Middle East Update

February 7, 2013

Two years into the Arab uprisings, the region remains in deep transition with each country facing its own challenges and opportunities. Tunisia, the region’s most stable transition, was shocked this week by the assassination of an opposition leader that has led to protests and a new cabinet of technocrats. Egypt continues to face three-pronged challenges of politics, security and economics. Syria’s violent conflict showed its ability to pull in Israel and Iran. Meanwhile, there is more fighting in the capital and an offer – as yet unanswered – from the opposition to Assad for talks.

Tunisia
Now more than two years after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power, Tunisia has been on a steady, if bumpy, path. However, the economy continues to struggle, constitutional reform remains unresolved and Islamist-secular polarization has intensified. This week saw a tragic new development, with the assassination of the leading opponent of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali denounced the killing: “This is a criminal act, and an act of terrorism not only against Belaid but against the whole of Tunisia.” Protesters took to the streets, and the prime minister announced he would form a new government of technocrats to guide the country to elections “as soon as possible.”

News
Tunisia Moves to Contain Fallout After Opposition Figure Is Assassinated
New York Times, 2/6/13

Tunisia to Shake-up Government After Assassination
AP, 2/7/13

Tunisia Gripped by Political Uncertainty After Killing
CNN, 2/7/13
Commentary and Analysis
Tunisia’s Terrible Twos
Marc Lynch, 1/14/13

Egypt
Nearly two years after the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt continues its uneasy path to a new political future. Egypt’s foreign policy has shifted less than its rhetoric. This week, for example, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s trip to Egypt failed to produce any breakthrough in historically cold relations and saw the Iranian leader embarrassed by having a shoe thrown at him and being accused of meddling in the region. Domestically, human rights groups are decrying tactics reminiscent of the previous regime, with claims that more than 2,000 have been injured and 56 killed in protests since January 25. Representatives of the competing political parties met to discuss reducing tensions across the country. Meanwhile, the state of the Egyptian economy continues to worsen, casting doubts that the nation will be able to secure a much-needed loan from the International Monetary Fund.

News
Ahmadinejad Visits Egypt, Signaling Realignment
New York Times, 2/5/13

Egyptian Rights Group Reveals Human Cost of Recent Violence
Ahram Online, 2/7/13

Egypt Rivals Hold Rare Meeting and Call for Dialogue
New York Times, 1/31/13

Egypt economy shows new signs of distress, casting doubt over $4.8 billion IMF loan
Washington Post, 2/5/13

Commentary and Analysis
Advancing U.S. Interests and Values at a Time of Change in Egypt
Brian Katulis, Peter Juul and Ken Sofer, Center for American Progress, 1/30/13

The Egyptian Treadmill
Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy, 1/31/13

Syria
As Syria enters the second year of its conflict, an Israeli airstrike on what it said was a Syrian shipment of weapons to Hezbollah underscored worries about the conflict’s regional implications. For the first time, the Syrian opposition proposed talks with President Bashar al Assad to try and settle the conflict. Russia and Iran –Syria’s key allies – expressed support for the proposed talks, but Assad has yet to respond. Meanwhile, fighting has moved into Damascus from the suburbs.

News
Israeli Airstrike in Syria Targeted a Shipment of Weapons, 2 U.S. Officials Say
Washington Post, 2/3/13

Russia, Iran Support Idea of Talks in Syria
Los Angeles Times, 2/4/13
Clashes Erupt in Damascus as Prospects for Syrian Talks Dim
New York Times, 2/7/13

Syria Conflict Dominates Islamic Summit in Cairo
The Daily Star, 2/7/13

Syria’s Kurds Try to Balance Security and Alliances
Josh Wood, New York Times, 2/6/13

Commentary
Settling Syria
J. Michael Quinn and Madhav Joshi, Foreign Affairs, 2/6/13

No Settlement in Damascus
Bilal Y. Saab and Andrew J. Tabler, Foreign Affairs, 1/2/13

Should Obama Have Intervened in Syria?
Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy, 1/17/13

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