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: Struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria

by Robert M. Danin
February 15, 2013

Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali arrives for a round of consultations with other political parties at the Carthage Palace in Tunis, February 15, 2013 (Mili/Courtesy Reuters). Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali arrives for a round of consultations with other political parties at the Carthage Palace in Tunis, February 15, 2013 (Mili/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Tunisia. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali pledged to announce a government of technocrats tomorrow, following intensive consultations with a variety of party leaders today. Jebali recently sacked his cabinet and called for new elections after the assassination of prominent opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6. The prime minister’s own party Ennahda, which dominates the National Constituent Assembly, has resisted Jebali’s proposal for a caretaker government and has called on its supporters to “defend their revolution.” Jebali has ignored their calls and said he would resign if his new cabinet is rejected.

Egypt. Hundreds of anti-Morsi protesters gathered outside the presidential palace today to demand the dismissal of the current government of Egyptian prime minister Hesham Qandil. A National Salvation Front (NSF) spokesman reported that the NSF and the Salafist Nour party agreed yesterday on the need to formulate a national salvation government. The NSF also announced its interest in a national dialogue in the wake of its agreement with the Salafist Nour party. Earlier in the week hundreds of police officers shut down branches of the Interior Ministry in at least seven provincial capitals in a rare protest against President Morsi’s exploitation of the police. Nearly seventy people have been killed in clashes between protesters and police in the three weeks following the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution on January 25.

Meanwhile Egyptian security forces intercepted two tons of explosives headed from Cairo to the Sinai Peninsula. The confiscated explosives were reportedly of a type used for demolishing stones in quarries. Last weekend, Egyptian forces started to flood smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza with water.

Syria. Rebel forces and Assad loyalists fought heavily for a third straight day near Aleppo for two strategic airports and a military airbase. At least 150 people were killed in the first two days of fighting. The rebels have recently scored a string of significant victories, including the capture of a major oil field and Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam. Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) leadership clarified that it would only be willing to open negotiations with civilian officials and that it refuses to talk with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad or his “cohorts” in the military and intelligence services. Qatar became the first country to hand a Syrian embassy to the SNC yesterday.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that he is working on developing diplomatic proposals to persuade Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to leave power. Speaking after meeting with Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh at the State Department on Wednesday, Kerry said that “there are additional things that can be done to change [Assad’s] current perception…I’ve got a good sense of what I think we might propose.” Secretary Kerry is set to visit the Middle East later this month in advance of President Obama’s trip to the region in March.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Bahrain. Thousands of protesters swarmed a highway connecting Bahrain’s capital to Shi’ite villages today in the second day of violent clashes marking the country’s anniversary of the 2011 uprising against the Sunni rulers. An Interior Ministry spokesman announced investigations were opened into the deaths of a sixteen year-old protestor and a police officer killed during demonstrations yesterday. The fresh violence comes as main opposition group Al Wefaq and the government resumed reconciliation talks on Sunday for the first time since July 2011.

Palestine. Palestinian protesters demonstrating in support of a hunger striker in Israel’s Olef prison clashed with Israeli security forces earlier today.  One Israeli soldier and over one hundred Palestinians were injured. Meanwhile, the Central Elections Commission began updating voter registration records in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Palestinian reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas ended inconclusively after two days of meetings concluded in Cairo on Saturday. Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad said that Hamas deputy politburo chief Mousa Abu Marzouq requested that the next meeting be postponed until February 27

Iran. General Hassan Shateri, a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was killed on Wednesday on the road between Beirut and Damascus. Shateri was in charge of reconstruction projects in southern Lebanon. Revolutionary Guards spokesman General Ramazan Sharif blamed “mercenaries and supporters” of Israel.

Iraq. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets today in several Sunni strongholds across Iraq. The protesters demonstrated against unfair treatment by the Shi’ite-led government. Mass protests have been staged since December calling for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s resignation and for the release of thousands of Sunnis arrested under counter-terrorism regulations.

This Week in History

Sunday marks the eighty-seventh anniversary of Turkey’s adoption of a secular civil code replacing shari’a, which had been the foundation of Ottoman personal status law. Enacted on February 17, 1926, the Turkish Civil Code was adapted from the Swiss Civil Code and abolished polygamy, and granted women equal rights in matters of family relationships and inheritance. The Civil Code was part of the modernization project of revolutionary Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. At the time, Minister of Justice Mahmut Esat explained that “the Ottoman code and similar other religious regulations are not reconcilable with Turkish national life.” The Turkish Civil Code of 1926 was extensively reformed in 2001.

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