The Middle East Channel

Morsi calls for “national dialogue” amid widespread violence

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has called for a "national dialogue" after five days of deadly violence across the country. Morsi's declaration raises concerns about the strength of the central government and the country's democratic transition, as the economy continues to decline. On Sunday, Morsi declared a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia, all along the Suez Canal, after an estimated 49 people died in protests and violence last week, mostly in Port Said. Riots were ignited on Saturday after a court issued death sentences for 21 people for their roles in riots at a soccer match last year that left 74 people dead. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people rallied in Port Said calling for independence from Egypt. Clashes have also erupted in Cairo's Tahrir square between police and anti-government protests who gathered on Friday, January 25 for the second anniversary of Egypt's revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators in Tahrir are accusing Morsi of hijacking the revolution and are calling for the repeal of the Islamist backed constitution, which was approved in a referendum in December 2012. Morsi has invited representatives from 11 of the country's political forces for talks at the presidential palace on Monday, but it is unclear if the opposition will attend.

Syria

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chances of retaining power are getting "smaller and smaller" in a transcript of an interview with CNN. As a long-time Syrian ally, Medvedev's remarks were the most pointed yet. However, the prime minister maintained that the United States, or any other country, must not decide whether Assad stays in power. U.S. President Barack Obama, in interviews with The New Republic and "60 Minutes," said he has been struggling with whether the U.S. military should intervene in the Syrian conflict. Obama's statements came after world leaders gathering in Davos, Switzerland said they wanted the United States to be more involved in issues including the conflicts in Syria and Mali. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that Syria could fall into the control of Islamist militant groups if the international community doesn't do more to support the Syrian opposition. Fabius spoke at the opening of a meeting with Western and Arab countries and senior members of the Syrian National Coalition on Monday. The United Nations is struggling with dealing with the humanitarian crisis from the Syrian conflict. It is expected to make an appeal at a conference in Kuwait this week for donations to fill an over $1 billion gap in funding for assistance for those who have been displaced by fighting.  

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Arguments and Analysis

Algerian Crisis: The Primacy Of Le Pouvoir (John P. Entelis, Cairo Review of Global Affairs)

"The bloody end to the hostage crisis at In Amenas has led to widely competing assessments as to the wisdom of having so swiftly and violently attacked the facilities to rescue foreign hostages being held by elements of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). For the French, for example, this was the only viable option however tragic was the loss of lives. For others, like progressive elements within the United States, negotiations should have been pursued more seriously and with a longer time frame. What both perspectives fail to fully appreciate are the broader national, economic, and security imperatives that dictate Algerian political behavior. Indeed, it is impossible to separate the country's foreign policy orientation from existing Algerian configurations of power particularly the role of its military-industrial complex.

Despite the presence of formal authority structures operating within a constitutionally-defined system of rule involving elections, parties, and other manifestations of "democratic" governance, Algeria remains under the control, as it has since the coup d'état of 1965, of an intricate complex of military, intelligence, and industrial forces that monopolize state power in both its domestic and foreign policy dimensions."

Jordan: Democracy Delayed (Nicolas Pelham, The New York Review of Books)

"In a region where politics is not only governance but popular theater, Jordan's first parliamentary election since the eruption of the Arab Spring two years ago provided a brief moment of comic relief. In the heart of the capital, candidates erected marquees like vast Bedouin tents, and handed out coffee from Bedouin copper flasks. But for all the entertainment, King Abdullah II's claims that Wednesday's election would mark Jordan's transition to democracy seemed hyperbolic. In fact, the election was boycotted by five opposition parties, including the oldest and most powerful, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as a raft of former prime ministers, and even according to disputed official figures less than 40 percent of the kingdom's voters bothered to register and vote.

Those who did seemed to be more interested in promoting the interests of their own clan rather than relaunching a political process. Veteran politicians, including a former prime minister, cried foul, after their parties failed to make headway. There were reports of skirmishes with police in the south, as tribesmen closed main roads in the capital to protest the defeat of their kinsmen. Mohammed Khashman, the colorful founder of a Jordanian airline, was one of several candidates detained for paying for votes, earning him the sobriquet Captain Cashman. In refugee camps, some Palestinians nervously went to the polls after rumors spread that their identity cards could be withdrawn if they stayed away. International observers and local monitors alike cited numerous violations. True or not, the plethora of allegations point to a regime that is struggling to retain popular support."

In N. Africa terror battle, U.S. should lead from way behind (Blake Hounshell, CNN)

"Perhaps a better question is how involved we want to be. Some reports have linked al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has ties to al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan, to the Benghazi attack. Three Americans died in the gas plant in Algeria, and seven more barely escaped with their lives. The United States reportedly has had special operations forces in Mali for years. So, in a sense, America already is very much involved.

But that doesn't mean the right course of action is to get in deeper. To varying degrees, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies clearly do pose a threat to U.S. interests in their corner of Africa, but there's little evidence that they have the capability or intent to strike the U.S. homeland. The United States needs to lead from behind in this region -- but way, way behind, with French and African forces in the front. Al Qaeda would like nothing more than to drag the United States into another protracted quagmire."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

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