from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Middle East Matters This Week: Syria’s Opposition Dumped While Tunisians, Egyptians, and Kuwaitis Protest

November 02, 2012

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Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. The Syrian National Council (SNC) lashed out at the United States today, accusing Washington of trying to “undermine the Syrian revolution.” The SNC was reacting to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement on Wednesday that the United States would work to reshape the Syrian opposition. Clinton declared that the SNC “can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition” because many of its members have “not been inside Syria for twenty, thirty, or forty years.” The U.S. announcement comes in advance of next week’s gathering of hundreds of opposition figures in Doha, Qatar, to form a more representative opposition group. Meanwhile, China has presented a new four-point peace plan which calls for a region-by-region ceasefire within Syria along with a political transition. Beijing’s plan, while slim on details, represents a more activist Chinese approach to the Syrian conflict. On the ground, the widely ignored Syrian ceasefire, brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for the Eid holiday, ended with an escalation of violence earlier this week. The Syrian air force bombed targets across the country throughout the week, including the first reported strike against Damascus Tuesday, while rebel forces advanced in Idlib province after killing at least twenty-eight regime soldiers yesterday.

Tunisia. Hundreds of Islamists attacked two national guard posts in the Tunis suburb of Manouba late Tuesday night. The violence resulted in the death of Khaled Karaoui, the imam of the Ennour mosque in Manouba, who died yesterday from wounds sustained during the assault. Another attacker was killed and two members of the security forces were injured. Further protests continued throughout the week, prompting Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to extend the country’s state of emergency through January. The violence comes just days after the one year anniversary of Tunisia’s widely touted elections, following the ouster of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Egypt. Several hundred Salafist Muslims protested in Tahrir Square today demanding a stronger reference to sharia, Islamic law, in Egypt’s new constitution. Amr Darrag, Secretary General of the hundred-person Constituent Assembly responsible for drafting the constitution, announced earlier this week that consensus over the draft constitution is nearing 100 percent in the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government resumed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a $4.8 billion loan on Wednesday. The IMF delegation is expected to remain in Egypt for at least a couple of weeks while discussing an economic reform program that will focus heavily on reducing the explosive issues of energy subsidies. CIA director David Petraeus also arrived in Cairo on Wednesday to begin a two day visit for security and counterterrorism talks with Egyptian officials.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Libya. Citing U.S. officials briefed on the details, the Wall Street Journal reported today that the American presence in Benghazi leading up to the 9/11 attack “was at its heart a CIA operation.” The Journal reported that of the more than thirty U.S. officials who were evacuated from Benghazi after the assault on the post, only seven were State Department employees. The most recent accounts of the attack to emerge suggest miscommunication between the CIA and the State Department over roles and responsibilities for security at the Benghazi facility. Congressional critics accuse the CIA of invoking secrecy to shield itself from blame, a charge the Agency’s defenders deny.

Kuwait. Mussallam al-Barrak, an opposition leader and former parliamentarian, was released yesterday as a result of the previous day’s demonstrations in which thousands of protesters clashed with police Wednesday night. Kuwait’s Interior Ministry released a statement yesterday saying it will “firmly” confront any new protests. Activists have called for a major new street demonstration this Sunday. Kuwait had banned any public gathering of more than twenty people last week after more than one hundred thousand people participated in a protest on October 21. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 1.

West Bank. The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported Wednesday that Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad presented a plan to the PLO leadership calling for the formation of a new government composed of representatives from all Palestinian factions. Other media reported that Fayyad effectively offered his resignation by suggesting that he not participate in that new government. Meanwhile, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denied yesterday that Fayyad had any such intentions in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Other reports suggest Abbas has urged Palestinian officials to prevent Fayyad from resigning.

Lebanon. Lebanese speaker Nabih Berri announced the postponement of the upcoming parliamentary session scheduled for November 7 because of the opposition March 14 coalition’s decision to boycott government and parliament activities. The March 14 group has also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Miqati’s cabinet in the wake of the October 19 Beirut car-bomb assassination of Internal Security Forces Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan.

This Week in History

Sunday marks the thirty-third anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian protesters. The takeover initiated a prolonged subsequent hostage crisis in which fifty-two American diplomats were held for 444 days. While the hostages were ultimately released on January 20, 1981 after intensive international diplomacy and a failed U.S. rescue operation, the incident continues to scar U.S.-Iranian relations to this day. In Teheran today, demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran to celebrate the annual “Day of Fighting the Global Arrogance” and to  commemorate the embassy’s 1979 seizure.