The Middle East Channel

Syrian Parliament Approves New Election Law

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.

Headlines

  • 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

The Middle East Channel

Israel Answers Rocket Fire with Air Strikes on Gaza

The Israeli Air Force struck 29 targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening and seven sites Thursday in response to a barrage of rocket fire launched from Gaza since Wednesday morning. Over 60 rockets have been fired toward Israel by Islamic Jihad militants in an apparent act of retaliation for the death of three Islamic Jihad militants by Israeli fire on Tuesday. Rocket fire has sounded alerts in four Israeli towns. There have not been any reported causalities. This level of activity has not been witnessed since Israel carried out Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Egypt is reportedly attempting to broker a truce to calm tensions, which threaten a 16-month-old cease-fire. The escalation of violence coincides with British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to Israel and the West Bank.

Syria

In a statement on the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has urged and Russia and the United States to revive stalled peace talks, calling Syria "the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis facing the world." British street artist Banksy has launched a global art campaign, #withsyria, to mark the anniversary. Meanwhile, on Wednesday Iran hosted its own version of a "Friends of Syria" conference attended by lawmakers from Russia, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Cuba, Venezuela. Conference participants discussed potential diplomatic solutions to Syria's conflict and criticized alleged Western interference. Ali Larijani, Iran's parliament speaker, challenged Syria's rebels to put down weapons and to challenge Bashar al-Assad at the ballot box, calling elections "the best way to determine the destiny of a country."

Headlines

  • A young man died in Istanbul Wednesday amid a police crackdown on protests over the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan. The death of a police officer in the eastern province of Tunceli has also been linked to the protests sparked by Elvan's death.
  • Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have arrested two members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who are wanted on charges of inciting August 2013 violence in Port Said. This is the first case of international cooperation to detain Muslim Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, Egypt's army has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for a fatal attack on an army bus in Cairo Thursday.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's first official visit to Muscat has resulted in a deal to export 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Oman. The agreement, valued at $60 billion, involves building a pipeline across the Gulf at an estimated cost of $1 billion.
  • The deadline for Egypt's presidential election has been pushed from mid-April to mid-July.
  • A North Korean official has said that the country had nothing to do with the oil tanker that evaded a Libyan naval blockade, adding that North Korea had the vessel's revoked the registration after learning of the incident. The official reported that an Egyptian company owned the tanker.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jordan's Energy Balancing Act' (David Schenker and Simon Henderson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

"With an estimated forty years of gas reserves in Tamar and the larger, as-yet-unexploited Leviathan field, Israel could provide Jordan with an inexpensive and reliable means of meeting all of its domestic gas requirements. Israel is heavily invested in the kingdom's stability and the survival of the moderate monarchy, and it would undoubtedly be glad to fill this need. Reflecting this interest, it has reportedly agreed to sell the gas to Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine at a price comparable to the Egyptian pipeline deal.

Yet King Abdullah has been hesitant to proceed with more Israeli gas deals for fear of domestic backlash. On February 24, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood's political party, the Islamic Action Front, described the agreement with the 'Zionist entity' as 'criminal,' 'contrary to the best interests of Jordan,' and 'an attack on the Palestinian cause.'"

'Would UN Sanctions Help Yemen's Transition?' (Nasser Arrabyee, Sada)

"Given the difficulty of identifying and holding accountable the spoilers, the UNSC has decided to form a committee from all the 15 members to help identify the spoilers independent of the efforts of Benomar, whom some parties in Yemen describe as 'not neutral and not wanted.' Yet even if a completely neutral and strong committee is put together, it might not be able to accomplish as much as Benomar in terms of meeting and working with a cross-section of actors -- including President Hadi and the majority of the parties and groups involved in the political process -- and identifying spoilers, let alone find enough evidence to implicate them.

Given these challenges, the committee would face three possible scenarios. In the best case, spoilers-even before being identified-would fear serious sanctions and the UN's authority under Chapter VII of its charter to take military and nonmilitary action to 'restore international peace and security.' In this case, the fear of repercussions might lead actors to cooperate and prevent obstructions. The second case would involve the committee gathering clear and convincing evidence that identifies these spoilers and that can be submitted to courts to determine their culpability. The spoilers could then be tried either in Yemeni courts or, more likely, outside the country because Yemeni judges might be unwilling or unable to oversee such process. However, this scenario is unlikely, because it requires hard evidence, which has been extremely difficult to obtain. Alternately, the last and worst case would involve the committee designating spoilers based on fabricated reports, politicized information, and media guesses or prejudices. In this case, conflict would abound, and there would be little fear of such consequences as international sanctions."

-- Cortni Kerr

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images