The Middle East Channel

Tunisian Parliament Adopts New Constitution

Tunisia's constituent assembly overwhelmingly passed a new constitution Sunday night after two years of bargaining between the country's Islamists and secularists. Last week, the assembly voted on each article of the draft ahead of Sunday's vote on the full document. Out of the 216-member constituent assembly, 200 people voted in favor of the charter. Its completion has come three years after the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. After the vote, assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said, "This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus." He continued, "We had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tunisia "reached another historic milestone" and said the constitution is a model to be followed by other countries aiming to reform. Prior to the vote, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa appointed a caretaker cabinet composed mainly of independents and technocrats. The move came as part of a deal to end a political crisis between Tunisia's Islamists and secularists, and the body is expected to govern until elections likely to be held later this year.

Syria

Syrian peace talks have resumed Monday in Geneva, with the contentious issue of a power transfer set for discussion. The opposition has demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resign while the government delegation has maintained Assad's role is not up for debate. There is no indication the government's position has changed. Over the weekend, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, managed to get the two parties into the same room for negotiations for the first time. The talks to this point have focused on humanitarian issues, and made progress with the Syrian government agreeing to allow women and children to leave a barricaded area of the city of Homs. However, the deal fell short in what international mediators were seeking, hoping for humanitarian access for U.N. aid convoys. The United States is pushing for Syria to allow the convoys into the Old City of Homs, where it said "people are starving," and called for all civilians to be allowed to leave the besieged area. According to Syrian State TV, a Syrian official and a U.N. representative are meeting in Homs Monday to discuss how to conduct the evacuation of women and children from Homs. Meanwhile, the United States has resumed nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition, after cutting off deliveries of communications equipment and other items when al Qaeda linked militants overtook warehouses near the Turkish border over a month ago.

Headlines  

  • Egypt has announced that presidential elections will precede parliamentary elections, meanwhile interim President Adly Mansour promoted General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to field marshal.
  • A Libyan militia commander was freed in Egypt after five Egyptian diplomats abducted in Tripoli were released, though officials say there was no deal.
  • Bahraini police and protesters clashed Sunday in a village west of Manama after a funeral for Fadhel Abbas, who died in custody.
  • Ansar Beit al-Madqis has claimed responsibility for downing an Egyptian helicopter, killing five soldiers, while at least 49 people were killed in clashes at protests in Egypt over the weekend against the military-backed government.   
  • Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man and injured another in the northern Gaza Strip after several Palestinians threw stones and rolled burning tires, according to the Israeli military. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Letting Go of Revolutionary Purity' (Hesham Sellam, Jadaliyya)

"Immediately following Morsi's ouster, observers and activists debated the question of whether 30 June 2013 signified a second wave of the January 25 Revolution or simply a ruthless coup that killed Egypt's 'young democracy.' Let us set aside the sheer simplicity of this debate. It is clear today that reducing these complex events to 'just a coup' will not redeem the Morsi government's exclusionary policies or negate popular opposition to his rule. In contrast, calling it a 'revolution,' as pro-military commentators continue to do, can never magically impart democratic legitimacy to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's military regime. Nor will it mask the fact that the current regime's abuses have surpassed anything Egypt witnessed during the Morsi administration. In fact, the narrative of a June Revolution serves the current regime's efforts to negate the memory of the January 25 Revolution, and the basic demands for bread, freedom, and social justice around which Egyptians rallied three years ago. That same narrative also attempts to mask the growing list of crimes that army leaders and their allies in the domestic security apparatus have committed before and after 30 June. In this context, it is an act of resistance just to remember January 25, since to do so forces one to consider the chasm between the ideals of January 25 and the oppressive political order that rules the present.

Yet this recovery of a 'revolutionary purity' is for many a near impossible task. It is true that many activists continue to confront the military regime's abuses. Yet over the course of the past year the mood has clearly shifted in the way observers throughout the world perceive the quest for revolutionary change in Egypt. The faces and voices that international media used to associate with the idealism of this revolution are either in prison, in exile, silent, marginalized, or have tacitly or actively supported the military. To many outside (as well as inside) observers disappointed at the events of the past year terms like 'revolutionaries,' 'youth activists,' and 'January 25 youth' no longer evoke the courage, conviction, and principle they did three years ago. After witnessing many, though certainly not all, of these same actors condone the downfall of a democratically elected president last year and their subsequent silence on the military's abuses, for some observers these terms have come to denote naiveté, impulsiveness, and hypocrisy."

'Egypt's Revolution on the Margins' (H.A. Hellyer, CNN)

"On the third anniversary of the revolutionary uprising, that leaves one group left to account for -- the group that sparked it in the first place, and continued to fight for it without regard for partisan political interest.

Those original 'Jan25 revolutionaries,' made up of rights campaigners, civil society activists and others, had no plan during that 18 day uprising -- except to persist and persevere. They were joined by many others -- and no-one can now claim the uprising was theirs alone. The crowds that swept into the different squares of Egypt over those days were representative of Egyptian society in general -- not simply one sector of it.

But that portion of society that sparked the protests, those who continued to agitate for fundamental change, and to criticise, irrespective of who sat in the presidential palace -- they've already realised that just as they were on the margins on January 25 2011, they're still on them in 2014.

Three years later, many of them have been arrested for dissent against the current government. Many had gone into political parties, but they never reached critical mass. What they did have -- what they do have -- is this strange perseverance to continue speaking truth to power.

On January 25 2014, some may go out to remember the uprising where so many Egyptians decided to join them. Mostly, however, they'll probably take a deep breath as they see most Egyptians fall prey to an ultra-nationalism on the one hand, and a sectarian partisanship on the other. Back to the margins they may have gone -- but into oblivion, they refuse to go."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Blasts Hit Cairo on Eve of Anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising

Three explosions hit Cairo killing at least five people Friday, the eve of the third anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. The explosions targeted police, with the most severe outside the Cairo police headquarters, in the highest profile attack since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. A suicide car bomber detonated explosives at about 6:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the Cairo Security Directorate, which includes police and state security, killing at least four people, injuring 50 others, and causing severe damage to the nearby Museum of Islamic Art. Just hours later, a second device was detonated next to police vehicles close to the metro station in the Dokki district of Cairo, killing one person and wounding an estimated 15 more. A third device was set off near a police station in Giza, but caused no injuries. An al Qaeda inspired group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis ("Partisans of Jerusalem"), said it carried out the attack on the police headquarters, and has claimed responsibility for other assaults including a car bombing on a security building in the northern city of Mansoura in December 2013 that killed 16 police officers and injured 100 people.

Syria

The third day of the peace conference on Syria has begun in Geneva, but without a face-to-face meeting between the Syrian government and opposition. Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba refused to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's delegation unless it first agreed to the Geneva I communiqué that called for a transitional administration. The government delegation rejected the demand, insisting on ending "terrorism" before working on a political solution. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said, "If no serious work sessions are held by (Saturday), the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva." U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with the government delegation for about an hour on Friday morning, and will meet with opposition representatives separately in the afternoon in order to address procedural and agenda issues. Brahimi had hoped to bring the parties together for a joint meeting to begin the negotiation process.

Headlines

  • Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly finished approving articles of the country's new constitution Thursday night, and is expected to hold a vote on the full charter.
  • Egypt has extended the detention of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste for 15 days, for the third time, without issuing charges.
  • A U.S. drone strike killed three suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen's eastern province of Marib late Thursday, according to officials and tribal sources.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has asked U.N. member states for additional funds to verify Iran's compliance with an interim nuclear deal.

Arguments and Analysis

'Getting Democracy Promotion Right in Egypt' (Amy Hawthorne, Atlantic Council)

"The only way Egypt will achieve lasting stability is to create an inclusive, consensus-based system of government involving all key political forces. This may seem an unimaginable task now. The role of the Muslim Brotherhood, an illiberal and widely distrusted yet deeply rooted movement, will be particularly hard to resolve. But Egypt has changed since 2011 in ways that make a lasting reconstitution of an authoritarian system unlikely. At present, anecdotal evidence and press coverage suggest that much of the Egyptian public strongly supports the newly repressive path. But Egyptian public opinion post-2011 has shown itself to be fickle. The January 25, 2011, uprising unleashed not only generalized public demands for change but also new social movements, dominated by young Egyptians with a distinct pro-democracy, anti-status quo mindset. They demand accountable government, human rights, and dignity. They believe in citizen activism and entrepreneurism to solve Egypt's social and economic problems. These movements are not yet politically cohesive or electorally significant, but they have the potential to play a more significant democratizing role in the years to come."

'Iran: A Good Deal Now in Danger' (Jessica T. Mathews, New York Review of Books)

"A bill that is so convoluted and poorly drafted that many don't understand that it would automatically apply new sanctions has gained fifty-nine cosponsors in the Senate -- close to veto-proof support. The language violates the first-phase agreement by imposing new sanctions (if, for example, a Hezbollah attack anywhere in the world were to damage US property) and makes a permanent agreement unachievable by apparently requiring the complete dismantling of all enrichment facilities.

The bill's authors, Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, argue that it strengthens the president's hand. It does the reverse by making even more acute Iranian doubts that the president can deliver the relief from sanctions they are negotiating for. Its passage, as an act of bad faith on the US's part after having just agreed not to impose new sanctions during the term of the six-month deal, would probably cause Iran to walk away from the negotiations. Rouhani would risk political suicide at home if he did not. Alternatively, in the all too familiar pattern of the past decade, he might stay at the negotiating table and match unacceptable American demands with his own so that blame for failure would be muddled. America's negotiating partners and others whose support makes the sanctions work would feel the sting of bad faith as well. The sanctions regime that has been so painstakingly built through ten years of effort by determined American leaders of both parties could easily unravel."

'Geneva II: Great Expectations?' (Randa Slim, Al Jazeera)

"In Bonn, American and Iranian diplomats worked together to ensure a political settlement in Afghanistan. This was preceded by a modest and quiet US-Iranian rapprochement. We might be facing a similar opportunity in Syria. Whether such collaboration will materialise or not, will depend on two factors: Progress in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on the nuclear file; and the decision by Iranian leaders, in particular Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to play a conciliatory regional policy in Syria and Lebanon.

So far, Iran's objective in Syria has been to prevent the Syrian regime's military defeat. Thanks to Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters, this objective has been accomplished. Iranian officials claim that they have played a role in persuading Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons arsenal and to attend Geneva II. Disinviting Iran from Geneva II was a bad move that will complicate conflict resolution efforts in Syria. Without Iran, there will be no peace in Syria. It is not clear yet what conditions and what incentives must be in place for the Iranian regime to abandon the Assad ship."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

STR/AFP/Getty Images