Calls for intervention in Syria grow; Egypt opens presidential registration; mass protest for democracy in Bahrain
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The Weekly Wire

March 12, 2012

Top Stories This Week:
  • Legislation - The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Syrian Freedom Support Act
  • Committee Hearings - The Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Defense officials on the Syrian crisis 
  • In Case You Missed It - The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IEFS) held a panel to discuss Yemen’s next steps post-elections
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.


The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee approved “The Syrian Freedom Support Act”, H.R. 2106, introduced by Committee Chairwoman lleana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The bill imposes new sanctions on Syrian energy and financial sectors.
The U.S. Senate adopted S.Res.386 by voice vote, which was introduced by John Hoeven (R-ND) calling for “free and fair elections in Iran,” and urging the U.S. to “broaden engagement with the people of Iran.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced “The Syria Democracy Transition Act of 2012”, S. 2152, to promote U.S. objectives in Syria and the departure of President Bashar Al Assad.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) introduced the “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Democracy Act”, H.R.4173.
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), introduced H.R.4179 to strengthen the multilateral sanctions regime on Iran.


Committee Hearings

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing titled International Development Priorities in the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget. The witness was the Honorable Rajiv Shah, administrator to USAID. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) presided over committee.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs heard testimony from Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Raj Shah, on the fiscal year 2013 budget request. Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) presided, co-chaired by Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY).
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey on the crisis in Syria. Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) gave opening statements.

From Washington

Congressmen Push for Action in Syria: U.S Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called for U.S. air strikes to halt the violence in Syria. White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor said President Barack Obama would focus on diplomacy. Hussein Ibish said the U.S. adopted a “neurotic” approach to the Syrian conflict. French Ambassador to Syria Eric Chevallier passed through Lebanon and Canada closed its embassy in Damascus. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an envoy would discuss changing the latest U.N. draft resolution which Russia deemed unacceptable. China issuedsix-point plan calling for a political solution. Human Rights Watch criticized the U.A.E.’s expulsion of Syrians who protested in Dubai. Kofi Annan plans to travel to Damascus and stressed the necessity of a unified position on the crisis. The Obama administration and its international partners began serious discussions about potential military involvement.
Global Powers to Negotiate with Iran: Six global powers agreed to negotiate with Iran to “restore international trust in Tehran’s stated intentions.” E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton sent a letter to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stating that talks should begin as soon as possible. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said diplomacy and sanctions “had failed,” and “[Israel cannot] afford to wait much longer” to act. Reporters Without Borders condemned Iran’s censorship and arrests of journalists. U.S Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Michael Feierstein said Iran was trying to increase its presence in Yemen.
McGovern Calls on Bahraini Government to Allow Peaceful Protest: Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) called on Bahrain to allow citizens to protest peacefully. Human Rights First urged the King of Bahrain to lift visa restrictions on human rights organizations. Some regional experts called Saudi Arabia “counter-revolutionary,” saying Saudi “crushed democratic protests” in Bahrain and executed 76 people within the last year. Maryam Al Khawaja gave testimony at the 19th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Experts Analyze Egypt’s Transition: Analyst Kristen Chick argued that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will have a large role in writing the constitution, which is expected to curb presidential powers and give parliament more authority. Leila Fadel and Ingy Hassieb claimed the joint session of parliament was overshadowed by outrage over the departure of indicted foreigners.U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in 2011 that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces perpetrated a “systematic degradation” of women. U.S.President Barack Obama met with Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib and reminded him of the necessity for “openness and engagement with Libya’s civil society.” The U.N. Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), called on Morocco to end torture of Sahrawies. Egypt’s Fayza Aboul Naga published a piece in the Washington Post explaining the Egyptian government’s justification for investigating and prosecuting foreign-funded NGOs.
Arab World Marks International Women’s Day: Widney Brown,from Amnesty International, said while women in Egypt “were equals at the point of protest… [they] remain firmly in the second class.” The Nobel Prize Committee honored Yemeni Activist Tawakkol Karman, who said women’s rights “can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama honored two Middle Eastern women at the International Women of Courage Awards.
Amnesty International Calls for Justice in Saudi Arabia: Amnesty International called for the release of at least six men who have been detained in jail for more than a year, some without any charges and at least one alleged case of torture and ill treatment. A Saudi man self-immolated in protest of the government after being arrested. Toby Matthiesen shed light on the ongoing protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

Also Worth Reading

Amnesty International has released a report titled “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Day of Rage’: One Year On,” which details the cases of six men who were arrested and detained last March, and calls for an immediate, impartial investigation into their arrests. 

From the Middle East

Egyptian Government Criticized for Lifting NGO Travel Ban: Sources within Egypt’s judiciary claimed Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the Cairo Court of Appeals, was behind the decision to lift the travel ban on employees of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations. Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid pledged to investigate the judiciary’s ruling. Judge Magdy Abdel Bary defended the decision, calling the travel ban “unconstitutional and baseless.” Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri called (Arabic) the decision a purely judicial matter. Protesters supporting the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the NGOs clashed with demonstrators rallying against the military leadership, injuring dozens. The Shoura Council called for dismissing International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abouel Naga. New judges were appointed to the NGO trial. Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-ShaterandFreedom and Justice Party (FJP) Chairman Mohammed Morsy met with political parties to discuss of a vote of no-confidence for Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri. Freedom and Justice MPAhmed Abdel Rahman and al-Nour Party President Imad al-Din Abdel Ghafoor said (Arabic) the parties agreed to form a unity government. Egypt’s parliament agreed to meet March 17 to set the criteria for the committee writing the new constitution. Presidential Candidate Mamdouh Qutb said 70 percent of the committee’s members should come from outside of parliament. Mostafa al-Gendy of the al-Wafd Party argued MPs should not be on the committee. Egyptians “worry” about Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) interfering, said Rana Farouk of the Revolutionary Youth Union and MP Mahmoud Khodairy. Hilaasyassi Mikhail, from the Free Egyptians party, said the minority will not “bow to the will of the majority.” The Brotherhood said a woman cannot become president. Women make up less than 1 percent of the parliament. Despite female activism in the Arab uprisings, many feared women’s rights were declining and questioned the agenda of Islamist parties. Egypt officially opened presidential candidate registration. Cousin of the former President Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, put forward his application, as well as Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, the former head of the Arab League Amr Moussa, and an ex-member of the Muslim Brotherhood Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh
Syrian Opposition Rejects Diplomatic Solution: Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council, rejected diplomatic efforts to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to begin peace talks. Arab League Chief Nabil Al Araby said that former U.N. Chief and current U.N.-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan went to Damascus for talks with the Syrian president along with Arab League Representative Nasser Al-Qudwa. Annanwarned against using force in Syria and handed over a set of “concrete proposals” aimed at defusing the Syria crisis. Assad said talks could only begin once there are no more armed terrorist groups spreading chaos in Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported 83 people dead during Annan’s visit, as Assad’s forces launched an attack on Idlib. Nick Meo reported from Antakya that the violence was escalating. Lieutenant Khaled al-Hamoud, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), claimed that four high-ranking officers defected, including Brigadier General Adnan Farzat. Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said forces bombed a bridge in Homs province used by refugees fleeing to Lebanon. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said humanitarian aid corridors must be opened immediately. U.N. relief official Valerie Amos visited the decimated city of Homs, andSyrian authorities allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver aid to the Baba Amr neighborhood after the FSA withdrew. Syrian officials vowed the rebel-held parts of Homs would be “cleansed.” Ten Syrian protesters in the U.A.E were forced to sign a pledge to refrain from future protest. Qatar sent a $100 million donation to anti-Assad officials through Libya.
Eastern Region of Libya Demands Independence: Leaders of Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, marginalized under Muammar Gadhaficalled for greater autonomy, appointed political prisoner Ahmed al-Zubair al-Senussi as their representative, and held a conference defining four key objectives.Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), announced that the NTC was “not prepared to divide Libya.” The move for greater autonomy could destabilize the central government. Several thousand eastern Libyans marched to Benghazi’s courthouse chanting, “Libya is united!” Eastern Libya also created its own army, the Barqa Supreme military Council. Mohammed al-Harizi, a spokesman for the NTC, said he believed the Libyan people do not support eastern autonomy. Weapons fell into the hands of insurgents in nearby countries after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
Iran Human Rights Violations Exposed; Citizens Vote for Parliament: Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special observer for human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, released a report to the International Campaign for Human Rights (ICHR). Iran increased its crackdown on journalists, with activist Narges Mohammadi, deputy head of Iran’s defenders of human rights centre (DHRC), and journalist Nazanin Khosravani each being sentenced to prison for six years. Abdolfattah Soltani was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The Iranian mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it would allow the agency access to a “sensitive military site” at Parchin. Iranian media reported 64 percent voter turnout in the parliamentary elections. Those loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won over 75 percent of seats, with widespread defeats for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supporters. Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini said the Ayatollah would eliminate the presidency. The death sentence for former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzai Hekmati was overturned. Hekmati was accused of being a CIA agent and convicted of “working for an enemy country.”
Bahrain Limits NGO Visas to Five Business Days: Amnesty International cancelled a trip to Bahrain after officials granted  the group visas but would not allow them to remain during weekends when clashes typically escalate. The visas only last five days, while visas for Formula 1 race ticket holders last two weeks. Juan Mendez, a human rights investigator for the U.N., said officials asked him to reschedule his trip until July. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported 45 rights groups in the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) asked King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to release rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khuwaja. Bahrain again delayed the trial of the medics arrested and jailed last year. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters flooded a major highway in Bahrain, aiming to counter claims that calls for reforms were voiced by only a small number of people. The Information Affairs Authority said the rally showed the government’s tolerance for freedom of speech, as Al Wefaq hailed “the peaceful and disciplined character” of the protest. Thousands of Iraqis also took to the streets in a show of support for Bahrainis.
Algeria Prepares for Elections, Moroccan King Sets Women’s Quota: The Algerian committee overseeing legislative elections in May announced (French) that local sub-commissions will be established to supervise the elections. Former Prime Minster of Algeria Sid Ahmed Ghozali called (French) for Algerians to boycott the elections. In Morocco, police officers were accused (French) of torturing Bazeid Abdallah Lehmad. In Casablanca, protesters demanded economic and political reforms. King Mohammed VI of Morocco imposed a 17 percent quota for women in parliament.
Violence Erupts in Tunisian Campus: In Manouba University, a Salafi Muslim replaced a Tunisian flag with a one bearing the Islamic declaration of faith (video). Mohammed Bakhti, a spokesman for the Salafi students, demanded that those wearing the niqab have access to classes and exams UniversityDean Habib Kazdaghli denied attacking students asking to wear the full veil. Ettakatol Party MP Sélim Be Abdessalem asked (Arabic) Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh to intervene against the insult to the Tunisian flag. The crisis began three month ago when students tried(French) to wear the niqab. President Moncef Marzouki confirmed Tunisia’s offer of asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Case You Missed It

On Tuesday (3/6) 
  • The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted a panel titled “Elections in Yemen: The Road to Democracy?” The speakers were Elobaid Ahmed Elobaid, Grant Kippen, and Ibrahim Sharqieh. Michael Svetlik moderated the panel.
On Thursday (3/8)
  • The Middle East Program at the Wilson Center held an event titled “Iran After the 2012 Majles Elections.” Bijan Khajehpour spoke about the results of parliamentary elections in Iran. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program, moderated.
On Friday (3/9)
  • The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted two panels titled “Who Owns the Syrian Revolution?” The speakers were Rajaa AltalliFarah Al AttasiRasha Alahdab, and Rafif Jouejati. Kathleen Kuehnast moderated the event. The second panel featured Dima Moussa, Abed AloOudei AbouassafOubab Khalil, and Najib GhadbianSteven Heydemann moderated the panel.

The Weekly Wire is compiled by POMED Policy team members Mathieu O’Keefe, David Wille, Conner Maher, John Simon, and Su Kim.

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Copyright © 2012 Project on Middle East Democracy, All rights reserved.