Political Comment (16 July 2012)
Egypt's new president has challenged the country's military and judicial establishment by reconvening the dissolved national assembly. UN/Arab League mediator Kofi Annan has been trying to keep his peace plan for Syria alive as the deadline for the renewal of UN observer mission's mandate approaches, and Russia remains adamant that it will not countenance any suggestion of sanctions in the Security Council. The Saudi authorities appear to have dealt with Shi'a demonstrations in the kingdom's Eastern Provinces relatively leniently.
Mursi Challenges SCAF
Egypt's newly installed Islamist President Muhammad Mursi has lost little time in turning a battle of wills with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over his inauguration into a potentially bruising constitutional confrontation over SCAF's 15 June decision to dissolve parliament (after the Supreme Constitutional Court ï¿½ SCC ï¿½ ruled that its election had been unconstitutional). Mr Mursi waited a week after taking office on 30 June before summoning the dissolved parliament into session on 8 July with the announcement that he had ″ordered the reconvening of sessions of the elected parliament." This act of defiance caused SCAF to meet on the same day to "study and discuss the repercussions of President Mursi's decision to reconvene parliament" ï¿½ as the MENA
news agency put it ï¿½ and the next day SCAF defended its decision to dissolve parliament as "an executive decision implementing the ruling of the SCC" and said that it "was confident all institutions of state will respect constitutional decrees."
On 10 July SCC judge Mahir al-Beheiry announced that "the court ruled to halt the president's decision to recall the parliament," but parliament went ahead and convened regardless, to be told by speaker Sa'd al-Katatni that "I invited you to convene in accordance with the decree issued by the president. I would like you to confirm that the presidential decree does not violate the court order." That was apparently an opinion shared by the president, since the next day Mr Mursi claimed that he was "committed to the rulings of Egyptian judges and very keen to manage state powers and prevent any confrontation," and that "there will be consultations among all political forces, institutions and the supreme council of judicial authorities to find the best way out of this situation in order to overcome this stage together." It will require considerable political skill for Mr Mursi to persuade these disparate interest groups to cooperate in finding a solution to Egypt's current political and constitutional conflicts, particularly since his own supporters may be unwilling to allow him too much room for maneuver.
One senior Brotherhood official, Mahmud Ghuzlan, was probably only reflecting a widely held view when he said on 10 July that the SCC "is part of a power struggle between the military council and the president who represents the people and in which the military council is using the law and the judiciary to impose its will."
Annan Tours Region
As the 20 July deadline for the renewal of the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) approaches, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity as the various parties involved try to work out what role the international community and/or the UN should or should not play in the continuing crisis. On 6 July UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted in a report to the Security Council that UN/Arab League mediator Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan "has not been implemented in any meaningful way" and that "as of now, the government of Syria and the armed opposition both appear to have chosen to pursue a military response to the current conflict."
That being the case, Mr Ban recommended that UNSMIS, which suspended its monitoring activities on 16 June, should instead focus on securing a political solution to the conflict. "If UNSMIS were reoriented in this manner," he said, "the Mission would redeploy from the field to the capital to minimize risks, retaining core civilian and military observer capacities to focus on the spectrum of initiatives feeding into the political process."
Mr Annan himself visited Damascus on 9 July, where he described his talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad as "positive and constructive" and said that "we agreed an approach which I will share with the opposition." He then flew to Tehran, where he told a press conference on 10 July that Mr Asad had "made a suggestion of building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence ï¿½ to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country." Mr Annan also emphasized that "Iran has a role to play and my presence here explains that I believe in that," which did not go down at all well in Washington, where White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that "I don't think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria."
Mr Annan went on to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, after which he told reporters in Geneva on 11 July that "in both Iran and Iraq the governments committed to supporting the six-point plan. They supported the idea of political transition, which will be Syrian-led, and allow the Syrians to decide what their future political dispensation would be."
Russia Holds Out In Security Council
Russia, meanwhile, remains at odds with both the Syrian opposition and the Americans and their allies at the UN. The 11 July visit to Moscow of a delegation from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) clearly failed to produce anything like a meeting of minds, with SNC leader ʹAbd al-Basit Sida telling reporters that "we have made it very clear that any transition period must start with Asad's departure, as otherwise we are really not dealing with the problem." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for his part "decisively called on counterparts to take a clear and unequivocal position confirming the readiness of the SNC to carry out its obligations."
At the UN, after the Russians tabled a draft resolution on 10 July extending UNSMIS's mandate for three months without mentioning anything about sanctions, Mr Annan appealed to the Security Council on 11 July to make clear to the Syrian government and its opponents that there would be "clear consequences" for non-compliance with his peace plan. The British then countered the Russians with a resolution drafted in consultation with the US, France and Germany extending UNSMIS for 45 days and placing the Annan plan under chapter 7 of the UN Charter authorizing sanctions and possible military intervention. US ambassador Susan Rice argued that a mere rollover of the current mandate would be "insufficient" and that "our view is that this council needs to put that kind of plan under Chapter 7."
However, Russian deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin made it clear that the differences within the Security Council remained as deep as ever when he declared that "Kofi Annan did not ask us to apply sanctions. He just said that the Security Council shouldï¿½send a signal that its suggested recommendations and actions have to be implemented or there will be consequences. But consequences does not mean necessarily actions under a certain chapter or certain article. Chapter 7 is a last resort." And just in case that was not clear enough, Mr Pankin reiterated the next day that "we are definitely against Chapter 7. Anything can be negotiated, but we do not negotiate this, this is a red line."
Riots In Eastern Province
The 8 July arrest for "sedition" of radical Shi'a cleric Nimr al-Nimr in the Qatif district of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province was followed by disturbances in which two protesters were shot in what the Interior Ministry described as a "criminal act," provoking further disturbances at the two men's funerals on 10 and 11 July. According to an Interior Ministry spokesman, security forces had tried to ensure the safety of the mourners, but "some trouble seekers took advantage of the gathering to hide in their midst and divert the context of this event which led the security forces to do their duty to keep the peace and ensure the safety of those participating in the funeral procession." Local dignitaries, including a former Shi'a religious court judge, issued a statement warning that "this tense and difficult period that Qatif is passing through necessitates that we all work together to safeguard our society from any security deterioration."
© Copyright MEES 2012.