The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Court Clears Mubarak Sons and Allies as Morsi Faces New Charges

An Egyptian court acquitted two sons of former President Hosni Mubarak and several of his allies, including his last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, on charges of corruption Thursday. Shafiq, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates since his presidential election loss to Mohamed Morsi in 2012, was tried in absentia. The case was questioning whether Shafiq, a former air commander, enabled Gamal and Alaa Mubarak to purchase land owned by the Egyptian pilots' association, of which he was president, in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia below market rate in 1993. Also on Thursday, a court acquitted Shafiq on another corruption case, but it is unclear if the prosecution will appeal that ruling. The Mubarak sons are still facing several other corruption charges. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Egypt's military-backed government filed new criminal charges against ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Prosecutors accused Morsi of conspiring with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas in a terrorist plot that involved killing protesters and leaking state secrets to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Muslim Brotherhood said the charges were "trumped up." Morsi is already being tried for inciting murder and violence in connection with a 2012 attack by Islamists on opposition protesters. He appeared in court in November but rejected the proceedings claiming to be Egypt's legitimate president.

Syria

U.N. investigators have accused the Syrian government of waging a campaign of enforced disappearances of activists and other Syrian citizens. According to a report released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, "enforced disappearances were committed by government forces as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, and therefore amount to a crime against humanity." In a separate report, Amnesty International has accused Islamist militants, particularly al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), of abducting people and holding them in secret jails in northern Syria, committing "a shocking catalogue of abuses," including floggings, torture, and holding summary trials and executions. The leader of al Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, spoke to Al Jazeera in his first televised interview, saying that the Syrian conflict is nearing an end and that his fighters will "achieve victory soon." He additionally ruled out peace talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Kurds are demanding their own delegation, separate from the government and opposition, to a peace conference planned for January 22 in Switzerland.

Headlines

  • In a West Bank raid Thursday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian men, including wanted intelligence officer Saleh Yassin, in a move that Palestinians called a "dangerous escalation" threatening peace talks.
  • A suicide bomber killed an estimated 14 Shiite pilgrims in an attack in the Dora district of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Thursday.
  • Istanbul's police chief has been removed from his post two days after dozens of detentions and raids were conducted in part of a major corruption investigation in Turkey.

Arguments and Analysis

'Whatever Happened to the Arab Spring?' (Madawi al-Rasheed, Al-Monitor)

"The Islamists were not the destiny of the Arab world, but they certainly filled a vacuum created by oppression and exclusion at a time when liberation from authoritarian rule lacked the language under which it could be pursued. Hence the secular-Islamist divide was important to fragment Arab publics and ensure the persistence of authoritarian rule. From North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, regimes flirted with Islamism even while they might have appeared to be confronting it. There was a love-hate relationship between the two despite the multiple confrontations. Islamism served important purposes and was only curbed when it became a threat to regimes, not societies.

Equally, neither is the sectarian Sunni-Shiite schism in the dominant narrative about the region an inevitable destiny unfolding in every corner of the Arab world. Yes, sectarian tension and even killing are rife and tend to show their ugly faces in diverse societies such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain. Yet this sectarianism flourished specifically in those corners where either exclusion was entrenched or the regimes themselves were sectarian. Both republics and monarchies co-opted sectarian elites and rewarded them for their loyalty, but continued to exclude the rest of the communities. The regimes searched for token mediators rather than representatives, thus allowing grass-roots sectarian populist entrepreneurs to inflame the imaginations of their followers with utopias of identity politics that promise future emancipation, equality and power. Resisting exclusion from the corridors of power and the economy found a disturbing niche in the language of sectarian identity. Both Sunnis and Shiites adopted the discourse of mathloumiya, historical injustice inflicted on them because of their sect, to the detriment of seeing clearly the roots of exclusion that have grown under authoritarian rule. So sects were either indulged by the regimes in an attempt to use them against political rivals or suppressed to please their wider constituencies."

'Which Iran Will We Choose?' (Trita Parsi, Bijan Khajehpour, and Reza Marashi, Huffington Post)

"The 2013 presidential election unexpectedly catapulted centrist leaders into power that have sought an opening to the West on numerous occasions. Such efforts include the 2001 collaboration with the U.S. in Afghanistan, the 2003 Grand Bargain offer, and the 2005 offer to limit Iran's enrichment program to 3,000 centrifuges (Iran currently has 19,000). These offers were all made prior to the West imposing crippling sanctions. By rejecting this outreach, Washington strengthened the hand of Iranian hardliners who believe the only way to compel the U.S. to deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers, but rather by resisting American power.

Rouhani's team is again pursuing the notion that Iran's national security goals require peace and accommodation with regional powers -- and by extension, the West. To that end, they see western countries as potential partners in helping Iran achieve its declared goals -- not just in nuclear technology, but also in other technological, regional and security issues. Perhaps more importantly, their policies reveal a larger point: for Iran's national interest, the nuclear issue is more means than goal, in the sense that it is instrumental to the real goal of recognition and reintegration in the international system as an equal player."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages

The Middle East Channel

Five Turkish Police Chiefs Sacked After Corruption Inquiry Raids

Five Turkish police commissioners were fired a day after dozens of allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were detained in a corruption probe. The investigation has been led by the financial crimes unit, in what has been seen as a challenge to Erdogan. In early morning raids on Tuesday, at least 52 people were detained including the sons of three cabinet ministers, a municipal leader, the chief executive of a state bank, and several prominent businessmen. In what appeared to be retaliation, the heads of five departments of the Istanbul police force were removed from their posts on Wednesday, including the leaders of the financial crimes and organized crime units, both of whom were involved in Tuesday's arrests. Tuesday's raids are believed to have been an attack on Erdogan by a former ally, Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar what has been living in exile in the United States since 1999 when he was accused of plotting against the secular state. On Tuesday, Erdogan vowed not to bow to threats aimed at dividing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), saying, "Nobody inside or outside my country can stir up or trap my country."

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has outlined the plan for the transport of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal before being destroyed at sea. Russian armored trucks will move the chemical weapons from 12 sites around Syria to the port of Latakia, where they will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships. They will then be shipped to an unnamed Italian port to meet the U.S. Navy ship on which the most toxic chemical materials are slated to be neutralized. Meanwhile, the family of a London surgeon who died in a Syrian prison after being held for over a year is criticizing the British government for not doing enough to secure his release. A British Foreign Office minister accused the Syrian government of effectively murdering the doctor. U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford said the Islamist Front has rejected talks with the United States, after Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned a possible meeting with the alliance of Islamist factions. Additionally, western countries met with the Syrian National Coalition at a Friends of Syria meeting in London, where they indicated that peace talks planned for January may not lead to the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Headlines

  • Turkey and Iran were among the top detainers of journalists this year as 211 journalists remain imprisoned worldwide.
  • Three Iranian military personnel were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb Wednesday in southeast Iran, near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Amnesty International is calling for improved treatment of migrant workers in Qatar who face abuses including "severe food shortages" and conditions that may amount to forced labor.
  • Around 200 African refugees are finishing a two-day journey from an "open" detention facility in the Negev desert to Jerusalem protesting their detainment in Israel.
  • Several attacks across Iraq Wednesday killed 11 people, including a suicide bombing that targeted Shiite pilgrims northeast of Baghdad. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria: Why the worst-case scenario has prevailed' (Fahad Nazer, CNN)

"In the minds of some Sunni Muslims around the world, the trepidation that the West is voicing over the prospect of Al Qaeda or other militant Islamists coming to power in Syria and the implications of such a scenario for religious and ethnic minorities is read as tacit acquiescence to what they see as a 'genocide' -- a term the usually-reserved Saudi foreign minister has been using lately -- against their Sunni brethren. To them, the West is saying 'better the Sunnis than the minority Christians, Alawites, Shia and Druze.'

This perception has already led to a serious rift between Saudi Arabia -- the leader of the Sunni world -- and the U.S.

In a strongly-worded statement explaining why it was declining a coveted two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia cited the continuing carnage in Syria as one of the main reasons why it felt the international body was not fulfilling its mandate. It also accused the world of standing 'idly' by.

These two divergent assessments must be reconciled. The truth is that Assad and al Qaeda are two ugly faces of the same coin.

The sooner the international community realizes that, the sooner the only viable option becomes clear: both of them have to go."

'First steps toward silencing dissent in Israel' (Daniel Sokatch, Haaretz)

"Since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, ultra-nationalist settlers and their supporters have looked for a legal foundation to prevent the state from ever ceding control of an inch of the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Some of them have decided that their best bet to prevent a peace agreement is to transform Israel into an ethnically homogenous state untethered from the requirements of liberal democracy. This Israel of their dreams is unabashedly and permanently militaristic, xenophobic, repressive of dissent and dismissive of universal norms of human and civil rights.

Putting a few radical NGOs out of business isn't the long-term objective here, although from their standpoint it surely wouldn't hurt. The real goal is to eventually define Israel's Jewish-and-democratic formulation in a way that can silence opposition and impose impossible strictures on freedom of speech and minority rights, and it is this objective to which attention must be paid. Only vigilant attention and expanding public understanding and support for Israeli democracy will prevent the loss of the Israel envisioned by its founders, intended to embody the best Jewish and universal values: Democratic, egalitarian, and free."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images