from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Middle East Matters This Week: Egyptian Elections, Damascus Explosions, and a New Tunisian Government

February 22, 2013

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Significant Developments

Egypt. President Mohammed Morsi issued a decree last night calling for parliamentary elections to begin April 27 and end in late June. The vote will take place in four stages across different regions dues to a shortage of electoral supervisors. The new parliament will then convene for the first time on July 6. A spokesman for the opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, said that it would decide whether or not to boycott the elections early next week. The opposition is unhappy at Morsi’s call for elections amidst political turmoil and that that electoral laws passed by the Islamist-dominated interim parliament are slanted towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria. Three car bombings rocked Damascus yesterday, including a massive explosion near Syria’s ruling party headquarters, killing over fifty people. The state-sponsored Syrian Arab News Agency blamed the attack on terrorists while a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) denied any involvement. Meanwhile, FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Salim Idriss gave Hezbollah a forty-eight hours deadline on Wednesday in which to cease its military operations in Syria or face retaliation against Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon. The threat came after several days of fighting between Syrian rebels and Hezbollah militants around several small villages near the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Tunisia. Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki asked Interior Minister Ali Larayedh today to form a new government within the next two weeks. Larayedh, a hardliner from Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda, was selected in an overnight party meeting yesterday after Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali resigned on Tuesday. Jebali apologized to the Tunisian people in a televised address last night for “failing and disappointing” after his own party rejected his proposal form a technocrat cabinet.

U.S. Foreign Policy

The State Department announced on Tuesday that John Kerry’s first trip as secretary of state will include the Middle East. Kerry departs on Tuesday for Great Britain, Germany, France, and Rome, after which he will travel on to Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. His entire trip will last from February 24 to March 6. 

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Israel. Hatnuah party chief Tzipi Livni signed a coalition agreement with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, making her Hatnuah party Likud Beiteinu’s first coalition partner. Livni is slated to join Netanyahu’s government as justice minister and Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians. The agreement reportedly stipulates that any deal Livni might reach with the Palestinians would be subject to approval by the cabinet, the Knesset, and possibly a popular voter referendum.

Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported yesterday that Iran has begun installing newer and more efficient equipment at its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. The news came on the same day that a French foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that the P5+1 will make a new negotiating offer with a “significant new element” at the upcoming round of nuclear talks to be held in Kazakhstan on February 26.

Palestine. Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces today in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank in demonstrations over four imprisoned Palestinians who have been on extended hunger strikes. The Palestinian deputy minister for detainee affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, warned that “if any of the prisoners die, it will set the occupied territories on fire.”

Yemen. Three people were shot dead by Yemeni police today as they headed to a rally for southern independence in Aden. The deaths followed clashes between government forces and southern independence movement members yesterday that interrupted a celebration of the first anniversary of Yemen’s presidential election.

This Week in History

Thursday marked the ninety-second anniversary of the coup that brought Reza Khan, later to be known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, to power in Persia. On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan’s forces of 1,200 men occupied Teheran and forced the dissolution of the previous government. In the aftermath, he was appointed commander of the military and minister of war. A few years later, Reza Khan ousted the country’s titular head and founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. In 1935 the shah changed the country’s name from Persia to Iran