from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Middle East Matters This Week: Syria’s Defections and Diplomacy, Egypt’s Power Struggles

July 12, 2012

Blog Post

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. UN Security Council members today began discussing a draft resolution on Syria in New York. Russia and the Western nations on the 15-member council have drafted rival resolutions on Syria. Britain, the United States, France and Germany have demanded sanctions against President Assad under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Moscow has vowed to veto any text that includes imposes sanctions or authorizes military intervention. The Security Council has until July 20 when the previous 90-day mandate for nearly 300 unarmed UN monitors in Syria will expire. Western members on the Security Council want to give Assad a ten-day deadline to halt attacks by heavy weapons or face sanctions. Yesterday, Syrian ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, became the highest-level Syrian government defector in the 16-month uprising. In an Al-Jazeera broadcast, al-Fares denounced the “criminals of the regime” and called on the army to stand by the Syrian people. Fares’ defection follows last week’s defection of Manaf Tlas, the Republican Guard commander and close friend to the Syrian leader. Opposition activists claim two more Syrian ambassadors are poised to defect in the new future. Meanwhile, UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan continues efforts to facilitate talks between Assad’s regime and its opponents. Earlier this week, Annan visited Damascus, Tehran, and Baghdad, calling on leaders in all three capitals to support his peace-making efforts. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that the death toll since the uprising began exceeds 17,000 people.

Egypt. The power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rulers in Egypt continued this week following President Mohammad Morsi’s decree last Sunday calling for the recently dissolved parliament to reconvene. Members of the parliament met on Tuesday for a brief, albeit symbolic, 15-minute session. During the short meeting, participating members of parliament voted to appeal the Supreme Constitutional Court’s decision shutting down the parliament. The contending legislative and legal challenges are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Meanwhile, Morsi traveled yesterday to Saudi Arabia where he met King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Egypt news sources report that Morsi and the crown prince discussed Saudi investments in Egypt as well as job security for the 1.65 million Egyptians living in Saudi Arabia. White House spokesman Jay Carney this week confirmed that President Obama will meet Morsi when the two leaders are in New York in September for the United Nations General Assembly.

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

Middle East Diplomacy. Secretary Clinton harshly denounced Russia and China for “blockading” international efforts to address the Syria crisis. On a stop in Paris Friday as part of her current world tour that will soon take her to the Middle East, Clinton said that “The Syrian people will remember the choices you make in the coming days, and so will the world.” She added that “It is time to abandon the dictator, embrace your countrymen and women, and get on the right side of history.” Clinton also met in Paris with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to restart stalled peace efforts. Meanwhile, U.S. deputy secretary of state William Burns met in Cairo over the weekend with Egypt’s new president Mohammad Morsi. Burns met earlier today with Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon to discuss Iranian nuclear developments as a part of the semi-annual Strategic Dialogue between the United States and Israel. Secretary of State Clinton will arrive in Israel on July 16 and 17, marking her first visit there in nearly two years. She will first travel to Cairo on July 14 where she too will meet President Morsi.

The Gulf. The United States is building up its naval power in the Persian Gulf, according to various news sources. The U.S. Navy is reportedly sending small underwater drones to aid in seeking out and destroying Iranian sea mines. The move is a part of the broader U.S. response to the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and will help increase the U.S. strike capability in case of a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

Quotes of the Week

  • “I ask ... the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens. Turn your guns toward the criminals from this regime,” – Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares in a video statement posted to Facebook on Thursday morning
  • “They are in Jordan trying to help people who have been hurt in Syria,” – Israeli deputy minister Ayoob Kara about Israeli government representatives in Jordan working to assist Syrian children and infants injured by the Syrian military
  • "This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” – International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge in a statement about Saudi’s decision to send two female athletes to compete in the London Olympics
  • "We do not know what will happen in Syria, but in our planning we have estimated up to 200,000 refugees could arrive," – Cyprus deputy Europe minister Andreas Mavroyiannis on Tuesday

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Libya. Libya held its first free nationwide elections in over forty years this past Saturday, with a strong voter turnout of over 65 percent. The majority cast votes for the General National Congress, a legislative assembly where eighty seats are reserved for party lists and 120 others are open to independents. Preliminary figures give an advantage to the NFA--a broad coalition of parties rallying behind liberal leaning Mahmud Jibril--over Islamist leading contenders. President Obama congratulated Libyans on the election.

Iran. Deputies from the P5+1 group are scheduled to meet with Iranian officials in Turkey on July 24. A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the six powers, said the meeting’s objective “is to look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward.” The discussions were announced two days before the EU oil embargo began this past Sunday, halting the vast majority of imports into Europe. Iran has rejected demands to suspend uranium enrichment, and also stated that a suspension of sanctions is needed for the talks to succeed.

Yemen. An al-Qaeda affiliated suicide bomber killed at least ten cadets outside a Sanaa police academy, Yemen’s capital. The bomber,  who survived the initial explosion, told security officials that he was associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penisula (AQAP). He later died of injuries sustained in the explosion. Sanaa was last hit by an al-Qaeda affliated attack in May when a suicide bomber in army uniform killed more than 90 people rehearsing for a military parade.

Bahrain. Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was placed under arrest and sentenced to three months in prison on Monday for criticizing prime minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa on Twitter. Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, had accused the prime minister of corruption and called on him to step down.

Israel. A committee appointed by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu released a report this week that determined that Israel’s presence in the West Bank “does not meet the criteria of ’military occupation’ as defined under international law."  The committee, headed up by retired supreme court justice Edmund Levy, ruled that Israel must find a way to legalize and regulate settlement construction. The Levy committee based its ruling on the fact that "no other legal entity has ever had its sovereignty over the area cemented under international law.” The Obama administration expressed its displeasure with the report with State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrelli saying that "Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts... We’re concerned about it, obviously."  Prime Minister Netanyahu has refrained from commenting on the report so far.

This Week in History

This week marks the 130th anniversary of the Anglo-Egyptian War. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the importance of Egypt to Britain rose dramatically. Strangled by massive debts, then ruler Khedive Ismail Pasha sold his 45 percent stake in the Suez Canal to Britain in 1875, ceding control to the British. The increased British influence in Egypt allowed Ahmad Urabi Pasha Al-misri (also known as Arabi) to mobilize a popular nationalist movement, and by 1882, Urabi became the leading figure in the government as minister of war. Fearing that Urabi’s movement would undermine Britain’s stakes in the canal, Britain sent a small naval fleet to Alexandria in May of 1882. The arrival of the Anglo-French naval fleet heightened tensions in the city of Alexandria, and on June 11, 1882 a skirmish between street vendors incited widespread violence on the streets. Afraid that the revolts had been started by Urabi, Admiral Sir F. Beauchamp Seymour ordered a ten hour bombardment on Alexandria on July 11. Egypt fell into chaos, and British forces landed ashore in order to prop up and protect the government of Khedive Ismail Pasha’s successor, Khedive Tawfiq. Following a British victory in the war’s only battle, the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, Khedive Tawfiq’s government was re-instated, and permanent British military presence was established in the country until Egypt formally became a British protectorate in 1914.

Statistic of the Week

A recent Gallup poll indicates that more Arabs opposed rather than supported NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. At least a plurality in all nine Arab countries (and a majority in six of those countries) surveyed opposed the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya. With the exception of Tunisia, the Arab uprisings’ first revolutionary country, North African residents were the least likely to say they were in favor of the NATO intervention with only 12 percent in favor of intervention in Morocco, 13 percent in Egypt, and 14 percent in Algeria. Attitudes in post-revolutionary Tunisia were notably more mixed with 33 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.