from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Mubarak’s Acquittal Challenged and Israel’s Government Dissolves

December 4, 2014

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Significant Developments

Egypt. Egypt’s top prosecutor announced Tuesday that he plans to appeal an Egyptian court’s dismissal of all remaining charges against former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, his security chief, and six high level police commanders were acquitted last week of killing protestors in the 2011 uprisings after the court ruled the case “inadmissible” on a technicality. Corruption charges were also dismissed against the former Egyptian leader, his two sons Alaa and Gamal, and his exiled friend Hussein Salem. Hundreds of protestors took to Tahrir Square after the verdict’s announcement, prompting the closure of the square over the weekend and again on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International strongly criticized Egypt yesterday over its decision to sentence 188 former president Morsi supporters to death for killing 13 policemen in August 2013. Human Right’s Watch’s Sarah Lea Whitson stated that “mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt’s judiciary whatever reputation for independence it once had.”

Israel. The Knesset voted yesterday to dissolve itself, setting new elections for March 17, 2015. The move followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday. Netanyahu accused Lapid and Livni of undermining him and forcing the coalition to break up. The current coalition government lasted a mere 20 months. Should Netanyahu win the next election, as is currently expected, he would become the first Israeli prime minister to serve four terms.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Bahrain. The State Department announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Tom Malinowski, will visit Bahrain after being expelled last July for violating “conventional diplomatic norms,” by meeting with Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s main opposition party. The United States had responded to the Bahraini decision by partially suspending the sale of weapons to Bahrain’s defense ministry until Malinowski is authorized to return, and by indefinitely terminating assistance to Bahrain’s interior ministry. Malinowski will travel to Bahrain with Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Anne Patterson.

Anti-ISIS Conference. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the first ministerial conference of the international coalition fighting ISIS at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. The meeting, which was attended by over sixty ministers, focused on evaluating the coalition’s strategy against ISIS. Kerry told the conference that the United States would “engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday on the sidelines of the conference that the Baghdad government will request NATO’s assistance in defense capacity building support. Secretary General Stoltenberg used the meeting to stress NATO’s “continued support to Iraq in its efforts to restore stability and security, and its commitment to help Iraq build more effective security forces.”

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Qatar. Matthew and Grace Huang, the American couple that was detained and tried in Qatar for their alleged involvement in the death of their daughter, left the country for the United States yesterday. The couple was prevented from leaving for several days despite an appellate court ruling on Sunday that they were not responsible for their daughter’s death in January 2013. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called on the Qatari government “to immediately implement the court’s decision and permit their return to the United States without further delay.” The Huangs were escorted to the airport by U.S. ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith.

ISIS. Iranian and Pentagon officials confirmed on Tuesday that Iran fighter jets bombed Sunni extremist targets in Iraq last week in a buffer zone twenty five miles from the Iranian border. According to Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, spokesperson for the Pentagon, the United States is not coordinating military activity with Iran, and it is the responsibility of the Iraqi government to “de-conflict [the Iraqi] airspace.” The United States has expressed concern that Iran’s increasingly active military involvement in Iraq could further stoke sectarian tensions in the region. According to Admiral Kirby, “our message to Iran is […] that we want nothing to be done that further inflames sectarian tensions in the country.”

Syria. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) suspended its food voucher program on Monday, after running out of funds to pay for vouchers for the month of December. The donation cuts affect 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt after donors failed to honor their pledges. Yesterday, WFP launched a social media campaign to raise the $64million it requires to reinstate the voucher program.

Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano requested an extra $5.7 million from member states to finance its monitoring of the extended interim nuclear deal with Iran. The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries were extended until the end of June after the parties failed to reach a decision by the November 24 deadline. Under the extended interim agreement, Iran will convert higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel, which will make it more difficult to develop the uranium into an atomic weapon.

Tunisia. Tunisia’s new parliament appointed Mohammed Nacer, vice president of the secular Nida Tounes party, as its speaker today. The new parliament opened its first session on Tuesday and will be tasked with naming the new prime minister after the final presidential vote later this month.

Lebanon. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil signaled yesterday that Lebanon is considering participating in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. One day earlier, American officials reported that Lebanese authorities had allegedly detained the daughter of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over a week ago at a checkpoint in northern Lebanon. The child’s mother was also detained, but it is unclear whether she is legally the ISIS leader’s wife. Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Iraqi interior ministry rejected allegations that the woman detained was Abu Bakr’s wife; instead, they identified the detainee as Saja Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi, the sister of Omar Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi, who is being held as a terror suspect in Iraq.

Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for yesterday’s terrorist attack targeting the Iranian embassy in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. Iranian Ambassador Hossein Niknam escaped the explosion unharmed, but the blast killed a security guard and five civilians, and injured eleven more civilians. AQAP previously promised to destabilize the Houthis after they took control of Sana’a in September. Ambassador Niknam is seen as a close ally of the Houthi rebels.

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