The Middle East Channel

Ahmadinejad faces unprecedented questioning by Iranian Parliament

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.

Syria

After four days of heavy assaults, the Syrian opposition fighters have withdrawn and Syrian forces have overtaken the northwestern city of Idlib.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.

Headlines  

  • 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

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Egypt brokers truce between Israel and Gaza

Israel and the Gaza Strip's Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are reported to have agreed to a truce brokered by Egypt after four days of cross border attacks. However, neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials have confirmed the reports. According to Israel, Israeli Air Forces carried out 37 strikes, killing an estimated 26 Palestinians, including five civilians and 18 militants. The Gazan militants launched 200 rockets into southern Israel, where reports range from either zero to up to 35 Israelis were wounded. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged the success of the new Iron Dome defense system saying it "has proven itself." Despite the truce agreement, five mortar shells were since fired into southern Israel. Israeli officials said they will keep watch, and if militants stop firing, "then the IDF will stop its activities accordingly." At the same time, Islamic Jihad spokesman Daud Shehab said, "We accept a ceasefire if Israel agrees to apply it by ending its aggressions and assassinations." The ruling Palestinian faction within the Gaza Strip, Hamas, did not participate in the fighting, and appeared eager to avoid escalation. According to Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, the recent violence "appears to be behind us."

Syria

Members of the United Nations Security Council met Monday to discuss options for ending violence in Syria with the United States continuing to clash with Russia and China on strategy. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has maintained that there is no equivalence between the premeditated assaults of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the self-defense measures espoused by the opposition. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), "Faced with mounting casualties and a political deadlock, outside actors at best have been ineffectual, at worst have poured oil on fire." Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has reported that Syria is laying landmines along its borders with Lebanon and Turkey. This practice is of increased concern as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that already about 300,000 people have fled abroad, 200,000 are internally displaced, and greater numbers are expected to flee for the border. Elsewhere, Syrian opposition activists reported a massacre in Homs overnight during which dozens of men, women, and children were assaulted and some set on fire in an presumed effort to frighten remaining citizens out of Homs. Syrian forces were also reported to have killed up to 55 people in the Idlib province, where army defectors killed 10 soldiers. According to the United Nations General Assembly, the death toll in the yearlong uprising has exceeded 8,000. This staggering violence prompted the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, to call for "urgent" international military intervention.

Headlines  

  • Several armed robbers attacked an Iraqi gold market in the mainly Shiite area of northeastern Baghdad killing nine people and injuring 14.
  • Iran has rebuked claims that it is attempting to "clean-up" its Parchin military complex to remove traces of nuclear weapons experimentation ahead of an IAEA inspectors visit.
  • A suicide car bomb killed 4 Yemeni soldiers at a checkpoint in the southern city of al-Bayda sparking clashes between the army and militants. 

Arguments & Analysis

'Popular protest in the Middle East and North Africa: Dallying with Reform in a Divided Jerusalem' (International Crisis Group)

"Protesters have failed to reach critical mass, and images from Syria almost certainly dampen the appeal of a protest movement, lest it trigger chaos. But these are poor substitutes for tackling the causes of anger. A far wiser course would be to deal seriously with the issues that unite all those -- East Bankers and Palestinian-Jordanians alike -- whose impatience is fast growing. A credible electoral reform that provides fairer representation of urban centres would be a huge start. While some East Bankers are reluctant to see urban areas acquire greater political weight, increased government attention to rural socio-economic needs would go a long way in allaying those fears." 

'For refugees in Libya, hard to stay or go' (Rebecca Murray, Al Jazeera English)

"On a sodden, winter day at a Tripoli railway yard that a Chinese company was building before the war, hundreds of refugees from Somalia and to a lesser extent, Eritrea, live in ramshackle housing. The government-owned property is now "managed" by a local militia, replete with 4x4 trucks patrolling with anti-aircraft guns, and a detention cell. This militia is entrepreneurial -- charging refugees $24 each per month to stay, and assigning them laminate ID cards. They offer "protection" and paid daily labour -- as well as harassment, the residents claim."

'Wanted: maybe a president' (The Economist)

"A rising moderate is Abdel Moneim Abolfotoh, a former senior Muslim Brother who was expelled for questioning the group's rigid hierarchy. A doctor who spent years in prison under Mr Mubarak, he attracts mild Islamists who chafe at the grip of the Brotherhood's number two and strongman, Khairat al-Shater, a probable future prime minister in a coalition government. The rivalry between Mr Abolfotoh and Mr Shater is likely to stop the Brothers from endorsing his candidacy, but will not stop some Islamists from voting for him. Mr Abolfotoh's campaign has inspired unlikely followers. His economic adviser, a Marxist professor, was drawn by its commitment to progressive tax rates and to free health care and education. Mr Abolfotoh is also the only candidate to demand not just civilian oversight of the army, but mandatory retirement for ageing generals. This has increased his appeal to reformist youths without estranging him from the wider, stability-seeking public." 

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty images