The Middle East Channel

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad Wins Re-Election

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected for a third term in office despite an over three-year civil war. Syria's parliamentary speaker announced on Wednesday that Assad received 88.7 percent of the votes, with a turnout reported at about 73 percent. Polling took place only in government-controlled areas of the country and not in large portions of northern and eastern Syria held by opposition forces. Assad's supporters celebrated in Syria and Lebanon, however, in a surprise visit to Beirut, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the election was "a great big zero." Kerry blamed Assad's international allies for prolonging the conflict, but called on Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah "to engage in the legitimate effort to bring this war to an end." Meanwhile, Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission tasked with eliminating Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, said it is critical to remove the remaining 7.2 percent of the regime's declared arsenal but noted that several countries have confirmed that Syria has "legitimate" security concerns about transporting the final shipment.

Headlines

  • Armed men attacked and killed a Swiss Red Cross official in the Libyan city of Sirte Wednesday.
  • The PLO said it will appeal to the U.N. Security Council after Israel announced it is forwarding plans for 1,500 settlement homes in response to the new Palestinian unity government.
  • An attack on a military checkpoint in Yemen's Shabwa province by suspected al Qaeda fighters killed an estimated 14 people meanwhile an army spokesman reported 500 militants and 40 soldiers have been killed in an offensive against al Qaeda.
  • Kuwait has banned several TV programs on an investigation into recordings allegedly of former officials discussing a coup plot.
  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows evidence that the MERS virus was transmitted from camels to people.

Arguments and Analysis 

'Securing the Syrian Regime' (Kheder Khaddour, Sada)

"Independent groups fighting on the side of the Syrian regime have emerged and grown in size and influence over the last three years. These groups could pose a genuine danger to the regime if they were to get out of its control. If they gained a significant following on the ground and links to society, they would be able to negotiate with the regime for control and power and to work with foreign actors for their own interests, potentially against those of the regime. The regime's priority over the past year has been to contain these groups by institutionalizing them to ensure their loyalty-a key component of a successful survival strategy."

'Is Ahmadinejad plotting a comeback?' (Al Monitor)

"It's hard to imagine that Ahmadinejad's supporters have only been arrested because they have criticized those who oppose the former president. It's likely that these arrests are warning signs coming from a group of political elites who are not going to accept the possibility of Ahmadinejad, or people close to him, returning to the political arena. The judiciary and police force are in control of right-wing forces in Iran, and if the arrests of Ahmadinejad associates are political, it is they who are making these decisions.

As Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor in Tehran University, said to website Fararu: 'Certain factions are conveying this message to Ahmadinejad that you should not think about the future presidential elections or the next year's parliamentary elections. Your future is in the University of Science and Technology.'"

-- Mary Casey

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Sisi Declared Winner of Egypt’s Presidential Election

Egypt's election commission has declared former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the country's new president. According to election officials, Sisi won the presidential election with 96.91 percent of votes. However, the official turnout was 47.45 percent, which was far less than the 74 percent Sisi was hoping to reach. In a televised address after the announcement, Sisi thanked his supporters and said it was now "time to work." Thousands of Sisi supporters gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the election calling it "the election of blood" and liberal and secular activists, including the April 6 movement, dismissed the polling. The United States and Britain said they look forward to working with Sisi, though the United States expressed concern over the "restrictive political environment" in which polling was held and urged the new president to carry out human rights reforms.  

Syria

Election officials began counting votes in Syria's presidential election after polls closed at midnight. President Bashar al-Assad faces two opponents but he is widely expected to win a third term. Iranian officials are celebrating his anticipated win calling it a defeat for the United States and praising Iran's role in keeping Assad in power. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour Tuesday, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said he could no longer "defend the American policy" on Syria.

Headlines

  • Three people were killed in a suicide car bombing targeting former Libyan General Khalifa Heftar in Benghazi, though Heftar survived the attack.
  • Saudi Arabia has raised the death toll from the Mers virus to 282 after a review showed nearly 100 cases needed to be added.
  • Turkey lifted a two-month ban on YouTube Tuesday though Prime Minister Erdogan continued to blast the international media calling a recently detained CNN correspondent a foreign agent.
  • The EU is pushing Iran to accelerate its cooperation with the IAEA as analysts and diplomats say it is unlikely that world powers and Iran will meet the July 20 deadline to negotiate a final nuclear deal.

Arguments and Analysis

'If Assad wins, what does that say about the opposition' (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"Politically speaking, holding the election is a chance for the regime to consolidate its gains, reaffirm that it has the upper hand in the conflict and to contrast reality under the regime with that under extremists in rebel-held areas. In that sense, the election will help the regime to solidify its position at least in areas under its control.

Regardless of the merits of the election, the episode has highlighted deep polarisation, with people from the same country looking like they live in parallel universes. The opposition has the right to lament how fellow Syrians forget all the atrocities committed by the president and cheerfully celebrate him.

But a significant part of these celebrations is essentially a defiant response to the opposition's failure to provide an alternative."

'Cleaning House in Tehran' (Reza H. Akbari, The Majalla)

"Rouhani has certainly attempted to stay true to his promises by taking some crucial steps towards lifting the international sanctions, implementing a more rational distribution of public subsidies, and increasing the purchasing power of Iranian households. However, major problems remain.

Rouhani demonstrated his willingness to address the country's weak economy during the first days of his presidency by announcing his decision to revive the Management and Planning Organization, a relatively independent institution responsible for preparing the country's budget, which was dissolved by Ahmadinejad in 2007. Iran's most qualified and brightest economists are back at work, but tackling deep-rooted and widespread financial corruption takes more than patience and audacity."

'An IMF Program for Egypt Finally?' (Mohsin Khan, Atlantic Council)

"It would be advisable in the very early days of the Sisi regime for Egypt to send a message to its population and the international capital markets that it is serious about putting its economic house in order. What better way to do this than to start negotiations with the IMF for a program? Aside from the signaling aspect, the program would bring in at least $5-6 billion in IMF financing on very favorable terms. Moreover, there would be additional financing from the European Union and other international institutions whose funding has been conditional on Egypt having an IMF program."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images