The Middle East Channel

Egypt Issues Death Penalty to 683 More Muslim Brotherhood Supporters

An Egyptian judge issued death sentences to 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters Monday, including the group's spiritual guide Mohamed Badie, on charges over an attack on a police station, in which a policeman was killed, in the town of Minya. In a separate case, the judge also commuted to life terms 492 death sentences that had been imposed on Muslim Brotherhood supporters in March. However, 37 of the people tried in March will still face the death penalty. Additionally on Monday, a Cairo court banned the April 6 movement, which helped spark the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011, on allegations including "tarnishing the image of the state."

Syria

In a statement on Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, seeking a third seven-year term in office. Assad joined six other candidates, though he is widely expected to win the election. Opposition leaders who live in exile have been barred from running due to a clause in the constitution requiring candidates to have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years. It is unclear how the vote will be conducted amidst the violent conflict, which has displaced an estimated 9.5 million people from their homes. Meanwhile, Syria missed an April 27 deadline for the removal or destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal. While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria had made significant progress with just 7.5 percent of its stockpile remaining, it stated the government must "take the final step very soon."

Headlines

  • Saudi Arabia has announced eight new deaths from the Mers virus, with the number of cases reaching 339 and deaths surpassing 100.
  • Attacks in Iraq targeted polling stations killing at least 21 people as police and soldiers turned out to vote two days ahead of parliamentary elections.
  • Russia has held talks with Iran over $10 billion in power deals in efforts to develop stronger economic ties with Tehran as Western states work to negotiate a nuclear deal.
  • A senior U.S. official said Washington is discussing the development of a coordinated missile defense system for the Gulf Arab states.
  • Algeria's ailing 77-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was sworn in for a fourth term on Monday.

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt: Revise Terrorism Laws to Safeguard Rights' (Human Rights Watch)

"The draft amendments to 17 articles of the penal code define terrorism to include actions - potentially such as labor strikes or peaceful protests - that could ‘obstruct' the work of public officials, or universities, mosques, embassies, or international institutions. Article 86 of the penal code, as amended, would criminalize any "intimidation' that could ‘harm national unity,' prevent the application of the country's constitution or laws, or ‘damage the economy.'

‘By these definitions, anyone who participated in the popular uprisings of 2011 or 2013 could be branded a terrorist,' Stork said. 'Peaceful protest should not be criminalized as terrorism.'"

'In Iraq, female candidates still held back by old paradigms' (Diana Moukalled, Al Arabiya)

"What's frustrating about this election is that there will be no substantial changes from the previous elections in which only four females won and the 25% of quota for women was filled by assigning women from the winning parties.

Such a scenario is expected during these elections as well. Unless Iraqi voters take a significant turn, the female winning parliamentarians will only be an extension of the authority of conservative, religious and sectarian parties in the country.

Experience from recent years have shown this as female parliamentarians did not display any sort of independence and did not succeed at passing a single law in favor of Iraqi women's interests."

'Raging with the Machine: Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh and Syria' (Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Pulse)

"In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.

The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis - Syria, its people and the current conflict - serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture."

-- Mary Casey

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Israel Suspends Peace Talks After Fatah-Hamas Unity Deal

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (AP) Thursday in response to an announcement Wednesday of a unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The move came just days ahead of the April 29 expiration date of U.S. sponsored Israeli and Palestinian negotiations, which were already faltering. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I will never negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas terrorists." However, he appeared to leave the door open if Abbas "changes his mind." Palestinian officials have said that a unified government shouldn't be a bar to talks, and the United States said it would not yet declare the talks over though President Barack Obama said neither party has shown the political will to take the steps to advance negotiations.

Syria

As Syria transfers its final shipments of chemical weapons ahead of an April 27 deadline, British officials have said the government has failed to declare all of the elements in its chemical stockpile. Director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu is considering launching an investigation, on his own initiative, into claims of chlorine gas attacks in Syria. Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that accusations that Syrian government forces used "poisonous chemicals continue to be fabricated." Meanwhile, efforts by Britain's metropolitan police to enlist families, particularly Muslim women, to prevent young Muslims from traveling to fight in the Syrian conflict is being met with controversy.

Headlines

  • Iran cut a portion of fuel subsidies Friday sparking a surge in gas prices of up to 75 percent in a move President Rouhani hopes will strengthen the economy.
  • Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels have agreed to talks over the prospect of the group's disarmament.
  • Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri described the first round of the presidential election in the parliament as a "rehearsal" and said next week's session will move to the stage of electing a president.
  • Ethiopia's prime minister said its Nile River hydroelectric dam is about 32 percent complete and called for talks urging Egyptian authorities to "avoid unnecessary complaints."

Arguments and Analysis

'For Netanyahu, another excuse to miss an opportunity' (Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel)

"And still, if Netanyahu weren't so busy looking for excuses to not talk to the Palestinians, he would discover a few interesting things about the agreement.

First, Abbas brought Netanyahu and the international community what they were demanding: a government, with no Hamas representatives, made up only of technocrats, without politicians and with Abbas himself at its head. The government is supposed to deal not only with the West Bank, but also with the Gaza Strip.

And maybe that is what is making Netanyahu nervous. If the agreement does go into effect, a government presiding over the Gaza Strip and West Bank is created, and elections are held, Netanyahu could find himself facing a real partner in the person of Abbas. All the "no partner" claims citing the fact that Abbas doesn't rule the Gaza Strip will cease to be relevant."

'#SaveKessab, #Save Aleppo, and Kim Kardashian: Syria's Rashomon Effect' (Elyse Sermerdijian, Jadaliyya)

"While #SaveKessab intended to draw attention to the dramatic depopulation of Kesab and Turkey's role in the event, as a social media campaign, it fell prey to "hoaxes" that typically spread viral on the internet-thinkBonzai Kitten. Making Kardashian the fall girl for misinforming the public about Kessab merely highlighted the way in which celebrities rather than experts are looked to as purveyors of knowledge in an environment of anti-intellectualism. After all, the mainstream media quoted Twitter, Facebook pages of pro-opposition activists, lobbyists, and celebrities in search of the Kessab story which is hardly rigorous journalism.

While the internet has its own ability to produce gullible consumers, history shows there is a reason why such fears are easily stoked within the Armenian community. Images of sectarian murder have spread virally on state and social media paralyzing minority communities into submission to not only the Asad regime but to political interests more broadly. Turkey also got involved in the game-as did opposition activists-to dismiss sectarian concerns that were chalked up to mere hype. There was little effort to acknowledge what the loss of Kessab meant to the Armenian community and why its capture would produce such internet hysteria. The state sought to capitalize on the outrage over Kessab as it launches its campaign against opposition forces in Latakia province. Kessab is yet another manifestation of the Syria conflict's Rashomon effect as each faction works to produce their own reality to gain support amid a hopeless political stalemate."

'IRI Poll: Tunisia's Democratic Success Builds Cautious Optimism and Heightened Expectations' (International Republican Institute)

"With Tunisia's passage of a constitution and formation of an interim government, a majority of Tunisians have reaffirmed they are satisfied with democracy and believe the country's political system is on a democratic path.  IRI's survey (PDF) found that 53 percent of Tunisians continue to prefer democracy, even with instability, over a stable authoritarian government. 

At the same time, there is a broad perception that their path to democracy is not yet complete.  Forty percent said Tunisia is a flawed democracy, and a clear majority (79 percent) believe political parties are not doing enough to address Tunisians' needs."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images