Witnesses told the media that a number of protesters were arrested today after trying to push their way into the building, heavily fortified by about 2,000 special forces.