The Middle East Channel

WHO confirms 10 polio cases in Syria

The United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 10 cases of polio in Syria, the country's first outbreak in 14 years. According to the WHO, the suspected outbreak has been focused in the eastern Deir al-Zour province. There are still 12 other possible cases under investigation. WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said the majority of the victims have been children under the age of two. The United Nations estimates that 500,000 children have remained unvaccinated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With the large population movements caused by fighting, there is concern the highly communicable disease could spread across the region. Syria's Health Ministry has begun an immunization drive, and immunization campaigns have begun in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said inspectors have visited 21 of the 23 sites initially listed by the Syrian government. However, they are concerned they will not be able to reach the final two sites due to security concerns. The next stage of the U.S. and Russian plan is for the destruction of weapons at the facilities, which could nonetheless move ahead at the sites in which inspectors have already gained access.


  • An Egyptian court has withdrawn from the trial of three Muslim Brotherhood leaders with a presiding judge saying the court "feels unease."
  • After meeting with IAEA experts in Vienna, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi said Iran's proposal on its nuclear program "is practical and intended to solve the issue."
  • Egyptian kung fu champion Mohamed Youssef has been stripped of his gold medal and banned from representing the country after showing support for ousted President Morsi, though Egyptian authorities deny the allegations.
  • Gunmen in the Libyan city of Sirte have attacked a van carrying currency for the central bank stealing $54 million

Arguments and Analysis

'U.S. must restructure aid to Egypt' (Stephen McInerney and Cole Bockenfeld, Washington Post)

"The United States' recent decision to suspend military aid to Egypt has drawn criticism. It has reinforced the suspicions of many Egyptians that U.S. policy is hypocritical and unprincipled. In Washington, the move has been attacked as unlikely to affect the actions of Egypt's military, instead reducing U.S. influence and leverage in Egypt. If this decision turns out to be a halfhearted measure before returning to business as usual in a few months, then those criticisms will have been justified. On the other hand, if the current suspension is instead the first step toward overhauling a badly outdated and damaged relationship, it could be pivotal in restoring the U.S. position in Egypt and in the region more broadly.

Egypt's assistance package, in both structure and content, is simply a relic from the past -- an outdated construct that served U.S. and Egyptian interests in 1979, but today is almost entirely divorced from reality. In many respects, the same could be said of the broader bilateral relationship. While Egypt has gone from the rule of Mubarak to military rule to Morsi and back to the military, the U.S. government has failed to adapt, clinging to the old policy of backing the narrow set of actors ruling Egypt at the moment while seeking to influence events only through polite entreaties."

'Special Report: As Egypt's Brotherhood retreats, risk of extremism rises' (Michael Georgy and Tom Perry, Reuters)

"The usra was devised by Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, to indoctrinate and mobilize followers. Usras typically used to meet once a week for at least three hours, usually at the home of a member. The usra leader could be so pivotal that members sought their permission to travel to Cairo.

During past crackdowns, the usra survived by adapting. Its size was reduced to three members when restrictions were tightened. Those small units avoided arrest by speaking while walking down streets or meeting in tea houses, not homes. In prison, the usra became the number of men in each cell.

After Mursi fell, the Brotherhood had hoped to mobilize millions of protesters; but the army reacted forcefully, bulldozing a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo on August 14, killing hundreds of Mursi's supporters. Security forces have arrested many top Brotherhood leaders, including Mursi, on charges of inciting or perpetrating violence.

Before the leaders were detained, they sent messages to Brotherhood officials urging them to ensure that usras continued, according to the head of an usra and other Brotherhood members. But members are struggling."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

Wave of attacks kill dozens of Iraqis in Baghdad and Mosul

A series of bombings killed dozens of people in Iraq on Sunday in a recent campaign of attacks that has brought on the most deadly violence since 2008. Ten car bombs exploded within a span of 30 minutes in markets, bus stations, and police checkpoints in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of the capital of Baghdad. At least 41 people were killed in the attacks and an estimated 120 others were wounded. The most severely hit were the districts of Shaab and Nahrwan. However, other neighborhoods struck by blasts included Bayaa, Baladiyat, Mashtal, Hurriyah, Ur, and Dura, as well as Saba al-Bur outside of Baghdad. In a separate attack, a suicide bomber killed an estimated 14 people in the northern city of Mosul where troops were in line to collect their wages at a bank. Over 30 people were injured. Over 600 people have been killed across Iraq so far in October, mostly in attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).


Syria has submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and a plan for the elimination of its arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), ahead of its deadline. The OPCW said its executive council would review the destruction plan by November 15. The contents of the Syrian document are unclear, and there are concerns that the declaration may not be exhaustive. OPCW inspectors said they have visited 19 of the 23 sites Syria listed in its initial report, and had destroyed production equipment. Meanwhile, after three days of clashes with Islamist militant factions, Kurdish militiamen overtook the Yaroubiyeh border crossing with Iraq on Saturday. On Monday, after a week of clashes with primarily Islamist rebel fighters, Syrian government forces regained control over the predominantly Christian town of Sadad about 75 miles north of Damascus, strategically located on a main highway. The fighting has come as U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other regime figures ahead of peace talks planned to be held in Geneva in November.


  • Three Egyptian policemen were killed in an attack by four militants on a checkpoint in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura. (BBC, Reuters, Arabiya, WAPO)
  • Palestinians fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon causing no injuries, meanwhile the Israeli government has agreed to release 26 additional Palestinian prisoners in part of a U.S. brokered deal.
  • The party of Algerian President Bouteflika, the National Liberation Front, has endorsed him for a fourth term for the 2014 elections.
  • Tunisia's political parties began a national dialogue Saturday aimed toward a new constitution and elections a day after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh agreed to hand over power within three weeks.

Arguments and Analysis

'Saudia Arabia gets tough on foreign policy' (Nawaf Obaid, Washington Post)

"Out of necessity, the kingdom is reformulating its foreign policy to assess how best to solve the Syrian tragedy, a massive humanitarian crisis that has the potential to exacerbate already severe tensions among neighbors and destabilize the region. While brought to the fore by the Syrian dilemma, this necessity is the result of deeper trends that are also guiding Saudi decisions: the lack of U.S. leadership in the region, regional turmoil sparked by the ‘Arab Awakening' and the new policy of Iranian rapprochement toward the West.

In short, the Saudis find themselves in a drastically different foreign policy situation than even one year ago, having essentially been left alone to maintain stability in the Arab world. Given the pressure of this predicament, the fundamental basis of the new Saudi foreign policy doctrine is about changing course from being protected by others to protecting themselves and their allies. The Saudis know they need to restructure their foreign policy and national security establishments to conduct themselves internationally on par with the political, economic and religious significance and influence the kingdom holds.

The road ahead is long. It is clear, however, that the Saudis fully intend to pursue their national security interests much more assertively, even if that leads to a strategic break with the United States."

'Recalibrating a policy of not taking sides in Egypt' (Nour Bakr, Tahrir Squared)

"Through a partial suspension of unessential military assistance, the US has managed to take a step back from existing ties without consequences for either side in Egypt. The news that General Sisi's popularity had soared as a result was irrelevant. The man can do no wrong in his followers' eyes, and even an increase in military assistance could be twisted into evidence of Sisi bending the US's actions to his will.

Cutting military aid entirely would have sent a strong message to Egypt's generals, but dragged the US back into the situation. Furthermore, the fallout would have had implications for security in areas where the military are battling an increased insurgency. And despite supporters of the Anti-Coup protest movement calling for a cut in aid; a complete cut would hold further potentially brutal consequences for them amidst the McCarthyist paranoia consuming Egypt's domestic politics.

The decisions to pull out of Operation Brightstar and partially suspend military aid were not symbolic. Rather they were important steps in a strategy to restrict cooperation with Egypt's military to regional security matters. That the US decided to continue providing equipment and parts needed to keep Egypt's jets and helicopters operational only illustrates a clear intent to avoid undermining Egypt's ability to cooperate with Israel on security matters. Only when this cooperation is no longer in Egypt's interests to maintain, the US may seriously consider the possibility of a complete cut to aid."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber