The Middle East Channel

Iraqi Forces Halt Militant Attack On Samarra

Iraqi forces halted a major offensive by militants to overtake the central city of Samarra. Militants attacked Samarra early Thursday morning raiding checkpoints and blowing up a police station, killing several policeman. The fighters took control of the city's two largest mosques as well as several government buildings, raising the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant according to police. The militants came within 1.2 miles of the Shiite Askari shrine, whose destruction by al Qaeda fighters in 2006 sparked sectarian violence that killed tens of thousands of people. According to Iraqi officials, the army and SWAT forces have gained control of the city, however residents reported militants retained control over at least two neighborhoods.

Syria

A day after being declared the winner of Syria's presidential election, President Bashar al-Assad ignored international criticism saying the 73 percent voter turnout showed that Syrians were "determined to manage their own affairs." According to officials, Assad garnered 89 percent of votes. However, Syrians who boycotted the polling are fearful they could be arrested for lacking ink on their finger, which was used to mark participation. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant killed 15 civilians, including seven children, in part of ongoing fighting with Kurds in Syria's northeastern Hassakeh province.

Headlines  

  • Just two days before leaving office, Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, passed seven laws including legislation for the first time criminalizing sexual harassment.
  • U.S. and EU officials condemned Israel's plans announced Thursday to build 3,200 new settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  • Clashes broke out between Palestinian Authority-paid and Hamas-paid civil servants Thursday in Gaza when workers hired by the Hamas government failed to receive wages under the new unity government.
  • Former Libyan General Heftar led airstrikes against Islamist militias Friday meanwhile Libyan intelligence chief Salem al-Hassi resigned amid a power struggle.
  • Saudi Arabia said it will start testing all camels and livestock for the MERS virus but scientists question the kingdom's openness.  

Arguments and Analysis

'A U.S. Strategy Toward Egypt Under Sisi' (Michele Dunne, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

"As Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi becomes Egypt's fourth president in as many years, the United States faces painful policy choices. Its longtime ally is sliding back into authoritarianism following a failed attempt at a democratic transition. Yet renewed military domination is unlikely to bring stability in view of the country's intense economic problems, human rights abuses, social polarization, and mobilized population. Indeed, security and economic conditions have deteriorated markedly since the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013, and an uptick in public discontent and political turmoil could very well be in store.

The United States should not give unqualified support to Sisi and his government, as working closely with repressive Egyptian governments in the past yielded poor results and engendered widespread anti-Americanism. Rather, Washington should refocus its diplomacy on supporting the Egyptian people, while limiting relations with Sisi and his government to essential security interests."

'The rise was stunning, but Qatar has plenty of other worries besides football' (Kristian Coates Ulrichesen, The Conversation)

"The highly visible role played by Qatar in spearheading the Arab Spring uprisings in north Africa and Syria in 2011 focused world attention on this tiny Gulf emirate. It capped a remarkable year that began with the stunning announcement in December 2010 that this country of two million - of whom only 200,000 are Qatari nationals - would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Behind these headlines lay a powerful country branding strategy. It took advantage of a benign set of political, economic and security factors in the early 2000s that shaped Qatar's integration into the international system and imprinted it into the public consciousness.

The dilemma for the young new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, as he approaches one year in power, is that the levels of global scrutiny that accompanied the country's emergence as a regional actor with international reach threaten now to do more harm than good to Qatar's international image."

'Eight points about Egypt's presidential election' (Laila El Baradei, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs)

"The excessive worrying by the government and Presidential Election Commission about the election turnout was not due to any doubts regarding the election outcome or El-Sisi's candidacy. Rather, it was related to the need to prove to the outside world that El-Sisi had overwhelming support by his people; that what abruptly happened on July 3, 2013, when the armed forces ousted President Morsi, was not a 'coup' but an expression of people's will.

The final reports by the international monitoring organizations were somewhat critical of the election context, more than the actual processes of voting. The U.S.-based Democracy International monitoring organization, for instance, was critical of the overall political context in which the election occurred. 'Egypt's repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,' said Eric Bjornlund, president of the organization. The European Union observers were less vocal in their criticism. Robert Goebbels of the European parliament described the election as, 'democratic, peaceful and free.... but not necessarily always fair.' Although the extension of the voting days was legal and within the Presidential Election Commission's mandates, it was perceived to shed some doubts on the credibility of the process as a whole."

-- Mary Casey

DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images

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