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.
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.
- 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