The Middle East Channel

U.S. Will Deliver Apache Helicopters to Egypt, Easing Aid Restrictions

The United States has announced it will deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt, easing a partial suspension of aid imposed after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to the Pentagon, the helicopters will aid in Egypt's "counter-terrorism" operations in the Sinai Peninsula to "counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Egypt had upheld "its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty" and as such had met the criteria for the United States to resume some aid. However, according to a U.S. official, military equipment other than the Apaches would remain on hold. Kerry noted that he was not yet able to verify that Egypt was taking measures toward a democratic transition, and called for free and fair elections and urged Egypt to ease restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and the media.  

Syria

Member of Parliament Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar registered on Wednesday to run in Syria's presidential election, the first to field a bid to oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad has not yet announced his candidacy, but has suggested he would seek re-election, and is widely expected to win. The United Nations is renewing a December 2013 appeal for $6.5 billion for humanitarian aid for Syria has saying it has received pledges totaling only $1.2 billion. U.N. agencies said the crisis in Syria is affecting at least 9.3 million people. Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it is investigating claims that chlorine gas was used in an attack earlier in April on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita. The allegations overshadowed an OPCW report Tuesday that nearly 90 percent of Syria's chemical weapons have been exported, with only a few shipments remaining. 

Headlines

  • Lebanon's parliament failed to elect a president in the first round of voting Wednesday with leading candidate Samir Geagea receiving far less than the required two-thirds majority.
  • A senior Egyptian police officer was killed by a car bomb Wednesday in a Cairo suburb meanwhile another officer was shot and killed in a raid in Alexandria.
  • A United Nations committee has not taken action on the refusal of the United States to grant a visa to Tehran's selected ambassador to the U.N. despite a request from Iran.
  • The trial of three Al Jazeera journalists was adjourned until May 3 after prosecutors played audio and video recordings many of which were unintelligible.

Arguments and Analysis

'Human rights: Egypt's black holes' (Borzou Daragahi Financial Times)

"Egyptian and international human rights advocates say that Mr Abdul-Samiyeh disappeared into a vast network of clandestine detention centres and camps that are in effect black sites unacknowledged by the government. Rights groups say the facilities, long in existence, have swelled in size and number since security forces began rounding up dissidents after the July 3 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, the country's Islamist president.

Neither ministry would respond to requests for information about facilities such as Azouly, the existence of which they officially deny. But Azouly is thought to be one among perhaps dozens of undeclared detention sites used by security forces to hold, interrogate and torture thousands of political opponents swept up from antimilitary demonstrations, homes and offices. Detainees have mostly been Morsi supporters or suspected members of his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation and its allies. But they also include leftists opposed to the post-coup government installed by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the former army general who is now running for president."

'Bahrain's disappearing moderates' (Elizabeth Dickinson, Al Monitor)

"Yet, among the biggest loser from the rising violence in Bahrain is the moderate Shiite political opposition, Al Wefaq, which is struggling to craft its response. It has not supported the violent tactics of groups such as the more radical February 14 Youth Coalition, to the disappointment of some in their antigovernment constituency. Yet, they have also not condemned the attacks adamantly enough to satisfy many of their critics at home and abroad."

-- Mary Casey

Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images

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