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 Parliamentary Annulment and Increased Tensions over Syria

by Robert M. Danin
June 14, 2012

A protester shouts in front of police outside the Supreme Constitutional Court, where a decision is expected on the validity of the law passed by the Islamist-led parliament that sought to bar Ahmed Shafik in Cairo June 14, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). A protester shouts in front of police outside the Supreme Constitutional Court, where a decision is expected on the validity of the law passed by the Islamist-led parliament that sought to bar Ahmed Shafik in Cairo June 14, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Egypt. Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court today deemed unconstitutional both the law governing the country’s recent parliamentary elections and the “Political Disenfranchisement Law” that would have prevented presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq from running in the upcoming elections. As a result, the second round of Egypt’s presidential elections are slated to occur as scheduled on June 16-17 pitting Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammad Mursi against Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under ousted Hosni Mubarak. However, under the court’s ruling, both houses of Egypt’s parliament will be dissolved based on the grounds that “the makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand.” In a move some are calling a de facto coup, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will assume all parliamentary powers and the right to elect the Constituent Assembly. The court did not specify when new parliamentary elections needed to be held. Clashes erupted in Cairo outside of the High Constitutional Court after verdicts were announced. Meanwhile, Egyptian security officials say Hosni Mubarak’s medical condition is showing “a slight improvement” after he was defibrillated twice to revive his ailing heart on Monday.

Syria. Car bombs detonated in Damascus and the northern city of Idlib today with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting twenty-two people killed in violent confrontations across Syria. The Observatory accused the nearly 300 UN observers currently in Syria of passivity and “silence” stating that the observers “do not move until after a city is defeated by regime troops, as happened in Al-Haffe.” UN officials only gained access to Al-Haffe in the Latakia, having been previously blocked from entering the village, after the Syrian Foreign Ministry announced that the area had been “cleansed” of “armed terrorist gangs.” UN officials reported that the observers had came under fire in a village near Al-Haffe on Tuesday after government supporters surrounded their vehicles as they were trying to reach the town. Herve Ladsous, the head of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said in New York on Tuesday that the situation in Syria now amounts to a full-scale civil war as witnesses on the ground described fresh shelling on Homs and heavy fighting in other cities.

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

Tensions increased this week between the United States and Russia over reports that Moscow is supplying Syria with attack helicopters. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Clinton accused Russia of sending arms to Syria saying: “We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.” Russia responded yesterday saying its deliveries to Syria conformed with UN regulations. Russia’s arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, announced it “does not supply weapons and military technology in contradiction with UN Security Council requirements and other international agreements.” Russian foreign minister Lavrov claimed Russia is supplying weapons for purely self-defense purposes and that Russia was “finishing the fulfillment of contracts that were signed and paid for a long time ago.” The United States then ratcheted up its rhetoric on Wednesday with State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland saying that “On a daily basis, on an hourly basis, we are seeing Russian- and Soviet-made weaponry used against civilians in towns all across Syria.” Clinton also said on Wednesday that while she supported cooperation with Russia, arms deliveries to Syria needed to stop. She also issued a renewed call for an end to violence saying: “We believe that the situation is spiraling towards civil war and it’s now time for everyone in the international community–including Russia and all Security Council members–to speak to Assad with a unified voice and insist that the violence stops.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports U.S. intelligence operatives have increased contacts with Syrian rebels “to help organize their burgeoning military operations against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.”  While providing logistical information and communications training, Washington denies providing lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.

Quotes of the Week

  • “We are back to square one.” – Law professor and political analyst Hossam Eissa to Ahram Online on the SCAF’s assumption of parliament powers today in Egypt
  • “Rarely, have I seen such brutality against children as in Syria, where girls and boys are detained, tortured, executed, and used as human shields.” Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative for children in armed conflict to the AFP ahead of the release of a Human Rights Watch Report
  • “Some parties are the main cause of the organized terrorist actions in Iraq… and they should know that their actions will make the region insecure.” — Deputy Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdolahian, told state news agency IRNA on violence in Iraq
  • “They bring darkness to a world longing for light.” – Israeli president Shimon Peres said in Washington about Iran after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama on Wednesday

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Libya. A four-member International Criminal Court delegation was detained in Libya last Sunday after meeting with Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The Hague-based ICC wants to try Seif al-Islam for crimes against humanity. ICC officials were in Libya to help Seif choose a defense lawyer. The delegation is being held in the western town of Zintan after Libyan officials alleged that Melina Taylor, an Australian lawyer, was attempting to give Seif a coded letter from Mohammad Ismail, a currently wanted man. Both the ICC and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen have condemned the detention and urged their swift releases.

Tunisia. Tunisia’s military court yesterday sentenced ousted president Ben Ali to twenty years imprisonment in absentia for “incitement of murder.” The trial concentrated on a mid-January 2011 incident in which four teenagers attempting to prevent Ben Ali’s nephew Kais from fleeing the country were shot dead by the president’s security forces. Ben Ali, currently exiled in Saudi Arabia, faces a number of other trials, and has already been sentenced to more than sixty-six years in prison on charges ranging from drug trafficking to embezzlement. Although both Ben Ali and his wife are subject to an international arrest warrant, there are no signs that Saudi Arabia is willing to extradite him.

Yemen. Yemen experienced its biggest victory in its U.S.-backed offensive to drive al-Qaeda linked insurgents from the country’s south in more than a year by recapturing two strategic cities on Tuesday, Jaar and Zinjibar. Airstrikes continued on Wednesday in the town of Azzan–including at least one reported strike by a U.S. drone. Brigadier General Mohammad al-Sawmali said Tuesday’s success ended al-Qaeda’s hopes to establish Islamic rule in the south, but added that the government needed to remain vigilant against operations targeting key political and military figures.

Iraq. A coordinated wave of car bombings killed at least sixty-six people and injured hundreds yesterday in Iraq. Car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and a number of other cities. The attacks mark one of the deadliest days in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks though some suspect they are the work of Sunni insurgents who frequently target Iraqi Shiites.

Israel/Palestine. The Russian foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin is planning to visit Israel and theWest Bank, marking the first time since 2005. The visit is slated for late June.

This Week in History

This week marks the forty-second anniversary of the closing of Wheelus Air Base, the only U.S. air base ever to be located in Libya. The United States gained control of the previously Italian-owned airbase, some seven miles from Tripoli, after World War II. Described as “USAF’s Jewel in North Africa,” Wheelus’s strategic location and moderate climate made it central to U.S. Air Force operations throughout the Middle East. With the discovery of oil in Libya in 1959, the base also served as a home to the engineers and operators of Standard Oil. Although the United States had maintained favorable relationships with King Idris Al-Sanusi, the ruler of the United Kingdom of Libya formed in 1951, relations soured after the young Muammar al-Qaddafi staged a military coup on September 1, 1969 and assumed power. Among his first decisions as Libya’s new leader, Qaddafi ordered the immediate “liquidation of foreign bases on Libyan soil.” The United States negotiated a contentious agreement with Qaddafi, and by June 11, 1970, all American aircraft and personnel had left the base.

Statistic of the Week

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy dominated the expatriate runoff-round voting in the Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, taking 127,587 votes to his opponent Ahmed Shafiq’s 29,287

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