from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Middle East Matters This Week: Syrian Pre-Negotiations and Iranian Elections

May 23, 2013

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Middle East and North Africa

Political Movements

Significant Developments

Syria. Moaz al-Khatib, the outgoing leader of the Syrian National Coalition, announced an initiative on Facebook today, proposing a safe exit for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Khatib’s proposal would give Assad twenty days to accept a “peaceful transition of authority,” after which he would have a month to hand over power to either Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi or Vice President Faruq al-Shara’a to then rule Syria for a transitional period of one hundred days. The Syrian National Coalition met for the first of three days of scheduled talks in Istanbul today to debate whether or not to negotiate with the Assad regime and to select a new president. Read this for an update on the rising death toll and numbers of refugees from the Syrian conflict.

Iran. Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani reacted publicly today to his disqualification from running in Iran’s upcoming presidential election, saying that “the next government will face a lot of problems and difficulties as a result of mismanagement and unfair sanctions.” Zahra Khomeini, the daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, posted a letter to the Khomeini family website yesterday, decrying Rafsanjani’s disqualification. She wrote that “this action has no meaning other than creating a rift between the two friends of the Imam.” The remaining candidates officially launched their campaigns yesterday. In addition to Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad’s protégé Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei was also disqualified on Tuesday.

Syria-Jordan. Jordan reportedly turned away thousands of Syrian refugees this week for the first time since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Jordan already hosts some half million Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict. All four unofficial border crossings have been closed for the past six days; according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Andrew Harper, only thirty refugees crossed into Jordan in the past three days, compared to the average one thousand to two thousand a day previously.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a Friends of Syria meeting in Jordan yesterday and expressed concern over the spill-over of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. Kerry promised that the United States would discuss increased support for the opposition in the event that diplomacy fails to end the civil war.

Israel-Palestine. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Israel and the West Bank today and met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and President Mahmoud Abbas as part of his effort to restart peace talks. This trip is Kerry’s fourth visit to Israel and Palestine since becoming secretary of state in February.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Lebanon. Violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad left five people dead and over fifty wounded in Tripoli last night. It was the fifth day of violence that began in Tripoli on Sunday after Assad’s forces assaulted the Syrian border town of Qusayr. The clashes have left over eighteen people dead and over one hundred and ninety wounded.

Algeria. Abderrazzak Mukri, leader of the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace party, demanded that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appear on television to dispel rumors over his poor health. Bouteflika suffered a mini-stroke on April 27 and was immediately rushed to a French military hospital. He is now recovering in France. Two Algerian newspapers were blocked from publication on Saturday evening after the editor of the papers refused to remove an article claiming that Bouteflika was in a coma.

Libya. The European Union approved a mission yesterday to help improve Libyan border security. The mission consists of a 110-member team of civilians that will deploy next month to advise and train Libyan officials. The move is in response to concerns about the flow of Islamist militants and weapons across Libya’s borders. On Monday, militants attacked a gas complex in western Libya, injuring two guards and reportedly stealing weapons and military vehicles.

Tunisia. Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told reporters today that Tunisia is making progress in dismantling terrorist networks. Lareydh declined to label the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization, but did call it an “illegal organization” and said that some of its leaders are “involved in terrorism.” Ansar al-Sharia had called for a demonstration on Friday outside of Ennahda’s offices in the city of Qayrawan in protest of the arrest of its spokesman Seifeddine Rais, but called it off after he was released. Clashes between supporters of Ansar al-Sharia and Tunisian security forces broke out on Sunday in Qayrawan and Tunis, leaving one young man dead.

Egypt. Seven Egyptian security officers who had been abducted in Sinai last week were released yesterday. President Mohammed Morsi announced the release in a brief speech and vowed that the criminals responsible “must be held accountable,” but gave no information on who was responsible for the kidnapping.

Iraq. Gunmen killed seven soldiers today in the town of Taji in the most recent episode of an extremely violent month. Attacks killed at least twenty people and wounded over one hundred yesterday, and a wave of bombings on Sunday and Monday killed more than seventy-six people and wounded at least two hundred and fifty.