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The Weekly Wire
April 23, 2012
Top Stories This Week:
Legislation - Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a bill to cut off aid to Egypt
Committee Hearings - The House Armed Service Committee and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations discussed the situation in Syria
From Washington - The Obama Administration explored new options in Syria after the ceasefire failed
For more detailed coverage of the debates surrounding U.S. foreign policy and the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, be sure to check out our blog, the POMED Wire.
Also, The Weekly Wire is now available in Arabic - to register to receive the Arabic version by email, please click here.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced an amendment (S.AMDT.2023) to the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789) cutting off all U.S. aid to Egypt unless the prosecution of American civil society workers comes to an end. The amendment was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who called the action “unwise.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced S.2327 to prohibit direct foreign assistant to Egypt “until the President makes certain certifications related to treatment of nongovernmental organization workers, and for other purposes.” The resolution was introduced after Paul sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to “reverse his State Department's decision to release aid to Egypt, and to hold all aid until such a time as the politically motivated prosecution of U.S. citizens has ended.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-CA) introduced H.Res.629 condemning violence in Syria against journalists, and supporting freedom of the press in Syria.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced S.Res.428 condemning the Government of Syria for crimes against humanity.
OOn Thursday (4-19), the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the situation in Syria. The speakers were Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) chaired.
On Thursday (4/19), the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on U.S. policy options for Syria. The speakers were Murhaf Jouejati, Jon B. Alterman and Tamara Wittes. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) chaired.
Policy Options Debated as Cease-Fire barely effective Syria: The Obama Administration voiced its discontent with the Assad regime’s inadequate compliance with the cease-fire and began searching for a “plan B.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) called for the arming of the opposition and said that the world was “failing” the Syrian people. The Annan-brokered truce was short-lived. The regime continued to shell areas of Homs before the U.N. team’s arrival. U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHC) investigators received reports of renewed shelling, arrests, as well as executions of Syrian soldiers by the opposition. Jennifer Rubin criticized the administration’s response to the crisis ‘belated’. Jackson Diehl wrote that Obama’s “delay defense” strategy may cost thousands of Syrians their lives and potentially affect U.S. strategic interests. Randa Slim wrote that Annan's peace plan is doomed to fail, and, “the crisis in Syria will become a full-blown regional sectarian war. Kurdish groups called for federalism. U.S. Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice warned that the situation was not improving.Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban Ki-Moon called for a larger U.N. observer mission, one supported by planes and helicopters from the E.U. Emile Hokayem believed the U.N. “will be a bit more professional,” but added that the team may not be equal to the task of quelling violence.Lynn Neary said the U.N. peace plan in Syria “is unraveling,” while Nicolas Nassif writes (Arabic) that the looming sectarian civil war, or ”Lebanonization” of Syria, has just begun.The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that authorizes an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that all should be prepared to increase pressure on Bashar al-Assad. The Washington Post Editorial Board argued that Assad would never respond to diplomatic solutions. Michael Rubin insisted the administration would lose credibility unless it fixated on a clear solution.
Formula One (F1) Racing Still Planned in Bahrain: Racer Mark Webber said, “all of [the drivers], in the backs of our minds, want it to go down smoothly and don’t want it to be involved in the unrest.” Ala’a Shehabi asked whether the government would allow Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to die. British MP Jeremy Corbyn won support for a motion that the Bahraini government would use the race to cloud domestic issues. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) called for support for the government of Bahrain and condemned the opposition for refusing to come to the table with the Government. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain wrote to F1 sponsors and urged them to boycott the race. Human Rights Watch released a podcast drawing attention to the case of Dr. Nada Dhaif, who was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called for suspension of tear gas. Max Mosley, former Formula One (F1) boss, firmly stated that if F1 did not reverse its decision to hold the Grand Prix race in Bahrain this year, it would “live to regret it.” Justin Bergman also questioned the decision to move forward with the race. E.U. Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton came forward with a public call for al-Khawaja’s release. Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said holding the Grand Prix race in Bahrain is not so much a question of safety, but rather of morality. David Mepham agreed, and added criticism of the U.K. government. Archie Bland said doing nothing is a form of complicity. Sarah Leah Whitson said the government’s plan of portraying normalcy backfired. Robert Fisk said it was impossible for sports to be disentangled from politics. Maran Turner argued that the Bahraini government’s slogan: ”Unified: One nation in celebration,” was ironic. Preethi Nallu called on the media to carry on al-Khawaja’s cause.
Amnesty International reported Saudi Activist Jailed: In a secret hearing, a Saudi Arabian court gave a four-year sentence to activist Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, who is in the sixth week of a hunger strike. Amnesty also criticized Saudi Arabia’s recent statement ordering educational institutions to crackdown on “emo” and “tomboy” styles. Waleed Abu Alkhair wrote about his longing for a freer Saudi Arabia.
Iran Agrees to Second Round of Talks: Western powers and Iran have agreed to hold a round of peace talks on May 23. E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton stressed the importance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iranian news reported Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast reiterated Iran's right for nuclear energy. Ali Reza Nader reported in the latest round of talks Western negotiators felt Iranian officials took a "constructive approach." David Ignatius says “Tehran is betting on a deal.”
Concerns Voiced Over Tunisia and Yemen Transition: In Tunisia, Amnesty International called for the charges to be dropped against Nabil Karoui, as Magda Abu-Fadil voiced concern over media freedom being further restricted post-revolution. The U.S. Treasury Department announced up to several hundred million dollars in aid would be given to aid Tunisia’s transition. In Yemen, the CIA sought authority to expand its covert drone campaign as Gregory Johnsen questioned the effectiveness of the U.S. air strikes. Sarah Leah Whitson argued that the U.S., E.U., and GCC must actively aid Yemen in its transition. The Yemen Peace Project urged that patience is needed in a “balancing act” of restructuring the military if civil war is to be avoided.
Turkey’s Campaign Against Kurds: Nicole Pope called Turkey’s campaign against its Kurdish minority its “weakest link” of democratization and said it only feeds the dispute among the conservative camps.
Also Worth Reading
The Brookings Doha Center published the paper by Shadi Hamid examining the U.S.-Egyptian relationship one year after the fall of Mubarak.
National Defense University published a paper by Naef Bin Ahmed Al-Saud which reviewed the approach that the Saudi government has taken toward social media.
Bahrain Moves Forward with Hosting the Formula One (F1) Race: Zayed R Alzayani called the decision “calculated,” comparing it to the Thames Boat Race protest in London. John Yates said he felt safe in Bahrain, but couldn’t “guarantee security”. Force India team members fled as petrol bombs were hurled at their vehicle, as some members wish to leave; Porsche Supercup team MRS did not attend due to security concerns. TV broadcasters have declined to cover the race, and visas to the media have been denied or delayed. Bernie Ecclestone denied all knowledge of protests and violence in Bahrain while activists, Tom Malinowski and Nadim Houry, were arrested during a demonstration. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry urged the U.K. to protect its embassy from a rooftop protest. The February 14th Youth Coalition called for “three days of rage.” Mohammed Maskati, reported about 80 activists have been arrested since April 14th. Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was confronted by protesters. Reportedly, the royal family is split over releasing Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The opposition claimed that protester Salah Abbas Habib was killed during a class with policemen. The Ministry of Interior said it launched an investigation into the death. Al-Wefaq released a statement urging peaceful protest and condemning any form of violence.
Egypt Upholds Ban on Presidential Candidates: The Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) announced the previous ban on the Presidential candidates, which some appealed, would stand - Abu Ismail warned of an Islamic revolution if he was disqualified. Yussef Auf said in the Atlantic Council that “it is practically impossible to complete the constitutional process in time,” suggesting the committee should be assigned, not elected.
Cease-fire in Syria Waffles: U.N. observers arrived in Damascus. Syrian forces shelled Homs. SANAreported two separate roadside bombs killing ten members of the security forces and a civilian.A German-owned ship, suspected of carrying weapons and ammunition heading to Syria, was towed for inspection to Turkey. Der Spiegel reported that the Atlantic Cruiser had been stopped with Iranian weapons on board. Violence ensued in a town outside of Damascus where opposition members reported two activists dead due to indiscriminate shelling. Syrian state-run media reported that the government was fully cooperating with Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
Algeria Prepares For May Elections: The May 10 parliamentary elections campaign was officially launched and will run till May 6. These elections are considered as a way forward after last year’s turmoil in the region. The opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy decided to boycott (French) the elections citing artificial electoral reform. President of the Justice and Freedom Party Mohand Said, complained (French) about the unequal means among the different parties for campaigning. Head of the E.U. observation delegation José Ignacio Salafranca Sanchez-Neyrahas announced (French) the beginning of its mission.
Electoral Draft Law Debated in Jordan: The Jordanian government presented a proposal to parliament in order to amend current electoral laws in an attempt to persuade the Jordanian people that upcoming elections will be transparent, fair, and free. Daoud Kuttab wrote that the law failed to meet the demands of the people or Royal Commission. Curtis Ryan wrote that the outcome of the draft law will depend on the government’s commitment to reform.
Tunisia Implements Transitional Justice: A National Dialogue on Transitional Justice was launched (French) by the three leaders of the Government Troika: President Moncef Marzouk, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali of Ennahda, and Speaker of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaâfar of Ettakatol. Dialogue focused on victims of the former regime and attempts to make the former Tunisian regime accountable for its abuses. Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother-in-law to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, declared that he wished to return to Tunisia, “voluntarily…at whatever price,” and would stand trial for his crimes. Minister of Transitional Justice Samir Dilou stated (French) that Trabelsi’s would be fair, and that all guilty would be brought to justice. Educational system reforms are beginning to take shape, and The Ministry of Transitional Justice and Human Rights invited the wounded and families of the martyrs of the revolution to receive free healthcare and public transportation cards. Meanwhile, Jebali called for tourists to visit Tunisia.
Saif Al-Islam May Be Tried in Libya: The International Criminal Court (ICC) may drop its demand that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi be transferred to The Hague for trial; Saif al-Islam is accused by the ICC of crimes against humanity. The ICC would provide security and the legal supervision as Saif al-Islam faces the death penalty. National Transitional Council (NTC) spokesperson Mohammed al-Hareizi said al-Islam”s trial will conclude before parliamentary elections scheduled for June. Marek Marczynski, an Amnesty International researcher, believes Libya should comply with the ICC ruling, to ensure Libya complies with highest standard of the law. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, visited Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to discuss the proliferation of weapons in the region and Gaddafi’s family members inside Algeria. Federalism backers demonstrated in the eastern region of Cyrenaica challenging framework for electing a constituent assembly.
Hadi Attempts Military Reform: President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi ordered a military trial for former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s half-brother Brigadier General Mohammed Saleh Al Ahmer, for refusing an order to step down from his position as air force commander. In response, loyalists occupied the Airport of Sana’a for two days. Hadi tried to change high-ranking military officers amid concerns that loyalists holding those positions could destabilize the country. The Military Committee stated that it was “considering all options to make army chiefs respect the decrees issued by Hadi,” including UNSC involvement. Yemen’s parliament approved budget increase to respond to social economic grievances. An airstrike killed six militants linked to al Qaeda near the southern city of Lawdar. The International Committee of Red Cross reported that one of its French officials was abducted by armed men. Human rights defender Ali Al-Dailami was detained and interrogated at Sana’a Airport upon returning from a human rights meeting. Saleh criticized the Gulf Cooperation Council’s peace plan that ousted him from power, and predicted renewed unrest as a result.
Tribalism Could Influence Elections: Sarkis Abu-Zayd wrote (Arabic) that what has become apparent are the structural changes that have caused the resurgence of Arab tribalism. Hussein Ibish wrote about the over-exaggeration of Arab sectarianism.
In Case You Missed It
On Friday (4/13)
On Tuesday (4/17)
On Wednesday (4/18)
The American University hosted a conference titled “The Evolving Role of Women in Iran and the Middle East,” with the first panel featuring Shada Nasser, Samar El Shayeb, Daphne McCurdy, Sarah Iqbal and moderator Diane Singerman; the second panel featuring Kaydee Dahlin, Leila Milani, Gissou Nia, and moderator Loubna Skalli-Hanna. Sarah Iqbal offered remarks.
On Thursday (4/19)
Johns Hopkins University, with the French Embassy and the AllianceFrançaise hosted an event titled “The Arab Spring: One Year Later,” featuring François Delattre, Mohamed Salah Tekaya, Hassine Dimassi, and moderator Kurt Volker.
On Friday (4/20)
The Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a discussion entitled “Egypt After the Revolution: What’s next?” The discussion featured Sameh Shoukry, James L. Jones, Robert Satloff, Zainab Al-Suwaij. Mary Beth Sheridan moderated the discussion.
Freedom House hosted an event on Egypt and Tunisia. The speakers were Nancy Okail, and Fathi Zabaar. Charles Dunne moderated the discussion.
The Johns Hopkins SAIS hosted a discussion titled “Tunisia: Understanding Conflict.” The discussion featured Jennifer Fishkin, Amy Hamblin, Rebekah Chang, Anna Wilson and Karim Mezran. Terrence Hopmann moderated.
The Weekly Wire is compiled by POMED Policy team members Mathieu O’Keefe, Jonathan Bertman, Conner Maher, John Simon, and Su Kim.