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Middle East News Roundup: Arab Spring, Royal Summer, Islamist Autumn

Egypt

Amin Saikal (ABC, 29 July 2011): “The Islamist parties [in Egypt] now stand a good chance to win an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections in November, and also contest successfully the presidential election. . . .  According to an Aljazeera public opinion survey, released on July 7, 2011, nearly 50 per cent of those polled indicated first preference for the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by the Freedom and Justice Party.  Another 27 per cent expressed support for the Salafist cluster or what is now called Nour Party. . . .  A parliamentary electoral victory, with support from some, if not all, Salafists, will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to form a government in its own right, headed by a prime minister from its ranks or beholden to it.”

Amr Emam (Egyptian Gazette, 4 August 2011): “Alarmed at the rising influence of the Islamists, Egypt’s liberals, leftists and nationalists have decided to join hands to create a new alliance to try and counter the post-revolutionary drive towards Islamism.  The new alliance is made up of the nation’s leading liberal, leftist and national activists who, shocked by calls to apply the Shari’a (Islamic Law) in Egypt, want to stem the rising Islamic tide and defend the state they hope to establish for all citizens after the ousting of Mubarak’s regime. . . .  ‘Where did the Islamists get all this money from?’ asked Mamdouh Hamza, a leading architect and a member of the new alliance.  ‘We must pay attention to funding for these people, coming from outside Egypt.’  In this, Hamza has a point, his colleagues say.  When they converged on Tahrir Square, the iconic centre of the Egyptian revolution, the Islamists used hundreds of buses to ferry thousands of their supporters from all governorates to the heart of the Egyptian capital.  Some estimates put the spending of the Salafists on Friday alone at LE4 million (almost $666,000), a fantastic fortune by most Egyptians’ standards.  Some people say the Islamists each contributed LE20 towards the LE4 million. . . .  The liberal activists who met at the independent Journalists’ Syndicate on Tuesday called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to bring the funding of the Islamists under scrutiny.”

Ahram Online (5 August 2011): “Sufi leaders along with ten political parties as well as Coptic, liberal and secular groups are planning to stage a million-man protest in Tahrir square next Friday, 12 August. . . .  The purpose of the protest is to reinforce national unity between Muslims and Copts, challenge Salafist and Wahhabi thought, and promote the civil state, according to Alaa Aboul Azayem, founder of the Al-Tahrir political party and leader of Azmiya Sufi sect.  Abdel Galil Mostafa, another member of the committee, said that one goal of the demonstration is to form political blocks to prepare for the upcoming elections.  Aboul Azayem was quoted by several publications critiquing Salafists who staged a massive protest last Friday, describing their school of thought as alien to Egyptian culture.  He also criticised raising the Saudi flag during their protest in Tahrir as unpatriotic.”

Tunisia

Thierry Brésillon (Rue89, 2 August 2011): “Among about 7 million eligible voters (of the 11 million Tunisian population), after three weeks of voter registration, only 1.8 million are registered to vote, of whom only 20% are women.  Given this disappointing result, Tunisia’s Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE), charged to organize the elections, has decided to postpone the end of voter registration from the 2nd to the 14th of August.”

Wafa Guiga (NPA, 3 August 2011): “Local committees in defense of the revolution, which sprang up everywhere, have been partially swallowed up by the Islamist Nahda Party.  This takeover was made all the easier because several other organizations have gradually deserted them to take office.  Those committees which have not been taken over by Nahda — though numerous — have become partially institutionalized, playing the role of municipalities or that of intermediaries with them, rather than contributing to the organization and coordination of struggles.”

Yosra Frawes (El Watan, 6 August 2011): “[A]ll the polls show that the Renaissance (Nahda) Party (of Tunisia) will snap up 20-30% of the votes in the upcoming election, even without any coalition.  After the election, they can form coalitions and become a majority force.”

Syria

International Crisis Group (13 July 2011): “Internet-savvy members of the exiled opposition project the image of a Tunisia- or Egypt-like revolution, downplaying any Islamist agenda, confessional character or resort to violence.  In particular, they edit out sectarian (i.e., anti-Allawite) slogans that at times are voiced on the streets in favour of those conveying a broader sense of community.  Likewise, they have tended to highlight any sign of participation by women in what so far has been a predominantly (although not exclusively) male phenomenon. . . .  Despite the broadly peaceful nature of the movement, several credible reports surfaced of violence initiated by armed protesters.  Security forces appear to have suffered casualties early on; according to a Syrian military spokesman, by late June they exceeded 400. . . .  The most prominent case of violence against security forces so far reportedly occurred in June in Jisr al-Shughur, in the north-western Idlib governorate.  Although circumstances remain obscure, scores of security officials appear to have been killed in an assault against a military intelligence headquarters.  Authorities claim that some 120 officers were killed in the incident; Western diplomats who visited the location could not confirm the number, though they saw evidence of a brutal battle involving, they say, an apparently well-armed group of men that the security forces could not repel.  Other indications suggest the attackers were religiously conservative — which is true of much of the local population — and had connections in neighbouring Turkey — using Turkish mobile telephone sim cards and weapons seldom found in Syria.  The regime blamed ‘armed Islamist gangs’ and said some corpses had been decapitated.”

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph, 6 August 2011): “A number of activists at the forefront of the civilian protest movement in Syria confirmed that a bloody attack on government troops in the city of Hama last week was almost certainly the work of extremists involved in the insurgency against US forces in Iraq.  The Assad regime has claimed that more than 400 government soldiers and members of the security forces have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.  While it is almost impossible to prove the extent of the death toll, there is growing evidence that violent elements pledging allegiance to the opposition have carried out well armed and carefully co-ordinated attacks against government troops since as long ago as April. . . .  [S]ectarian tensions are widely believed to exist, although the opposition has frequently edited out footage of anti-Alawite chants by protesters from the videos it regularly posts to the internet, according to International Crisis Group, a respected think-tank.  Until this week, many in the opposition had also constantly tried to blame the deaths of soldiers on their own commanders seeking retribution against those who refused to shoot unarmed protesters.  But this policy of denial has changed after footage, broadcast repeatedly on Syrian state television showed the bloodied corpses of soldiers being tossed from a bridge near Hama last week.  The grisly pictures showed the muddied waters of the Orontes River crimson as they land with a sickening splash.”

As’ad AbuKhalil (Angry Arab News Service, 6 August 2011): “Lebanese Army intelligence uncovers a major smuggling operation from Beirut to Syria.  No reference to it in the Western press.”

Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada, 8 August 2011): “A disturbing story is circulating on social networks — especially in Arabic — and some news media that a number of premature babies died in their incubators when Syrian forces cut off electricity to hospitals during their assault on the city of Hama.  Evidence suggests it is a cruel hoax, and the pictures of the ‘dead babies’ widely circulated online are false. . . .  The picture circulating with many of the alarmist report of dozens of dead babies in Syria, you will be glad to know, shows a bunch of babies who are alive, hopefully well, and living in Egypt.”

RIA Novosti (5 August 2011): “NATO is planning a military campaign against Syria to help overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with a long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran, Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said.”

Syrian Commando (7 August 2011): “The good news is their plan for civil war in #Syria has failed due to our strong unified army.  The bad news is they only have the war card.”

Joshua Landis (Syria Comment, 8 August 2011): “Washington and Western capitals are making headway in establishing a ‘contact group’ among the regional states on Syria.  The orchestrated warnings to Damascus from all US allies in the region is a success for the State Department’s diplomacy.  It puts Syria’s Muslim neighbors in the limelight and keeps the US, Western Powers, and Israel in the shadows. . . .”

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Etc.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi (Foreign Policy, 21 July 2011): “Qatari and Saudi ties grow ever warmer.  In the past few weeks, the number of weekly flights Qatar Airways has been allowed to operate to Saudi Arabia increased from 35 to 60.  In September, a delegation of 100 Saudi businessmen will visit Qatar to discuss joint business opportunities, including the establishment of a Saudi-Qatari bank and joint industrial zone.  Al Jazeera, long banned in the kingdom, has also been given the green light to set up a Saudi bureau.”

Ty McCormick (Foreign Policy, 22 July 2011): “The economies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia are projected to shrink by a collective 0.5 percent this year, reversing 4.4 percent growth in 2010, according to a report published by the Institute of International Finance in May.  In Yemen and Libya, which are still in turmoil, the numbers will likely be worse; and the growth forecast for the North African region as a whole has fallen from 4.5 percent in 2010 to less than 1 percent this year, according to the African Central Bank. . . .  Despite hosting regional media-giant, Al Jazeera — known to many as the voice of the Arab revolutions — Qatar has remained the picture of quietude over the past few months.  And perhaps more spectacularly, the tiny Arab emirate is set to grow by 20 percent this year, giving it the distinction of the world’s fastest-growing economy.”

Turkey

Aengus Collins (Istanbul Notes, 15 June 2011): “The most significant contributor to the recent widening of the current account deficit has been an explosion of credit in the economy.  In response to the global financial crisis, a wave of liquidity was unleashed by the advanced economies’ central banks to keep the system afloat.  Much of this money has found its way into emerging economies such as Turkey’s, in search of higher returns than are on offer elsewhere.  These inflows have sustained a credit boom in Turkey, which in turn has financed a binge on imports.  And this surge in imports has pushed the current account ever further into the red, to the point that it now represents a real threat to the stability of the economy.”

Marc Champion (Wall Street Journal, 6 August 2011): “Turkish authorities moved Friday to support the central bank’s controversial decision to lower its benchmark interest rate and for the first time ruled out making cuts to public spending.  The effort to shore up confidence came as the central bank announced a first $50 million auction in order to support the lira, while cutting foreign exchange reserve requirements for commercial banks. . . .  On Friday, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek went further to explain the bank’s position.  Overheating had been the major concern in the fourth quarter of last year, but no longer, he said.  But credit growth, which was 34% last year, fell sharply last month, and even turned negative, according to Mr. Simsek, who was speaking on CNBC-e television.”

Steve Bryant (Bloomberg, 8 August 2011): “Turkish central bank Governor Erdem Basci said he may extend a record-breaking series of cuts to the benchmark interest rate, depending on how European leaders manage the sovereign debt crisis. . . .  Europe doesn’t have the experience of debt sustainability crises that emerging-market economies such as Turkey have accumulated over the years and its response has been slow in some areas, Basci said.”


Translation of Tunisian news items by Yoshie Furuhashi.  Cf. Hassane Zerrouky, “Samir Amin «C’est un mouvement qui va durer des mois et des années»” (L’Humanité, 1 August 2011).


 

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