The Middle East Channel

Air Strikes in Yemen Kill 40 Suspected Militants

Air strikes in southern Yemen have killed more than 40 suspected al Qaeda militants as well as three civilians over the past three days. According to the defense ministry strikes on Saturday and Sunday were launched as part of the government's efforts to combat terrorism. A source from the High Security Committee said Sunday's strikes targeted a southern mountainous region between Abyan, Shabwa, and Bayda provinces and were based on information that "terrorist elements were planning to target vital civilian and military installations." A government official said the operation was conducted in collaboration with the United States but did not reference drone strikes, however local sources said drones had been seen circling the target areas prior to the strikes. According to the New America Foundation, the United States has carried out over 100 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002.

Syria

Syrian parliamentary speaker Mohamed Jihad al-Laham announced the presidential election will be held on June 3. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not yet said if he will run, but he is likely to win a third term. World powers backing Assad's opponents have described the election as a "parody of democracy." The announcement came a day after Assad made a rare visit on Easter to the Christian town of Maaloula in a display of growing confidence less than a week after government forces regained control of the area. Meanwhile, four French journalists kidnapped and held in Syria since June 2013 were released and found on the Turkish border Friday. Dider Francois, of Europe 1 radio, said they had spent "six whole months in basements without seeing daylight, and for two-and-a-half months we were chained to each other."

Headlines

  • Kuwait has temporarily suspended two independent newspapers for violating a media blackout publishing details of a video said to show former senior officials discussing a coup plot.
  • Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term with 81 percent of the vote, in an election his main challenger has called fraudulent.
  • Hamdeen Sabahi submitted his bid as the sole challenger to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt's presidential election set to begin on May 26.
  • Attacks across Iraq on Sunday and Monday killed dozens of people two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria: bombs and ballots' (The Guardian)

"Syria, the report suggests, has become a country where, if you want to eat, you may soon have no choice but to rally to the government side. With developments such as these, President Bashar al-Assad seems increasingly confident that he is on the way to winning the war. There are schemes to reconcile and rehabilitate people who are no longer always described as terrorists. Preparations have even begun for a presidential election in the summer. It can hardly fail to be a travesty, partly because the manipulation of elections is an old art in Ba'athist Syria and partly because millions of displaced people will be unable to register to vote, but it would be a demonstration of the government's capacity to create a facade of normality.

The countries helping the rebels need to reconsider their options. They could shift the military balance by giving the rebels more weapons or by using western air power. They could go on to try to revive the so far barren diplomatic process. Or they can accept that the Syrian government is going to achieve some kind of victory, even if that victory is likely to be superficial, with much of the population alienated and rebel groups determined to bide their time and fight again on another day. The default choice, far from palatable, is to continue to give the rebels enough aid to stave off defeat but not enough to prevail."

'Let Us Now Praise Murderous Men; Lebanese Presidential Candidates, Considered' (Maya Mikdashi, Jadaliyya)

"Lebanon is slated to hold presidential elections next week, despite the fact that the parliamentary elections have yet to be held and it is the Lebanese parliament that elects the Lebanese President. Last year elections were postponed for the first time in the state's history, and parliament illegitimately extended its own term in the absence of elections. This further throws into doubt the legitimacy of the looming presidential contest.

Thus far, several potential presidential candidates have expressed their interest in running, all Maronite Christians as per Lebanon's constitutional system of power sharing between sects. Three of the most prominent potential candidates are notorious for their involvement in the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990: Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, and Amin Gemeyyel.  Everyone and anyone who was residing in Lebanon during that war have stories and memories of these men and their wartime exploits/crimes."

'Sisi, Sabbahi, and the Future of Egypt's Economy' (Daniel Stoker, Atlantic Council)

"At the end of March, Egypt's high electoral commission announced the dates of Egypt's presidential elections. As expected former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced his candidacy joining long time activist Hamdeen Sabbahi in the race for the presidency. The success of Egypt's next president will, for the most part, depend on how he addresses the economy. Burdened by instability, lack of foreign investment, high unemployment, acute energy crisis, and crumbling infrastructure, Egypt's battered economy will require sound macroeconomic policies to recover. The uprisings against both Hosni Mubarak and later Mohamed Morsi were in part related to Egypt's deteriorated economic conditions. While neither candidate has proposed any clear economic policy for their administration, both have given subtle hints about how they would address Egypt's economic ills."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

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