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: Egypt’s Vote and Syria’s Massacre

by Robert M. Danin
May 31, 2012

A man cleans the scene of the burnt campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo on May 29, 2012 (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters). A man cleans the scene of the burnt campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo on May 29, 2012 (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Egypt. The Presidential Elections Commission officially announced Monday that there will be a run-off between Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq for the presidency. The announcement has been greeted with dismay by many revolution supporters, with thousands taking to the streets, setting Shafiq’s Cairo headquarters on fire just hours later. The low turnout rate of 46 percent for the first round is expected to decrease for the run-offs scheduled on June 16-17 as many parties are threatening to boycott. While no candidate won a majority, Morsi led the pack with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Shafiq with 24 percent, Hamdeen Sabbahi in third with 20.7 percent, Abdul Muniem Abul Fotouh with 17.47 percent, and Amr Moussa with 11.12 percent. Demonstrators continued to gather and protest on Tuesday and Wednesday, naming both candidates “enemies of the revolution” and calling for a million-man march against Shafiq on Friday. Meanwhile, the decades-old emergency law expired today and was not renewed. Egypt had been under a state of emergency since Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. It remains to be seen how the military will now act as a result.

Syria. Last Friday witnessed the single bloodiest incident yet of the uprising in Syria: a massacre of over one hundred civilians in the village of Houla, including at least forty-nine children. Most of the victims were executed, while the others died from shelling. The violence prompted an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday that produced a unanimous statement condemning the massacre and the Syrian government for employing tanks and artillery against civilians. The United States and ten other countries expelled Syrian envoys on Tuesday in a coordinated move, while Kofi Annan visited Assad in Damascus to appeal for an immediate end to violence and “bold steps.” After meeting with Assad, Annan described Syria as at a “tipping point.” Evidence of another massacre was uncovered Tuesday night with the discovery of the bodies of thirteen civilians who had been executed with bullets to the head in the Deir es-Zor province. The UN Security Council met again Wednesday to be briefed by Jean-Marie Guehenno, Annan’s deputy, who offered a bleak assessment. U.S. ambassador Susan Rice responded by saying that the worst, but most probable, case is the failure of Annan’s plan, and a spreading conflict that would result in a “major crisis” region-wide. Also following Wednesday’s meeting, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov called any further Security Council measures “premature.” Secretary of State Clinton accused Russia today of “propping up” Assad’s regime, while explaining that “the factors are just not there” for an intervention. Meanwhile Syrian rebels Wednesday gave Assad a deadline of Friday to abide by Annan’s peace plan or they would consider themselves free from any commitments.

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

Iran. The United States and Iran traded accusations this week over Iran’s nuclear development. On Tuesday, Iran warned the West that pressuring Tehran with sanctions during talks would threaten finding a solution. Foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference: “This approach of pressure concurrent with negotiations will never work. These countries should not enter negotiations with such illusions and misinterpretations.” Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog showed satellite imagery suggesting that Iran may be cleaning the Parchin site, where inspectors had suspected that tests relevant to atomic bomb development had been carried out.

Quotes of the Week

  • “[A] return to the old regime is unacceptable. So is exploiting religion in politics.” – Former Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa told a press conference on Monday
  • “(There was) no significant achievement except for the Iranians having been given another three weeks or so to pursue the nuclear project until the next meeting in Moscow.” – Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio in an interview on Tuesday
  • “It is the start of a process to rectify the flawed historical situation that saw Western countries supporting dictators in the region, whose people hated those countries for their support.” — Rached Ghannouchi quoted by Qatar’s state news agency QNA at the opening of a conference in Doha on relations between the United States and the Muslim world
  • “Let me state plainly, however: The UN did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents… We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.” – UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Thursday
  • “U.S. drones do not actually kill terrorists as they are supposed to do, but instead they kill women and youths.” – Nobel Peace Prize Winner Tawakul Karman said Thursday

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Gaza. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh agreed Monday to allow the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to operate in Gaza in order to start preparing for elections. The CEC will start updating the electoral roll in Gaza on July 2 and plans to open two hundred and seventy-four centers to register voters. CEC chairman Hanna Nasser said that registration would take six weeks, after which PA president Mahmoud Abbas would set a date for presidential and parliamentary elections.

Algeria. The inaugural session of Algeria’s new parliament on Saturday was interrupted by Islamist opposition members of parliament when they held up a placard reading “No to fraud!” The lawmakers, many of whom were part of the Green Algeria Alliance, proceeded to walk out of the session, announcing “an official protest against the election results.” The May 10 elections saw Algeria’s ruling party, the FLN, win two hundred and twenty of the available four hundred and sixty-two seats, while the allied RND party took an additional sixty-eight. Protesting parties filed one hundred and sixty-seven appeals, but the Constitutional Court only upheld thirteen.

Tunisia. Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jemali warned today that authorities would deal firmly with any groups that “believe they are charged by God to purify society.” The statement follows attacks in the past week by Salafi Muslims against police stations and liquor stores. Meanwhile, Tunisia’s judiciary went on strike Wednesday to protest the removal of eighty-two judges accused of corruption and ties to the previous government.

This Week in History

This week marks the 104th anniversary of the first big oil discovery in the Middle East. Englishman William D’Arcy obtained a license to explore for oil in Persia in 1901 and he, with the Burmah Oil Company, financed oil hand George Reynolds to search for petroleum there. After seven unsuccessful years of exploration, Reynolds made a last ditch attempt at digging on May 26, 1908. He was rewarded with a seventy-five foot gusher at Masjid-i-Suleiman. As a result of the huge find, D’Arcy and the Burmah Oil Company reorganized their holdings in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the first public offerings of which sold out in London within a half hour. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company would become the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935 and then British Petroleum in 1954.

Statistic of the Week

According to a recent Jerusalem Media and Communication Center poll, Fatah would win an election if it were held today. While nearly half of the respondents said that Fatah has failed to implement reforms or combat corruption, 42 percent said they would still vote Fatah compared to the 19 percent that said they would support Hamas. Fifty-one percent of Palestinians interviewed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip support presidential and parliamentary elections, but only if reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is reached. Fifty percent of those polled said that they would vote for jailed Fatah Marwan Barghouti if he decides to run for president, while only 20 percent said they would support Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Nearly half of the Palestinians interviewed said that they prefer a two-state solution, while 25 percent said prefer a one-state solution.

 

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