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.
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.
- 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
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