The Middle East Channel

Yemen’s president orders military shake-up

Yemen's President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has removed the commander of the elite Republican Guard from his position. Hadi announced that Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, will become ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Hadi has vowed to unify Yemen's military, which has been fractured since the former President Saleh stepped down in 2012 after a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered deal aimed to quell an uprising that began in 2011. Regardless, the Saleh family has retained significant influence, and Hadi's move is seen as an attempt to exert control over the armed forces. Retired Yemeni General Mohammed Sarei Shaye said the order shows the military is under Hadi's control. He continued, "It is a strike by a master. It uprooted all centers of power in the army." The president's long list of decrees issued Wednesday included the removal of dozens of other military officials, including two nephews of the former president.

Syria

The Syrian government has been carrying out "indiscriminate and in some cases deliberate airstrikes against civilians" according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday. HRW said it documented 59 unlawful attacks after visiting 52 sites of government airstrikes in opposition held territory in northwestern Syria. The advocacy group reported 152 civilian deaths from these sites, while opposition groups have said that airstrikes have killed 4,300 civilians since July 2012. HRW called for action by the United Nations, including targeted sanctions, an embargo, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to authorize additional aid to the Syrian opposition. According to U.S. officials, this will likely include body armor and night-vision goggles for specific opposition groups. The assistance falls short of the weapons supplies opposition forces were looking for, but suggests a move by the United States toward greater direct involvement in the Syrian conflict. According to a senior Obama administration official, "Our assistance has been on an upward trajectory, and the president has directed his national security team to identify additional measures so that we can increase assistance." Additionally, in a meeting in London between G8 representatives, it appeared as if Britain and France intend to allow a European Union arms embargo on Syria to expire by the end of May, so they can ramp up assistance.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

Did We Get the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong? (Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy)

"The deterioration of Egyptian politics has spurred an intense, often vitriolic polarization between Islamists and their rivals that has increasingly spilled over into analytical disputes. Some principled liberals who once supported the Muslim Brotherhood against the Mubarak regime's repression have recanted. Longtime critics of the Islamists view themselves as vindicated and demand that Americans, including me, apologize for getting the Brotherhood wrong. As one prominent Egyptian blogger recently put it, "are you ready to apologize for at least 5 years of promoting the MB as fluffy Democrats to everyone? ARE YOU?"

So, should we apologize? Did we get the Brotherhood wrong? Not really. The academic consensus about the Brotherhood got most of the big things right about that organization ... at least as it existed prior to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. U.S. analysts and academics correctly identified the major strands in its ideological development and internal factional struggles, its electoral prowess, its conflicts with al Qaeda and hard-line Salafis, and the tension between its democratic ambitions and its illiberal aspirations. And liberals who defended the Brotherhood against the Mubarak regime's torture and repression were unquestionably right to do so -- indeed, I would regard defending the human rights and political participation of a group with which one disagrees as a litmus test for liberalism.

But getting the pre-2011 period right doesn't let us off the hook for what has come since. How one felt about questions of the Brotherhood's ability to be democratic in the past has nothing to do with the urgency of holding it to those commitments today. Giving the group the chance to participate fully in the democratic process does not mean giving it a pass on bad behavior once it is in power -- or letting it off the hook for abuses of pluralism, tolerance, or universal values.  That's why I would like to see Egypt's electoral process continue, and for the Brotherhood to be punished at the ballot box for their manifest failures."

Staying the Course on Diplomacy with Iran (Matt Duss, Center for American Progress)

"While frustration over Iran's intransigence is understandable, it's unclear whether applying more pressure can accomplish what a considerable amount of pressure has thus far failed to achieve. A recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace examining Iran's behavior over the past decades determined that economic pressure is unlikely to halt Iran's nuclear work, which "is entangled with too much pride-however misguided-and sunk costs simply to be abandoned." The report concluded that, "The only sustainable solution for assuring that Iran's nuclear program remains purely peaceful is a mutually agreeable diplomatic solution."

As for next steps, it's important to remember that there is time to deal with the problem. In an Israeli television interview in March, President Obama, citing U.S. intelligence data, said it would take Iran a year or more to build a nuclear weapon in the event that it chose to do so-which U.S. intelligence services believe it has not yet done.

As President Obama said in his speech in Jerusalem on March 21:

Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war, and the inevitable costs, the unintended consequences that would come with war means that we have to do everything we can to try to resolve this diplomatically. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution."

The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi‘a-Sunni Divide (Geneive Abdo, Brookings)

"In today's Arab world, all politics is local.

This paper examines the rise of the new sectarianism within the Arab world, specifically looking at Bahrain, Lebanon and Iran, and offers key policy recommendations for the United States. In the midst of the Arab Awakening, there is a new Sunni-Shi'a divide which has greatly complicated the diplomatic and geopolitical challenges facing the United States by demanding that serious consideration be given to religious difference in its own right, and not simply as an epiphenomenon stemming from social, economic, or political contestation. Religion, gender, and ethnicity play a far more prominent role in determining social and political interaction than in the past.

While analysts, scholars and decision-makers are quick to observe that the Shi‘a-Sunni conflict is a battle within Islam, the broader geo-political implications from the rise in sectarianism should be of great concern to the United States as it seeks to preserve its interests in the Middle East. (In Bahrain, for example, the lack of reconciliation between the Shi‘a-dominated opposition and the U.S.-backed Sunni government is radicalizing both sides.)"

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA

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