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.
Gaza. Hamas “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
- “The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.” – U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta on Sunday in an interview on “60 Minutes”
- “They have no popularity… Is it valid that they receive funds to create chaos to bring down the parliament? This is chaos. It is not about democracy.” – Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan in Egypt on Wednesday, criticizing the protesters
- “I hope the UN Security Council meeting will bear quick fruit so that the council can meet the expectations of the international community,” – UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon speaking about the situation in Syria on Tuesday at a news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman
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.