Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
21 - 27 October 1999
Issue No. 452
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Militants vow revenge

FOLLOWERS and supporters of a Yemeni militant who was executed on Sunday for the kidnapping and killing of Western tourists in Yemen threatened to avenge his killing, but the Yemeni authorities dismissed these warnings as "hot air".

Abu Hamza Al-Masri, a London-based militant who runs an Islamic centre named Supporters of Shari'a, warned that the execution of Zein Al-Abideen Al-Mehdar, leader of the Aden-Abyen Islamic Army, will not go without punishment.

Abu Hamza was quoted as saying that his group would "spare no effort to avenge him [Mehdar] and punish all those implicated in the execution". He added that Mehdar's own Islamic Army was also expected to retaliate and accused the Yemeni authorities of inviting the wrath of Islamic militants. "We believe that this execution contained much injustice and was unjustifiably swift," Al-Masri said.

Mehdar, better known as Abul-Hassan, was beheaded on Sunday by sword in the southern region of Abyan as officials from the prosecutor's office and the Interior Ministry looked on. Abul-Hassan and two others, a Yemeni and a Tunisian, were condemned to death in May for the December 1998 kidnapping of 16 Western tourists.

In the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, there were no signs of increased security at key government ministries, foreign missions or foreign oil companies. Yemeni authorities claim that militants are a small minority who pose no serious threat to the country's security.

Mandela's dream

IN A TRIP he described as a dream fulfilled, former South African President Nelson Mandela this week completed his first regional tour of the Middle East. Though the trip was ostensibly private, Mandela's meetings with government leaders and his choice of destinations -- Iran, Syria, Israel and Palestine -- reflected his long-term effort to use his unique moral weight to encourage peace between the bitterest of foes.

Starting in Iran, where he met with President Mohamed Khatami and other Iranian officials, Mandela discussed the country's traditional animosity towards Israel.

Mandela's stop in Syria, and talks with President Hafez Al-Assad, cast its shadow over his first ever visit to Israel. "I see that not only is [President Al-Assad] committed to peace generally, but he is committed to peace with Israel," he said.

Though Israel maintained close relations with South African rulers during apartheid rule, and though Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) supported Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) during the two organisations' years of common struggle, Mandela said Israel kept a distance from the apartheid regime's worst atrocities.

Urging Israel to make peace with its former enemies, Mandela said Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab land, including south Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, was a clear prerequisite for any peace. Without this, he said "any talk of peace remains hollow".

Kuwaiti liberties

KUWAIT's first "prisoner of conscience" was released on Monday after the country's ruler commuted the rest of the sentence.

Ahmed Al-Baghdadi, a Kuwaiti professor serving a prison term for blasphemy against Islam, said upon his release that the decision by Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah "has wiped out in seconds all the time I spent in prison".

The liberal Kuwait University political science professor started a one-month sentence on 5 October after a court found him guilty of making offensive remarks in 1996 about the Prophet Mohamed.

Al-Baghdadi's imprisonment escalated a war of words between Islamists and liberals in Kuwait. However his release is unlikely to put an end to this tension. Two Kuwaiti women writers, Alia Shuaib and Laila Al-Othman, are due to be sentenced next month after Islamists initiated legal proceedings for alleged pornography and the use of immoral words in their books.

Also, Al-Baghdadi's teaching colleague and fellow columnist Shamlan Al-Eissa has been interrogated over an article in which he refused to accept the Shari'a laws of Islam.

In a separate development, Al-Seyassah newspaper was closed down for five days from Monday for carrying statements which were seen as critical of the United States and the emir. The remarks were made by Hamid Al-Ali, leader of the splinter Salafi Sunni Muslim group, who was questioned Sunday.

Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of Al-Seyassah, said that his daily was simply trying to show the government that there were flames under the ashes. "We were showing that things have gone too far and wanted to warn the government," he said.

Tunisian poll

PRESIDENT Zein Al-Abdine bin Ali of Tunisia launched his campaign for re-election last week in the country's first multi-candidate presidential election, promising more political freedoms should he be elected for a third five-year term. The election takes place on 24 October, the same day as elections for the country's parliament.

Bin Ali told a 5,000-strong crowd in Tunis that the North African country had taken important steps toward democracy and pluralism and that the elections bore witness to these. "The reforms have enabled our country to field several candidates for president for the first time in its history and to ensure that opposition parties have a definite chance of holding seats in parliament," he said.

Bin Ali, who came to power in 1987 after declaring former president Habib Bourguiba senile and unfit to rule, ran unopposed in the country's 1989 and 1994 presidential elections and is expected to be elected for a third term. Political analysts say that Bin Ali is assured of an overwhelming victory. His party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), is also expected to keep firm control of parliament following the elections.

Mohamed Belhaj Amor and Abdel-Rahman Tlili, the leaders of two small opposition parties, had been allowed to stand against Bin Ali under a special constitutional amendment. Recent reforms have also guaranteed the opposition 20 per cent of the seats, or 34 seats, in the new 182-seat parliament, with the RCD expected to comfortably win the remaining 148 seats.

During his campaign address in Tunis, Bin Ali announced that he intended "to submit to the new parliament a reform of the press law, which will allow journalists to liberate themselves from the shackles of self-censorship."

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