The Middle East Channel

Morsi Stands Trial as Egyptian Army Backs Sisi Presidential Bid

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has remained defiant as the trial over his jailbreak during the 2011 uprising opened Tuesday. The ousted president is being charged with collaborating with Hamas and Hezbollah to lead a mass escape from the Wadi al-Natrun prison and for killing prison officers. Morsi and several other defendants are being held in a soundproofed glass box for the trial. Nonetheless, the ousted leader shouted, "I am the president of the republic" and told the court "this trial is not legal." Though Morsi has refused to recognize the court, in a surprise move, he appointed a defense lawyer. Morsi is facing four criminal trials on separate charges, including inciting the killing of protesters during a December 2012 demonstration outside the presidential palace. Meanwhile, the Egyptian army has backed a presidential bid by Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In a statement broadcast on state television Monday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) called a presidential run by Sisi a "mandate and an obligation" requested by the "masses of honorable Egyptian people." The SCAF did not officially announce Sisi's candidacy, saying he would make the final decision "according to his conscience." According to a government source, Sisi will attend his last cabinet meeting Wednesday before resigning and announcing his presidential bid.

Syria

Syrian peace talks have resumed for a fourth day in Geneva despite a deadlock over the formation of a transitional administration and access for U.N. humanitarian aid convoys to besieged areas, specifically the city of Homs. Negotiations reportedly ended on Monday after the government delegation presented a "declaration of basic principles" that did not include a political transition. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi admitted negotiations "hadn't produced much" to this point, and said that Tuesday's talks would focus on the Geneva communiqué that calls for a transitional administration. Brahimi also mentioned he hoped the parties would agree on concrete steps on humanitarian aid. According to the World Food Programme, the United Nations is prepared to deliver a month's worth of food to the Old City of Homs, where 2,500 people are reportedly trapped. The United States has accused the Syrian government of harming the negotiations by denying the delivery of aid to besieged areas of the country. Meanwhile, a second shipment of Syria's most toxic chemical weapons was exported on Monday from the port of Latakia, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations. The removal operation is behind schedule with a low estimate of five percent of the 600 tons of the most lethal chemical agents so far exported.

Headlines

  • Gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed senior Egyptian interior ministry official General Mohammad Saeed outside his home in Cairo Tuesday.
  • Kofi Annan's group of "Elders" met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Tuesday discussing the Syrian civil war and Tehran's contested nuclear program.
  • The Pentagon announced plans to sell 24 Apache attack helicopters to Iraq after a congressional hurdle was removed Monday.
  • Talks between the Libyan government and a federalist protest movement that has seized three major oil ports have reportedly advanced so that exports may be resumed within two weeks.

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt Has Replaced a Single Dictator With a Slew of Dictatorial Institutions: The sad story of Amr Hamzawy and Emad Shahin' (Nathan Brown, The New Republic)

"Both Hamzawy and Shahin are academics, but they have also been critical of the emerging political order in Egypt. Neither is a much of a firebrand. While different in their politics -- Hamzawy closer to the liberal end of the spectrum; Shahin more respectful of political Islam -- they also stand out for their ability to talk across Egypt's great divide. Indeed, beneath all their erudition and complicated syntax, both seem ultimately simply nerdier versions of Rodney King: their message to their fellow citizens can be summed up as 'People, I want to say -- can we all get along?'

That message had kept both Hamzawy and Shahin on the right side of the law under Egypt's previous rulers -- Husni Mubarak, the military, and Muhammad Morsi -- even though they were capable of criticizing all three. The conclusion from their recent troubles might seem to be clear: Egypt has entered an even harsher period in which centralized totalitarianism brooks no dissent from a terrorized society.

But actually, the problem may be a bit different -- and perhaps more difficult to resolve. Egypt's political affliction is not one dictatorial person but a host of dictatorial institutions, and much of Egyptian society is a happy participant rather than cowering victim in the wave of repression."

'Don't Undermine the Iran Deal' (Carl Levin and Angus King, New York Times)

"The potential upside of legislating further sanctions is the hope that increased pressure might elicit more concessions or push Iran to conclude a more favorable deal. But this is unlikely. The potential downside is more likely and more dangerous: Iran's decision makers could conclude that the United States government was not negotiating in good faith -- a view that Iranian hard-liners already espouse. This could prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations or counter with a new set of unrealistic demands while redoubling its efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

Instead of slowing Iran's nuclear program, such legislation could actually accelerate its quest for atomic weapons, leaving a stark choice: Either accept the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, or use military force to stop it.

Worse still, it could alienate our international partners. The sanctions have been effective largely because of the active participation of many countries, including China and Russia. When the United States alone doesn't buy Iranian oil, it has little effect on Iran's economy, but when the European Union stops, and other major oil customers of Iran such as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey significantly reduce their purchases (which they have), Iran is in trouble (which it is).

The countries that have joined America in ratcheting up the economic pressure on Iran all support the interim agreement that went into effect on Jan. 20. Legislation to impose additional sanctions by the United States could be interpreted by our partners as undermining the negotiations. This could have the adverse effect of lessening the international community's economic pressure on Iran, spooking our partners and diminishing their commitment to the cause."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Ed Giles/Getty Images

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