The Middle East Channel

U.S. Senators warn of “disastrous” implications for Egyptian Indictment of NGO workers

U.S. Senators warn of "disastrous" implications for Egyptian indictment of NGO workers

U.S. officials and international human rights organizations have condemned Egypt's pursuit of the trial of 43 NGO workers on charges of receiving illegal foreign funding and operating without licenses. Staff members indicted included workers from five NGOs, consisting of Americans, Egyptians, Lebanese, Germans, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Serbians. U.S. Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Joe Lieberman said Egypt's government is "exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda." They continued, "A rupture in relations would be disastrous, and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater." The United States currently provides nearly $1.3 billion a year aid to Egypt, funding which the United States claims will be jeopardized if a trial proceeds and if any Americans are imprisoned. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the crackdown was a "slap in the face to Americans who have supported Egypt for decades and to the Egyptian individuals and NGOs who have put their futures on the line for a more democratic Egypt." The crackdown and raids on NGOs were orchestrated by Fayza Abul Naga, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, who has been criticized for being part of the "old guard", having served several terms during Hosni Mubarak's rule. For his part Abul Naga claimed there is no crisis between Egypt and the United States over human right issues or civil society organizations.

Headlines  

  • In a sign of waning influence in the country, the U.S. State Department is likely to dramatically cut the number of its staff  -- which including contractors has risen to 16,000 people -- at the embassy in Iraq. Reasons given have included Iraqi "obstructionism" and a lack of a formal agreement between the U.S. and Iraq over the embassy.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended his visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad saying the leader pledged reform and an end to violence. Meanwhile, Homs endured a fresh round of attacks.
  • Israel's main labor union, Histadrut, which called a nationwide strike closing financial institutions, government offices, and Tel Aviv's airport temporarily, has come to an agreement in principle to return to normal conditions.
  • Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will return to Yemen prior to the February 21 elections, raising concerns about his commitment to leave office.
  • Morocco's cabinet adopted a draft law improving basic guarantees for military personnel after protests and cases of soldiers' self-immolations.

Daily Snapshot

Syrians living in Qatar protest outside the Russian embassy in Doha on February 7, 2012 against Moscow's second veto on a UN Security Council resolution on the President Bashar al-Assad regime's crackdown on dissent (FAISAL AL-TAMIMI/AFP/Getty Images). 

Arguments & Analysis

'Why the Syrian Free Army should put down their guns' (Daniel Serwer, The Atlantic)

"If the violence continues to spiral, the regime is going to win. They are better armed and better organized. The Syrian revolt could come to look like the Iranian street demonstrations of 2009, or more likely the bloody Shia revolt in Iraq in 1991, or the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama in 1982, which ended with the regime killing thousands. There is nothing inevitable about the fall of this or any other regime -- that is little more than a White House talking point. What will make it inevitable is strategic thinking, careful planning, and nonviolent discipline. Yes, even now." 

'Egypt's transition: Finding a way out of the vicious circle' (Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

"If there is anything the United States can do to help Egypt in this difficult period, it is not to equate progress toward democracy with accepting the presence of American NGOs. Rather, the United States and the international community should encourage all political actors to realistically address the conundrum into which the SCAF and the parties vying for their own advantage have plunged the country. Egypt's actions toward American NGOs are problematic, but the threats to the Egyptian transition are much more serious, and this is what needs to be addressed." 

'Is Assad's time running out?' (Room for Debate blog, New York Times)

Ed Husain: 

It is impossible to tell whether Assad's time is running out. Educated and Westernized friends of mine in Syria who once opposed Assad on political grounds and sought reform now support him because they fear the prospect of an all-out civil war between tribes, cities, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Ismailis, Catholics, Protestants and assorted Orthodox Christians. Syria is a complex nation. Containing -- not fanning -- the current conflict is in everybody's interests. 

Rime Allaf:

It doesn't matter how much support Bashar al-Assad's regime still commands, nor does it ultimately matter why his fans still cling on to the illusion of his ability to remain in power. The regime has gone on a killing, torturing and jailing spree for nearly a year, and is still unable to crush the resistance that has now begun to arm itself and to exercise self-defense. It is a matter of time, and it is unclear how the transition will be achieved, but the majority of Syrians are sure of one thing: we have reached the end of an era. 

The Middle East Channel

Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Damascus as attacks continue in Homs

Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Damascus as attacks continue in Homs

Syrian forces have continued the bombardment of Homs, where around 95 people were reportedly killed on Monday. The surge has been concentrated in the Baba Amro district where one activist noted: "There is no electricity and all communication with the neighborhood has been cut." For its part, Syrian state television reported security forces are fighting "terrorists," "tens" of whom were killed in addition to six soldiers. Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad to pressure the government to implement democratic reforms. The visit has come after the country joined China in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at halting Syrian violence that was approved by the council's 13 other members. The United States with western allies including France, Britain, and Germany are looking to alternatives outside of the United Nations, however maintaining they will avoid military intervention. Turkey, which has been highly critical of the Syrian regime, says it will develop a new initiative, and is planning to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the United States on Wednesday. The United States closed its embassy in Syria on Monday and recalled all staff due to increased security concerns.

Headlines  

  • U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order to implement new sanctions passed in December on Iran, targeting its central bank and financial institutions -- and aiming to quell nuclear ambitions.
  • Israel condemned the Hamas and Fatah reconciliation while the U.S. said it is waiting for more details. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the unity deal must not stop peace talks.
  • Egypt's presidential candidates can start registering in March, one month earlier than expected.
  • Iran's parliament summoned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning over accusations including mismanagement of the economy in the first such summons since 1979.
  • Ministers from Iraq's Sunni-backed Iraqqiya bloc have returned to the cabinet, ending a boycott begun after Prime Minister Maliki issued charges against Vice President Hashemi.

Daily Snapshot

A Syrian pro-government supporter holds up a sign as a convoy carrying Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov heads towards the presidential palace in Damascus on February 7, 2012. Moscow's top diplomat was holding talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after being cheered on his arrival in Damascus by thousands of regime supporters who took to the streets to 'thank' Russia, according to state media, for vetoing along with China a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime's crackdown on protesters (AFP PHOTO).

Arguments & Analysis

'In Syria, we need to bargain with the devil' (Nicholas Noe, International Herald Tribune)

"For its part, the badly shaken government in Damascus might find this a propitious moment to accept a deal as a way back from the abyss, even if this would most likely mean Mr. Assad's eventual exit in the future. And if Mr. Assad rejects it, such a patently unreasonable move might actually offer the best hope yet of splitting his government and controlling the resulting collapse. Admittedly, the prospects of successfully orchestrating such a deal now are far less promising than they were early last year. But the realization that die-hard elements in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran could unleash great regional destruction should prompt a long overdue discussion about putting forward a credible and comprehensive bargain. Negotiations now, rather than war later, could lead to a far better outcome for all parties -- even if that means Syrians' aspirations for freedom might be met much later than anyone would like."

'Kuwait's troubling election's' (Hussein Ibish, Lebanon NOW)

"The Kuwaiti elections were fascinating, and in a grim way even entertaining. However, they offer little hope for the most vulnerable in the country-the bidoun and also the large numbers of migrant, and especially migrant domestic, workers. Government promises to address the plight of these communities have proven hollow in the past. Nothing in the election results gives any real hope that these urgent moral issues will be seriously addressed in the near future. Kuwaiti society appears more divided than ever, and suspicion, hatred and demagoguery are the order of the day."

'It's time to support the opposition in the Syrian civil war' (Malcolm Rifkind & Shashank Joshi, Financial Times)

"The diplomatic route is now all but exhausted. Having staked so much on a lost cause, Russia will strive to avoid humiliation. On the other side, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to deepen their co-operation with Turkey to bolster the Free Syrian Army and its notional political leadership. Those who oppose this, invoking the troubling experience of international assistance to the anti-Soviet mujahedeen, must ask themselves whether the status quo is any less likely to result in Syria's dangerous disintegration...On each side of Syria there stand two cautionary tales. Lebanon and Iraq, to the west and east respectively, endured civil wars that lasted for years and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Thanks in part to the morally bankrupt policies of Russia and China, there is no guarantee that Syria can avoid this fate. Yet cautiously tightening the screws on Damascus represents our best chance of a tolerable outcome."