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In Depth on Syria

Joshua Landis’ Syria Comment brings breaking news and in-depth analysis to an American audience starved for information.

For example:

The Syrian crisis may or may not have entered its final phase, but it undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous one to date. The current stage is defined by an explosive mix of heightened strategic stakes tying into a regional and wider international competition on the one hand and emotionally charged attitudes, communal polarisation and political wishful thinking on the other. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, reactions are ranging from hysterical defiance on the part of its supporters, optimism among protesters that a bloody stalemate finally might end and fears of sectarian retribution or even civil war shared by many, through to triumphalism among those who view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power.   – Peter Harling

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Arab League & UN Assail Syria

UN investigators have released a new report accusing senior Syrian government officials and leaders of the country’s military and security forces of ordering mass atrocities in efforts to crush anti-government protests since March.

The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Monday that Syrian government forces committed crimes against humanity, including the killing and torturing of children, and held state officials responsible for murder, rape and torture.

“The commission believes that orders to shoot and otherwise mistreat civilians originated from policies and directives issued at the highest levels of the armed forces and the government,” the panel said in its report.

The UN actions and claims that over 200 children have been killed in months of violent clashes came in the wake of the Arab League voting to impose sanctions on the Assad government.  The US and Germany are pushing the Security Council to take ‘decisive’ action against the regime.

“Now with the Arab League having acted and it becoming increasingly clear even for those that would rather deny it, that the Assad regime has participated in outrageous and now documented atrocities. The patience of its neighbors and now the international community has evaporated.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu continued his country’s criticism of Assad, adding,

“If the current pressure will open the way for a large-scale refugee movement, if tens, hundreds of thousands of people start advancing towards Iraq, Lebanon, the Turkey borders, not only Turkey, then the international community may be required to take some steps. But it will not be up to Turkey’s appeal only.”

Even without military intervention, Assad’s days are numbered.  For the West, the stakes are higher than just Syria.  The collapse of the Assad regime would be a blow to its ally, Iran, not to mention Hamas and Hezbellah.



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Video: Egyptian Electoral Parties and Procedures Explained

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Egyptian Election Off to Good Start

According to Al Jazeera:

Egyptians have started casting their ballots in the first parliamentary elections since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising earlier this year.

Long queues were seen outside many polling stations amid tight security arrangements as voters flocked to the polls on Monday morning. Voting in this round of the elections last for two days.

It appears any problems so far are related to ballots and/or judges being late to polling places.

However, Tadros {Al Jazeera reporter-ed} added: “The mood is very much upbeat. I really have not seen this kind of voter turnout.”

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reported from Assiut, one of the most significant governorates in the Upper Egypt region, that there appeared to be an exceptionally high turnout by the standards of the country’s previous votes.

“The lines have not stopped outside the polling centres,” she said. “If we’re judging by the turnout, this has been by all accounts a success.”

Women were turning out in high numbers, unusual for such a conservative region, she said.

There were no signs of violence or coercion, she reported, but there were campaign violations as some parties continued to campaign even as voting was underway.

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White House Calls for Egyptian Moves to Democracy

Over the weekend, the Obama Administration issued a reasonably tough call on the Egyptian military to move immediately to elections and civilian rule:

The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.

Although violence in Tahrir Square subsided over the last two days, the immediate path forward will be determined by how well parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin tomorrow, November 28, are carried out.

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Yemeni Leader Signs Pact to Turn Over Rule

Yemeni President Saleh is reported to have signed an agreement to turn over his rule to the vice premier who will form a unity government.  Saleh has reneged before, so it isn’t over ’till the fat lady sings.  Yemen is an unusual model for the Arab Spring.  Early in March, as mass demonstrations expressed the will of ordinary Yemen citizens, a powerful Yemeni military commander, Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, threw his support behind the democratic forces.  He and his followers have been protect demonstrators from onslaught by the Saleh government.  Other Yemeni factions have their own beefs with Saleh as well.  Reports say the Saleh family feared for its wealth more than its power.


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Egypt in 5th Day of Tahrir Square.2

The Egyptian Supreme Council ‘s (SCAF) announcement that Presidential elections would be held in June, 2012, and mark the turn-over of military to civilian rule, was overruled by protesters in Tahrir Square.  In yet another twist to the complicated politics of Egypt in transition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which started the last surge of protests last Friday, has decided to sit out today’s protests.  It is willing to accept the SCAF promise of complete transition to civilian rule while other democratic factions, including the February 6th Movement and some liberal groups, want the turn-over to take place immediately.      Mohamed ElBaradei     former IAEA head and Nobel Laureate, offered to form a new national unity government if he was assured of the right to pick his own ministers.  SCAF has not yet responded.

As we’ve said many times on this blog, the Egyptian Revolution has been a powerful movement for reform of a decrepit, autocratic system.  But a true reform program has been choked by the SCAF, de facto rulers of Egypt now.  SCAF keeps postponing elections and the transfer of power and continues to arrest, jail and torture Egyptians under Mubarak’s emergency law.

Media reports say the growing number of demonstrators in Tahrir Square are a broad representation of Egyptian society, including the Youth Movement of the Muslim Brotherhood.  They obviously don’t accept the leadership and deals being made by the political elite whether Muslim or secular.

Where is the US?

The US has demanded an end to violence in Egypt, but it has been steadfastly supporting the work of the SCAF.

Where can all this go.  The only way to head off chaos is for the SCAF to step down and turn power over to a civilian government.  I don’t think Egyptians want to destroy SCAF but do want to put them in their place under civilian rule.  The people are demanding that civilians lead the constitutional writing process and prepare for elections.

Although it’s still unclear whether SCAF has bungled the transition due to incompetence and the pressure of fast-moving events or if it has carefully sewn the seeds of divisions which could tear apart Egyptian society.

Meanwhile, the US continues its cat-and-mouse game.  If ever there was a time for the US to clearly part with the Egyptian military it is now.  The old order is dissolving.  Just look at Tantawi on TV: he is a man out of his league.

Either the Administration stands solidly behind an immediate turn over to civilian control and work with the opposition parties or risks any relevance to a future Egyptian order.





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Egyptian Militry Backs Down

According to Al Jazeera,

Mohammed Morsi, the president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has issued a statement about the five-hour crisis meeting held between the ruling military council and a selection of presidential candidates and party officials. The FJP is the best-organised political force in Egypt.

The military council has accepted the resignation of the interim government and will form a government of “national salvation” but still hold parliamentary elections on time on Monday, Morsi said, according to the statement, which was published on the FJP’s Facebook page.

The council has also agreed to completely transfer power to a civilian authority by July, likely in the form of a presidential election, for which a draft law will be written, Morsi said.

As part of the agreement, the military will withdraw forces from Tahrir Square, confine them to protecting public building, compensate the families of the victims, and bring to trial their killers.

Tags crisis meeting , free


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