The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Court Bans Hamas Activities

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters has banned all work and activities of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the country and ordered the seizure of its offices and assets. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt to the north, was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt designated the Brotherhood a terrorist group in December 2013, and an Egyptian lawyer demanded a ban on Hamas because of its ties to the group. The military-backed government has accused Hamas of conspiring with militant groups in Sinai, who have targeted attacks at the government and security forces killing hundreds of people since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to security officials, after crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, military leaders planned measures to undermine Hamas. Hamas has denied allegations of interfering in Egyptian affairs and condemned Tuesday's court ruling. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause."

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported Tuesday that Syria has shipped out about a third of its chemical stockpile for destruction abroad. The OPCW said the Syrian government has handed over six shipments of its declared chemical agents and confirmed that two more shipments are being transported to the Syrian port of Latakia. The chemicals will be sent to the U.S. ship Cape Ray and transferred to destruction facilities in Britain and Germany. After missing a February deadline for the removal of its chemical weapons arsenal, Syria submitted a revised plan with a deadline of the end of April. The Dutch diplomat heading the mission to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program, Sigrid Kaag, said removal of chemical agents is speeding up and the June 30 deadline for destruction of Syria's arsenal is achievable. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has increased an offensive on the town of Yabroud, the last opposition stronghold near the Lebanese border. According to a Syrian army commander government troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters, seized the village of al-Sahel Monday, bringing down the rebels' "first defense line" of Yabroud.

Headlines

  • Egyptian defense minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has given his strongest indication yet of his intentions for a presidential bid saying, "I cannot turn my back when the majority wants me to run."
  • Gunmen seized the city council headquarters in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra Tuesday killing at least three policemen and three civilians and taking employees hostage.
  • Meeting with Israel's prime minister, President Obama called for compromise to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks though Netanyahu said Israel is "doing its part," meanwhile settlement building soars.
  • A remote detonated bomb killed three policemen Monday in the Bahraini village of Daih as security forces worked to disperse protesters.
  • An Israeli air strike reportedly targeting a "rocket-launching squad" in northern Gaza killed two Palestinian men and injured two children Monday night.

Arguments and Analysis

'Yemen in Transition: Between Fragmentation and Transformation' (Philip Barrett Holzapfel, United States Institute of Peace)

"Decades of nepotism also eroded state institutions. Possibly the main reason why so many Yemeni were alienated from the central authority and drawn toward their respective centers of gravity was that the Saleh state had failed to deliver the services citizens expected from their government. Resolving this failure will require long-term institutional reforms and greater attention to creating and enforcing institutional checks and balances through an independent judiciary and watchdog mechanisms such as the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) and the Central Organization for Control and Auditing (COCA). Greater accountability over how government officials are appointed, whether by reviewing recruitment processes or considering an automatic rotation and retirement system for both military and civil leadership positions, would also help prevent personal fiefdoms and the entrenchment of corruption.

Despite the fact that Yemen is de facto a highly decentralized country with distinct regional identities, state resources and decision making are primarily in the hands of the government in Sanaa, where they have been spent in a highly unequal fashion favoring some constituencies over others. This disparity has caused much disillusionment, leading to the emergence of peripheral opposition groups such as al Hiraak and the Houthis as well as a general discontent with the central government in various other parts of the country (such as the western coastal plain of the Tihama, the industrial city of Taiz, and the eastern province of Hadhramaut). As a result, the central government yields limited control over many parts of the country and has lost it almost completely over others. The need is therefore urgent for a new contract between the capital and the periphery that allows for an orderly decentralization of power and resources in return for universal recognition of the central state."

'An optimist's case for the Kerry peace process' (Michael Omer-Man, +972)

"The truly flawed aspect of the two-state paradigm is the insistence that such an agreement constitute a conclusive end to all claims and a final resolution to the conflict. If one accepts that argument, then the two-state solution is only doomed as a framework for a catch-all solution meant to herald in an era of peace and coexistence -- or as liberal Zionist speakers love to metaphorize the conflict, an Israeli-Palestinian divorce.

But if the two-state solution is not the resolution to the conflict, it could still be an important stepping stone toward a final resolution. The two-state solution could still be the best solution right now, regardless of whether it leads to ever-lasting peace and harmony. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are plagued by conflict-driven hyper-nationalism, and any resolution that does not physically separate the two sides must be preceded by an end to violence. It follows then, that after a few decades of living in two states, should such a situation emerge, Israelis and Palestinians could foreseeably decide that it is in both their interests to form a single liberal democratic state, or any other alternative arrangement that addresses the remaining issues of conflict."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/GettyImages

The Middle East Channel

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Rally Against Israeli Draft Bill

At least 300,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken to the streets in Jerusalem protesting a government plan to conscript more of them for military service. The rally, which has been described by ultra-Orthodox leaders as a mass prayer gathering, shut down the main entrance to the city and brought much of Jerusalem to a standstill on Sunday. The ultra-Orthodox, Haredim, have been exempted from military service as long as they were enrolled at a religious seminary, yeshiva. However, in 2012 Israel's Supreme Court overturned a law that allowed conscription exemptions for yeshiva students. In February, a government committee put forward a bill, expected to be passed into law in March, that would establish annual quotas for drafting yeshiva students for military or national service. The bill would not call for the draft of all Haredi young men, but proposes a gradual increase in conscription, calling for criminal sanctions, including prison terms, for those who evade the draft. The Haredim say that military service would stop them from being able to devote themselves to religious study. Some secular Jews came out in protest of the rally saying the Haredim should serve in the army or do national service. One woman said, "Why shouldn't they contribute to the public good?" continuing, "they're scared to take any responsibility for the land they live in." 

Syria

Fighting and shelling in the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus ended a week-long truce Sunday. The clashes have disrupted aid distribution to Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk, where an estimated 20,000 people have been trapped for months, according to the United Nations. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes broke out between fighters from the pro-government Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and al-Nusra Front. The parties traded blame for breaking the cease-fire that was agreed on February 10 in the district. The truce had allowed for limited aid deliveries by UNRWA, the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile, Mokhtar Lamani, Damascus representative of U.N. and Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, has submitted a request to the United Nations to leave his post. An explanation hasn't been released, however Lamani had expressed disappointment with the failure of peace talks in Geneva in January and February.

Headlines  

  • Libyan authorities have vowed to stick to a democratic transition process after two members of parliament were shot and injured when protesters stormed the parliament in the capital of Tripoli Sunday. 
  • An Egyptian court sentenced two policemen to 10 years in prison for the 2010 torture and killing of activist and blogger Khaled Said.
  • Iran has reduced its stockpile of highly enriched uranium by 50 percent, implementing as planned a deal with world powers, though the IAEA says much work remains to be done.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to "stand steadfast" in meeting with President Obama Monday, who has signaled that time is running out for Israeli-Palestinian peace.   

Arguments and Analysis

'Two years after Yemen's 'statue' came to life, will Hadi ever leave?' (Adam Baron, The National

"Mr Hadi may have confounded many Yemenis' expectations, and he certainly retains a great degree of popular support. But the many challenges he inherited remain unresolved, and the ultimate fate of Mr Hadi's presidency remains unclear.

Standing next to Mr Saleh on February 27, 2012, Mr Hadi stated that he aimed to similarly transfer power to his successor in two years time, during parliamentary and presidential elections this year 

This, perhaps, provides the key irony of Mr Hadi's presidency. When he came to office, the question was whether he'd survive. Today, the uncertainty centres around when he will eventually leave."

'Rojava and Kurdish Political Parties in Syria' (Nader Atassi, Jadaliyya)

"While the Syrian regime and opposition talk of theoretical transitional governments at Geneva II, the PYD is establishing facts on the ground. In November 2013, the PYD announced its intention to formalize the political autonomy of Rojava by dividing it into three self-governing cantons: Afrin, Kobanê (Ayn al-Arab), and al-Hasake. The PYD will overcome all the obstacles to their newfound autonomy in the short-run. They have succeeded thus far in repelling the jihadist offensive against their towns. The regime is too busy fighting the opposition elsewhere in the country to pose a threat at the moment. The PKK is enjoying warmer relations with Ankara, which will stave off the Turkish threat for the time being (Ocalan, the head of the PKK, even publicly backed Erdogan in the latest power struggle with the Gulenists). Although the international community is unanimous in its condemnation of this plan -- including Barzani who heads his own autonomous parcel of Kurdistan -- the PYD have gone ahead with it and seem to be succeeding in the short-run due to a combination of military success and political cunning. 

The United States and the Syrian National Coalition attempted to sideline the PYD from the diplomatic talks as much as they could by sowing divisions between them and the KNC, who had earlier agreed to appear at the talks as a united front. There was no PYD presence at Geneva II, with the Syrian National Coalition insisting that the KNC is the only legitimate representative of Syrian Kurds. Excluding the PYD, however, will only strengthen their resolve to consolidate their power in Rojava in order to ensure that any diplomatic deals struck regarding post-conflict Syria will not impose anything on them. Indeed, while representatives sit in Geneva, discussing and debating what the future of Syria will look like, the PYD and their allies are trying to create the future of Rojava today."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images