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A Busy Weekend and Tunisian elections

A lot has been happening over the past few days around the region.  Obviously, Muammar al-Qaddafi was killed in Libya several days ago, which will have major ramifications for that state.  Iran has once again had to defend itself against international allegations, this time for supposedly conducting secret executions without adequate judicial proceedings.  Violence continues to accompany protests and unrest in both Syria (although Damascus and Aleppo still stand with the regime) and Yemen (where the UN has once again called for President Saleh’s ouster).  Turkey has been rocked by an earthquake; the details of which are still coming out.

Today is also the Tunisian elections, where voter turnout topped 90% according to Al Arabiya.  Remember, this election is to create a commission that will rewrite the constitution, set up an interim government, and set election dates for the President and Parliament.  Tomorrow we will be able to discuss the outcome, but today consider this New York Times article which details financing leading up to the election.  The favorite to win in the elections is the Ennahda party, which is described as being moderate Islamist.

Ennahda, which had a long history of opposition here before Mr. Ben Ali eviscerated it a decade ago, is widely expected to fare the best, and no one pretends that it owes its popularity only to its financial clout. Its moderate and modern brand of Islamic politics has struck a chord with many Tunisians.

But for months, it has been at the center of attacks from liberal rivals and liberal-leaning election officials who accuse it of taking foreign money, mainly from the Persian Gulf. Islamist groups from Egypt to Lebanon are widely believed to rely on such support from the wealthier and more conservative gulf nations, but the charges have resonated especially loudly in Tunisia, in part because regulators have sought to stamp it out.

The article goes on to express that a difficulty in regulating party financing is that Ennahda is not only a political organization but a social one.  They receive donations from the Gulf that are spent on charitable causes (which may be beneficial politically) as well as financing that is spent on campaigning.  This duel nature makes pinning down financial regulations difficult, especially for a country that is having is first (hopefully) legitimate election.

So with all that news, any thoughts?  Can Tunisia be a beacon for democracy for the region?



It was a busy day around the region.

  • Israeli settlers vandalized and burned a mosque, an action that Netanyahu has condemned
  • US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the US commitment to maintaining a militarily superior Israel, although he questioned Israel’s diplomatic isolation
  • Israel has signaled that it is willing to return to negotiations sponsored by the US, UN, EU, and Russia, although Palestinians are skeptical that any progress can be made
  • In Egypt, the country’s military leadership has agreed to amendments to the election laws, changes called for and endorsed by the country’s anti-Mubarak political elements
  •  Libyan transnational government forces (we’re calling them that instead of rebels now I guess) are pressing in on pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte, one of a few strongholds of Gaddafi remaining
  • In ongoing upheavals, Bahrain has sentenced participants in protests to lengthy jail terms, Syria has been rounding up thousands of citizens to quell protests, and Yemeni youth don’t just want Saleh out as president, but want criminal charges pressed against him as well
  • There was a terrifying attack in Iraq, in which Sunni insurgents took hostages at a police station.  Several hostages and a police chief were killed before Iraqi forces recaptured the building, killing the militants.  This bit of ties to the piece from Dean Hill from yesterday, as he brought up the matter of Sunni insurgents, whose funding, objectives, and strategy are harder to pin down than their Sunni counterparts
So, there is a lot happening, although I don’t know if any of it can be considered as a major development.  I guess that for me the most interesting thing is Panetta’s statements, and the context of the attack in Iraq.

US Troop Level for Iraq, and Questions for Libya

Currently, America’s policymakers are deliberating on how many US troops should remain in Iraq.  The Department of Defense is pushing for 3,000-5,000, and some in Congress are pushing for 10,000 or more.  If they listen to the preferences of Moqtada al-Sadr, the number will be zero, according to this story from Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, BBC News has a general update on Libya.  The most noteworthy piece is that in a speech the leader of the National Transitional Council announced that Libya will be a state guided by Moderate Islam, and denounced extremism.  The New York Times has posted a story about the future role of women in Libya, which details how their contribution to the Revolution will help shape opportunities after the revolution.  With Libya, it seems like we in the West are still struggling to ask the right questions about Libya’s future, so finding answers is even further off, perhaps because its just easier to root for the capture of Muammar al-Gaddafi.  But these issues like will Libya be a moderate country, or go tribal, or something else, are important to always keep in mind (even that sentence ignores so much nuance).

Libya developments

There are a bunch of rumors circulating regarding Libyan troop movements.  Maybe Libyan forces are withdrawing from Misrata.  Supposedly the rebels have captured a key crossing into Tunisia.

One rumor confirmed by BBC News is that the US launched its first drone strike in Libya.  The article also discusses some of those other rumors mentioned above.

Quick bits and pieces of news

A lot of things that deserve mention, but nothing that strikes me as deserving its own post,  so we will go through them quickly.

In Libya, a NATO leader is asking for more planes.  The New York Times is writing that interrelationships in NATO are strained.

In Yemen, the protesters who were mulling over the GCC deal have decided instead to simply demand Saleh step down within two weeks, according to Al Jazeera.

In Tunisia and Egypt, efforts are underway to hold Ben Ali and Mubarak legally accountable for their despotic rule in some regard.

In Syria, protests have spread to Aleppo (the second largest city).  Now Assad has formed a new government.

The UN this week announced that the Palestinians appear ready to govern themselves, which will hopefully add momentum to an eventual settlement to the conflict with Israel.

Finally, in Bahrain, the government is working to disband the Shi’a opposition parties, according to BBC News.  This is probably the key step to ending the unrest in that state, a negative in the eyes of many as no substantial change has yet occurred.

A day of hope

All three of the biggest stories carry a common theme, which is making progress towards peaceful resolutions to problems.  First up is Israel-Palestine, covered by the New York Times, where the two sides are working towards a ceasefire after several days of shoddy Hamas rocket attacks and not-quite-precise but effective countermeasures by the Israelis.  Still,

Israeli analysts warned that a return to the tense calm that has largely prevailed in the last two years would not compensate for the lack of a more coherent Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Gaza, nor prevent another escalation with the potential of leading to an all-out conflagration.

Next, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears receptive to GCC mediation for the resolution of his countries political crisis.  Al Jazeera is reporting that the  statement says

Saleh should hand his authorities over to his vice president and that all parties should “stop all forms of revenge .. and [legal] pursuance, through guarantees offered” – wording that appeared to offer Saleh assurances of no prosecution for him or his family once he leaves office.

The statement from Saleh’s office on Monday said: “In compliance with statements made several times … the president has no reservation against transferring power peacefully and smoothly within the framework of the constitution.”

The article suggests that opposition leaders will meet with GCC officials today to discuss the terms of the proposed solution.

Meanwhile, rebel leaders in Libya today are considering an African Union proposal for a ceasefire.  This BBC News article contains the details.  The goal of the ceasefire is to allow humanitarian aid to pour into the state unfettered while creating a dialog between the government and the rebels on a political solution.  The rebels central concern is that Gaddafi will use a pause in violence to position is forces to launch a surprise attack and effectively route the rebels.  The rebels have also said that they will not accept an bargain that does not have Gaddafi stepping down as one of its terms.  For his part, Gaddafi has already agreed to the terms of the AU proposal.



Could Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi take control from his father?

The New York Times is reporting that a  plan is being passed around the Qaddafi government where his son Seif al-Islam Qaddafi could replace his 68 year old father.  A year ago Seif made headlines by saying that he was not interested in running the country, which disappointed those who noted his encouragement of liberal policies, including an emphasis on environmentalism.  However, the world’s impression of Seif changed when he gave a harsh speech condemning protesters at the start of the current conflict.  It is not yet clear whether or not Muammar supports the succession.  Seif does not represent a changing of leadership such that the rebels and the allies should be satisfied with the new leader, but the pragmatic allies might see this as an opportunity to withdraw from the conflict.