Tunisia: Islamist Furor over Persepolis

TV Executive on Trial for Blasphemy

Workers Vanguard

Following on the popular revolt that ousted hated despot Ben Ali early last year, a ruling coalition dominated by the Islamist Ennahda party was brought to power in elections last fall. In an ominous sign of what the Islamists have in store for the Tunisian population, Nabil Karoui, the director of the TV station Nessma, is facing up to eight years in prison. His “crime” was to air the French movie Persepolis, which recounts the childhood of an Iranian woman during the last years of the Shah and brilliantly captures the terror that followed the rise to power of the Islamic hierarchy under Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Following the broadcast, thousands of Islamists stormed the TV station, setting it on fire. They later firebombed Karoui’s house, claiming that the fantasy scenes in the movie where God is seen talking to a young girl are an insult to Islam. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi hailed these reactionaries as “defenders of Islam.”

Karoui has been charged with “insulting sacred values, offending decent morals and causing political unrest.” While the government is eager to prosecute him, it was forced to postpone the trial several times in the face of massive support for Karoui. Huge crowds of supporters have been gathering at the courthouse, and on January 28, thousands marched through the capital, Tunis, in one of the biggest demonstrations in recent months. On February 1, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists joined with media associations such as Independent Radio Stations in a one-day nationwide strike in support of press independence and freedom of expression and in defense of the rights of journalists and communicators. As we demanded in our article “Tunisian Elections: Victory for Islamic Reactionaries—Workers Must Fight for Their Own Class Rule!” (WV No. 993, 6 January): Drop the charges! Stop the persecution of Nabil Karoui!

Persepolis is an award-winning animated film based on the Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, which has sold over a million copies and been translated into dozens of languages. The movie, which has been seen by millions, is alive with humor and warmth. What might have infuriated the Islamists is not the depiction of God as an old bearded man; rather it was the movie’s presentation of Satrapi as a rebellious, fiercely independent young woman straining against the forces of intolerance and superstition. When she is not preaching communism, she is predicting her future as a religious prophet, or she is out in the streets of Tehran buying contraband western pop tapes and wearing a Michael Jackson button. When she was 14 years old, her parents sent her to Europe to study, where she discovered boys, booze and drugs.

More galling for the reactionaries are the representations of her intellectual family: her charismatic father, who adores his wine and life of luxury as much as his Marxist-Leninist ideology; her thoroughly modernized mother; her sexy grandmother, who used to bathe her breasts in a bowl of ice water to keep them firm; and her beloved uncle, a Communist who was involved in the establishment of the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan during World War II and was later executed by the mullahs’ regime. The Islamists were no doubt further incensed by Satrapi’s depiction of a dream where Karl Marx gets God to repeat: “The struggle continues.”

Since the fall of the Ben Ali regime, Islamists in Tunisia, which was long regarded as the most secular country in North Africa, have been targeting unveiled women, secular intellectuals and journalists. In February 2011, hundreds armed with Molotov cocktails and knives raided the red-light district of Abdallah Guech Street in Tunis, torching the brothels, yelling insults at prostitutes and declaring that Tunisia was now an Islamic state. Brothels in other cities were also attacked. The red-light districts in Tunisia have thrived since they were regulated and legalized by the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

Islamists occupied a university campus in Manouba, near the capital, for two months until their eviction last month. They were demanding segregation of the sexes in classes and the lifting of the ban on wearing the full-face veil on campuses. We are opposed to the veil, no matter what form it takes, as both a symbol and instrument of women’s oppression. At the same time, we are equally opposed to state bans or restrictions on it. The reality is that these bans mean the expulsions of Muslim girls and women from schools, universities and the workforce, deepening their isolation from society and oppression within the confines of the family.

As Marxists, we uphold the democratic principle of separation of religion and state, everywhere. Islamic fundamentalists will use any easing of bans on the veil to exert social pressure on women to cover themselves. Nonetheless, we oppose state interference in private religious practices, which paves the way for broader intrusions by the state into other aspects of social life. It is the task of the workers movement to champion the rights of women and all those under attack by the forces of religious reaction.

The historic aim of the Ennahda party is to establish a theocratic state ruled by sharia (Islamic law). Following the October election, Rached Ghannouchi pledged to maintain a secular course, declaring that his party has no interest in establishing sharia. However, Hamadi Jebeli, secretary general of Ennahda and currently the head of the government, was more forthright when he told a rally in the city of Sousse: “We are in the sixth caliphate, God willing,” referring to reviving an Islamic state. One can practically hear Mahdi, the hero of Haydar Haydar’s Arabic-language novel Banquet for Seaweed, screaming, “In the age of the atom, space exploration and the triumph of reason, they rule us with the laws of the Bedouin gods and the teaching of the Koran. Shit.” (For a review of this book, see “Islamist Furor in Egypt Over ‘Heretical’ Novel,” WV No. 770, 7 December 2001).

The aftermath of the mass upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt last year has been marked by the growing influence and dominance of Islamic fundamentalists. In the absence of an established revolutionary Marxist leadership, the working class in Tunisia and Egypt, whose strikes played a major role in bringing down their despotic rulers, has been politically engulfed by the forces of Islamic reaction and bourgeois nationalism. The fight against such reactionary forces is integral to the proletariat becoming a class for itself, fighting for the liberation of all the oppressed.


Putin: Moscow Won’t Allow Anyone to Repeat Libyan Scenario in Syria


MOSCOW, (SANA)– Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin affirmed Russia’s adherence to its rejection of any foreign interference in Syria or any attempt to repeat the Libyan scenario in Syria, stressing that the international community must exert efforts to achieve reconciliation among Syrians.

In an article under the title “Russia and the Changing World” published in the Russian newspaper Moskovskie Novosti on Monday, Putin underlined the need to end violence in Syria regardless of source and launch national dialogue without preconditions and without foreign interference in a manner respecting sovereignty, saying that this will compliment the steps announced by the Syrian leadership to promote democracy, and more importantly, will prevent the occurrence of a civil war.

He pointed out that after the bitter experience of Libya, Russia is against the Security Council issuing any resolutions that may be interpreted as permitting military intervention in Syria, noting that this is why Russia and China didn’t allow the resolution in February which could have been misinterpreted and urged one side to resort to violence.

Putin warned the west against creating a coalition or alliance to carry out an operation not sanctioned by the Security Council since such a behavior is very risky and does not help reach a settlement in a troubled country and will cause deterioration in international security, adding that the veto right is an integral part of the world order and the UN charter.

He expressed hope that the US and other countries will take the unfortunate experience of Libya into consideration, expressing wonder over the desire to use military force and the lack of patience to formulate a balanced unanimous stance, noting that such a stance could have been made by making the same demands from the armed opposition that were made from the government.

Putin said that rejecting this step was an impertinent act since all participants in armed conflict must come to their senses in order to guarantee the safety of innocent civilians, which is Russia’s primary goal.

Regarding the Arab region, Putin said that the “Arab Spring” resulted in the replacement of one force by another even more stern and oppressive one rather than establish democracy and protecting the rights of minorities, adding that foreign interference in favor of one side in an internal conflicts exacerbated the situation, which is what happened in Libya, as countries worked to topple the Libyan regime under the guise of humanitarianism and resulted in the horrible scene of the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in a medieval manner.

He said that the tragic events in the Middle East aren’t motivated by protecting human rights, and that seeking to force democracy often leads to the opposite result as extremist religious forces emerge to subvert the development of countries.

Regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Putin stressed that there’s no magical solution to this issue and that work must continue to seek a solution, which is what Russian diplomacy will do.

He expressed Russia’s adherence to providing security to all countries and avoid the excessive use of force, saying that some of the actions of the US and NATO undermine Russia’s security and destabilize the world, adding that there are concerns over the armed conflicts which are being justified by humanitarian purposes.

Putin said that the selective protection of human rights leads to empty demagoguery, stressing the need for the UN to resist pressure and dictations as no-one may use force against sovereign countries under the pretense of acquiring UN approval.

On the Iranian issue, Putin warned against the catastrophic consequences of a military strike against Iran, calling for resolving the Iranian issue peacefully.

Also see:
Crimson Satellite Syria News

Syrian Interior Ministry: 89.4% of 8,376,447 Voters Agreed to New Draft Constitution


DayPress News

DAMASCUS (SANA) – Syria’s Interior Ministry announced Monday the results of the referendum on the new draft resolution of Syria, with 89.4% of voters agreeing to it.

In a press conference, Minister of Interior Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar said that that 8,376,447 citizens voted in the referendum on the new draft constitution, which constitutes 57.4% of the 14,589,954 eligible voters, with 7,490,319 (89.4% of voters) agreeing to it while 753,208 (9% of voters) didn’t agree.

Related: Complete Text of Syrian Draft Constitution (English)

He added that there were 132,920 invalid ballots, which makes up 1.6% of votes.

Minister Al-Shaar said that there was a good turnout despite the threats and intimidation by armed terrorist groups in some areas and the accompanying distortion and instigation campaigns by media which attempted to prevent citizens from practicing their right to vote and harm the democratic process.On Sunday, Syrian citizens voted on the new draft resolution of Syria, with poll centers witnessing increasing turnout as the hours passed, reflecting the citizens’ keenness on moving forward with the reform process.

Speaker of the People’s Assembly Mahmoud al-Abrash, upon voting on the new constitution on Sunday, said that the Syrians themselves build up the future of their country through their participation in the draft constitution referendum.

For his part, Prime Minister Adel Safar stressed in a statement to the journalists that the draft constitution meets the Syrian people’s aspirations as it focuses on their needs in the various fields, particularly those related to health, education, guaranteeing the private property, freedoms and the independence of justice.

He added that the draft constitution is an important step in Syria’s history and will be effective in achieving political plurality and ensuring democracy and freedom.

For his part, Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Moallem said Sunday the referendum on the new draft constitution marks a historic day in the life of the Syrian people who have stressed their steadfastness and unity and therefore deserved a new constitution to move toward a new stage of democracy and political plurality.

Asked to address a message to the outside, al-Moallem said “My message to the outside is to address their own internal worries and to leave Syria alone,” adding that “those who care for the interest of the Syrian people don’t impose sanctions on it.”

Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar also said Sunday that the constitutional referendum crowned a package of reforms commenced by the leadership, adding that the referendum process has proceeded normally in the majority of provinces regions.

Minister of Local Administration Eng. Omar Ghalawanji, Minister of Justice Judge Tayseer Qala Awwad, Minister of Health Dr. Wael Nader al-Halqi, Minister of Education Saleh al-Rashed and Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis also voted on the draft of the new constitution.

Religious figures and scholars also participated in the referendum, with Dr. Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti saying during his participation that this constitution expresses the nation’s desires and challenging any group of constructive opposition to devise a better constitution.

In turn, Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Gregorius III Lahham said that the referendum addresses the Arab and Islamic world and the west, telling them that this is Syria and this is its history, present and future.

Referendum on the new draft constitution for the Syria Arab Republic started Sunday at seven a.m. in the centers distributed in all provinces, border centers, airports and Badia.

The total number of referendum centers amounted to 14,185 after some provinces asked to increase the number set previously at 13,835 centers.

Mobile centers are also available in the desert for the Bedouins who cannot come to referendum centers. The referendum will be held according to voting tables distributed to all centers in order to match the voters’ names as to avoid double voting.

The Syrian citizen had voted according to his/ her identity card or what can substitute it such as the election card, valid passport, driving license, syndicate card or the university card.

Instructions were also distributed in each center in all provinces so the citizen gets acquainted with the steps they should know to vote.

The referendum operation continued until 07:00 p.m. local time and, in special cases the heads of few center found high turnout, and voting was extended until 10:00 p.m. only, then all centers were closed officially.

Also see:
Crimson Satellite Syria News

In Search of Syria’s True Friends

These people are not Syria's friends.

Polina Chernitsa
Centre for Research on Globalization

The ‘Friends of Syria’ is a contradiction in terms. In reality, these countries are Syria’s enemies which are not trying to reach a peaceful settlement but want to provoke a civil war, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for International Affairs Alexey Pushkov has declared. An international conference of the Friends of Syria, which includes countries and organizations that advocate a unilateral ceasefire in Syria, is being held in Tunisia on Friday. The opposition Syrian National Council has already demanded that the participants supply weapons to the militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army.

The agenda of the first session of the self-proclaimed  ‘Friends of Syria’ was kept secret until the beginning of the consultations. However, because of various leaks, it became clear that the LAS initiative to officially recognize the Syrian National Council as a legitimate government would be approved. This method of solving the crisis would be unacceptable, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for International Affairs Alexey Pushkov believes. The MP stressed that those who propose initiatives of this kind can hardly be called ‘friends of Syria’.

“I put the word ‘friends’ in inverted commas because this name is a contradiction in terms. They are friends of Syria’s armed opposition, so in the context of Syria’s future, I would call this conference ‘a conference of Syria’s enemies’. One should take into consideration that every country, Russia included, is subject to serious pressure. We are dealing with a powerful political union between leading NATO  member-states and the wealthiest and non-democratic members of the League of Arab States. If you look through the reports on today’s conference in Tunisia, you will realize that all the documents had been drafted prior to the conference. These documents will be put up for approval of all the participants, even those which had nothing to do with their drafting, for example, Algeria which has a rather skeptical attitude to military action as a way to solve the Syrian problem.”

Alexey Pushkov stressed that the Syrian opposition is fragmented and the Syrian National Council itself cannot be considered even to be capable to represent the opposition, let alone the entire Syrian nation.

“The internal Syrian opposition believes that the West-backed SNC has practically no support inside the country. Why then is an immigrants’ organization, virtually unsupported in Syria, considered to be an official representative of the Syrian nation? The SNC is actually promoting a military interference in Syria’s affairs which is opposed by two other opposition groups which are based in Damascus. These groups say that they do not want an intervention or a replay of the Libyan scenario. Some political forces are demanding  a ceasefire and al-Assad’s resignation, but not all of them. The Liberation Front, for example,  believes that multi-party talks on Syria’s future will not be complete without al-Assad.”

Alexey Pushkov declared that “al-Assad’s regime is not ‘isolated’ and all the talk about his departure is completely groundless.” The situation is being grossly exaggerated as a number of interested parties are trying to launch the conflict into a new orbit and incite a civil war.

The SNC’s latest actions, i.e. its demands of weapons supplies for the militants of an opposition army, prove that these forces are not aiming at reaching a peaceful solution. Nevertheless, the opposition and its foreign supporters declare that their main goal is a ‘democratic Syria’. However, at present, the majority of Syria’s population believes that an overthrow of the regime would only result in religious strife and a civil war.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee visited Syria earlier this week. He met with the country’s leadership and spokesmen representing various political forces. Alexey Pushkov said that a Russian parliamentary organization could visit Syria in the near future. He brought back with him an invitation for the Speaker of the Russian State Duma from the Syrian leadership.

Also see:
Crimson Satellite Syria News

“Friends of Syria” Conference to Further Fuel Violence

Xinhua News Agency

DAMASCUS, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) — Syrian observers and analysts slammed the Friends of Syria conference currently underway in Tunis, pointing out that “it would further inflame the violence in Syria under the pretext of building humanitarian corridors.”

“The participants of this conference are not standing at the same distance from all parties of the conflict in Syria, but they are trying to incite the opposition against the regime,” Janpolat Shkai, a political analyst, told Xinhua.

He pointed that the conference “will have symbolic success, but will be a failure in terms of content, …and will further aggravate the crisis rather than calm it down.”

Around 70 countries are taking part in the two-day Friends of Syria Conference convening in Tunis.

The conference gathers top diplomats from the Arab League, the European Union and the United States, but is marked by the absence of Russia, which denounced the meeting as one-sided without the participation of Damascus.

China, who also decided not to attend the conference, said it needed to further study the aim, effect and mechanism of the conference and it had no idea of the preparations of the conference. At the same time, China said it is a friend of the Syrian and Arab peoples.

Analysts in Damascus said the last-ditch squeezing measure aims to unify the Syrian opposition groups and work for toppling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, Shkai pointed that “the humanitarian pretext promoted by the participants of the conference won’t help to stop the wheels of violence,” stressing that “the conference lost its credibility and became a tool to achieve certain agendas by some countries.”

Meanwhile, Abdulaziz Kheir, a Syrian opponent, said the Tunis conference has little chance of success, stressing that a more diverse participation is needed to achieve the desired balance of international stances.

Another political analyst, Ahmad al-Haj Ali, regarded the conference as “a new phase to aggravate the Syrian crisis,” pessimistic of any serious results out of the conference.

He said the Western powers went to the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council to gain support for their scheme but failed and after that, they invented something new to internationalize the Syrian crisis.

He further charged that any attempt to impose humanitarian corridors would be a new cover for smuggling weapons to the armed groups.

Ali Haidar, a moderate analyst, warned that the conference will escalate the violence in Syria through arming and financing the rebels under the banner of “humanitarian corridors.”

Meanwhile, Bassam Abdullah, an international relations professor at Damascus University, told Xinhua during a recent interview that the conference should be called “the enemies of Syria,” pointing out that it came to give a new breath to the ” fractured” opposition abroad.

“I can’t understand how the United States can be a friend to Syria after all the sanctions that it had imposed during and before the unrest, which targeted the Syrian people only,” he said.

In Tunis, representatives of the Damascus-based National Coordination Body, announced their boycott to the conference, due to what they called “the suspicious role” of some countries in the conference.

In a statement, the opposing body, which initially planned to send a delegation, said it “found something suspicious regarding the arrangement and the role of some countries in this event, and thus decided not to attend it.”

“Despite the reassurance by the Tunisian president that the conference would deal equally with all opposition spectra and that the foreign military intervention is a red line, some countries moved to control the conference with specific agenda and premeditated goals,” the statement said, adding that “there is a tendency towards the idea of foreign military intervention, which runs against the interest of the Syrian people.”

Also see:
Crimson Satellite Syria News

Syria: 14,600,000 Citizens Eligible to Participate in Referendum on New Constitution

DAMASCUS (SANA) — About 14,600,000 throughout Syrian governorates are eligible to participate in the referendum on the new constitution in Syria, Deputy Minister of Interior for Civil Affairs, General Hassan Jalali said Saturday.

Gen. Jalali added that 13,835 offices were devoted to the referendum, including offices opened on land borders and at airports to enable all citizens to practice their right to referendum.

He said the referendum will be held under the supervision of a central committee chaired by the interior minister and two of his assistants.


Popular and Academic Figures: New Draft Constitution Meets Aspirations of Syrian People

PROVINCES, (SANA) – Several academic and popular figures across the Syrian provinces expressed confidence that the new draft constitution meets the aspirations of the Syrian society towards change, reform and development.

In Der Ezzor, Dr. Adnan Oweid, a lecturer at al-Furat University, said that the draft constitution forms another stage of Syria and its history, pointing out that the constitution covers citizenship, freedom of the individual and social justice.

Head of Deir Ezzor Lawyers Union branch Asaad al-Dandal said that the draft constitution is an evolution of Syria’s previous constitution and is much more sophisticated than any other constitution in the Arab World, while director of the regional office of the General Women’s Union Mufida Sfeif said that the draft constitution is a positive step that protects women’s rights and freedom which already exist in Syria.

Similarly, Dean of the Economy Faculty at Tishreen University Dr. Yosuef Mahmoud said that the draft constitution will allow for creating economic plans that improve the conditions of citizens and meet their needs in a realistic manner.

In al-Raqqa, lawyer Mohammad Issa al-Mustafa said the draft constitution reflects the accumulative state of the Syrian civilization and meets the needs of the Syrian people, while fellow lawyer Nadia Hilal noted that the draft constitution’s text meets society’s needs in all fields and that it will result in legislation that cover all aspects of life.

Housam al-Hamadah, a university student, said that the draft constitution will face the crisis taking place in Syria and will help Syria get out of it stronger, stressing that the most important thing about the draft constitution is its political pluralism and the fact that it doesn’t allow for establishing parties on divisive and discriminatory basis such as religion, sect, region, ethnicity, race and so on.

In Tartous, member of the Tartous Second Economy Faculty staff Dr. Madyan al-Dabet said that the draft constitution keeps up with the developments which took place in Syria during the past decades on the political, economic, social and cultural levels.

Head of the Tartous Lawyers Union branch Mohammad Kannaj said that the draft constitution is the culmination of national efforts working to build the future Syria, and that it’s peerless in Arab countries in terms of separating the aspects of political, social and cultural life and preserving personal freedoms.

In sweida, People’s Assembly member Abdullah al-Atrash said that the draft constitution signals a new stage of political life in Syria and develops the work of the Higher Constitutional Tribunal, giving it authority to make sure that laws and decrees are in line with the constitution.

In turn, retired teacher Michel al-Saho remarked that the draft constitution guarantees that education is free at all levels and considers education a right that the government is obliged to provide until the end of the basic education stage, while lawyer Salwa Thabet pointed out that the draft constitution allows Syrian women to improve themselves and take part in building the society.

Chairman of Shabha City Council Imad al-Tawil underlined the fact that the new draft constitution gives a bigger role to regional councils and is fair in terms of land repossession.

Director of the Family Planning Society in Sweida Iqbal Hamed said that the draft constitution underlines the important role of families as the nucleus of society.

Head of the Idleb Lawyers Union branch said that the draft constitution is fit to be an example of democracy, while Head of excavation department at Idleb Archeology Department Anas Zeidan said the draft constitution stresses the importance of archeological sites and preserving historic heritage.

In Aleppo, head of the reproductive health department at the Health Directorate Dr. Liqa’a Hallak said that the new draft resolution keeps up with the times, noting that it has new benefits for women such as allowing her to grant her children citizenship, while Assistant Director of Aleppo Health Directorate Dr. Lina Alouzi said that the draft constitution deals with several weak points in the old constitution.

F. Allafi/H. Sabbagh

Also see:
Crimson Satellite Syria News

Cuba Denounces Campaign against Syria

February 13, 2012

Prensa Latina

UNITED NATIONS (Prensa Latina) — Cuba denounced on Monday at the UN General Assembly manipulation and media lies promoted to justify aggression against the Syrian people.

Particularly alarming are the calls of those who promote regime change in Syria and are betting on the use of force and violence instead of contributing to dialogue and negotiation between all parties, said Pedro Nuñez Mosquera, Permanent Representative of Cuba to United Nations.

Speaking Monday at a meeting of the UN General Assembly convened to discuss the human rights situation in Syria, Nuñez Mosquera called to listen to proposals and actions of the Syrian government to resolve the conflict.

Nuñez Mosquera warned about incitement to violence, military aggression and foreign intervention advocated by media and senior officials of member countries of NATO.

A civil war in Syria or intervention of foreign forces would have serious implications for international peace and security and in particular to the troubled Middle East region, said Nuñez Mosquera.

Nuñez Mosquera reiterated Cuba’s rejection of foreign intervention, “either directly, or through support by irregular armed groups and the promotion of military adventures, which only raise destruction and deaths.”

The official recalled the position of NATO in the Middle East, unjustifiable bombing of Libya after the manipulation of a Security Council resolution and the acceptance and the complicit silence towards Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people.

All this shows that the promotion of human rights is not exactly the motivation of those who call the General Assembly to rule on the issue before us today, Nuñes Mosquera stated.

Nuñez Mosquera pointed out that the international community must assist in safeguarding peace and stability in Syria and must not encourage actions that cause deaths, crime, attacks on innocent people and insecurity.