The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Government Unexpectedly Resigns

In a televised address Monday, Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced the resignation of his cabinet. Beblawi gave no reason for the government's departure, however the move could pave the way for army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare his bid for presidency. To run for president, Sisi would need to first leave his post as defense minister. According to an Egyptian official, the cabinet resigned so that Sisi would not appear to be acting alone. The announcement came amid a number of strikes over the past few days including by public transport and textile workers, doctors, and garbage collectors. Beblawi acknowledged the sharp increase in strikes, but claimed no government could address all the demands of its people in such a short amount of time. He said the government "made every effort to get Egypt out of the narrow tunnel in terms of security, economic pressures, and political confusion." Interim President Adly Mansour has asked Beblawi to run the government's affairs until a successor is named, according to the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved on Saturday a resolution on humanitarian access in Syria, threatening "further steps" in the event of non-compliance. There was concern that Russia and China, which have previously vetoed three resolutions on Syria, would block the move. However, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly I. Churkin said Moscow supported the resolution because "many Russian considerations were borne in mind." References to the International Criminal Court and threats of targeted sanctions were removed from the initial text. The resolution "demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies ... including across conflict lines and across borders" and calls for an end to attacks on civilians, including the use of "barrel bombs." Meanwhile, a top al Qaeda representative and commander of the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Khalid al-Suri, was killed Sunday along with six other fighters from the group by a suicide attack on its base in the northern city of Aleppo. Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri had reportedly sent Suri to mediate conflicts between Islamist factions fighting in Syria. No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but it is believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Fighting between rival Islamist groups has killed up to 2,000 people since early January. 

Headlines

  • Israeli police killed American-Israeli inmate Samuel Sheinbein, who was jailed for committing murder in the United States in 1997, after he shot three guards.
  • Prosecutors accused ousted President Mohamed Morsi of leaking state secrets to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and conspiring to destabilize Egypt, in the second hearing of his trial on espionage charges.
  • Attacks across Iraq, including shelling in Ramadi, shootings in Mosul, and bombings in Baghdad, have killed at least 17 people since Sunday.

Arguments and Analysis

'Concern Grows Over Academic Freedom in Egypt' (Ursula Lindsey, New York Times)

"'I won't publish anything critical while I'm here,' said a political scientist currently working in Egypt who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the authorities. The foreign researcher, who had previously done work on the Muslim Brotherhood, said that under Mr. Mubarak, even though the Islamic group was an illegal organization, the authorities did not object to academics meeting with its members.

Now 'they don't want anyone to present anything that is sympathetic or humanizing' of the Islamist group, which the government has officially designated a terrorist organization, the researcher said."

'Old sores lie at the heart of Sinai's spike in violence' (Sharif Nashashibi, The National)

"The motives of militants in the region have been dangerously over-simplified and misunderstood. The authorities are portraying violence there as part of their war against Islamist terror that was unleashed by Mr Morsi's supporters. Conveniently, this label fosters support from a frightened public.

However, Sinai residents' grievances are long-running, and many have little to do with Mr Morsi or Islam, though both factors play a part, particularly in recent months. The grievances include demands for greater autonomy, the selling and resettlement of their land under Mr Mubarak, and economic, political and social marginalisation."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Middle East Channel

Libyan Military Plane Carrying Medical Patients Crashes in Tunisia

A Libyan military plane crashed early Friday south of the Tunisian capital of Tunis killing all 11 people onboard. The plane was carrying doctors and medical patients, as well as six crewmembers. Libyans often travel to Tunisia for medical care. Libyan official Sheikh Meftah Daouadi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Martyrs, was among the dead. The Antonov 26 plane's crash was reportedly a result of engine failure. According to Tunisia's TAP state news agency, the pilot was attempting to land the aircraft in farmland near Grombalia. 

Syria

The Syrian government has increased air raids and shelling in Syria's southern province of Daraa killing at least two people Friday. The move has come amid reports that rebel fighters are preparing to launch an offensive in the region. An explosion hit a Syrian border post near a refugee camp close to the Turkish city of Kilis killing five people and injuring dozens of others. The camp's administrator, Abu Osama, said the blast destroyed 20 tents. He mentioned that thousands of new refugees have been arriving in the area over the past few weeks "because of the barrel bombing in Aleppo." Iran has been stepping up its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, deploying hundreds of additional military specialists to gather intelligence and train troops. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council will vote on a resolution Saturday on humanitarian access in Syria. The vote, which had been expected Friday, was pushed a day after Russia said it needed more time "to get some instructions from its capital." On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution should state that cross-border aid deliveries should be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law, requiring the government's consent.

Headlines

  • Three Al Jazeera journalists appeared in an Egyptian court Thursday and pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges, however the trial was quickly adjourned until March 5.
  • Iran's judiciary has closed the new pro-government reformist-oriented Aseman (Sky) newspaper, and jailed its manager, apparently accusing it of insulting Islam.
  • Up to five mortar rounds hit a crowded market in the mainly Shiite town of Musayyib south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Thursday evening killing an estimated 22 people.
  • A U.S. military commission has accepted a plea bargain from a Saudi Guantánamo detainee who pleaded guilty to involvement in a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

Arguments and Analysis

The Battle Over Higher Education in Iran' (Mohammad Ali Kadivar, MERIP)

"Rouhani's Ministry of Sciences, the main government body overseeing higher learning, has already taken important steps. The new minister, Faraji Dana, has promised that students will no longer be denied educational opportunities because of their political beliefs. Dana was referring to a policy by which the students of known dissidents are banned from admission into masters and doctoral programs or other avenues of educational advancement. This policy is nearly as old as the Islamic Republic, but Ahmadinejad's governments enforced it more aggressively than their predecessors. Today, several of the students who were denied admission have already returned to universities, and some of the programs removed from the curriculum under Ahmadinejad, such as women's studies, are accepting students for the new school year. Iran's parliament, still controlled by conservatives, is unhappy with the changes. Dana was summoned in January to answer the questions of 23 parliamentarians -- and the deputies clearly found the minister's responses unsatisfactory. Regardless, the Ministry of Sciences appears determined to push ahead with the reforms.

But there is a larger problem with Iranian higher education, particularly in social sciences and some of the humanities, that seems likely to remain intractable for the foreseeable future. Under Ahmadinejad, hundreds of new faculty members in these fields were appointed on the basis of their devotion to the Islamic Republic -- a practice plainly at odds with existing practices such as considering the quality and quantity of academic publications and the endorsements of senior scholars. The new appointments were made in concert with the firing of several high-ranking professors who, according to the regime, were disseminating secular ideas."

Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Bracing for the Long Haul' (Kemal Kiri?ci , Brookings)

"This means that the third option, integration into the host country, will inevitably have to be considered. Turkey is already abuzz with rumors that the government is going to extend citizenship and the right to vote to the Syrian refugees. A number of officials as well as MPs during interviews with this author have categorically denied that the government had any such intentions and noted that there were no steps that had been taken in this direction. The current Turkish Law on Settlement allows only for refugees who are of "Turkish descent and culture" to settle in Turkey. The government would have to adopt special legislation to be able to extend mass naturalization for the Syrian refugees in Turkey. This would be a very controversial and divisive issue and a politically treacherous decision as Turkey enters a eighteen-month-long election cycle. While Turkey's government has been generous, the public in Turkey is growing weary of the refugees and increasingly sees them as a burden. There is an unhappiness that is growing as prices rise - especially rent prices in towns along the Syrian border - and wages fall as more and more refugees enter the informal labor market. These attitudes are reflected in the results of a January 2014 poll taken by the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). According to this poll 86 percent of the respondents want the intake to be stopped while close to 30 percent of these respondents advocated that the refugees should simply be sent back.

As much as the path of formal integration in the form of the granting of citizenship may at the moment be a difficult and thorny one there is the sheer reality that more than half a million Syrian refugees are present in urban setting. There is already an informal process of integration occurring as Syrians try to adjust to their new surroundings as they seek more permanent accommodation, employment and education for their children to school. The government as well as many municipalities and civil society groups are extending and expanding a range of services including language courses in Turkish. Refugees themselves realize that they are likely to be in Turkey for the long haul and demand these courses in Turkish. However, short of formal integration, the government is going to have to give priority to two policy areas critical to formal or informal integration: employment and education of refugee children."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images