The Middle East Channel

Syria Holds Presidential Election Amid Civil War

Syrians are voting in government-controlled areas of the country Tuesday in a presidential election widely expected to be won by President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian opposition, rebel fighters, and Western states have dismissed the election as a farce. Assad, seeking a third seven-year term in office, and his wife Asma cast their votes in Damascus, while fighting continued outside the capital and across the country. Syrian officials predicted high turnout, and Information Minister Omran Zoabi said, "The size of the turnout is a political message." However, some Syrians reported being forced to go to the polls and feeling pressured to vote for Assad. Residents in rebel-held areas, where polling will not take place, said the election was meaningless calling Assad a "butcher."


  • Libya's new Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq has taken office though the outgoing premier, Abdullah al-Thinni, had refused to step down.
  • Government forces and Houthi fighters agreed on a cease-fire after clashes killed at least 120 people in northern Yemen Monday.
  • Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef has canceled his TV show "The Program" saying the climate in Egypt is not suitable and over security concerns.
  • Israel said it is "deeply disappointed" after the U.S. State Department announced it will work with and fund the new Palestinian unity government.
  • Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man who they said had shot at soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint, however the family of the man denies he opened fire.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syrian presidential vote: What changes will it bring?' (Nicholas Blanford, The Christian Science Monitor)

"It means that the conflict is likely to endure for many more years. Assad will feel vindicated by his reelection and will likely reject any proposed meaningful negotiations with the opposition. 

On the battlefield, Assad's forces will continue to systematically seize territory from the fragmented, poorly equipped armed opposition. The regime has regained control over the critical corridor linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast via Homs and has either pushed rebel forces away from the suburbs of Damascus or surrounded and bombed them in a brutal but effective strategy of 'surrender or starve.' The military is attempting to reverse recent rebel gains in the Golan Heights and Deraa province in the south and continues to chip away at rebel quarters of Aleppo."

'A new political dilemma for Egypt's ruling military' (Ellis Goldberg, The Washington Post)

"The 2013 coup may have exorcised the danger of a political party such as the Muslim Brotherhood subordinating the armed forces to its control, but it left other problems in its wake. Sisi himself, even if he came from the ranks of the military, was another kind of threat. Beside the Scylla of institutional independence (Mubarak and even the Muslim Brotherhood), Sisi threatened the Charybdis of charismatic independence. All that singing, dancing, chocolates and underwear: The Sisi mania.

That the turnout was low is another cause for relief. Sisi may worry and the broadcasters, flacks and intellectual hangers-on moan that Egyptians are now refusing to give Sisi their voices. But within much of the general staff, there may now be quiet jubilation. Sisi, whatever he had hoped six months ago, will not be able to free himself from SCAF or his fellow generals. They did not campaign for him, and unlike him, they can look forward to another election in four years in which, if necessary, a more plausible military candidate can challenge him."

-- Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

Palestinian President Abbas Swears In Unity Government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new unity government, agreed upon by rival factions Fatah and Hamas. The government will be headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and includes 17 politically independent ministers, five of them from Gaza. It will be tasked with holding elections within six months. Abbas praised the new government saying, "Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case." However, ahead of the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world leaders not to recognize the unity government saying it will strengthen terror not peace.


Syria will hold its first multicandidate presidential election Tuesday, in which President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win a third seven-year term. The opposition has dismissed the election as a sham, however Assad will likely see his victory as a popular mandate to continue his fight against rebel forces. Assad will face government-approved candidates Hassan al-Nuri and Maher al-Hajjar. Ahead of the election, opposition forces have increased attacks on government-held regions of the northern city of Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens of people over the past three days. Meanwhile, French authorities have arrested four people suspected of recruiting fighters to join the conflict in Syria.


Arguments and Analysis

'Sabbahi, Spoiled Ballots, and the Election' (Bel Trew, Middle East Institute)

"But the real story was in the spoiled ballots. Over a million, or around 4 percent, of the voting papers were invalid, the highest number recorded in all of Egypt's seven elections since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Some of these were, of course, accidental violations, though the Egyptian authorities had even relaxed electoral rules and allowed voters to draw hearts or write 'I love you' on their ballots, provided that they ticked a box. In past polls, any excess writing on a ballot would have made it invalid.

The numbers of spoiled ballots this year was high enough not only to beat Sabbahi, but to defeat an organized campaign calling for such ballots in the 2012 elections that voted in Mohamed Morsi."

'The Forgotten Children of Zataari' (Scott Weiner, Muftah)

"The Syrian refugees in Zaatari have fled violence and suffering few outsiders can comprehend. Most come to Zaatari legally, but others pay up to 500 dollars to be trafficked across the Syrian border, out of the crossfire which has turned their homeland into hell on earth. The Zaatari village, home to about 12,000 Jordanians, was underserved even before the influx of refugees began in 2011. Today, residents report a shortage of basic staples. Baby milk and diapers are the top priorities.

Yet, the children in the village are like any other group of kids - boisterous, energetic, and eager. While the international community experiences Syria 'donor fatigue,' the children of Zaatari show a resilience and determination of a far higher caliber."

'A Dangerous Method: Syria, Sy Hersh, and the Art of Mass-crime Revisionism' (Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Los Angeles Review of Books)

"Five days after Hersh's article went live, a military helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on Kafr Zita. This one carried toxic chlorine instead of the usual TNT. The regime, like Hersh, blamed the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra. But only the regime has an air force.

In a time of ongoing slaughter, to obfuscate the regime's well-documented responsibility for a war crime does not just aid the regime today, it aids it tomorrow. As long as doubts remain about previous atrocities, there will be hesitancy to assign new blame. Accountability will be deferred."

-- Mary Casey