The Middle East Channel

Killing of opposition leader sparks protests in Tunisia

Tunisian opposition politician, Chokri Belaid, was shot in the neck and head and killed Wednesday outside his home in Tunis. Belaid, a prominent secular opponent to the Ennahda-led Islamist government, was one of the leaders of the opposition Popular Front and the general secretary of the Democratic Patriotic Party. No one has taken responsibility for the shooting. Tunisia's Interior Ministry has not yet released any details. News of Belaid's death have sparked large protests outside the interior ministry and in Sid Bouzi, the 2010 epicenter of the Arab uprisings. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said, "The murder of Belaid is a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution."

Syria

Damascus, the capital of Syria, has seen the worst violence in weeks as opposition fighters launched a major offensive. According to an activist, clashes erupted in the districts of Jobar, Zamalka, al-Zablatani, and parts of Qaboun, as well as the ring road. Damascus authorities have closed down the main Abbasid Square and the Fares al-Khoury thoroughfare. Fighting was also reported in the central province of Homs. Blasts in the city of Palmyra drew conflicting reports. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, two car bombs exploded near a compound hosing a military intelligence facility and a state security agency. The Observatory reported at least 12 Syrian security forces killed and 20 people wounded, including eight children. Conversely, Syrian state news, SANA, said two suicide car bombings killed and injured an unknown number of people and caused significant damage. The blasts sparked clashes between Syrian government and opposition forces.

Headlines

  • A secret U.S. CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia has been revealed, which was established two years ago for operations against al Qaeda members in Yemen.
  • Bulgaria's interior minister said two of the people behind the July 18 bombing of an Israeli tourist bus were members of Hezbollah, which may prompt the EU to designate the group as a terrorist organization.
  • While visiting Egypt, a man threw a shew at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was also warned not to interfere with the Gulf states by head Sunni cleric, Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama plans to travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the spring and will also stop in the West Bank and Jordan.

Arguments and Analysis

Back Street's Back (Elijah Zarwan, Foreign Affairs)

"But it would be a mistake to dismiss the protesters as paid thugs, or to blame the unrest on revolutionary anniversary pangs, Muslim Brotherhood misrule, or a court's verdict -- although those are all elements of it. True, it is difficult to systematically track the demographics of a stampede, but what most of those rushing to escape birdshot and tear gas canisters have in common is that they are male, urban, young, and unemployed; they have very little to lose, and even less confidence in a political class that does not represent them. For them, the mantra of the uprising that began two Januarys ago -- "Bread, freedom, social justice" -- remains an urgent and unanswered demand.

If anyone doubted that Egypt's unrest would continue until the urban poor saw a concrete improvement in their daily lives, the events of the last few weeks should have convinced them otherwise. For the majority of the Egyptian population that grew up poor and has known no president other than Mubarak, life has been hard and has only gotten harder. The narrow streets of the urban slums admit little air. Decent work, already scarce, has become scarcer. Prices have continued to rise. Prospects for a dignified life -- a steady job, marriage, and escape from the family home -- have grown steadily more remote."

Syria's Fate Hinges on Whom It Hates Most, U.S. or Iran? (Karim Sadjadpour and Firas Maksad, Bloomberg)

"Iran has done its utmost to keep Assad afloat, providing billions of dollars of support as well as strategic aid to crush dissent....

This support can only delay, not prevent, Assad's demise. Thereafter Iran will face a strategic decision: whether to continue supporting a predominantly Alawite militia that represents only a small fraction of Syrian society, or to engage the Sunni Islamists who are poised to wield power in Damascus once Assad falls. Iran's leaders will try to embrace the Sunni radicals, and if that fails they will work with the Shabiha to prevent the formation of a stable, anti-Iranian order in Syria.

What's most important for Iran is not the sectarian makeup of Syria's future rulers, but a like-minded ideological worldview premised on resistance to the U.S. and Israel. As Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei once said, "We will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world." Iran's Sunni allies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are cases in point."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/FETHI BELAID

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