The Middle East Channel

Militia groups withdraw from the Libyan capital of Tripoli after deadly clashes

Militia groups from Misrata have reportedly begun withdrawing from the Libyan capital of Tripoli following clashes that killed at least 43 people and injured an estimated 450 others on Friday and Saturday. Misrata's council of elders and local council on Sunday issued a statement ordering militia groups from the city to leave Tripoli within 72 hours. The order came after militiamen from the Misratan al-Nusour brigade fired on protesters participating in demonstrations outside its brigade headquarters calling for the militias to leave the capital. According to the interim government, "the security situation in Tripoli is good and under control." On Sunday, Libyan Deputy Intelligence Chief Mustafa Noah was reportedly abducted at Tripoli's international airport by unknown gunmen but was later released on Monday. Noah's abduction came about a month after Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped and briefly held by militiamen associated with the government.


A Syrian government delegation met with Russian officials in Moscow Monday to discuss an international peace conference planned for Geneva. U.N. and Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said that he hopes to convene the Geneva II conference in December. The talks in Moscow have come just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the first time in over two years. Amidst the diplomatic efforts, fierce violence continues within Syria, including a massive bombing targeting an army transport base in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 31 Syrian troops, including four senior officers, were killed in the explosion Sunday, which leveled the building. The bomb appeared to have been placed either inside or in the basement of the building, which suggests that rebel forces had infiltrated the base. Meanwhile, government offensives have continued in the outskirts of Damascus, in the Qalamoun mountain region along the border with Lebanon, as well as in the northern Aleppo region. A top Syrian rebel commander reportedly died overnight in Turkey after sustaining wounds from a government attack on Thursday in Aleppo province on a base where several rebel leaders were meeting. Abdulkader al-Saleh was the leader of Liwa al-Tawhid, one of the main rebel groups in Aleppo with between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters.


Arguments and Analysis

'Libya: on the brink of abyss' (Solomon Dersso, Al Jazeera)

"The failure to re-establish state authority, the continuing hold of diverse and rival armed groupings, polarisation and militarisation of politics, regional and tribal divisions and fighting, political assassinations, as well as increasing extremism and acts of terrorism, have emerged as the defining features of Libya's post-Gaddafi transition. While it adds to the argument against externally driven forcible regime change, the worrying and sad state of things in Libya inevitably also raises questions if Libya was worse off today than it was under Gaddafi's authoritarian rule. As a special report by the Independent aptly captured it: 'We all thought Libya had moved on -- it has but into lawlessness and ruin.'

True, the situation has not as yet descended into total anarchy and full-fledged civil war. Overshadowed by the events in Egypt and Syria, Libya's multidimensional crisis attracts little attention. But if the trend persists, it is not clear what would stop the country from becoming a major crisis in the region. Given the large amount of weapons moving around in and from the country and the precarious security situation in the Sahel and West Africa, including the surge in armed movements, Libya's descent into anarchy is sure to affect not only North Africa and the entire Sahel region, but it would also be felt as far as Central Africa and the Horn of Africa regions." 

'An Iran nuclear deal doesn't have to be perfect -- just better than the alternatives' (Kenneth Pollack, Washington Post)

"The current sanctions against Iran work only because they rest on an international consensus that Iran has been the recalcitrant party in the nuclear impasse. Russia, China, India, Brazil and other key nations have supported and abided by the sanctions because they have seen Iran as the country refusing to negotiate.

If Washington -- rather than Tehran -- rejects the deal under consideration, the United States will suddenly become the problem, and that could prove disastrous. It would embolden Tehran to hold out, rather than give in. Instead of increasing the pressure on Iran, over time, we would probably see an erosion of the sanctions.

Here it is worth remembering Iraq. Once international opinion turned against the Iraq sanctions in the mid-1990s, they unraveled quickly. By 2000, Saddam Hussein was smuggling billions of dollars in oil, goods and cash while countries such as France, Russia, China, Egypt and Turkey ignored U.N. Security Council resolutions -- resolutions that France, Russia and China had voted for. What we found then, and as we would probably find now with Iran, is that once international opinion turns against sanctions, trying to enforce them means fighting with your allies and trade partners, rather than the targeted country. That makes sanctions virtually impossible to sustain."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


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.


  • 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