The Middle East Channel

Syria marks one-year anniversary of revolt with continued violence

Notice: Today from 6:30 p.m. -- 8:30 p.m., a remembrance celebrating the life of Anthony Shadid will be held at The Washington Post -- 1150 15th St. NW, Ground Floor Auditorium. Speakers will include Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, David Hoffman, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Steve Fainaru, Anthony's cousin Ed Shadid, and a reading from House of Stone by his widow, Nada Bakri. Open to public. No need to RSVP. Reception immediately following.

On the one-year anniversary of Syria's uprising, supporters of President Bashar al-Assad rallied to back the regime as security forces intensified the offensive in the northern province of Idlib and southern city of Deraa, where the revolt began. The Syrian government orchestrated a march in Damascus to protest a "year-old conspiracy" against the country, which according to the Washington Post, was "apparently an attempt to overshadow the anniversary." Activists claim the regime has intensified the crackdown due to fears of anniversary protests. An activist in Deraa said that "there are more troops at the checkpoints and they are arresting lots of people," while another witness in Deraa noted that "houses are being hit with random bombardment from gunfire, RPGs, and anti-aircraft missiles." This comes as the government has been making gains with the recent takeover of control in Homs, and has pushed opposition forces from Idlib. In the past day, moreover, Turkey recorded the inflow of 1,000 refugees, which an official said was expected to continue. Diplomatic efforts meanwhile have thus far failed to quell fighting despite last weekend's meetings between U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and Assad. Annan is set to discuss Assad's response to proposals on Friday. On another front, 200 aid organizations from 27 countries called on the U.N. Security Council to unite on a resolution to end violence, particularly appealing to Russia and China who have blocked previous draft resolutions. Finally, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported it has obtained thousands of emails written and received by Assad and his wife, Asma. The correspondence was reportedly intercepted by the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution between June 2011 and February. The emails describe the Assads living an isolated and lavish lifestyle, making light of promised reforms, and taking advice from Iran.

Headlines  

  • Egypt has charged 75 people including nine police officers with murder and negligence for the deaths that occurred during the February 1 Port Said football riots.
  • The Israeli air force and Palestinian militants in Gaza exchanged limited fire overnight, but the recently brokered truce that ended four days of fighting has largely held.
  • The New Delhi police and intelligence agencies have issued warrants for three Iranians in association with the attack on an Israeli diplomat in February.
  • Yemen's Salafis have established their first political body, to be called Rashad Union, and called for talks with Sunni Islamists and northern Shiite militants.
  • Iran appears to be increasing its political outreach in the Middle East, escalating weapons shipments to Yemen.

Arguments & Analysis

'Syrian rebels will have to deal with Assad' (Julien Barnes-Dacey, Financial Times)

"For Russia -- as well as China and even Iran -- to change tack and to press Mr Assad to implement a ceasefire, the opposition will have to consent to direct talks with the regime, not preconditioned on Mr Assad's immediate departure or on that of regime forces from urban centres. In effect, the initial price will be an outcome that favours the regime's position on the ground. Distasteful as this will be, there is no other way to end the bloodshed. However, if Mr Assad was to agree a ceasefire, even if he remains in power, he will be far more marginalised internationally and under severe pressure to comply. Such an outcome could ease the entry of humanitarian aid and of a new, enhanced team of monitors. More positively, such a deal could prepare the ground for a political process, however difficult, that could swing the balance in the opposition's favour." 

'Back to basics: Israel's Arab minority and the Israeli-Palestinian confliclt' (International Crisis Group)

"Since 2000, a series of dramatic events have both poisoned Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and reinvigorated its Palestinian minority. The collapse of the peace process and ensuing intifada harmed Israel's relations with not only Palestinians in the occupied territories but also its own Palestinian minority. As Palestinians in Israel organised rallies in solidarity with Gazans and West Bankers, Israeli Jews grew ever more suspicious of their loyalty. Palestinian citizens' trust in the state plummeted after Israeli security forces killed thirteen of their own during protests in October 2000. A rapid succession of confrontations - the 2006 war in Lebanon; 2008-2009 Gaza war; and 2010 bloody Israeli raid on the aid flotilla to Gaza -- further deepened mistrust, galvanising the perception among Israeli Jews that Palestinian citizens had embraced their sworn adversaries. Among Arabs, it reinforced the sense that they had no place in Israel. Several have been arrested on charges of abetting terrorist activity. Meanwhile, the crisis of the Palestinian national movement -- divided, adrift and in search of a new strategy -- has opened up political space for Israel's Arab minority."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

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