The Middle East Channel

Trial begins against former generals who led the 1980 Turkish coup

The trial of the two surviving leaders of the 1980 coup that set Turkey on a 30-year course of military-dominated politics begins on Wednesday. Former military chief of staff, General Kenan Evren, who led the coup and subsequently the country from 1982 to 1989, and the former chief of the air force, General Tahsin Sahinkaya, are being tried for crimes against the state for their campaign of repression, during which hundreds of thousand of people were detained, hundreds died from torture, and 49 people were executed. According to Evren, the coup restored order amid political violence and chaos, and maintained the secular nature of the government at a time when they were concerned about a rising Islamist threat after the Iranian revolution. Current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has similarly come under criticism by secularist conservatives who fear he is attempting to establish an Islamist government in his moves to reduce military influence, reform the judiciary, and rewrite the constitution, and was subject to a recent coup plot. A 2010 constitutional amendment lifted the former generals' immunity making the trial possible.

Syria

The Syrian government has yet to begin implementation of an agreed upon peace plan presented by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. According to activists, security forces have been deployed in the cities of Idlib and Daraa as well as Hama and Homs where there have also been reports of heavy shelling. Amnesty International reported 232 deaths since President Bashar al-Assad accepted Annan's proposal on March 27, and noted: "The evidence shows that Assad's supposed agreement to the Annan plan is having no impact on the ground." Russia has meanwhile criticized the United States and the "Friends of Syria" for undermining the Annan plan by imposing new sanctions and arming the opposition. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov remarked that the Syrian opposition will never win against the Syrian government even if it was "armed to the teeth" and said: "Instead, there will be slaughter for many, many years -- mutual destruction." A team of officials from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations is planning to arrive in Damascus within two days to discuss the possible deployment of an observer mission to monitor a ceasefire that would take place by April 10 if the Syrian government and opposition adhere to the Annan plan.

Headlines  

  • France has continued its crackdown on al Qaeda-linked Islamists, detaining 10 suspected militants.
  • At least 22 people were killed on Tuesday in fierce clashes between rival militias in western Libya.
  • After a secret meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the stalled peace process.
  • Israeli security forces began evicting settlers who had taken over a building in the West Bank city of Hebron despite Netanyahu's original block of the eviction order.

Arguments & Analysis

'Egypt's muddy waters' (Nathan J. Brown, National Interest)

"Long accustomed to being a social movement with a broad agenda, ambiguous legal status, and oppositional pose, the Brotherhood is having to turn itself into a governing political party. The best minds in the movement have shifted from the Muslim Brotherhood organization to the movement's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. The nomination of al-Shater forced his resignation from the top decision-making bureau of the Brotherhood, but it also makes him the most prominent Brotherhood figure (possibly eclipsing the more bashful Mohammed Badie, the formal leader). Offered the opportunity to participate, the Brotherhood seems to be shifting the logic of its decision making-from a former focus on religious values and long-term transformation of Egyptian society to new short-term political tactics." 

'Iraqi universities reach a crossroads' (Ursula Lindsey, Chronicle for Higher Education)

"Iraqi universities remain highly centralized, politicized, and in need of systemic reform. The country is ruled by parties representing Iraq's Shiite majority, which was discriminated against under Saddam Hussein. But today, Sunnis and secular Shiites worry that academic standards and freedoms are still threatened by sectarianism and religious and political ideology-just in reverse. They complain of discrimination and say that university appointments are being made on the basis of religious affiliation and political connections rather than academic qualifications. "Before, the Baath Party was controlling all universities, and you had to be a high party official to be university president or dean," says Nadje Al-Ali, a professor of gender studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, who has worked on several efforts to connect Iraqi academics with their counterparts in the region. "Now each political party controls a university-the only pluralism is the plurality of dictatorial parties that are using the same methods to exert control."" 

'Wary in Cairo' (Sarah A. Topol, Latitude -- New York Times)

"For all the gains Egyptians have made in the last year, the Feb. 2011 revolution has unleashed many of the country's longstanding underlying tensions - sectarianism, heightened economic desperation and a growing xenophobia that results in harassment. A visit to Egypt is less appealing than it used to be. That's a shame for a country on the cusp of a full blown economic meltdown. Egypt could use the money. According to the latest government figures, from 2007, tourism accounted for 11.3 percent of G.D.P. and 19.3 percent of foreign-currency revenues. Five years ago, those figures were projected to grow substantially. But since January 2011, wary travelers have canceled plans. Local media reported the number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped by one-third last year, sending the tourism sector into a desperate scramble."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Yemeni airstrikes kill 43 al Qaeda fighters as militants blow up oil pipeline

Yemen's army killed up to 43 suspected al Qaeda-linked militants during airstrikes in a three-day offensive in the southern provinces of Aden and Abyan. According to the government, forces have reclaimed control of strategic cities that serve as links to the north, including what has become the al Qaeda base in the al-Rahha mountainous region of Lahj. The assault came after two attacks by militant fighters on Yemeni army bases in the area. Al Qaeda has been exploiting instability in Yemen to strengthen its control in the region. According to Mohammed al-Qadhi, a Sanaa-based journalist, "Al-Qaeda [is] using the stalemate in the political process and the continued division of army and security forces...to expand their activities in different southern provinces." Meanwhile, the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for bombing an oil pipeline in southern Yemen on Monday. It was the second such attack in what the group said would be "a chain of attacks" in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed five militants on Friday. President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, who recently replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been more cooperative with the United States and more active than his predecessor in the offensive against al Qaeda.

Syria

In a brief from United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in front of the U.N. Security Council, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to withdraw heavy weapons and troops from populated areas by April 10. According to U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice, Annan said he had received commitment from Assad that he would begin the withdrawal immediately. However, Syrian official Bashar Jaafar said that the "the Syrian government is committed but we are expect Mr. Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the [opposition]." At the same time, however, clashes continued in the center of Homs and according to the opposition, troops and tanks are moving into rebel-dominated areas. As such, and because of prior empty statements by the Syrian government, Security Council members have met the withdrawal agreement with suspicion, including Annan who requested a contingency plan of a United Nations observer mission, which would likely get rejected by Russia and China. Meanwhile, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is meeting with Syrian officials Tuesday to push for greater access to detainees and people who are sick, wounded, or displaced. He is additionally calling for a daily two-hour halt to fighting to allow for Red Cross access. According to the United Nations more than 9,000 people have been killed in the over year-long conflict.

Headlines  

  • The Red Cross has begun delivering fuel to the Gaza Strip which will maintain 13 hospitals for 10 days, after the territory's only plant closed eight days ago.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Barak to delay the evacuation of settlers from a West Bank home in Hebron to allow time for pursuit of legal options.
  • Libyan militia leaders turn to politics furthering concerns over national fragmentation.

Arguments & Analysis

'Crisis in Zion Square' (Daniel Levy, The Atlantic)

"If Israelis are to make hard choices, re-think their policies, acknowledge that the occupation carries costs, and even just remember that a Green Line exists, then disincentives may need to come into play. Is that not a pro-Israel position? That it is better for the country's long-term survival to hold it to certain standards of international law than to maintain the status quo of impunity. Beinart's two specific policy suggestions -- to exclude settlement goods from the Israel-U.S. free trade agreement, and to end the tax-deductible status of gifts to settler charities -- would be reasonable, good starting points. The EU-Israel Association Agreement already denies free trade benefits to settlement products. Still, Zionist BDS alone is unlikely to change Israeli policy. Boycotting settlement products and donations would probably have a negligible impact on Israel's economy. And...the sad reality is that there is no Green Line when it comes to the Israeli economy."

'Egypt's spring break' (Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English)

"It's not clear how the presidential campaign will evolve following al-Shater's nomination or who will make it to the second round to face him. Be that as it may, the Brotherhood has taken a risky gamble. If they lose, the Brotherhood's political standing would be terribly undermined, even shattered. If they win, they will be accused of monopolising power like the previous Mubarak led National Democratic Party (NDP). When I asked al-Shater about such comparisons, which I had heard in Tahrir Square, he dismissed them as unfounded creations of the remnants of the NDP. However, already the Brotherhood's insistence to take control of the Constitutional Assembly has led to a major fiasco with basically all but the organised Islamists remaining on board. The Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to lead on all fronts, including the presidency, is alienating many Egyptians and creating a political mess in the process. Their on-and-off conflict and complicity with SCAF has also created confusion, bitterness and lack of progress in the country with many accusing both sides of advancing their interests at the expense of the revolution and the Egyptian people."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images