Egypt, One Year After the Revolution



The first anniversary of the protest movement that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power was observed in Egypt on Jan. 25.

Source The New York Times 

Thousands flock to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to mark first anniversary of “Friday of Rage”


Egyptian men demonstrate in Tarhrir Square following Friday prayers on January 27, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

CAIRO — Some 10,000 Egyptian protesters converged on Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of “Friday of Rage,” a key day in the popular uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

On last year’s “Friday of Rage,” Mubarak’s security forces fired on protesters who streamed into the square, killing and wounding hundreds. The day ended with a collapse of Mubarak’s much-hated security forces. Millions of Egyptians, fearful of prison breaks and chaos, went out into the streets to protect their houses and neighborhoods.

A year later, Islamists and liberal, secular-leaning protesters were divided over the message.

The Muslim Brotherhood group, fresh from an overwhelming parliamentary election victory, celebrated the day.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others note that the military council, which took over after Mubarak stepped down, has pledged to hand over power to civilian rule after presidential elections by late June. Polls show a substantial proportion of Egyptians hope for an end to the demonstrations and a return to economic stability, encouraging the return of tourists and investors.

Liberals, suspicious that the military council doesn’t intend to fully transfer power to civilian rule as it has promised, called their rally, “Friday of dignity and honor,” vowing to continue their protests.

They accuse the military council, headed by Mubarak’s longtime defense minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, of perpetuating Mubarak’s authoritarian methods, saying that even though Egypt has just held its freest election in decades, Egypt’s deeply rooted culture of dictatorship has not changed.

Protesters chanted “down with military council,” “O Marshal, leave leave,” and calls for retribution for the killing of protesters were heard in the square on Friday. Signs hanging overhead read, “the people are a red line,” with pictures of generals.

“We can’t celebrate when there’s no justice for those killed,” 30-year-old Amr Sayyed said. “The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about justice, but not how or when.”

Abdel-Hady el-Ninny, the father of slain protester Alaa Abdel-Hady, said “this is a day of mourning, not celebration.” El-Ninny came with relatives and friends carrying large posters of his slain son and walked around the square.

On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the uprising. The gathering was peaceful.

On Friday the Brotherhood set up a giant stage at one corner of the square, and members secured entrance points, checking people’s bags and identification cards. The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, had their pins and flags on sale in the square.

An unidentified child speaking into the microphone on the Brotherhood stage said, “I’m here for protection of Jan. 25 revolution,” referring to the date the popular uprising erupted last year.

“I listen to the leader of the Brotherhood because (what he says) comes from Islamic rule,” said Mahmoud el-Qaffas, 45, noting that the revolution succeeded in giving Egypt free elections. The Brotherhood’s party swept the voting, winning nearly half the seats in the parliament.

During a Friday sermon, an unidentified preacher addressed protesters praying in the square declared, “Our right is to dictate the decisions of the revolution.”

A year after his ouster, Mubarak is on trial along with officials from his regime and two his sons over charges including complicity in killing of protesters during the uprising, corruption and misuse of authority to amass wealth. He could face the death penalty.

Mubarak has been taken from his hospital to court sessions on a hospital bed. A crowd of protesters carried a small bed with a puppet depicting Mubarak, chanting, “the people want execution of the ousted one.”

Source Daily News 

Tunisia promotes coalition government for Arabs


Tunisia’s foreign minister said Thursday its newly formed coalition government —which includes Islamists, secularists and leftists — is a good model for other Arab countries moving toward democracy because it gets disparate parties to work together for the first time. Rafik Ben Abdessalem said it’s important not to move from the one-party rule of the past to a democratic system where one party again controls the government.Tunisians launched the Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic rulers when they toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 — and they were the first to hold elections in October. Now, a human rights activist is president, and a moderate Islamist jailed for years by the old regime is prime minister at the head of a diverse coalition led by the Islamist party Ennahda, which won 89 of 217 seats in the new assembly. Abdessalem, son-in-law of Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, told a panel at the World Economic Forum on “Rethinking Islam in Politics” that all parts of the political system should work together “in a pragmatic manner” on key issues. “It is an attractive model for the region as a whole, and this could be the future perspective of the region — not only as (a) peculiar model to Tunisia,” Abdessalem said. “I’m optimistic it will happen even within Egypt itself.” He said the Muslim Brotherhood, the once outlawed Islamic party that emerged as Egypt’s dominant political force after a landslide victory in recent parliament elections, is “very keen” to have a coalition government with liberal and leftist parties because they have “a lot of difficulties” working with the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as the Salafis. Amr Khaled, chairman of the board of the Right Start Foundation International in Egypt, whose Facebook page has 4 million followers, said he believes young people voted for the Muslim Brotherhood because its members are not corrupt, understand economic issues and believe in coexistence with Egypt’s Christian minority. British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at a forum plenary session, called the Arab Spring “a huge net positive” and said the experiences of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya could offer “guidelines to other countries that want to move from autocracy to democracy.” “Egypt is key because of its size and scale,” he said, and the country’s military powers “have to do more to show people that they want a functioning democracy.” Abdessalem said “political Islam is a rising force in the region,” which the world saw in the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya and in the first elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. He stressed that “political Islam is not homogenous” and varies depending on the social, economic and political environment in which Islamists live. “A healthy and open atmosphere could provide a great opportunity to have a moderate Islamist. And a closed political system, despotic regime, most probably will provide the radical voices of Islam,” he said. “If we have a democratic system, most probably we’ll have … moderate expressions of Islam.” Shadi Hamid, research director for the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said Western experts and politicians wanted to believe that the Egyptian revolution “was a liberal, secular revolution” but it wasn’t secular. “I think it’s patronizing for Americans to think that once there is democracy, Egyptians are going to turn out to be nice, fluffy, pro-American liberals,” he said. “Obviously, now over the last 12 months it’s become very clear that Egyptians like their politics with a lot of Islam. That is the bottom line, and to think that Islamists all together won 70 percent, that’s remarkable.” Hamid said the role of Islam shouldn’t be underestimated and Egyptians should be able to vote for who they want. “Even if we don’t like what Islamists stand for it’s a reality on the ground and they’re there whether we like it or not — Islamists are the future … and we should find a way to work with whoever is in power,” he said.

Source MSNBC

4 killed in protests in Bahrain, opposition group says


(file photo) Bahraini anti-government protesters seek cover during clashes with police in Zinj Village on December 23, 2011.

(CNN) — Bahrain police on Friday denied opposition claims that security forces were responsible for the death of an anti-government protester, saying the man died from natural causes.

The death of 19-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Yacoub was one of four reported Thursday by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

The opposition group al Wefaq accused Bahraini authorities of running over Yacoub with a police car, an allegation the Ministry of Health denied, according to the Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

As part of its denial, the Health Ministry released a video purportedly taken at the time of the arrest that it alleges shows Yacoub unharmed. It also released a medical report that indicated Yacoub died from “sickle cell complications” and that his body was “free of injuries.”

Bahraini police said Yacoub was arrested Wednesday for participating in “acts of violence and vandalism,” BNA reported. Police also said he died of natural causes, the news agency said.

Bahrain denies it beat activist

The reports of deaths come just weeks before demonstrators are expected to mark the one year anniversary of protests demanding political reform and greater freedoms in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Bahrain.

The State Department issued a travel advisory this week for U.S. citizens, warning of potential unrest in Bahrain.

"Spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations occur in some neighborhoods, particularly at night and on weekends," the warning said.

"The demonstrations have included blockades of major highways, trash can fires and establishment of unofficial checkpoints. Participants have thrown Molotov cocktails and used various other homemade weapons."

Bahraini authorities, according to the statement, have responded with the routine use of tear gas, stun guns and other crowd control measures.

While the State Department said there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being targeted, it said its Embassy personnel and their family members were being relocated to other neighborhoods that have not been involved in the protests.

Protests began February 14, 2011, in Bahrain — spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

But the protests failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings following a crackdown in February and then again in mid-March by Bahraini authorities — backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Demonstrators and Bahraini authorities have continued to clash, with the opposition accusing the government of being heavy handed in its crackdown on protests.

In November, Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report highly critical of the crackdown.

The commission, set up by the king, concluded that police had used excessive force and torture during last year’s crackdown on protests. Abuse of detainees included beatings with metal pipes and batons, and threats of rape and electrocution, commission Chairman Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni said at the time.

The mistreatment included physical and psychological torture, intended to extract information or to punish those held by security forces, he said.

The report recommended reforms to the country’s law and better training of its security forces.

Source CNN

Canadian fears more torture from officials in Bahrain


Naser Al-Raas says he’s fearfully awaiting the moment Bahrain police handcuff, blindfold and drag him back to a jail, where he contends, he’ll ruthlessly be tortured for a crime he did not commit.

Al-Raas, a Kuwait-born Canadian citizen, was sentenced this week for breaking Bahrain’s illegal-assembly laws. He and 12 others were sentenced for having links to antigovernment demonstrations.

Al-Raas, 28, is free pending an appeal, but could be arrested before the scheduled Nov. 22 court date. If so, he is certain he will be tortured again. Earlier this year, Al-Raas said he was kidnapped and beaten for a month in an underground prison.

"The main thing that was going through my head was ‘How will I survive?’ Al-Raas told Postmedia News on Wednesday, calling via Skype from Bahrain as he believes his phone lines likely are tapped. "I saw death many times."

On March 20, Al-Raas was leaving Bahrain after a three-week visit to check up on his five sisters and ensure they were safe amid the political unrest enveloping the tiny Persian Gulf country.

Pro-democracy protests that broke out in February amid the fervour of the Arab Spring were crushed by Bahraini security forces, backed by Saudi troops. The government says 24 people were killed, including four police officers, while the opposition puts the count at 31.

Al-Raas was returning to Kuwait where he worked as an IT specialist.

At Bahrain International Airport, four policemen in civilian clothes ambushed and forced him into a tiny office where he was beaten and held at gunpoint, Al-Raas recalled.

They blindfolded him, took him to an undisclosed location, and subjected him to a mock execution where bullets were repeatedly fired around him.

For a month, he was held hostage, taken to an underground prison cell where he endured the screams of others. He said he witnessed one man being tortured until he was dead.

When it was his turn, he said his torturers took him to a wooden room, blindfolded him, and tied him to a chair with ropes. They beat him with a rubber hose, kicked him with military boots, and electrocuted him. Sometimes they would spit into his mouth and force him to swallow, he said.

Other times, he would be forced to stand up for hours at a time without rest and was beaten when he tried to sleep, said Al-Raas.

"I could not sit, I could not sleep. Whenever I moved, I was beaten by many officers," said Al-Raas.

Often the blows were targeted at his chest, where he has scars from two open-heart surgeries.

Al-Raas has pulmonary hypertension, a heart and lung disease that requires careful medical attention and anti-clotting medication.

When he asked for his medicine, his requests were denied and the torture intensified, said Al-Raas.

A month after he was arrested, Al-Raas said he was forced to make an on-camera confession, threatened to not speak to the media and told not to tell anybody about the torture. Then finally, he was released.

Once free, Al-Raas pleaded to have his Canadian passport, which was seized during his arrest, returned. On June 7, when security officials told him he could come get his passport, he was arrested and beaten again, and charged with kidnapping a Bahraini police officer.

He denied the accusations and was taken to military court earlier this month, where he was acquitted of all charges.

But on Tuesday, he was found guilty in civilian court on other charges, for participating in protests and publicly inciting hatred and contempt against the regime.

Amnesty International is now urging Canada’s federal government to pressure Bahraini authorities to drop the charges against Al-Raas, who they said is being held as a prisoner of conscience.

"In our view, there is absolutely no reasonable basis for the charges," said Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International in Ottawa. "Now that the conviction has happened, it’s vitally important that the Canadian government bring considerable pressure to bear on Bahraini authorities to drop the charges and for the verdict and sentence to be quashed."

On Wednesday, John Babcock, spokesman for Diane Ablonczy, the minister of state for foreign affairs, said Canadian consular officials in Ottawa and in Riyadh are providing consular assistance to Al-Raas and his family in Canada.

Al-Raas has lived on and off in Ottawa since 1996.

"Although the government of Canada cannot interfere in the judicial affairs of another country, we have made high level representations to Bahraini authorities to seek assurances that the individual is afforded due process and to ensure his well-being," Babcock said.

Babcock added the Canadian government is aware and concerned of reports that Al-Raas was mistreated while in detention in Bahrain, and has raised its concerns with the “appropriate authorities.”

Although he has appealed the decision, Al-Raas said he has been advised to surrender himself to Bahraini authorities within 10 days.

For now, he is enjoying spending time with his fiancee Zainab, waiting in fear for the unpredictable moment Bahraini police may storm his home.

Since his arrest, Zainab has worked tirelessly to contact international human rights groups for help.

"Naser can’t go there again," said Zainab, her voice thick with emotion. "(The police) are animals. They are not even human."

Source Ottawa Citizen
LEAD: Tanks storm Syria’s restive Hama city, killing 44 people


Beirut - Syrian army tanks on Friday stormed the city of Hama, a hub for opposition protests against the government, killing at least 44 people, among them women and children, activists said.

'Tanks are attacking the city from four directions. They are firing their heavy machine guns randomly,' activist Abu Omar told dpa by phone over the sound of gun fire in the background.

Tank shells were falling at the rate of six a minute in and around northern Hama, said the activist who is based in the suburb of Reef Hama and goes by a pseudonym.

Scores of people were wounded and blood for transfusions was in short supply in most hospitals across the city, Abu Omar.

Abu Omar said bodies were lying uncollected in the streets and predicted that the death toll would rise.

Electricity and water supplies to the main neighbourhoods had been cut, a tactic used regularly by the military when storming towns to crush protests, he added.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is trying to suppress the uprising against his 11-year rule that broke out in March and was inspired by revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

In the northern province of Idlib, a booby-trapped car exploded near an army checkpoint killing at least one soldier and wounding others, activists said.

Activists in other restive areas in Homs, Daraa and Idlib, said mass rallies in support of the people of Hama were taking place.

In the city of Aleppo which experienced relative calm since the protests against al-Assad started, activists reported that three people were killed when security forces fired at protesters in the Marhej neighbourhood.

More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising erupted in mid-March, according to the United Nations.

However, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday the world body could not keep track of the death toll in Syria due to an escalation of the violence

Source M&C

UNICEF: 384 children killed so far in Syria

The Jerusalem Post


GENEVA - At least 384 children have been killed during Syria’s 10-month uprising and virtually the same number have been jailed, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

"As of Jan. 7, 384 children have been killed, most are boys. Some 380 children have been detained, some less than 14 years old,” Rima Salah, acting UNICEF deputy executivedirector, told reporters in Geneva.

UNICEF is concerned about the situation in Syria, which has a legal obligation to protect children and uphold their rights, Salah said.

"Our office there is functioning well, we have a dialogue all the time with the government and civil society,” she added.

Source The Jerusalem Post



In Syria, the Rebels Display ‘Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ — or Are They Engineers?


Claims that Iranians and Lebanese Hizballah members are aiding President Bashar Assad’s troops in their ferocious crack down against dissent are almost as old as the 10-month Syrian uprising. Yet despite the thousands of amateur videos that have captured so much of the gruesome, bloody repression, precious little evidence has emerged to back the allegations of foreign assistance, beyond the assertions of antigovernment activists and the testimony of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence.

On Thursday, al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite channel, broadcast amateur footage purportedly showing five of seven Iranians captured by Syrian military defectors belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the besieged central city of Homs. A Syrian rebel who gave his name as Abu Bassem told the channel that the seven were nabbed by the FSA’s Farouk Brigade on two separate occasions. Five of the men were allegedly Iranian soldiers, operating as snipers under the direct supervision of Syria’s much feared Air Force Intelligence branch in Homs, Bassem told al-Jazeera in a phone call from the city, while the other two were civilians working at a local power plant in Jandar, near Homs. (See photos of protests in Syria.)

Five of the men are shown in a six-minute, 20-second snippet. Bearded and cloaked in black, they sit against a white wall, with a lone rifle propped up between the second and third man. A scrolling red ticker on the screen says that they are Iranian Revolutionary Guards and calls on “all Iranian Revolutionary Guards to immediately withdraw from Syrian territory.” One of the five men holds up a laminated photo identification card. The Enduring America website posted a Farsi-to-English translation of his comments: “My name is Sajjad (Haider Ali) Aminan and I am a member of the revolutionary armed forces of Iran. I am leader of a five-member special team. I entered Syria on Oct. 16, 2011. The others entered Syria on different dates.”

The men then all state their names: Ahmad Aziz Askari, Hasan Hasani, Majid Qanbari, Kyumars Qobadi. One says that they have killed “many civilians in the city of Homs, including many women and children.”

The footage then cuts to two laminated photo ID cards, showing their back and front, as well as three passports. The pages are flipped, one by one, including all of the blank pages. (Read “The Arab League to Syria’s President: It’s Time for You to Go.”)

Is this proof of Iran sending military reinforcement to prop up its main Arab ally? Or could something else be happening there? On Dec. 21, Syrian state media reported that eight foreign engineers, including five Iranians, were abducted “by terrorists” as they traveled on a company bus to their place of work, the Jandar power plant on the outskirts of Homs. The nationalities of the other three engineers were not stated. Shortly afterward, Iran’s Press TV reported that “two more Iranian experts, who were trying to clarify the situation of the five abducted engineers,” were kidnapped. Their whereabouts are unknown. On Jan. 2, an unknown group called the Movement Against the Expansion of Shiism in Syria sent a claim of responsibility for the abductions to the Agence France-Presse office in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The men in the video bear a resemblance to the five engineers abducted in December, as portrayed in a photo circulated in the Syrian and Iranian press. Their names also appear to match. The men, who are all dressed casually in jeans, jackets and track pants pose alongside a man identified as their Syrian cook. They are not the only Iranians nabbed in Syria. “Eleven Iranian pilgrims traveling by road to Damascus were kidnapped by an unknown group,” Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying on Thursday by the state news agency IRNA. “We call on the Syrian government to use all means … to release the Iranian nationals,” he said. (Read “The Crisis in Syria: No Immunity for Bystanders.”)

Sectarian tensions have been rising in the multiethnic, multisectarian patchwork of the Syrian state as the death toll spirals beyond 5,000. Resentment toward Assad and some of his Alawite co-religionists is strong among certain quarters of the majority Sunni population. Although Alawites, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, comprise some 12% of Syria’s 22 million people, they are disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of Syria’s political, business and military communities. There is also rising anger toward Assad’s staunchest regional backers, Shi’ite Iran and the Shi’ite Lebanese militant group Hizballah (Party of God), which is now frequently referred to by Syrian activists, refugees and defectors alike as the “party of the devil.” It’s not inconceivable that a busload of Iranian pilgrims were nabbed by antigovernment elements, perhaps as bargaining chips.

Bassem of the FSA’s Farouk Brigade stressed during his interview with al-Jazeera that he and his group were not against Shi’ites. “We are not sectarian,” he said. “We ask Iran to admit they sent members of Revolutionary Guards to Syria. He said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had until Jan. 28 to withdraw all Revolutionary Guards from Syria.

Pressed by the anchor about what would happen should the deadline lapse, Bassem said: “We are not terrorists, criminals or killers. We are against anyone who threatens innocent Syrians. We caught these people, they were armed. They are snipers. They were killing our Syrian brethren. We will try, God willing, to return them to their families safely, but given the difficult circumstances Homs is experiencing, we cannot guarantee their safety.”

Source Time

Deadly clashes continue in Syria



A picture released by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria shows troops taking position in Homs on January 19, 2012 .

A picture released by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria shows troops taking position in Homs on January 19, 2012 .

(CNN) — At least one member of the Syrian security forces was killed and nine others were injured following violent clashes with army defectors in Daraa province, opposition activists said Thursday.

The clashes occurred on a highway near the town of Khirbet Ghazaly, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Also in Daraa, three people were injured in the town of Nawa, including an 11-year-old child, when government forces randomly fired at their homes, the Observatory said.

Three explosions rocked the town of Almaseefra and heavy gunfire is being directed at people’s homes by regime troops, the group said. A young man died in the town of Seeda from injuries received under torture by gElsewhere, a large group of Syrian security forces raided the suburb of Douma, in Damascus province, early Thursday, days after loyalist forces pulled out after heavy clashes with defectors, the Observatory said.

Security forces are setting up checkpoints in residential streets there, the group said, but have not met violent resistance so far.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television reported that mass pro-government rallies were taking place in Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Lattakia on Thursday.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab New Agency (SANA), hundreds of thousands of Syrians from across the country flocked to the capital to join demonstrations in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The demonstrators have taken to the streets “in rejection of the recent decisions by Arab League Council which are but flagrant violation of the Syrian independence and sovereignty,” the agency reported.

It said the rallies were “an embodiment of the Syrians’ national unity and cohesion, are considered a sharp cry and strong condemnation of the armed terrorist groups’ attacks against their security, stability and unity.”

The Syrian government blames the ongoing violence in the country on terrorist groups and says security forces are only trying to protect civilians.

CNN cannot independently confirm events because the Syrian government restricts access of international media to the country.

The uprising against the regime and the resulting government crackdown have engulfed the country for more than 10 months. The United Nations last month estimated that more than 5,000 people have died since March. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Tuesday more than 6,600 deaths have been documented since the unrest began. Avaaz, a global political activist group, said the death toll has exceeded 7,000.

On Wednesday, Syria’s government agreed to a one-month extension of the Arab League monitors’ mission there.

The 22-member Arab League has called on the al-Assad regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders — including the international news media — to travel freely in Syria.

The league is working on a proposal for al-Assad to transfer power to his vice president following the formation of a national unity government. The plan calls for the government to start talks with the opposition within two weeks and for the formation of a new government within two months. A new constitutional council would follow, as would a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections.

However, six nations from the Gulf Cooperation Council withdrew their observers from the mission this week, citing the continuing bloodshed and the government’s “lack of commitment” to the Arab League proposal.

The council is also calling for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — and other council members to ratchet up pressure on the regime.

It wants the Security Council to support the Arab League’s Syrian initiative by passing a resolution.

A draft U.N. resolution on Syria obtained by CNN calls on “all states” to take steps similar to those the Arab League undertook in November when it imposed sanctions on Syrian authorities.

Russia, a Syrian ally, has been seen as an obstacle in developing a tough U.N. resolution toward the al-Assad regime because it has veto power as a permanent council member.overnment security forces,it added.

Source CNN

Syrian Role at Unesco Under Fire

New York Times


PARIS — At least 25 countries have joined to try to unseat Syria from two committees of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that deal with issues of human rights, Western diplomats and Unesco officials said Wednesday.

The countries have put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting of the organization’s Executive Board, from Feb. 27 to March 10, the diplomats said. They include Qatar, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League; Kuwait; the United Arab Emirates; Djibouti; Chile; South Korea; Japan; the United States; and European countries including France, Britain, Germany and Austria.

In early November, just before the Arab League voted to suspend Syria from membership for its bloody crackdown on democracy protestors, the Arab group at Unesco filled one of the two seats it is allotted on these two committees with a Syrian representative. Those choices do not come up for a vote by the 58-member Executive Board but proceed by consensus.

A Western diplomat said the Arab group was now embarrassed by its choice of Syria, a decision that soon became controversial. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has condemned the Syrian government for violations of human rights, and Arab League monitors have been unable to halt months of violence.

The Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, with 30 members, does quiet diplomacy with governments to promote issues like freedom of expression — for example, trying to get journalists out of jail, a Unesco official said. The committee is charged with carrying out the will of the Executive Board. The sensitivity of the other committee, on international nongovernmental organizations, is more obvious, given that NGOs have had an important role in the Syrian uprising as actors and witnesses.

It is not clear how Syria’s membership can be overturned, because there is no precedent for it and no procedure, Unesco officials said. But diplomats involved said the Executive Board should be able to act as it saw fit.

Source The New York Times