Clashes have been reported in Cairo as crowds have begun massing for rallies marking January 25, the second anniversary of Egypt's revolution. Opponents of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have begun gathering for protests in Tahrir Square, accusing the Islamists of betraying the revolution and blaming the government for declining economic conditions. Police have clashed with some protesters who were throwing Molotov cocktails and firecrackers approaching walls protecting government buildings. Additional clashes have been reported outside the interior ministry. According to the health ministry 25 people have been injured since Thursday. Other small demonstrations are taking place across Egypt, and clashes have been reported in Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not participate in rallies on Friday, but instead is holding a day of community service dubbed, "Together we build Egypt."
According to Syrian state media, SANA, Syria's interior minister has called for all citizens who have fled the country "because of events" to return home for a national dialogue. In an interview with CNN on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said President Bashar al-Assad's mother, Anisa Makhlouf, has left the country for the United Arab Emirates, while his sister Burha has been living in Dubai. Ford said the core of Assad's regime is gradually weakening. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR reported the number of refugees from the Syrian conflict has exceeded 678,000. Jordan's government has said there has been a dramatic spike in refugees crossing into Jordan. The UNHCR said they are seeing refugee numbers quadruple those from two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Syrian ground troops have moved into the central city of Homs, stepping up an offensive against opposition strongholds in the majority Sunni city, according to opposition activists. An estimated 15,000 civilians were reportedly trapped on Friday on the southern and western edges of Homs, near the strategic intersection of Syria's north to south and east to west highways. According to activists, rockets and bombings have killed at least 120 civilians and 30 opposition forces since Sunday. Additionally, two car bombs reportedly exploded on Friday near a military intelligence building in the Syrian-controlled region of the Golan Heights, killing an estimated eight people, mostly Syrian soldiers.
Arguments and Analysis
America's Saudi Problem (Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy)
"In Riyadh last week, where I was speaking to a small private workshop, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to the United States, introduced me by reading several excerpts from my recent FP column: "Bahrain crushed its opposition with impunity," he read. And then: "Obama chose to rely on the Gulf monarchies against Iran, which made it exceptionally difficult for him to meaningfully pressure them to reform or to block their counterrevolutionary intervention in Bahrain." His polite but pointed comment: "These words are not accepted in the Gulf."
That was putting it mildly. For much of the week, I heard sharp disagreements from Saudis on Bahrain, which they for the most part saw not as a peaceful uprising but as an Iranian-backed campaign of violent subversion that had to be put down to restore order. Perhaps a few agreed, at least privately, on the unjustifiable nature of the campaign of repression that followed -- even if the protesters had sympathies with Iran, could that justify their torture and indefinite detention? -- and the dim prospects for stability without a serious new political initiative. But that rarely extended to an acceptance of the authenticity or legitimacy of the Bahraini protest movement."
Algeria's secrets obscure the 'war on terror' in the Sahara (Alan Philps, The National)
"The closed nature of Algerian power has made it harder for outsiders to understand the bigger picture of the crisis in Mali, the neighbouring state to the south. French troops have rushed in to stop rebels, armed with weapons looted from Libya, who were advancing on Mali's capital, Bamako.
There is a simple - but incomplete - explanation for the outside world's failure to see Libya, Algeria and Mali as part of the same jigsaw. All over the world, governments tend to deal with Algeria as part of the Middle East and North Africa, while Mali is considered part of a separate region, sub-Saharan Africa. The real world is not so neatly divided, particularly as the inhabitants of northern Mali and southern Algeria, mainly Tuaregs, a Berber people, have always lived off the trans-Saharan trade.
Now western politicians are standing up to proclaim that they will join the dots across the Sahara. David Cameron, the British prime minister, has proclaimed a decades-long fight against Al Qaeda in the region. Hillary Clinton, the outgoing US secretary of state, called for a "better strategy" and said the US should be prepared for a "necessary struggle" to stop northern Mali from becoming a haven for terrorists.
A sceptical note needs to be struck here. Since 2001, the US has been actively involved, first with the Pan-Sahel Initiative and, since 2007, with the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative that covers Algeria, Mali and neighbouring states. The US also trained units of the Malian army, some of which instantly defected when faced with the combined forces of the Tuareg nationalists and Al Qaeda-linked jihadists last year. So there has been no lack of US activity on the counterterrorism front, althought there seems to have been a serious lack of understanding."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.