1. Jacob Lippincott is on the ground in Cairo. Here’s his latest update:

    Violent street fights are tearing apart the downtown area, the capital’s economic and cultural nerve center. Secular activists, football hooligans, and grubby street children fight police on the Nile Corniche, an open promenade that runs along the famous river. Meanwhile, gangs of thugs prey on peaceful activists, local businesses, and passers-by in the city’s shadowed side streets.

    Women are being viciously targeted. Over the last week, there have been more than a dozen brazen gang rapes and sexual assaults in and around Tahrir Square. In one particularly harrowing case, a gang of youths took turns raping a 19-year-old woman, mutilated her vagina with a knife, and left her naked on the street. She is reportedly still in critical condition in a Cairo hospital, suffering from internal injuries.

    I personally witnessed one of these assaults in Tahrir. Some tried to help the woman, while others joined in the assault. There were masses of people pushing past each other to get away, and I, along with everyone around me, was pressed against a wall, unable to help, flee, or move.

    Keep reading

     

  2. Wrenching new photos from Iran appear to show a thief having four of his fingers severed by a “finger-chopping machine.” The court-ordered public amputation reportedly took place on Jan. 24 in  the southern Iranian city of Shiraz after the 29-year-old man was convicted of burglary and adultery. In the photos, the prisoner is blindfolded and surrounded by three masked officials who hold his hand under the device. His face shows no pain, indicating that perhaps he was drugged before the procedure. 

    Iran’s brutal new ‘finger-chopping machine’ 

    Photo: AP Photo/Mohsen Tavarro

     

  3. At 5:26 a.m. New York time (12:26 p.m. in Damascus), Syria’s internet went dark. According to two U.S. internet monitoring companies, Renesys and Akamai Technologies, Syria is now completely cut off from the e-world, with all internet connections down along with at least some phone service. “A smaller outage could be chalked up to an errant mortar shell,” but the entire country? says Sam Biddle at Gizmodo. “Only the Syrian regime has the power to create that kind of lockout at will.”

    "Shutting down web and phone service is a tactic increasingly pursued by countries to limit the spread of information both within the country and to the outside world," says Shara Tibken at CNET NewsWithout communication, the anti-government rebels are cut off from one another, limiting their ability to fight. 

    Why Bashar al-Assad unplugged the internet in Syria

    (Source: theweek.com)

     

  4. An Israeli missile from the Iron Dome defense system is launched to intercept incoming rocket fire from Gaza on Nov. 17 in Tel Aviv. Photo: Uriel Sanai/Getty Images

    "The significance of rockets fired on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem should not be underestimated," says Amir Oren with Israel’s Haaretz. "The imaginary barrier has been breached, and in a war of attrition, psychology is considered very important, especially in a population hovering between hope and despair." 

    More…

    (Source: theweek.com)

     

  5. The Israeli military has launched a major assault on Gaza. And they’re live-tweeting it.

     

  6. The international community was stunned Tuesday when a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by Taliban militants. The teen, who has been an outspoken advocate of girls’ right to education since she was 11, was ambushed on her school bus on the way home from school in the Swat Valley. Malala was flown from Mingora, the city where she lives, to Peshawar, where surgeons were able to remove a bullet near her spine. As supporters struggled to comprehend the brutal attack, many wondered why the Taliban would target a young girl. (The Taliban response: Malala has “become a symbol of Western culture in the area.”) Malala’s fight against oppressive Taliban strictures first began when, at age 11, she penned a diary for the BBC's Urdu service detailing the atrocities committed by the militant group. Since then, Malala has continued to speak out. Here, a look at the teen girl who took on the Taliban:

    • January 2009
      The Taliban, hoping to enforce a ban on girls’ education, orders all private schools closed in the northwestern Swat district where Malala lives. Malala subsequently writes a diary about the harrowing experience for the BBC's Urdu site. Among the more unsettling things she shares: “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'.” New York Times reporter Adam Ellickthen interviews Malala for the documentary Class Dismissed. At 11, she already knows that she wants to be a doctor, but cries at the thought of not being able to fulfill that dream because of the Taliban’s edicts.
       
    • May 2009
      The Taliban seizes complete control of the Swat Valley, and begins to freely patrol the city of Mingora. Dozens die and thousands flee. A peace deal between the Pakistani government and the Taliban collapses. Later, the Taliban is routed from the area, but pockets of militants remain, and they force their harsh rules on citizens.
       
    • November 2011
      Malala, who has continued to speak out on behalf of all Pakistani girls, is awarded the country’s first National Peace Prize for Youth, with a $10,500 award. “I convinced my friends and other classmates of the importance of education and told them that our primary education will decide our future,” she says. “I am thankful not only to the students but also to their parents for honoring my requests and sending their daughters back to school.”
       
    • December 2011
      The government renames the honor the National Malala Peace Prize.
       
    • April 2012
      Malala, now in the eighth grade, speaks with the website Think Twice Pakistan about a possible career in politics. “My purpose is to serve humanity, fight for their rights,” she says.
       
    • Oct. 9, 2012
      On her way home from school, Malala is shot in the head when Taliban gunmen pull over her school bus and ask for her by name. She is rushed to a hospital, and then later transferred to another facility in Peshawar for emergency surgery. The Taliban claims responsibility, and promises ”to finish this chapter” because of Malala’s ongoing “obscenity.”
       
    • Oct. 10, 2012
      Doctors successfully remove a bullet that was lodged near Malala’s spine. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik obtains a passport for the young girl, and the head of PIA, the national airline, offers to pay all expenses for Malala to be flown anywhere in the world for treatment should she need it. 

    (Source: theweek.com)

     

  7. "Chris took his work seriously, but never himself," says Molly Phee, who entered the diplomatic corps with Stevens and now serves in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “He was an avid student of Islam and the Middle East, and consistently strove to build the proverbial bridge between our two cultures in the face of sometimes overwhelming antagonism and bitter misunderstanding.”

    A look back at the heroic life of Ambassador Chris Stevens

     

  8. Fair elections for Egypt? Egypt wrapped up two days of voting Thursday in what’s being hailed as the country’s first legitimate presidential election ever. 

    The counting continued on Friday, but partial results suggest that Mohammed Mursi, the candidate of the once-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has earned a spot in a June run-off. The battle for the second slot remains tight, with a darkhorse leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, neck-and-neck with Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and holdover from the Hosni Mubarak era. 

    Was the balloting as fair as Egyptian leaders promised it would be?

    (Source: theweek.com)

     

  9. President Bashar al-Assad agreed Tuesday to a six-point peace plan drafted by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. The catch: he’s not stepping down.

    Under the deal, Syria agrees to six things:

    (1) “Address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”
    (2) Stop the fighting, and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas, with the intention to end all violence
    (3) Allow a two-hour daily pause in other fighting to allow humanitarian aid and evacuation of the injured
    (4) Release more prisoners that the regime has “arbitrarily detained”
    (5) Allow journalists to work in the country freely
    (6) Respect “the right to demonstrate peacefully.”

    But considering Syria’s history of “credibility gaps,” how much of this will Syria actually do?

     

  10. He felt the cool metal of a pistol pressed to his head, heard tense conversation in Arabic. He broke out in a sweat and began to shake. As he knelt in that nameless alley, Peter was sure he was going to die. The gun barrel dug into his scalp. He heard a click, and felt a pop against his skull.

    "So this is what it’s like to be dead," he thought. "It’s not so bad. It doesn’t hurt much." For a few moments, he remained kneeling in the dirt, waiting for his body to rise into the spirit world. But then he heard laughter, more voices speaking in Arabic. Finally he realized that this was just a grim hoax designed to shatter his psyche: a mock execution.

    He fell to the ground, shivering, anguished, and spent. He was less frightened than he was annoyed at himself. He’d forgotten his vow not to show fear: “I was supposed to think about walking the dog.” But as Peter returned to his darkened room in the upstairs of some unknown house in Basra, he was more adamant than ever that he would make it out of Iraq alive.

    Peter Moore endured 947 days of torture by Shiite terrorists, and lived to tell about it.

     

  11. This explains a lot. Britain’s Guardian newspaper says it has obtained 3,000 emails from accounts used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. They paint a picture of a ruling family “remarkably insulated from the mounting crisis and continuing to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle,” buying high-priced goods online, trading entertaining video clips, and downloading music from iTunes. Here, some of the most compelling revelations from the emails:

    • The Assads listened to country music as Homs burned
      The day after Assad’s military began its deadly shelling of rebel neighborhoods in the city of Homs, the embattled dictator sent his wife a video of country crooner Blake Shelton’s song “God Gave Me You.”
    • Asma is “an internet shopaholic”
      "While the country erupted" around her, Assad’s U.K.-born wife, went online to buy diamond and onyx necklaces, a Ming Luce vase, and $15,000 worth of candlesticks, tables, and chandeliers.
    • President Assad sidestepped sanctions — to get iTunes downloads
      Assad used a third party with an address in the U.S. to get around Washington’s sanctions so he could get music and apps from Apple’s iTunes. His purchases reportedly included the iPad game Real Racing 2, and tunes by singer Chris Brown.
    • Friends abroad say: Come stay with us!
      A daughter of Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, recently urged Asma to convince her husband to avoid being killed by fleeing Syria, and to “re-start a normal life,” suggesting that Doha is a good place for exiled leaders.
    • President Assad sidestepped sanctions — to get iTunes downloads
      Assad used a third party with an address in the U.S. to get around Washington’s sanctions so he could get music and apps from Apple’s iTunes. His purchases reportedly included the iPad game Real Racing 2, and tunes by singer Chris Brown. 
    • The Assads and their friends aren’t totally out of touch
      Asma sent a friend a note about a pair of $4,000 Christian Louboutin heels. The reply: “I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.” 

    For more information on the uprising in Syria, here is a link to all our recent coverage. 

     


  12. In a much-hyped speech, President Obama said the U.S. would help Tunisia and Egypt enact democratic reforms by offering both countries new aid and investment. He also endorsed, more clearly than ever, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state along pre-1967 borders as a way to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As well, Obama denounced regimes in Libya, Syria, and Iran for using violence to silence demonstrators demanding greater freedom. Did the president spell out a brave new vision for U.S. policy in the Middle East, or merely make a lot of empty promises?

    Here’s what the political responders are saying

     


  13. It sends a message that they can do whatever they want, even at the heart of the most secure and important jail, and it allows them to strengthen their ranks with more manpower.
    — 

    Muhammad Naiem Lalay Hamidzai, a Parliament member from Kandahar, and chairman of the internal security committee, as quoted by The New York Times.

    On Monday, Taliban leaders pulled off a stunning jailbreak in Afghanistan, freeing nearly 500 prisoners without firing a single shot. Escapees say the guards were always intoxicated, smoking heroin or sleeping.