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 Historic Verdict and Further Syrian Massacres

by Robert M. Danin
June 7, 2012

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled out of the courtroom in Cairo Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled out of the courtroom in Cairo on June 2, 2012 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).


Significant Middle East Developments

Egypt. The trial of Hosni Mubarak concluded on Saturday with the three-judge panel sentencing the former Egyptian president and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, to life in prison as “accessories to murder.” Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were acquitted on corruption charges, and the six senior police officers considered directly responsible for the killing of Tahrir Square protesters were also acquitted. The verdict immediately spurred thousands of protesters to spill into the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. Mubarak’s health has reportedly deteriorated further in the wake of the announcement. Protesters demonstrating against Mubarak’s verdict also called for all senior officials under Mubarak to be banned from office, which would nullify current Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s candidacy. The Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it would consider a recent law banning Mubarak-era officials on June 14, two days before the scheduled presidential run-off. Meanwhile, Egypt’s military council announced on Tuesday that it was giving political parties forty-eight hours to create a commission to draw up a new constitution or else it would either issue its own or revert to the 1971 constitution that has been suspended since February 2011.

Syria. Accounts of two new massacres in Syria emerged Wednesday night, one in Qubeir and the other in a town in the western province of Latakia. Syrian activists reported that at least seventy-eight people were killed in Qubeir, mostly women and children. The Syrian regime denied all accusations and blamed “terrorists” for the killings. Meanwhile, a team of UN observers were halted at a security checkpoint and prevented from inspecting the site at Qubeir. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told the UN General Assembly today that the UN team also came under small arms fire, although he declined to provide specific details. Rebels claimed to have killed over eighty Syrian soldiers last weekend in the suburbs of Damascus and Idleb province. UN special envoy Kofi Annan said “it is clear that the six-point-peace plan is not being implemented…the hour demands much more.” Annan is expected to present a new plan to form a “contact group” that will craft a new proposal acceptable to Russia and China as well as the U.S. and its European allies. In just the first five days of June, over two thousand and seven hundred Syrians have fled to Turkey, bringing the total number of refugees in Turkey up to nearly twenty-seven thousand. Meanwhile the Syrian government declared seventeen envoys “persona non grata” in response to last week’s coordinated expulsion of Syrian diplomats by a number of foreign countries.

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton condemned the massacre in the Syrian village of Mazraat al-Qubeir and called for Syrian president Assad to hand over power. Speaking before a news conference in Istanbul this morning, Clinton said: “The regime-sponsored violence that we witnessed again in Hama yesterday is simply unconscionable. Assad has doubled down on his brutality and his duplicity and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Assad goes.” Her announcement follows Wednesday’s call by the Friends of Syria group, led by the United States, for stronger sanctions against the Assad regime. That call was once again met by resistance from Russia and China.

Quotes of the Week

  • “When a surgeon enters the operating room and opens a wound, it bleeds. He cuts and extracts. Do we tell him: ‘Your hands are cursed as they are contaminated with blood?’ Or do we thank him for saving the patient?” – Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in a nationally televised address Sunday
  • “The only way to save the revolution is to support the Brotherhood’s revolutionary candidate Mohamed Mursi in the presidential election runoff…This is not the time to talk about guarantees because we are talking about a danger that is coming at us with all its power…so we have to unite to topple the old regime’s candidate and then try and reach agreements afterwards.” – Muslim Brotherhood secretary general Mohamed Hussein in an interview Monday
  • “Iran can in no case [be involved in Syria talks]…as it would firstly be contradictory with the aim of applying strong pressure on Syria and would also have an effect upon Tehran’s nuclear program, which is not desirable.” – French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told AFP on Wednesday
  • “Application of the so-called Yemen scenario to resolve the conflict in Syria is possible only if the Syrians themselves agree to it…The Yemen scenario was discussed by the Yemenis themselves. If this scenario is discussed by Syrians themselves and is adopted by them, we are not against it.” – Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Thursday
  • “I represent a civil state, the Brotherhood represents a sectarian Brotherhood state. I represent moving forward, they represent going backwards.” – Egyptian presidential candidate and former Mubarak official Ahmed Shafiq said on Sunday
  • “The Syrian issue should be resolved based on envoy Annan’s six-point proposal within the U.N. framework…You can’t say that because you dislike a country’s system, you can then think of ways to overturn its government.” – Chinese vice foreign minister Cheng Guoping said Thursday

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Libya. A National Transitional Council official said on Monday that elections for the National Assembly, scheduled for June 19, are likely to be delayed until mid-July. Highlighting the continued violence and highly unstable security situation in the country, a bomb exploded next to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a group of militiamen seized the Tripoli airport on Monday. Libyan authorities managed to retake the airport later in the evening, but the incident emphasized the existence of numerous armed rebel militias not under government control.

Palestine. Fatah and Hamas agreed on Wednesday in Cairo on the ministerial lineup of a national consensus government under the Doha reconciliation agreement. The Arab League welcomed the development, hailing it as a breakthrough in the reconciliation process. Meanwhile a reform committee began its three day summit Monday in Amman to discuss an electoral system for elections to the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the PLO. The committee agreed that two hundred of the three hundred and fifty seats will represent the Palestinian Diaspora community.

Lebanon. The Lebanese Army deployed Sunday morning along a Tripoli road dividing a pro-Assad neighborhood from a pro-uprising neighborhood. The enhanced security measures follow last week’s clashes that left at least fourteen dead and fifty-two wounded. Amidst the ensuing calm, residents of Tripoli held a strike Monday to protest the recent violence. Meanwhile, the families of Shia pilgrims kidnapped in Syria on May 22 blocked the road to the Beirut airport on Thursday, threatening to permanently block the road if they do not receive assurances about their missing family members.

This Week in History

This week marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War, which began on June 5, 1967. Also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War was launched by Israel on June 5 with surprise bombing raids against the Egyptian air force after President Nasser ordered United Nations peacekeepers out of the Sinai, closed the Strait of Tiran, and threatened to destroy Israel. Within six days, Israel had won a decisive land victory and had occupied the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. While Israel won the war quickly and decisively, it has yet to translate that victory into comprehensive peace, and the occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights that began in 1967 endures.

Statistic of the Week

According to a Refugees International report, there are now nearly 125,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Refugees  International reported that these refugees could pose a threat to the stability of both countries. The report also notes that social services in Jordan and Lebanon have made genuine efforts to accommodate the new influx of refugees. However, they are in need of significant increases in the financial assistance provided by the United States, the Gulf countries, and other donors in order to defuse domestic tensions and relieve the strain on their economies.


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