Protests are planned in Egypt between Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and opposition groups amid tight security the day before a referendum on a new draft constitution and after weeks of unrest and violent clashes. Liberal, secular, and Christian opposition members are protesting outside the presidential palace while Islamists have assembled at a nearby mosque. Opposition members have threatened to boycott the referendum if certain conditions are not met by Saturday, but are currently calling for supporters to vote "no." Voting will begin Saturday in Cairo, Alexandria, and eight other provinces, and polling will take place in the rest of the country on December 22. The referendum is being split because there are not enough judges willing to monitor all polling stations. Meanwhile, Egyptian prosecutor, Mustafa Khater, is accusing aides to Morsi of interfering with an investigation into accounts of Islamists detaining and abusing dozens of opposition protesters outside the presidential palace, whom they said were thugs paid to incite violence. Khater's accusations would implicate Morsi's chief of staff, Refaa al-Tahtawi, of direct involvement in the abuse of the captives.
The United States and Syrian opposition are calling for Russia to aid in pressuring President Bashar al-Assad to cede power. U.S. State Department statements have come after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Boganov admitted Assad might be losing control. However, Russia denied reports insisting its stance on Syria has not shifted and the foreign ministry reported Friday that Boganov had "issued no statements and given no special interviews in recent days." Russia has maintained there must be a political solution to the conflict and have criticized the international recognition of the opposition coalition under Mouaz al-Khatib saying it is undermining diplomacy. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved sending two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 military personnel to Turkey to protect its border with Syria. The U.S. batteries will add to four from Germany and the Netherlands in a NATO effort and are set to be operational by the end of January. Turkey has been concerned about the spillover of the Syrian conflict after several border infractions, with fears heightened after U.S. reports that the Syrian government has fired Scud missiles at opposition targets. On Thursday Syria denied the Scud missile attacks.
Navigating Egypt's political crisis (Issandr El Amrani, The European Council on Foreign Relations)
"Egypt is in the grip of its worst political crisis since President Hosni Mubarak was deposed two years ago, and shifts in the three-way balance of power between Islamists, secularists and the military make the outcome more difficult to predict. The on-going crisis has dramatically increased the likelihood of protracted political and social instability. Violent street clashes between supporters and opponents of the six-month-old administration of President Muhammad Morsi have claimed eight lives and left hundreds wounded. The sacking of a number of offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, allegations of organized attacks against opposition protesters, as well as the uncompromising and increasingly belligerent rhetoric from both sides suggests the worst is yet to come. Absent a muscular effort by political leaders to contain the crisis, Egypt could be heading into a new season of political violence.
Some of the political leaders on both sides who initially staked out maximalist positions have begun to show more caution, but may lack the political authority or the political will to calm the rising anger of their supporters. In the meantime, the military is sending ambiguous messages and appears to want to remain above the fray, even as each side attempts to drag it back in - and in doing so is willing to give it concessions almost all factions opposed only a year ago."
The masochism tango (The Economist)
WHEN Barack Obama became America's president four years ago, he had two main aims in the Middle East: to make America more popular around the region; and to get out of it, starting with Iraq and ending with Afghanistan. Such was the faith in his powers that some thought Mr Obama might even find the solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict that had eluded previous presidents. He would persuade Iran to forgo a nuclear weapon, preventing further war in the region. The shale-gas bonanza would make America less dependent on Middle Eastern oil and, in turn, bound less tightly to its oil-rich allies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf. With all this done, America could edge towards an exit from this troublesome place and pivot towards the Pacific.
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
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