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: Syria’s Deaths, Turkey’s Protests, and Egypt’s Water

by Robert M. Danin
June 13, 2013

Women hold candles as they mourn at a funeral earlier this week in Raqqa province east of Syria May 16, 2013 (Kelze/Courtesy Reuters).


Significant Developments

Syria. United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay said today that the Syrian death toll is approaching ninety-three thousand. Syrian rebels attacked the village of Hatlah yesterday, killing at least thirty Shiite villagers and burning homes while shouting sectarian slogans. The raid came one day after two suicide bombers detonated their explosives in central Damascus, killing fourteen people.

Austrian peacekeeping forces began withdrawing from the United Nations Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights on Wednesday. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is set to hold talks with Swedish officials over plans for a replacement peacekeeping force; Sweden is reportedly interested but wants UNDOF’s mandate to be expanded to allow for forces to defend themselves if attacked.

Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a “final warning” today to peaceful protesters to evacuate Gezi Park so security forces can deal with the “terrorist organizations” that remain. He met with a group of eleven activists yesterday in an attempt to ease tensions, but many of the protesters claimed that the selected activists did not represent them. Shortly afterwards, Erdogan issued an ultimatum of twenty-four hours to clear out of the park. Meanwhile, Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, suggested that the government might be open to a referendum on the fate of the park, a concept that has been largely rejected as insincere by the protesters. Thousands of protesters streamed back into Taksim Square yesterday after riot police cleared the square on Tuesday using tear gas and water cannons.

Egypt. Ethiopia’s parliament ratified a treaty today between six upstream Nile basin countries that redistributes the rights to the Nile’s water and rejects Egypt’s claim to the vast majority. The ratification comes against the backdrop of an escalating feud over Ethiopia’s plans to build a new hydroelectric dam on the Nile that Egypt fears will reduce its water supply. Ahmed Mohamed Ali, a spokesman for the Egyptian army, said yesterday that it is “too early to involve the army,” but Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a statement the same day that the armed forces are “ready and able to protect the nation.” Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi warned in a live televised address on Monday that “all options are open” to prevent Ethiopia from threatening Egypt’s water security. Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr is scheduled to travel to Addis Ababa next week to discuss the dam project with Ethiopian officials.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry held a joint press conference with British foreign minister William Hague in Washington yesterday, in which they both addressed developments in Syria. Kerry said that “it’s not a question to me whether or not the opposition can, quote, win, it’s a question of whether or not we can get to this political solution.” Foreign Minister Hague said that “the scale of the regime’s oppression and the human suffering that it has caused beggars belief.”

Meanwhile, the United States eased trade restrictions on the Syrian opposition yesterday, allowing companies to purchase oil and to supply software, technology, reconstruction equipment, food, and medical supplies.

Israel-Palestine. Secretary of State John Kerry postponed an expected trip to the Middle East this week in order to stay in Washington in part to attend meetings on Syria. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Kerry is “looking forward to doing that trip in the short term,” but she did not provide a specific date.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Yemen. Tribesmen attacked a crucial oil pipeline today, killing a soldier who was escorting a technical team and completely stopping the flow of oil. Meanwhile, Yemeni electricity minister Saleh Sumai blamed a two-day power outage in the capital and several provinces on other attacks on power lines in Marib province.

Lebanon. The Lebanese army issued a rare warning to Syria after a helicopter fired two rockets at the urban center of Arsal, a Lebanese border town, wounding one person. Lebanese president Michael Suleiman said, “It is our right to take the necessary measures to defend our sovereignty and our people – including filing a complaint to the Arab League and the UN.”

Meanwhile, Hisham Salman, a Lebanese protester, was shot and killed outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Sunday during a rally against Hezbollah’s widening involvement in Syria. Demonstrators accused Hezbollah supporters wearing yellow armbands of attacking the protesters.

Iran. Campaigning in Iran’s presidential election ended today, a day before voting begins. Tomorrow’s presidential election is the first since 2009. Only one moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, remains in the race, and Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani officially endorsed him yesterday. Rouhani faces five conservative opponents.

Iraq. A series of car bombings killed at least fifty-seven people in central and northern Iraq on Monday in the most recent attack in what has been the deadliest spike of violence since 2008. Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Kurdistan on Sunday for the first time in over two years, in a symbolic step towards easing the tension between the autonomous Kurdish region and Maliki’s central government.

Kuwait. Several Kuwaiti supermarket chains began boycotting goods from Iran on Wednesday to protest Iranian support of the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said on Monday that it would take action against members of Hezbollah living in GCC countries and that those measures could affect residency permits and commercial transactions.

This Week in History

This week in history marks the fourth anniversary of Iran’s Green Movement. On June 13, 2009, protests broke out in the streets of Tehran after the Interior Ministry announced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the landslide victor of Iran’s presidential elections. Mir Hussein Mousavi, the top challenger, disputed the results, and his supporters took to the streets demanding a new election. The opposition came to be known as the Green Movement. Iran’s security forces repressed the protests, killing dozens and injuring and detaining thousands of people. Mousavi and Medhi Karroubi, another candidate for president in the 2009 elections who took part in the protests, have been under house arrest for more than two years.

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