The Middle East Channel

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi Sworn In as Egypt’s New President

Former General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt's new president Sunday. In a speech at a Cairo presidential palace, Sisi vowed to fight "terrorism" and bring security to Egypt. He said, "It is time for our great people to reap the fruits of two revolutions." The former army chief, who led the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, did not mention the Muslim Brotherhood directly, but said there would be no reconciliation with those with "blood on their hands." Sisi has kept Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb in his post, requesting him to form a new government, which is expected to retain several key ministers.

Syria

Former U.N. and Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Syria is descending into a Somalia-style failed state. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Brahimi asserted, if there is no effort to achieve a political solution for Syria's civil war, "there is a serious risk that the entire region will blog up." Brahimi's comments came as a Norwegian vessel set sail from Syria with the first part of the country's chemical weapons arsenal. The ship will travel to Finland and the United States. Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported Monday that President Bashar al-Assad has granted amnesty to the country's prisoners. The report suggested that sentences would be reduced but prisoners would not be freed. It is unclear if the amnesty would include opposition supporters and their families, of which activists say tens of thousands have been detained.

Headlines

  • Pope Francis hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Vatican for a prayer ceremony and called for dialogue and an end to the conflict.
  • Libya's Supreme Court ruled the parliament's appointment of Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq unconstitutional.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is meeting with senior Turkish officials in the first visit to Turkey by an Iranian president since 1996 to discuss Syria and to boost ties.
  • Senior U.S. officials, who held back-channel talks with Iran in 2013, are meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva for bilateral talks to accelerate nuclear negotiations.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iran's plan for Syria aims to woo Saudi Arabia and the west' (Ibrahim Hamidi, Financial Times)

"Iran's diplomacy over Syria is reminiscent of the role that the Syrian regime played in Lebanon after the 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The Islamic republic wants to seduce Saudi Arabia and the west with a grand deal on Syria. This would entail a Saudi-Iranian understanding over Syria, similar to the one reached by late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and Saudi Arabia over Lebanon in the 1990s. Like Lebanon, this solution would be based on power sharing between the Alawite minority and Sunni majority. Mr Assad would remain as president but he would have to rule with a strong Sunni prime minister, presumably drawn from the domestic opposition, who would hold executive powers, held by the presidency itself since 1970. The speaker of the parliament would be a Kurd. Christians and Druze would also be represented.

The sticking point is that Saudi leaders, like many Syrians and opposition leaders, are loath to see Mr Assad keep a role in government after a conflict that has seen 162,000 Syrians killed and 9.3m displaced. Iran wants to translate a military balance that currently favours its ally in Damascus into a lasting structure for sharing power."

'Do Americans really love drone strikes' (Sarah Kreps, The Washington Post)

"Upon first glance, the high levels of support appear to fall in line with the arguments that have been in their favor. The Obama administration has asserted that drones 'relentlessly target al-Qaeda leadership' and are legally sanctioned both in terms of international humanitarian law - in particular, the principles of distinction and proportionality dealing with the protection of civilians in the context of conflict - and, the recourse to force. The administration has also claimed that the recourse to force is authorized under both domestic and international law.

But are these high levels of support an artifact of how the polls are structured? As political science professors Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders argue, 'policy descriptions actually used within the survey affect the expression of opinion.' The policy features they highlight or minimize can affect how individuals think about the policy. Polls about drone strikes tend to sideline two main sources of contention surrounding the policy."

'The Banality of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi' (Steven A. Cook, Foreign Affairs)

"For one, he can recognize that the world has changed, that Sisi-mania was a chimera, that the establishment of a new version of the old political order will be more difficult as a result of the elections, and that he needs to promote inclusion to improve his chances of putting Egypt back together. Without the overwhelming popular support that Sisi was expecting, it will be harder to rule without regard for those who disagree with him. President Mohamed Morsi tried to do this, which began the end of his short tenure at the Ittihadiya Palace.

Or, Sisi can avoid the truth and try to rule as a strongman, relying on coercion and force to maintain order. This is what Sidqi did in the 1930s. And it is, in part, what prompted the Free Officers coup in 1952, when Nasser and his collaborators sought to bring an end to political instability and, in the process, built the archetypal Middle Eastern security state. It is also what Sadat attempted in the year before his assassination, and what Mubarak both accomplished and failed to do; he shrewdly employed the authoritarian tools that Nasser and Sadat bequeathed to him, ruling virtually unchallenged for almost 30 years until it became expedient for the military to remove him as millions poured into the streets in early 2011."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images

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