The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has agreed on a draft resolution on Syria, which is expected to come to a vote on Wednesday. The resolution is scaled down from what was requested by President Barack Obama setting a 60-day limit on military action, with a possible 30-day extension, and preventing the use of U.S. ground troops. Obama has garnered increasing support for an attack on Syria, winning backing from key Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Additionally, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported "targeted, tailored" action "of short duration." While a bill on a military action is expected to pass in the Senate, it will meet challenges in the House. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the United States against a unilateral action on Syria. He said it would be "absolutely absurd" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to have used chemical weapons when it was making significant gains in the conflict. However, Putin said Russia had not ruled out supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force against Syria if it was proven "beyond doubt" that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons. Putin was speaking ahead of the G20 conference, which will begin Thursday in St. Petersburg, and will likely be dominated by the Syrian crisis. Putin said that Russia had suspended a partially delivered contract to send an air defense missile system to Syria. Meanwhile, according to Interfax, Russia is sending a missile cruiser, set to arrive in the east Mediterranean in 10 days, to take over naval operations.
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It is time to set Lakhdar Brahimi free. After a year's service as envoy for the United Nations and Arab League to Syria, the veteran Algerian mediator faces the final breakdown of his efforts to end the war. Disillusioned with both the Syrian government and its opponents, he came close to resigning in May. Since then he has hung on, mainly because his departure would look like an admission that a peace deal is impossible. His demeanor suggests that he is painfully conscious of the hopelessness of his situation.
A week ago, with Western military action against Damascus apparently looming after the regime's suspected use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, it looked like Brahimi finally had a way out. If the United States and its allies launched missile or air strikes without a U.N. mandate, he could resign with a clear conscience. Yet since Britain balked and U.S. President Barack Obama declared that he would put the issue to Congress, there have been calls for Brahimi to make a last-ditch attempt to show there is still some diplomatic way out of the crisis.
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As the United States moves closer to taking military action against the Syrian government, the leadership of the mainstream armed opposition force has chosen a curious time to appear to be on the verge of unraveling. Known generically as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), this assortment of mostly secular defecting Sunni Arab officers and mostly Islamist volunteers has attempted several reorganizations. The most recent of these is now seriously threatened by a resignation threat from senior commanders.
The most durable and potentially promising was the formation of the province-by-province military council (MC) system, formed in late 2011 and early 2012, and then the Supreme Military Council (SMC), established in December 2012. The SMC, whose joint staff is headed by General Salim Idriss, included commanders inside the country as well as exiles and was intended to overcome the gap between commanders on the ground who hold real power and the exiled opposition.
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The White House is pushing for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria. The efforts have come after an abrupt reversal over the weekend by President Barack Obama postponing military action in order to first seek authorization from Congress. Obama seems to have won support of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, however many lawmakers completely oppose a military strike, and the debate has come at a time of extreme bipartisanship. The Obama administration sent a draft resolution to Congress, which is expected to come to a vote next week. It seeks the use of force in Syria which the president "determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction." France is also pushing for military action on Syria, and released an intelligence report claiming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's connection to a "massive and coordinated chemical attack." On Monday, Assad warned the United States and its allies against a military strike on Syria saying the region is a "powder keg" and that "chaos and extremism will be widespread." Russia has raised concerns Tuesday reporting two ballistic "objects" were launched in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel said it had conducted a joint missile test with the United States. Syria did not detect any foreign missile strikes on its territory. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the number of Syrians registered as refugees has exceeded two million, increasing by a million in the past six months. Additionally, approximately 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria by the nearly two-year conflict.
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The British Parliament has voted against military action on Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron brought up the motion to the parliament to authorize, in principle, a military response to the alleged chemical weapons attacks. The move was, however, struck down 285 to 272. Cameron said he strongly believes "in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons" but that he will not override parliament's decision. France said it still backs action on Syria despite the British no vote with President Francois Holland maintaining, "All options are on the table." According to U.S. officials, President Barack Obama is prepared to conduct a limited military strike without British involvement, but is continuing to seek a coalition for possible military action. Pentagon officials reported that the navy has moved a fifth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Russia is reportedly also sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, but has said it will not be pulled into a military conflict. After a briefing with senior U.S. lawmakers on Thursday, administration officials said they had "no doubt" of the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. U.S. officials including U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry said evidence includes "intercepted communications from high-level Syrian officials." U.N. inspectors are continuing their investigation on Friday into the suspected chemical weapons attacks, visiting with Syrian soldiers at a military hospital in a government-held area of Damascus. The team of experts is set to leave Syria on Saturday and will report its findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are debating a draft resolution that would authorize "all necessary force" to respond to the alleged chemical attacks, however will likely not come to a decision until hearing the results of the investigation.
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Syria is Iran's only real state ally in the Middle East. Without Syria the Islamic Republic would be more isolated and weakened in an increasingly unstable and dangerous region. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's behavior also puts Iranian leaders, especially the newly elected President Hassan Rowhani, in a quandary. Gassing innocent civilians in violation of international norms clearly runs against Rowhani's foreign policy of "reason and moderation." And Rowhani, keen to reduce sanctions against Iran, must demonstrate a softer side to his interlocutors, particularly the United States.
But hardline Iranians, particularly within the Revolutionary Guards, view the world differently. For them Syria is a "frontline" in the war against Israel and the United States. Could Rowhani win them over, or even manage to outmaneuver the most recalcitrant Guards officers? This is a possibility considering Rowhani's sharp political skills and the economic pressures faced by Tehran. But we shouldn't underestimate the capability of U.S. military strikes against Syria to undermine nuclear negotiations, especially if they inflict significant damage on Assad.
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Amid the considerable media frenzy regarding apparently imminent U.S.-led punitive strikes on Syrian military forces and facilities, one interesting party to this country's conflict has been largely ignored: the jihadists. In recent days, a notable number of members of the online jihadist community -- some involved directly and others indirectly in the conflict in Syria -- have been somewhat fixated on a widespread fear that their leaders, personnel, and bases will also be the target of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
While no Western officials have suggested any such eventuality is being considered, the extent of the discussion is telling. In the last one-and-a-half years, jihadists have established a concrete foothold in the heart of the Middle East. Jabhat al-Nusra maintains an operational presence in 11 of Syria's 13 governorates and the roughly four-month old Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) -- an extension of al Qaeda in Iraq's (AQI) front group, the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) -- is catching up fast. This is not to mention at least 10 other decidedly jihadist groups operating on a more localized level across the country. Clearly, this remarkable expansion in jihadist territorial spread and influence is of long-term concern to the West, and it is for this reason that jihadists are so concerned.
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An air of tedious familiarity hangs over the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Once again, talks have restarted under the cloud of an impending expansion of Jewish settlements intended to permanently transform the social geography of the very territory whose future status is supposedly being negotiated.
And once again, the same uninspiring set of Palestinian negotiators -- unelected, unrepresentative, lacking any kind of popular mandate, and with a dismal track record of political and administrative failure -- are preparing to return to the same negotiating process that for two decades has proven fruitless. They face an ever more aggressive Israeli government, and, at that, one that enjoys the full and unconditional support of what is supposed to be the neutral mediating party, the United States.
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President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to send a "strong signal" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces perpetrated the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, Obama concluded. "I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable," Obama said during an interview with PBS. Though hinting at U.S. plans to launch a limited strike aimed at deterring future chemical weapons attacks, Obama said he was undecided about whether to militarily intervene. The Obama administration said it would deliver a public presentation, possibly on Thursday, that shows hard evidence of a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by Syrian government forces. As the administration moves closer to military intervention in Syria, it faces a number of obstacles both at home and abroad. Some U.S. lawmakers voice consternation about a possible attack and call for prior congressional authorization, while the American public overwhelmingly opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria. International momentum toward military intervention has slowed, and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted on awaiting the results of the U.N. investigation in Syria before launching an attack. However, Russia opposes military intervention and will almost certainly veto any resolution mandating military action in the U.N. Security Council. In response to impending outside intervention, Assad declared that "Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression," according to Syrian state television. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the U.N. team of weapon inspectors would return from Syria on Saturday and present their determination on whether chemical weapons were used.
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It looks increasingly likely that the United States, in conjunction with key allies, has decided to launch a limited military strike in the coming days to punish Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons on August 21. But U.S. President Barack Obama has also made it clear that he seeks to fulfill that goal without destroying the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, killing more innocent people, or sparking further regional escalation of the war. While the United States has considerable military assets at its disposal, including ships in the region carrying scores of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (the likely stand-off weapon of choice), it is a challenge to calibrate the response just right. Too little force could have little effect, while too much could backfire.
The United States is not alone in this delicate balancing act. Assad, too, must carefully weigh his options as he ponders how he can respond to an anticipated U.S. strike without unleashing the wrath of the U.S. military and, as a result, jeopardizing his own survival.
On the face of it, Qatar has been one of the United States's most valuable allies in the Middle East over the last decade. Qatar hosts a large U.S. Air Force base in the Persian Gulf and has often provided political and financial support for U.S. initiatives in the Middle East. Indeed, Washington has often encouraged Qatari activism to legitimize U.S. diplomacy, including its political support at the Arab League of a potential U.S. strike against Syria.
But Qatar's role in the United States's Middle East policy is far more problematic than is commonly recognized. The tiny yet ambitious Gulf emirate has sought to use its immense hydrocarbon wealth to finance and arm civil wars in Libya and Syria, to support Hamas in Gaza, and to mediate disputes in Sudan and Lebanon. Its interest sometimes align with the United States's -- but too often, they do not. The launch of Al-Jazeera America, the news network its government owns, should redirect attention to Doha's goals and means.
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Britain will present a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria and condemning alleged chemical weapons attacks. The resolution will seek a chapter seven mandate, which would allow for the use of force. Russia and China have already vetoed resolutions on Syria at the Security Council and are expected to block any text that would approve military action. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the United States that a U.S.-led military intervention "will lead to the long-term destabilization of the situation in the country and the region." The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry reported it evacuated 75 Russian citizens from Syria on Tuesday, with more evacuations expected Wednesday. Iran also cautioned against a U.S.-led strike saying it would be "a disaster for the region." The Arab League blamed Assad for the attacks and called for the Security Council to agree on "deterrent" measures. However, it failed to endorse a military strike. On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. military has "moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever the president wishes to take." Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors are continuing their investigation Wednesday into the alleged chemical weapons attacks in the eastern Damascus suburb of Zamalka after postponing Tuesday's site visits over security concerns. The United States is conducting its own assessment of the attacks, and the U.S. administration may release as soon as Thursday a report that it says would prove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the use of chemical weapons. According to the administration, U.S. intelligence shows how Syrian forces stored, assembled, and launched chemical weapons in the attacks on August 21.
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Twin car bombs exploded outside packed mosques in Tripoli killing at least 47 people and wounding hundreds. This horrific attack came on the heels of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs on August 15 that killed 27 people and wounded more than 300. Lebanese are more fearful than ever that their country is being dragged into yet another civil war. A return to all-out civil war remains unlikely, but the prospects for stability and security in Lebanon have never been dimmer.
Alarmist messages have sounded furiously in recent days. Lebanon's Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel recently warned of the danger of partition as religious leaders in Tripoli called for establishing vigilante groups to protect their neighborhoods and streets. Resident of Beirut's southern suburbs, considered a Hezbollah stronghold, are now subject to a daily search of their cars at checkpoints manned by Hezbollah men, every time they exit from or return to their homes. There is fear of more explosions in the near future that could drag the country into an irreversible cycle of tit-for-tat retaliatory violence.
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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said he rejects "utterly and completely" accusations that government forces used chemical weapons. His comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was undeniable evidence that the Syrian regime carried out chemical weapons attacks accusing the government of "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians." The United States has been consulting with its allies on options on Syria, and military leaders met Monday in Jordan. U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama has not yet made a decision on military action, but is likely to order a limited military operation. The United States, Britain, and France expect they cannot work through the U.N. Security Council because of a nearly certain Russian veto. The United States postponed a meeting scheduled for this week with Russia on the Syrian crisis because of the U.S. administration's "ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack." British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament from its summer recess for Thursday to debate options as the British Armed Forces are reportedly making "contingency plans" for military action. After being targeted by sniper fire Monday, a team of U.N. inspectors was able to investigate the Mouadamiya suburb of Damascus, one of at least four sites allegedly hit by chemical weapons attacks last Wednesday. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has reported that the team's trip to a second site has been delayed due to rebel fighting. According to U.S. officials, Obama will make his decision based on a U.S. intelligence assessment of last week's attacks rather than the U.N. investigation, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons attacks occurred, but not who used them.
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Unidentified snipers have hit the convoy of a team of 20 U.N. inspectors as they set out to investigate the sites of Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government and opposition fighters had agreed to a cease-fire to allow for the investigation. The team of experts has returned to a checkpoint and said they will continue the inquiry, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not who used them. The United States and Western countries have said there is little doubt that the Assad regime used chemical weapons and a U.S. official said the inspection of the sites is likely "too late to be credible." Western and Middle Eastern military leaders are meeting in Jordan to discuss the two and a half year Syrian conflict. The United States is debating options on Syria, including possible military action, a year after President Barack Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a "red line." Speaking with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that accusations that government forces conducted a chemical attack were "nonsense" and warned the United States that military involvement would bring "failure just like in all previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days." Russia cautioned against prejudging the results of the U.N. investigations and undertaking "armed actions against Syria." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there can be "no impunity" if the investigators find evidence of the use of chemical weapons. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that an international response could come without a U.N. Security Council consensus.
The United States government has had to make some tough calls on Egypt over the last few years. Did the events of January 25, 2011 constitute a revolution? Was the election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi to the presidency the beginning of a revolution of a different kind? Did General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's non-coup constitute the real revolution? These definitional questions were not merely academic. As the director for intelligence and research for the Middle East at the State Department over the last few years, I saw firsthand that the administration was preoccupied with such questions at the highest levels of government. Our inability to answer them even for ourselves has been crippling. The Hamlet complex has been stifling decisions, from Egypt to Syria to Iran, and now back to Egypt. In every case, actions not taken were merely deferred, only to be taken at a later time at the least propitious moment, when a Shakespearean denouement was all but inevitable.
The truth is that government analysts were caught flat-footed by the events in Tunisia and Egypt as they first unfolded. The magnitude and import of Tunisia eluded even the most astute among us. By the third day of events in Egypt in 2011, however, we were sure Hosni Mubarak was going to fall. Seeing, on live TV, the total lack of fear among protesters as they chased after and burnt police vans was sufficient to underline that something fundamental had changed. Those who discounted Tahrir Square as a genuine revolution argued for staying the course, out of loyalty to Mubarak and for safeguarding U.S. security interests from the unknown to follow should he be toppled. Values and accurate forecasting fortunately won the day, and Mubarak's denying the will of his people was decried.
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Egypt's Interim President Adli Mansour issued a new constitutional declaration on July 8 following President Mohamed Morsi's removal from office. This declaration laid out a three-step process for amending Egypt's constitution. First, a 10-member technical committee would be given one month to propose changes to the 2012 constitution. Following that, a 50-member constituent assembly (which will have only six political party representatives and which shall consist mostly of representatives from state institutions) will have two months to debate the proposed changes. Finally, a referendum will be organized to ratify the new constitution, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The first step in that process has now been completed, and the results are profoundly disappointing. The technical committee, which consisted of six judges and four academics (three of whom are retired), finalized its proposals on August 20. An official version of its proposed changes has not yet been released, but what looks like a final version has been circulated to various news outlets, and gives a good idea of what the technical committee has planned for the country's future. While a few of the changes that the technical committee offers are significant, the vast majority are not. The draft constitution that the committee has prepared merely tinkers with the 2012 constitution, which itself offered only minor departures from the 1971 constitution.
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Moscow announced support for a UN investigation into Wednesday's attack, joining a chorus of international calls for both the Assad regime and Syrian opposition to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to a statement released on Friday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the "Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical experts" immediately following reports about Wednesday's attack. The statement also said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that the two powers had a "mutual interest" in calling for an objective UN inquiry. China has also backed the UN probe, but cautioned that "all sides should avoid prejudging the outcome." In an interview with CNN on Friday, President Barack Obama called the possible use of chemical weapons a "big event of grave concern" that "is going to require America's attention." While the United States, United Nations, and European Union have called for a swift investigation into Wednesday's attack, all have urged caution in forming a response. Obama told CNN that the United States would carefully weigh a response and must "think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests" before action is taken." Syrian opposition activists say hundreds died in Wednesday's attack, and images have emerged showing mass casualties -- including many children. On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency estimated that the number of Syrian child refugees now exceeds 1 million, or over half of the total 1.9 million Syrian refugees in the region. A further 2 million children are displaced inside Syria, according to the United Nations.
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Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to be released from prison within hours following a court decision clearing him of charges. Authorities will first transport Mubarak to the military's International Medical Center then eventually place him under house arrest. Mubarak's transfer to house arrest was announced by government officials under the "emergency law," which grants expansive executive authority to the interim government. In a deeply divided Egypt, the decision is likely to anger large swaths of the population and further alienate Islamists -- whose key leaders are detained by military authorities. The former president is despised by many Egyptians, but a sizeable segment of the population also views him favorably -- or with indifference. Prominent Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher expressed amazement at Mubarak's release but said, "If anybody dares express opposition against the government or the president or the military, they'll be accused of treason and called a Muslim Brother in hiding." However, Mubarak's will not be permitted to leave the country, his assets remain frozen, and he might face future charges that require his presence in court. Meanwhile, Mubarak's release may fuel support for the pro-Islamist camp planning to hold "massive protests" on Friday, though the government crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood has greatly reduced the group's organizational capabilities.
Casualties continue to mount after Wednesday's alleged chemical attack by Syrian government forces near Damascus, as estimates of the death toll range between 500 and 1,300 according to Syrian opposition groups. Images from the aftermath of yesterday's attack have exposed scores of dead civilians, including many women and children, but the precise number of casualties and cause of their deaths remains uncertain. The Obama administration blamed the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for Wednesday's deadly attack, chemical or otherwise, while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the international community must respond "with force" if evidence of chemical warfare is confirmed. The Russian government, however, suggested that the attack was orchestrated by the opposition as a "pre-planned provocation." Syrian government officials continue to deny allegations of a chemical weapons attack, while opposition forces are deliberating a response to yesterday's attack against Ghouta. If confirmed, the attack could dramatically alter the international response to Syria's ongoing civil war.
In the wake of the recent carnage in Egypt some observers have declared the Arab Spring dead and buried. Its epitaph has been splashed across the pages of the New York Times and other publications, along with calls for the United States to give up efforts to promote competitive politics in the Arab world. A democracy agenda must now give way to an agenda of "responsible governance." This eulogy is animated by the assumption that Egyptian politics represents merely one extreme version of a shared political pathology for which there is no remedy. If democratization has failed in Egypt, it is bound to collapse in every Arab state now undergoing struggles for political change.
What happens in Egypt does matter. The epicenter of the Arab world, its political struggles are being closely watched by rival political forces throughout the region. Egypt's failure might be repeated, particularly if those groups that fear that democratization is giving rivals unchecked power decide to emulate Egypt's "Tamarod" movement by revolting against fragile transitions. But the carnage in Egypt could also encourage rival political leaders to revive efforts to forge political consensus. Not only is the game far from over: Egypt's struggles might help save what is left of the "Arab Spring."
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Syrian opposition activists accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical weapons attack near the capital Damascus on Wednesday. They say that government forces launched rockets filled with toxic gas against rebel positions in the eastern Ghouta region, killing dozens if not hundreds. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government's use of toxic gases caused "dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries," while the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, reported over 650 deaths. Images and videos have recently surfaced online that reveal dozens of bodies with no clear signs of injuries and show victims exhibiting the physical effects of a chemical attack. The Syrian government has denied usage of chemical weapons, and the state news service, SANA, said that the allegations were "completely baseless" attempts to "divert the special committee for the investigation of chemical weapons from carrying out its mission." The incident came days after the arrival of a UN team charged with inspecting possible chemical weapons usage at Khan al-Assal, and both Britain and France plan to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council. President Obama has long considered chemical weapons usage a "redline" that could lead to U.S. military action. If confirmed, today's attack would mark the deadliest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein's 1988 massacre of nearly 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja.
Egyptian court orders Mubarak's release
An Egyptian court ordered the release of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's former leader deposed in the 2011 uprising, on Wednesday after clearing him of corruption charges. Mubarak has already served the maximum amount of pretrial detention time and, according to his lawyer, could be released as early as tomorrow -- though he is likely to remain in custody for 48 hours pending an appeal by the prosecution. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to protect peaceful demonstrators, but an Egyptian court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.
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The Egyptian police detained the Brotherhood's general guide, Mohamed Badie, from his apartment in Cairo's Nasr City early Tuesday. Badie has hidden from authorities since the military ordered his arrest in July, and is now expected to stand trial on August 25 charged with "incitement to murder." Alongside Badie, the military-backed government has arrested hundreds of Brotherhood members, including ousted President Mohamed Morsi and top Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater. In response to Badie's arrest and the military's attempts to seriously weaken the Brotherhood, the organization projected resilience and temporarily appointed Mahmoud Ezzat, one of Badie's deputies, as the general guide. Senior Brotherhood leader Ahmed Akef said yesterday that Badie "is just one individual" among the millions who oppose the coup. Meanwhile, the continued detainment of Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, coincides with news of the potential release of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, signaling a dramatic reversal of events in Egypt. While the United States and European Union have backed away from the Egyptian government, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have promised firm support for Egypt's new leaders despite recent turmoil. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared that Washington's "ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited," and "it's up to the Egyptian people" to sort out their country's conditions.
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Upon first reading the short news item in the highbrow daily al-Shuruq that the judicial committee drafting amendments to Egypt's 2012 constitution is completing its work, a reader would likely have felt satisfied that it answered the Egyptian equivalent of the American question, "And apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" With the number of killed entering four digits and a political atmosphere in which Islamists and security forces appear locked in a deadly battle; with an overheated public atmosphere in which adversaries appear caught in a spiral of outlandish conspiracy theories and dehumanization; with foreign journalists subject to verbal abuse and harassment and Christians subject to much worse -- with all this, what is the point of talking about constitutional reform? The contours of Egypt's political future seem starkly clear: an abusive security state, operating (at least for the short term) in an atmosphere of panicked public approval; an Islamist opposition increasingly alienated from the political process and willing to use thuggish force; and ongoing civil strife. What does the constitutional process have to do with this? Can it even continue under such circumstances? Can a constitution written in 2012 largely by people now decried as terrorists really be amended to serve Egypt in 2013? Isn't the new regime's "road map" to restore constitutional rule and elections superseded by recent events?
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It is ironic that a state claiming to rule according to Islamic principles, Saudi Arabia, fears the rise to power of Islamists -- both at home and in neighboring countries. One regional Islamist trend worries the Saudi leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood which has decided to engage in politics through elections and the democratic process.
Saudi legitimacy is based on an appropriation of Islamic symbols such as claims that "our constitution is the Quran" and the application of sharia. The Saudi leadership fears losing its unique Islamic credentials as Islamists in other countries reach power. It wants to remain the sole Islamic model in the Arab region. The possibility of neighboring states combining Islamist politics with democracy threatens the Saudi model and seriously alarms the Saudi state.
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It is troubling how predictable and expected the consequences of last week's decisions in Egypt have been. It is troubling because it indicates that those who made such decisions either had little or no idea that these consequences were likely -- or that they did not care about those consequences. In the midst of this crisis, however, it is important to see where there may be a path out and who can -- and who cannot -- help.
The public demand of the pro-Morsi camp (although privately, they are somewhat more nuanced) is the reinstatement of President Mohamed Morsi. In doing so, it is chasing after a scenario that is not only unlikely, but also dangerous. The best case for the July 3 military takeover was the aversion of widespread violence and civil war. This case has now been defeated -- widespread violence has already taken place, and while it is not in a civil war, Egypt is in a very dark place.
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Suspected Islamist militants ambushed two police minibuses in northern Sinai on Monday, launching rocket-propelled grenades that killed at least 24 police officers and injured three others. Egyptian authorities reported that the attack took place near the town of Rafah on the Egyptian-Israeli border, raising U.S. and Israeli concerns about heightened militant activity near the Gaza Strip. The attack underscored the extent of ongoing violence in Egypt, which has claimed over 1,000 lives since Egyptian security forces stormed pro-Morsi sit-ins last Wednesday. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Egyptian government announced that 36 Islamist detainees died in custody while attempting to escape from the police. The Interior Ministry said the prisoners "died of suffocation and crowding after tear gas was used to stop their escape," but the Muslim Brotherhood labeled the incident "murder" and "assassination." In response to the Egypt crisis, the European Union convened emergency talks on Monday in which it would "urgently review its relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing these goals." The Obama administration decided on Sunday to withhold economic assistance to Egypt, but so far is continuing the $1.3 billion annual aid package to the Egyptian military.
Over 20,000 Syrian Kurds have entered Iraqi Kurdistan since Thursday, and thousands more continue to migrate toward the area to escape the fighting in Syria. The increasing frequency of armed clashes between Syrian Kurds and Islamist opposition groups likely contributed to the exodus, though the reason for the rapid migration is unknown. The Kurdish regional government, UN organizations, and local NGOs are struggling to absorb the recent influx of refugees, which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims is one of the single largest refugee movements since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011. Meanwhile, the state-run SANA news agency announced that Syrian government forces have retaken control of all rebel-held positions in Latakia. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that government forces made "progress," but could not confirm the government reports. On Sunday, a UN team arrived in Damascus to conduct a long-delayed investigation into the possible usage of chemical weapons in Syria.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has called for a "march of anger" two days after an estimated 638 people were killed and thousands injured when security forces cleared two protest camps in Cairo. Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are expected to gather in 28 locations in Cairo including Ramses Square after noon prayers on Friday. There are heightened concerns of further violence as security forces have been authorized to use live ammunition in self-defense and to protect public institutions. Cairo and several Egyptian provinces are under a state of emergency, and the army has been deployed to protect "important and vital facilities." Protesters set fire to a government building in Cairo on Thursday. U.S. President Barack Obama canceled military exercises planned with Egypt and said "our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back." However he stopped short of suspending the estimated $1.5 billion in predominantly military assistance to Egypt. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he called Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Thursday saying the United States would maintain its military relationship with Egypt but warned that the violent crackdown was putting defense cooperation at risk. Also on Thursday, some European officials called for the suspension of EU aid to Egypt, and Denmark cut off assistance. On Friday, French President François Hollande consulted with Britain and Germany on the escalating political crisis.
Anti-tank guided missiles recently supplied by Saudi Arabia are boosting rebel positions in southern Syria. Opposition fighters reportedly used the Russia-designed Konkurs anti-tank weapons in an assault on the Syrian army in Daraa as well as near the rebel stronghold of Laja. According to some experts, the recent arms deliveries may signal the beginning of a major supply line, headed by Saudi Arabia, into southern Syria. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department is converting a warehouse on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital of Amman into a military operations center, Centcom Forward-Jordan, in order to coordinate support for the Jordanian military. The move comes as Jordan copes with a soaring refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war and as concerns of cross-border spillover increase. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, said the mission is to show Jordanians "that they can count on us to continue to be their partner." He continued, "We are at our best when we can actually shape events and prevent conflict." Thousands of Syrian refugees flowed into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq on Thursday, crossing a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris River. According to the United Nations, between 5,000 and 7,000 refugees followed an initial group of about 750 people, adding to the over 150,000 Syrian refugees already registered in Iraq.
Egypt has reported that 525 people have been killed and 3,717 others wounded since security forces broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps Wednesday. The final death toll is likely to be much higher as many bodies have not yet been registered. Of the people killed, 43 were security personnel, according to the health ministry, and at least two journalists were reported dead. Most of those killed were in Cairo, however violence was reported across the country and many churches were burned and police stations attacked. The Egyptian government has imposed a month long state of emergency in Cairo and 10 other provinces. Additionally, Egyptian officials have arrested 543 people suspected of involvement in clashes and riots. The Muslim Brotherhood called for marches on Thursday and vowed to bring down the "military coup" that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi. Wednesday's violence spurred international condemnation, and the resignation of interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei. France and Germany summoned their Egyptian ambassadors and Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called a "massacre." The United States said it strongly opposed the declaration of a state of emergency in Egypt and pushed for the military backed government to respect basic human rights. The Egyptian government said the sit-ins posed a threat to security and claimed the police used maximum restraint in dispersing the protesters.
The United Nations has announced a team of U.N. experts will depart immediately to conduct an investigation in Syria into alleged chemical weapons use. Initially, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insited that the inquiry be limited to Khan al-Assal, however nearly two weeks ago the Syrian government said it would allow the experts access to three sites. However, the investigation was delayed over a lack of agreement on security arrangements. On Wednesday, the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement saying the Syrian government "formally accepted the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission." The team will visit Khan al-Assal, the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19, as well as two undisclosed sites. The experts will only report on whether chemical weapons were used, but not who was responsible for their use. There are concerns over whether the experts will be able to find any conclusive evidence as the alleged incidents happened months ago. According to U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry, the United Nations has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria since the uprisings began in 2011.
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For the first time in their modern history, the Kurds can look beyond the mountains for friends. This was not the case just a short time ago. The failure to negotiate statehood, largely due to an inability to present a united front following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the post-World War I new regional order, isolated their communities into four separate states (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran) and silenced their voice on the international stage for much of the 20th century. During this time, as minorities at the behest of Arab, Turkish, and Persian nationalisms, they were subjected to discrimination, segregation, and at times, genocide.
Today, however, the situation of the Middle East's largest ethnic group without a state has improved and the 40 million or so Kurds are again confronted with an opportunity to take charge of their own affairs. In Iraq, the Kurds have experienced autonomy since the United States, Britain, and France established a safe haven in 1991 that led to the creation of a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This lasted through the 2003 Iraq war and the Kurdistan Region has developed into a semi-autonomous and economically thriving de facto state with a national force, the peshmerga (literally meaning "those who face death"), that maintains sovereignty over its territory and a crafty diplomatic corps that frames a Kurd-friendly Iraqi state-building process and wins allies in the strategic cities of Ankara and Washington.
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Bahrain's contested politics transcends almost everything to do with national identity, historical narrative, and popular discourse. The uprising that began in 2011 is an attempt to subvert all that is state imposed, everything from road names to "national" days of celebration. The opposition has long called for August 14, when the British officially withdrew from Bahrain, to be the official national day. The ruling family however has designated the day that the king first took the throne on December 17 to be the official national day. It is no surprise, therefore, that August 14 has been chosen for Bahrain's Egyptian inspired "Tamarod" (Rebellion campaign). Analyzing the uprisings from a different perspective, we can ask ourselves are the so-called Arab Spring uprisings a quest for full sovereignty? And what do various foreign interventions in Arab countries in response to uprisings say about sovereignty of states?
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