The Middle East Channel

EU envoy meets with Morsi amid mission to broker compromise

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton met with Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi Monday. Ashton was the first outsider the military rulers have allowed access to Morsi since he was overthrown and imprisoned on July 3. Ashton said she found Morsi in "good health," but does not know where he is being held. Ashton did not reveal many details about her discussion with Morsi, but said she had a "friendly, open, and very frank" two-hour conversation. Ashton said she did not convey an offer to Morsi for a "safe exit" from Egypt in exchange for renouncing his claim on the presidency. Additionally, she told Morsi she would not "represent his views" because he is not able to correct her if she does so wrongly. Spokesman for Ashton, Michael Mann, stated that Ashton's mission was to "reassure the international community" that Morsi is being treated well and to possibly act as an "honest broker" between the military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Ashton met with the Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other officials from the interim government as well as Morsi supporters in the Freedom and Justice Party. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood leaders are planning a major protest in Cairo on Tuesday despite warnings from the military-led government.


A mortar attack reportedly hit a Syrian government held district of Homs late Monday killing at least 10 people and wounding 26 others. Three mortar rounds reportedly hit the neighborhood of Dablan, where many people had fled to escape clashes elsewhere in the embattled city. The attack came just hours after the Syrian regime claimed it had taken control of the Khalidiya district of Homs, held by rebel forces since the beginning of the uprising. Meanwhile, a car bomb killed Syrian Kurdish politician Isa Huso Tuesday outside his home in Al Qamishli, near the Turkish border. Huso was a member of the Higher Kurdish Council, a group aimed at uniting Syrian Kurdish parties. Kurdish militants have been fighting against government forces and Islamist groups over control of regions in northern Syria, along the border with Turkey. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has said it is working toward establishing an independent council to run Kurdish areas until the end of the Syrian civil war. 


Arguments and Analysis

'Sisi's Islamist Agenda for Egypt' (Robert Springborg, Foreign Affairs)

"Addressing graduates of military academies is a standard responsibility for high-ranking military officers all over the world. But last week, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the commander of Egypt's armed forces, which recently deposed the country's first freely elected president, went far beyond the conventions of the genre in a speech to graduates of Egypt's Navy and Air Defense academies. Sisi's true audience was the wider Egyptian public, and he presented himself less as a general in the armed forces than as a populist strongman. He urged Egyptians to take to the streets to show their support for the provisional government that he had installed after launching a coup to remove from power President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. 'I've never asked you for anything,' Sisi declared, before requesting a ‘mandate' to confront the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters have launched protests and sit-ins to denounce the new military-backed regime.

Sisi's speech was only the latest suggestion that he will not be content to simply serve as the leader of Egypt's military. Although he has vowed to lead Egypt through a democratic transition, there are plenty of indications that he is less than enthusiastic about democracy and that he intends to hold on to political power himself. But that's not to say that he envisions a return to the secular authoritarianism of Egypt's recent past. Given the details of Sisi's biography and the content of his only published work, a thesis he wrote in 2006 while studying at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, it seems possible that he might have something altogether different in mind: a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism. To judge from the ideas about governance that he put forward in his thesis, Sisi might see himself less as a custodian of Egypt's democratic future than as an Egyptian version of Muhammed Zia ul-Haq, the Pakistani general who seized power in 1977 and set about to 'Islamicize' state and society in Pakistan."

'Israel-Palestine Negotiations: The Road to Nowhere' (Mohammed Ayoob, Al Jazeera)

"Why is it then that US Secretary of State John Kerry is so eager to push both parties into another set of negotiations that are highly likely to be not only unproductive but counterproductive, by fuelling Palestinian anger by their failure and thus bringing us a step closer to the inevitable third intifada? The answer is simple. The United States needs Israel and the Palestinian Authority to start negotiations for the sake of negotiations well before the UN General Assembly convenes in September so that it can be spared another major embarrassment on the issue of Palestinian statehood when the General Assembly convenes. If Kerry can demonstrate that an American-sponsored peace process is underway he can forestall criticism both of Israel and of the United States in the General Assembly for lack of progress toward Palestinian statehood.

The primary reason for the Kerry initiative is to deflect international criticism of the United States for its failure to stop Israeli colonisation of the West Bank which is rendering Palestinian statehood impossible. It has become increasingly clear to seasoned observers of the Middle East that Washington's inability to make a dent in Israel's settlement policy is not only a question of the tail wagging the dog; it demonstrates that on the Palestine issue the dog and the tail have switched roles."

'US Uneasily Adjusts to "New Egypt"' (Geoffrey Aronson, Al-Monitor)

"The army, cheered on by part of the anti-Ikhwan establishment and a resurgent ancien regime, has embarked on a new and deeply troubling strategy. The deep state has been energized by new leadership, with Sisi able to mobilize public opinion in a way the septuagenarian general Mohammad Tantawi never could. He has the future in front of him. His appeal over the heads of the established political system for public support in a 'war against terror' that recalls Mubarak-era campaigns, and those of Washington as well, betrays the new, emerging balance of forces, led by the army, which is besieging the Ikhwan on the one hand and demonstrating its power over the opposition on the other.

Where does this leave Washington? Strangely mute. After cultivating a political culture that prides itself on having an opinion about everything, the Obama administration has gone silent on the question of the legitimacy of Morsi's ouster. Washington's silence on this matter is deafening, particularly after its recent attempts to reinterpret its previously unqualified support for Egypt's first free and fair presidential election in its history. Having walked back its support for Egypt's elected president, Washington now makes urgent but plaintive requests for good behavior all around that hardly register in Cairo.

So, for example, US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed Washington's 'deep concern' about the bloodshed on July 27, in which scores were killed by security forces. Kerry also called on the authorities to 'respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,' bromides whose power has evaporated at the hands of an American administration all but immobilized by the contradictions in its policy exposed by Morsi's ouster and the street violence that erupted in its wake.

Lest it be accused of standing idly by as Egypt burns, Washington has decided to delay delivery of some F-16s. This decision is a perfect example of what policymakers may think is the least offensive option available to defuse calls for more meaningful action. F-16s, however, are a symbol, not only of the long-standing security ties between Cairo and Washington, but also of the pride of place that Egypt has long enjoyed as a pillar of US-led regional security. Is Washington suggesting that notwithstanding its accommodation with Morsi's ouster and his arrest, it is prepared to review its strategic relations with Cairo if Sisi oversteps an ill-defined redline?"

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

Wave of car bombs kills up to 60 people in Iraq

A wave of seemingly coordinated car bombings hit Iraq Monday killing up to 60 people and wounding over 200 others in a surge of recent violence. Around 15 to 17 attacks hit Shiite dominated areas of Iraq, mainly in the capital Baghdad and the cities of Basra, Kut, and Mahmudiya. In several districts of Baghdad, bombs were hidden in parked cars hitting markets, a restaurant, and a hospital. The most severe explosion was in the eastern Shiite district of Sadr City. Iraq has seen a recent escalation in violence with between 2,500 and 3,000 people killed in attacks since April. A spike in violence since the beginning of Ramadan on July 10 is raising concerns that Iraq will fall back into a full-blown sectarian war. No one has yet claimed responsibility for Monday's bombings, but al Qaeda's branch in Iraq has carried out similar coordinated attacks in the past.  


The Syrian government reported Monday it had overtaken the rebel-held Khalidiya district of Homs after a month long regime offensive in the central city. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting was continuing Monday, however government forces had regained control of most of the district. It reported, "Clashes took place between rebels and regime forces, supported by Hezbollah and National Defense Forces, in the southern parts of the Khalidiya neighborhood." According to the pro-opposition group, opposition forces only maintain control of a few districts in Homs, including the Old City. Meanwhile, the new president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Ahmed Jarba, said he would be willing to attend a peace conference with Syrian government officials in Geneva without preconditions. He said, however, "We believe there should be a precise time frame...The regime is used to manipulating the process and wasting time." Jarba said he expects the Geneva II meeting, which was planned for July, to still take place, "but the question of whether it succeeds remains valid." Additionally, he maintained that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's resignation was non-negotiable for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.


Arguments and Analysis

'Tunisia and the "Arab Spring" Reversal' (Fadil Aliriza, Jadaliyya)

"Two years ago, hope was not only palpable in the streets of Tunis; it was infectious. Young Arabs had risen up and triumphed against a Western-supported dictator whose police state ran on fear. Similar uprisings across the region seemed to have confirmed that Tunisia had led the way towards a new, more democratic order. And Tunisia was about to lead the way again by holding a clean election, almost unprecedented in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Now, hope is in rare supply across the region. Egypt's elections yielded new leaders that blindly and illiberally ran the country along strict partisan lines until a military coup publicly reasserted old-regime institutions. Libya's timid leaders and bold militias have hampered democracy, security and institution building. Syria's revolution turned into a bloody war and a hellish game for external actors, while Lebanon desperately tries to quarantine itself from the neighboring chaos. Western observers use increasingly desperate euphemisms for Iraq's escalating civil war. No one dares talk about Bahrain, or perhaps no one cares. Other Gulf countries quietly quarrel amongst themselves through political and economic maneuvering in neighboring proxy countries.

While numerous pundits bemoan 'Arab Spring' fatigue, many still believed that tiny Tunisia alone might overcome its challenges to create a new inclusive, civic, stable, free, and prosperous political order. But what started in Tunisia may soon end in Tunisia as the gains of the 'Arab Spring' are systematically rolled back with the help of old regime forces, ascendant ideological zealots, domestic lassitude, and powerful outside players that are uncomfortable with independent, populist politics in the region." 

'A Fool's Errand Worth Pursuing' (Fareed Zakaria, Time Magazine)

"If you were to ask me what international problem is least likely to be resolved in the next few years, I would probably say the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It takes no special insight to be skeptical on this; no one has ever lost money betting against the Middle East peace process. And yet I find myself cheering on Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive talks between the two sides.

The case for realism is obvious. The Palestinians are dysfunctional and divided, with Hamas controlling Gaza and still unwilling to make any kind of deal with Israel. For its part, the Israeli public has largely given up on peace, and new political groups -- like those led by Naftali Bennett -- flatly oppose a two-state solution.

But the situation on the ground is not quite as stuck as it at first seems. There are a number of forces that could push the parties to negotiate seriously. While Israel is thriving, many Israelis are unhappy with the prospect of having to rule over millions of Palestinians in perpetuity. These concerns are heightened by growing efforts to delegitimize Israel -- in Europe, on American university campuses and elsewhere. The Palestinian strategy of seeking to gain formal recognition as a state at the U.N. (where there is a standing majority in its favor) could cause Israel problems, since the Palestinians would then have standing in the International Court of Justice and other such venues. Were all else to fail, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas could dissolve the Palestinian Authority as he has threatened to and force Israel to take over the West Bank, sending its soldiers back into refugee camps and taking on the difficult and costly business of occupation."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber