New Middle East at a Glance-Country by Country

Arab countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa are experiencing unrest. Israel National News brings you a brief review on what’s happening with the Arabs – and the Jews – in the various states:

Hundreds of protestors clashed with security forces in the capital city of Algiers over the past few days, demanding the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. About 100 have been arrested. Bouteflika has agreed to lift the nearly 20-year-old state of emergency with which the country has been ruled.

Algeria’s Jewish population can be traced back about 2,600 years, to when the First Temple was destroyed.  After Algeria achieved independence from France in 1962, most of the country’s 130,000 Jews – who had long suffered from local anti-Semitism  – emigrated to France. By the 1990’s, most of the remaining Jews had emigrated. In 1994, the rebel Armed Islamic Group declared war on all non-Muslims in the country. The Algiers synagogue was abandoned that year and later became a mosque. Slightly more than 200 Jews remain today in Algeria, mostly in Algiers.

Thousands of people are marching in the streets today, demanding the regime’s ousting. At least two protestors have been killed and three police officers hurt. The small island kingdom (population 1.25 million) has been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family for nearly two centuries, since 1820.

After World War II, riots were focused against the middle-class Jewish community. By 1948, most of Bahrain Jewry abandoned its properties and evacuated to Bombay, India and later to Israel and the United Kingdom. As of 2008, 37 Jews remained in the country; the issue of compensation was never settled. In 2008, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa called on the Jews who emigrated to return.

Unrest continues despite the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday. Banks and the stock market remain closed, while the army attempts to take control until elections are able to be arranged.

In 1956, the Egyptian government issued a proclamation stating that “all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state” and threatened them with expulsion. As a result, half of Egypt’s 50,000 Jews left, and 1,000 were imprisoned. After the 1967 war, nearly all Egyptian Jewish men aged 17-60 were either thrown out of the country or incarcerated and tortured. Fewer than 100 Jews remain in Egypt today.

Tens of thousands of anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrators marched in downtown Tehran on Monday. The Parliament Speaker blamed the United States and Israel for the protests. Opposition activists continue to call for more demonstrations, in which security forces have fired tear gas; dozens of people have been arrested, and two opposition leaders have been placed under house arrest.”The parliament condemns the Zionist, American, anti-revolutionary and anti-national action of the misled seditionists,” Speaker Ali Larijani said during a parliament session.

Jews in Iran, formerly known as Persia, date back 4,000 years.  In 1948, the population numbered close to 150,000, and at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the number was 80,000. From then on, Jewish emigration increased dramatically. Estimates of today’s population range from 20,000 to 35,000. Iran’s Jewish community, the largest among Muslim countries, is officially recognized as a religious minority group and as such is allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament. Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues.

Though Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s regime does not appear to be in imminent danger, thousands of people have rallied in recent days and weeks across the country, protesting poverty, high unemployment, and shortages of food, electricity and water. Al-Maliki has announced a 50% cut in his $350,000 salary and that he would not run for a third term in 2014.

Iraqi Jewry dates back at least 2,600 years, and numbered around 120,000 in 1948. Nearly all the Jews left because of persecution following Israel’s War of Independence, and today fewer than 100 Jews remain.

The future of Tunisia is still in doubt, following the fleeing of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as a result of the December unrest that sparked the protests across the Middle East. The EU’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, met yesterday with various leaders in an attempt to shape a policy for governing the country.

In 1941, Tunisia was home to roughly 100,000 Jews, and a year later became the only Arab country to come under direct Nazi occupation during World War II. The Nazis forced Jews to wear the yellow Star of David, confiscated property, and sent some 5,700 Jews to forced labor camps, where 150 died in the camps or the bombings.  In the 1950’s, anti-Semitism and other forms of persecution led to the departure of tens of thousands of Jews; each person was allowed to leave with approximately $5 of their own money. As of now, 700 Jews live in the city of Tunis and 1,000 on the island of Djerba.

The Cabinet headed by prime minister Salam Fayyad submitted its resignation to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, and Fayyad was immediately re-appointed to head the new government. Abbas, whose Fatah organization runs the Judea/Samaria parts of the Palestinian Authority, has called for new elections “by September at the latest” – but Hamas, which controls Gaza, says it will not take part.

Only minor protests have been held, but the Abbas government has been under criticism for the lack of progress in the talks with Israel, for having reportedly made concessions to Israel, and in light of constant Hamas criticism.

Jews, by definition, do not live in the PA-controlled areas. This past December, Abbas said, “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it.” Months earlier, he even said that he would not agree to a single Jewish soldier in a NATO peacekeeping in the region, but later backtracked.

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Though no acute danger faces King Abdullah’s regime, he is experiencing popular protests, and his wife, Queen Rania, has been accused of corruption. A letter signed by 36 leading Bedouin representatives says that Rania must return land and farms expropriated by her family. The letter endorses several demands expressed by the Islamist opposition, and warns that Jordan “will sooner or later face the flood of Tunisia and Egypt, due to the suppression of freedoms and looting of public funds.”

At the same time, Islamist voices are coming to the fore in Jordan; the country’s new Justice Minister has praised the murderer of seven Israeli girls and called for his release from prison. The lethal attack occurred on the Israeli-Jordanian border in 1997.

Abdullah has formed a new government in response to the protests, and U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Jordan over the weekend to discuss current events with the leadership.

Jewish history in what is now Jordan goes back to Biblical times, when Moses granted permission to two and a half tribes to live there after taking part in the war for the Land of Israel. Over the centuries, the Jewish population dwindled to nothing. In the 1930’s, leading residents of what was then Transjordan requested that Jews move in to help revive the economy – but the British, who ruled the area, did not want more Jewish-Arab problems, and passed legislation banning Jews from living there.

After the Kingdom of Jordan was created, it ratified this law in 1954, declaring that any person may become a citizen unless he is a Jew (or if a special council approves his request and he has fulfilled other conditions).  Jordan has no Jewish community at present.

Underground opposition groups reportedly tried to organize Day of Rage protests on Monday, and have now rescheduled them for this Thursday. Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country since 1969, met last month with political activists and journalists, warned that they would be held responsible if they took part “in any way in disturbing the peace or creating chaos in Libya.”

In 1931, 21,000 Jews lived in Libya – 4% of the total population  – under generally good conditions. In the late 1930s, the Fascist Italian regime began passing anti-Semitic laws, and in 1942 – when 44 synagogues were operative in Tripoli – German troops occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi and deported more than 2,000 Jews to labor camps across the desert, where more than a fifth of them perished.

After World War II, anti-Jewish violence and murderous pogroms caused many Jews to leave the country, principally for Israel, and under Gaddafi’s rule, the situation deteriorated so badly that only 20 Jews remained by 1974. In 2003, the last Jew of Libya, 80-year-old Rina Debach, left the country.

A video has been distributed calling for a protest to be held on Feb. 20 to demand “equality, social justice, employment, housing, study grants and higher salaries,” as well as “change, political reforms, the resignation of the Government and the dissolution of Parliament.” Analysts do not expect the campaign to succeed. Some have said that the Moroccan government may face unrest in the west, thanks to Algerian instigators.

Before the founding of Israel in 1948, there were over 250,000 Jews in the country, but only 3,000 – 7,000 remain today, mostly in Casablanca.  In June 1948, 44 Jews were killed in anti-Semitic riots, and large-scale emigration to Israel began. Between 1961 and 1964, more than 80,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel; by 1967, only 60,000 Jews remained, and four years later, this number was 35,000. Today, the State of Israel is home to nearly 1,000,000 Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation’s total population.

In an attempt to head off protests, the Assad government withdrew a plan to remove some subsidies. President Bashar Assad gave a rare interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said he to hold local elections, pass a new media law, and give more power to private organizations. A planned “Day of Rage” that was organized via Facebook for February 5 failed to materialize.

Large Jewish communities existed in Aleppo, Damascus, and Qamishli for centuries. About 100 years ago, a large percentage of Syrian Jews emigrated to the U.S., Central and South America and Israel. Anti-Jewish feeling reached a climax in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and some 5,000 Jews left in the 1940’s for what became Israel. The Aleppo pogrom of December 1947, a pogrom in Aleppo – the third in 100 years – left many dead, hundreds wounded, and the community devastated. Another pogrom in Damascus in 1949 left 12 Jews dead. In 1992, the few thousand remaining Jews were permitted to leave Syria, as long as they did not head for Israel. The few remaining Jews in Syria live in Damascus.

Tuesday marks four straight days of clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. At least three people were injured on Tuesday as 3,000 activists attempted to march on the presidential palace. They are demanding  the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years. Protests have become increasingly violent. Besides poverty and unemployment, the Saleh government is grappling a secessionist movement in the south, rebellion in the north, and a regrouping of Al Qaeda on its soil.

Between June 1949 and September 1950, 49,000 Yemenite Jews – the overwhelming majority of the country’s Jewish population – was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. Only a few dozen mostly elderly Jews remain in Yemen.

Amidst the Arab demands for the restitution of Arab refugees from the 1948 war, it is largely forgotten that around that time, more than 870,000 Jews lived in the various Arab countries. In many cases, they were persecuted politically and physically, and their property was confiscated; some 600,000 Jews found refuge in the State of Israel. Their material claims for their lost assets have never been seriously considered.


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