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: Upheaval in Egypt and Syria

by Robert M. Danin
July 12, 2013

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Courtesy Reuters).


Significant Developments

Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood vowed today to continue resisting the army’s July 3 ouster of President Mohammad Morsi. The Brotherhood issued its call one day after the military-appointed government ordered the arrest of several members of the Brotherhood’s senior leadership–including its spiritual guide Mohammed Badie–for allegedly inciting violent clashes with the military outside the Republican Guard headquarters on Monday. At least fifty-one protestors were killed and hundreds more wounded when Egyptian soldiers opened fire on Morsi supporters on Monday.

Interim president Adly Mansour on Tuesday named Hazem el-Beblawi prime minister and Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, vice president. Mansour also issued a declaration establishing a committee of ten jurists to propose a package of constitutional amendments in one month. These amendments would then be reviewed for two months by a group of fifty representatives before going to a popular referendum a month later. Under the announced timetable, Parliamentary elections would then take place within the next month, with a new parliament then able to issue a call for new presidential elections. The Muslim Brotherhood immediately rejected Mansour’s timetable, while the National Salvation Front and Tamarod campaign have both voiced disapproval.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait pledged a combined total of $12 billion in assistance to Egypt’s new government on Tuesday.

Syria. President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview earlier today, accused Baath party leaders that were removed in a reshuffle this week of making major  mistakes while in office. It was the party’s first reshuffle since 2005. The Baath party announced sixteen new leaders on Tuesday, with Assad remaining secretary general. Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa, the only top official willing to compromise with the opposition, was removed from the party leadership. The Syrian National Coalition elected Ahmad Assi Jarba as its new president in a tight run-off on Saturday. However its prime minister Ghassan Hitto resigned from his post Monday, citing his inability to form an interim government. The Syrian National Coalition yesterday denied Russian allegations of sarin gas use in Aleppo as the United Nations accepted the Syrian government’s invitation for senior officials to visit Syria to discuss chemical weapons’ use, a UN spokesperson said yesterday.

Activists on Tuesday alleged that the Syrian army’s continuous bombardment of Homs had created a “critical humanitarian situation” with an acute shortage of medical supplies.  Syrian rebels meanwhile tightened their siege on government-controlled districts of Aleppo,  curtailing supply lines and drawing criticism from both rebel supporters and opponents for disrupting preparations for Ramadan.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Egypt. President Obama directed the Pentagon to review U.S. aid to Egypt today after  leading members of Congress urged him to reconsider the $1.3 billion aid package following the military ouster of Egypt’s president, Mohammad Morsi. Administration lawyers are working to determine whether the takeover should be considered a coup, which would trigger automatic suspension of most American funding to Egypt. “I’ll be blunt — this is an incredibly complex and difficult situation,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday. “There are significant consequences that go along with this determination, and it is a highly charged issue for millions of Egyptians who have different views about what happened. It would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance program to Egypt.”

Syria. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry urged members of Congress to support for White House plans to send arms to Syrian rebels, officials said Tuesday. Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees reportedly remain divided on the month-old Administration proposal to send light weapons and ammunition to anti-Assad insurgents. So far, U.S. arms shipments have not been sent.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Lebanon. A bomb detonated in a mostly Shiite suburb of Beirut on Tuesday injured over fifty people, fueling concerns that Syria’s sectarian strife was further spilling over into Lebanon’s capital. The explosion occurred in the Bir al-Abed area, a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah group that has increasingly been intervening in the Syrian war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. Sunni militants were widely suspected of the attack.

Turkey. Gezi Park, the site of protests last month, reopened on Tuesday after a night of clashes between police and protestors. “We are continuing the 20-year-old tradition of Gezi Park Iftar dinners,” local mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan said. “All the people of Istanbul are invited.” Police fired teargas and water cannon at protestors in an attempt to prevent them from entering the park on Monday night.

Iraq. Insurgents launched two days of deadly assaults in Anbar province, killing at least sixteen people. Militants attacked a police station in Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi today, leaving two policemen dead. Gunmen overran an Iraqi army checkpoint and police trailer in Anbar province yesterday and killed fourteen security personnel.

Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday named his close adviser, Ron Dermer, to be Israel’s next ambassador to the United States. “Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said in a statement announcing the appointment. “I have known him for many years, and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the State of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally – the U.S.” Dermer, like Israel’s current ambassador, Michel Oren, was born and raised in the United States.

Morocco. Five of six ministers from the minority conservative Istiqlal party resigned on Tuesday, purportedly due to a dispute over subsidy cuts and economy policy. If King Mohamed accepts their resignations, then the leading Islamist Justice and Development party will either have to find a new coalition partner or hold early elections.

This Week in History

This week marks the fifty-first anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France. On July 5, 1962, the Algerian Provisional Government proclaimed the country’s national Independence, 132 years to the day following France’s original invasion and occupation. In November 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched what would be a bitter eight-year conflict pitting the French army against Algerian guerilla fighters and rebels. Algeria was considered a vital part of France and contained over a million European settlers—pieds noirs—further intensifying the conflict. The war ended in March 1962 in a peace agreement, with French control of Algeria ended roughly four months later when French president Charles de Gaulle officially recognized Algerian independence.

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  • Posted by George Sanders

    The Simple, Common-Sense Solution to Egypt’s Polarized Political Problem

    Egypt’s first democratic rule has come to an untimely demise because of its intense unpopularity. Quite simply, Egypt’s ‘single-choice’ voting method spoiled similar candidates’ chances by splitting up their vote totals, allowing a less-popular candidate to win and wrongfully think that he had the overall mandate of the Egyptian people.

    The simple, common-sense way to quickly mitigate this problem–and at zero cost–is simply to allow Egyptians to approve of as many candidates as they want for each office, thereby electing the most-approved candidate who will best represent the general wishes of the Egyptian people.

    This better voting method is called “Approval Voting.” It’s essentially the same voting procedure as Egypt used before, with the same voting machines and types of ballots, but just count all the votes. And isn’t it better to utilize a voting method that changes the polarizing perception of It’s US against THEM into a communal spirit of We’re ALL in this TOGETHER?

    When the Egyptian people are more generally satisfied with their most-approved leader, peace will return to Egypt and prosperity will follow when the world sees that Egypt is taking a leadership role towards exemplifying the best and most stable democracy possible.

    George Sanders

    P.S.: …and wouldn’t Approval Voting do the same for US: help reduce our polarized politics and government gridlock?? (Please feel free to copy and post elsewhere.)

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