The Middle East Channel

Talks Breakdown as Syrian Government Forces Advance on Homs

U.N. mediator for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Thursday that a breakdown in negotiations on a truce for Homs risks new bloodshed as government forces advance. A deal brokered in Geneva earlier this year allowed some civilians to leave the besieged Old City of Homs, however about 1,000 to 1,500 people remain. Further talks collapsed this week after heavy fighting. Brahimi said, "It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand." Syrian government forces have stepped up an offensive against rebel held areas, and the opposition Syrian National Coalition warned of a potential massacre. Brahimi urged a return to negotiations so that a deal can be reached to lift the siege on Homs. Meanwhile the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syria risks missing a April 27 deadline for the removal of its chemical arsenal if it doesn't significantly speed up and increase transfers. About 65 percent of Syria's chemical agents have so far been delivered. Additionally, the government has submitted a "more specific" list of its chemical weapons to the OPCW after inspectors reported discrepancies on the ground. 

Headlines

  • The United States has said it will release $450 million in frozen Iranian funds after the IAEA reported Tehran has diluted or converted about 75 percent of its highly-enriched uranium.
  • At a meeting in Riyadh Thursday Gulf leaders agreed on an "implementation mechanism" to a November deal ending months of tensions as Qatar reportedly agreed to deport some Muslim Brotherhood members.
  • Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's camp has claimed a win in Thursday's presidential election though opponents have voice allegations of fraud.
  • An Arab-Israeli journalist detained after visiting Lebanon over suspicions that he was "recruited by a hostile organization" has been put under house arrest.

Arguments and Analysis

'Bahrain's State Unaccountability' (Marc Owen Jones, Muftha)

"What is more, there is uncertainty as to whether convicted security officers actually serve time in prison. In its latest report detailing the human rights situation in Bahrain, the U.S. State Department stated it did not know if the ‘courts enforced any of the sentences and if security officers were actually in prison following sentencing.' Naturally, this begs the question as to how the United States can claim the Bahraini government is reforming when it cannot even confirm if police are being held accountable for crimes as egregious as torture and murder.

In many other cases in which civilians were reportedly killed by the state, the police and other members of the security forces have either been acquitted. Between 2011 and 2012, 45 cases involving civilian deaths were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. That is, 45 deaths in which police were suspected of killing the majority of victims. For example, two officers accused of shooting Fadhel al Matrook in February 2011 were acquitted."

'Algerians vote for stability' (Michael Robbins, The Washington Post)

"How have Bouteflika and the regime managed to survive the Arab Spring, and what are the prospects for the future? Data from three nationally representative public opinion surveys conducted as part of the Arab Barometer project shed light on these questions. The surveys reveal that although most Algerians are dissatisfied with the regime, they are much more satisfied than they were in the months following the Arab Spring. Now, unlike in early 2011, the vast majority of citizens want gradual reform, suggesting the public's appetite for mass anti-regime protests has declined."

-- Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Bouteflika Likely to Win Re-Election in Algerian Presidential Poll

Algerians headed to the polls Thursday to vote in an election in which President Abdeaziz Bouteflika is expected to win a fourth term. Bouteflika, 77, has been in power for 15 years, but has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. In 2008, Bouteflika amended the constitution, which had set a two-term limit on the presidency, so that he could run for a third term. His move this year for re-election has sparked a protest movement called Barakat, or "Enough." Several opposition parties are boycotting the election saying it is slanted in favor of the president and voter turnout will likely be low, especially among the youth. Supporters of Bouteflika at the polls Thursday expressed the importance of stability and continuity. Of the five candidates running against the incumbent, Ali Benflis, Bouteflika's former prime minister, is expected to be the main challenger.

Syria

Jordanian fighter jets fired upon and destroyed three vehicles attempting to cross the border from Syria in a rare strike Wednesday morning. An army statement said the air force sent repeated warnings, however the vehicles did not stop. The army did not mention whether the vehicles belonged to the Syrian government or an opposition group, however a Jordanian security source said they appeared to be rebels and Syrian state media said the vehicles did not belong to the Syrian army. Jordanian spokesman, Mohammad al-Momani, said the government is increasingly worried about "cases of infiltration" and the lack of security around the border.

Headlines

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has complied with a nuclear deal with world powers, diluting or converting most of its higher-grade uranium.
  • Militants attacked a military base outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Thursday killing at least 10 soldiers.
  • Israeli and Palestinian peace talks are set to resume Thursday after a one-day postponement, which Palestinians say was to allow for the participation of U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.
  • Oman's Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi in an interview with al-Hayat newspaper said the recent crisis between Qatar and neighboring Gulf states has been resolved.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Devoted Guardians of Algeria's Power' (Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, Sada)

"With the blessing of the military, Algeria's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is all but guaranteed to win a fourth term. But among the Algerian public, speculation continues about the nature of the president's relationship with the military, in particular its intelligence branch, the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS). The relationship between the president and the DRS is especially relevant in light of Bouteflika's fragile health and the uncertainty over who will run the country in his absence and how his successor will be chosen. The recent and unusual public criticism against DRS officials from Bouteflika's own party is an example of why some believe that throughout his tenure Bouteflika has managed to keep the military and DRS in check. However, despite appearances to the contrary, he never constituted a threat to the military's strong grip on Algerian politics, and the DRS remains as strong as it has ever been. In his previous three mandates, few serious structural reforms threatened the country's military and its security apparatus. Even the little restructuring that he did undertake of the country's main security branch were largely cosmetic and should not be misconstrued for significant change."

'Learning from the Past in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute' (Tytti Erasto, MERIP)

"The controversy over the Iranian nuclear program is in many ways a product of the US-Iranian conflict. The United States and Iran are in the grip of mutual negative perceptions that, in turn, have been reinforced by the escalatory dynamics of the nuclear dispute. After years of seeming diplomatic deadlock, these dynamics suddenly changed for the better in the autumn of 2013. The positive trends culminated in November, when Iran agreed with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, the so-called P5+1, on a confidence-building deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Given the record of diplomatic non-achievement, the deal is a historic development. The parties began to implement the JPA in January 2014; it is supposed to pave the way for far more ambitious next steps.

Although the de-escalation and the JPA are generally associated with the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic and the subsequent change in Iran's foreign policy orientation, these developments cannot be fully understood without taking into account the simultaneous changes on the Western side. Indeed, the summer of 2013 was a crucial period of introspection on both sides when fixed ideas and narratives began to give way to more flexible positions. The following discussion, based on interviews with negotiators and diplomats on both sides, shows that each side was reaching a critical point in a learning process around the time of Rouhani's victory."

-- Mary Casey

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images