MENA Week in Review

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the MENA region over the last week:

Egypt:

Turmoil following the ouster of elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi dominated the news in the past two weeks. Here is a rundown of the key events:

  • Four days after the start of massive street protests June 30th in which millions took to the streets to both denounce and defend President Morsi, Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that the military had informed Morsi he was no longer president, suspended the constitution, and named the newly-appointed head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, as Egypt’s new interim president.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters have vowed to continue their efforts to get Morsi reinstated as president.  On Monday, July 8, fifty one Morsi supporters protesting in front of the Republican Guard headquarters and three security officers were killed. The Muslim Brotherhood claims the protesters were shot while praying, while the army maintains that the protesters attacked them with live ammunition. Some fear that the shutdown of Islamic satellite channels and arrests of top Brotherhood leaders may usher in a renewed era of retribution against the Brotherhood.
  • Interim President Mansour appointed economist Hazem el-Beblawi as Egypt’s new Prime Minister and liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei as Vice President. ElBaradei was reported to have been selected as Prime Minister, but the Salafi Nour Party opposed the appointment. The Party has since withdrawn from political talks in protest of the Republican Guard killings, and the Muslim Brotherhood has rejected offers to join the new cabinet.
  • Interim President Mansour also announced a timeline on Wednesday, July 10 for Egypt’s political transition. It calls for an amended constitution to be put to a referendum by the end of November. Parliamentary elections will happen about three months from the constitution’s approval, around early February. The United States expressed cautious optimism about the timeline. Some Egyptian observers believe the roadmap for the transitional period could be accelerated, but others worry moving too fast will not allow sufficient time for negotiation and consensus.

In addition, here are some key storylines we have followed since Morsi’s removal:

The U.S. administration has yet to categorize the Morsi’s removal from power as a coup d’état, since the U.S. prohibits foreign assistance to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree.” For a good summary of these developments, please consult a previous Security Assistance Monitor post.

Analysts are speculating that Morsi’s overthrow may have drastic effects on Middle East regional foreign and domestic policy. Here are some key articles:

U.S. Policy:

  • A Reuters article on Monday reported that the Congressional intelligence committees are delaying the Obama Administration’s plan to ship arms to the Syrian rebels over concerns that these weapons would reach extremist groups like the al-Nusra front and over uncertainty about the weapons’ impact on the ground. “Technically, the administration does not need specific congressional approval … to move ahead with the weapons plan,” Reuters noted, but “under tacit rules observed by the executive branch and Congress on intelligence matters, administrations will not move ahead with programs like [this weapons plan] if one or both of the congressional intelligence committees express serious objections.” On Wednesday Reuters reported that Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry are both lobbying Congress to alleviate fears and gain approval for the shipments.
  • The Jerusalem Post reported that officials within the State Department are urging Secretary Kerry to change his approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by laying down a set of principles that both sides would have to accept to restart peace negotiations. This way, according to the article, “whatever side was not willing to [accept the principles] would be pinned with the blame for the talks’ failure.”
  • In an interview with the American Forces Press Service a senior U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) official indicated that military exercises, trainings, and other military-to-military engagements will likely increase in the region after troops withdraw from Afghanistan. “As active combat forces leave the CENTCOM area, the United States will increasingly depend upon strategic engagement through training and exercises to maintain our strategic partnerships,” deputy director for training and exercise Guy Zero said. Zero also noted that the U.S. currently engages with 18 out of the 20 militaries in the CENTCOM region – every country other than Iran and Syria.
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the underlying causes of the civil war in Syria would likely persist for at least 10 more years, and that the U.S. must weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing intervention in such a drawn-out crisis. He also said that the Syrian conflict is an issue that “extends from Beirut to Baghdad” and is being hijacked by extremist groups on both sides, specifically pointing to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Israel:

  • The Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) Chief of Staff announced on Tuesday that several air squadrons will be retired as part of large defense budget cuts revealed back in May. On Thursday, the Israeli defense minister addressed the cuts, which still need cabinet approval, stating, “We have concluded that we must lead a meaningful reform and not one that shall enslave the future for the sake of the present.”
  • As the talks of cuts continued, Haaretz reported that the IDF will establish a new division along its border with Syria, fearing that fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah group have moved to Syria and may attack on Israel from that location.
  • Following President Morsi’s removal from power, Israeli officials reportedly asked the U.S. not to freeze aid to Egypt’s military because of fears that a suspension of aid might aggravate instability in Egypt’s Sinai region, which borders Israel, and might adversely affect the peace treaty between the countries.

Lebanon:

  • On Tuesday a car bomb injured 53 people in a prominent Shiite suburb of Beirut, an area that is also a stronghold for Hezbollah.
  • All political factions in Lebanon denounced the bombing, but finger pointing for the underlying causes of the attack followed. The anti-Assad regime March 14 Coalition argued that the attack was a natural consequence of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, and called on the group to withdraw from Syria. Conversely, Hezbollah MP Hussein Musawi blamed the bombing on the divisive rhetoric plaguing Lebanon and specifically pointed to March 14’s refusal to join a government with Hezbollah. Both the U.S. and the UN envoys in Lebanon condemned the bombing.

Turkey:

  • A number of events this week seemed to have set back the peace process between Turkey and the main Kurdish rebel group in the country, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which had been proceeding over the past few months. Earlier in the week Turkey’s Interior Minister said that not all members of the Kurdish rebel group had left Turkey, despite assurances that they would do so. Meanwhile the new leader of the PKK’s armed wing accused the Turkish government of impeding the peace process by not releasing Kurdish political prisoners quickly enough. A Reuters article similarly profiles the peace process as one that “has lost momentum.”

Syria:

  • Reports this week point to growing tensions between the more Western-leaning elements and the hardline Islamic elements of the Syrian political and military opposition. AFP writes, “…civilians and mainstream rebel fighters alike are turning against the more hardline Islamist factions,” as hardline rebel groups are arresting civilians and occasionally clashing with other rebel fighters. Today news emerged that rebels linked to Al Qaeda killed a leading commander of the western-supported Free Syrian Army. Al Jazeera also produced a video report on these rising tensions.
  • Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa interviewed a former Libyan rebel who described how Libyans are shipping weapons to the rebels in Syria. The Foreign Policy piece notes that weapons from Libya have made their way into conflicts in other parts of the broad Middle East region, most notably to Al Qaeda’s hands in Mali.

 

This post was co-written by Leslie Adkins and Daniel Resnick

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