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.
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.
- 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
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