The Middle East Channel

Turkey’s Prime Minister Threatens to Ban Facebook, YouTube

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to shut down social media sites Facebook and YouTube in response to recent wiretap recordings released anonymously over YouTube. The controversial recordings, the latest development in Turkey's corruption scandal, allegedly incriminate Erdogan and other government officials. In a late Thursday ATV broadcast, Erdogan asserted, "We are determined on this subject. We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook," adding that such measures would not take place until after March 30 municipal elections. Turkey's President Abdullah Gul commented Friday that such a ban is "out of the question." Gul, however, added that authorities had the power under a new law to block access to certain materials if a person's privacy is being violated. Meanwhile, new labor statistics show that Turkey's unemployment rate for 2013 increased to 9.7 percent, surpassing the government's goal of 9.5 percent. Despite the economic situation and recent corruption allegations, a poll released Tuesday reported that Erdogan's approval rating rose from its all-time low of 39.4 percent in January to 43.5 percent in February.

Syria

The Syrian government is expected to miss a major deadline next week to destroy its 12 nuclear weapons production facilities. An official from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Thursday that none of the facilities had been destroyed yet. In the city of Homs, a car bomb exploded in the Armenian district, killing at least 15 people and wounding 12 others Thursday. In the south, Syrian aircraft launched an attack near the Lebanese border on the rebel-held town of Yarboud, where at least 17 rebels were killed in fighting on Thursday. Increased Syrian aircraft activity near the Israel-Syria border Friday morning prompted the Israeli Air Force to scramble fighter jets four times, though it did not result in direct confrontation.

Headlines

 
  • Egypt announced in an online statement Thursday that it was acting in solidarity with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain by withdrawing its diplomatic envoy from Qatar to "correct the path of the Qatari government."
  • Egypt's cabinet approved the final draft of a new presidential elections law that is expected to pave the way for an official announcement on the terms and date of the election.
  • Saudi Arabia has formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, along with the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
  • At least 30 people were killed in a series of bombings in Iraq's capital of Baghdad and the southern town of Hilla on Thursday. Gunfire killed eight people on Friday in Fallujah, where anti-government fighters have held control for more than two months.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Jordan to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with King Abdullah II.

Arguments and Analysis

'Break Up in the Gulf: What the GCC Dispute Means for Qatar' (Bilal Y. Saab, Foreign Affairs)

"Should Qatar become friendlier with Iran and Oman, it would signal the death of the GCC and herald a new power alignment in the Gulf. It would also severely complicate U.S. plans in the Middle East. For some time, the United States has encouraged the Arab Gulf States to think and act more collectively to enhance Gulf security. But with increasing tensions among GCC members, including possible divorces, this goal seems increasingly unrealistic. Washington may come to see that its Gulf allies will not be able to provide regional security anytime soon and, as a result, think twice about plans to reduce the U.S. political and military footprint there.

Qatar's spat with its Saudi and Emirati neighbors also creates another policy dilemma for the United States. Washington has strategic relations with all three states, which will become difficult to manage if they aren't on speaking terms. It is possible that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi could even lobby the United States to help shut down money flows out of Doha under the guise of counterterrorism. But Washington might not be receptive. Qatar hosts the Al Udeid Air Base and the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, which coordinated all of the U.S. attack and surveillance missions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, although the U.S. Treasury Department and State Department may show readiness to entertain Saudi and Emirati punitive measures against Doha, the Pentagon will probably put the brakes on any such plans."

'Zooming in on Syria: Adapting US Policy to Local Realities' (Faysal Itani and Nathaniel Rosenblatt, Atlantic Council)

"The single-minded US focus on international diplomacy has come at the expense of a nuanced and granular understanding of the opposition. This has encouraged a reactive approach that has failed to keep pace with the evolution of the uprising as it morphed from peaceful protest to armed rebellion and, finally, full-blown civil war. Unless the United States adopts a more flexible, imaginative, and committed approach, Syria will continue its descent into lawlessness and terrorism, causing untold suffering for Syrians, threatening neighboring countries, and fueling regional sectarian hatred and violence.

For the United States to play any relevant role in facilitating a negotiated political transition in Syria, it needs to fundamentally alter its framework for understanding and dealing with the uprising, to gain a much deeper grasp of the local opposition and its standing among the local population, capacity to govern, and ability to coordinate and represent Syrians in international fora. Policymakers need to evaluate why the opposition has evolved as it did through the stages of protest movement, armed insurgency, and long-term civil war. This brief takes a micro-view of key moments in the evolution of the conflict and shows how moderate trends within the opposition lost the upper hand. The authors argue that foreign actors played a role in worsening internal divisions among opposition players, empowering radical sectarian militias, and thwarting efforts to overthrow the regime. Such an analysis offers critical lessons on how the United States can more effectively pursue a political transition in Syria."

-- Cortni Kerr

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Niger Extradites Qaddafi’s Son to Face Charges in Tripoli

Niger has extradited Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Saadi Qaddafi. The Libyan government had been seeking the extradition since 2011 when Saadi was granted entry to Niger on humanitarian grounds following the Qaddafi government's topple. Niger had previously denied the Libyan government's requests for extradition. Saadi, who arrived in Tripoli on Thursday, is not wanted by the International Criminal Court -- unlike Qaddafi's other son Saif al-Islam. Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the West and Gulf states gathered Thursday in Italy to discuss stabilizing the Libyan government, which has been plagued by disagreements among Libya's diverse tribal, religious, and ethnic populations. In 2013, Libya's government lost control of three oil ports to armed protestors threatening to sell oil independently. On Wednesday a North Korean-flagged oil tanker arrived at one of the seized ports despite warnings from Libya's state-owned National Oil Corporation.

Syria

On Wednesday independent human rights investigators issued the latest U.N. commission of inquiry report criticizing "all sides in Syria's civil war" for taking up tactics to punish and starve civilians. The commission called out world powers -- including the U.N. Security Council -- for allowing violations of the rules of war to persist with "total impunity." In the report, the opposition-controlled city of Aleppo, which has witnessed a marked increase of aerial bombardment, is described as "prosecuted with shocking ferocity." The report, which covers July 2013 through January 2014, asserts that the chemical weapons used in two attacks in 2013 appear to have originated from Syrian military stockpiles. Separately on Wednesday, Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for a joint mission by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that March is a critical month for the dismantling Syria's chemical weapons. Kaag expects that Syria will have dismantled 40 to 41 percent within the next few days. Also on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department issued an order restricting the movements of Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar Jaafari to remain within a 25-mile travel radius of New York City. Similar restrictions apply to envoys from Iran and North Korea.

Headlines

  • A presidential decree has repealed the state of emergency in Tunisia that has been in place since 2011.
  • Iran is set to receive a second installment worth $450 million of $4.2 billion in previously frozen oil assets. Meanwhile, South Korea is expected to transfer $550 million to Iran in a back oil payment under the interim nuclear deal.
  • The ship seized by Israeli navy Wednesday is set to arrive in Eliat, Israel Saturday. The United States revealed Wednesday that it helped Israel identify the ship, which is said to have been carrying dozens of M302 rockets, "that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat," according to Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman of the Israel Defense Forces.
  • Two children were injured Thursday while handling a bomb in Bahrain's Daih, the same village that saw three killed in a bomb explosion Monday. Bahrain's foreign minister accused Iran of supporting the violence at a Thursday meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Arguments and Analysis

'Fragmenting Under Pressure: Egypt's Islamists Since Morsi's Ouster' (Hardin Lang, Mokhtar Awad, and Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress)

"The resulting political landscape is bereft of institutions or actors positioned to help the parties find a way out of the conflict. As a leading Da‘wa sheikh put it, 'This zero-sum problem has only grown worse and now is in the direction of destroying society.' Supporters of Morsi's overthrow exhibit overconfidence and downplay the risks of the current course. For them, June 30, 2013, was the 'State's revolution.' In the words of one the country's most senior officials, 'Political Islam is dead ... we will not allow it to come back.' Others, including a former National Democratic Party official speaking about the Muslim Brotherhood, say that 'it will take another 10 to 15 years before the [Muslim Brotherhood] is able to recover from June 30 ... Egypt has set in motion the undoing of the Muslim Brotherhood.'

The security crackdown has not been limited to the Brotherhood. Other Islamists who had reluctantly accepted the political roadmap but were poised to vote down the new constitution found their activists in jail on the eve of the referendum. The scope of the repression widened to include non-Islamists opposed to the government and the new powers afforded to the military, including revolutionary organizations such as the April 6 Youth Movement. A few restrained voices close to the regime's governing circle question the efficacy of this heavy-handed approach. One such observer cited the dangers inherent in the application of widespread repression, underscoring the importance of 'distinguishing between the different types of demonstrations or at least participants in the demonstrations.' His advice was to deal with the non-Islamist opposition through means other than a crackdown. Instead, since last summer, the regime has taken steps to try to close what little political space existed."

'Brutality, torture, rape: Egypt's crisis will continue until military rule is dismantled' (Emad El-Din Shahin, The Guardian)

"But a Sisi presidency will have little chance of bringing stability, as the deterioration in security is continuing unabated, the economy is spiralling out of control, and the country's infrastructure is falling apart. Energy shortages, electricity outages and soaring food prices have been the worst for years despite generous handouts from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.

Sisi doesn't seem to realise the deep rifts and political polarisation his policies have created. Neither a cabinet reshuffle nor a new dictator can heal these divisions. The real crisis in Egypt is that no one has a clear vision or a concrete strategy to take on the challenges.

No improvement in security or economic stability can take hold before the political crisis is resolved. Since the 2011 revolt, a substantial number of Egyptians will no longer accept the return of military rule. Clearly, the hardline tactics employed by the regime to bring its opponents to heel have not worked."

-- Cortni Kerr

 

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images