The Middle East Channel

Albania considers OPCW plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons

Members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) met at The Hague on Friday to discuss a plan to destroy Syrian chemical munitions. Syria and the OPCW agreed that the deadly nerve agents should be destroyed outside Syria, and on Thursday the United States requested that Albania host the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile in its domestic facilities. The 41-member Executive Council of the OPCW adjourned its deliberations while the Albanian government considers the plan, which will rid of 1,300 tons of sarin and other nerve agents confiscated from Syrian weapons facilities. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is expected to announce whether his government will agree to the U.S. request later on Friday, but some Albanian lawmakers have raised objections over the plan's environmental and political risks. On Thursday, hundreds of Albanian citizens protested outside the parliament chanting "no to chemical weapons." Last week, international inspectors confirmed that they secured 22 of 23 chemical weapons sites inside Syria and that the Syrian government met the November 1 deadline to eliminate or "render inoperable" all chemical weapons facilities.

Headlines

  • Russia is offering Egypt a major military arms deal including $2 billion worth of fighter jets, helicopters, and air defense systems.
  • A series of bombings and suicide attacks targeting Shiites observing Ashura across Iraq Thursday killed 39 and injured at least 65.
  • A quarterly report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared that Iran has halted efforts to increase its uranium enrichment capacity.
  • Egypt has lifted the national state of emergency, meanwhile 12 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi received 17-year prison sentences for participating in violent protests at Al-Azhar University in October.

Arguments and Analysis

'Saudi Arabia cracks down on illegal immigrants' (Madawi Al-Rasheed, Al-Monitor)

"The government's labor policy created the conditions for discrimination against and abuse of insecure immigrants and at the same time, gave citizens more rights than the imported laborers. A hierarchical caste system emerged whereby regardless of how impoverished and marginalized a citizen may be, he still feels better than those foreigners who come from poor Asian and African countries. There is always going to be someone else less privileged than a Saudi, with foreign workers -- or even worse, illegal ones -- around. The political implications of such a hierarchy are extremely important to pacify a local population made to believe that it is the 'chosen' one. Deprived Saudi men and women can feel better about themselves as there is always someone at the bottom of the hierarchy who is more marginalized and with a more precarious existence.

Foreign labor has become important for fostering a stratified nationalism, thus creating conditions for racism, abuse and harassment. The government can rally those dissatisfied Saudis against foreigners who are accused of depriving them of full employment and taking away their wealth. The Saudi press continues to publicize figures about huge immigrant remittances, sent abroad to support families who are denied the right to join their breadwinners in Saudi Arabia, while forgetting the vast billions that are often sent abroad by Saudis in search of secure investment. So immigrants do not only take their jobs, but also wealth. The foreign immigrant has become truly that despised 'other' against which Saudi nationalism can be consolidated."

'Two reasons why Iran resumed nuclear negotiations' (Abbas Milani, New Republic)

"With the increasing bite of sanctions, and with eight years of utter corruption and incompetence during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tenure, the Islamic regime has suddenly faced the reality that their long-sought break-out capacity has been bought at an exorbitantly high price. With oil revenues drying up, and increasing competition among factions within the regime for a bigger share of the shrinking pie, Iran urgently needed an agreement to end the sanctions. Those who oppose any deal with the regime believe that not only making no deal at this time, but increasing sanctions, will either bring about the collapse of the regime or convince it to roll back its nuclear program. That argument, however, overlooks a critical point: The regime, particularly Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies, are surely inept but not suicidal. They have spent so much political and economic capital on achieving the break-out capacity that any agreement they could not sell to the Iranian people as a victory -- or, in their new language, a 'win-win' -- would be tantamount to political suicide for them. It is thus as much folly to think that the regime will, in desperation, accept any deal -- including one that requires a complete dismantlement of their enrichment program -- as it is to think that any deal they offer is worth making."

'Violence against Copts in Egypt' (Jason Brownlee, Carnegie Endowment)

"A rash of hate crimes seldom bodes well. Now, during Egypt's second military-led transitional government in as many years, sectarian tension harkens back to the state indifference and social angst that fueled the original Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011. Human rights organizations have linked some attacks against Copts to partisans of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations. They have also reported that the military and police have often made a bad situation worse, by ignoring calls for help and letting the perpetrators rampage freely. Their criticism reveals how Coptic security is tied to the broader effort to establish a government that treats Egyptians as citizens with rights rather than a problem to be managed.

The question of citizenship -- full membership in the national political community -- has bedeviled all Egyptians, whether they practice Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or another faith. The country officially became a republic in 1953, but state officials never became truly accountable to the public they ostensibly served. To take one particularly egregious example, the police have been as likely to prey upon Egyptians as to protect them. Hosni Mubarak's longest-serving minister of the interior went so far as to replace his department's slogan, 'the police in the service of the people,' with 'the police and the people in the service of the nation.' In practice, the ministry's extortion schemes effectively put the people in the service of the police."

-- Joshua Haber

GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Russian ministers visit Egypt in talks on defense cooperation

Russian and Egyptian officials have opened up talks on defense cooperation, coming amid tensions in U.S. and Egyptian relations. Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu are meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and interim President Adly Mansour in the highest-level Russian visit to Egypt in years. Lavrov expressed his support for a democratic transformation in Egypt and said, "We are quite confident that Egypt will overcome its current crises and put into consideration the interests of all political, ethnic, and religious blocs within society." Russian officials say the talks are focusing on military and technical cooperation, which could mean an arms deal. Beyond that, the Egyptian government hopes to broaden economic relations with Russia. In October, the United States announced a suspension of a large portion of its $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt. Russian and Egyptian officials however have downplayed strains with the United States. A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, "Our strategy is to expand, not to replace one party with another."

Syria

Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, addressing tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims commemorating Ashura in southern Beirut, said the group's forces will remain in Syria fighting alongside Assad's forces as long as necessary. He stated, "Our fighters are present on Syrian soil ... to confront all the dangers it faces from the international, regional, and takfiri attack(s) on this country and region." Syrian forces conducted air raids in a residential area on the outskirts of the northeast Lebanese town of Arsal. The air raids came after a series of rockets were fired from Syria into the Nabi Sheet valley in eastern Lebanon. Meanwhile, the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has issued a call for mass mobilization in Aleppo, urging "all brigades and Muslims to face off against the enemy," joining six other Islamist rebel groups calling for people to stave off the "fierce offensive to reoccupy Aleppo." The statements came after a government advance, with the army overtaking a strategic base near Aleppo and securing territory around the city's airport. In Damascus Thursday, two bombs reportedly exploded near the old city's bazaar killing at least one person.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'The Saudi Spring?' (Tarek Osman, Project Syndicate)

"Many Saudis sense a wasted opportunity; despite sitting atop one of history's most liquid fortunes, the country has failed to become an advanced economy. And Saudi Arabia's large middle class is likely to respond to diminishing prosperity by calling for a more representative political system.

The problem is that the obvious challenges facing Saudi Arabia require a level of cohesion in the upper echelons of government that remains elusive. As the journalist Christian Caryl put it, ‘to say that historical or economic conditions predispose a country to embark on a particular path does not mean that its politicians will necessarily decide to take it.'

The continued absence of resolute action could easily drive Saudi Arabia toward irreversible decay. In such a scenario, the economy would gradually weaken, hampering the royal family's ability to continue buying middle-class support, while enabling rebel groups in the east and the south to erode the government's authority. This could cause Wahhabi religious and political doctrine to lose ground among young people and fuel regime infighting.

Ultimately, Abdulaziz bin Saud's unification of the Kingdom in the late 1920's could even be reversed, making the last eight decades an anomaly in the Arabian Peninsula's long history of fragmentation. Such an outcome would effectively make Yemen and the rest of the Gulf states ungovernable, allowing the Sunni-Shia confrontation that is currently unfolding in the Levant to overwhelm the region."

'How 24,000 new settlement homes allowed Netanyahu to save face' (Michael Omer-Man, +972 Magazine)

"In his condemnation of the 24,000 planned settlement units, Israel's prime minister didn't once mention Palestinians or the peace talks. Instead, Netanyahu explained that announcing one of the largest-ever tenders for new settlement construction ‘creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.'

And it's pretty likely that Netanyahu is telling the truth when he says he was unaware of the latest announcement ahead of time.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel, himself a settler, is at least bureaucratically responsible for the latest announcement. Ariel is a senior member of Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party, which firmly opposes a two-state solution and advocates annexing the majority of the West Bank. Bennett in the past has said that he has no problem with Netanyahu's peace process, because he is certain it will fail.

What if he, or more likely, someone in his party, decided to try and ensure that the talks fail, to make Netanyahu look bad in front of the Americans and Palestinians and to fire a warning shot, reminding the prime minister that strong elements in his own party oppose the peace process and two-state solution."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images