The Middle East Channel

Palestinian President Abbas Appoints Head of Unity Government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has asked his current prime minister, politically independent academic Rami Hamdallah, to form a "government of national consensus" aimed at uniting rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The transitional government would ally Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), dominated by Fatah, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, in accordance with a unity pact reached in April, which spurred Israel to break off peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The announcement of the full government of independent technocrat ministers was expected Thursday however the parties have failed to agree on Abbas's selection of foreign minister

Syria

The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution that would authorize humanitarian aid deliveries into Syria from Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan without the consent of the Syrian government. The Security Council passed a resolution in February that demanded unhindered humanitarian access, however it has been ignored by the warring parties, according to the United Nations and several NGOs. The new draft text would be under a Chapter 7 mandate, which would be enforceable with military action or sanctions. Syrian regime forces struck several rebel-held districts of the northern city of Aleppo with barrel bombs Thursday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported 1,963 civilians have been killed by government barrel bombings and other air raids since the beginning of 2014. Meanwhile, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed 15 Kurdish people, including seven children, in an attack on the northern village of Ras al-Ain, according to the Observatory.

Headlines  

  • After months of deadlock, the Chilcot inquiry and the British government have agreed on the "gist" of what would be released of conversations between Blair and Bush over the Iraq war.
  • International observers reported Egypt's presidential election fell short of democratic standards after former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won an overwhelming victory.
  • Turkey's Constitutional Court declared a government ban on YouTube unconstitutional, paving the way for the lifting of a blockade imposed after the leaking of audio recordings in March.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Crumbling Deal on Syria's Chemical Weapons' (Paul Wolfowitz, The Wall Street Journal)

"Earlier this month on C-Span, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that, 'with 92.5% of the declared chemical weapons out of the country' we have accomplished more than any 'number of airstrikes that might have been contemplated would have done.' Yet much more important than what's been removed is what's still left, and it seems likely that more remains than just what was declared by Syria last year. For one thing, it appears that the regime is now using chlorine gas as a kind of poor man's chemical weapon even though, as Time reported on May 23, it has made no declaration about its chlorine stocks. Chlorine as such is not a prohibited substance, since it has many civilian uses. But its use as a weapon is prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria joined in 2013.

The possibility that Syria is using chlorine gas is not the most disturbing factor. The experience with Libya demonstrates that there is no reason to be confident that Syria has even declared its entire stockpile of its more lethal weapons, such as sarin."

'The Struggle for Information: Revelations on Mercenaries, Sectarian Agitation, and Demographic Engineering in Bahrain' (Nazgol Kafai and Ala'a Shehabi, Jadaliyaa)

"The need to balance between national security needs and the public's right to information and accountability has been a topic of great discussion since Chelsea Manning leaked U.S. military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. The latter incident even culminated in a set of legal principles known as the 'Tshwane Principles' that have been used to defend Snowden's right to asylum and protection. Despite the lack of such legal protections in places like Bahrain, the practice of unauthorized disclosure continues. In Bahrain, disclosures have provided insight into the logistics of the state's divide-and-rule strategy and its instruments of sectarian engineering. It is certain that even greater resources have been devoted to the political economy of cooption over the past few years as the regime attempts to end the revolutionary upheaval. Globally, the logics of the 'national security state' continue to expand, making unlawful disclosures of information increasingly important acts of dissent. They are an important form of resistance that seeks to undermine state control and, as we have seen, can help to change the course of history by challenging and disrupting state legitimacy, an issue at the core of the Arab uprisings. The need for such disclosures of state secrets amplifies the divergence between the interests of a government and its citizen and highlights the breakdown in the social contract between the state and its people. Such knowledge serves to confirm governments' overreach that most people already suspect and inspire campaigns that may stop such acts from happening again. It may also be amplified to help articulate broader narratives of grievance that serve as the basis for progressive social mobilization."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Early Results Show Landslide Sisi Victory in Egypt’s Presidential Election

Provisional results in Egypt's presidential election show former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi winning a landslide victory. According to state media, Sisi has won 93.3 percent of the votes while his rival, left wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, has obtained 3 percent. However, the election has been overshadowed by lower than expected voter turnout, with between 44 and 46 percent of voters estimated to have participated. As results began to emerge early Thursday morning, Sisi supporters started celebrating in the streets. Sabahi questioned the vote's legitimacy and accused soldiers and policemen of harassing his supporters at polling stations, but he appeared to concede defeat. Muslim Brotherhood members largely boycotted the election and senior MB member Tariq al-Zumar called the election process a "theatrical play which did not convince anybody."

Syria

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that Syria will miss the June 30 deadline for the complete elimination of its chemical weapons stockpile. In a May 23 letter to the U.N. Security Council, Ban noted that 7.2 percent of the regime's declared chemical arsenal remains in Syria and the government insists it doesn't have control of security in the areas where the materials are stored. He urged Syria to conclude "the remaining removal operations as quickly as possible, as the authorities have pledged to do." In a speech at West Point, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to increase support for the moderate opposition in Syria's war though U.S. officials said measures are in the early stages. Meanwhile, a U.S. citizen suspected of involvement with al-Nursa Front has conducted a suicide truck bombing in the northern Idlib province, in what is believed to be the first time an American has participated in such an attack in Syria.

Headlines  

  • Forces loyal to former Libyan General Khalifa Heftar have bombed a base in Benghazi belonging to the February 17 Brigade, a government-funded Islamist-leaning militia.
  • Cyber intelligence firm ISight Partners has reported that Iranian hackers have been using social networking sites and fake news websites to spy on U.S. and Israeli military and political leaders.
  • The Israeli military suspended a soldier for involvement in the fatal shootings of two Palestinian protesters after a video showed him opening fire.
  • Two Shiite activists have been convicted of attacking security forces in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province during the 2011 anti-government protests and have been sentenced to death.

Arguments and Analysis

'Egyptian Elections: First Conclusions' (Mohamed El Dahshan, Atlantic Council)

"Elections are not only judged by what occurs on D-day. In the run-up to voting, electoral silence was violated countless times. While ultimately they were not penalized for it, Sisi's campaign handed out tens of thousands of energy-saving light bulbs. They relied on state resources for his campaign, including the use of planes to drop leaflets and the army's spokesperson office as his private secretariat and its lavish hotels as meeting rooms. Caps on campaign spending, which were already increased in March, were made redundant through a loophole that limited financial donations and spending but not in-kind gifts, leading to the explosion of Sisi posters and billboards on nearly every other lamppost and sign across Cairo, gifted by wealthy supporters. As voting took place, advertising material near and even in polling stations has been ubiquitous; voter intimidation, mostly verbal and threatening, was rife-but, quite like the experience of expatriate voters in Egyptian embassies last week, it was not conducted by government or security forces, but rather by majority voters. Some pockets of strong Muslim Brotherhood influence also witnessed instances of intimidation of voters, committed by sympathizers of former president Mohamed Morsi rejecting the electoral process. In at least one instance, Brotherhood sympathizers forced shut a polling station to prevent any voting, requiring government intervention to be reopened." 

'Foreign fighters don't always help' (Kristin M. Bakke, The Washington Post)

"Yet, as we have come to see in Syria, domestic rebels and the population may grow skeptical of their foreign helpers. Indeed, it is not a given that foreign fighters strengthen the domestic rebel movements they join. While foreign fighters may boost a domestic rebel movement's coercive force through added resources and expertise, they can also weaken the movement's organizational cohesion and ability to mobilize supporters by introducing new ideas about goals and tactics. 

As I show in an in-depth study of the influence of foreign fighters on the Chechen separatist movement, the entry of new goals and tactics can cause divisions within the movement - and even outright defection - if local resistance leaders are not on board. The introduction of new goals and tactics can also make it more difficult for the movement leaders to garner public support."

-- Mary Casey

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images