Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared in front of the parliament on Wednesday to face questions on his foreign and domestic policies, amid accusations that he has been challenging the authority of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad is the first president since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 to be summoned, but he downplayed the questioning saying it was not abnormal. Ahmadinejad was joined by several cabinet members at the parliament where he spent an hour answering questions regarding accusations of wasting resources, botching the financing of the Tehran metro, and citing inaccurate figures of job growth in 2009 and 2010. Ahmadinejad said he was "ready to answer questions" however he was criticized for treating the time before the legislature as a joke. According to Mohammad Taqi Rahbar, "Ahmadinejad's answers to lawmakers" questions were illogical, illegal, and an attempt to avoid answering them. With an insulting tone, Ahmadinejad made fun of lawmakers' questions and insulted parliament." The questioning came less than two weeks after parliamentary elections faired poorly for Ahmadinejad supporters.
After four days of heavy assaults, the Syrian opposition fighters have withdrawn and Syrian forces have overtaken the northwestern city of Idlib. Activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that several wounded civilians en route to a hospital outside the city were executed by Syrian troops. Additionally, fierce clashes have erupted in the southern city of Deraa, one of the original hotbeds of protest. Tanks and armored vehicles have been firing on the city as the opposition, who are severely outgunned, have attempted to fight back. Meanwhile, despite international pressure on uniting the opposition, three leaders in the Syrian National Council (SNC) have resigned citing frustration with the lack of transparency and inability of the group to play an effective role in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. An unverified reported claimed that 80 of the 270 members of the SNC will also leave, perhaps intending to set up a new opposition movement. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Syria's revolt, meanwhile, Amnesty International released a contentious report on widespread torture of Syrian detainees, which the group says amounts to crimes against humanity. The human rights organization collected accounts from victims and witnesses who had fled to Jordan, documenting 31 methods of torture. Finally, United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said he had received a response from Assad on "concrete proposals" submitted during the weekend's talks, which he will discuss later today.
- In a bilateral meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton asked Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to make "clear" to Iran that upcoming talks are the "last chance" to resolve the crisis.
- Attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants continued in Yemen with a suicide bombing near a checkpoint in the south that killed at least four Yemeni soldiers.
- The head of Algeria's al Qaeda affiliate Islamic Magreb, Abdelmalek Droukdel, has been sentenced to death in absentia for charges including three bombings in Algiers in 2007.
Arguments & Analysis
'Egypt: will there be a place for women's rights?' (Hania Sholkamy, Open Democracy)
"The FJP narrative is Islamic in its reference points but has little to do with Islamic reformism or feminism. It is a narrative that is conservative and constrained by the deference of the women of FJP to the male members of their party. This is not only a disappointment for most observers, but is also a major problem for the FJP itself. Rather than expending some effort to forge alliances with women's groups from civil society and other political parties to address obstacles to gender justice and to social rights, they have made common cause with their male party members against the agenda of activists and women's right proponents. They have chosen an oppositional stance and condemned reforms for gender justice without really sharing their own ideas or consulting their peers on their program. At best this may reflect a lack of networking capabilities on their part; but at worst it could be a sign of elitism and sense of superiority."
'A warning for women of the Arab Spring' (Shirin Ebadi, The Wall Street Journal)
"I hope that in the Arab countries where people have risen against dictatorships and overthrown them, they will reflect and learn from what happened to us in Iran. My recommendation to Arab women is to focus on strengthening civil-society institutions and to familiarize themselves with religious discourse, so they can demonstrate that leaders who rely on religious dogma that sets women's rights back are doing so to consolidate power. The true "Arab Spring" will dawn only when democracy takes root in countries that have ousted their dictatorships, and when women in those countries are allowed to take part in civic life."
'UNRWA is becoming thick with the BRICS' (Filippo Grandi, The Daily Star)
"The burgeoning youth bulge in the Middle East must be a wake-up call as we plan our humanitarian and developmental responses for tomorrow. At a conference planned in Brussels this month, UNRWA will recommit itself to youth by prioritizing its initiatives for young refugees for the next 12 months. This is not tokenism. It is a timetable for action. Together with our partners, in the BRICS and beyond, we will embrace that most pressing global imperative. UNRWA, with its historic role in assisting Palestinian refugees, coupled with its unparalleled reach to young people within their societies across the Middle East, offers the international community a uniquely effective partnership for engaging youth in a complex, volatile region, while we wait for political solutions. Together with its partners, UNRWA stands with the youth of tomorrow, embracing innovation, entrepreneurialism and green technology, promising dignity and prosperity amid the uncertainty."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey