The Middle East Channel

Yemen Confirms 55 Militants Killed in Joint Aerial Campaign

Yemen's interior ministry confirmed that 55 al Qaeda linked militants were killed in what a Yemeni official called an "unprecedented" joint aerial campaign between Yemen and the United States in the mountainous Abyan, Shabwa, and Bayda provinces from Saturday to Monday. Air strikes, possibly from U.S. drones, reportedly targeted a training camp as well as several vehicles in the region. Another Yemeni official estimated the number of dead in the 40s. According to the interior ministry, three senior members of al Qaeda were among the fatalities as well as three civilians. Additionally, reports suggest Ibrahim al-Asiri, al Qaeda's chief bomb maker, may have been killed in an ambush over the weekend by U.S. backed special forces. Since the weekend's strikes, gunmen have killed four senior security officers, according to Yemeni officials.

Syria

The United States is looking into whether a toxic chemical, likely chlorine, was used in an attack against the rebel held Hama province village of Kfar Zeita on April 11. State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said, "We are examining allegations that the government was responsible." The statement came after French President Francois Holland said he has evidence suggesting the recent use of chemical weapons, but no definitive proof. Meanwhile, the United Nations, European Union, and United States have denounced Syria's plan to hold a presidential election on June 3. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the planned vote would "hamper the prospects for a political solution." Psaki said, "Calling for a de-facto referendum rings especially hollow now as the regime continues to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent."

Headlines

  • Saudi Arabia has fired its health minister, Abdullah al-Rabiah, as two more deaths were reported from the Mers virus in the kingdom.
  • The trial of three Al Jazeera journalists and several others held on terrorism charges resumed in Egypt on Tuesday for a sixth session.
  • Several Iranian lawmakers are demanding an inquiry into the alleged beatings of political prisoners at Tehran's Evin Prison, which penal authorities claim was a routine inspection for contraband.

Arguments and Analysis

'Vote or Die: Syria's reelection of a mass murderer' (Brooklyn Middleton, Al Arabiya)

"At the same time the world is applauding the Syrian regime for reportedly shipping out 80 percent of its chemical weapons and as Bashar al-Assad announces he will run in presidential elections slated for 3 June, new reports emerge that Damascus has reinvented a way to massacre its own people: barrel bombs packed with toxic chlorine gas dropped from helicopters

In what could prove to be a truly worst case scenario, it appears the Assad regime has carved out a way to continue waging chemical warfare that is less deadly than the major East Ghouta attack but still effective at targeting large areas."

'Arab election season' (Marc Lynch, The Washington Post)

"In the years following 2011, there was reason to hope for something more from Arab elections - hopes vindicated to varying degrees by competitive, surprising, reasonably free and fair, and meaningful elections in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The parliaments and presidencies produced by those elections struggled to consolidate their legitimacy amidst the deep institutional uncertainty, ongoing contentious mobilization, and political polarization that followed. But while elections have never been sufficient for meaningful democracy, they are manifestly necessary. It is painfully ironic that the mantra "democracy is more than elections" took hold following one of the only Arab elections that actually approached the minimal standard for democracy. Those votes really were different from the dozens of earlier elections across the region, offering a tantalizing potential for the consolidation of representative, accountable government and the peaceful rotation of power. That's now mostly gone, with even the idea of democratic legitimacy mortally wounded. Few of the current round of elections have much to do with any of that."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

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