The Middle East Channel

Egyptian liberal bloc walks out of Islamist-dominated parliament

Lawmakers from the liberal bloc walked out of an Egyptian parliamentary vote deciding on the composition of a 100-person panel tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution. The bloc, which includes three liberal parties that hold nine percent of seats in Egypt's lower house of parliament, cited differences with the Islamist parties, which hold a majority in both houses of the legislature. The constituent assembly will be comprised of 50 sitting politicians and 50 members of trade unions and civil society. Forty of the 50 parliamentarians are expected to come from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party or Salifist al-Nour party. Naguib Sawiris, founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, said: "It's ridiculous: A constitution being written by one force and one force alone." While determining the constituent assembly is a step toward bringing forth a democratic transition after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, some are concerned about future legislation moving away from its historic secular nature toward a stronger Islamist bent. Meanwhile, Egypt's ruling military council lashed out at the Muslim Brotherhood after a statement made on Saturday which claimed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was trying to "abort the revolution" and "commit fraud in the presidential election."

Syria

Turkey, a previous ally of Syria, has recalled its ambassador to Syria and closed the embassy in Damascus amid a continued military campaign in the northern city of Homs. The move came after deteriorating security conditions caused the United States, European Union countries, and six Gulf states to pull out their missions. Syrian opposition groups, including representatives from the Syrian National Council, are set to meet in Istanbul on Monday ahead of next week's "Friends of Syria" meeting which will bring together 50 countries to discuss appropriate actions on Syria and formulate plans to increase pressure on the Syrian regime to end violence. The opposition groups are looking for unification in drafting a "national pact" of common objectives. Meanwhile, activists in Syria's third largest city of Homs have accused Syrian forces of indiscriminate shelling. According to Waleed Faris, an activist who resides in the city: "Every day the shelling goes on. The regime is wiping out the city."

Headlines  

  • As economic conditions deteriorate amid growing sanctions and isolation, Iran's labor news agency reported that the country will increase cash payments to citizens by over 50 percent.
  • Israel's supreme court ordered the dismantling of the unsanctioned West Bank settlement of Migron by August 1.
  • After considerable debate, Tunisia's Ennahda party, which leads the government, says it will not write sharia, or Islamic law, into the new constitution as the main source of legislation.

Arguments & Analysis

'Maliki brings the Arab League to town' (Reidar Visser, Foreign Affairs)

"At issue during the summit is the extent to which Iraq is reclaiming an active role in the Arab state system. In large part, that depends on what participants decide to do about Syria. Since 2011 (when Iraq was largely supportive of Assad), Baghdad has come a long way toward officially accepting the idea of change in Syria, albeit in a gradual fashion, with a focus on elections, constitutional reform, and a power-sharing government. That position leaves a big gap between Baghdad and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which openly favor providing weapons to the Free Syrian Army and regime change in Damascus. Any attempt to push a summit decision in this direction will probably leave Iraq on the sidelines. Yet there are non-Gulf Cooperation Council states that remain skeptical about Saudi Arabia's hard-line policy and supportive of the more careful approach of the latest Arab-Russian initiative, which focuses on a gradual transition with international monitoring."

'The seductions of violence in Iraq' (Charles Tripp, Open Democracy)

"Violence in Iraq has thus become integral to the political order.  It has been reinforced and locked into the maintenance of that order not simply by the violence of the insurgency, powerful as that may be, but also by the resources it seems to place in the hands of the government.  In doing so, its forms, functions and meanings have structural and imaginative effects on the political order and the emerging state.  Some of these are open and deliberately visible, such as the punitive military operations, the battles of insurgency and counter-insurgency, as well as the assassinations and bombs in the towns and villages of Iraq."

'Erdogan's decade' (Hugh Pope, Cairo Review for Global Affairs)

"Middle Easterners are finding Turkey more attractive for many reasons. The AKP's victory had buried the image of a country long seen as having turned its back on Islam to act as a treacherous cat's paw for Western imperialism in the region. Some prized Turkey's readiness to challenge Israel openly, arguably the main reason for Turkey's appeal on Arab streets when it became a pronounced Turkish trait after 2009. Turkey also appears to have made peace between its Muslim soul and secular political pragmatism. Some Middle Easterners respect its status as the only Muslim country to be accepted as a potential equal by rich, powerful Europe, as shown by the hundreds of journalists from the region who attended key EU meetings on Turkey's future membership. Some like its success in moving from authoritarianism to democracy. Some simply admire the pure electoral legitimacy of Turkish leaders-and readiness to step down from power at the end of their terms." 

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Syria hit with increased sanctions as violence surges

European foreign ministers have extended sanctions on 12 additional people in Syria including imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on President Bashar al-Assad's mother, sister, sister-in-law, and wife, Asma al-Assad. The decision came after this weeks' leak of Assad emails, many of which show Asma shopping for expensive jewels, furniture, and other luxurious goods. The travel ban will prevent Asma from traveling in Europe except for Britain, where she retains citizenship. Meanwhile, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, criticized the United Nation's statement adopted Wednesday supporting the implementation of the peace plan proposed by U.N. and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan. Samir Nashar, a member of the council's executive committee, said that "such statements, issued amid continued killings, offer the regime the opportunity to push ahead with its repression in order to crush the revolt by the Syrian people." Elsewhere 10 people, half of whom were women and children, were killed in an attack by the regime on a bus fleeing the violence. Severe fighting also raged in Damascus, Latakia, Homs, and Hama where death counts range between 40 and 63. Free Syrian Army forces also killed two Syria soldiers and captured 18 others near the border with Turkey.

Headlines

  • Yemeni naval ships shelled positions in the southern Abyan province believed to be held by al Qaeda killing 29 people. Meanwhile, a senior security officer was reported killed by militants.
  • The United States and Israel have condemned a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for an investigation into the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians.
  • Egypt has begun supplying fuel to the Gaza Strip to resume operations at a power station shut down in February to alleviate a fuel crisis that has impacted medical and transportation services.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said the United States will resume the transfer of $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt despite crackdown on nongovernmental organizations (NGOS).

Arguments & Analysis

'Gas threatens the Levant's stability' (Nizar Abdel-Kader, The Daily Star)

"The discoveries of gas fields by Israel and Cyprus are stirring the pot of regional turmoil and provoking various reactions from the other players in the Eastern Mediterranean. It looks as if the region is on the verge of a very volatile and highly complicated situation. It is perhaps no surprise that the sudden interest of Hezbollah in the potential hydrocarbon wealth of the Israeli and Lebanese coastlines could turn the Mediterranean into a new theater of conflict along the lines of the dispute over the Shebaa Farms. It remains the responsibility of the Lebanese government to approach the gas fields in a practical (not political) way, as it did with the Shebaa Farms."

'Assessing Al-Qaeda's presence in the new Libya' (Andrew Lebovich & Aaron Y. Zelin, Combating Terrorism Center)

"For the moment, though, armed jihadists-especially those sharing al-Qa`ida's extreme ideology-do not appear to be in a position to contest the fragile Libyan state. Ultimately, while there are more than the "flickers" of al-Qa`ida in Libya first suggested by NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis in March 2011, there is not enough information to determine if the group has the means, or even the desire, to set up a durable presence in the country-especially when Western governments and special forces are keeping a keen eye on Libya, and opposing armed militias remain ready to protect their own power and influence." 

'Bashar's pyrrhic triumph' (The Economist)

"Kofi Annan, the Arab League and UN envoy, for want of a better solution, hopes to coax the regime into opening talks with the opposition. Mr Assad has said he is willing, but lacks a recognisable partner to talk to. His claim is not entirely spurious. The SNC has burned up much of its energy trying to unite the myriad factions thrown up by an already sectarian society that has been further atomised by decades of authoritarian rule. Mr Assad's opponents plan to meet on March 26th to try and heal rifts. "We've been waiting in the station for passengers to board, but the train must now move," warns an SNC spokesman." 

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty images