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Assad speech coming

According to Al Arabiya, President Bashar al Assad will give a national address on recent developments in Syria.  The Arab League, which has suspended Syria’s membership and sent in a mission to encourage peaceful resolution to Syria’s internal dissent, is now being criticized by the opposition in Syria.

The [Syrian National Council] expressed disappointment at the “slowness and reluctance of the Arab League in implementing the Arab plan, which clearly states the need for the military to return to their barracks, release all detainees, authorize peace demonstrations and give access to observers and journalists.”

The umbrella group made up of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents urged the League to “immediately” begin talks with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on proposing the Arab peace plan to the Security Council to “prevent procrastination.”

It called for “the protection of civilians by all legitimate means in the context of international humanitarian law, including the establishment of safety and no-fly zones.”

Within the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have already demonstrated a willingness to veto resolutions allowing for military intervention in Syria.  It may be that such actions must come out of the Arab League itself.  However, despite the hints that are out there, it seems incredibly unlikely to me that the Arab League could succeed in coordinating the use of force in Syria.

Arab League officials said the future of the monitoring mission, due to make a full report on Jan. 19, depended on the Syrian government’s commitment to ending the daily bloodshed.

“If the … report comes out saying the violence has not stopped, the Arab League will have a responsibility to act on that,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after the Cairo meeting.


Japan foreign minister visits Saudi Arabia

Koichiro Gemba, Japan’s foreign minister, visited Saudi Arabia to discuss contingency options to maintain Japan’s flow of oil should EU plans to sanction Iranian oil come to pass, according to Al Arabiya.  Currently Japan receives 9% of its oil supply from Iran, and 30% from Saudi Arabia, so it follows that Japan would like assurances that the Saudis can provide 25-33% more oil if need be.  The article notes that

Pressure from Washington and the European Union to boycott Iranian crude comes at a time when Japan must make greater use of thermal power plants after a massive earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear power crisis last March. The vast bulk of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are now shut down, amid public distrust of the technology and increased safety calls.

Despite ranging projections of how much oil Saudi Arabia still has, an short-term increase in production to help ease the burden of an embargo on Iran is feasible.

Freedom of the Press in Turkey?

Many EU member states, arguing against the admission of Turkey into the Union, complain that the state has yet to take enough serious steps towards democratic transparency. An article in the New York Times today appears to bolster that claim, discussing recent government crackdowns on newspapers and journalists hostile to the ruling Justice & Development Party. Reporter Dan Bilefsky writes,

“At a time when Washington and Europe are praising Turkey as the model of Muslim democracy for the Arab world, Turkish human rights advocates say the crackdown is part of an ominous trend. Most worrying, they say, are fresh signs that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is repressing freedom of the press through a mixture of intimidation, arrests and financial machinations, including the sale in 2008 of a leading newspaper and a television station to a company linked to the prime minister’s son-in-law.

The arrests threaten to darken the image of Mr. Erdogan, who is lionized in the Middle East as a powerful regional leader who can stand up to Israel and the West. Widely credited with taming Turkey’s military and forging a religiously conservative government that marries strong economic growth with democracy and religious tolerance, he has proved prickly and thin-skinned on more than one occasion. It is that sensitivity bordering on arrogance, human rights advocates say, that contributes to his animus against the news media.”

The article goes on to note that some 97 people associated with the news media – journalists, editors, publishers and distributors – are currently serving time in Turkey’s prisons, many on allegedly fabricated charges. Mr. Bilefsky continues,

“The European Human Rights Court received nearly 9,000 complaints against Turkey for breaches of press freedom and freedom of expression in 2011, compared with 6,500 in 2009. In March, Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish writer and Nobel laureate, was fined about $3,670 for his statement in a Swiss newspaper that ‘we have killed 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians.’

Human rights advocates say they fear that with the Arab Spring lending new regional influence to Turkey, the United States and Europe are turning a blind eye to encroaching authoritarianism there. ‘Turkey’s democracy may be a good benchmark when compared with Egypt, Libya or Syria,’ said Hakan Altinay, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. ‘But the whole region will suffer if Turkey is allowed to disregard the values of liberal democracy.'”

The article sheds light on the uncomfortable fact that the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP), whose governing majority is now a decade old, has grown too comfortable in its position; that, having blown the door open on non-secularist politics and blazed a trail for economic and democratic development, the AKP is now more interested in preserving and enhancing its own political position than protecting and strengthening the democratic quality of its civil society. Thoughts?

Egypt’s leadership problem

I’m not sure if it will spur discussion, but read this article in the New York Times.  In it, Egypt’s Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri is depicted as lacking the charisma and capacity necessary to see Egypt through its current trials.  Specifically, the article notes some of his nonsensical quotes, in the same way articles used to break down President Bush quotes.

The big picture issue here is that the Egyptian military has still not successfully transferred power to the people.  And they do not appear to be any closer to doing so than they were in July.  I’m not sure when the revolution got away from the wants of the protesters, or if the revolution was ever all it was made out to be in the first place.  My opinion is that political movements need a charismatic leader, and there either are none in Egypt, or else the English media has failed to notice them.  I’m sure there are counter examples to my point on single leaders being pivotal, but still, maybe a ramification of the social media-led revolution is that in the process of a revolution, no alternative governing structures are created.  It takes power and organization to run a country.  I’m not sure if the protesters ever had that.  With the way the revolution played out, it was never necessary.  So now the organization that has power and a strong hierarchy,  the military, is running the country (with the help of Mr. Ganzouri).

Issues in Iraq

Before discussing Iraq, I want to remind everyone that on Thursday, at 5 pm in the Cyber Cafe, Sigurd Neubauer will be speaking on relations between Gulf States and Israel. You should all come!

On to Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is behaving in ways that have some suggesting he is becoming a Saddam-like dictator.  This Al Jazeera article gives a good, quick overview on the situation in Iraq.  Basically, Maliki is accusing other politicians of supporting terrorism, specifically those politicians who are not Shi’a and who oppose him.  Those same opponents claim that Maliki is using trumped up charges to eliminate and silence his competition while strengthening his grasp on power.  Many experts are viewing this moment as the biggest crisis Iraq has faced in several years, and there is broad concern that the jockeying of political leaders could spark a new wave of sectarian violence.

“He [Maliki] is a dictator without wisdom,” Mutlaq said, and called for Maliki to step down immediately. “He should leave his position for somebody else and [we should] form a new government until we reach the election.”

Maliki has defended his moves, claiming to adhere to the power-sharing agreement and the Iraqi constitution.

Further complicating matters, the political bloc loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for the parliament to be dissolved and new elections to be held. So has Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Barzani said there should be early elections if the political leaders fail to resolve the crisis. He said that Iraq is facing the most dangerous crisis since the Americans entered the country in 2003, adding that Iraq’s constitution allows for federalism and Maliki has no right to object to it or to the creation of federal regions, which more Iraqi provincial leaders are aiming to do.

I suppose the question I now have is whether or not all of these problems that Iraq now faces could have been avoided if the Obama administration worked to find a way to keep US troops in Iraq.

Iran’s March Election

Welcome back for the winter quarter everyone!

In case it wasn’t already on your radar, Iran has a parliamentary election upcoming in March. The New York Times has an article posted that discusses some of the issues surrounding that election.

A likely boycott by Iran’s harshly silenced reformists and fears of election-related violence, combined with dire economic problems arising from Iran’s isolation over its suspect nuclear program, are creating new challenges for Iranian leaders as they face their first domestic legitimacy test since the disputed presidential election of 2009.

Obviously any election features competing ideas, and in Iran’s case it will be the reformists versus the conservatives. But the election will also face the challenge of achieving legitimacy, given the unexpected results (which suggesting tampering) in the 2009 presidential election. The linked article suggests that low participation from voters would imply declining legitimacy on the part of Ayatollah Khamenei and the religious hierarchy.

The article hints that the March election might mark the occasion in which massive, widespread, momentous protests begin anew in Iran. Or that they may be a prelude to major domestic upheaval or reform in the 2013 presidential election. I’m not optimistic that Iran has reached a revolutionary moment yet, but these types of things do tend to surprise people. Interestingly, the article also notes that there may be interest on the part of the Ayatollah to get rid of the position of president and have instead a prime minister, elected in a more traditional parliamentary system fashion.

Al Qaeda in Iraq

The New York Times has an article up on the possibility of a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq following the withdraw of US troops.  The article points out that Al Qaeda has been maintaining a rate of 30 small attacks per week, as well as one major attack every 4-6 weeks.  The US Army currently estimates Al Qaeda’s size at about 1000, where 200 are dedicated fighters.  Recently, attacks have been focused on Iraqi Security Forces, although restarting sectarian violence is an obvious goal that Al Qaeda can be expected to pursue.  The article also suggests growing concern in Washington that the group may begin to plan for attacks outside Iraq.

I personally was surprised by President Obama’s commitment to withdrawing all American troops from Iraq.  While there is an obvious political component to his choice, it seems like Iraqi forces may be able to adequately handle the al Qaeda threat.  I guess we’ll find out over the next few months.  And no doubt the US will still be maintaining a covert intelligence apparatus in Iraq to continue pursuit of al Qaeda.

Last thing, there are three events at DU this week that are worth checking out.  The information is on the left side of this page.