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Middle East voters have had enough of election fraud: Where is my vote? Mauritania Edition
Just as thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest a seemingly rigged presidential election, now thousands of voters in Mauritania – at the other end of the Middle East – are marching under a green banner that reads: “Where is my vote?” A style of civic mobilization appears to once again spreading out of Iran, offering a model to dissidents throughout the region.
The Mauritanian protests began after the July 18 elections, where General Abdel Aziz, who took power in a coup last year, claimed to have won 52% of the vote in a multi-candidate race. However, accusations of voter fraud have run rampant, and opponents are asking for an international investigation and calling the vote “prefabricated”. Two incriminating videos have surfaced to buttress these claims: One video allegedly shows a ‘fraud factory’ in which pro-Aziz campaign staffers are seen duplicating voter ID cards to allow people to vote twice. Another video, taken on the day of the vote, shows Aziz’s supporters purchasing ID cards from underprivileged citizens, supposedly to use them to vote for Aziz.
The four main opposition candidates have rejected the outcome, the European Union has called for a proper inquiry, and the chairman of Mauritania’s Electoral Commission has resigned in protest. Hundreds of Mauritanians have taken to the streets to protest the apparent fraud, and the opposition has already adopted the slogan “Where is my vote?” – translating it into Arabic and French as a rally cry. No Iran-like crackdown on protestors has yet erupted, though it appears the struggle – as in Iran – is far from over.
More news of the civil rights movement in the Middle East at the CRIME Report.
Back in April The CRIME Report reported that Nokia had provided the Iranian regime with an advanced data monitoring center. The full implications of Nokia’s partnership did not become clear until a few days ago, when the Iranian government began arresting hundreds of peaceful dissenters tracked via intercepted wireless communications. In the wake of post-election protests, Iran has put Nokia’s technology to use on a massive scale.
Under the title “Nokia: Jailing People” (a parody of Nokia’s slogan “Connecting People”), an urgent campaign has been launched to pressure Nokia to immediately end its contract with the Iranian regime, disable its monitoring center, and explain how Iranians can circumvent the monitoring system. At the site http://www.NokiaNo.com, over five thousand people in just five days have signed a petition and simultaneously sent an email to Nokia executives. Supporters have pledged to boycott Nokia products until Nokia stops helping Iran jail peaceful dissenters.
“Activists in the US and worldwide have been inspired by the courage of Iranians,” observed AIC’s Nasser Weddady. “This is about taking action now to help people on the ground. It’s a tremendous boost for Iranian activists to know the world is not sitting by silently.” Read coverage of the campaign in the Wall Street Journal, and take a minute to send a letter to Nokia at www.NokiaNo.com.
More on civil rights in the Middle East from the C.R.I.M.E. Report.
The CRIME Report follows civil rights in the Middle East. Among its stories this edition, @ Revolution: A Page from Khomeini’s Playbook
Ayatollah Khomeini is best known as the stern face of the Islamic Revolution that took over Iran in 1979. But the founding icon of Iran’s Islamic Republic is rarely recognized as… a pioneer of nonviolent strategic activism in the Middle East. At least in route to gaining power – and certainly not in exercising power – Khomeini and his movement mastered the art of nonviolent confrontation to mobilize grassroots support and respond strategically to repression by the Shah’s regime. Now, thirty years after Khomeini’s revolution, Iranians are again taking to the streets and reviving many of the Ayatollah’s own techniques – only this time to protest the actions of the regime he founded…
Dangerous Music: Singing Senator’s CDs Seized
Maalouma Mint El Meydah, a Mauritanian musician, senator and civil rights activist (previously featured in The CRIME Report) has scared the ruling regime… with her music. A few weeks ago, she performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Arts in an effort to promote her lifelong quest of highlighting Mauritania (and its civil rights challenges) in the global music scene. As she was returning home from Senegal, border agents detained her and seized her luggage full of copies of her new album. In a clear violation of the parliamentary immunity afforded to her as a senator, Maalouma’s music was confiscated without explanation, compensation, or a criminal charge…
More on these and other stories at the link.
Blogging for religious freedom in the Middle East:
Bloggers have revolutionized public discussion of religious freedom in the Middle East. But virtual activism has its limits, as illustrated by the recent failure of the April 6 protest movement to translate Facebook enthusiasm into action on the streets. This week, a group of writers and cyberactivists from a dozen Middle Eastern countries gathered in Morocco to take up the challenge of transforming their online ideas into real world action.
“There is a new generation of Middle Easterners who are concerned about growing sectarian intolerance and religious repression,” observed HAMSA’s Nasser Weddady. “But many have found it hard to turn their beliefs into programs beyond cyberspace. So we brought together a dynamic group of young thinkers for strategic training in leadership, event planning, fundraising, and public relations.”
Where will you find a fashion show without one camera in sight? Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia held its first fashion show a few weeks ago. The catch? No cameras. The Nafisat Shams Al Biqa’ Academy organized and held the fashion show in Jeddah, where designers vied for a first place prize of 100,000 SAR (about $27,000). Yet to get authorization for the show, organizers had to agree to ban all photography and video recording, even though the event as in line with the country’s official moral codes.
Torture in the United Arab Emirates:
ABC News recently broadcasted a tape depicting reveals(sic) the Crown Prince’s brother, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, brutally beating and torturing an Afghani merchant accused of cheating the royal family on a grain delivery. A policeman assists the filming and aids Sheikh Issa by holding the man down. The nauseating list of abuses includes firing at the man’s feet with a machine gun, burning and beating him, and running him over with a Mercedes.
More on these and other Middle East human rights issues at CRIME.
Who says America has nothing to offer the world? Expanding on the President’s and Congress’s game plan, the Taliban shows that class warfare works. From the NYT, Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan
The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.
The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.
To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.
A dangerous situation. Don’t forget Pakistan’s nukes.
America tends to do its internal fighting through the media and the ballot box. I don’t expect to see roving gangs here imposing their will. Those mighty oaks that grow from tiny ACORNS is another matter.
Did you know there is a fourth gender? The United Arab Emirates says so. An initiative designed to discourage women from acting “too masculine” is called, “Excuse me, I’m a girl.” What’s really going on? From the C.R.I.M.E. Report,
With the financial downturn battering UAE’s economy, officials seem to have identified a convenient scapegoat. Their vague terminology – “the fourth sex” – is an awkward euphemism for describing any women who do not fit traditional female stereotypes, as well as tomboys, lesbians, and transgender. Since lesbianism is officially considered non-existent in the UAE, the target of the campaign is simply all women with masculine characteristics.
Officials claim the fourth sex is harassing “normal” women in schools and offices, attributing the phenomenon to outside influences, including the different nationalities living in the Emirates and access to foreign media via satellite TV and the Internet. The campaign will review the causes of masculinity among females, educate citizens about the phenomenon and its treatment, and provide families with psychologists to help girls be “repatriated” to femininity.
What happens if they don’t see the Islamic cultural light? Off to the sexual gulag, maybe.
Other demands for freedom in the Middle East:
In Tunisia, student leaders are on a hunger strike to protest a government decision to throw them out of school. Why? For campaigning, nonviolently, for improvements in living and educational standards and more job opportunities.
Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive. Two female students found a way to express their opinions about that by designing T-shirts with an embroidered license plate, the girl’s name, the country and a number on it. They’re selling well, helped by Facebook.
Brave people are working hard and risking much for freedom in the Middle East.
An Egyptian blogger who wanted to go to Mecca as part of her religious observance found that a Muslim woman under the age of 45 can’t get a visa to Saudi Arabia unless she’s accompanied by a male relative. Is she whining about being oppressed? No:
Ziada is also coordinator of the AIC office in Egypt and a correspondent for The CRIME Report. In fact, over the past four days she has helped organize a conference in Cairo for women’s rights activists from across the Middle East focused on women’s civic, political, and economic roles in the Arab world. As Dalia explains, “For the Middle East to develop and prove itself on the international scene we must empower women.” One small step: free young women to go on pilgrimage as independent individuals.
An online news site in Mauritania made a big mistake: it did independent investigative journalism. The result:
Founded only two years ago, Taqadoumy (“Progressive”) has surged to become Mauritania’s top online news site. The independent site’s investigative reporting is a thorn in the side of the country’s ruling military regime. Last week, authorities suddenly blocked the site and arrested lead reporter Abbass Ould Braham. When journalists organized a sit-in in solidarity with Abbass, riot police used tear gas and truncheons. But an international outcry forced the regime to back down, releasing Abbass and unblocking Taqadoumy.
More on the fight for civil rights in the Middle East at the link.
I went to the Taqadoumy website and found this story: Force-feeding sends Mauritania ‘backwards’
Fears are growing for the fate of thousands of young girls in rural Mauritania, where campaigners say the cruel practice of force-feeding young girls for marriage is making a significant comeback since a military junta took over the West African country.
Aminetou Mint Ely, a women’s rights campaigner, said girls as young as 5 were still being subjected to the tradition of leblouh every year.
They are tortured into swallowing huge amounts of food and liquid – and made to consume their vomit if they reject it.
“In Mauritania, a woman’s size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband’s heart,” said Mint Ely, head of the Association of Women Heads of Households.
“We have gone backwards. We had a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. We had achieved a parliamentary quota of 20 per cent of seats. We had female diplomats and governors. The military have set us back by decades, sending us back to our traditional roles. We no longer even have a ministry to talk to.”
Kinda puts the fuss about foie gras into perspective, doesn’t it?
If it happens, it will be the first time a sitting head of state would be prosecuted for crimes against humanity:
Seven months ago, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with directing a campaign of mass murder that has left more than 300,000 civilians dead and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes in Darfur. Now, the three-judge ICC panel has apparently ratified the charges and will soon issue an arrest warrant for Bashir to stand trial. For the first time, a sitting Middle Eastern head of state may be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The CRIME Report spoke with AIC’s Jana El-Horr, who has been involved with Darfur advocacy for several years, to analyze the news.
More at the link.
Freedom of expression is not exactly a cherished right in the Middle East. There are brave people fighting for that right, and here are a few cases, from C.R.I.M.E. Report:
“They Cannot Control the Sky”: Tunis Radio Defiant after Shutdown
Radio Kalima, a small independent station headquartered in Tunis, has Tunisian officials spooked. Initially Radio Kalima broadcast only online, in conjunction with a news web portal. But at the end of January, just as the station launched a satellite broadcast, a phalanx of plainclothes officers suddenly raided the station, confiscating equipment, sealing the office, and changing the locks.
Kalima, whose website has been targeted by hackers under suspicious circumstances, has made a name for itself by reporting on corruption in Tunisian society. The government maintains a tight grip on the country’s media and evidently felt threatened by an outlet that refuses to stick within the unspoken redlines. But, in the words of Radio Kalima station manger
Siham Bensadrine, “They cannot control the sky.”
Detention: Lock up the Students… and the Teachers
When Saeed Razavi Faghih returned to Iran after studying abroad in France, he received a summons to the Revolutionary Court six days later. Authorities promptly sent Faghih to the notorious Evin Prison, claiming he violated a travel ban – though his outspoken journalism has gotten him in trouble before.
At the opposite end of the region, in Marrakech, a student solidarity march at Cadi Ayyad University ended violently with Moroccan police using intense force to shut down the rally. One arrested student, Abderrazak El Gadiri, was tortured by police and died the next day as a result of injuries.
In Syria, authorities continue to withhold information on student Mohammad Abdulqadir Talib, arrested months ago for donating $20 to impoverished Iraqis. Talib has been subjected to extreme torture to admit false acusations against him.
Quiz: Who was sentenced to six years in jail – after he was pardoned?
Answer: Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, the pioneering Yemeni journalist, was convicted of “disseminating pro-rebel propaganda to local and foreign media” on January 26. Yemen’s Special Court on Terrorism upheld the guilty verdict against al-Khaiwani, despite pardon he received from President Saleh in September. The pardon, which came in the wake of
international campaign, seemed to close the trumped up case against al-Khaiwani. The court’s sudden decision came as a surprise to al-Khaiwani, who was unaware of the trial and received no summons for the hearing. Is this Yemen’s ironic version of an independent judiciary?
Courage knows no cultural or ethnic boundaries.