The fallout from yesterday’s large protest in Tahrir Square was widely covered in the Arab press. Originally intended to unify various factions, Al Masry al Youm reported that the rally actually highlighted the fractured nature of the different political parties. Earlier reports from Egypt’s Al Ahram said that protestors in the Square originally tried to dismantle stages to display a united front, but that this proved largely unsuccessful. By mid afternoon, most of these stages remained.
Al Ahram further noted that Tahrir Square itself was predominately filled with Salafist supporters of the recently barred candidate Hazem Abu Ismail. Smaller factions had only a minimal showing in the square and were mostly present in other areas of Cairo. Members of the secular April 6 Movement were seen demonstrating at the Maspero building, and at the headquarters of Egyptian national television and radio, and marching throughout the city singing.
The lack of confrontation at Friday’s protest was viewed by Al Ahram as a direct response to the removal of Omar Suleiman from the presidential contest. Alongside the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) decision to abide by the May 23 election date, the protests, though big, were significantly smaller than expected. Some groups continue to fight the decision made by SCAF; most notably, Abu Ismail supporters are maintaining their struggle to appeal Ismail’s disqualification with sit-ins in Alexandria and Cairo. Still, most of the political parties are now looking forward and have endorsed new candidates.
Iran’s Ahwazi region flares up
Widespread crackdowns on Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority were reported in the south-west region of the country. Al Arabiya noted that following the anniversary of the April 15, 2005 uprising against the Iranian government, the region was enduring widespread crackdowns and arrests. An Iranian press agent denied these allegations and accused the West of inciting conflict and employing “global ignorance.”
The tensions between Iran and its own native Arab population were recently strained following President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the disputed territory of Abu Mussa last week. The front page of Al-Jazeera features a photo of Ahmadinejad emphatically waving an Iranian flag to a crowd of supporters at a recent rally on the Island claimed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Alongside General Ahmed Bordstan’s call to defend Abu Mussa at all costs, the surprise visit was widely seen as a provocative political decision. Continued nuclear talks and the deployment of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in the Straights of Hormuz have added to the already mounting pressure on Tehran.
An Al-Arabiya feature on the escalating situation between Iran and the UAE explained the decision by Ahmadinejad as being economically motivated. The article pointed to Iran’s desire to turn the island into a tourist destination amidst an economic slum in Iran. It further noted that the widespread crackdown had been directed against men armed with Kalashnikov rifles who were “dressed in plain clothes,” and not against innocent civilians.
Sudanese border town changes ownership
The disputed Sudanese border town of Heglig was “liberated” by the Sudanese military yesterday. Dar al Hayat reported that Omar Bashir’s army had taken the oil rich town by force. Addressing a crowd outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, Bashir claimed victory amid calls from the audience “for the invasion of Juba.” The Sudan News Agency further cited Minister of Information Abdullah Masar as praising the “liberation” of Heglig from the hands of “traitors.”
This latest escalation was followed by widespread calls for a peaceful solution and a return to the original designated borders between the two countries. President Obama was quoted in Al Arabiya as calling for a cessation of violence, including “aerial bombardment.” President of South Sudan Salva Kirr continues to maintain that the South Sudan army voluntarily “withdrew” from Heglig, and was not actually forced out.