The Middle East Channel

Syria's violence spills over to Lebanese TV

Lebanese politicians have been hunkering down ever since protests broke out in Syria eight months ago, fearful that the instability in their neighbor could spill across the border. And while Beirut has avoided large scale unrest so far, one of the most spectacular outbursts occurred on Monday - not on the streets, but on the set of a Lebanese television station.

It all started when former parliamentarian Moustafa Alloush faced off against Fayez Shukur, the head of the Baath Party in Lebanon, on a live talk show. Alloush's political patron, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has taken to Twitter in recent days to denounce the Syrian government's "massacres," while Shukur leads the Lebanese wing of Syria's (functionally) one-party regime.

The scene was set for a conflagration - and one soon erupted. Alloush denounced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "tyrant," "criminal," and "liar," Shukur called Alloush a liar, and Alloush responded by telling Shukur to "eat shit." It deteriorated from there.

You can watch the fracas above. I'll only say that talk show host Walid Abboud first attempts to defuse the situation by appealing to the "docteurs," but by the time Shukur has picked up a chair, is reduced to yelling at the two "shabab" -- or "guys."

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has tried to remain neutral regarding the violence wracking Syria, tried to play down the incident over Twitter.  "Unfortunately, it happens on #TV in many Democracies," he wrote. "[B]ut, not my style."

The Middle East Channel

Arab League suspension of Syria elicits contrasting responses

Arab League suspension of Syria elicits contrasting responses

The suspension and imposition of sanctions by the Arab League on Syria that is due to take effect on Wednesday is being met with uproar from the Syrian regime and its supporters. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem denounced the move as an "illegal" and "dangerous step" saying that "Syria will not budge and will emerge stronger...and plots against Syria will fail." Regime supporters attacked the Turkish, Saudi Arabian, and Qatari embassies in protest of the suspension. Foreign governments have had varied responses. Russia condemned the suspension accusing Western nations of inciting the opposition. Angered by the attack on its embassy, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davultoglu asserted, "We will take the most resolute stance against these attacks and we will stand by the Syrian people's rightful struggle." The European Union reached an agreement to extend sanctions. King Abdullah of Jordan called for Bashar al-Assad to resign stating, "If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life. Syria has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League prior to the suspension and said it will meet with representatives from the opposition on Tuesday.

Headlines  

  • The Israeli government is being criticized for attempting to silence opposition after backing bills to limit foreign aid to politically left NGOs dealing with Palestinian rights and civil liberties.
  • A Quartet envoy is meeting separately with Palestinian and Israeli representatives today with little prospect of progressing toward direct talks.
  • Three French aid workers kidnapped nearly six months ago by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen were released after assistance from the Sultan of Oman.
  • As Libya awaits government formation for militia disarmament, rival factions continue to clash in Libya despite mediation efforts by the interim government.

Daily Snapshot

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem speaks under a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad during a press conference in Damascus on November 14, 2011. Muallem said that the government in Damascus will not budge despite its suspension from the Arab League, which he warned was a 'dangerous step.' (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images). 

Arguments & Analysis

'Diplomacy is the least damaging option with Iran' (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Financial Times)

"The IAEA report has the dual advantage of expressing global concern over Iranian behavior and of focusing attention on Iran's violation of its international obligations. Western governments should now turn back to Turkey and Brazil. Turkish-Iranian frictions are on the rise, particularly over Syria and Arab uprisings across the region. But Turkey has a direct stake in avoiding an outcome in which Iran upstages it as the region's only nuclear power besides Israel; and Iran has a stake in working with Turkey at least some of the time in the complex triangular politics emerging among Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's new president, has a stake in doing something that Lula was unable to accomplish; Brazil also has a strong incentive as a nation that flirted with developing nuclear weapons but then renounced its programme. Let them initiate a new round of negotiations under UN auspices - with full backing from the US, France, Russia and other powers concerned. At the least, it deprives the Iranian government of its familiar US whipping boy. At most, we might succeed in halting play on the 10-yard line and then changing the game."

'Why did the Arab League move on Syria' (Ben Wedeman, CNN)

"Against this backdrop is an across-the-board diminution of American power in the Middle East. At the end of this year the United States will end its military presence in Iraq, and soon afterward, it will do the same in Afghanistan. The Obama administration, with 2012 elections looming and after several half-hearted false starts and high-profile humiliations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appears to have given up trying to broker real peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Above and beyond regional issues, the U.S. economy -- and thus, its political clout -- is in decline. Increasingly, America is viewed in the Middle East as an economically bankrupt, militarily and diplomatically overextended, withering superpower. In short, a huge vacuum looms in the region, and Iran could be the chief beneficiary. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are alarmed, and are eager to cut Iran down to size. The uprising in Syria went a long way to undercut Iran's oldest and most reliable Arab ally in Damascus, and Saturday's vote to suspend Syria from the Arab League was an added bonus. Syria is now isolated more than ever before, which means Iran's other allies in the region -- Hamas and Hezbollah -- could suffer, too."

'Turkey should use its influential voice to pressure Syria' (Interview w/ Joe Stork, Today's Zaman)

What else do you think Turkey can do regarding Syria?

"Turkey has an influential voice today. [The] AK Party government is popular in many parts of the region. ... [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdo?an's tour in Cairo and Tunisia was very well received. We'd like to see Turkey play a more active role, particularly with other governments like Brazil, South Africa and India, at the Security Council. We would like Turkey to be more forceful in its bilateral relations with those three governments because they are currently in the Security Council. We are also calling [for] an embargo on all military sales. As far as we know, Turkey is not providing any security equipment to Syria and we are glad that Turkey is prohibiting any transshipment of military goods through Turkish airspace and ground space. We are calling on other governments, like Russia and Iran, to do the same."

Recent posts on the Channel

-- 'When Egptian-Americans vote' by Jason Stern

-- 'Arab leaders shouldn't kill their people?' by Marc Lynch

-- 'Next challenges for Tunisia' by Leila Hilal