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

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Volume VI, Number 1:
January 7, 2019

Tel Aviv Notes

"The Syrian Political Opposition on the Verge of Irrelevance" by Joel Parker
Reforming state institutions under the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may not be as attractive as regime change, but it appears to be the only way for the remaining elements of the Syrian opposition to influence the Syrian political system. Unfortunately, because the Astana process has been seen as a distraction from the Geneva track, especially by the pro-Saudi wing of the Syrian opposition, they may miss this opportunity.
Source: Tel Aviv Notes/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — January 2, 2019

Middle East News Brief

Sudan — Abdelwahab El-Affendi: Sudan protests: How did we get here?
The protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989, began on December 19 in the northern town of Atbara and have reached Khartoum. The fact that the protests started in a region trumpeted as the regime's stronghold should be worrying for al-Bashir and his circle, as it depends on a minority core of hardline Islamists, although the majority have also deserted. For most Sudanese, Islamism came to signify corruption, hypocrisy, cruelty and bad faith, and Sudan is perhaps the first genuinely anti-Islamist country in popular terms. But being an anti-Islamist in Sudan does not mean being secular. Nonetheless, if no meaningful effort is made to win over the largely Islamist military and enlist disaffected Islamists, conflict may ensue.
Source: al-Jazeera (Doha) — December 28, 2018

Libya — Azeem Ibrahim: Can Saif al-Islam Qaddafi become president of Libya?
2019 will be a challenging year for Libya, due to the upcoming presidential election and the possible announcement of a new candidate who has Russian President Vladimir Putin's backing: Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the oldest son of Muammar Qaddafi. The issue of the civil war would, in this case, play out with the establishment of a state that would mirror pre-revolution Libya, but with stronger links to Russia. Even if this idea is not universally rejected in Libya, some question the achievements of the revolution. Moreover, it is not clear how Khalifa Haftar, the field marshal of the Tobruk faction and former Qaddafi-regime general, would react to Saif's candidacy. Would Haftar defer to Putin, or would he reject Qaddafi despite his need for Moscow's support? There would be unknown consequences in either case.
Source: al-Arabiya (Dubai) — December 30, 2018

Egypt — After failed meetings with Sarraj, Haftar's move to mount offensive on Libyan capital sparks disagreement with Egypt
Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), is preparing a large-scale military campaign to enter Tripoli, the Libyan capital, which is under the control of the rival Government of National Accord. As a result, a rift with Egypt has opened up. Haftar and the LNA have been Egypt's primary political and military allies in Libya, but relations have deteriorated due to disagreements regarding Haftar's planned assault. Egypt deems increased instability a threat to its security due to the porous border it shares with Libya, and it believes a war in Tripoli will be counterproductive. Furthermore, these developments have caused disagreement between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) because the latter supports Haftar's planned military push into Tripoli. Finally, the prospect of an escalated military conflict threatens to destroy already tenuous political efforts to unify the country and rebuild some semblance of a coherent Libyan state.
Source: Mada Masr (Cairo) — December 28, 2018

Yemen — Naseh Shaker and Faisal Edroos: Mohammed al-Houthi: We want a united and democratic Yemen
Mohammed al-Houthi, the head of the Houthi rebels' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, has claimed that the Houthis' agreement to the UN partial ceasefire in Hodeidah is an attempt at achieving peace in Yemen and not a result of its diminishing forces. The Houthis want to establish a post-war transitional government composed of technocrats that would hold serious elections in consideration of the domestic situation of Yemeni parties. Al-Houthi expects to achieve endorsement for a political framework, an economic mechanism for the disbursement of salaries, a mechanism for reconstruction, a lifting of the blockade and a ceasefire. He refuted reports of human rights violations as fabricated allegations and placed responsibility on the government to investigate. He claims missiles launched into Saudi Arabia were not Iranian but Russian and Korean and were a means to deter aggression and oppose the Saudi-UAE coalition's occupying presence in Yemen. According to al-Houthi, the Houthis envision a powerful, democratic Yemen that is friendly with its neighbors, terrorist-free and effective with resources in order to provide services for everyone.
Source: al-Jazeera (Sanaa) — December 25, 2018

Palestine — Ahmad Abu Amer: Russia eyes a greater Palestinian role
Russia has declared its readiness to host and mediate reconciliation talks between Palestinian rival factions Hamas and Fatah. Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas' Political Bureau, has expressed a willingness to partake in these reconciliation efforts, according to a senior Russian official. Similarly, Fatah seems open-minded to the idea, although it has yet to receive an official invitation to the talks in Moscow. The ongoing rift between the two organizations dates back to 2007, when Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip. Recent unity efforts collapsed following the attempted assassination of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in March 2018. The Palestinian Authority insists that the attack was an act of Hamas, an accusation that the Gaza-based group denies. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether Moscow can achieve a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah this time around. The outcomes of this possible initiative aside, Russia's preparedness to host these talks is a sign of its interest in playing a greater role in the Middle East.
Source: al-Monitor (Gaza City) — December 27, 2018

Jordan — Sawsan Tabazah: Jordan's civil society fights for more rights in Personal Status Law
Women's rights and civil rights activists have mobilized in response to the approval of the Personal Status Law by Jordan's Lower House. They have collected signatures for a petition "concerned with protecting women's dignity and rights as well as the cohesion of the family." It proposes 11 amendments to the bill pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody and guardianship issues, as well as demands that the provision for child marriage be eliminated. Ongoing meetings with parliamentarians have garnered support on three issues: increasing the minimum age of marriage to 16, ensuring victims of arbitrary divorce receive just compensation and affording orphaned grandchildren of deceased mothers the "obligatory bequest." However, although some issues have been addressed, glaring inequalities remain. Jordan's Personal Status Law continues to be highly discriminatory.
Source: al-Monitor (Amman) — December 26, 2018

Lebanon — Tarek Ali Ahmad: After year of political deadlock, financial woes, what next for Lebanon?
Despite its promising beginning, 2018 was a year of highs and lows for Lebanon. In May, the country held parliamentary elections for the first time in nine years, with Hezbollah and its allies winning more than half of the seats at the expense of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, which lost a third of its seats. Since the elections, Lebanon has faced political deadlock, with Hariri refusing to give up his position as the Sunnis' main leader to newly elected pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs. Lebanon has also been facing severe economic challenges, which are further aggravated by the government's current stalemate. In the cultural sphere, 2018 was a great year for Lebanon, however. Many Lebanese films received international awards, and the country is planning to reopen its national library to the public for the first time since it shut its doors during the civil war. In 2019, it is up to Hariri to make his next move and see that none of Lebanon's institutions collapse.
Source: The Arab News (Beirut) — December 29, 2018

Turkey — Yaşar Yakış: How to solve East Euphrates issues without war
Since the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, a Turkish military operation is expected to be launched against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Washington's biggest ally in the war against ISIS. During the 100 days of the American disengagement, Ankara will prepare itself for combatting its U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped opponent. The Turkish army, as the second largest military force in NATO, is very likely to succeed due to its large experience with counterterrorism, raising questions about the number of casualties and international consequences. There are concerns that Turkey will seek to expel the Kurds and remake the ethnic composition of northeastern Syria. Ultimately, engaging in negotiations between the two parties might be the only way to avoid another military conflict in the region.
Source: Ahval News (Ankara) — December 28, 2018

Turkey — Mustafa Sonmez: Turkey's youth unemployment reaches frightening level
With record rates of unemployment and youth unemployment, Turkey is entering an economic crisis. In September, youth unemployment reached 21.6%. This is almost double the overall unemployment rate of 11.4%. Because the official youth unemployment rate does not include people not enrolled in education, employment or training, but focuses on employment alone, the actual youth unemployment rate is higher. Likewise, it considers only those people who have tried and failed to find a job as "unemployed" — as opposed to those who have never tried to enter the job market. The real jobless rate among Turkey's youth might be as high as 27.4%. Because economic crises are often especially hard on youth, there should be a greater commitment to adequate education for Turkey's younger generations.
Source: al-Monitor (Istanbul) — December 27, 2018

Kurdistan Region — Haidar Sumeri: Iraq must prepare for the aftermath of Trump's Syria withdrawal
U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria will most affect the country's Kurdish community, with significant implications for Syria's neighbors and the war against ISIS. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, ISIS launched a counterattack in Hajin, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened operations against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and Iraqi forces mobilized along the Syrian border. Despite the YPG's stated commitment to continue the battle against ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has voiced concerns that it could be forced to divert forces away from the fight against ISIS in the event of a Turkish attack. Caught between American betrayal and a looming Turkish onslaught, the Kurds have concluded that their only option is to turn to the Syrian government. Meetings between the two parties are underway while the Syrian regime's forces have moved toward Manbij, a key target for Turkey. The details of the withdrawal remain vague, but whatever happens, the maintenance of SDF lines against ISIS must be a top priority. In the event of the SDF's collapse, Iraqi and Syrian military forces must be prepared to fill its shoes.
Source: 1001 Iraqi Thoughts (Baghdad) — December 31, 2018



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