from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Islamist Defeat in Tunisia, Increased Violence in Jerusalem, and Counter-Offensive in Kobani

October 30, 2014

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Significant Developments

Tunisia. The Tunisian election commission confirmed the victory of the secular party Nidaa Tunis in the country’s parliamentary elections held Sunday. It was Tunisia’s second parliamentary vote since the region wide Arab uprisings first erupted in the country in 2011. Nidaa Tunis, which is composed of liberals and politicians from earlier Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali regime, won 85 of the 217 parliamentary seats. Ennahda, the ruling Islamist party, finished second, winning 69 seats in parliament. The head of the EU observer mission, Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, deemed the Tunisia’s parliamentary election “ transparent and credible.”

Israel. Israel closed the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound to visitors today as tensions continue to mount in Jerusalem. The move came after Israeli police shot and killed the Palestinian man suspected of seriously wounding Yehuda Glick, a right-wing Israeli activist in a drive-by shooting. Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, strongly condemned the religious site’s closure, calling it a “dangerous Israeli escalation” and “a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its scared places and on the Arab and Islamic nation.” Israeli officials subsequently announced that the site would be partially reopened on Friday. (For more on US-Israeli developments see the U.S. Foreign Policy section below.)

ISIS. The first Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters crossed the Turkish border into Syria yesterday to provide assistance to Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kobani. The group of some 150 peshmerga fighters was followed by a convoy of thirty-eight vehicles transporting heavy weaponry and supplies. Syria’s foreign ministry condemned Turkey’s decision to allow the fighters to cross into Syria, calling it “disgraceful” and a breach of sovereignty. Meanwhile, ISIS militants beheaded four tribesmen from eastern Syria on Monday. The men belonged to the Shaitat tribe, a Sunni group that had attempted an uprising against ISIS during the summer.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel. Amidst escalating diplomatic tensions, senior White House and State Department officials today tried to distance the Obama Administration from criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reported earlier in the week. An anonymous U.S. official was quoted in The Atlantic on Tuesday calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit” while a second American official reportedly said that Netanyahu was a “coward” in his response to Iran’s nuclear threat. Earlier today, Netanyahu responded to the reports, stating that “the assault on me comes only because I defend the state of Israel.” The latest round of bilateral tensions mounted as Israel announced plans to expedite the development of over 1,000 new homes in the Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods of East Jerusalem on Monday. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the settlements “illegitimate,” while Netanyahu defended his position, stating that “Israel has every right to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”

Egypt. United States Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew suggested on Monday in a meeting with Egyptian Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian in Cairo that the United States may provide international emergency loans to help rescue Egypt’s economy. The proposed bailout package is conditional on Egypt agreeing to implement further economic reforms recommended by the IMF. The announcement comes as the Egyptian government intensified its crack down on many civil society groups in recent weeks. On Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi designated all public facilities, such as roads, bridges and power stations, military zones. This decree will enable civilians accused of attacking infrastructure targets to be tried under the harsher jurisdiction of Egypt’s military courts. On Sunday, a number of Egyptian newspapers pledged to refrain from criticizing state institutions.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Bahrain. A Bahraini administrative court decided on Tuesday to ban Bahrain’s main opposition group, Al Wefaq, from participating in parliamentary elections for three months. The group was banned for “violating the law on associations.” Al Wefaq had previously announced that it would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections on November 22 regardless of the ruling.

Lebanon. The Lebanese army restored calm following nearly a week of intense fighting against Al-Qaeda inspired Islamist fighters in Tripoli. The clashes were the most serious in the city since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, leaving 11 Lebanese soldiers, 8 civilians, and 22 jihadi fighters dead. The Lebanese army has arrested over 160 fighters since clashes began last Friday.

Iran. The Iranian parliament voted on Wednesday to reject Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabadi for the post of science minister. Ahmadabadi, nominated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, was rejected for allegedly not being “fully committed to Islamic values.” Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, presented the results of his investigation on Monday before a session at the UN General Assembly. His findings indicate that Iran’s human rights record has deteriorated lately, with executions and the oppression of women increasing to a worrying degree.

Egypt- Gaza. Egypt began to establish a buffer zone along its border with Gaza yesterday to protect the area from being targeted further by militants. Around 800 homes are to be demolished in the process, with residents already being forced to evacuate from the area. This initiative comes after a suicide bombing in the Sinai peninsula last Friday killed over thirty soldiers. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the Rafah crossing into Gaza closed, and impose a three-month state of emergency in a part of northern Sinai. According to a senior Egyptian official, the buffer is “vital for national security and stability.”

Yemen. Three days of fighting between Houthi rebels and the powerful Qifa tribe in the town of Radda have left 250 people dead, according to security officials. The fighting has continued in recent weeks despite the Houthi rebels signing a ceasefire with the Yemeni government on September 20, 2014. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi criticized the Houthi rebels on Sunday for the first time since they took control of the capital, saying that “the armed expansion of the Houthis…cannot be understood or accepted after signing the peace and national partnership agreement.”

Iraq. Iraqi security forces discovered a mass grave in Ramadi today contained the bodies of 150 members of an Iraqi Sunni tribe who were buried last night after being kidnapped and killed. Isis militants are believed to be responsible for the killings and burials.

 

 

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