Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Middle East Matters This Week: Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and More

by Robert M. Danin
February 3, 2012

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton confers with British foreign minister William Hague before a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on January 31, 2012 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton confers with British foreign minister William Hague before a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on January 31, 2012 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. Diplomatic activity shifted to New York with foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Clinton, convening on Tuesday at the UN Security Council in attempts to forge a consensus over next steps to address the Syrian crisis. Russia declared its intent to veto any resolution that explicitly calls for regime change, sanctions, or an arms embargo. On Thursday, a revised draft endorsing the Arab League peace plan was circulated. However, it no longer called for an arms embargo, sanctions, or for Assad to delegate his presidential authority to the vice president. Meanwhile, violence intensified further this week. Syrian troops and armed rebels fought on the outskirts of Damascus with over one hundred killed on Monday alone. Colonel Riyadh al-Assad, the head of the Free Syrian Army, claimed on Tuesday that “fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime.”

Egypt. Hundreds of protesters marching toward the People’s Assembly on Tuesday were prevented from gathering in front of the building by a human shield made up of Muslim Brotherhood members. The protesters demanded moving up the date for presidential elections. The Muslim Brotherhood’s obstructive role led many protesters to equate them with the SCAF and minor clashes broke out, resulting in at least forty-three people being injured. Violence then broke out in Port Said after a soccer match Wednesday evening, killing at least seventy-four and injuring two hundred. The violence shocked the country with many Egyptians blaming the security forces for not doing enough to protect the crowd. On Thursday, Egypt’s parliament promised to investigate, which is sure to examine the role of the security forces and Egypt’s controversial emergency law.

GazaHamas “prime minister” Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza on Monday on his second international tour in as many months destined for Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Iran. With the Damascus government struggling to survive, Hamas appears to be looking for a new patron. Haniyeh previously visited Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, and Tunisia. Ankara reportedly promised Haniyeh $300 million to make up for the shortfall resulting from Iran’s suspension of payments in August. Turkey’s foreign ministry denied these reports on Sunday, but confirmed that Turkey was engaged in humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Iran. As reported in CFR’s Daily News Brief this morning: “Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would retaliate (Reuters) over Western-backed sanctions targeting its oil exports and threats of an attack on its nuclear facilities. The United States and the EU, which is in the process of imposing an oil embargo on Iran, contend that the country’s nuclear program is intended for manufacturing weapons. Khamenei’s speech followed reports suggesting that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta believes Israel could launch an attack on Iran as early as this spring.”

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to New York to participate in the UN Security Council debate on Syria. Following the meeting, Clinton said that the UNSC faced a historic choice between supporting the Syrian people or the “dictatorial regime” of Bashar al-Assad. She said that “every member of the council has to make a decision: Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the Syrian people? Are you on the side of the Arab League? Are you on the side of the people of the Middle East and North Africa who have during this past year spoken out courageously and often for their rights? Or are you on the side of a brutal, dictatorial regime?” Clinton went on to say that it is “absolutely imperative that we all be on the right side of history.”

Quotes of the Week

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Algeria. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced on Thursday that parliamentary elections will occur in the first half of May. The elections are Algeria’s first since 2007. Algeria’s Interior Ministry has approved at least ten new parties, including three Islamist parties, in what some suspect is an attempt to fragment the Islamist vote. Algeria has largely escaped the region’s uprisings though clashes erupted on Tuesday in Tiaret following the funeral of a man who died after setting himself on fire. At least thirty people were injured and the clashes that spread to the nearby towns of Sougueur and Rahaouiya on Wednesday. Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah, the leader of the most popular Islamist parties, warned this week that “if fraud is committed during the upcoming elections, it will be the biggest factor that will push the people toward an explosion.”

Kuwait. Kuwaitis voted on Thursday for their fourth parliament in six years. Kuwait’s parliament is entirely popularly elected and has full legislative power. However, there are no political parties so individual members of parliament have to negotiate to form blocs. Initial election results indicate that Islamist and Salafist oppositionists fared well; more than thirty of the fifty parliament seats were won by the opposition movement.

This Week in History

Wednesday marked the thirty-third anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran in 1979, following fifteen years of exile. Up to five million people lined Tehran’s streets to greet the man who served as the spiritual inspiration throughout the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini was seventy-eight at the time. He’d been imprisoned in 1963 by the Shah for his opposition to reforms. Khomeini was expelled the following year to Iraq. The last few months of his exile were spent in Paris helping to coordinate revolutionary activities that successfully forced the Shah from power and into hiding.

Statistic of the Week 

As a part of its “Perceptions about Turkey in the Middle East” survey, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation found that 52 percent of participants believed that the changes brought about by the Arab uprisings have had positive effects on their respective countries. Twenty-two percent said the consequences were likely to be negative for their country. The countries that Middle Easterners believed would benefit most from the Arab uprisings were Libya (92 percent), Tunisia (89 percent), and Egypt (75 percent). Sixty percent said they believed the uprisings would benefit the entire region.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Mhamed

    Djaballah represents only himself, he has no popular base but he’s smart, he told Western media that they like to hear on Algeria to be talked about !

    In addition, he was dismissed twice by activists of both parties that it had created the previous steps, Nahda and Islah !

  • Posted by Robert M. Danin

    Hi Djaballah. Thank you for your feedback. Appreciate your thoughts, and encourage others to reply as well. Best, Robert

  • Posted by Kafantaris

    Though Europe and the United States are accelerating economic sanctions in an effort to appease Israel, it plans to attack Iran anyway.  One might start to wonder which of these two is now the more rogue state in the Middle East.
    Should Israel surgically attack Iran, as it had done Iraq twenty years ago, we can expect Iran to return fire.   And Iran might have unknown weapons in its arsenal and unknown ways to use them. 
    The question then becomes to what extent do we help Israel when it picks a fight with Iran?
    If the U.S. helps it unconditionally, as it had done before, then we risk retaliation from Iran on our nearby facilities. The same is true for european countries which are all within a striking distance of Iran.  
    So what do we do, sit back and not help a friend trying to make the world a safer place for the rest of us?
    In this case, perhaps. 
    If Israel wants to bomb Iran on its own terms, when it wants to and how it wants to, then it can also stand ready to fend for itself when Iran returns fire.  To let it assume otherwise is irresponsible since it encourages rogue action on the expectation of help.  With the world on the mend from a profound economic downturn, such foreseeable misstep should be avoided. 
    Does this mean then that we  should resign ourselves to a nuclear Iran? George W. Bush may have thought so, as he may have thought the same about a nuclear North Korea.   And despite his and Dick Cheney’s professed love for Israel, they might have been looking for new friend in the Middle East when they toppled Saddam.  Iraq did not prove a friend, but it has proved that U.N. inspections can work because the UN teams had destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction. 
    Who knows, in time our economic sanctions might also slow down Iran.  If not, having nuclear Iran —  or nuclear anyone else — is something the rest of us can learn to live with. 
    Maybe Israel should too.  And conduct itself accordingly.  

  • Posted by Salim

    It’s weird how much I see Djaballah being quoted in Western Media when no Algerian actually care about him or his party.
    Not many people are going to show up to vote. That’s because the government has failed to show what differentiate this election for the many different other elections we’ve had. More transparency they say? Okay… what about legitimacy? no one trust most of the political parties in this arena.

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