Political Comment (23 July 2012)
An opposition offensive in Damascus and the assassination of top-level security and intelligence officials have dealt a heavy blow to President Bashar al-Asad's regime. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Egypt for the first time since the election of President Muhammad Mursi. Libya's first democratic election has produced an unexpectedly secular result. In Israel, the improbable marriage between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Kadima has ended in divorce
Syria On The Brink
At MEES press time on 20 July, it would be an understatement of some magnitude to describe the situation in Syria as confused. What appeared to be a coordinated opposition offensive in Damascus that began on 15 July took an unexpected and potentially game-changing turn on 18 July, when a suicide bombing at a top-level security meeting killed Defense Minister Daud Rajha and President Bashar al-Asad's brother-in-law 'Asif Shawqat and injured Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim al-Shaʹar and other senior intelligence officials. The opposition's ability to strike at the highest level in the capital itself was undoubtedly a telling psychological blow to the regime, which led US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to declare on 18 July that "this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control," while for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "a decisive battle is under way in Syria." Meanwhile the international community remained paralyzed, with both Russia and China vetoing a 19 July Security Council resolution which would have imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime if it did not withdraw its forces from population centers. As fighting continued and even intensified in Damascus, opposition forces were reported on 20 July to have seized control of border crossings into Turkey and Iraq, and while it was possible that the government would manage to weather the storm and reassert its control, it looked almost equally possible that the situation could be unraveling faster than anyone had anticipated.
Clinton In Egypt
In her first visit to Cairo since Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi was declared the winner of Egypt's 16 June presidential election, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced the interesting task of balancing the Americans' close ties with the Egyptian military and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against their commitment to democracy and the Islamist parliament and president this has produced ï¿½ and on the whole she appears to have come down on the democratic side of the fence. After meeting with Mr Mursi on 14 July. Mrs Clinton underlined that "the US supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails. But there is more work ahead. And I think the issues around the parliament, the constitution have to be resolved between and among Egyptians. I will look forward to discussing these issues tomorrow with Field Marshal Tantawi and in working to support the military's return to a purely national security role." And she reiterated the next day after meeting with the head of SCAF that "the US is doing all it can to support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt." Field Marshal Tantawi's reaction was to fire what looked very much like warning shots across the bows of the Islamists when he said that "the armed forces and the army council respects legislative and executive authorities," but added that "Egypt will never fail. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group ï¿½ the armed forces will not allow it. The armed forces will not allow anyone, especially those pushed from outside, to distract it from its role as the protector of Egypt. The army will never commit treason and will continue to perform its duties until Egypt reaches the shores of safety."
Libya Bucks Islamist Trend
Libya has bucked the Islamist political trend in North Africa in its first post-Qadhafi democratic election on 7 July for a 200-seat interim national assembly, which will elect a prime minister and cabinet and prepare for full parliamentary polls next year . When the results were announced on 17 July it was the relatively secular and liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) coalition headed by former prime minister Mahmud Jibril which came out ahead with 39 of the 80 seats allocated to parties, while the political arm of the Libyan Ikhwan al-Muslimin, the Justice and Construction Party, won only 17. This was generally thought to reflect a rejection of the international isolation of the Qadhafi years rather than any denial of Libya's Islamic identity. Nor does it necessarily mean that Libya's new government will not have an Islamic orientation, since with 120 seats in the assembly reserved for independent candidates, its make-up is likely to be determined by the complex interplay of regional, tribal, ethnic and sectarian considerations.
Kadima Splits From Coalition
The surprise 8 May marriage between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right wing Likud party and the center party Kadima headed by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz ï¿½ which raised the majority of Mr Netnayahu's coalition in the 120-seat Knesset from 66 to an unprecedented 94 ï¿½ has ended after two and a half months in an acrimonious divorce over the issue of the military conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews. (Kadima favors it, Likud apparently does not.) As Mr Mofaz put it in his 17 July letter of resignation to Mr Netanyahu, "because of narrow political considerations, you chose the alliance with the (ultra-Orthodox) over an alliance with the Zionist majority." However, Mr Netanyahu's reversion to right-wing type does not herald any change in policy towards the Palestinians or Iran, since he never took advantage of his alliance with Kadima to distance himself from the parties of the secular and religious right in the first place.
© Copyright MEES 2012.