ARABICA: Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Comic, Arafat Outrage

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Mural in Gaza City
Mural in Gaza City
Laura Thompson

Islamic Jihad emerges in Hamas shadow
In its efforts to remove Israel from the map, Hamas, the Islamist party in charge in Gaza, has a new competitor — or perhaps little brother: the Islamic Jihad resistance movement. Islamic Jihad has been growing in the shadows, an unofficial movement alongside the democratically elected Hamas, both dedicated to rocket attacks against a country they view as an occupier.

Islamic Jihad logo — Source: Wikimedia Commons

Islamic Jihad officials have argued that the greatest achievements for Hamas in the battle against Israel were achieved when they were in the “resistance” — the very position in which Islamic Jihad now finds itself, Reuters Arabic reports.

Yoni Fighel, a retired Israeli army colonel and senior researcher in counter-terrorism, argues that Islamic Jihad remains “dangerous because to a degree it is uncontrollable,” existing completely outside party politics and international diplomacy.

At the same time, it is free from the responsibilities that can burden Hamas. Fighel says: “It doesn't have to feed all the Palestinians in Gaza, so it can be much more flexible and independent.”

Reaction to Arafat poisoning report
Nine years after Yasser Arafat's death, news that he may have been poisoned stirred people both inside the Palestinian territories and across the Arab world. A Palestinian woman living in Qatar tweeted the following image in commemoration:

#ياسر_عرفات .... < الثورة ليست بندقية فَحسب >

— رشــآ النـتـشـة (@Alnatsheh_Rasha) November 11, 2013

“The revolution is not the gun of the revolutionary only; rather it is a farmer’s pick, a surgeon’s scalpel, a writer’s pen, a poet’s quill.” — Yasser Arafat, 1929-2004

A Jordanian Palestinian woman tweeted similarly:

#ياسر_عرفات #فلسطين *PS*

— Lian Mohammed (@liaano94) November 11, 2013

“One day, one of them will pass by my grave, to tell me that my country is no longer occupied.”

Al Jazeera released a special investigative report on the alleged poisoning by polonium, as supported by Swiss forensic reports. The channel’s documentary video has also been made available in English.

The Palestinian Investigative Committee has since called Israel the prime suspect in Arafat’s death.

A link to the Swiss report, published in English, has also been uploaded to the Al Jazeera website.

Breakdown in Geneva talks
The front page of the prominent conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan called the recent Geneva talks “a mirage”:

Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program have grounded to a halt amid accusations between France, the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. blamed Iran for backing out of a reported deal at the last minute, while Iranian officials criticized the hard line of France. And the Iranian media accused the French foreign minister of siding with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had characterized the deal the U.S. was pushing as “very bad,” paving the way for confrontation between the two countries.

The next meeting for the negotiations has been scheduled for Nov. 20.

Polarization in Egypt: Bassem Youssef's show canceled
Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef — nicknamed “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” — found his show canceled just minutes before its scheduled broadcast, amid crackdowns on journalists and an overwhelming wave of hypernationalism in the country. Youssef’s El-Bernameg show had earned an international following and refused to spare the army his clever, often biting criticism.

Recent polls showed Egyptians completely split over the show’s cancellation, with 48% against and 44% supporting the suspension. Al-Arabiya called the show’s cancellation indicative of a growing polarization in Egypt.

Twitter users have not remained mute regarding Youssef’s silencing by the military-backed regime. One Jordanian cartoonist Naser Jafari posted a cartoon to that exact effect.

Floods in Baghdad

#علي التميمي #big LIKE #Baghdad #floods

— Aouf A Sulaiman (@aoufasulaiman) November 10, 2013

Four days of torrential rain have flooded Iraqi streets, causing the government to declare an emergency public holiday Monday.

Deplorable conditions in Syrian prisons
The Syrian Union for the Defense of Human Rights recently published a report detailing horrific conditions in the military’s Sednaya prison, which reportedly houses about 14,000 prisoners, who include women and children.

The deplorable conditions include month-long solitary confinement, severe beatings, whippings, burning of the skin with chemicals and cigarettes, and overcrowding. Epidemics of untreated illnesses and infections were also reported, along with intentional deprivation of food and drink. Bi-weekly executions during the night were also reported, after which bodies were disposed of without notification to the families.

The great majority of the prison guards responsible for much of this torture are reportedly 20 years old or younger.

A giant rat in Yemen kills baby
A giant rat reportedly killed a one-year-old child in western Yemen, after entering the family’s mud and palm leaf shack and eating some of the child’s limbs.

Syrian refugee women open restaurant
A group of Syrian women, most of them housewives, have launched a project to sell traditional Syrian dishes in Beirut, Lebanon, with the help of the United Nations Refugee Agency. The project intends to help the refugees both preserve special characteristics of their regional culture and support their families during their time in Lebanon, while their country is at war.

“Our house was destroyed, and my husband is suffering from heart problems,” one 30-year-old woman told her fellow cooks, holding back tears. “My children cry every day because they can’t go to school in Lebanon.”

Another cook, from the city of Aleppo, told Al-Arabiya that preparing traditional dishes with other women from her country alleviated some of her homesickness: “Here, I feel like I am in my country, Syria.”

Saudi sick of insults
A member of the Saudi parliament has requested stricter laws to protect himself and other politicians from “humiliation, insult, libel and slander” on social networking sites as well as by the media.

A member of the Saudi parliament since 2005, Saud al-Shammari stressed that insulting its members constitutes an attack on the institution itself. Such attacks, potentially viewed by “millions of people,” should be classified as a “criminal offense,” he argued.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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