The Middle East Channel

Egyptian forces raid Islamist-held Cairo suburb

Egyptian security forces have raided the pro-Morsi town of Kerdasa, sparking violent clashes in which a senior police officer has been reported killed. Kerdasa, about nine miles outside of Cairo, has been known as an Islamist stronghold since the July 3 overthrow of the former president, and there has been little or no state authority. On August 14, a police station was attacked and torched and 11 police officers were killed. Early Thursday morning, dozens of police and army vehicles entered the town, backed by helicopters searching for 140 suspects. Police have reportedly taken control of Kerdasa and imposed a curfew. According to a security source, up to 51 people have been arrested and dozens of weapons have been seized. The raid has come days after Egyptian troops stormed the Upper Egypt town of Dalga, which had been partially held by Islamists accused of attacking Christians and burning down homes and churches.


Turkey has closed a border crossing due to clashes in the Syrian town of Azaz, near the Turkish border. Fighting was reported between Free Syrian Army forces and fighters from the al Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in one of the most severe clashes between opposition factions. The ISIS has reportedly taken control of the town, and fighting died down as of Thursday morning. Additionally, a roadside bomb reportedly exploded in Homs province hitting a minibus killing up to 19 people. Meanwhile, in an interview with Fox News, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he is committed to a plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. He warned, though, that it would take a year or more, and could cost up to a billion dollars. Additionally, Assad condemned the use of chemical weapons in an attack outside Damascus on August 21 and denied the government was responsible for the attack. He continued, "We have evidence that terrorist groups used sarin gas." Syria has reportedly given this evidence to Russia, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he will discuss it with the U.N. Security Council.


  • In apparent efforts to repair relations with the West, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani released 11 political prisoners and, in an interview with NBC, said Iran will never build nuclear weapons.
  • Bahrain's opposition has pulled out of the National Dialogue after the arrest of an Al-Wefaq leader and the government's issuance of increased regulations on political groups.
  • U.S. authorities are expected to seize a New York office tower prosecutors say is secretly owned by Iran.
  • Muammar al-Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, appeared in a Zintan court Thursday where his trail was adjourned until December, but he was also due at a hearing in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt Transformed by State Violence' (Josh Stacher, New Left Project)

"The generals now running Egypt are more powerful than they ever were in the late Mubarak period. The popular mobilization that stunned Mubarak and the world facilitated their intervention, in order to save whatever rump of the old regime they could. It also allowed the generals to eliminate and re-discipline constituent parts of the regime under their authority. This was the non-violent part of the process. In its dealings with society, by contrast, the military has embarked on an increasingly violent strategy comprising not just military trials and torture but also the deliberately indiscriminate killing of Egyptians to reset the political arena and dismember the organizational prowess of groups with national reach such as the Muslim Brothers.

Under Mubarak, state violence was used as a stop-gap when political arrangements failed and for selectively making examples of the politically disobedient. Its escalation following Mubarak's ouster indicated that the new regime's base, despite its pact with the Brothers, was too narrow to permit conversation with and incorporation of popular forces pushing for change. Now, counterrevolutionary state violence is now being used to shape a political arena in which a segment of the population continues to clamour for bread, freedom, and social justice, but without a national base or other forces to partner with to press for a more inclusive future."

'Syria's Refugees: The Catastrophe' (Hugh Eakin and Alisa Roth, New York Review of Books)

"Owing to its relative stability, Syria had actually been a haven for people escaping persecution elsewhere, from Armenians fleeing the genocide in 1915 and Palestinians chased out of Palestine in 1948 -- there were some 500,000 Palestinians in Syria in 2011 -- to both Christian and Muslim Iraqis escaping the recent war in Iraq. In 2006, the Syrian government took in more than 120,000 Lebanese whose homes had been damaged or destroyed in Israel's war with Hezbollah. When the uprising against the Assad regime began, Syria also had sizable numbers of Somali, Sudanese, and Afghan refugees.

And yet this complicated ethnic and sectarian mosaic made Syria particularly susceptible to large population movements once the uprising turned violent. To a degree, these movements followed basic geography. Punishing attacks by regime forces in the southern governorate of Daraa, where the protests began, drove many of its inhabitants to Jordan, which abuts it in the south. Fighting between rebels and government troops in the northern governorate of Idlib, and -- beginning in the summer of 2012 -- around Aleppo, drove many north into Turkey. And the incessant battles over Homs, in the western part of the country, forced many to seek refuge in nearby Lebanon. (Others remained trapped in the old city of Homs, where they make up one of the most desperate displaced populations in Syria today.)"

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

Syria says it has evidence that rebels used chemical weapons

The Syrian government has turned over evidence to Russia that it claims implicates the Syrian opposition in a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. Russia has criticized a report released by the United Nations Monday after a U.N. investigation into the attacks, calling the report "politicized, preconceived, and one-sided." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.N. inspectors only investigated the attack in Ghouta and not the sites of three previous incidents. The report confirmed that Sarin gas was used in the attack, but did not assign blame. However, Britain, France, and the United States said the findings confirmed the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, and Human Rights Watch said evidence strongly suggested the government was behind the attack. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met Tuesday to work on a draft resolution on Syria for the hand over and destruction of the regime's chemical weapons arsenal. Russia reportedly is resisting elements proposed by Britain, France, and the United States that discuss the use of force in event of non-compliance. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded at Syria's Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey killing at least seven people. The attack has come as tensions are heightened a day after Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter that had crossed into Turkish airspace.


  • Bahrain has detained senior opposition al-Wefaq politician Khalil al-Marzooq, accusing him of instigating anti-government violence, raising fears of an escalating crackdown on dissent.
  • Egyptian police have arrested the Muslim Brotherhood's main English-language spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, in part of a roundup of thousands of the group's leaders and members.
  • A series of bombings and attacks killed at least 23 people in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Mosul, and Fallujah Tuesday.
  • A French citizen has died while in Egyptian police custody, detained according to security sources for violating a Cairo curfew and beaten to death by other detainees.

Arguments and Analysis

'Too Little, Too Late' (Scott Williamson, Sada)

"Despite their continued support for July 3 and the crackdown against the Brotherhood, a growing number of liberal activists and secular politicians have started to push back, tentatively, against the resurgence of the police state. When Interim President Adly Mansour appointed military, police, and former ruling party figures as governors on August 13, activists were quick to express their disappointment. Tamarrod and the June 30 Front voiced reservations about the selections, while the spokesperson for the Egyptian Popular Current, a secular movement that opposed Morsi and supported Sisi's intervention, stated that the choices did not ‘bode well' for positive changes in the government.

On August 14, the security forces perpetrated what Human Rights Watch called the ‘most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history' when they violently dispersed pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo. Following the violence, Mohamed ElBaradei, vice president for international relations and the government's most high-profile liberal, resigned. While ElBaradei's resignation was opposed by most of his political allies, who supported the crackdown on the Brotherhood on August 14, the deaths of more than 30 detained protesters in police custody four days later sparked nationwide outrage. Prominent secular political leaders such as Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the Egyptian Popular Current, and Amr Moussa, a former presidential candidate and prominent liberal politician, were joined by Tamarrod and the April 6 Movement in their calls for an investigation."

'Red Lines, Allies and Enemies' (Ray Takeyh, International Herald Tribune)

"While not bombing Syria may not have had a measurable impact on Iran's calculations, it is likely to condition Israel's response to the Islamic Republic's nuclear imbroglio. For Israelis, as with all small powers measuring the reliability of their superpower patron, intentions matter more than capabilities. It is not America's actual military power but its willingness to use that power that impresses its allies. What Israelis have seen of late is a Washington that, faced with a violation of its red line on the use of weapons of mass destruction, embraces a Russian effort at the United Nations Security Council. There are no two entities with less credibility in Jerusalem on the issue of unconventional weapons than Russia and the United Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish advisers may yet conclude that any forceful resolution of the Iran crisis requires Israel acting alone. Whatever the probabilities of Israeli bombing Iran's facilities may have been prior to the Syrian crisis, those numbers have only gone up.

The recent Syrian melodrama indicates how little historical assessments penetrate governmental deliberations. The notion that we have to bomb Damascus to impress Tehran is short-sighted and without much analytical underpinning. There may be ample justification for the use of force against a regime that has used chemical weapons against unarmed citizens. Indeed, the tragedy of the Syrian civil war has long called out for a more determined international effort. However, in assessing the effect of the recent crisis one has to conclude that its impact will be felt more in Israel than in Iran."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber