Inside the Middle East
December 17, 2012
Posted: 618 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on Inside the Middle East.

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Algeria •Bahrain •Culture •Dubai •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Iran •Iraq •Israel •Jordan •Kuwait •Lebanon •Morocco •Oman •Saudi Arabia •Sports •Tunisia •Turkey •UAE •Women •Yemen

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December 2, 2012
Posted: 1150 GMT


American reality TV star and all-around celebrity Kim Kardashian can't seem to please anyone in the Middle East these days.

Just weeks after causing a Twitter outrage with her comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kardashian's appearance in Bahrain Saturday to open a branch of a milkshake franchise prompted street protests.

While throngs of adoring fans paid up to $1,200 to attend her appearance at a mall in the tiny Gulf kingdom, about 100 hardline Islamists protested outside where, according to reports, police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

One protestor held a particularly crude banner that read "Syria receives martyrs while Bahrain receives whores."

Last Tuesday a group of conservative Bahraini parliamentarians put forth a proposal to ban Kardashian from visiting the country, citing her "bad reputation," but the motion gained no traction and was not put to a vote.



The buxom brunette, who is prolific on social media, paid no heed to the protests, instead focusing on her fawning fans and tweeting multiple photos of herself – seeming to take particular delight in all things camel – posing in front of camels in the desert and holding a glass of camel milk.

During the official opening of Millions of Milkshakes at a mall south of the capital Manama, a local paper quoted her praising all things Bahrain – from its women: "I love the girls here; their make up and hair are beautiful"... to promoting the country as a tourist destination "People from the States should come here because the country and the people are so amazing and welcoming that I am planning to be back here on my vacation."

However it was her praise for Bahrain's ruler that sparked an outpouring of angry responses on Twitter.

The island nation has seen intermittent unrest since February 2011 as violent clashes have broken out between security forces and opposition protesters on numerous occasions, including government crackdowns that have drawn the ire of international rights organizations.

Just weeks ago, Kardashian stirred up another controversy in Twitter-verse by saying that she was "praying for Israel" during the eight days of Israel-Gaza violence that left over 150 people dead, the vast majority of them Palesitnian. She later tweeted that she was also "praying for Palestine," but the compounded backlash caused her to remove both tweets and apologize on her blog: "The fact is that regardless of religion and political beliefs, there are countless innocent people involved who didn't choose this, and I pray for all of them and also for a resolution."

It may be asking too much to expect an American reality TV star to familiarize herself with the Middle East's political complexities. Political blunders aside, Kardashian has maintained her fan base in the region.

If nothing else, she's got people talking.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Social Media

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June 26, 2011
Posted: 951 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

Matar Ebrahim Matar, a former MP for the opposition party Al Wefaq, was born in Bahrain on May 3, 1976 into a well-known family. He was the fifth of seven children from his father's third wife. His father, a simple farmer turned wealthy businessman, had 11 additional children with his two other wives.
It is a big family that includes different political and ideological views, a family member said. (None of his family is named out of concern for their safety.) A family member described Matar's brothers and sisters as "leftists, Islamists, Communists, some...conservative and some liberal." Matar was brought up in an environment where politics was a part of daily life, according to a close friend.

(Matar Ebrahim Matar)

Before he resigned from the Kingdom's Parliament to protest the government's crackdown, Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people. Matar was one of 18 Al Wefaq MPs who resigned. As the youngest Member of Parliament, Matar is described as very intelligent by Khalil al Marzooq, another Al Wefaq leader who resigned. Most of Matar's family are active members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group, or the secularist Waad party. Two of Matar's brothers were detained in the 1990s, during a wave of Shiite unrest.
Now, it is Matar who is locked up. He is accused of "public incitement for regime change and deliberately spreading biased rumors, in addition to taking part in public gatherings," according to Bahrain's state run news agency. He has pleaded not guilty.

His family said he was a shy, but bright child. He went to Al Razi primary school in Daih village – the sight of protests earlier this year – where his family still lives. He continued his studies at Jedhafs intermediate school and Naim secondary school. He was always a top student, a close friend of Matar's said. He studied in Kuwait, where he obtained a Masters degree in Computer Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence. Matar left for Kuwait in 1994, the same year an uprising began in Bahrain. "Bahrain went through years of brutal crackdown on protestors just like now," Matar's friend remembers. The unrest continued until Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain came to power after the death of his father. "The situation in Bahrain calmed down and went through a quiet reform period as promised by Hamad," his friend said. Matar was away during this period, but "he was so concerned about what was going on in Bahrain and decided to contribute (to) any reform process that would help improve the situation of Bahrain," his friend said.

When Matar returned to Bahrain he joined Al Wefaq and helped establish the Bahrain Youth Center, which elected him to be the center's first president. Around this time he met his wife, Dr. Amal Habib. The two were married in 2003. With Amal, "He was very polite and shy," a family member said. "Although when it comes, to politics he becomes very active and vocal." In 2010 he was elected and became an Al Wefaq MP. He was active in the society and people liked him, al Marzooq said.

Bahrain is a tiny Kingdom where a Sunni royal family rules over a majority Shiite population, who for years have complained about discrimination and called for democratic reforms. Matar was at the Pearl Roundabout during the protests that began in mid February. He also attended a couple of protests organized by Al Wefaq during the ensuing unrest. Bahrain declared Martial law on March 15, which was followed by a crackdown by the authorities. At least 1,000 people are believed to be in detention. Matar was at the protests because he just doing his duty as a politician to defend people, to call for their rights, al Marzooq said.

Matar is being held with Jawad Fairooz, another former opposition MP, and others while he awaits his third court appearance scheduled for July 5. Matar was not at his second hearing on Tuesday June 21 for reasons that remain unclear. Guards at the court initially would not allow the family in, saying that Matar's name was not on their court list. The guards later confirmed to his family that Matar's trial would go ahead despite the fact that Matar was not there, a family member said. His lawyer asked to postpone the hearing, but according to his lawyer, the judge decided to proceed. The judge said Matar's case was a minor case so there was no need for him to be there, al Marzooq said. If it is a minor case then "why is there (a) need for him to be in custody for now two months?" Bahrain has not responded to a query about why Matar was not at his own hearing.

Armed men took Matar from his car on May 2, according to his family. His wife was with him at the time. He was in solitary confinement for at least two months from May 2 to June 12. His wife Amal, who works in the ophthalmology department at Salmaniya Medical Complex, was allowed to see him on Wednesday June 22 in accordance with a judge's order, a family member said. She did not take his children, Ahmed, 4, and Sarah, 3, to see him. She "thought it is better for them not to see their father in this condition," a family member said.

Matar told his wife he has not been tortured. A family member said Amal checked Matar's body to see if there were any signs of abuse. There were not. Matar also reportedly said that he had not been harmed. But a family member says they will not be comfortable unless they "see him released and given the freedom to express his opinion and views." Just because Matar said he is fine "does not eliminate the possibility of him being subjected to other kinds of mistreatment, like psychological abuse...We can't be sure that he is not threatened not to mention any mistreatment he might be facing," a family member said.

A human rights activist said that Matar was beaten on the same day he saw his wife. Matar’s visit with his wife was at court on Wednesday June 22, the same day 21 people were convicted on terrorism-related charges in connection with anti-government protests. The trial was denounced by rights groups. The 21 were forcibly removed from the court and taken to a side room where they were beaten by Bahraini security forces, according to Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Matar happened to be in that side room following the visit with his wife and he was also beaten, Rajab said. The extent of his injuries is unknown. Bahrain has not responded to a query about the alleged incident.

There have been credible allegations of abuse in Bahrain's prisons. Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians for Human Rights told CNN previously, that his group could "attest to violent assault and defensive wounds on...detainees who have died in custody. We have analyzed photographic evidence of two such deaths in custody that are highly probably the result of severe abuse including blows to the face, torso, arms, and legs." Bahraini officials have said that they are investigating several security personnel alleged to have mistreated detainees.

The police also questioned Amal for six hours on June 19, according to her family. The authorities asked her about Salmaniya Medical Complex, which was a focal point during the protests. Government officials allege that some of the staff helped turn the hospital into a base for the opposition and denied some patients treatment. Human rights groups believe that the medical workers are being targeted because they treated protesters and witnessed gross violations of human rights by Bahrain security forces.

When Matar resigned from parliament earlier this year, a family member asked if he was fearful about not finding work. Matar said no. "‘The last thing I think about is money,'" the family member recalls him saying. "'People elected me to represent them and to defend them." It is unclear if Matar will have another opportunity to serve as an elected official again.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights

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June 19, 2011
Posted: 829 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

The Sunni “National Unity Assembly” demonstration planned for Saturday afternoon in Bahrain was cancelled.

A twitter statement from the group said the Kingdom’s leadership requested the cancellation.

The cancellation follows a large demonstration by the main opposition group Al Wefaq on Friday, which was attended by an estimated 30,000 people. It was the second such gathering by the opposition since the end of the state of emergency.

The Sunni gathering had called for people to meet on Saturday afternoon at the National Stadium and walk toward the Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa’s palace which is about one kilometer away. The group supports the national dialogue, but is against an elected Prime Minister.

Also Saturday Bahrain’s Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry issued a statement saying steps are underway to lift the ban on the secular Waad political party. The party was closed down earlier this year. Its leader Ibrahim Sharif is jailed.

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May 26, 2011
Posted: 1502 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton, CNN

Bahrain plans to lift its state of emergency on June 1. Two days later, the country will learn if it can reschedule its Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to the unrest.

The Gulf Kingdom is hoping for a return to business as usual, but the county’s trials and continued detentions are cause for concern to many.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Wednesday.

“Bahrain’s recent unrest is distinct in that the protests ultimately divided and polarised society rather than uniting it,” Prince Salman said in a statement released by his office. “Undoubtedly, mistakes have been made by all sides during the recent period, but lessons are being learnt.”

Also Wednesday, four were sentenced in a Bahraini national military court to one year in prison for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations that began in mid-February, according to Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

In a speech addressing the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.” Calling for dialogue, he added, “You can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

This week, Bahrain said it had released 515 detainees since the state of emergency went into effect. It is unclear how many are still being held in custody.

A prominent Bahrain human rights activist said he doubts the government’s figures. At least 1,100 are still believed to be in detention, Nabeel Rajab said. He believes the true number is much higher. The arrests have also continued, Rajab added.

Among those still detained are 46 medical employees, including six women, according to Information Affairs Authority President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Twenty-nine are facing criminal charges and 17 are accused of committing misdemeanours, Al-Khalifa said on the state news agency's website this week.

Hassan Ali Mushaima, the leader of the hard-line Shiite opposition group Haq, Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the secular Waad party and Abdulhadi al Khawaja, a leading human rights activist, are also among those on trial accused of attempting “to topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country,” according to Bahrain’s news agency.

Others have disappeared. At least two senior members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group are missing. Matar Ebrahim Matar, 35, a former Al Wefaq MP, was taken from his car by armed men in mask on May 2, according to a family member. He has not been heard from him since. Bahrain has not responded to queries about Matar from his family or from CNN. His family is not aware of any charges against Matar. Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people.

According to Human Rights Watch Jawad Fairuz was also taken on May 2. Matar and Fairuz won seats in Bahrain’s lower house of Parliament in October 2010. The two, along with 16 other Al Wefaq members resigned their position in protest of the government’s crackdown.

On Sunday, Bahrain upheld the death sentences of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests. Two other men had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14.

Bahrain is a key ally of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf and the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet

What will change when Bahrain’s state of emergency is lifted on June 1 remains to be seen. “It is more a decision to attract back businesses that left the country and attract Formula 1.” Rajab said. “I don’t think that it is going to change anything on the ground, it is more cosmetic.”

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights

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May 22, 2011
Posted: 1414 GMT

Bahrain upheld the death sentences Sunday of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests earlier this year.

The National Court of Appeal confirmed the sentences of Ali Abdullah Hassan Alsingace and Abdul Aziz Abdul Redha Ibrahim Hussein, according to the Bahrain News Agency, which did not mention when the executions will be carried out. The defendants have another opportunity to appeal the decision.

Two other men who had been sentenced to death have had their sentenced commuted to life in prison. They are Qassim Hassan Mattar and Ahmad Saeed Abdul Jalil Said.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights

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May 4, 2011
Posted: 1053 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

The justice ministry in Bahrain said 47 medical professionals will be tried for crimes that include incitement to overthrow the regime, deadly assault and refusal to help persons in need.

Twenty-four doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics have been charged.

During the protests in the Gulf kingdom, witnesses say security forces in Bahrain stormed the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama beating doctors and demonstrators. Bahraini officials deny those accounts.

Activists and human rights groups have alleged that medical personnel have been targeted by Bahraini officials for treating protestors.

“We found doctors were simply providing ethical and life-saving medical care to patients whom Bahraini security forces had shot, detained and tortured,” wrote Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, in an email to CNN.

“We documented a systematic attack on medical staff in Bahrain including the beatings, torture and disappearances of more than 30 physicians,” Sollom wrote.

Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14. Hundreds have been detained.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights •Protests

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February 15, 2011
Posted: 915 GMT
Bahraini protestors run for cover as police fire tear gas in the village of Diraz, northwest of Bahrain, on February 14.
Bahraini protestors run for cover as police fire tear gas in the village of Diraz, northwest of Bahrain, on February 14.

A 27-year-old protester in Bahrain who was shot in the back Monday afternoon has died, the president of a human rights center said Tuesday.
Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima was protesting for human rights in the village of Daih, near Manama, when he was shot, according to Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Mushaima died Monday evening.
Lt. Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, the minister of the interior, "offered condolences and deep sympathy to the family of Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima on Monday," according to a statement on the interior ministry's website.
The minister said a probe would be launched into the case to determine the reasons for the use of a weapon. "He affirmed that if the probe revealed no legally tenable reason behind the use of the arm, then legal steps would be taken to refer the person behind the incident to the criminal court," the statement read.
Protesters who have organized on Facebook, Twitter and with e-mails want political reforms, including a constitutional monarchy.
Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Protests

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November 29, 2010
Posted: 1055 GMT
WikiLeaks document: Saudi King Abdullah told an Iranian official: 'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.'
WikiLeaks document: Saudi King Abdullah told an Iranian official: 'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.'

By Tim Lister, CNN

(CNN) - U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by the website WikiLeaks and published by newspapers in the United States and Europe on Sunday reveal considerable anxiety among the Gulf states about Iran's nuclear program, with the Bahrain's king warning, "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it."

The cables, many marked "Secret," were among several hundred thousand obtained by WikiLeaks and published by newspapers Sunday.

They reveal great concern among Arab states about Iran's regional ambitions. One cable describes a meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and other U.S. officials in March 2009.

According to the cable, the king told the Americans what he had just told the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. "You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters," the Saudi monarch was quoted as telling Mottaki. "Iran's goal is to cause problems," he told Brennan. "There is no doubt something unstable about them." Read full story...

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Filed under: Bahrain •Egypt •Iran •Iraq •Oman •Saudi Arabia •U.K. •U.S.

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October 14, 2010
Posted: 1518 GMT

The Gulf has one of the fastest-growing and youngest populations in the world. Its countries are also among the top spenders on education, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report – "The GCC in 2020: The Gulf and its People."

The report highlights a problem that Gulf Countries are acutely aware of: "Rapid population growth will ... create a large pool of labour that may be difficult to absorb into the private sector, owing to mismatches not only of skills, but also of expectations of wages and working conditions. Ongoing education reforms will help, but will not solve these mismatches within the next 10 years."

The Education Project conference in Bahrain sought to address those challenge and others. Bahrain, unlike its wealthier neighbours, is not awash with gas and oil. It knows its future lies in its ability to transition to a post-oil economy. Education will be, participants said,  essential to increase economic diversification and national growth.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom moderated the opening debate "What does it mean to be an educated adult in today's knowledge economy?"

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