Greater Middle East
Scuffles broke out between pro-Kurdish protesters and police outside the National Higher Studies Institute in Quito where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was speaking Feb. 4. Three women who maaged to infiltrate the audience during Erdogan's speech and stood up to shout slogans in support of the Kurds were forcibly ejected by Turkish security guards. Local media also reported that a member of Erdogan's security entourage attacked a protester as the Turkish president exited the building. Ecuadoran MP Diego Vintimilla was also injured during the incident, posting pictures to Twitter of his bloodied nose. Ecuador's government formally protested the violence, with the Foreign Ministry summoning the Turkish ambassador and calling the guards' behavior "irresponsible." Nonetheless, Erdogan and his Ecuadoran counterpart Rafael Correa signed a series of bilateral deals to boost diplomatic and trade relations. (EuroNews, BBC News, Feb. 5)
Some 70,000 civilians from Aleppo are fleeing to the Turkish border, as Syrian regime troops backed by Russian warplanes advance on the city. They will join some 30,000 already amassed at the border and hoping Turkish authorities will allow them to cross. (Al Jazeera) Independent journalists have posted grim video footage and photos of the exodus to Facebook. French journalist Natalie Nougayrède writes in a commentary for The Guardian that "What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe's future."
The Syria "peace" talks have opened in Geneva—without the participation of the Syrian Kurds. Those rebel leaders in attendance will not actually meet face-to-face with Damascus representatives, and are pressing their own demands. Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the opposition's High Negotiations Committee, uniting most of the rebel factions, told Al Jazeera: "We came here to discuss with the special envoy UN Resolution 2254; lifting the sieges and stopping the crimes done by Russian air strikes in Syria." Syrian opposition activists have taken to social media with a campaign to boycott the talks, which they see as legitimizing a genocidal regime, using the hashtag #DontGoToGeneva. (Middle East Eye, Jan. 26)
We've been documenting for years how the much-lauded Counterpunch is actually a pseudo-left organ of fascism, relentlessly cheering on dictatorships and providing a soapbox for Paul Craig Roberts, Ron Paul, Alison Weir, Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon and other such exponents of the far right. But this time they have really outdone themselves. On Jan. 29 they posted a piece with the predictable title of "The Rise of ISIS and Other Extremist Groups: the role of the West and Regional Powers." The writer? None other than Bouthaina Shaaban, official public relations advisor for the genocidal regime of Bashar Assad. This time not just a "useful idiot" of the Anglo-American "progressive" (sic) talking-head set, nor just another paleocon dictator-enthusiast—but an actual paid flack of the dictatorship that continues to carry out mass murder and starvation against the Syrian people.
Turkey is threatening to boycott UN-backed peace talks on Syria scheduled for later this week if the main Syrian Kurdish party is invited. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said "of course we will boycott" the Geneva talks if the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) are at the table, Cavusoglu said in a TV interview, saying it was a "terror group" like ISIS. "There cannot be PYD elements in the negotiating team. There cannot be terrorist organizations. Turkey has a clear stance." He added: "A table without Kurds will be lacking. However, we are against the YPG and the PYD, who repress Kurds, being at the table..." (Hurriyet Daily News, AFP, Jan. 26) Of course, he didn't say which Kurds should be at the table, and in fact there is no other significant Kurdish force in Syria. We've noted before the Turkish state's sinister game of equating the militantly secular and democratic PYD-YPG—the most effective anti-ISIS force in Syria—with their bitter enemy ISIS. But complicating the situation is that Russia, once again, has come to the defense of the Kurds. Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted Cavusoglu's boycott threat as "blackmail," warning that it would be a "grave mistake" not to invite the PYD. "How can you talk about political reforms in Syria if you ignore a leading Kurdish party?" (ABC, Jan. 26)
In anticipation of the fifth anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution, authorities have spent the last week clamping down on dissidents in an effort to avoid further political unrest. At the instruction of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian security forces searched over 5,000 homes, seized activists in public, closed an art gallery, raided a publishing house and arrested a medical doctor in a night-time raid, all as "precautionary measures." Fearing a similar uprising to the one that ousted his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, al-Sisi addressed his critics last month, stating "Why am I hearing calls for another revolution? Why do you want to ruin the nation? I came by your will and your choice and not despite it." Speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, an Egyptian senior security official stated, "We are very concerned and will not allow protests. These movements are aimed at polarizing society and mobilizing the masses against the government."
Just 24 hours into 2016, Saudi Arabia made world headlines with the execution of a dissident Shi'ite cleric—sparking violent protests in Iran, and a breaking off of diplomatic relations. But this just punctuated a very busy year for the Saudi execution state, with most of the victims receiving little international attention, and many sent to the chopping block for victimless crimes—prominently including drug possession.
Shi'ite protesters have repeatedly mobilized in Bahrain over the past week to demand the release of imprisoned dissident cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, as the kingdom's Court of Appeals prepares to hear his case. Salman was detained in December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the ruling al-Khalifah regime and collaboration with foreign powers. He has strongly denied the charges, asserting that he seeks reforms in the kingdom through peaceful means. In June 2015, Salman was sentenced to four years on charges including insulting the Bahraini Interior Ministry and inciting others to break the law, although he was acquitted of seeking regime change. He is now challenging his conviction. The Bahrain demonstrations come weeks after Saudi Arabia's execution of a dissident Shi'ite leader sparked angry protests in Iran and a diplomatic crisis. The Saudi execution also brought Shi'ites to the streets in Bahrain, although it received far less international media coverage. Illustrating the degree of polarization, the new wave of Bahraini protests have received virtually no international coverage except from Iranian state media such as Press TV and Hezbollah's Al Manar.