Here’s a round-up of the latest developments:
• Government parties have increased their share of seats in Algeria’s parliamentary election, with the Islamist alliance trailing in third place. The election was marked by large-scale abstentions, with an offical turnout figure of 42.9% (see 4.50pm).
• US defence secretary Leon Panetta says intelligence indicates that al-Qaida does have a presence in Syria (see 12.09pm).
• Syrian authorities claim to have foiled a massive car bomb attack in Aleppo. Others have expressed scepticism (see 3.56pm).
• Following yesterday’s bombings in Damascus, the Syrian government has written to the UN, calling on the security council to “shoulder its responsibilities in combating terrorism and facing countries that encourage terrorism” (
• The customary Friday demonstrations have been reported in various parts of the country.
• Egyptian expatriates in 166 countries have begun voting in the presidential election (
Algeria: Some swift analysis of the election results from Reuters:
Algeria on Friday declared its ruling party for the past 50 years victor in a parliamentary election, against the tide of the “Arab Spring” which has transformed some of its neighbours.
The governing elite in Algeria, which supplies about a fifth of Europe’s imported natural gas, had promised reform and a new generation of leaders in response to last year’s upheavals in the region, but the election preserved the status quo.
Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, who oversaw Thursday’s election, said the National Liberation Front (FLN) would be the biggest party in the new parliament, with 220 of the 462 seats.
The FLN was the movement which fought for independence from French colonial rule and has been at the heart of power in Algeria ever since.
“There is no change,” political analyst and writer Abed Charef told Reuters. “Algeria has invented the force of inertia.”
The official results gave second place to the National Democratic Rally (RND), with 68 seats. The RND is led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and was in second place to the FLN in the outgoing parliament.
The Green Algeria alliance, a grouping of moderate Islamist parties with links to the ruling establishment, was in third place with 48 seats.
In fourth was the secularist Front of Socialist Forces, Algeria’s oldest opposition group, which ended over a decade of boycotts to run in the election.
“The election has reinforced the Algerian people’s attachment to the values of peace and stability,” the minister told a news conference, echoing the official view that Algeria does not want the kind of upheavals convulsing its neighbours.
The “Arab Spring” last year prompted calls for Algeria to embrace more democracy and to renew an establishment that has run the country without interruption since independence from France in 1962.
Algeria’s rulers responded by promising people an “Algerian Spring” – a managed process of reform, with Thursday’s election as the first step.
Yet it was clear the election was not a clean break from the past. More than half of eligible voters abstained, with many saying they had no faith there would be real change …
Algerians who had hoped the “Arab Spring” would lead to reform in their country were scornful of the election.
Yacine Zaid, a human rights activist and critic of the ruling elite, called the election “a masquerade, a circus … The authorities have always dared to do what they want, to give whatever figures are in their head.”
Reuters adds that election monitors from the EU say the organisation of the vote was satisfactory. “Citizens were, in general, able to truly exercise their right to vote,” said Jose Ignacio Salafranca, head of the EU observer mission.
Algeria: The election results, just announced, look startling – and also contrary to the trend seen recently in other Arab countries.
President Bouteflika’s party, the FLN, which has dominated Algerian politics since the 1950s, has won 84 seats more than in 2007. The prime minister’s National Democratic Rally has gained seven more seats.
The Islamist Green Alliance is a new grouping but its main component, the Movement of Society for Peace, won 52 seats in 2007 and now, together with its partners, has only 48.
Algeria: Here are the key results …
• National Liberation Front (president Bouteflika’s party) 220 seats
• National Democratic Rally (prime minister’s party) 68 seats
• Green Alliance (Islamist) 48
(Total seats in parliament: 462)
Algeria: Official election results coming in now. Reuters says FLN has won 220 out of 462 seats.
Syria: Government claims of a thwarted suicide bomb attack in Aleppo are already being treated with scepticism.
Rime Allaf, associate fellow at the thinktank Chatham House, tweets:
— Rime Allaf (@rallaf) May 11, 2012
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, takes a similar tone:
I can imagine the #syria regime wil be ‘foiling’ daily suicide bombing attacks from now on.
— Chris Doyle (@Doylech) May 11, 2012
see 1.35pm) and it’s possible that arguments behind the scenes are causing a delay.Algeria: We’re still waiting for the official results in the Algerian election, which were due a short while ago. The Islamist Green Alliance has already alleged “centralised fraud” (
There have been wild variations in unofficial reports of the outcome. Earlier, it appeared that the former governing party, the FLN, had won about 100 of the 462 parliamentary seats, with the Islamists in second place, slightly behind.
Al-Arabiya later quoted FLN leader Abdelaziz Belkhadem as claiming that his party has won 189 seats.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that figures released on a private Algerian television channel showed the Islamists coming in a distant third, behind two pro-government parties.
foiled an attempted suicide car bombing in Aleppo earlier today, the Daily Star reports from Beirut. Security forces are reported to have killed the bomber, who had 1,200 kg of explosives inside the car.Syria: State television says security forces
hailed the official 42.9% turnout figure as “remarkable” – adding that the results confirm Algeria’s democratic credentials, al-Jazeera reports.Algeria: Results in yesterday’s parliamentary election are due to be announced about now. Meanwhile, interior minister Daho Ould Kablia has
two identical letters today to the head of the UN security council and the UN secretary-general following the twin bombings in Damascus, the official news agency Sana reports.Syria: The government has sent
The letters call on the security council to “shoulder its responsibilities in combating terrorism and facing countries that encourage terrorism,” Sana said:
The escalating crimes prove that Syria is facing a terrorist attack led by groups which received arms and financial support by sides that announced support to these terrorist crimes and encouraged committing them …
Those who commit these terrorist acts and those supporting and funding them do not want reform for Syria and its people. Rather, it seems clear that with every reform step taken by the government, including a new constitution for the country and parliamentary elections that reflect political pluralism, the acts of terrorist killing and destruction have increasingly escalated.
The armed terrorist groups did not only violate the plan of the UN special envoy and the initial understanding, but also attacked the convoy of head of the UN observer mission and his companions on 9 May while on their way to Daraa province to carry out their task.
kidnapped by Syrian opposition supporters yesterday in the Syrian town of Zeita, the Beirut Daily Star reports.Syria/Lebanon: A tangled tale from the border area. Two Lebanese men, Khodr Jaafar and Abdullah al-Zein, were
Hours later, relatives of Jaafar kidnapped 13 Syrian men who were working Lebanon – in the hope of exchanging hostages.
Citing security sources, the paper says the two Lebanese were kidnapped after the Syrian opposition accused them of facilitating the arrest of a fellow rebel by Syrian security forces.
‘Unsmis’ now has a web page. It tells us that there are now 105 military observers in the country – a figure that will more than double by Monday.Syria: The unfortunately acronymed UN supervision mission in Syria
Julius Caesar for inspiration for today’s anti-government slogan.Syria: The Kafranabel banner maker has turned to Shakespeare’s
Banners in the same style have been appearing each week for months in Kafranabel. Elsewhere protests appear to have been smaller than usual. But largish demonstrations have been filmed in al-Habeet, Idlib and in Souran in Hama where a boy held a banner in English reading: “We strongly condemn the explosions in Damascus and we want the UN to investigate who did them.”
Algeria: The Islamist coalition is accusing the authorities of “massive fraud” in yesterday’s parliamentary election, the Associated Press reports:
Abderrazak Mukri, a spokesman for the Islamist alliance, said that the early results the alliance is seeing from the interior ministry differ dramatically from those seen by the alliance’s observers.
He told reporters in Algiers that “there is a process of centralised fraud that is putting the country in danger.”
He blamed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and added, “we are not responsible for what could happen” as a result of the alleged fraud.
AP says preliminary estimates show the former ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), winning more than 100 seats, while the Islamist “Green Alliance” will get slightly less in the 462-seat assembly. (Al-Arabiya, meanwhile, quotes FLN leader Abdelaziz Belkhadem as claiming that his party has won 189 seats.)
A number of independent newspapers have also expressed skepticism over the government’s final turnout figure of 42.9%, suggesting that the real figure was lower, AP adds.
Syria: More videos from today’s protests.
Above is a demonstration said to have been filmed in the Sha’ar district of Aleppo today.
… and another outside the Fatah mosque in al-Maliha, near Damascus.
Liberation has interviewed Peter Harling, the Damascus-based Syria specialist at the International Crisis Group, about the deteriorating situation and the survival prospects for the Annan plan. Harling says:Syria: Syria: The French daily
The UN mission would have collapsed already if there was a credible alternative. But the Annan plan was born precisely out of the inability of the international community to agree on a clear policy on the Syrian issue.
This, ironically, is what should give it some resilience: in the absence of plan B, stick to plan A without necessarily believing in it. Thus, those who apparently defend the mission do little to help it in practice: the Russians exert only weak pressure on the regime, while some Arab and western states gradually increase their support for the opposition.
Harling also suggests that military intervention could in the end become unavoidable:
Military intervention in Syria would undoubtedly have happened already if the consequences were not to to be feared … Because of this, the regime tends to conclude that the decision to “do something” is too difficult for westerners to take. What it misunderstands is that the decision to “do nothing” is at least as difficult.
Beyond the political denunciations and economic sanctions, it is likely that the west will let itself be sucked into this conflict little by little, gradually increasing its support for the opposition up to the point where an intervention will appear inevitable.
Syria: US defence secretary Leon Panetta says intelligence indicates that al-Qaida does have a presence in Syria.
He did not comment specifically on whether the terrorist group was responsible for yesterday Damascus bombs. He added: “We don’t have very good intelligence as to just exactly what there activities are.”
Panetta also said that the ceasefire “does not appear to be working”.
Egypt: Egyptian expatriates in 166 countries are heading to the polls in the presidential elections, according to AP.
Elections authorities say less than a million Egyptians out of nearly 10 million living abroad registered to vote. Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Egyptian voters.
Expatriate voting starts today and ends May 17. Voters inside Egypt will cast their ballots on May 23-24. If no candidate wins 50% of the votes, a runoff is scheduled for June.
Damascus one demonstrator flew a Turkish flag, an apparent reference to Ankara’s increasingly hostile rhetoric against the Assad regime.Syria: Videos of now familiar Friday demonstrations are starting to emerge. In
Syria: The opposition Syrian National Council’s line on who is to blame for the Damascus bombings seems to be confused, or shifting, or both.
It has issued a statement blaming the regime for “orchestrating the explosions”.
But its leader, Burhan Ghalioun (pictured), has now suggested that the government was somehow in league with al-Qaida, according to AP.
“The relationship between the Syrian regime and al-Qaida is very strong,” he said, adding that the Syrian government had co-operated with al-Qaida against US forces in Iraq, as well as in its movements in Lebanon.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Tokyo, Ghalioun said he didn’t think “these radical forces [responsible for the attacks] … are isolated from the regime.”
This appears to contradict the SNC’s own statement which criticises the Syrian government for being quick to blame al-Qaida for the attack.
Ghalioun also said the ceasefire brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan was “in crisis” because it lacks teeth and there would be “no peaceful solution” in Syria without “a threat of force against those who don’t implement the plan”.
Egypt: Despite spending 10 years as Egypt’s foreign minister, plus another 10 as head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa’s knowledge of the Middle East seems a bit deficient.
Twitter user Sultan al Qassemi points out an extraordinary gaffe in last night’s presidential debate where Moussa said: “Iran is an Arab state.”
Amr Moussa: Iran is an Arab state with which we have many disputes bit.ly/JHleJn Arabic video min 3:14:45
— Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi) May 11, 2012
It’s also here in the English-language transcript.
It quotes him saying: “I am against a war with Iran … Iran is an Arab country! and we have to listen and talk … this means we don’t agree at all to attacking Iran.”
Syria: Our colleague Mona Mahmood has translated another exchange between activists and a Red Cross official in Homs.
Two men are shown haranguing the official in the bib.
First man: All the families in Baba Amr are now shabiha (regime thugs) families. None of the indigenous population live their now. We want the aid to reach these people. We want your help in bringing back the indigenous families to Baba Amru.
Second man: The problem is out of 90,000 people, you have only 1,500 in Baba Amr. They need to help them to get back.
First man: This is a humanitarian request, it does not have any relation with terror whatsoever, just bring back these families …
All of them want to get back but there are so many barriers around Baba Amr, in a way they can not get back. They are not allowing the indigenous people to come back. The army is not allowing people to get back under the pretext that if the indigenous people got back, a resistance will break out again. Baba Amr will turn to a military barrack. This is a humanitarian request from us.
The Red Cross official: We have met the real families, we know where they are … we cannot force them.
At the end of the clip a member of the Red Cross team responds to their concerns. He said:
We understand your frustration, that it has been a long time that you have had to wait for this assistance to come … but we do not carry weapons we are not political, we are not affiliated with any side. Therefore we need certain guarantees of security from both sides in order to enter a place safely so that we can first guarantee the safety of our own staff and also the safety of the people we assist.
There have been reports of widespread cynicism about the election, especially among young and urban voters. The Associated Press reports:
At one voting centre in Algiers’ working class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued … turnout at the close of the station was just between 25% and 30%.
Of those who did bother voting, 22% of the ballots were either void or defaced, with the Islamist “Green Alliance” coming in a close second.
Most Algerians, however, have shown little interest in the elections — if not outright scorn — citing a weak parliament and a history of rigged contests.
“These elections are nothing,” said Marwan Bou Amama, 32, as he sat with friends on a hillside park overlooking Algiers’ bay, not far from a voting station. “We here in Algeria, we live in a huge coffin. We are the living dead. At my age I should be married, I should have a house. It’s a basic right.”
Results are expected this afternoon and a coalition of Islamist parties is expected to do well, though no party is likely to dominate the parliament (which in any case has less influence than the ruling elite known as le pouvoir – “the power”).
Syria: Russia’s foreign ministry is also still backing Kofi Annan’s battered peace initiative.
— MFA Russia (@MFA_Russia) May 11, 2012
The terrorist acts in #Syria are aimed at wrecking the Kofi Annan plan and are pushing the country into a dangerous bloody cycle of violence
— MFA Russia (@MFA_Russia) May 11, 2012
Syria: It is too early to write off Kofi Annan’s peace plan as a failure, according to Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.
Speaking to Reuters she said: “I don’t think it’s time yet to say that the mission and the Annan initiative has failed. Although we’ve been sceptical of the Syrian government’s readiness and willingness to implement its commitments, what Annan is trying to do makes eminent sense and we support it.”
She also repeated US reluctance to arm the Syrian opposition. She said yesterday’s bomb attacks were “a great example that this situation is already militarised and violent enough and we don’t think it’s wise to contribute to that by pouring more weapons or armaments into it.”
Here’s Juan Cole’s summary and commentary on last night’s debate between Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and Amr Moussa.Egypt:
Abul Fotouh knows that the New Left youth do not forgive Moussa for having served under Mubarak and at one point, and he stressed Moussa’s background in this regard. He also promised to appoint very large numbers of young people to high positions, noting that in 2008 the US got a young president but that Egypt is ruled by the geriatric set. Abul Fotouh tried to reassure the secular middle classes and the Copts, both of which probably favour Moussa, that he wouldn’t turn Egypt into a religious state like Saudi Arabia. He knows that the Salafi leaders have already endorsed him. But the Muslim Brotherhood has its own candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi, who will likely draw votes away from Abul Fotouh.
Moussa stressed both respect for Islam and the important role Islamic law plays in underpinning most Egyptian laws. This was his attempt to steal some votes of the committed Muslims from Abul Fotouh. But he also stressed that these Islamic laws could not be applied to Coptic Christians, who have their own personal status laws.
Al-Jazeera has edited highlights in this report on the debate.
(all times BST) Welcome to Middle East Live. At this stage today looks set to be dominated by reaction to both yesterday’s bombings in Damascus and Egypt’s first presidential debate. Parliamentary election results are also due in Algeria.
Here’s a round up of the latest developments:
• Syria suffered its worst terrorist attack since the start of the uprising when at least 55 people were reported killed and nearly 400 injured in twin car bomb blasts near a government intelligence building in Damascus. Syrian officials and media blamed foreign-backed terrorist groups for the attack. The opposition accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the bombings to smear them. The blasts were condemned internationally. Kofi Annan, the special envoy for the UN and Arab League, said it was vital to implement his six-point plan for peace in Syria. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the bombings “remind us of the urgent need for a political solution in Syria before it is too late”. The UN security council condemned the attacks.
• Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, suggested al-Qaida was behind the bombings. He also claimed 12 “foreign terrorists” including individuals from Britain and France, have been killed in Syria.
• The rebel Free Syrian Army has condemned the bombing and urged the UN monitors to investigate its claim that the regime was responsible. In a statement, translated by the opposition site Ayyam, it said:
We condemn this cowardly terrorist act and hold the regime fully responsible for it. We request that the UN form a team of international experts to investigate these bombings, and ask Kofi Annan to declare the failure of his peace plan, and to hold the regime accountable for its failure. We also request the arming of the Free Syrian Army and request an emergency UN meeting, so a chapter 7 resolution facilitating the protection of Syrian civilians can be passed.
The perpetrators were almost certainly regime opponents. The similarities between this bombing and the ones we see in Baghdad raises the question of whether these guerrillas are linked or even the same. It has been reported that fighters once based in Iraq have flocked to Syria. It is possible that a forensics team could get at this issue more precisely.
If the bombing issues from some such quarter, is is politically stupid. Some 70 UN inspectors are in Syria trying to get a sense of where they country is going amid all this turbulence, and they flocked to the bomb site.
But it would be wrong to tar the Syrian National Council with this horrible act. Their strategy has mainly been peaceful demonstrations. The SNC is saying absurd things such as that the regime bombed itself in order to avoid having the world community swing around and come to view it as a terrorist organisation.
It does not really matter who is responsible; the image conjured up is of the Lebanon 30 years ago, an unwished-for but uncontrollable rush to ungovernable chaos, some of it sectarian, much of it indiscriminate … this crisis will linger on, perhaps indefinitely, ever more painfully, now seems sure. Only decisiveness would change the trajectory of events, and if politicians around the world can agree on anything, it is that now is not a time for decisiveness.
• Egypt has hosted its first televised presidential debate between frontrunners Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh – who exemplify the fault-lines of the upcoming election. In a four and a half hour debate Abul-Futoh alluded to Moussa’s ties to the Mubarak regime many times, while Moussa reciprocated by attacking Abul Fotouh’s affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood. Follow how the debate unfolded in our minute-by-minute coverage.
When the Iranians approached him, Jemajem was asked to gather a group of Hirak activists and a week later they were flown to Damascus, where they met two officials from the Iranian embassy. According to Jemajem and other activists who travelled with him, the officials told the Yemeni delegation that they would support demands for federalism within Yemen, but not the separate state that Hirak was calling for.
• Cartoonists have condemned the conviction of an Iranian colleague Mahmoud Shokraye who was sentenced to 25 lashes for drawing a caricature of an MP that was deemed insulting. His sentence has sparked an outcry among cartoonists, including the Guardian’s Martin Rowson, who have responded with cartoons in support of Shokraye.
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