The Middle East Channel

Libyan Authorities Claim Control After Attack on Parliament

The Libyan capital of Tripoli remained tense Monday after clashes and an attack on the parliament over the weekend, but Libya's interim government insists it retains control of the country. On Sunday, militia forces led by former Libyan army General Khalifa Heftar attacked the General National Congress complex in Tripoli. Spokesman for Khalifa, military police commander Mokhtar Farnana, read a televised statement saying the group had granted power to the 60-member assembly drafting a new constitution. He insisted Sunday's attack was not a coup, but fighting by "the people's choice." The move followed an attack on Friday by Heftar's forces against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi, which killed an estimated 70 people. Libya's interim government condemned the assault on the parliament and largely ignored Farnana's statement. Fighting had died down by Monday morning, and authorities worked to convey a message of "business as usual."

Syria

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday that at least 162,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, and thousands more remain missing. The pro-opposition group said it estimated 62,800 deaths among pro-government forces, 42,700 deaths among opposition fighters, and at least 54,000 civilian deaths. The head of Syria's air defenses, Lt. Gen. Hussein Ayoub Ishaq, died Saturday from injuries sustained in clashes at an air base in the district of Mleha, near the capital of Damascus. Ishaq is one of the highest-ranking Syrian officers killed in the conflict. Opposition sources reported Monday that Syrian opposition Defense Minister Asaad Mustafa resigned following reports of disagreements with Syrian National Coalition head Ahmed Jarba, allegedly over a lack of funding for fighters. Meanwhile, during the summer of 2013 a private group led by former U.S. Department of Defense official Joseph Schmitz planned to supply arms to the Free Syrian Army to be paid for by a Saudi Arabian prince until the project was stopped by the CIA.

Headlines

  • Five officials from the Soma Coal Mining Company have been arrested in part of an inquiry into Turkey's worst ever industrial accident, which suggested sensors showed high gas levels prior to the explosion.
  • Construction workers, many migrant laborers, who built NYU's large new campus in Abu Dhabi faced harsh working conditions despite NYU's 2009 "statement of labor values."
  • The EU announced it will monitor Egypt's presidential election after a statement Sunday that it would downgrade to an "assessment team" after customs confiscated its communications and security equipment.
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni Thursday in London for the first time since peace talks broke down in April.

Arguments and Analysis

'Dynamic Stalemate: Surveying Syria's Military Landscape' (Charles Lister, Brookings Doha Center)

"Two and a half years ago it might have been possible for Western governments to help bring about an accelerated and successful end to the revolution through the formation of a representative opposition structure that both incorporated and helped unify the armed opposition. Over time, the involvement of ever-more actors and interests has resulted in escalating brutality, spiraling casualty rates, immense population displacement, and the emergence of what may prove to be unparalleled opportunities for jihadi militancy. This initial failure to act, combined with Assad's proven adaptability and ruthless pursuit of power, now requires Western states to overcome previous miscalculations and current policy stagnation in order to help secure a resolution that best ensures regional stability and international security."

'The Transformation of Arab Activism: New Contexts, Domestic Institutions, and Regional Rivalries' (Lina Khatib and Ellen Lust, POMED)

"The three years since 2011 have witnessed enormous changes in activism across the Arab world. Heady days of demonstrations have given way to frustration, as activists from Morocco to Yemen struggle to define a way forward in complex, difficult, and often violent contexts. Our new book, Taking to the Streets: The Transformation of Arab Activism, explores many of the challenges that activists face today. Our analysis aims not only to provide a better understanding of past events, but also to help establish expectations that better prepare activists, policymakers, and observers to anticipate and engage in the future.

The Arab world continues to reflect the varied, constantly changing nature of activism we explore in Taking to the Streets. Consider countries that saw the fall of long-standingregimes. In Tunisia, emerging political parties and civil society groups are shaping the country's political future. In Egypt, political parties have multiplied as well, but political contestation remains more firmly situated in movements-Tamarrod and its allies on the one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood's supporters on the other. Finally, in Libya, nascent civil society organizations and political parties are emerging, but they are dwarfed by militias and locally oriented political contenders."

-- Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Defense Lawyers Quit Egypt’s Trial of Al Jazeera Journalists

The lawyers for two of three Al Jazeera journalists being tried in Egypt on charges of fomenting violence have quit accusing the Qatar-based news agency of a "vendetta." The lead defense lawyer, Farag Fathy said "Al Jazeera is using my clients" and that the network was "fabricating quotes" attributed to him. Additionally, the court has demanded defense lawyers pay $170,000 to view footage prosecutors say shows the journalists fabricated news reports to incite unrest. The trial has been adjourned until May 22, and the journalists have again been denied bail. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, who has been held without charges since August 2013, has been transferred to solitary confinement after smuggling a video out of Tora prison highlighting his deteriorating health. Elshamy has been on hunger strike for 107 days protesting his detention.

Syria

A car bombing killed at least 43 people in the Syrian province of Aleppo near the Bab al-Salam border crossing into Turkey. The area is the main route used by Syrians refugee fleeing into Turkey. The region has been controlled by the Islamic Front's Tawhid Brigade, which has been engaged in fierce fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since January. Iran has reportedly been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been offering $500 a month as well as Iranian residency and has been training Afghan fighters. Meanwhile, growing frustrated with the inability of the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is exploring other options for providing aid, including circumventing the Syrian government. Additionally, Kerry stated he has seen evidence suggesting that Assad's forces have used chlorine gas in attacks on rebel fighters and civilians in recent months, which would be against the weapons convention signed by the Syrian government.

Headlines

  • The operator of Turkey's Soma coal mine, Soma Holding, denied negligence saying it was still unclear what caused the accident in which authorities have said 18 people remain missing.
  • The United States has expressed concern over lack of progress in nuclear talks with Iran meanwhile a U.N. report on Iranian ballistic missile development poses another challenge to negotiations.
  • Israeli forces killed two Palestinians at clashes during Nakba Day demonstrations.

Arguments and Analysis

'Fathers of the Revolution' (Wendy Pearlman, Guernica)

"Statistics tell us that violence in Syria has left at least 150,000 dead, 9 million forced from their homes, and 9.3 million in need of humanitarian aid. But by the time numbers are published they are already out of date. In the West, the Syrian conflict connotes sectarian war, humanitarian crisis, Islamic extremism, and chemical weapons. It is easy to forget that, for many, this nightmare began with a dream.

I have interviewed more than 150 Syrian refugees, and they describe the start of protests in the spring of 2011 as their break through a barrier of fear. They raised their voices against a system that denied them voice. Though initial demands were only for reform, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad responded ferociously."

'The General's New Suit' (Mona Oraby, Jadaliyya)

"Among the many tragedies of Egyptian politics today, and especially over the last ten months, is that many have uncritically accepted Sisi's visual transformation forgetting that he has already shown us what he stands for. As the youngest member of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that has ruled Egypt on and off starting in February 2011, Sisi was among those who advocated for virginity tests to be performed on women protesting in Tahrir. He remains unapologetic for the October 2011 deaths of dozens of unarmed Coptic Christians during the Maspero massacre in what SCAF defended as the protection of state institutions. If Egyptians have forgotten the horrid images of military tanks crushing people to death, what else has escaped public memory? Plenty, it turns out. It is not uncommon for people to say that the deaths at Rab'a al-Adawiyya and Nahda Square never happened. And if they did, the Brothers were given fair warning of what was coming and, well, terrorists do not have rights anyway."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images