WASHINGTON — The Iranian government formally charged three American citizens as spies and propagandists this week, prompting vigorous reactions in Washington, first from the Bush administration, then the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where one of the Americans heads the Middle East program. Calling the detention of Haleh Esfandiari “an affront to the rule of law and common decency,” Lee H. Hamilton, the Wilson Center’s president and director, said the “message to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go.” The Bush administration responded as well, with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack telling reporters that the chargers were “utter […]

“Majorities want U.S. forces out of Islamic countries,” declares a survey on Muslim public opinion just released by WorldPublicOpinion.org. Its lead researcher, Stephen Kull, informed Congress on May 17 that “very large majorities believe the United States seeks to undermine Islam” (an average 8 in 10), and “spread Christianity in the region” (an average two-thirds of Muslims). That’s the bad news, which therefore dominated the headlines. But there was plenty of good news in the report as well. Overwhelming majorities throughout the Muslim world endorse globalization as “a good thing” — no fewer than 92 percent do so in Egypt. […]

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported once again that Iran had defied U.N. Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium. And in response, the United States once again demanded that international sanctions against Iran be made more severe. This call for sanctions — which has become routine by now — would be a lot more credible if it were not for a one embarrassing fact: The United States now lags many other countries in enforcing sanctions that the U.N. Security Council has already approved. One of the few real penalties to survive previous rounds of council negotiation over […]

Suspended between an uncertain Muslim world and a democratic Europe, a battle is brewing between Islamists and secularists in Turkey. Under a sea of red-and-white Turkish flags, tens of thousands of Turks took to the streets in the Black Sea coastal town of Samsun in late May in a series of rallies against the pro-Islamic government led by AKP, which they fear is conspiring to force its religious values on society. “No to Sharia,” “Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” the protesters, predominantly women and youth, recited in a growing chorus of demonstrations. This latest display of secular strength […]

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, under new pressure from congressional budget-cutters, continues to draw criticism that its underlying concept is flawed. The massive, ambitious FCS program would unite a large number of Army vehicles and weapons systems through a common computerized network, in theory allowing for better interoperability and coordination of troops in the field. The problem: “The whole concept doesn’t work,” according to Winslow Wheeler, a defense analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. The Army heartily disagrees with this viewpoint, as does The Boeing Co., which is one of two main […]

Editor’s Note: Rights & Wrongs is a new occasional feature covering the world’s major human rights-related happenings. It is written by regular WPR contributor Juliette Terzieff. FOMENTING FEAR — Amnesty International released its annual report Wednesday with cautions over the growing influence of the “politics of fear” and the increasing participation of established democracies in widespread human rights abuses, and called on countries to invest in human rights institutions. “In 2006, short-sighted, fear-mongering policies undermined the rule of law and human rights, fed racism and xenophobia, fueled discrimination, suppressed dissent, intensified conflict and sowed the seeds of more violence,” Amnesty’s […]

On May 9, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands officially unveiled a Memorial in The Hague for all those who have perished from chemical weapons. The International Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Weapons falls annually on April 29. This year’s date was also the 10th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Governments and security experts used the occasion to laud the CWC as well as suggest ways to improve it. The CWC bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons (CW). Its provisions are of indefinite duration and apply to all […]

If you had never looked at the Middle East, you might find it strange that a bank robbery spiraled into a raging battle between Lebanese government forces and a radical Islamic band of fighters based in a Palestinian refugee camp, leaving at least 100 dead and countless injured. The fighting, of course, has very little to do with the robbery that spawned the furious clashes. The battle between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army offers a look at the deadly kaleidoscope of Middle Eastern conflicts, some of them local on the surface, but all deeply interrelated. Among the many pieces […]

In late April, Dr. Kamal al-Labwani signed on to a letter from political and human rights activists that had been smuggled out of Damascus Central Prison. The letter urged Syria’s embattled activist community, particularly hundreds of detainees awaiting judgments, not to despair, for “they are not alone” and “there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis of freedoms and human rights in Syria.” Two weeks later, on May 10, al-Labwani stood in a Damascus courtroom to hear a guilty verdict passed down upon him; three days later, two more pro-reform advocates received jail sentences. One-by-one, non-violent Syrian advocates […]

A week ago, when almost no media organization was paying close attention to the emerging disaster in the Gaza strip, we wrote about the ominous spiral of violence tearing through the Palestinian-controlled territory, as rival militias, gangs, religious extremists and common criminals turned the area into a free-for-all of terror. Since then, the Palestinian-on-Palestinian fighting has only intensified, creating a crisis that many veteran observers describe as the worst they have ever seen. Gazans, running for their lives from the street battles between armed factions, are now openly saying life was better under the hated Israeli occupation. Israel withdrew its […]

Promoting America in the Muslim world is surely a good idea. Launching a TV station devoted to that purpose? That would seem to be a good idea, too. In practice, however, the station, founded in early 2004, has struggled from the outset to dispel the notion that it is a U.S. propaganda outlet — a tough task, given that it is financed by the U.S. Congress. Calling it “Alhurra,” which translates into Arabic as “the free one” — not such a good idea. When taxpayers foot the bill, “free” is at best a metaphor. And for some among its audience […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — Iranian money is behind a strategic oil pipeline to be built across Malaysia with the aim of linking the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea — and eliminating a militarily vulnerable shipping bottleneck via Singapore. Almost half the world’s oil tankers pass through the narrow Strait of Malacca bound for East Asia, not least China, on their way from Middle Eastern and North African oil fields. Now the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) is helping finance an estimated $14 billion land transshipment route across northern Malaysia, ostensibly to save three to four days of sea travel […]

IRBIL, Iraq — Take a walk up to the gates of the ancient citadel thrusting from the heart of this Kurdish regional capital and it’s clear that a city-wide makeover is in progress. Fancy new hotels and foreign-built office buildings rise above the din of diesel trucks and clatter of men at work. Then turn around and look inside the fortress itself. All is quiet, save for a few peshmerga guards making tea. Police tape cordons off its deserted warrens and piles of cinderblock lay idle — for the moment. Kurdish authorities have big plans for the site they insist […]

When leaders of the two main rival factions in Palestinian politics signed a unity deal under Saudi auspices in February, the internal violence that had gripped the Palestinian Territories was supposed to come to an end. Instead, what came to an end was international news coverage of a crisis that has turned Palestinian society — particularly in the Gaza Strip — into a Hobbesian picture of lawlessness and despair.<<ad>>The Gaza Strip, which Israelis evacuated almost two years ago, is the scene of almost daily murders, kidnappings and shootouts, for reasons ranging from personal feuds to religious zealotry. Children are dying […]

BERLIN — The Iranian nuclear issue was a major topic of discussion during this week’s EU-U.S. summit in Washington. The current Western strategy of combining increasingly severe sanctions on Iran with offers of civil nuclear and other assistance has not succeeded in limiting Iran’s progress towards achieving the capacity to manufacture a nuclear bomb. Although European Commission President José Manuel Barroso warned Iranian leaders against trying to divide Europe and the United States, this week’s meeting in Washington suggests that EU and U.S. leaders disagree over the appropriate next steps toward Tehran. Despite years of negotiations and sanctions, President Mahmoud […]

KARZAI GOING? — Are Hamid Karzai’s days numbered as Afghanistan’s president? Knowledgeable Afghan expatriates predict Karzai will probably not last out the year. Initially named interim president at Washington’s insistence in 2001, he ran for the office virtually unopposed in Oct 2004 and was elected for a five-year term. But the Bush administration is losing confidence in his ability to take the necessary steps to halt Afghanistan’s slide back into chaos. Even if NATO forces are successful in containing the Taliban threat this summer, it’s still up to Karzai’s government to regain public confidence by cleaning up corruption, reforming the […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — When Iran looks west, it faces trade sanctions, political hostility and military threats. So now the vilified government is turning to the east, where energy-hungry Asia is embracing it as a regional partner. Trade and investment between Iran and Asia is exploding, with Asia’s booming economies keen to buy Iranian oil and natural gas, and Iran desperate for Asia’s advanced technology. “Asia needs our energy and we need their technology,” said Iran’s ambassador to Thailand Moshen Pakaein, from Iran’s newly expanded $5 million diplomatic compound in Bangkok. Behind the ultra-modern frosted glass and concrete building — which […]

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