[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials circulating on Resistance, Subversion and Social Mobilization in the Arab world and reflects a wide variety of opinions. It does not reflect the views of the DARS Page Editors or of Jadaliyya. You may send your own recommendations for inclusion in each monthly roundup to DARS@jadaliyya.com.]
Thousands of Palestinians in West Bank protest against Trump’s deal, Middle East Eye (29 January 2020)
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the occupied West Bank to protest against US President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Israel Palestine conflict, which he has referred to as “the deal of the century.” According to the Red Crescent, forty-one Palestinians were injured. Israeli forces arrested two Palestinians suspected of carrying knives inside al-Aqsa Mosque, and Palestinians in East Jerusalem called for demonstrations at the Damascus Gate.
Iraqi protesters withdrew from perimeter of U.S Embassy, building now secured, NBC News (1 January 2020)
Iraqi demonstrators withdrew from the US Embassy compound on the second day of protests in Baghdad following deadly US air strikes on weapons depots in Iraq and Syria. Protesters had stormed the compound and made it to the reception area but failed to gain access to the main building. UK-based professor of international relations Fawaz Gerges said that the Trump administration’s decision to carry out the strikes was “monstrously miscalculated.”
Protests in Gaza ahead of Trump’s Middle East plan release, Al-Jazeera (28 January 2020)
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza to protest the announcement of Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a rare occurrence, Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas invited Hamas leaders to the West Bank city of Ramallah for an emergency meeting. Palestinians leaders have already denounced the plan, calling it an attempt to “finish off the Palestinian cause.”
Iraqi security forces raid Baghdad protest site, BBC (25 January 2020)
Iraqi security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of protesters while removing tents and barriers near Tahrir Square, wounding several. The violence came one day after a large rally in Baghdad against the ongoing US presence in Iraq, which was attended by many supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
US troops deployed to Middle East after Baghdad embassy siege, The Guardian (1 January 2020)
Iranian-backed militants carried out a day-long siege of the American embassy in Baghdad, which prompted US defence secretary Mark Esper to announce that the United States would deploy 750 airborne troops immediately. The government reportedly plans on sending up to 3,000 troops to the region.
Iran plane downing: Second day of protests turns up heat on leaders, BBC (13 January 2020)
Protesters in Tehran and a number of other cities took two the streets for a second day despite the large deployment of security forces. The demonstrations erupted after the Iranian military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. Social media clips have surfaced in which protesters can be heard chanting: “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here.”
Lebanon protesters clash with police, leaving hundreds injured, Middle East Eye (18 January 2020)
Tensions have yet to subside in Lebanon as anti-government demonstrations entered their fourth month. Lebanese protesters, angered by the delay in forming a new government, clashed with police leaving 377 injured. The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half of the population if the crisis is not soon resolved.
Lebanon: Schools shut down following clashes between protesters and security forces, Middle East Monitor (January 16 2020)
Dozens of schools have shut down in Lebanon following clashes between protesters and government security forces in Beirut. All public middle schools shut down and only three of the 18 high schools remained open.
Algeria frees 76 ‘Hirak’ protesters, including prominent war veteran, Middle East Eye (2 January 2020)
Algeria released seventy-six Hirak protesters from detention, including the famous eighty-six-year-old independence war veteran Lakhdar Bouregaa. The well-known veteran was detained on charges of “insulting authorities” and “contributing to weakening the morale of the army.”
Algerian Protests Calming Without a Shot Fired in Anger, Haaretz (31 January 2020)
The attendance at Algerian protests is waning, and Algerian authorities are on their way to quelling the demonstrations without firing a single shot. A number of prominent figures now say that the Hirak movement should open up a dialogue with the government and move their efforts from the streets to the negotiating table.
Opinion & Commentary
The Battle of ‘resistance’ vs ‘revolution’ in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera (14 January 2020)
Rami G Khouri argues that recent events surrounding the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani illuminated the two principle forces that now battle each other across the Middle East, the anti-imperial "resistance" of Iran and its Arab allies and the "revolution" of domestic protesters against their governments in the same countries. The former was recently exemplified by the mass response to Soleimani’s assassination and the latter by the popular protests against economic mismanagement and authoritarianism in Lebanon, Iraq, and Algeria. Arab and Iranian ruling elites are locked in a battle with their own citizens as they seek to define their countries’ identities and politics.
Lebanese and Iraqi protests confront Iran’s ambitions, Gulf News (26 January 2020)
James J. Zogby argues that while recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon have been directed primarily at corruption and economic stagnation, the frustration with the role of Iran and its allied militias in both countries should not be ignored. A poll by Zogby Research Services recently found that both Iraqis and Lebanese were concerned about Iran’s involvement in their county. He concludes that once pro-Iranian militias mobilized against protesters in Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s agenda became clear.
Lebanon’s protests: The limit of rage, Al-Jazeera (29 January 2020)
Habib Battah argues that a zero-sum approach to Lebanese politics will undermine the protest movement. He notes that while demonstrations were largely peaceful for the first three months, they have now turned violent as groups of mostly young men have resorted to rioting. He asserts that the demand for the abolition of Lebanon’s system of government is far less realistic than the calls for a change in leadership. He concludes that if demonstrators want to see meaningful change, they must resist the urge to fall into simplistic explanations and demagoguery, which would only undermine the movement and its gains.
Can the new government save Lebanon? Middle East Eye (24 January 2020)
Paul Khalife assesses what he believes are the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Hassan Diab one month after he took office. Khalife points out the progress the new prime minister has made, including appointing six women to his cabinet. He also addresses the difficulty that Diab faces in gaining legitimacy amongst Sunnis, as supporters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri flooded the streets to protest the new government. Going forward, Diab has promised to combat corruption and unemployment and establish an independent judiciary.
To Prison, Again, for Protesting Against Israel’s Colonial Rule, Haaretz (7 January 2020)
Writing from detention in an Israeli jail, Jonathan Pollack describes how he was arrested for joining Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israel’s colonial rule. As an Israeli citizen, he faces trial in the Israeli court system, while his Palestinian comrades face much harsher conditions in the Israeli military court system. He explains that rather than cooperate with authorities and secure an acquittal, he refused to recognize the court’s legitimacy and cooperate for two reasons. First, he points out that the punishment Palestinians face for the same charges is much harsher than that specified in Israeli law. And secondly, he asserts that all Israeli courts lack the legitimacy to preside over matters of resisting Israeli colonial rule.
Iran’s protesters reflect the Middle East’s abiding anger against injustice, The Washington Post (15 January 2020)
David Ignatius argues that the anti-government protests in countries like Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq demonstrate the widespread anger with the corruption of the elites, the authoritarian nature of their political systems and their lack of transparency. He cites the example of Iranians’ reactions to their government’s attempts to cover up its accidental targeting of a Ukrainian passenger jet. Not only did thousands of Iranians take to the streets to voice their condemnation of the government’s attempts to cover up its actions, but a state-run newspaper ran a piece criticizing the government’s actions and multiple journalists resigned from their posts. Ignatius concludes that the Iranian revolution that began in 1979 has run out of positive energy and now survives on violence, fear, and repression.
Opinion: Protests and mourning in Tehran, Deutsche Welle (13 January 2020)
Peter Phillip offers a short commentary on the situation in Iran surrounding the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and the government’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet full of Iranian citizens. He points out that mass expression of sympathy for the loss of a prominent member of the Iranian regime quickly turned to condemnation of the government for its attempts to cover up what caused the Ukrainian airliner to crash. He concludes that although US President Donald Trump has offered the protesters support and protection, they do not want or need this, and would prefer law and order.
What protests in Lebanon can tell us about inequality, Al-Jazeera (1 January 2020)
Mona Fawaz explores one of the prominent issues that Lebanese protesters are calling on their government to address—Lebanon’s profound wealth inequality. She notes that a quarter of the income in Lebanon is held by the richest one percent, which is a larger share than in the United State and South Africa. She argues that confronting wealth inequality, as well as the corresponding unequal access to healthcare and education, is not just about bridging gaps, but requires confronting entrenched interests as well. She hopes to see reforms including investment in higher education, quality healthcare and equal access to technology.
Expect a Tumultuous 2020 in the Middle East, The Washington Post (1 Jan 2020)
Marc Lynch lists three trends to watch in the Middle East in 2020. First, he asserts that every government will be on edge about the 2020 US election, as Middle Eastern regimes would expect a Democratic president to sharply reverse a number of important policies such as the nuclear agreement with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Second, he foresees that conflicts in the Persian Gulf region are going to become harder to control. And third, he predicts that the wave of protests that developed in 2019 will continue to grow, and likely erupt in other countries throughout the region.
Iran’s top cultural event jeopardized by artist boycotts, Al-Monitor (22 January 2020)
The Fajr International film festival announced the cancellation of its opening ceremony following a boycott by Iranian artists. The move came in the wake of demonstrations against the Iranian government's initial denial and subsequent admission to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet resulting in the death of 176 people, most of whom were Iranian. In an effort to express solidarity with public outrage, a number of artists announced their withdrawal from the government-sponsored film festival.
How artistic freedom of expression shrinks in ‘new’ Egypt, Al-Monitor (24 January 2020)
While political art of various forms flourished following the 2011 uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, there is hardly a trace of this cultural movement left today. An ongoing security crackdown that began in 2013 has stifled freedom of expression and the production of provocative art. The al-Fan Midan that launched in the spring of 2011 was shut down multiple times by authorities in 2014. A committee formed in 2018 to regulate festivals and cultural events, whose regulations have made it very difficult for artists to organize events. In addition, many artists have faced punishment under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule, including two female singers who were detained over their “racy” music videos.
Capturing the streets: the Lebanese revolution through the eyes of an artist, The Art Newspaper (10 January 2020)
Artist Abed Al Kadiri discusses his experience participating in the ongoing Lebanese revolution. He has been documenting the historical event since it began in October 2019 through taking photos and capturing scenes through large scale drawings on Chinese rice paper. He noted that one positive outcome of the revolution is that it has unified a majority of Lebanese citizens across all segments of society.
Continuing Egypt’s revolution from exile: Ramy Essam and Ganzeer, Middle East Eye (27 January 2020)
Following the Egyptian revolution of 2011, a number of artists who rose to prominence for the political commentary present in their art are now living in exile in the United States, including rock artist Ramy Essam and street artist Ganzeer. Essam was arrested and tortured in 2014 but still remains hopeful about Egypt’s future. Ganzeer, who now lives in Houston, tweeted a video of Lebanese demonstrators playing Essam’s song The Age of the Pimp.
If the US destroys Iranian cultural sites, President Trump will be criminally liable by international law, The Art Newspaper (6 January 2020)
US Donald Trump has threatened to destroy Iranian cultural sites in retaliation if Iran targets US citizens or assets. The last time a head of state explicitly targeted a cultural heritage site as part of a military and political confrontation was in 1942 when Nazis threatened to bomb a number of historic British cities. Following a UNESCO-led movement to develop legal protections for cultural sites, The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted at the Hague in 1954.
Clashes in Lebanon injure 300 as Parliament votes on government, Al Arabiya (11 February 2020)
Around three hundred protesters were injured and forty hospitalized, according to the Lebanese Red Cross. The protestors clashed with police outside of the Lebanese parliament as they tried to prevent MPs and government officials from reaching the parliament for a vote of confidence in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Algeria’s protest movement marks first anniversary, Al-Monitor (23 February 2020)
Demonstrators took to the streets of Kherrata, the site of the first mobilization against now-deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, on 16 February to mark the first anniversary of the Hirak protest movement. The protests over the past year have become what many consider as one of the most powerful political movements in the country’s recent history. One year in, the Hirak remains largely unstructured and leaderless despite calls for the movement to adopt a formal structure and appoint a leader.
Violence Surges in Wake of Trump’s MidEast Plan, The New York Times (6 February 2020)
Three Palestinians, including one PA police officer, were killed as clashes with the IDF broke out across the West Bank following the announcement of the American plan for Middle East peace. The plan would allow Israel to annex approximately thirty percent of the West Bank and would put an end to the longstanding hope of an independent Palestinian state incorporating the vast majority of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
Iraqi protests blush pink as feminists flood streets, Al-Monitor (14 Feb 2020)
Protests continued in Iraq as feminists took to the streets of Baghdad on 13 February. Shi‘i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has criticized women’s involvement in the protest movement and urged demonstrators to respect the rules of Sharia. Women’s rights activist and former diplomat Ahlam al-Kilani told Al-Monitor that women have played an important role in the demonstrations, which reflects social changes in Iraq and the protesters’ desire to include every segment of society.
Turkey issues fresh detention request after surprise acquittal in protest trial, Reuters (18 February 2020)
Just hours after his release from detention, Turkish prosecutors demanded the re-arrest of businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala in connection with the failed 2016 coup. He spent two years in jail for his alleged role in the Gezi Park protests of 2013. “Of course, today’s decision is the right one (but) this has been a sham process. We’ve seen Turkey’s justice system turned into an absurd, cruel theatre,” Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb told Reuters.
Iraq protesters unconvinced after Mohammed Allawi named PM, The Guardian (2 February 2020)
Iraqi President Barham Saleh appointed former communications minister Mohammed Allawi as the new prime minister, but protesters across Iraq immediately expressed opposition to the new development. Demonstrators in Najaf pledged to escalate their movement further as Allawi was not the independent actor they had long demanded.
One year on, Algeria’s protest movement is soul-searching, BBC (21 February 2020)
One year into the protests in Algeria, some political players and national figures have warned of the movement’s “failure” and “radicalism.” They have called for dialogue with authorities and the establishment of “achievable” goals. Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud has asserted that the movement has failed and that the regime has won temporarily. Whether or not to engage with authorities has been a bone of contention and caused division within the movement.
Sudan just took a step backwards on its path to democracy, Vox (21 February 2020)
Sudanese security forces fired tear gas at protesters in Khartoum who were demonstrating against the government’s removal of officers who supported the revolution that overthrew longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. An eleven-member Sovereign Council took over in August and will take a thirty-nine-month transitional period before the country will transition toward democracy and hold elections in 2022. The retaliation against demonstrators calls into question the sincerity of the Sovereign Council.
Protests bring to life a new generation in Iraq, Al-Monitor (21 February 2020)
A thirteen-year-old Iraqi protester nicknamed Hamid Daghethoum met with parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, during which the politician expressed full support for the protesters’ demands. The current protests regularly draw large numbers of Iraqi under the age of eighteen who are calling for the restoration of Iraqi national identity. At least fifty of the six hundred protesters killed in demonstrations were under eighteen. The youth participation in protests could produce a new generation of Iraqi with an authentic national identity.
MENA: Renewed wave of mass uprisings met with brutality and repression during ‘year of defiance’, Amnesty International (18 February 2020)
AI released its annual report of the human rights situation in the MENA region. The report asserts that the wave of protests across Algeria, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon demonstrates reinvigorated faith in people power. It also details the ways in which these governments clamped down on peaceful protestors and human rights defenders.
Syria: Fall of Saraqib delivers Assad a strategic and symbolic prize, The Guardian (10 February 2020)
The small town of Saraqib, located at the intersection of the M4 and M5 highways that connect Damascus to Aleppo, has fallen to the Syrian regime. The town became an important center of resistance early on in the Syrian revolution, and was even able to hold local elections in 2017.
Opinion & Commentary
Netanyahu and Trump must learn the lessons of apartheid South Africa, Middle East Monitor (24 February 2020)
Ronnie Kasrils argues that Trump’s new Middle East peace plan resembles an apartheid state. The authors draw a number of comparisons between the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and apartheid South Africa. He warns Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that repression fuels resistance and states that a people united in a just struggle with international solidarity will have justice in the end.
The dawn prayer protests provide an example of Palestinian steadfastness, Middle East Monitor (26 February 2020)
Sari Orabi discusses the Great Fajr (Dawn) Prayer protest that emerged amongst Palestinian Muslims in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The initiative began in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, most of which the IDF have cordoned off for Israeli settlers to use as a synagogue. Orabi asserts that the initiative in Ibrahimi and al-Aqsa Mosques demonstrates the will of Palestinians to protect their religious sites and confront the occupation.
Algeria’s Hirak movement remains devoid of a clear strategy a whole year after it first began, The National (13 February 2020)
Claire Spencer argues that the regional differences and the notable lack of rural support constitute cracks within the movement. Rural Algeria, which voted in greater numbers than the urban boycotters in December, seems more ready to engage in dialogue offered by the new president Abdelmajid Tebboune. Spencer argues that the spontaneity and self-control of the Hirak protesters is a clear sign of lessons having been learned about the real dangers of overspilling into violence. She concludes that, without a clear strategy for managing diversity and exploring new ways of turning protest into concrete propositions, the movement could still implode.
Lebanon’s new government - just the same old bankers’ regime, Middle East Eye (10 February 2020)
Rima Majed chronicles the ongoing protests in Beirut and the major events that have occurred since the protest movement began in October 2019. She recalls how the appointment of former education minister Hassan Diab to the position of prime minister did not satisfy the demands of the protestors and his popularity sank almost immediately. She asserts that the new government does not meet the aspirations of the Lebanese people and concludes that the October Revolution can only continue as the economic crisis deepens and repression increases.
The Lebanese Uprising Continues, Jacobin (17 February 2020)
Shireen Akram-Boshar interviewed Rima Majed, who discusses the situation on the ground in Lebanon and the transformation of political consciousness. She also details the progressive weakening of the working-class movement and the left since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 and explains the function of Lebanon’s Professionals’ Association, which she took part in founding.
There is little chance of change in Lebanon - we can only expect more suffering, The Independent (20 February 2020)
Robert Fisk acknowledges the widespread disappointment with the government of the newly appointed prime minister Hassan Diab, which consists of the country’s old parliamentary sectarians that Lebanese demonstrators have fought to remove. He discusses the deepening economic crisis in Lebanon and asserts that Lebanese need to gradually chip away at sectarianism in the political realm and change the constitution in stages.
Cultural Resistance Remains One of Greatest Tools in Palestinian Struggle for Liberation, The Palestine Chronicle (18 February 2020)
Benay Blend points out that despite the dire situation facing the Palestinians in the wake of Trump’s recent peace plan and ongoing attempt to erase their indigenous presence, the Palestinians’ push back will be successful. She discusses the current discourse of resistance and asserts that Palestinians who are armed with cultural resistance will forever insist on remaining in (and returning to) the land.
Israel has no moral high ground after violating a Palestinian corpse in Gaza, Middle East Monitor (24 February 2020)
Yousef Alhelou recounts how IDF soldiers shot and ran over a Palestinian man with a bulldozer to the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip and removed his body. The man, twenty-seven-year-old Mohammed al-Naem, was a member of the al-Quds Brigade. Alhelou argues that Palestinians are dictating the rules of engagement by drawing attention to the IDF’s wrongdoing in violating al-Naem’s corpse.
Israel cannot escape all of international law all of the time, Al-Jazeera (11 February 2020)
Noha Aboueldahab argues that Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century violates international law, and adds that Palestinians can use international law as a form of resistance against the Israeli Occupation. In December 2019 an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor decided that there are reasonable grounds to investigate crimes committed on Palestinian territory.
Syria’s Drawn-Out Agony, The New York Times (22 February 2020)
The Editorial Board addresses the dire situation in Syria as the Assad regime increases its control over the rebel-held city of Idlib, forcing roughly nine hundred thousand civilian refugees to flee. They conclude that at this stage of this protracted conflict, there is no good outcome and preventing yet another humanitarian catastrophe would be progress.
Art and Culture
In Iraq, Where Beauty Was Long Suppressed, Art Flowers Amid Protests, The New York Times (3 February 2020)
Art is flourishing in Baghdad amidst the current protests. Tahrir Square is the city’s creative hub, with art covering the surrounding area. The art comes in various mediums and constitutes political expression of a rare form in Iraq. The author asserts that the artistic subjects and styles demonstrate how the younger generation of Iraqis has been influenced by the internet. Portraits of those who have been killed while demonstrating are a common subject.
Palestinian architect turns conservation of heritage into resistance, Al-Monitor (13 February 2020)
Palestinian architect Nadia Habash has used eco-friendly renovations and rehabilitation of traditional buildings to preserve her country’s architectural heritage for nearly four decades. She established her own architectural firm with her brother in Ramallah in 1997 and worked on a UNDP-funded project in 2003-2005 that aimed to rehabilitate the old center of the historical West Bank village of Arraba. She has since worked on many such projects and has taught architecture as well.
The films that defy censorship, BBC (20 Feb 2020)
The Sudanese documentary Talking About Trees details the extraordinary efforts of four filmmakers to keep filmmaking alive under the rule of Omar al-Bashir, who pursued a hardline Islamist agenda during his thirty years in power. The author also discusses how censorship can lead to great art.
Film Critiquing Iran’s Death Penalty Wins Berlin’s Golden Bear, Reuters (29 February 2020)
“There Is No Evil,” a film by Mohammad Rasoulof that explores the impact of capital punishment on four Iranians lined up to carry out executions and the moral choices they make, won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear Award. Rasoulof made the film in secret in defiance of the Iranian government.
New stories in exile: Abdelrahman Mansour, Mada Masr (11 February 2020)
Manrour was serving as a conscript in a military training camp when demonstrations broke out in Egypt on 25 January 2011. Author Hadeer El-Mahdawy details Mansour’s involvement in the protests in 2011 and his life in exile in the United States.
The Palestinian artist jailed by Israel for the ‘crime’ of inspiring his people, Middle East Monitor (29 February 2020)
Asa Winstanley tells the story of Hafez Omar, a Palestinian graphic designer who the IDF arrested in March 2019. Israel has kept him in prison without trial for over a year on the grounds that he has inspired Palestinians to resist the occupation. Omar became famous in 2012 as his anonymous brown avatars in support of Palestinian prisoners spread like wildfire.
Holocaust-based film ‘Resistance’ to screen at Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival, Arab News (18 February 2020)
Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival is set to screen the World War Two film “Resistance.” The Jonathan Jakubowicz-directed biographical drama chronicles the life of young French actor Marcel Marceau, who joins the French Resistance at the beginning of World War II in order to help save the lives of ten thousand Jewish orphans from Nazi forces in France. It is the first film exploring the Holocaust to appear at the film festival.