James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Morsi Grabs Power, UN Readies to Exit Syria, World Humanitarian Day, and Russia Joins the WTO

by James M. Lindsay
August 16, 2012

Former Egyptian defense minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi receives a medal from Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/Handout/courtesy Reuters) Former Egyptian defense minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi receives a medal from Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/Handout/courtesy Reuters)


The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi’s decision to cashier several generals; the impending expiration of the UN observer mission in Syria; World Humanitarian Day; and Russia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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The highlights:

  • Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has initiated what looks to be a changing of the guard in Egypt, essentially firing several senior generals while assuming executive and legislative powers for himself. Morsi’s move took many Egyptians—and many Egypt watchers—by surprise. The result has been a lively debate over whether Egypt is moving toward genuine democracy and civilian control of the military or whether Morsi is pushing Egypt toward a new form of authoritarian rule. It’s still too early to tell which side has the better argument in the debate, but Morsi faces plenty of obstacles regardless of which direction he intends to take the country.
  • The mandate for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria is set to expire next week, and the odds are that the Security Council will not vote to renew it. Many of the countries on the Security Council are reluctant to keep observers in Syria in the absence of stricter non-military sanctions, but Russia and China continue to stand in the way of such action. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation voted this week to suspend Syria’s membership, but the decision has done nothing to change the position of the al-Assad government or stem the growing violence in the country. The Obama White House faces new pressure from within Democratic circles to do more on Syria even as a consensus is emerging that the Assad government’s days are numbered. The White House is assessing what steps it should take, either alone or with others, to contain and mitigate the chaos and violence that could attend a change in leadership in Damascus.
  • The growing humanitarian disaster in Syria has focused attention on World Humanitarian Day, which is marked every August 19.  That is the anniversary of the horrific 2003 bombing of the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq—a tragedy that included among its victims CFR Senior Fellow Arthur Helton. World Humanitarian Day aims to celebrate and inspire humanitarian action around the world. Alas, and despite the courage of aid workers who toil at great personal risk in places such as Afghanistan, Darfur, and the Congo, the need for humanitarian relief remains high.
  • After eighteen-plus years of negotiations, Russia is set to become the 156th member of the WTO next week. It is the last of the world’s large economic powers to join the global trading organization, and that long gestation period reflects both Russia’s ambivalence about joining the body and the hostility of other countries to its entry. Although the United States encouraged Russia to join the WTO, its membership now poses a political problem for Washington. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which was passed to pressure the Soviet Union to allow more Soviet Jews to emigrate and which is still on the books, conflicts with WTO regulations. As a result, Russia is not required to extend the same trade breaks to the United States that it will be extending to other WTO members. That means that U.S. businesses will find it harder to maintain exports to Russia let alone expand them. A bill to repeal Jackson-Vanik and make U.S. trade law complaint with WTO rules passed the two relevant committees in Congress, but it hasn’t come to a floor vote in either the House or Senate because of partisan wrangling.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is Paul Ryan. My Figure of the Week is 6.4. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Egypt’s Power Transition. Steven Cook discusses what Egyptian president Morsi’s power grab means for Cairo and Washington. The Washington Post notes the significance of Morsi’s consolidation of power for Egyptian politics. The Wall Street Journal reports on Hillary Clinton’s discussions with Egyptian leaders. The Huffington Post contends that the Egyptian military is slowly warming up to Morsi’s leadership.

The UN Observer Mission in Syria Expires. The Guardian reports that the UN observer mission in Syria is likely to end this month. Human Rights Watch recommends that UN monitors should remain in Syria. Kofi Annan gives “departing advice on how to save Syria” in the Financial Times. Reuters reports that Syria would accept Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to replace Kofi Annan.

World Humanitarian Day. The UN has launched a campaign to encourage good deeds for World Humanitarian Day. AlertNet reports that aid workers are struggling to meet the needs of suffering Syrians. Reuters notes that the UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos is looking to increase aid to Syrian civilians. Al-Jazeera reports on Amos’s talks with the Syrian deputy minister of foreign affairs in Damascus.

Russia Joins the WTO. The New York Times reports on Congress’s failure to pass a bill to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, especially in light of Russia’s failure to cooperate on Syria. World Politics Review reports on the domestic implications of WTO accession for Russia. The Moscow Times reports on how Russia benefits from joining the WTO.

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