05.07.11

Meanwhile in the Middle East

As bin Laden's death dominated headlines, Gaddafi staged a brazen assault in Libya, protests engulfed Yemen, and a Christian woman's conversion to Islam sparked deadly riots in Egypt. Read our updates.

Libya

As day broke on Saturday in rebel-controlled Misrata, Gaddafi stepped up his assault on the opposition in dramatic fashion. Huge explosions sent fireballs into the sky as the dictator's forces continued their assault on the city, this time attacking the city's fuel supply. The attack destroyed many of the city's fuel tanks—Misrata has been cut off from any other sources of fuel since February, when the uprising began, and has been relying heavily on its stored fuel supply. On Friday, residents discovered that Gaddafi's forces had laid anti-tank landmines around the city's port, which provides its only access to the outside world. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other countries faced legal setbacks in their attempts to pass the frozen assets of the Gaddafi regime over to the rebels. The U.S. has frozen $34 billion, the U.K. has frozen $19.7 billion, and Switzerland has frozen about $412.3 billion in Gaddafi's assets.

Syria

Unrest continues to roil Syria as CNN reports that nationwide protests on Friday left at least 26 protestors and 10 security officials dead. On Saturday, tanks and troops moved in on a village near the city of Banias, killing four women. Residents attempted to form a human chain, but soldiers still raided homes and opened fire. A group of women fled to a mosque and demanded the release of family members who had been arrested, but soldiers shot at them as well. Syrian officals have also acknowledged that they have taken custody of Dorothy Parvaz, a journalist for Al Jazeera English, who went missing after she arrived in Damascus days ago. Bloomberg reports that a European bid to stop the violence in Syria was met with resistance in the United Nations on Friday, from envoys who were concerned that intervention would lead to results similar to those in Libya.

Pakistan

In South Asia, the news of Osama bin Laden's death has made Pakistan the subject of speculation, with some wondering if the government secretly housed the al Qaeda leader in his Abbottabad compound. On Saturday, Reuters reported that bin Laden may have been hiding in Pakistan for more than seven years. Bin Laden's detained wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, reportedly confirmed to investigators that he and his family spent five years holed up in Abbottabad, but added that they had lived in a nearby village for two and a half years prior. Pakistan is facing increasing pressure to explain how bin Laden went undetected for so long while living so close to the country's capital. Either their intelligence forces were blindly incompetent, or they knew of his whereabouts all along. The U.S. gives Pakistan billions of dollars in federal aid to fight militancy, but bin Laden's longtime presence in the country has raised questions about whether this money has gone to waste. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on Saturday that the Obama administration has demanded the names of Pakistan's top-level intelligence operatives in order to determine whether or not they helped protect bin Laden . Pakistan has always rejected demands to name operatives in its Inter-services Intelligence Directorate, which aided the fight against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s and is believed to have maintained close ties with bin Laden since.

Yemen

Protests are raging in Yemen, where anti-government forces have asked that the plan for a transition of power be annulled. Yemeni rebels claim that the Gulf Cooperation Council has modified the original deal, which required Saleh to resign from his presidency within a month of the transition plan in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Now, the opposition alleges the deal only requires Saleh to resign as party leader, but not as president; the GCC denied that the plan has changed at all. On Thursday, U.S. drones aimed at American-born Yemen cleric and suspected al Qaeda leader Anwar al Awlaki failed to take him out. Instead, the attacks killed two other suspected al Qaeda fighters, albeit accidentally. But the U.S. hopes that targeting al Qaeda forces in Yemen will in turn push Saleh to resign as unrest grows in the country.

Egypt

Since Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak surrendered his power on February 11, the country's transitional government has struggled to regain stability and shift towards an organized democracy. Allegations of torture and corruption under Mubarak's regime have continued to surface in the aftermath of his resignation, a sign that the transitional government is disorderly and some officials continue to act unethically. On Saturday, a Christian woman who had converted to Islam created an uproar that reportedly left five people dead and 23 wounded. Though the details are sketchy, roughly 500 Islamist Salifists apparently gathered outside of a Coptic Church and insisted that the newly converted woman be handed over to them. Guns were fired and firebombs were thrown before security forces arrived at the scene, blowing tear gas into the crowds. While Muslims and Christians were united during protests against Mubarak, sectarian fights have since resumed. Also on Saturday, hundreds of political figures gathered at a large meeting hall in Cairo for "Egypt's First Conference: The people protect the revolution". The conference marks the beginning of the government's attempt to elect a National Council of 60 members who will be tasked with drawing up plans for Egypt's future.

Iraq

Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari warned in a statement on Saturday that al Qaeda will "likely" avenge the death of its late leader by striking Iraq, where many members of the terrorist group live and operate. Zebari added that his country was among "the first to express relief" at the announcement of bin Laden's death because of all the Iraqi soldiers who have died as a result of "his crimes in Iraq." Just last Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed 20 policemen in the predominantly Shiite central Iraq city of Hillah. Though al Qaeda did not claim responsibility for the attack, it nonetheless resembled many previous bombings targeted at Iraqi security forces by the terrorist group. Another unexplained attack in late March claimed the lives of 15 people, when gunmen wearing police uniforms stormed a government building in Tikrit, but the attackers were reportedly assisted by a suicide car bomber.

Afghanistan

The raid on Osama bin Laden may be spurring violence in Afghanistan as well, as the southern city of Kandahar saw fierce fighting on Saturday after a series of at least six suicide attacks, which injured roughly 23 people. The attacks came hours after the Taliban vowed to avenge bin Laden's death, and the BBC has reported the Jihad group admitted to organizing the assault. A Taliban spokesman claimed bin Laden's death had not motivated the attacks but that they had been in the works for weeks as part of their annual "spring offensive." They officially announced the offensive last week, using a child as a suicide bomber south of the country's capital a day after breaking the news. Saturday's raid in Kandahar targeted the provincial governor's office and a police station with gunmen firing from atop a four-story building on security forces defending the governor's compound. Two suicide bombers attempted to attack police and were shot dead before they could cause further damage. Fighting is ongoing; both sides have used grenades and machine guns. There were reports that U.S. helicopter gunships were being used in the fighting, though NATO was not aware of the helicopters allegedly involved. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and it has been the focus of the Western-backed government's operations during the past year.

Tunisia

Tunisia was the first country in the Middle East to see anti-government uprisings, when protests calling for change and democratic reform began in December, 2010. Now, democracy there appears to be in jeopardy, and on Saturday the government ordered an overnight curfew for the capital and surrounding cities in the face of renewed protests. The curfew reminded many of efforts by former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to quell unrest before he was overthrown in the "Jasmine Revolution." In February protesters in Tunisia formed a Committee for the Protection of the Revolution, drawing together 28 liberal and conservative organizations in the country, which has since decided to write a new constitution. But few socio-economic problems have been addressed.

Lizzie Crocker is an editorial assistant at The Daily Beast. She has written for NYLON, NYLON Guys, and thehandbook.co.uk, a London-based website.

Andrew Carter is an editorial assistant at Newsweek and The Daily Beast.