The Middle East Channel

General Sisi Announces Egyptian Presidential Bid

Egypt's Defense Minister and army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Wednesday that he had resigned from the military to run for the presidency. The announcement from Sisi, who led the takeover of President Mohamed Morsi's elected government in July 2013, was widely anticipated. In an address broadcast on state television, Sisi said he was answering "the demand of a wide range of Egyptians who have called on me to run for this honorable office." He spoke of goals including creating a "better Egypt" and a mission to regain the country's "posture and power" and noted the challenges in the "economic, social, political, and security realities." However, Sisi said he would not release a formal political platform until Egypt's electoral commission finalizes the election registration process. No date has been set for the election, however Sisi is expected to easily win.

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said 53.6 percent of Syria's chemical weapons have either been removed or destroyed within the country. In a report to the United Nations, the OPCW said Syria vowed to remove all chemicals by April 13, except for those in areas "that are presently inaccessible." Syria has pledged to transport or destroy all of its chemical weapons materials by April 27. Meanwhile, some U.S. lawmakers lashed out at the Obama administration Wednesday over its Syria policy. Members of the Foreign Relations Committee demanded a stronger U.S. response to the Syrian conflict and greater transparency on the status of the destruction of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons arsenal, as well as what military action the White House is considering. 

Headlines  

Arguments and Analysis

Saudi Arabia: A kingdom on guard' (Roula Khalaf, Financial Times)

"People close to the Riyadh government say Saudi Arabia is assuming regional responsibility and will no longer tolerate those who spread chaos across the region. "We are becoming an initiator of policy and defining our interests," says one.

Others, however, say the moves are a sign of growing insecurity at a time when an ageing leadership is desperate to return the Arab world to a more comfortable pre-Arab awakening status quo, however intolerant that might seem.

This apparent nervousness has been accentuated by the suspicion among Saudi officials that the US is abandoning the Kingdom while seeking better relations with Iran, Riyadh's regional rival. President Barack Obama will seek to assuage these fears when he visits Saudi Arabia this week.

‘Saudi Arabia has changed. Before it was more cautious, more diplomatic. Now it's more assertive and more paranoid,' says a Saudi political analyst who asked to remain anonymous."

Sisi runs for president in Nasser's shadow' (Wael Nawara, Al-Monitor)

"If Sisi wins, does this mean a revival of Arab nationalism? Arabs have so much in common; language, religion, cultural proximity, a seamless territorial connectivity and strong emotional bonds. But Arab nationalism based on old-style chants cannot work. Arabs need to work hard on economic integration to shift their trade relations' focus inward. Sisi expresses a commitment to social justice, "that it is not acceptable for sick Egyptians to be unable to find affordable medical care." But he also made so many hints at having to face harsh economic realities and work hard to save the country's economy as a first priority.

So, before Nasserist enthusiasts prematurely celebrate a return to the 1960s, they should read more carefully into Sisi's messages. It would be foolish for Sisi or anyone else to repeat mistakes that proved disastrous and policies that could never be sustained. 

Perhaps what Sisi has most in common with Nasser is a confessed vision to building a strong and independent Egypt. And in light of the hardships now and those expected ahead, no one can envy the coming president of Egypt, whoever he may be."

-- Mary Casey

VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Arab League Leaders Condemn Killing in Syria

The two-day Arab League summit concluded Wednesday in Kuwait with the 22 members stating in a final communique, "We condemn in the strongest terms the massacres and the mass killing committed by the Syrian regime's forces against the unarmed people." Meanwhile, the first Syrian refugees arrived in Britain Tuesday as part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation program.  It is expected that several hundred Syrian refugees will relocate over the next three years under the new program, which immediately grants the rights and benefits of humanitarian protection status, including access to public funds and the labor market. Approximately 3,800 Syrians have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began in March 2011. A spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has confirmed that the last trucks of a 78-truck aid convoy crossed the Qamishli border, completing a five-day mission to move humanitarian aid into Syria. In Lebanon, a Syrian mother of four is in critical condition after she set herself on fire Tuesday at a U.N. refugee registration center in Tripoli. Islamist rebel forces have seized control of the seaside village of Samra near the Turkish border, gaining access to the sea for the first time since the conflict began. 

Headlines

  • The trial of 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including leader Mohamed Badie, was adjourned until April 28 after opening remarks on Tuesday.
  • Members of the board of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission have resigned ahead of elections slated for April 30 in response to conflicting legislative and judicial rulings regarding electoral candidates.
  • Turkish police raided several buildings in Istanbul Tuesday in a search for members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), leaving three policemen and two suspected ISIL militants wounded.
  • The U.S. White House has protested a decision by Saudi Arabia to deny a visa to the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, the only White House correspondent rejected by the Saudi government ahead of President Barack Obama's scheduled visit to the kingdom March 28 and 29.
  • Israeli naval forces opened fired on two suspected smuggling boats, sinking both vessels off the coast of Gaza Wednesday. 

Arguments and Analysis

'The Next Round in Gaza' (International Crisis Group)

"The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day's mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas's fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration - unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas's isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire's core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre. 

Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas's limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world's attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt's leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza."

'Why do Egyptian courts says the darndest things?' (Nathan Brown, Washington Post)

"I do not mean to imply that journalists have a monopoly on asking the wrong question. In fact, those that I speak with are very happy to try and understand the questions they should be asking. The same is true for academics who keep on honing in on better questions. For a while we have been asking the wrong question: 'Why would an authoritarian regime allow an independent judiciary?' 

I have been part of the effort to answer that question since I began work on judicial politics. But at least in the Egyptian case, I think we may be realizing that the question misdirects our attention. It treats the judiciary as if it is a creature of intelligent design by a masterful authoritarian ruler. It is actually the produce of historical evolution, accretion, large doses of judicial agency, and, of course, even larger doses of regime tinkering. Understanding the judiciary as an evolving institution -- one with a strong corporate identity but also one operating in a thoroughly authoritarian environment -- will help guide our way to a better understanding of the problems."

-- Cortni Kerr

YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images