The Middle East Channel

Egyptian court ruling keeps Salafist candidate in race for president

An Egyptian court ruled on Wednesday that it would not disqualify the ultraconservative Islamist Hazem Abu Ismail from running in presidential elections at this time. Concerns that the popular Salafist sheikh, one of the race's frontrunners, would be barred from the contest rose upon evidence that Abu Ismail's mother had become a U.S. citizen and applied to vote in Los Angeles toward the end of her life. According to Egyptian electoral law, applicants cannot stand for presidential elections if at least one parent or spouse holds foreign nationality. Abu Ismail filed a lawsuit calling for the interior ministry to prove his mother's U.S. citizenship, which it was unable to do. Thousands of Egyptians rallying outside the courtroom celebrated the verdict. However, the decision is not final and a list of eligible candidates will be released by the national election commission on April 26 ahead of the first round of voting on May 23 and 24. If Abu Ismail is still banned from candidacy, it will likely boost support for his more moderate Islamist competitors Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Khairat el-Shater, who also faces possible disqualification over a controversial pardon of a conviction under former President Hosni Mubarak.


The 6:00 am deadline for a ceasefire in Syria saw a lull in violence, but what opposition activists deemed an "only partially observed" truce. While there have been limited reports of violence, the Syrian government has failed to comply completely with the United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan by refusing to withdraw troops, heavy weaponry, and tanks. The opposition Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun pushed for intensified Friday protests to "demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities -- put the international community in front of its responsibilities." World powers are skeptical that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assald will hold to the ceasefire considering its poor record on holding to commitments and after it issued statements that the army would stay on alert to combat "terrorists" and will "respond proportionally" to opposition attacks. Meanwhile, the government called for opposition members to turn themselves in, remarking that those who had not killed would be released.


  • Bahraini Sunni mobs attacked Shiite villages and businesses in apparent retaliation for a bomb that injured Sunni policemen, increasing controvsery over the upcoming Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix.
  • At least 28 more al Qaeda-linked militants have been killed in the city of Lawdar in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan as clashes continue for the third day.
  • Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria's first president and leader in the struggle for independence from France, died at the age of 95.

Arguments & Analysis

'A non-nuclear Middle East' (Akiva Eldar, The National Interest)
"There is another option, which is based on the premise that regional problems require regional solutions. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (or WMDs), and especially the nuclear issue, cannot be separated from other regional issues. I believe the best way to remove the Iranian nuclear threat is through a comprehensive package deal based on a regional agreement on nonproliferation of WMDs and regional peace. This has been Israel's official policy since the 1970s, when it declared that once all its neighbors come to term with its existence and put an end to the state of war, Israel will support a regional nonproliferation treaty (NPT). This is separate and distinct from the global NPT, which Israel doesn't trust."

'If at first Iran says no, try, try again' (Volker Perthes, New York Times)
"Iran will want to know what it will gain if it agrees to such an approach. The P5-plus-1 group should have a convincing answer, such as identifying which specific American or European sanctions would be suspended should Iran stop its 20 percent enrichment. Simply promising not to impose additional sanctions does not constitute a major incentive. And a total lifting of sanctions is as unlikely today as a full halt of Iranian enrichment activities. The P5-plus-1 negotiators should, however, be prepared to suggest what a final settlement might look like - what assurances and guarantees the international community would need in order to accept an Iranian nuclear program with limited enrichment activities."

'Draining the hourglass: Iraqi refugees in Jordan' (Phil Leech, Open Democracy)
"There are approximately half a million Iraqi refugees in Jordan, which means it ranks second behind only Syria (approx. 1.2 million) in terms of total number . Under most circumstances Iraqi refugees are not legally able to work in Jordan and, although officially there is support provided through the United Nations (UNHCR), the practical reality is that most refugees in Amman live without any regular source of income...Most seek to support themselves through informal employment or they depend on support from family members elsewhere. The term in Arabic: al-laaje' (refugee) actually carries negative connotations. The burden (as it is often described behind closed doors) of Palestinians who were expelled from what is now Israel in 1948, still weighs heavily on governments and the populations of many Middle Eastern states. In these states the presence of refugee communities is often seen from two conflicting perspectives. Simultaneously, they are both regarded as latent (and on occasions, very real) threats to the status quo and yet also as comrades in arms, whom there is a responsibility to protect. This conflict might explain why, in Jordan, Iraqi refugees are commonly referred to as ‘brothers' yet at the same time also suffer a variety of social stigmas."

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The Middle East Channel

Syria stalls on troop withdrawal but Annan remains optimistic

Violent clashes continue across Syria as government troops, heavy weaponry, and tanks have not been pulled out from urban centers despite the passing U.N. deadline for withdrawal. According to activists, 101 people were killed Tuesday, predominantly in Homs. Meanwhile the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed Annan, issuing a statement of "deep concern" while Turkey pushed for a Security Council resolution after another incident of shots fired from across the border. Nonetheless, United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan remained optimistic that there could be "improved conditions on the ground" by the ceasefire deadline of 6:00 am on Thursday if all sides respect the plan. According to Annan, he received assurances from the Syrian government that they would implement the ceasefire, and are no longer pressing for a written guarantee from the opposition but merely an affirmation from Annan that they will lay down their arms. Elsewhere, in a trip to Tehran, Annan is appealing to Iran for assistance in ending the Syria conflict saying, "Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution."


  • Clashes between the Yemeni military and al Qaeda-linked militants, mostly in the strategic town of Lawder in Abyan province, killed 127 people.
  • Iran said it uncovered an Israeli "terror and sabotage network", a claim that Israel called "baseless" and a statement typical of Iran ahead of the upcoming nuclear talks scheduled for Saturday.
  • Renewed unrest in Bahrain may cause the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix set for April 22.
  • Egypt's suspension of the constituent assembly will very likely change the transition timetable with the presidential elections coming before the drafting of a new constitution. 

Arguments & Analysis

'To stop the killing, deal with Assad' (Asli U. Bali and Aziz F. Rana, The New York Times)

Ultimately, the best way to reduce violence is to pursue negotiations for a political transition that would include rather than explicitly threaten the Assad government. Given the mortal fears of communities on each side of the conflict, the first goal has to be making clear that all groups have a future in a new Syria...The six-point plan offered by Kofi Annan, the United Nations intermediary, is a good starting point. But both sides have to treat a cease-fire seriously, and any arms embargo would have to apply equally to each party. Crucially, real negotiations would have to include Iran and Russia. Both have stakes in the Assad government; their involvement in an inclusive mediation process could set the stage for concessions by the government.

'Will Khamenei compromise?' (Reza Marashi & Ali Reza Eshraghi, National Interest)

"America's starting point is clear: Closing Iran's Fordo facility; halting Iranian enrichment at the 20 percent level, and removing Iran's stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium from the country. To defuse the crisis diplomatically, the United States will need to consider the political, economic and security incentives sought by Iran-and the protection of human rights sought by the Iranian people-that any negotiated solution would have to address. This does not imply that concessions must be made to Iran on each of these three fronts. Only sustained diplomacy can determine whether it is in America's interest to address Iranian concerns."

'Special report: In Egypt's military, a march for change' (Marwa Awad, Reuters)

On a warm Wednesday morning last October, around 500 Egyptian army officers based at the Air Defence Institute on the outskirts of Alexandria staged a mini revolt...According to a lieutenant colonel with direct knowledge of the protest, the men were angry about the punishment given to a fellow officer by his superiors. After refusing to train, the officers demanded to meet either Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's military and in effect the country's acting president, or his second in command. They wanted to meet the commanders, they said, to make the case for better treatment...The rebellion, unreported before now and confirmed by three other officers in the unit, lasted several days. As Egyptians were calling for quicker and deeper change - demands directed at the military council that runs the country -- at least one part of the country's military was itself split.

'A monarchical affair: from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula' (Samia Errazzouki, Jadaliyya)

Through a combination of efforts across the political and economic spheres, Morocco succeeded in temporarily postponing the inevitable wave of dissent. The Gulf monarchies provided a comfortable cushion for the Moroccan monarchy, while boosting the confidence of the regime's allies both within and beyond Morocco's borders. However, Morocco's income inequalities remain the highest in the region, along with a staggering 56.1% illiteracy rate. Morocco can seek temporary economic assistance through aid packages from the Gulf, but all this succeeds in doing is nurturing a dependent and weak economy still coping with the obstacles of post-colonial development. Meanwhile, Morocco's commitment to democratization has stalled with consistent cases of arbitrary arrestspolitically-motivated trials, and ongoing protests met with repression. This only shows that the constitutional reforms have done little to change the social reality of Moroccans, and the Gulf monarchies have no intention of challenging Morocco's approach to addressing popular grievances. Instead, the Gulf monarchies have rewarded Morocco with billion-dollar aid packages, investment, and an increasingly stronger political alliance.

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

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