A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thoughts for the Last Days of Ramadan: A Regional Tour d'Horizon

I have returned from vacation and of course, much has happened in my absence. In Islamic tradition, the last ten days of Ramadan are considered especially holy, a time for prayer and silent meditation, a time of special grace. As the Middle East approaches this year's ‘Id al-Fitr, it may be useful to pause and take a tour d'horizon of recent events. I'll post more on specific issues in coming days.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian resumption of peace talks is good news for those of us who see no real alternative to a two-state solution. On the positive side, the sides are talking again, and addressing final status issues; the decision to defer the thorniest issues (Jerusalem, refugees, final borders) proved the fatal flaw of the Oslo process. Also positive is that the Arab League has reiterated its peace plan, assuring Israel of recognition by the entire Arab world. On the downside, Israeli settlements policy is already threatening the talks yet again,
  • Hassan Rouhani has succeeded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though some (apparently misquoted) remarks attributed to him about Israel were not as encouraging a start as one might have hoped for, and of course the President doesn't make the nuclear decisions and this one is a cleric and a loyal son of the clerical regime, the transfer of power could offer an opportunity for some sort of breakthrough, or at least halt the efforts to go to war.
  • It's an awkward time for US policy. Despite the successes Secretary Kerry had with Israel, and the Palestinians, US policy seems a bit uncertain. US Embassies and other missions are closed all week due to a terror threat. (Admittedly they'd be closed the latter half of the week for the ‘Id anyway. Egyptian secularists and liberals are more anti-American than they have ever been, and the few who aren't are being denounced as American stooges. US Ambassador Anne Patterson is unpopular in Egypt (though largely for reasons that aren't really justified) and is now moving to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
  • Iraq is a mess. July was the deadliest day in Iraq for years, and communal violence remains deep and persistent. Yet the West largely ignores it, since the last foreign troops left. (After all, the invasion and occupation can't have played any role in the present mess, can they?)
  • Just when things couldn't get worse in Syria, they seem to be getting worse. Regime forces are fighting their way back, retaking key parts of Homs and gearing up for Aleppo. Russia's open support for the Asad regime is possibly turning the tide. Wait, what happened to the West arming the rebels?
  • And then there's Egypt. The military-backed regime seems to be reluctant to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood, despite US and European pressures to do so; the rhetoric of denouncing them as "terrorists" smacks of the Nasser and Mubarak eras, but then the Brotherhood shows no sign of settling for anything less than a full return of Morsi to power. The few liberals who have criticized both sides (mostly leftists and "third square" activists) get attacked as Brotherhood sympathizers, American agents, or maybe both. The good news: despite lots of threats, the weekend passed without a Tiananmen-style clearing of the Brotherhood encampments at Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya and in Giza. But even a military regime must be aware that such a potentially bloody move in the last days of Ramadan could backfire. But what happens after the ‘Id?
More thoughts soon as I get caught up on other business.

No comments: