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

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