The Middle East Channel

Egyptians abroad vote on referendum as government delays IMF loan

Egyptian expatriates have begun voting in embassies around the world on a referendum pushed by President Mohamed Morsi on a disputed draft constitution. Voting in Egypt will be held over two days, December 15 and 22. At the same time, the Egyptian army is planning to hold "unity" talks with rival factions in Cairo, deeply divided over the referendum. Egypt's Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi invited Morsi, political leaders, and government officials to participate in the dialogue. Opponents of the largely Islamist drafted constitution have called for the referendum to be postponed. However, Morsi has remained steadfast, despite mass protests, that a new constitution must be passed before national elections can be held. Meanwhile, Finance Minster Mumtaz al-Said announced on Tuesday that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt would be delayed for a month due to the political crisis which has dampened Morsi's ability to push through necessary economic reforms. On Sunday, the government issued a variety of new taxes, only to reverse the decision hours later due to backlash from the opposition as well as from within the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's economy is verging on collapse, and the British-based banking giant HSBC warned that further delay could seriously jeopardize Egypt's recovery.

Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama has formally recognized the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, paving the way for greater U.S. support for to the opposition. The United States joins Britain, France, Turkey, and the Gulf states, which recognized the National Coalition shortly after it was formed in November. The announcement came ahead of a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" -- foreign ministers from more than 70 countries gathering in Morocco to discuss the conflict in Syria and options for a political transition. The group includes representatives from many western and Arab countries who have opposed Assad, but excludes Assad's allies Russia and Iran, as well as China, which has joined Russia to block U.N. resolutions on Syria. The "Friends of Syria" also formally recognized the opposition council and called for President Bashar al-Assad's resignation. The group will create a relief fund "to support the Syrian people" but there was no commitment for supplying arms to the opposition fighters, although that was not ruled out for the future. The National Council said recognition is nice, but called for "real support" including humanitarian assistance and military equipment. Meanwhile, between 125 and 300 people were killed in bombings and gunfire in Hama province in the predominantly Alawite village of Aqrab, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to opposition activists, the civilians were being held hostage by Shabiha, pro-government militiamen, in a building that was bombed by government warplanes. Activists said the Free Syria Army was making a siege on the building. These accounts cannot be verified as there have been conflicting reports, and the Syrian government has not made any statements on the incident.

Headlines  

  • Kuwait's emir named a new cabinet Tuesday, the 11th since 2006 due to a series of political crises, after parliamentary elections were largely boycotted by the opposition.
  • Masked gunmen killed senior intelligence officer, Colonel Ahmed Barmadah, outside his home in the southern Yemeni port city of Mukalla on Tuesday. No one has claimed responsibility. 

Arguments and Analysis

Turkey's Distinctive Brew (Soner Cagaptay, The Atlantic)

"It is 5 a.m. in Istanbul, and I am looking for coffee. Having arrived in Istanbul's old city the night before and seriously jetlagged, I decided to walk into the Eyup quarter, which hosts Istanbul's most sacred mosque, Eyup Sultan. I hoped the revered shrine, which attracts early morning worshippers, would have an open coffee shop nearby, and I was right. As prayers ended, I watched Eyup's worshipers flow from the mosque, sipping a bland cup of instant coffee, unaware I was about to be treated to an experience of cultural flavor unique to Turkey.

A large group of Salafists, with their trademark trimmed beards and kaftans, walked out of the mosque, heading to my coffee shop. What happened next is a lesson in Turkey's distinctive direction compared to its Muslim neighbors: The Salafist men ordered coffee and Turkish bagels (simit) from the barista, a young woman sporting a tattoo and sleeveless shirt. Neither the exchange between the barista and the Salafists, laden with polite honorifics and formal Turkish speech, nor their body language, suggested tensions between the two opposing visions of Turkey brought into close encounter for me to witness.

As this encounter so succinctly encapsulates, Turkey's two halves are like oil and water; though they may not blend, neither will disappear. Turkey's Islamization is a fact, but so is secular and Westernized Turkey. But the historical roots and current manifestations of this synthesis indicate that it is a model that will be difficult to replicate elsewhere in the region, as Islamist governments rise to power after the Arab Spring. "

Syria's New Opposition (Daniel R. DePetris, The National Interest)

"Nearly a month into its existence, the reorganized and reformed Syrian political opposition has made a number of strides in an attempt to speed up the fall of President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Formally named the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the bloc has secured international recognition from a host of countries over the past two weeks, including France and Britain. On Tuesday, President Obama announced in a television interview that the United States would follow suit. Washington has been the most eager to consolidate and strengthen opposition to the Assad regime, promising an extensive amount of diplomatic contact with its representatives and a hefty amount of financial aid in the future.

Yet kind words and promises of aid from the international community will not help the National Coalition in planning for a post-Assad government if the body remains a mystery to the people it is supposed to represent. The same problems that ruined the Syrian National Council as a credible alternative to the Assad regime could very well stain the new National Coalition if its leaders do not convince the Syrian people that they are more than just a passive debating society."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/KHALIL MAZRAAWI

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