Syria's parliament approved a new election law Thursday allowing multiple candidates to run in elections, about four months ahead of the expiration of the seven-year term of President Bashar al-Assad. The move in theory opened the door for candidates to contest Assad, who has suggested he would run for another term, but hasn't yet confirmed whether he will seek re-election. However, the legislation includes residency rules for candidates, which could bar from running most opposition leaders who have lived in exile, many since before the start of the uprising in March 2011. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said holding an election would jeopardize peace talks. He noted, "If there is an election, my suspicion is that the opposition -- all the opposition -- would probably not be interested in talking to the government." He also mentioned that he wanted to continue the Geneva process. Local truces established between government and opposition forces around Damascus have restored calm and a degree of normality to several of the capital's neighborhoods, however, they are fragile and have left much unresolved. Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was hospitalized in the Lebanese capital of Beirut Thursday with a suspected blocked coronary artery. He is reportedly in stable condition and is scheduled to undergo bypass surgery.
- An exchange of rocket fire and air strikes has continued between Israel and the Gaza Strip despite a statement from the Islamic Jihad that Egypt had brokered a truce.
- Turkish political leaders, campaigning Thursday, traded accusations of provoking protests meanwhile police files have been leaked intensifying pressure on Prime Minister Erdogan in a graft scandal.
- In a leaked recording Ahmed Shafiq, former Egyptian general and prime minister, called the presidential election a "farce" however said in a statement Thursday his comments were taken out of context.
- Bombings in and around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Friday have killed seven people, a day after a car bomber killed at least 16 people, including security officers and members of a wedding party, at an army checkpoint in Anbar Province.
Arguments and Analysis
'Gulen, Erdogan and democracy in Turkey' (Berna Turam, Al Jazeera)
"Turkey has recently been shaken up by the tumultuous altercation between the globally active Muslim community-movement, the Gulen movement (GM) and the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power for over a decade. Both Western and local audiences have been stunned by the intensity of the clash, which peaked in the last couple of months.
Previously, most observers had wrongly assumed that these groups were inherent allies because of their faith-based worldview. In sharp contrast to this misperception, these groups came from entirely different pasts and political orientation, although they share a common interest in free market economy and cherished upward socio-economic mobility."
'Why Iran will profit from a family fight in the GCC' (Yuri Barmin, Your Middle East)
"In the short term Iran may be eager to demonstrate its partner relations with Qatar and Oman to further aggravate the disagreement and to put Saudi Arabia at odds with fellow GCC states. In this game Iran may feel more comfortable than its counterpart as it has secured a confident position with international organizations and the West, who frostily admit that Tehran is implementing the nuclear deal in good faith.
Iran's re-entry to oil markets and slow restoration of its economic power may also be a blow to the GCC. Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in particular, were forced to increase their social spending in the wake of the Arab Spring to prevent possible protests. Now their economic power is diminishing as Iran's reappearance on the market drives oil prices down, and this pushes the GCC countries closer to their break-even oil prices."
-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images