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 Post-Coup Government and Other Regional Developments

by Robert M. Danin
July 18, 2013

Egypt's interim president Adli Mansour (R) speaks with U.S. deputy secretary of state William Burns at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, July 15, 2013 (Courtesy Reuters/Dalsh).


Significant Developments

Egypt. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met senior pro-Morsi figures during her visit to Cairo yesterday. Ashton’s meetings included former premier Hisham Qandil and representatives from the Freedom and Justice Party. Ashton also met with leaders of the new government as well as members of the Tamarod campaign. She said the EU wanted Egypt to move “swiftly” towards an inclusive democratic process and called for deposed Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi to be released from military detention.

Thousands of pro-Morsi supporters demonstrated outside the prime minister’s office yesterday in a “day of steadfastness” against the formation of a new interim cabinet. On Tuesday, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, swore in a thirty-four-member cabinet dominated by liberals and technocrats. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, already general commander of the army and defense minister, also became deputy prime minister. Hazem al-Beblawi and Mansour remain as prime minister and president, respectively. Mohammad Ibrahim, a rare holdover from the Morsi government, remains as interior minister. Nabil Fahmy, former ambassador to Washington, was appointed foreign minister. There are three women ministers and three Coptic Christians in this new government, with no figures from Islamist parties. The Muslim Brotherhood, which refused to participate, denounced the interim government as “illegitimate.”

Syria. An estimated five thousand Syrians are dying every month in the country’s civil war, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Tuesday. Nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees have fled, and the numbers are escalating at a rate not seen since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. “We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people,” UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said.

Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters yesterday seized control of Ras al-Ain, a Syrian border town, following days of clashes with Islamist fighters. The Democratic Union Party has links to Kurdish militants in Turkey, heightening Ankara’s fears that a more autonomous Kurdish region in Syria could emerge and escalate Kurdish tensions in Turkey. Pro-government militants killed six Syrian mediators from the National Reconciliation Committee in Hajar al-Abyad on Monday evening. The men were reportedly attempting to broker talks between Sunni Muslims and members of the minority Alawite sect.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Egypt. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns visited Cairo for two days earlier this week—the first visit by a senior U.S. official since the coup that ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi on July 3. Burns appealed for an end to violence, called for an end to politically motivated arrests, referred to Morsi’s ouster as a “second chance” for Egyptian democracy, and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Egypt’s success. He met with members of the new interim government on Monday, but was rebuffed by representatives of the Tamarod campaign and by Islamists. “The United States is firmly committed to helping Egypt succeed in this second chance to realize the promise of the revolution,” Burns said. “I am not naive. I know that many Egyptians have doubts about the United States, and I know that there will be nothing neat or easy about the road ahead.”

Jordan. Secretary of State John Kerry continued intensive talks today in Jordan as part of his ongoing effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today that despite earlier signs of progress there were no plans for an announcement on resuming peace talks. The Fatah Central Committee met this evening, following two rounds of intensive talks between Kerry and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and called for talks to be based on the 1967 lines. This current three day trip marks Kerry’s sixth peace process visit to the region since taking office.

Earlier today, Kerry visited Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp which hosts roughly 115,000 Syrian refugees. “They are frustrated and angry at the world for not stepping in and helping,” Kerry told reporters. “I explained to them I don’t think it’s as cut and dry and as simple as some of them look at it. But if I were in their shoes I would be looking for help from wherever I could find it,” he said.

Syria. In confirmation hearings today for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Obama administration is deliberating whether to use military force in Syria. Dempsey said that he had provided the president with options for the use of force but declined to elaborate. “I am in favor of building a moderate opposition and supporting it,” Dempsey said. “The question whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes…is a decision for our elected officials, not for the senior military leader of the nation.” Senator John McCain said he would block Dempsey’s nomination over frustration with Dempsey’s comments on Syria. “If it is your position that you do not provide personal views to the committee when asked – only under certain circumstances – then you have just contradicted what I have known this committee to operate under for the last 30 years,” McCain said at the end of his questioning.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Lebanon. Unidentified men shot and killed a prominent pro-Assad Syrian official, Mohammad Darrar Jammo, outside his home in southern Lebanon on Wednesday. The attack came one day after a roadside bomb struck a Hezbollah convoy near the Syrian border, killing one member and wounding two others, security officials said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the targets suggest continued spillover from the conflict in Syria.

Turkey. A man and a fifteen-year-old boy were killed by stray bullets shot from Syria into a Turkish border town on Tuesday, officials said yesterday. Turkish troops reportedly returned fire. The incident was the most serious spillover of Syrian violence into Turkey in weeks.

Iraq. More than 160 Iraqis have been killed in suicide attacks, car bombings, and other violence in the first seven days of Ramadan, marking the highest death toll since 2007 for the start of the Islamic holy month.

Israel. President Shimon Peres today urged the EU to delay adopting settlement funding bans while Palestinians and Israelis discuss possible peace talks. The EU announced new measures yesterday that ban cooperation with and financial assistance to Israeli institutions operating in the occupied territories. The embargo on central EU funding would not take effect until next year and would distinguish between the state of Israel and land captured after the 1967 war.

This Week in History

This week marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s assumption to the presidency of Iraq. On July 16, 1979, Saddam Hussein became president after forcing President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr to resign. Bakr had been working with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad to bring Iraq and Syria together under one leadership, a move that would have made Assad the deputy of the unified countries, effectively marginalizing Saddam. Six days after deposing al-Bakr, Saddam convened a Ba’ath party meeting of top officials and read a list of dozens of names of his rivals who he claimed were involved in a Syrian plot to take over Iraq. Twenty-one people, including five cabinet ministers, were then gunned down by a death squad; hundreds more reportedly died in the purge that consolidated Saddam’s power.

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