April has been particularly marked by the events in Syria. Despite Bashar al Assad’s announcement of further reforms, including the lifting of the emergency law, during his speech before the Syrian Parliament on March 30th, the crackdown on demonstrators carried out by security forces has become more and more violent. In this respect, and given the lack of external observers, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has played a key role in offering an updated non-government death toll. In the midst of growing demonstrations that broke out in important cities like Homs, Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, and increasing international pressure, mainly stemming from NGOs, in a further speech in Parliament on 15 April al-Assad confirmed the lifting of the 48 year-old emergency law, which was finally abolished on 19 April. Nevertheless, the demonstrations continued, as did their brutal repression by government agents. As a result, strongly-worded condemnations were issued by several governments, including those of the US, France and the UK. Precisely, on behalf of some of these countries, the UN Security Council called a Special Session on Syria on 27 April, although no resolution was adopted. The Human Rights Council also met in a Special Session in Geneva, where it adopted the S16/1 Resolution that condemns ‘the use of lethal violence against peaceful demonstrators by the Syrian authorities’ and requests the OHCHR to dispatch a mission to the country to investigate alleged violations of human rights. Also on 29 April, in line with the US, the EU met in Brussels to agree upon the consideration of new sanctions on Bashar’s regime.
Libya and the ongoing military operation have also been at the forefront of the international news media. After taking command of the military operations on 31 March, NATO’s Operation Unified Protector was the subject of criticism by some allied governments and even from the revolutionary forces. Detailed and updated information on the operations can be found on its website. Likewise, the EU has also prepared a pdf file in which it describes its involvement in the Libyan crisis. Regarding international efforts to stop the crisis, on 10 April the African Union produced a second road map in an aim to foster peace talks and put an end to the fighting, but with no success. Also, the Contact Group on Libya, which had been created at the London Meeting of 29 March, met for the first time in Doha, Qatar, in mid-April to analyse the developments in Libya. A second meeting was scheduled to take place in Rome, Italy, on 5 May. In turn, and following the indications of the UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Libya, the UN sent a fact-finding team to Libya to investigate alleged human rights violations.
By late March, the military authorities in Egypt announced that legislative elections were to take place in September. A survey carried out by the Pew Research Center and released on 25 April showed strong popular support for the Egyptian military as well as approval for the ousting of the former president, Mubarak. Regarding the latter, Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were interrogated in mid-April by the prosecutor-general, Abdel Maguib Mahmoud, leading to the imprisonment of Gamal and Alaa Mubarak at Tora prison, while the former President was hospitalised at Sharm-el-Sheikh. The situation in Yemen remains at a deadlock, with President Saleh refusing to step down. The last and almost successful attempt to make him leave was made through the intermediation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an agreement that Saleh failed to sign at the last minute. There was better news from Tunisia, where the Higher Authority for the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution adopted a new electoral code to regulate the elections for the Constituent Assembly scheduled for 24 July. The new code includes very positive steps towards a democratic transition, such as gender parity in candidate lists and the banning of former members of the Ben Ali regime. Slightly overshadowed by the revolts taking place in other countries, the UN Security Council decided to extend the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for a further year. Finally, the end of April witnessed the terrorist bombing of a tourist café in Marrakech, that took the lives of 16 people, and whose impact on Morocco’s political reform process remains to be seen.
Documents of interest
Vasconcelos, Álvaro de (Ed.), Amr Elshobaki, George Joffé [et al.] (2011), European Union Institute for Security Studies, ‘The Arab democratic wave. How the EU can seize the moment’, [On line] Brussels, European Union Institute for Security Studies, March [Download: 24/III/2011], Report nr 9.
IMF Survey on Mid-East unrest.
Cordesman, Anthony H. (2011), Stability in the Middle East: The Other Side of Security, [on line] Washington DC, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 13 April [Download: 15/IV/2011].
Survival, vol. 53, nr2, April-May 2011 [Edited by International Institute for Strategic Studies].
UNSC Resolution 1970, February 2011, Peace and security in Africa.
UNSC Resolution 1973, March 2011, The Situation in Libya.
UNSC Resolution 1979, April 2011, extending Minurso’s mandate.
UNSC S/PV 6524th Meeting of the Middle East Situation, 27 of April 2011, no action taken.
Animated map up to 11 April, Slate.
Gallup Center, Egypt: The Arithmetic of Revolution, March 2011.
Pew Research Center, Survey on Egypt, 25 April 2011.