The Middle East Channel

Suicide Attack Hits Damascus Meanwhile U.N. Implicates Assad for War Crimes

A suicide bomb attack hit a defense ministry office in the center of the Syrian capital of Damascus Tuesday, killing at least four people, according to Syrian state television. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported two people killed, and SOHR Director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the office was not a military site, but was used for administration purposes for families of deceased soldiers. On Monday, the SOHR said it estimates 125,835 people have died in the over two and a half year conflict, with over a third of those killed civilians. Sporadic fighting has continued in Maaloula, the historic Chrisitian town north of Damascus, which was overtaken by Islamist rebel fighters Monday. Mario Zenari, Vatican Ambassador to Syria, reported 12 nuns have been kidnapped by rebel fighters. Febronia Nabhan, mother superior at the Saidnaya Convent, also said the nuns had been abducted, however the SOHR said there are conflicting reports, stating that the nuns' fate is unknown. The capture of Maaloula has come amid a government advance in the surrounding area, where regime troops have gained control over the towns of Qara and Deir Attiyeh. Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, has for the first time directly implicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for war crimes. She said an inquiry into Syria has produced "massive evidence" of war crimes and crimes against humanity. While there has been evidence of abuses on both sides of the conflict, investigators said the government appears to be responsible for the majority, and that evidence shows responsibility "at the highest level of the government, including the head of the state."

Headlines

  • Lebanon has put its army in command of the northern city of Tripoli for six months after weekend clashes between rival neighborhoods killed an estimated 12 people.
  • In aims to repair ties, Britain's new envoy to Tehran will travel to Iran Tuesday for the first diplomatic visit since its embassy was stormed by protesters and subsequently closed in 2011.
  • Attacks across Iraq killed an estimated 19 people Tuesday, including an assault on a government complex in the mainly Sunni town of Tarmiya, 30 miles north of Baghdad.
  • Five Arab countries including Syria, Iraq, and Libya are among the top 10 most corrupt countries according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
  • A Bahraini court has rejected a request for early prison release for activist Nabeel Rajab, who Amnesty International said has been detained in "inhumane and humiliating conditions."

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt: Disorganization' (Steven Cook, From the Potomac to the Euphrates - CFR Blog)

"As the protests, which have been small by recent Egyptian standards, got going much of the commentary focused on the heavy hand of the Ministry of Interior.  'Haven't they [the police] learned their lesson?' was a common refrain among the Twitterati and Facebook users.  The lesson that the Egyptian police should have learned, but had not, was that the use of force would not intimidate activists, but rather galvanize them and their fellow Egyptians.  That is what happened during the January 25 uprising and subsequent rounds of demonstrations. That is certainly true for the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak, but it was not quite the same afterwards.  Besides the big Mohammed Mahmoud Street demonstrations in late November 2011 and the protests against Morsi's November 22 decree, which morphed into anger over the December 2012 constitution, lots of Egyptians tended to stay on the sidelines when activists took to the streets.  This does not include the mass mobilization of June 30, of course, but until then (with the exceptions noted just above), people came to regard street politics and the response to it as an elite-on-elite affair that had little to do with them.  This is neither to suggest that the anti-protest law is not an affront to every Egyptian who wants to live in a democracy nor the hoary image of 'the Egyptian' who just wants stability above all else is accurate, but rather that the activists/instigators lost the revolutionary thread not too long after they brought Mubarak down.  It was clear what January 25 was about; the same cannot be said about what came after it."

'Women's human security rights in the Arab world: on nobody's agenda' (Mariz Tadros, OpenDemocracy)

"Security breakdown has brought life to a standstill, and women have born disproportionately the greater burden of it -- from the shores of Benghazi through to the city centre of Cairo, and down to the heart of Sanaa. Its impact has been devastating on every aspect of their lives. First, there is the issue of safety in public space. In Egypt, women have been subjected to more frequent and more aggressive forms of sexual harassment. True, sexual harassment in crowded and empty spaces had been a growing problem for many years, but the absence of the police (or their inaction) after the revolution sent signals to men that they can, and will, get away with it. There is simply no law and order. Sexual harassment in the subway has become such an acute problem that many women who cannot afford private forms of transport (micro and mini buses) are cursing the day they have had to go out to work. Women in Benghazi who worked night shifts (for example as doctors and nurses) are no longer able to do their jobs.

Women working in the informal sector whose livelihood requires a high level of mobility (purchase of goods in bulk from central markets, or making home visits to clients or sitting in the streets) are exposed to all kinds of violence: the imposition of levies by thugs, the confiscation of their goods, theft, and sometimes sexual violence. This is not new, women have always been vulnerable to such forms of violence, but it has increased dramatically.  Women's mobility by and large has become deeply constrained, even in rural areas. Whereas they could commute outside their villages or neighbourhoods alone in broad daylight, in many parts of Egypt this has not been possible for some time. As the economic situation is worsened by the absence of security, it is having its toll on gender relations at home, as well as on parental relations with their offspring."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Rejects Draft Constitution

The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected a new draft constitution approved by Egypt's 50-member constituent assembly on Sunday. The draft constitution allows for a presidential election before parliamentary elections, contrary to the roadmap established by the military following its July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. However, it leaves the final decision up to interim President Adly Mansour. Additionally, the draft says that "election procedures" must begin within six months of the constitution's ratification. Amr Moussa, chairman of the constituent assembly, said the draft would be sent to Mansour on Tuesday. It must then be approved in a referendum within the next two months. While on paper, the draft appears to offer greater rights to Egyptian citizens -- criminalizing torture and requiring the government to protect women from violence -- it is criticized for privileging the police and other institutions. Meanwhile, on Sunday Egyptian security forces stormed Cairo's Tahrir Square and fired tear gas in efforts to disperse around 2,000 Islamist protesters. It was the first demonstration held by supporters of Morsi in Tahrir in over a month, and came after the government issued a law requiring advanced authorization for protests.

Syria

The United States has agreed to destroy most of "Syria's priority chemicals" aboard a U.S. Navy ship in international waters. The United States has encountered difficulty in finding a country willing to permit the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal on its soil. However, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it is evaluating expressions of interest from 35 firms willing to destroy the less-lethal weapons, which make up over half of Syria's stockpile. The U.S. government has begun equipping the Cape Ray with "field deployable hydrolysis system technology" which will dilute the chemicals to safer levels. According to Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokesperson, the United States is "confident that we can meet the milestones for the destruction set out by the OPCW." Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it returned fire into Syria on Monday after a Syrian soldier shot at Israeli troops near the Quneitra border crossing with the occupied Golan Heights.

Headlines

  • Two days of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli have killed at least 12 people.
  • Three blasts killed an estimated 12 people at a funeral in northern Iraq on Sunday for Sunni leader Mudher Shalal, killed by a car bomb Saturday.
  • U.S. Senators said they would push forward with new Iran sanctions as an "insurance policy" if the interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program fails to produce a long-term deal.
  • Bedouins living in the Negev Desert are protesting the Israeli government's plans to resettle them holding an international "day of rage."
  • The Turkish government said it stands by last week's bilateral oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government, but is looking for consent from the Iraqi government.

Arguments and Analysis

'Handshakes in Geneva' (MERIP)

"The Israelis, the Saudis and their mouthpieces say over and over again that the biggest danger to ‘stability' in the Middle East is the Iranian nuclear program. Sometimes the Obama administration appears to share this inflated risk assessment; sometimes it does not. But the course of the Arab revolts has given Obama and Kerry new reason to think, perhaps like the elder Bush, that ‘it wouldn't be prudent' to take marching orders from Bibi and Prince Bandar. When measured against the tactical approaches of the last 30 years, the Geneva bargain is indeed a major departure in US policy, but it is not the reckless leap its detractors present it to be. For when measured against the goals of US grand strategy since World War II, the enrichment accord looks like a calculated move to preserve the American upper hand by giving the Islamic Republic, at long last, a reason to define 'stability' rather as the US does.

Back in Iran, the regional tumult also pushed the state toward a careful rapprochement with the West. The Islamic Republic is afraid of permanent international isolation if its closest friend, the Syrian regime, is decimated by the civil war and the highly sectarian Sunni militias in the opposition continue to flex their muscles. Saying yes at the nuclear talks in Geneva opens the door -- albeit still a crack -- to Iranian participation in the upcoming talks, in the same Swiss city, about a political solution that could grant the Syrian regime some respite. Iran sees equal need to be a counterweight to Sunni sectarianism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the overstretched US, solicitous of the Maliki government in Baghdad and annoyed with the Karzai government in Kabul, may come to agree. The back-channel US-Iranian discussions hosted by Oman since March lend credence to the idea that the two states discern a convergence of interests. Notably, these talks began a full three months before Rouhani was elected."

'The (anti-) protest law: no more public space in Egypt?' (Marwa Fikry Abdel Samei, OpenDemocracy)

"People's reclaim of public space was one of the crucial gains, if not the only gain, of the January 25 Revolution. The success of the revolution was in fact only achieved when the protesters managed to hold their ground at Tahrir Square. With the absence of trusted and deep-rooted political parties and the lack of confidence in most political elites, the streets and squares became the most accessible means for people to express their demands, grievances, and opinions. Public space represented not only a site but also an instrument of revolutionary struggle.

Over the last three years, the deep Egyptian state has been trying to restore its control over public space. Meanwhile, political activists and protesters have been persistent in protecting their only visible gain and making it an indispensable permanent, undisputed right. To be sure, at times this right was abused and had become relatively hackneyed since the revolution, but the idea that the state was no longer the master of public space denoted a volte-face in state-society relations.

Since the July 3 coup, it has become increasingly obvious just how adamant the new/old regime is in its attempt to reinstate the old authoritative formula of the state's relationship with its citizens. It is truly ironic that this regime, which established its legitimacy on a public stage, packed full of protesters (whether supporters or opponents of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood) is now determined, rather unashamedly, to tighten its grip over public space anew."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images