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The Briefing

The Briefing: Latest Middle East news, opinions and research from American Friends of Tel Aviv University

We're pleased to present this week's round-up of Middle East insight and analysis from
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Gail Reiss, President & CEO

Volume V, Number 14:
April 30, 2018

Iqtisadi: Middle East Economy

"Rami Makhlouf and the Syrian War Economy" by Mauro Primavera
Former Dayan Center research intern Mauro Primavera analyzes the ways that corrupt businessmen are capitalizing on the Syrian conflict.
Source: Iqtisadi: Middle East Economy/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — April 25, 2018

Ifriqiya: Africa Research Program

"The UN Leadership Role in Solving the Western Sahara Conflict: Progress, or Delays for Peace?" by Yasmine Hasnaoui
Guest author Yasmine Hasnaoui analyzes the role that the United Nations has taken in solving the seemingly intractable Western Sahara conflict.
Source: Ifriqiya: Africa Research Program/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — April 22, 2018

Turkeyscope: Insights on Turkish Affairs

"The Eurasian Vector in Russian-Turkish Relations" by Timur Akhmetov
Timur Akhmetov of the Russian International Affairs Council explores the nature of bilateral ties between Russia and Turkey, with a particular focus on shared values and required tolerance in order to overcome the historical legacy of mistrust between Moscow and Ankara.
Source: Turkeyscope: Insights on Turkish Affairs/Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University April 23, 2018

Tel Aviv Notes

"President Trump in Syria: Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by Brandon Friedman
On April 7, 2018, the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chlorine and perhaps sarin gas to kill dozens and injure hundreds in the rebel-controlled Douma area of eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. A week later, on April 14, France, the United Kingdom and the United States carried out a series of "precision strikes" on three facilities used to manufacture and store the regime's chemical weapons. Defense officials emphasized that this attack was "qualitatively and quantitatively different" from the U.S. strike on the Shayrat airbase in April 2017, but it appears that the latest strikes were carefully planned to avoid escalation with the regime's patrons, Russia and Iran. A Pentagon spokeswoman underscored this message, stating that "our mission in Syria remains the same. It is to defeat ISIS. It is not to be involved in the civil war."
Source: Tel Aviv Notes/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — April 17, 2018

Beehive: Middle East Social Media

This issue reviews (1) the positions of Egyptian social media users regarding the publicized arrest of an opposition leader, and the threat of arrest against students accused of having contact with him; (2) introduces the discourse surrounding the intention of the Tehran City Council to name a street after former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, which reflects the tension between an Islamic-religious identity and a secular-national identity that characterizes Iranian society; and (3) follows the online activities of al-Qa'ida, with an emphasis on its presence on the encrypted messaging network Telegram, as part of its preparations for again becoming a leading player in the global jihad arena.
Source: Beehive: Middle East Social Media/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — March 2018

Middle East News Brief

The Middle East News Brief is a selection of editorial commentary and analysis from the Middle East and Africa. The inclusion of any item does not imply that the Moshe Dayan Center endorses the opinions or arguments expressed therein.

Uganda — Risdel Kasasira: We're stuck in Somalia, says army chief
The African Union deployed an international force to combat the terror group al-Shabab in 2007. The initial deployment included troops from Uganda, and the Ugandan Army's contingent in the African Union Peacekeeping Mission remains the largest. In a recent interview, Gen. David Muhoozi, the chief of the Uganda Defense Forces, complained that the force cannot operate in an effective manner against the enemy due to budgetary constraints and logistical problems. He also emphasized the lack of support for the African Union mission at the UN Security Council and the lack of progress in building the local Somali Army's capacity to fight the enemy on their own. Muhoozi also touched on local problems facing Uganda, including the rise of the Allied Democratic Forces, a splinter group of the Lord's Resistance Army that has turned into a criminal enterprise operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
Source: Daily Monitor (Kampala) — April 23, 2018

Tunisia — Hanen Jebli: Is freedom of expression at stake in Tunisia?
There are growing concerns over freedom of expression in Tunisia. Authorities have been clamping down on criticism from bloggers and social media users, and military criminal prosecutions for posting online criticism of military and government officials and their policies have been increasing. The recent draft law from Nidaa Tunis, the ruling party, about electronic defamation raises additional concerns. The draft law seeks to impose harsh criminal punishments for "criticism, insults or curses." Human rights organizations and the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate have condemned the draft law as an authoritarian attempt to limit the gains in freedom of opinion and expression from the revolution and to "return to the cycle of tyranny."
Source: al-Monitor (Tunis) — April 22, 2018

Egypt — N.A. Hussein: Wafd Party elections raise issue of female empowerment in Egypt
The Wafd Party has presented the list of cadres for the upcoming local council elections and stressed the desire to give a larger share of the list to women. But the chances of election for the female candidates remain low. Out of the five candidates who competed in March for the leadership, none were women. Hala Shukrallah is the only woman to have assumed a leadership role, but she resigned in protest from the al-Dostour Party less than a year after being elected following their electoral failure. The problem is that most Egyptians, including women, favor men in partisan and local council positions. According to Sabah al-Saqqari, who ran for the presidency in 2012, the most important step for the Wafd Party is to organize awareness campaigns across Egypt to encourage the election of women.
Source: al-Monitor (Cairo) — April 22, 2018

Yemen — Correspondent: Death of Houthi leader may herald ferocious escalation of Yemen war
The death of Houthi President Saleh al-Sammad last Monday marks the second time in five months that a Houthi president has died. But it may also mark an important pivot point in the conflict in Yemen. The Saudi-backed Yemen government sees the death of the president as a major victory and believes that it may lead to the end of the war. These hopes may not be very realistic. For their part, the Houthis have already appointed al-Sammad's successor and promised to exact revenge against the United States and Saudi Arabia for al-Sammad's death.
Source: al-Araby al-Jadeed (Sana'a) — April 24, 2018

Jordan — Osama Al Sharif: Dhahran summit supports Palestine, denounces foreign intervention
At the Arab summit meeting in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, state leaders emphasized their continued focus on the Palestinian issue. The agreements reached between these parties included the condemnation of the Trump administration's recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Instead, the Arab assembly reinforced its commitment to a peaceful resolution between the Palestinians and Israelis via the framework of the two-state solution. These decisions come in the wake of rumors that some leaders in the Arab world were prepared to sideline the Palestinian struggle. Moreover, members of the summit condemned the continued Iranian intervention in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. While unified on these and other crucial issues, the council was divided on current events in Syria. This, in conjunction with worrisome domestic and regional trends, highlights the many challenges before the Arab world.
Source: Jordan Times (Amman) — April 17, 2018

Lebanon — Paul Khalifeh: Donors throw a lifeline to Lebanon's economy, but trouble looms
On March 30, Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced that Lebanon is on the verge of bankruptcy. The international community pledged $11 billion to help the country at the Cedar Conference, but the money may not save the Lebanese economy. $10.2 billion of the aid is in the form of loans, which will swell the public debt and are contingent on the implementation of important fiscal reforms. In order to raise the money required for these reforms, the government has increased taxes in 2017 and is likely to increase them further in 2018, despite the opinion of experts that the government should decrease taxes in periods of stagnant economic growth. Raising taxes may also prompt social unrest. Hezbollah is threatening to take to the streets in opposition to the increases. Aid from the Cedar Conference can give Lebanon a temporary respite, but Lebanon also requires serious reforms if it hopes to weather this economic crisis.
Source: Middle East Eye (Beirut) — April 16, 2018

Syria — Hassan Hassan: We have not yet seen the full impact of ISIS sleeper cells coming back to life
ISIS recently released a number of statements focusing on what it refers to as "amniyat," the security measures necessary for its fighters to operate. Such statements come at a critical point. ISIS cells, which have been laying low in response to military campaigns against them, seem to be gearing up for new rounds of attacks, shifting from a more defensive mode to an offensive one. The ongoing effort to awaken its sleeper cells has seen recent success in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Syria, where steady attacks have returned, primarily in territories that the group has lost in the past few years. The combination of ISIS's recent uptick in attacks, together with a push to recover its sleeper cells, is demonstrative of the growing strength of the group's underground insurgency. Time will tell what damage ISIS will be able to inflict in this new phase.
Source: The National (Abu Dhabi) — April 18, 2018

Turkey — Talha Köse: Early elections will help reduce Turkey's political uncertainties
With the announcement of early elections to be held on June 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hopes for an early transition to a presidential system that would mitigate political uncertainty in the country. Early elections will stimulate the repair of a sluggish bureaucracy, increase investment and accelerate much needed economic reforms. Additionally, tension between Washington, Moscow and Ankara will be ameliorated by this certainty. If he is re-elected this year, Erdoğan will have a greater political mandate to deal with Syria and other long-term security risks. Finally, it will result in a stronger alliance between the governing Justice and Development Party and Nationalist Movement Party coalition.
Source: Daily Sabah (Ankara) — April 19, 2018

Turkey — Kılıç Buğra Kanat: Thinking positively on the Syrian war
Within the context of the Syrian crisis, the world is witnessing the changing of the international system as with the U.S. at its epicenter. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has not been able to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria, failing to fulfill the raison d’être of their charter. The tension among major world powers and their inability to act demonstrate the failure of international norms in a changing international system. This emerging disorder will come even more to the forefront in the discussions that will precede the rebuilding of Syria. The lack of action and a sole leading actor in finding solution to the Syrian crisis can also be seen as an opportunity for regional actors to adopt greater roles within the international arena.
Source: Daily Sabah (Ankara) — April 21, 2018

Kurdistan Region — Honar Hama Rasheed: No more safe zones: Iran sending assassins to Iraq, say Iranian Kurdish groups
Iraqi Kurdistan has acted as a base for several Kurdish Iranian groups, such as the PAK (Kurdish Freedom Party) and the PDKI (Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan), since 1991. But last week Hussein Yazdan Banna, the head of the PAK, was hurt while in Erbil, in what Iranian Kurds claimed to have been an assassination attempt. The PAK believes Iranians are responsible for the attempted hit. This is not the first time something like this has taken place — several similar incidents have occurred recently. In the past two months, senior members of the PDKI have been attacked as well. A bomb exploded in March, killing two of the party's members, and a few days later another senior member was shot dead. According to Hengaw, a human rights group in Iraqi Kurdistan, there have been 10 deaths of Iranian Kurdish party members since the beginning of the year. Iranian Kurds now feel that they might not be safe anymore in Erbil.
Source: Niqash (Erbil) — April 19, 2018


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