The Middle East Channel

Three drone strikes kill 12 suspected militants in Yemen

At least three suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least 12 alleged al Qaeda linked militants Thursday in Yemen. The strikes, in Yemen's Marib and Hadramout provinces, all reportedly hit targets in cars. The drone campaign has been stepped up in recent week after warnings of possible al Qaeda planned attacks on Yemeni and Western targets. Thursday's drone strikes came after Yemeni security officials claimed on Wednesday that they foiled an al Qaeda plot to attack two major oil pipelines and the port city of Mukalla. At least 30 suspected militants have been killed in drone strikes in the past two weeks. The strikes have mostly been concentrated in Yemen's remote mountainous areas where al Qaeda's top five leaders are believed to be located. The United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, however does not comment on individual strikes. The United States and Britain evacuated their diplomatic staff from Yemen's capital, Sanaa, this week over threats of an attack, and the United States has temporarily closed 19 embassies and consulates in the region. The plot was originally believed to have been ordered by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, however a U.S. official reported Thursday that the attacks were proposed by al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Syria

The increased flow of foreign fighters into Syria is raising fears that the war torn country is becoming a haven for Islamist militants. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's second in command, Michael Morrell, recently said that the combination of extremism and civil war in Syria now poses the greatest risk to U.S. national security. Counterterrorism officials say that jihadist militants are streaming into Syria at greater rates than they did into Iraq at the height of the insurgency. Many militants belong to the extremist Nusra Front, but new groups are forming under the more extremist umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The head of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), General Salim Idris, recently accused Islamist groups of receiving funding from the Assad regime, and there have been increasing clashes between FSA forces and jihadist groups over arms and supplies. Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, said he is working with the FSA to pull together all rebel groups into one unified army.

Headlines  

  • Gunmen seized two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon on Beirut's airport road Friday demanding the release of nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims abducted in May 2012 in Syria.
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will resume next Wednesday in Jerusalem, as Palestinians condemn Israel's approval of the construction of over 800 new West Bank homes.
  • The leader of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, has canceled some events in Cairo over heightened security concerns.  

Arguments and Analysis

'Conspiracy Theories: the One Thing Everyone in Lebanon Has in Common' (Sulome Anderson, The Atlantic)

"Bilal, a Salafi sheikh, holds court at his well-furnished house in Bab al-Tabbaneh, a notoriously volatile Sunni neighborhood in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The area, which has historically been a flashpoint for many violent conflicts with neighboring Alawites, is tense following June clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of Sunni cleric Ahmed Assir in the southern town of Abra that left 46 dead. An uneasy truce has held in Tripoli since the army seized Assir's compound and Ramadan started, but Bilal says he's sure it won't last, and he blames that on Iran, the militant group Hezbollah, and, oddly enough, on the U.S.

'Americans see us as Bin Laden, as terrorists,' he says with a sneer.' But when the world talks about Hezbollah, they call them a militia. We have brains. We know the Americans are behind everything that's going on. They're sitting watching the blood of Muslims being spilled, and they turn a blind eye.'

Lebanon, a country rife with long-simmering sectarian tension, has recently begun to show signs of instability, escalated by conflict across the border in Syria. A heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has attracted much condemnation for its military support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime, while radical Sunni groups have become more powerful and mobilized, allegedly with funding from Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In addition to the clashes in Abra, incidents such as assassinations, roadside bombings and rocket attacks have taken place over the past year with increasing frequency.

As cracks appear in the relative peace that has held since Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war officially ended in 1990, a long-standing Lebanese pastime seems to have gone into overdrive. If there's one thing people from all four major Lebanese sects -- Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze -- appear to agree on, it's that there's a conspiracy going on, and opposing sects, backed by nefarious foreign powers, are the masterminds."

'Egypt's Constitutional Crisis' (Jill Goldenziel and David Landau, LA Times)

"Revolution 2.0 will be better than beta only if the new constitutional process includes broad participation and representation from all social and political groups -- including the Brotherhood, which will not disappear as a political force any time soon. Such an inclusive, consensual approach has been an integral part of nearly every successful transition from military rule to democracy. Even in a society as divided as post-apartheid South Africa, an inclusive process helped the population heal from violence by giving traditionally unrepresented groups political voice.

Egypt's military and secular groups must avoid the temptation to shut the Brotherhood and other Islamist elements out of constitution-making. The new text will not succeed without buy-in from all significant political factions. This will require compromises on the text. It is more important to draft a document that is accepted by a broad swath of the population than it is to have the text judged perfect by international groups.

The parties can help ensure that the process reflects a consensus rather than imposition by a simple majority by writing rules that restrain the most powerful political groups while making sure that they deliberate and compromise with other factions. The new constituent assembly need not -- and should not -- be popularly elected. An elected assembly would merely ratify the dominance of the best-organized political groupings. It must instead be selected using transparent criteria that promote broad representation of all major political forces, women and minority groups."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

John Moore/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Iran’s Young 'Determinators'

They're the determinators -- the politically savvy, socially sassy, and media astute young of Iran. And they count, quite literally, as never before as a new president takes over.

President Hassan Rowhani owes his election to the young, who are Iran's largest voting bloc. At the last minute, vast numbers opted to back him rather than boycott the poll. They're also now the centrist cleric's biggest headache, as he has to meet their expectations. Two-thirds of Iran's 75 million people are under 35 -- and they vote again in four years. 

But the Islamic Republic's long-term survival may also be determined by the first post-revolution generation, born in the 1980s and now coming of age. For Iran's baby boomers reflect the regime's almost existential conundrum -- and the nexus between economic and nuclear policies.

To be credible, the world's only modern theocracy must better the lives of its struggling young majority. And to jumpstart the economy, Tehran will have to compromise with the outside world on its controversial nuclear program to get punitive international sanctions lifted. It's a huge -- but increasingly inescapable -- price to pay for keeping the determinators on board.

The regime has limited time to act. Iran's young are antsy because they are better educated and more skilled than any earlier generation. Literacy has almost doubled since the revolution -- to over 95 percent, even among females. Iran won a U.N. award for closing the gender gap. 

Yet one of the theocracy's biggest successes has proven to be one of its greatest vulnerabilities. It can't absorb the post-revolution babies.

Iran's young face rampant unemployment, estimated officially at up to 30 percent but unofficially at up to 50 percent. During his first appearance at parliament, Iran's new president acknowledged in June that 4 million university graduates were jobless -- and a mushrooming problem.

The core economic issue has had a rippling effect. In a country where the median age is 27, vast numbers can't afford to marry or move out of their parents' homes. One-third of females and half of males between 20 and 34 are now unmarried, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.   

Frustration is reflected in soaring drug use. The State Welfare Organization reported this year that almost 72 percent of Iran's drug addicts are between 18 and 25.

Born after both the monarchy and the revolution, the young often refer to themselves as the lost generation because they have little to do and even less to inspire them. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died when they were in diapers. And most were tots during the traumatic eight-year war with Iraq, which produced more than one million casualties in the 1980s. The conflict shaped the goals, fears, and nationalism of their parents and the current political leadership.

But for the young, the war is relegated to history -- and the now fading public billboards of the previous generation's war "martyrs."

Sixty percent of Iran's young now say the Islamic Republic needs to adopt new ways of thinking to secure its future, according to an Intermedia Young Publics survey released in May. One-third of those polled between the ages of 16 and 25 said they would abandon Iran if given the option.

The implications can't be overstated. Iran's post-revolution generation is the largest baby boom in Iran's 5,000-year history. Its influence will only grow due to one of the world's most unique population bumps.

Iran's 20-somethings were born during a decade-long blip in between two ambitious family planning programs. The shah promoted birth control during his final decade. By the end of the 1970s, 37 percent of women practiced family planning.

After the 1979 revolution, the ruling clerics reversed course and called on Iranian women to breed, breed, breed an Islamic generation. And they did. The population almost doubled from 34 to 62 million in about a decade.

But the theocracy soon realized that it couldn't feed, cloth, house, educate, or eventually employ those swelling numbers -- and voters. So it launched a novel (and free) birth control program, including required family planning classes for newlyweds. By the 1990s, the average family fell from six children to less than two -- lower than during the monarchy.

Iran's 70 percent drop was "one of the most rapid and pronounced fertility declines ever recorded in human history," according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. The birth rate plummeted so far that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned in 2010 that Iran would be stuck with a "dangerous" aging population in another 30 years. 

By actuarial standards, Iran's baby boomers will have disproportionate clout for at least the next half-century on most aspects of Iranian life. Politically, their impact could even be more enduring than the current ruling theocrats. They've already demonstrated in many forms how far they're willing to go.

In 2009, students led eight months of Green Movement protests after the disputed presidential reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They mobilized millions in cities across Iran during the "Where Is My Vote?" campaign, the largest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.

The determinators may no longer be able to protest on the streets, but they can make or break politicians. Their interest and energy turned the 2013 presidential campaign around in the final days, boosting Rowhani to a surprise, come-from-behind victory over five other candidates.

Their voices resonate across Iran in other ways too. As the region's largest network of bloggers, they boldly diss on their revolution, daring to post criticism, jibes, jokes and political cartoons on banned social media through circuitous routes. 

They're increasingly creating an alternative culture, pushing boundaries further than any time since the 1979 revolution. The stereotype of their parents' generation was a black-shrouded woman or a young man sporting a headband that vowed martyrdom for Islam. 

Images of the young today are more likely to be mall-hopping, increasingly in flashier fashions that defy conservative Islamic dress. Or they may be at play, including performing parkour, a holistic sport that combines running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, and rolling that resembles open-air gymnastics but in public places. 

In a telling sign of changing times, Iran's young have even popularized rap as the rhythm of dissent in the world's only modern theocracy. They hold back little in their warnings to the regime, as Yas, Iran's leading hip-hop artist, rapped defiantly:

"Listen to my words and see the agonies I suffered

What my generation has seen, made our tears fall

Those without such pains -- how they saw ours,

They became even more cruel, what a pity for our land!"

Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.