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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 17:
July 29, 2019

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 mean that the MDC endorses the opinions or arguments expressed therein.

Morocco — Mohamed Chtatou: Islam is couched in Sufism in Morocco
Terrorist attacks in Morocco, in a restaurant and internet café in Casablanca, challenged both the Moroccan government and the king in 2003. The attacks reflected the threat of radical Islam in a country that has a tradition of Sufism and Maraboutism, and where the king's legitimacy is based on his role as "Amir al-mu’imin" — leader of the faithful. The Moroccan establishment tends to encourage the Sufi tradition for a number of reasons. First, Sufism is about personal engagement with each one's self, meaning that Sufism is apolitical because it is much more concerned with spirituality than with the material world. Second, fragmentation of religious representation offers an advantage to the king in ruling the country. Third, Sufism sends a message of openness and tolerance to the world and to the rest of the region. Sufism also allowed Morocco to go through Arab uprisings and Islamist power unscathed. Therefore, Sufism should be valued as a fence to Islamism and continue to embody Moroccan exceptionalism.
Source: Morocco World News (Rabat) — July 18, 2019

Sudan — Alsir Sid Ahmed: Talks, talks ... and more talks
The hope for constitutional accord between the rival Sudanese political factions Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) has reached an impasse. The FFC has asked for an additional 72 hours to iron out the concerns of the Communist Party and the Revolutionary Front within the FFC. Satiating all parties involved, and thus curtailing any fear of renewed violence, has proved a difficult task. The FFC is composed of a loose alliance of professionals, political parties, NGOs and armed rebel groups, whose only unifying concern was facilitating an end to the now-deposed Al-Ingaz ("Salvation") regime. Now that coalition building is underway, the various interests of each party threaten to undermine the entire project. Despite this, major efforts are being made to form a democratic political apparatus capable of pleasing the various factions without an eruption of chaos and violence. It is Sudan's geostrategic importance with regard to the Nile River that has made international bodies such as Egypt, Ethiopia and the United States push for a peaceful resolution.
Source: Sudanow (Khartoum) — July 21, 2019

Tunisia — Mokhtar Dabbabi: Power struggles rocking Tunisia's Islamist party ahead of elections
It has been eight years since the Islamist Ennahda Movement in Tunisia has been active in the open, and it is undergoing fundamental changes. Working in plain sight and under the public eye, as opposed to simply drawing strength from being politically oppressed, has led to divisions and turmoil within the party. The story behind the storm inside Ennahda goes back to what happened as the party prepared for legislative elections in Tunisia. Ennahda conducted free and democratic internal elections to select its candidates for the elections, but Ennahda's executive committee canceled the results. The movement is becoming very similar to Nidaa Tounes, and there will probably soon be important resignations from Ennahda. This time, the battle is not about a transitional tactical choice; it is about a reversal of Ennahda's basic values and traditions and its transition to a civic party that is ready to make deals to appeal to the wider society and persuade its detractors that it has no dubious past, no dubious current relations and no color.
Source: Arab Weekly (Tunis) — July 19, 2019

Arab World — Abdel Moneim Said: What's happening in the Middle East?
The recent seizure of a British oil tanker by Iran is part of a larger "succession of escalatory incidents" in both the Gulf and the Red Sea in which commercial vessels are under attack. The Eastern Mediterranean seems to be heading in the same direction, with increased conflict in the area over exploratory drilling rights for natural gas and oil. At the same time, cooperation has been heightened as new maritime border agreements have been established, including new agreements between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and between Egypt and Cyprus. Another example is the successful mediation carried out by U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield between Lebanon and Israel over maritime border disputes. Despite peaceful developments, there are many worrying issues in the Middle East, such as the Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon. In order to "cool these situations down," there needs to be more industrial and commercial enterprise cooperation among states.
Source: Ahram Online (Cairo) — July 20, 2019

United Arab Emirates — Asma I. Abdulmalik: What it means to be an equalist
Dubai is hosting the Expo 2020 in the Middle East under the theme "Connecting minds, creating the future," focusing on 2019 as a year of "tolerance." This brings up important questions: What does it mean to be tolerant? Do we understand tolerance? Author Asma I. Abdulmalik explains that she is not just tolerant, but also an accepting equalist, someone who is all-encompassing and reflective. She furthers her belief that equal opportunities, freedoms and rights should be given to citizens without fear of retribution. She hopes to keep an equal mind, listening to both radical feminists as well as the socially conservative. Men and women are equal and thus should have access to the same opportunities. Race should not supersede personal achievements, and one's ethnic background should not matter in conversation. As individuals, she claims, we should be free to find our own spiritual path and not be judged based on our religion or sect, because at the core we are all equal.
Source: Arab News (Jeddah) — July 19, 2019

Lebanon — Hazem Saghieh: Palestinians of Lebanon and the Lebanese Palestinians
New regulations from the Lebanese Labor Ministry, intended to address Syrian refugees, have stirred up tensions among Palestinians living in Lebanon. Issues with Palestinians in Lebanon are not new; many Palestinians have emigrated from Lebanon due to dismal conditions. Paradoxically, Palestinians in Lebanon, who were forced to immigrate, do not receive Lebanese citizenship, while Lebanese choosing to immigrate to other countries seek citizenship. In a society in which Palestinians are barred from 72 types of jobs and owning houses, Lebanon needs to choose between being a hate-filled country that uses force to keep Palestinians in their current place and being a country of openness and rights. At the same time, Palestinians invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harm Palestinians trying to live in Lebanon and have little regard for the development and stability of Lebanese society. Thus, Palestinians who are trying to live in Lebanon face obstacles from both Lebanon and Palestine.
Source: aSharq al-Awsat (London) — July 21, 2019

Syria — Paul Khalifeh: Syria war: Why did Assad restructure the military-security apparatus?
On July 8, seeking improved military centralization and coordination, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a comprehensive restructuring of his country's security apparatus. This is the largest-scale overhaul of the Syrian army in seven years. The biggest change is the appointment of Gen. Ali Mamlouk as vice president for security affairs, making him the most powerful Sunni official in the country. Many have interpreted these moves as being part of the greater Russia-Iran conflict over the control of Syria's military. Despite being allies in the Syrian War, Russia and Iran are in competition for Syria's security infrastructure. This rivalry demonstrates that while the Russians and Iranians are united in the fight against a common enemy in Syria, they are divided on their preferred outcome of that fight.
Source: Middle East Eye (London) — July 17, 2019

Turkey — Metin Gurcan: Syria safe zone: Can U.S. reconcile conflicting demands of Turkey, YPG?
An American delegation led by James Jeffrey is headed to Turkey to discuss a proposed safe-zone as the Turkish government feels threatened by Kurdish autonomy on its southern border. The safe-zone is intended to serve as a buffer zone between the Turkish and northern Syrian borders. Military activities have increased along the border area, which is under Syrian Kurdish rule. Turkey is unable to proceed with any military activity unless it is given the approval of the United States. The U.S. seems to be in agreement with Turkey's proposal to create a buffer zone with a limited operation. Jeffrey and his team have allegedly persuaded officials from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to accept the creation of a buffer zone, but there are still questions that must be parsed out, such as the size of the buffer zone and who would be responsible for controlling the cease-fire line in it.
Source: al-Monitor (Washington, DC) — July 22, 2019

Turkey — Serkan Demirtas: Turkey's education system raises alarm for future
Turkey's Student Selection and Placement Center (OSYM) has released the results of this year's university entrance exam. The Turkish selection and placement system is getting more complicated each year as the number of students increases; this year, over 2.3 million students took the test. The results of this year's exam were unsatisfying and raise an alarm for future. They are also evidence of the poor quality of Turkey's education system. One key reason for the collapse of the Turkish education system is the lack of a long-term vision and constant changes in the system driven by political motivations. In addition to the increasing number of religious vocational schools in Turkey, it is clear that structural reasons, such as insufficient qualified teachers and an outdated curriculum, are to blame. Critics have raised concerns that recent religious changes in the system are undermining the principle of secularism. The education system skips academic and scientific necessities in favor of ideological priorities imposed by the leading party. Because of these issues, education, along with the economy, is the gravest problem in Turkey right now.
Source: Hurriyet Daily News (Istanbul) — July 22, 2019

Kurdistan Region — Aryan Faraj: Who brought the Turkish Army into the Kurdistan region?
Leyla Güven, a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), stated that Nechirvan Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), and the authorities in the Kurdistan Region should not allow Turkey in southern Kurdistan. The Turkish army is stationed in the Kurdistan Region under the pretext of the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the region. The PKK has openly violated the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region and freely moves in and out. The best way to end the Turkish army's presence in the Kurdistan Region is through the withdrawal of the PKK from the region. The PKK is not likely to withdraw, as it claims legitimacy in Kurdistan, claiming that the southern part is for every Kurd and can be used in the struggle for greater Kurdistan. This claim seems to be false; the party prevents Kurds from Syrian Kurdistan from taking part in the political process in Rojava because they are not affiliated with the PKK. The PKK continues to reject the fact that the Kurdistan Region is free, recognized and safe with Barzani's leadership, Peshmerga's courage and its peoples' resilience.
Source: Bas News (Erbil) — July 17, 2019




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