The Middle East Channel

U.N. Evacuation of Homs Continues as Syrian Parties Meet Directly in Geneva

A cease-fire has been extended in Homs for three days for the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent to evacuate more civilians. About 450 people left the besieged Old City of Homs Monday, with a total of 1,100 people estimated evacuated since Friday. According to Homs Governor Tala Barrazi, the Syrian government allowed 111 fighting-age men to leave the area Monday. However, dozens were detained and questioned, as was similarly done with 130 men and their families on Sunday. Reports conflict over whether the men have been released. Members of Homs's Alawite community have voiced anger over the U.N. mission saying aid workers are more concerned with delivering food to "armed men" than finding some 740 missing Alawites believed to have been kidnapped by rebels and held in the Old City. Talks continued Tuesday in Geneva with the opposing parties meeting face-to-face. According to U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, Monday's talks, which he held with each delegation separately, focused mainly on questions "relating to the cessation of violence and terrorism and the establishment of a transitional governing body." According to opposition spokesman Monzer Akbik, Tuesday's session centered on discussing the week's schedule, though both sides were arguing about the length and number of meetings. Meanwhile, efforts to draft a U.N. Security Council resolution to allow access for humanitarian organizations stalled Monday when representatives from Russia and China failed to show up to the meeting. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, said, "This text would not have any practical, positive impact on the situation."

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Convince, Coerce, or Compromise: Ennahda's Approach to Tunisia Constitution' (Monica L. Marks, Brookings Doha Center)

"Tunisia's constitution-drafting process is complete. After two years, four drafts, and serial threats to dissolve the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in the summer of 2013, lawmakers voted on January 26, 2014 to approve Tunisia's new, post-revolutionary constitution - the first constitution freely created by a representative, democratically elected assembly anywhere in the Arabic- speaking world. While Tunisian and foreign media focused primarily on Ennahda's role in the drafting process - particularly whether the party, which holds a 41 percent plurality in the NCA, attempted to shoehorn an aggressive, Islamizing agenda into the document analysis of the process that produced this historic deal has yet to emerge. With constitution drafting having drawn to a close, the time has come to reassess Ennahda's role.

Has the party single-handedly dominated the drafting process, as its critics claim, or has it simply acted as a well-organized force for compromise? What explains the evolution of Ennahda's positions on the constitution's more controversial articles, such as efforts to include the criminalization of blasphemy and a notion of gender complementarity? This paper argues that received characterizations of Ennahda as an intensely well-organized and ideologically driven party fail to fully explain its approach to central constitutional debates. Instead, internal and external transitional challenges have shaped Ennahda's constitutional positions and led directly to the current political bargain."

'The Strategy of Egypt's Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis' (David Barnett, Atlantic Council)

"ABM [Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis], which has by now conducted dozens of attacks in North Sinai, as well as a handful in the Egyptian mainland, has largely kept its word. The group's brutal campaign in Egypt has specifically targeted Egypt's security forces, which last year toppled the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, and has since maintained tight control of the government. To be sure, innocent civilians have been killed and wounded in some of the group's attacks. But the group has signaled that the security forces are its prey, with government installations and personnel taking the brunt of its violent campaign.

ABM's target selection provides important insight into the current strategy of this clandestine jihadist group. The ongoing political battle between the military and the Brotherhood has yielded ABM an opportunity to portray itself as defenders of Egypt's Muslims."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

IAEA Says Iranian Promise to Reveal Detonator Data is First Step

The Iranian government committed to reveal information on its detonators for the first time on Sunday as one of seven steps aimed at allaying fears over its nuclear program. Iran will provide greater access to and more information about its Arak heavy-water reactor, the Saghand uranium mine, and a facility close to the city of Ardakan, but did not include access to the Parchin military site in the deal. The Iranian government reached the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over two days of negotiations in the Iranian capital of Tehran. All of the seven measures promised by Iran are expected to be completed by May 15. IAEA Deputy Director General Tero Varjoranta said there had been good progress over talks but that this is just "the first step" to address concerns over possible military links to Iran's nuclear program. Varjoranta continued saying "there are still a lot of outstanding issues." Iran has rejected Western accusations that it is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

Syria

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet with Syrian government and opposition delegations as a second round of Syrian peace talks begin Monday in Geneva. Brahimi wrote a document distributed to the opposing parties over the weekend asking them to make a commitment at the start to address two main issues: halting fighting and working out discussion of a transitional government. The talks have resumed after a three-day cease-fire was broken in Homs by shelling and sniper attacks on humanitarian convoys. The Syrian government and opposition have exchanged blame over the attacks. The United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent evacuated around 600 people, mainly women, children, and elderly men from Old Homs, where an estimated 2,500 people have been trapped by the conflict. The governor of Homs and the opposition are discussing a three-day extension to the cease-fire for additional evacuations and delivery of more aid. Meanwhile, Islamist fighters seized the Alawite village of Maan in central Hama province Sunday killing at least 40 people. The attack was reportedly part of an offensive aiming to cut off supply routes from Damascus to northern Syria. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have reportedly almost completely withdrawn from the eastern province of Deir Al-Zour after days of heavy clashes with rival factions for control of towns and oil fields. 

Headlines

  • A senior Iranian naval commander has said warships in the Atlantic Ocean are for the first time set to sail close to U.S. maritime borders in a response to U.S. vessels in the Gulf.
  • At least 21 Iraqi militants were killed north of Baghdad Monday when a car bomb mistakenly detonated as they were making a propaganda video.
  • Leftwing Egyptian politician Hamdeen Sabahi announced he will run for president, likely pitting him against Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has yet to declare a bid but is largely expected to win.
  • The Israeli military carried out an airstrike on Sunday targeting a Palestinian militant in Gaza, injuring the man as well as a bystander.

Arguments and Analysis

'Process Lessons Learned in Yemen's National Dialogue' (Erica Gaston, United States Institute of Peace)

"One of the key expectations of the NDC was that it could work through the major political roadblocks facing the country. Most important of these roadblocks are the southern issue, the Houthi issue, and the balance of power between Yemen's diverse political parties and stakeholders. Although less overtly discussed than North-South negotiations, striking a more sustainable power-sharing agreement between Yemen's diverse political parties and stakeholders is critical. With Saleh gone (though many in his government remain in power), the fragile balance between Yemen's main political parties, tribal entities and leaders, and other regional power brokers was broken. Given that all sides are armed and relatively well matched, Yemen risks further protracted violence if this transition period does not end with a sustainable balance of power. In the meantime, absent a more functional and stable governing structure, no Yemeni administration can effectively tackle the enormous challenges the country faces.

Although these political negotiations were perceived as one of the main objectives for the NDC, in reality, the NDC was likely never going to be the main forum of political negotiation -- for reasons largely not its fault. The issues were complex and likely would have required a longer timeline than the six months allotted, as the extension of the NDC and the post-NDC implementation phase proved to be the case. They also likely needed different participants or type of negotiating forum."

'Rein in the Saudi Religious Police' (Manal Al-Sharif, New York Times)

"Long considered one of the country's taboo subjects (along with any criticism of King Abdullah), the commission [Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice], also known as the mutaween, is now one of Saudi Arabia's most controversial issues. Tapped to lead the force in 2012, Mr. Sheikh today finds himself facing both scathing public attacks and worsening internal conflict.

The government, for its part, is wary of clamping down on the mutaween for fear of inciting a conservative backlash and is walking a fine line between the religious police and an increasingly angry populace. While dismantling of the force is unrealistic, this delicate moment opens a window of opportunity for Saudis. By continuing to voice anger and disapproval, the public may provide Riyadh with the leverage it needs to demand police adherence to regulations already in place, and slowly weaken the commission's influence."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images