Representatives from more than 60 Western and Arab countries are meeting in Tunis, Tunisia today to call for the Syrian government to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow humanitarian assistance for civilians and people wounded in violence. The group is not expected to discuss military options but will threaten increased sanctions if the Syrian regime doesn't comply within days. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed as a special envoy by the United Nations and the Arab League to represent the organizations in efforts at ending "violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis." Syrian state TV referred to the conference as a meeting of "symbols of colonialism" and said the countries attending were "historic enemies of the Arabs." Neither Russia nor China, who vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution based on an Arab League plan aimed to end the Syrian violence, attended the conference. The "Friends of Syria" seem to be favoring the opposition Syrian National Council, but are not giving the group exclusive recognition. The other main opposition group, the National Coordination Committee, is boycotting the conference. Activists have reported that over 7,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the 11-month uprising. The International Red Cross appealed to the Syrian government for a ceasefire so that aid could be brought in and wounded people could be evacuated, but they have received no response. Concern is growing particularly for the city of Homs where the bombardment continues unabated and injured journalists have released videos appealing for assistance.
- The Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, claimed responsibility for Thursday's wave of attacks that killed at least 55 people, saying it was in retaliation for the torture of Sunnis.
- A leading Egyptian presidential candidate, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, was beaten by a carjacker, in what is believed to be a targeted attack.
- Candidates running in Iran's parliamentary elections set for next week have launched their campaigns in what looks to be a contest between clerical and political conservatives.
- After the approval for the construction of 500 West Bank homes, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu requested an East Jerusalem settlement freeze ahead of next week's White House visit.
Arguments & Analysis
'Arab Spring cleaning' (The Economist)
"The Middle East has strikingly few private companies, less than one-third of the number per person in eastern Europe. Everywhere the state dominates the economy. In Egypt the public sector accounts for 40% of value-added outside agriculture-an unusually large share for a middle-income country. Such private firms as do exist tend to be large and closely connected to the state. The average Middle Eastern company is ten years older than in East Asia or eastern Europe because new entrants are kept out by pervasive red tape...[I]t costs roughly 20 times the average annual income to start a firm in Syria and Yemen (assuming anyone would want to), just over twice the average globally. In a few Arab countries, like Tunisia, some notorious personifications of crony capitalism have fallen foul of political change but the practice has by no means ended."
'Q&A: Nir Rosen's predictions for Syria' (Nir Rosen, Al Jazeera English)
"If the struggle drags on, the local civilian "political" leadership of the revolution will lose influence, and the more moderate Sufi sheikhs who exercise an influence over armed groups will also lose control. The insurgency and its supporters will become increasingly radicalised. They will condemn those leaders who looked to the outside world for support, and those who called for restraint. Those voices who say Islam is the only solution will become loudest; those voices calling for a declaration of jihad will be raised, and they will, in my opinion, target Sunni rivals as well as Alawites and other minorities. This scenario is also possible if the regime kills or captures enough senior leaders of the revolution. On the other hand, even if Assad and his family wanted to leave power - or even leave Syria - how would they explain this sudden about face to their supporters? The regime's fans, especially its base among the Alawites, may also be radicalised, embracing maximalist violence out of fear. And what happens to the cronies who benefit from the system as it is, and to the security forces who have nowhere to go? Do they just go home -- or do they fight to the death out of fear of extermination, and then hang on as some kind of insurgency against any new regime installed with the help of the West, Turkey and the Arab League?"
'How to halt the butchery in Syria' (Anne-Marie Slaughter, New York Times)
"The key condition for all such assistance, inside or outside Syria, is that it be used defensively -- only to stop attacks by the Syrian military or to clear out government forces that dare to attack the no-kill zones. Although keeping intervention limited is always hard, international assistance could be curtailed if the Free Syrian Army took the offensive. The absolute priority within no-kill zones would be public safety and humanitarian aid; revenge attacks would not be tolerated."
'Peaceful protest can free Palestine' (Mustafa Barghouthi, New York Times)
"The power of nonviolence is that it gives Palestinians of all ages and walks of life the tools to challenge those subjugating us. And thousands of peace activists from around the world have joined our movement. In demonstrations in East Jerusalem, Silwan and Hebron we are also being joined by a new and younger Israeli peace movement that categorically rejects Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, continuing Israeli settlement activity could soon lead us to the point of no return. Indeed, if we do not soon achieve a genuinely independent Palestinian state, we will be forced to press instead for a single democratic state with equal rights and responsibilities for both Palestinians and Israelis. We are not sure how long it will take before our nonviolent struggle achieves its goal. But we are sure of one thing: it will succeed, and Palestinians will one day be free."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey