MENA Week in Review – SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

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

Syria:

  • President Barack Obama asked Congress to postpone a vote on military action in Syria during a speech to American public on Tuesday, as the United States and Russia work on a plan for the Syrian regime to peacefully give up its chemical weapons.
  • Meetings between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart on Thursday were “constructive,” though there still appears to be a wide gap between the two sides as to how the process would ensue. Russia and Syria have proposed Syria join the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention, which would give it 30 days to hand over its chemical weapons – a plan the U.S. rejects. President Assad listed his own demands for forgoing the weapons, including that the U.S. stop arming the Syrian rebels. Arm shipments from the U.S. have only begun reaching the Syrian rebels over the past two weeks, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Egypt:

  • The Egyptian military began a major offensive last weekend against militants in Sinai and along the border with Gaza. The region has experienced a spike in violence since the ouster of President Mohammad Morsi on July 3, as military officials accuse the Morsi’s administration of excessive leniency towards Islamist groups.
  • Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a militant group from Northern Sinai, claimed responsibility on Sunday for the attempted assassination of Egypt’s interior minister last Thursday. The same group claimed responsibility for attacks on military targets in Sinai and the in border-town of Rafah that killed at least 16 Egyptian security forces.
  • Egypt announced on Thursday that it is extending a nationwide state of emergency by two months. The U.S. State Department condemned the move, with Spokeswoman Marie Harf saying, “[the U.S.] urge[s] the interim government to end it immediately, to create an atmosphere where Egyptians on all sides can peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression.”

Iran:

  • Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited neighboring Iraq in his first foreign trip on Sunday. During meetings with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, both ministers expressed opposition to a U.S. strike against Syria.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Tuesday that a win-win deal with the international community over Iran’s nuclear program is possible. Also on Tuesday, the U.S. announced that it would relax certain sanctions against Iran, notably on humanitarian and goodwill activities between the countries.
  • A Russian newspaper reported on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin will supply Iran with the S-300 air defense missile system that Russia had refused to deliver to Iran in 2010, according to Agence France Presse. The report further added that Russia might build Iran a second nuclear reactor at the Bushehr nuclear plant.

Libya:

  • On the one-year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, 28 experts wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging a more active policy that would expand beyond seeking justice for the Benghazi attack. They urged U.S. technical support for the drafting of a new constitution that safeguards human rights, help in developing a long-term strategy to create an independent judiciary and training programs for security forces.
  • On the anniversary of the attacks the foreign ministry building in Benghazi was targeted by a car bomb, which caused damage but no casualties.

Tunisia:

  • On Saturday, Tunisia experienced the largest opposition protest since the assassination of Chokri Belaid in July. Meanwhile, Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly, which has been suspended since early August, partially resumed work on Wednesday to decide whether to schedule a vote approving the draft constitution.

Yemen:

  • Separatists from Yemen’s Southern region returned to Yemen’s National Dialogue. The separatists left the dialogue last month, but agreed to return after the Yemeni government apologized for government actions during the 1994 civil war and promised to discuss the separatists’ demands during the national dialogue.
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