The Middle East Channel

The U.N. General Assembly easily passes resolution on Syria

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations and calling for the end of violence in Syria. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved with 137 yes votes, 12 no votes, and 17 abstentions. China and Russia voted against the resolution, having previously vetoed a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council. Russia maintained that the resolution was "unbalanced" because it only targets government violence and excludes the opposition. Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said China is against foreign military intervention and forced regime change (he is scheduled to visit with Syrian officials to discuss a separate peace initiative). While the U.N. assembly's resolution is non-binding, it has significant symbolic value and further isolates the Syrian regime. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, "it sent a clear message to the people of Syria -- the world is with you." It is modeled after an Arab League plan which calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.  Meanwhile clashes continue throughout Syria, with extreme regime violence in Homs, which has lasted over two weeks. Human rights groups have estimated that the number of deaths attributed to the crackdown has exceeded 7,000 since the beginning of the uprisings about 11 months ago.

Headlines  

  • After reporting covertly in Syria for a week, renowned New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid died, reportedly from an asthma attack, as he and his photographer were en route to Turkey.
  • Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood threatened to "review" the 1979 peace treaty with Israel if the United States withholds assistance in reaction to trials of NGO workers.
  • After an investigation, an Iraqi judicial panel released non-binding findings that Vice President Hashemi was involved in 150 attacks on security officials and Shiite pilgrims.
  • The suspect list has grown as Thailand continues the investigation of bombings targeting Israeli diplomats, although both the accused Hezbollah and the Iranian government have denied involvement.
  • Libyans celebrated the one-year anniversary of the start of the revolution that saw the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, but the country remains crippled by insecurity ahead of June polls.

Arguments & Analysis

'Postscript: Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012' (Steve Coll, The New Yorker)

"In 2003, the Iraq war was brewing and Shadid wanted to be in Baghdad, working independently, when it began. Shadid was married at the time, with a small child at home. As the "shock and awe" bombing began and the future of Saddam Hussein's regime fell into doubt, he arranged a conference call to explain, as a low-key country lawyer might, why he should be allowed to remain on the ground and assume the risks ahead. He persuaded; his work from Iraq was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the first of two he won during his career, and became the basis for his first, excellent book, "Night Draws Near." The foreboding and ambivalence that the characters he wrote about expressed was striking at the time, but as the years have passed and Iraq's initial crisis has yielded to the ambiguous mess we know today, it is evident that the middle-class, unofficial, urban Iraqis he chronicled had envisioned their own future very accurately. As in so many other cases, Shadid was willing to sit still, away from the main story, and listen. He will be missed; his work is irreplaceable."

'A long march' (The Economist)

"Across the region the Brotherhood has worked hard, through years of painstaking social work and uphill political battles, to enter the corridors of power. "It was like a stake tethering a water buffalo," recounts one of the Ikhwan's new parliamentarians in Egypt, who like many of his colleagues suffered jail and exile under the previous regime. "The government kept hammering it into the ground but we just kept on digging it out." Such patient dedication bodes well for the new rulers' ability to address the deep social and economic maladies afflicting most Arab countries. The Brotherhood's rise through the ballot box and civil action marks a hope that Islamism's reform-minded mainstream might yet prevail over the impetuous and increasingly abortive rush to arms that has characterised revolutionary Islamist groups, from the assassination of Egypt's leader Anwar Sadat in 1981 to al-Qaeda today."

'A violent New Year in Iraq' (Michael Knights, The National Interest)

"The United States should publicly reverse this uncritical acceptance of Maliki's behavior. The White House should have put Maliki on warning during his mid-December visit to Washington, and the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq should take a tougher line from the outset. The administration may be only temporarily backing Maliki to maintain stability in Iraq and to keep the country out of the headlines in this election year. Even so, both of these outcomes are more likely if Maliki is looking over his shoulder instead of running rampant." 

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Iran agrees to talks after announcing nuclear breakthrough

Iran has claimed a nuclear breakthrough, reporting the production of its own nuclear reactor fuel plates and the building of new uranium enrichment centrifuges. State media broadcasted footage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserting what they referred to as the first Iranian produced fuel rod to a test reactor in Tehran. Al Jazeera's Dorsa Jabbari notes that "this is a huge achievement...because these fuel rods are actually produced domestically." Additionally, Ahmadinejad said Iran has built 3,000 centrifuges to add to the 6,000 that are currently working.  The announcement has meanwhile been met with skepticism by the United States. Chief State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said  "This is not big news; in fact, it seems to have been hyped." She continued that according to Iran's own schedule, the program is actually behind, and the announcement was made merely for a domestic audience as pressure mounts from increased isolation and recently heightened sanctions. U.S. officials and some analysts see the statement as part of a recent wave of aggressive and desperate gestures, including this week's assassination attempts on Israeli diplomats in several countries. For his part Ahmadinejad asserted that "the era of bullying nations has passed," but top Iranian officials have also said they are willing to participate in negotiations, responding positively to an invitation from the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili wrote, "I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility in a mutually agreed venue and time."

Headlines  

  • China is sending an envoy to Syria to discuss a "peaceful resolution" to violence. Meanwhile, Syrian forces attacked Deraa in an intensified crackdown on the opposition.
  • After the assassination of an al Qaeda leader by his half-brother, 17 people were killed in gunfights in what was called a "family dispute" one week ahead of Yemen's presidential elections.
  • In a report to come out on the anniversary of the Libyan revolution, Amnesty International reports that militias are increasing insecurity and at least 12 detainees have been tortured to death.
  • At least nine Palestinian children and one adult were killed and many were injured when a school bus collided with a truck driven by an Arab-Israeli in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.

Arguments & Analysis

Egyptian NGOs letter against crackdown on foreign organizations (pdf)

"The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the ongoing slandering and intimidation of civil society organizations, particularly human rights groups, and note that the referral of 43 Egyptian and foreign nationals to a criminal court is politically motivated. The affected institutions have been operating for several years without being asked to suspend their activities and without their offices being shut down... In a sudden disregard of these facts, the raiding the offices of these and other Egyptian organizations with armed forces and their referral to trial raise numerous questions. Indeed, it makes one question whether this development is in fact based on considerations for "the rule of law" and "judicial independence," as senior government officials claim.""

'Tunisia works to halt a downward economic spiral' (Amine Ghali, The Daily Star)

"Recently, the Central Bank announced a growth rate of zero for 2011 (down from an average of about 4 percent in recent years), more than 80 international companies have left the country and investment has declined significantly. These big-picture economic realities have translated into unprecedented unemployment figures, affecting 1 million individuals - around 20 percent of those eligible to work. This has resulted in greater numbers of Tunisians living in poverty. As a consequence of these developments, several demonstrations have been organized by the unemployed, especially university graduates. These protests have sometimes resulted in the closing of factories, which has led to shortages in certain products. Employment was thus placed at the forefront of the debate during the Tunisian election campaign, with every candidate putting forth proposals to tackle the country's economic downturn."

'Acceptable national authority creates cohesion' (Omar Rahman, Bitter Lemons)

"One may question whether the strength of tribal identity in the Middle East is historically unique and resistant to the formation of a national identity, but this is simply a matter of the strength and success of the nationalization process. It is not as if Libya and the entire Middle East have been stuck permanently in a static social system. In the end, the outcome of the "Arab spring" will have much more to do with the economy and the ability of the state to offer a system that all its citizens wish to join, than tribalism per se. Only through this process do people begin to transform their identities and affiliations, not beforehand. National cohesion will depend on the success of the state to offer its people good governance and a growing economy that provides jobs."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images