The Middle East Channel

Iran begins polling amid opposition boycott

Iran began voting in parliamentary elections today, in the first polling since the disputed victory for a second term for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 -- which sparked protests and a subsequent government crackdown. This election has come under similar scrutiny due to widespread suppression of the opposition since 2009 , whose leaders have been imprisoned or kept under house arrest. Opposition reformist parties are boycotting the election, which is regarded as a standoff between conservative camps dictated by a split between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei appealed to Iranians for "vigorous participation" to display unity in the face of western "enemies." The United States and European Union have significantly increased pressure, imposing severe sanctions aiming to isolate Iran over its contentious nuclear development program, but the election results are not likely to alter such major Iranian policies. There are 3,454 candidates running for 290 parliament seats and the outcome of this election is expected to determine the balance of power which will likely effect the 2013 presidential election.

Syria

After nearly a month of bombardment, the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr in the city of Homs has fallen to Syrian security forces. The rebel Revolutionary Brigades of Baba Amr referred to their retreat as a "tactical withdrawal," saying they were outgunned and concerned about how the clashes were effecting civilian conditions. Overtaking Baba Amr is seen as a victory for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose strategy is to overtake one stronghold at a time. A Red Crescent convoy is preparing to enter the district to attend to the injured and provide humanitarian supplies. Meanwhile, the two French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, who were wounded in the attack that killed reporter Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik, escaped to Lebanon and have been flown back to France. This comes as France closed its embassy in Damascus, after yesterday's announcement that the British and Swiss are suspending diplomatic operations.

Headlines  

  • The seven U.S. NGO workers charged with using illegal foreign funding and fomenting unrest have departed Cairo and are en route back to the United States.
  • The U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon that is tasked with investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has issued a fifth indictment for a member of Hezbollah.
  • Bahrain's government has imposed restrictions on reform monitoring groups and requested a delay for the arrival of a U.N. investigator slated to look into allegations of torture.

Arguments & Analysis

'Deciphering the Qatar enigma' (Patrick Seale, Gulf News)

"Qatar's Al Udeid Air Base is the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command, which oversees a vast area of responsibility extending from the Middle East to North Africa and Central Asia. Centcom forces are deployed in combat roles in Afghanistan as well as at smaller bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman. No doubt the presence of Centcom provides Qatar with some protection, but it also runs the risk of attracting hostility if, for example, Qatar were to allow itself to be sucked into the quarrel now raging between the United States and Israel on one side and Iran on the other. A regional war could deal a catastrophic blow to Qatar's prosperity and development." 

'Lebanon's Palestinian struggle: The struggle over Nahr al-Bared' (International Crisis Group)

"The Palestinian refugees -- and Lebanon -- deserve better. The typical model of camp governance has serious flaws and is in need of repair. Power traditionally lies in the hands of Popular Committees comprising unelected faction leaders who derive most of their legitimacy from their weapons. With state security forces essentially banned from interfering, residents often complain of chaos and inter-factional strife in large, armed, and unregulated pockets immune to Lebanese law and order. Nahr al-Bared offered a real opportunity to build something different insofar as faction leaders had lost out -- because they no longer possessed weapons and because they no longer enjoyed the trust of refugees who largely blamed them for failing to protect the camp. But the new model that is taking form is not the answer."

'What Iran's elections mean' (Meir Javedanfar, The Diplomat)

"There are more than 60 different factions participating in these elections, but three groups stand out as the most powerful -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's allies, backers of the ultra-conservative and messianic Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (currently a member of the Assembly of Experts), and the United Principalist Front, which is made up of various conservative and traditional forces. The reformist allies of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, meanwhile, have no chance of winning as they have been barred from even competing in the poll. In the last parliamentary election, Khamenei gave a majority of seats to the pro-Ahmadinejad Jebhe-ye Mottahed-e Osulgarayan (United Principalist Front) faction, by allowing more of their candidates to qualify than their chief rivals, the anti-Ahmadinejad Etelaf-e Faragir-e Osulgarayan (Broad Principalist Coalition) faction. But Ahmadinejad's supporters are expected to do badly tomorrow, for a number of reasons."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

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