KIEV—”Stamping their feet and moving closer to barrels serving as braziers on this cold misty morning, the Maidan protesters on Kiev’s Independence Square say they have no intention of decamping from their canvas tents any time soon. They have two enemies to see off first: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the country’s politicians, including those who have replaced the president they ousted, Viktor Yanukovych.”
Read my Daily Beast dispatch from the new West/Russia fault-line here.
And on an aspect of the propaganda war being waged over Ukraine my Fox News report here.
“In the propaganda war raging over Ukraine’s revolution, Russia is playing up claims of neo-Nazi involvement in the protests that toppled Viktor Yanukovych, alleging the far right is on the rise in the former Soviet republic and was crucial in the Ukrainian president’s downfall.”
And some snapshots of the Maidan this week:
For 39 days he was held in detention after he had been arrested during a demonstration against Egypt’s new military rulers. He was released last week
But his parents’ were horrified to learn their son said he not only was regularly and viciously beaten during the first few days of his incarceration, but he said he also was sexually assaulted during interrogations.
“They made me and other 10 young men who had been arrested to strip naked when we arrived at Cairo’s Abdeen Police Station; they blindfolded the boys with their own underwear and there were a lot of beatings,” said Fadhy Samir Zakher. “The police used sticks and their fists, and they also kicked the detainees repeatedly.” Return my full VOA report here.
Al-Qaida linked jihadists in insurgent-held areas in northern and eastern Syria are targeting children as young as four-years-old and teenagers for indoctrination, conducting teach-ins, opening schools and training camps, say human rights activists.
“You are seeing the jihadists trying to create a new pool of suicide bombers,” says psychotherapist Mohamed Khalil of the London-based Arab Foundation for Care of Victims of War and Torture. Read my full VOA dispatch here.
In VOA today I explore behind-the-scenes efforts by the West and Saudi Arabia to nudge their favored rebels to adjust to a more southern military strategy in the Syrian civil war — in a shift that analysts say is a bid to strengthen the moderate armed opposition at the expense of hard-line Islamists. Most analysts I spoke to thought this couldn’ be pulled off. Read the article here.
“Of all the world leaders out there today, el-Sisi is perhaps the most like the Russian leader, at least if you take into account their personal beginnings and their respective rises through the ranks of power. And these commonalities could give the West some crucial hints about how el-Sisi—who is expected to declare his presidential bid any day now—might run a post-Arab Spring Egypt, one that has already shown a willingness to engage in warmer relations with Moscow.”
Full article here at the Daily Beast.
There is a thoughtful piece by the New York Times’ Ben Hubbard exploring the franchising of Al Qaeda and what it means and surely some analysts he quotes are right about how many of the Al Qaeda-aligned, or even officially affiliated country and regional groups, are more local and are focused more on their own immediate struggles than being transnational or a threat to the West.
But Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor, makes a killing point, I think, that even these locally focused groups can morph rapidly unto being transnational. He is quoted as saying: “No Qaeda threat has ever remained exclusively local. They have always eventually crossed borders and become regional in operations and attacks and certainly in fund-raising and recruiting.”
Also, I think Ben downplays – in fact doesn’t really acknowledge — how the groups coordinate, share men and equipment and tactical expertise. You can see that in Syria: many of the jihadist fighters are veterans or were members of their local groups before joining up with either ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra.
To question whether there is really an Al Qaeada anymore, as one analyst does, is to say that News International, or Time Warner or Johnson & Johnson don’t really exist because they are split up into subsidiary companies. Of course, you could argue with those companies eventually decision-making will come back to an overall board. And I still think that happens with Al Qaeda, albeit in a less formal way. The raging debate that we catch glimpses of between the top jihadi scholars for example, over the division between ISIS and al-Nusra is part of that “accountability.”
Fears for the safety of dozens of Western captives—among them journalists and aid workers—kidnapped in northern Syria by al Qaeda factions are mounting amid signs they are being moved deeper into territory firmly under jihadist sway. Private security experts and Western intelligence sources say the captives are in the process of being transported closer to the Iraqi border in an operation directed by a Chechen commander.
Read the full report here at the Daily Beast.
First come the pop of fireworks set off by ultraconservative Sunni Muslims here in Tripoli celebrating news of a bombing in Beirut of a suburb controlled by the militant Shia movement Hizbullah. Civilians start edging away and head for safety as the Lebanese army soldiers lounging on their armored trucks tense and warn reporters now would be a good time to scatter before snipers respond and rocket-propelled grenades thunder down the hill.
Lebanese army soldiers know the drill – they should, having spent months trying to keep the peace here. They fire off rounds from their anti-aircraft guns as a warning but to no avail. Soon grenades are flying and AK-47 automatic gunfire rattles in a chorus of anger.
The aptly named Syria Street in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli has been the scene the past two years of 20 major clashes between Sunni Muslims, who back the rebels in the civil war raging next-door in Syria, and Lebanese Alawi Muslims, who support their co-religionist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Read my report for VOA.
The U.S.-Russia brokered peace talks underway in Switzerland are already demonstrating through sharp clashes their slim chance of success but even before delegates arrived all the signs pointed to the conference being an epic failure. Read my piece on why here at the Daily Beast.
How many Egyptians will turn out for the referendum remains unclear and the army is nervous about the outcome, judging by the flood of endorsements on both the country’s state-run and privately-held television and radio stations for a constitution that will entrench military power in the country’s politics. The referendum process has earned criticism from foreign watchdogs and NGOs with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC-based think tank, describing it as “flawed and undemocratic.”
Several Western democracy and governance groups that normally observe controversial elections have held back from sending teams to monitor this one, either because they fear their staff could be endangered or that the very act of monitoring will been as them legitimizing the referendum.
This from my report this morning for the Daily Beast.