Algerian, Pakistani or Turkish scenario for Egypt’s military?

Egypt may have elected its first Islamist president, but the country’s military is jealously guarding its political and economic prerogatives. While the Turkish model is often invoked as a precedent for military-sanctioned red lines guiding a protracted democratic transition, some analysts believe Egypt’s weak institutions make it more likely to follow the example of Pakistan’s failing state.

Egypt’s problem is that the two main competing forces – the military and the Muslim Brotherhood – are both undemocratic, says Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Arabiya TV.

“The lever of real power is still with the military,” he says, raising the possibility of either an Algerian or a Pakistani scenario.

“Although they act as if they want to be like the Turkish military, to be the power behind the civilian leadership, they might do to Egypt what the Pakistani military did to Pakistan,” Melhem fears.

Credit: Pew Forum

There were early signs of the military’s political “recrudescence” exposing the post-Mubarak illusions or revolution or regime change, writes Vali Nasr (right), dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University:

When Egypt’s interim government rejected a badly needed assistance package from the International Monetary Fund, it was at the urging of the military. The IMF demanded reforms that would have impinged on the prerogatives of the military, whose enterprises account for a third of the economy.

The military also condoned the raids on pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations, initiated by Mubarak holdovers, he notes:  

The military saw little reason to restrain itself. The sagging economy and fatigue with revolution produced a nostalgia for authoritarianism among many Egyptians. The international community seemed largely indifferent. That the U.S. authorized military aid to Egypt even after the NGO affair convinced the generals there would be no retribution for a power grab.

International actors can have a significant effect in determining whether Egypt becomes another Pakistan – “a weak country, infested with corruption and extremism, on the edge of instability – or an “economically strong, regionally influential country” like Turkey, writes Nasr, a former State Department official in the Obama administration and a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution:

While the U.S. failed to defend democracy in Pakistan from its allies in the military, the European Union obliged Turkey to agree criteria for its EU candidacy that helped ensure that “the closer Turkey got to Europe politically and economically, the weaker the military’s hand became, and the stronger civil society and the private sector grew.”

The future of democracy in Egypt will largely depend on whether Western powers respond as the U.S. did to Pakistan or as Europe did to Turkey. Accordingly, the U.S., in particular, should work to protect Egypt’s young democracy. It can do so by using its considerable leverage with the Egyptian military, achieved through decades of close connections and $1.3 billion in annual aid.

This would not mean engaging in the day-to-day grind of Egyptian politics, a futile undertaking. Rather, the U.S. should push the generals for meaningful economic reform, such as privatization, lifting trade restrictions, and encouraging direct foreign investment. These measures would clip the military’s wings while empowering civil society and the private sector.


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UN rebukes Kazakhstan over Uzbek refugees’ return

Kazakhstan acted illegally by sending 28 asylum-seekers to neighboring Uzbekistan last year, says the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

The UN committee ruled on the issue on June 1, and made its findings public in a letter to the French anti-torture group ACAT, which had been representing the Uzbek asylum-seekers’ claims against the Kazak state.

In December 2010, ACAT France filed a complaint with the Committee Against Torture on behalf of a total of 29 individuals – 27 Uzbekistan nationals and two citizens of Tajikistan – who were detained in Kazakhstan and were believed to be at risk of being sent to Uzbekistan, where they might face torture and ill-treatment in custody.

Despite these concerns, the Kazak authorities announced that 28 individuals were extradited to Uzbekistan on June 9, 2011.

In its June 2012 ruling, the UN committee ruled that the extradition placed the Kazak authorities in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, and that they should therefore ensure that the individuals concerned were brought back to Kazakhstan and offered compensation.

Despite the stern rebuke the UN committee delivered to Kazakhstan, leading human rights campaigner Yevgeny Zhovtis said the country’s government was unlikely to show any visible reaction.

“The authorities will take this ruling as a recommendation that doesn’t imply any legal obligation to take action,” Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said. “And they can always cite the Minsk and Kishinev conventions that require members of the Commonwealth of Independent States to assist one another on legal matters.”

At the same time, he said, the UN committee’s decision was a blow to Kazakstan’s reputation and might just make the government more cautious about repatriating asylum-seekers.

The Committee Against Torture required Kazakhstan to respond to its conclusions within 90 days. Zhovtis said it would be worth watching to see how the committee pursued matters and ensured that Kazakhstan complied with the ruling.

This is an extract from a longer article produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing CentralAsia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. The Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law is supported by the NED. Yevgeny Zhovtis is a leading member of the World Movement for Democracy.

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Egypt’s NGOs, secular liberals ‘sidelined’ in transition they initiated

The perverse irony of the current power struggle between Egypt’s ruling military and the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood, observers suggest, is that it is “sidelining secular liberals who ignited the anti-Mubarak revolt.”

Egypt’s civil society groups “will not survive the transition they fought to secure,” writes Hend Tarek, as a result of foreign funding declines following this year’s security crackdown on NGOs.

Some countries are “holding their funds waiting to see what will happen in the future,” says Rana Gaber, who works for the Egyptian Youth Federation:

Donors to NGOs, both in Egypt and abroad, are simply donating less money and some NGOs are being forced to shut down. She added that what’s harder than getting the funding is getting the government approval to work in Egypt; a very time-consuming process on its own.

There are over 28,000 NGOs in Egypt registered with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), many of which suffer from a lack of human resources as well as sources of funding. There are 116 NGOs in Egypt which receive foreign funding valued at a little less than EGP 600 million, according to a government official.

Foreign funding to government ministries continues but “all funding going to NGOs has stopped,” says Nihal Nasr el Din, from the Ismailiaya-based Sahm El Theqa Foundation. “The donors are afraid; they are worried about the safety of their workers.”

But some analysts believe building the capacity of governmental institutions should take priority over assistance to non-governmental actors in order to advance Egypt’s democratic transition.

“Our technical and governance assistance needs to concentrate less on NGOs and political party training, and focus more on building capacity in Egypt’s bureaucratic, judicial, and law enforcement institutions — the best way to guarantee effective, accountable, and sustained governance going forward,” writes Peter Mandaville, director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Islamic Studies at George Mason University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“New tools, such as the U.S. administration’s proposed Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, will be a crucial part of delivering on these needs,” he contends:

But how to achieve this when threats to use the best stick Washington would appear to have at its disposal — withholding Egypt’s annual $1.3bn allotment of military aid — ring hollow or are ultimately unpersuasive in Cairo? The idea of the $1.3bn as a key point of U.S. policy leverage has been little more than a chimera for years. But it is part and parcel of a close working relationship that provides Washington with regular, direct, and trusting access to Egypt’s senior military leaders. So this is a case not of threatening or cajoling, but of using sound policy logic to persuade the SCAF that it is in the best interests of the country and the military as an institution to set Egypt on a course of genuine and lasting democratic transition.

The U.S. has signally failed to use its aid as a source of influence over Egypt’s military and other leading political actors, says a former State Department official.

“For the last year, they have had a deer-caught-in-headlights policy towards the military,” said Michele Dunne, a Middle East analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “Now is the time to start using the leverage that we have.”

She struck by the Obama administration’s initial statements on Morsi’s election.

“In the paragraph where they spoke about congratulating Morsi, it was all about urging him to respect diversity and inclusivity and the rights of women and the rights of Christians and bringing others into his government,” said Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.  

The White House was also sending a message to the military, commending the SCAF it for acceding to  the election and playing a responsible role.

“So it seems that, in the minds of the United States, there might be a bit of a division of labor that Morsi, as president, would be working on domestic issues and that the Supreme Council, the armed forces and the military will still be the ones that the United States counts on to keep the peace treaty with Israel,” she told NPR.

Washington will be monitoring events to see if Egypt’s newly-elected president Mohammed Morsi matches his inclusive rhetoric with appropriate actions.

“He has been saying a lot of the right things privately and then you saw him say many of the right things publicly on Sunday,” said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman. “He needs to turn those pledges into action.”

Some democracy advocates have been disappointed by the administration’s equivocal response to events in Egypt.

 “The administration’s approach has been a humiliating failure,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy. “There has been a lot of rhetoric about democratic change, but we have not been willing to do anything to make it happen. We have to be willing to apply serious pressure on the military.”

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, anticipated this line of attack last week when she implicitly criticised some of the young Egyptians who helped oust Mr Mubarak for not getting involved in the elections. She met a large group of young people in Cairo last year and asked about their political plans. “They said, ‘Oh no, we’re revolutionaries. We don’t do politics’,” she said.

However, a former Obama administration official cautioned: “We have much less influence over events in Egypt than people realize. And we can also make things worse.”

It’s a view shared by independent analysts.

“The US has to make it clear that a full transfer to civilian rule is essential, but cancelling military aid will achieve very little,” said Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University.

The US should engage its European allies and “take a huge symbolic step” to test Morsi’s reputed pragmatism, says Emile Nakleh, a former director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program:

After parliamentary elections last year, many liberal Egyptians accused the Muslim Brotherhood of colluding with the military for its interests. Mr Morsi must face down the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and demand a reinstatement of the parliament, which the constitutional court had ordered dissolved at the behest of SCAF. He must also force the military to return to parliament the power to appoint a commission to write the new constitution. This is a tall order in 100 days, but it is the only way for him to build political capital as the new leader of Egypt.

President Obama and British prime minister David Cameron should meet and embrace Morsi as Egypt’s legitimate leader of Egypt within the next 100 days to discuss future relations, Morsi’s commitment to the Camp David peace accord with Israel and “explore the limits of his pragmatism” on Islamic or sharia law as a basis of governance.

Such a meeting would “send two powerful messages to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world,” writes Nakhleh, author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World:

First, it will show the west’s commitment to democratic transitions in the region regardless of who is elected. Second, it will signal to Egypt’s military that Mr Morsi, not SCAF, is the principal interlocutor on behalf of Egypt. Washington has repeatedly urged SCAF to turn over power to the civilian leadership.

The Project on Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, adds:

Court Overturns Law Allowing Military to Arrest Civilians

Egypt’s administrative court overturned the controversial law that would have allowed the military to arrest civilians who were who were “in possession of explosives, resisting orders, destroying public property or monuments, obstructing traffic, taking strike-actions at public institutions, or were suspected of intimidation or thuggery.” The court postponed ruling on several other important issues including whether to annul the constituent assembly and on the status of the parliament which was dissolved after a decision from the High Constitutional Court. The military council recently met with Egypt’s new president to discuss the parliamentary stalemate, future presidential administration, and to address questions about where Morsi will be sworn in. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Saad Al Katatni told reporters that the parliament which was elected by the people is crucial to the balance of power in Egypt and will ensure a transition to a civil state.

Sources “UPDATED: Egypt court overturns military’s right to arrest civilians, delays rulings in 4 critical cases”, Ahram Online (English) 6/26/2012. “Court overturns govt decree allowing military to arrest civilians”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/26/2012. “Egypt administrative court postpones decision on controversial appeals ”, Ahram Online (English) 6/26/2012. “Tomorrow: Administrative court to decide on separation of powers, whether to keep parliament”, Al Dostour (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “Source: Military will not back down from addendum”, Al Shorouk (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “Administrative Court to rule on challenge to military authority tonight”, Al Dostour (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “Verdict on Egypt military’s right to arrest civilians expected Tuesday”, Ahram Online (English) 6/26/2012. “Al Baltagi: Addenum to the Constitutional Declaration is an attempt to avoid handing over power”, ElYom7 (Arabic) 6/26/2012.

Shafiq Leaves Egypt Amidst Fresh Corruption Charges

Several lawyers filed complaints against defeated presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, accusing him of corruption during his stint as Prime Minister under Mubarak. Meanwhile, Shafiq reportedly left Egypt for Abu Dhabi Tuesday morning, just two days after the election results were announced. A judicial source told Egyptian media that the Justice Ministry will receive a report prepared by experts in the Illicit Profiteering and Real Estate Housing Agency which examines land deals made by the Cooperative for Construction and Housing for Pilots that occurred while Shafiq was the organization’s head. According to Egyptian media, more than 30 separate lawsuits have been filed against Shafiq since the ousting of Mubarak, most of which have not been processed. Shafiq reportedly arrived at the Cairo airport early Tuesday morning. Sources issued conflicting reports on whether Shafiq was accompanied by his daughters.


Shafiq congratulates Morsy, leaves for Abu Dhabi”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/26/2012. “Lawyers dog Ahmed Shafiq with corruption charges”, Ahram Online (English) 6/26/2012.

Meeting between SCAF and Morsi on Future Cabinet, Constitution, Parliament

President Morsi held a meeting yesterday with the SCAF to deal with questions related to the future presidential cabinet, the status of the parliament, and the constituent assembly. Mohamed ElBaradei met with the SCAF over the weekend, and they reportedly discussed the possibility of him being involved in the next government, although he previously told Egyptians that he would refuse a position. On the table at the meeting was also the SCAF’s decision to enforce the High Court’s ruling that invalidated the parliament. It is allegedly possible that only those members who were elected to seats reserved for independents may be dissolved. The dispute surrounding the status of parliament has led to uncertainty over where the new president will be sworn in, either before the High Constitutional Court or one of the houses of parliament. Muslim Brotherhood figures issued contradictory remarks on the issue, and the event has taken on political significance as taking an oath before the Court would signal tacit acceptance of the decision to dissolve parliament. Following his meeting with the military council, Morsi thanked the SCAF for its handling of the transition. Morsi’s demands have reportedly centered on securing the status of the constituent assembly and allowing the body to draft the country’s new constitution without interference from the military. The military, meanwhile, wants to limit the authority vested in the presidency and provide a check to the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood. An anonymous source told Egyptian media that SCAF would likely retain the right to name the foreign and interior ministers in the new government and would ask the recently resigned Prime Minister, Kamal Al Ganzouri, to continue in his role until a new cabinet is formed.

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Sources “Egypt’s army, Islamists discuss president’s powers”, Aswat Masriya (English) 6/26/2012. “Morsi thanks the military for its leadership during transition”, Al Dostour (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “SCAF to retain power to name interior and foreign ministers, says source”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/25/2012. “ElBaradei: Meeting with SCAF was fruitful”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/25/2012. “Egypt president-elect Morsi to meet with SCAF Tantawi on Monday” Ahram Online (English) 6/25/2012. “Talks underway between Brotherhood, SCAF, politicians on Egypt’s next govt”, Ahram Online (English) 6/25/2012. “Morsi-SCAF meeting lasts an hour, no details announced on oath-swearing ceremony”, Ahram Online (English) 6/25/2012.

Speculation Over Possible Presidential Team

Several well-known political figures are reportedly under consideration for Mohamed Morsi’s presidential team. Egyptian media leaked several names that were supposedly being considered following a meeting yesterday between Egypt’s new president and the military council. Reports speculate that likely figures will be drawn from the liberal and Salafist blocs and named Mohamed El Baradei and Abdul Moneim Abouel Fotouh as potential figures. Other names that were offered by Egyptian media include Sameh Fawzi, Amin Isqandar, Abul Ela Madi, Safwat Hegazi, Hossam Eissa and Ziad Bahaa al-Din. Anonymous sources told reporters that only 30 percent of the new government will be drawn from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. There are also reports of extensive meetings between Morsi and the Nour party. Morsi’s political advisor told reporters that Morsi will appoint two vice presidents, a Copt and a woman, a possiblity that Morsi discussed in a press conference before the election results were announced.

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FJP: Aboel Fotouh, Ghariani, and Mostafa most prominent candidates for the presidential team”, Al Dostour (Arabic) 6/26/2012/ “FJP: Too early to say that ElBaradei will head new government”, Al Dostour (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “Extensive contact between Morsi and Nour leaders”, ElYom7 (Arabic) 6/26/2012. “Speculations on new govt structure”, Aswat Masriya (English) 6/26/2012.

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Morsi cabinet ‘may not include Brotherhood’ but ideology remains ‘biggest stumbling block’ in transition

An Egyptian court today invalidated a government decree that effectively restored Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year state of emergency. The court ruling reverses a recent edict allowing the military to arrest civilians, a move that threatened to reverse the country’s democratic transition.  

The ruling came as venue for the swearing-in of Mohammed Morsi (left) as Egypt’s first Islamist president has become the latest contentious issue between the Islamists and the ruling military.

“Legally he will decide where he will be administered the oath,” said Abdel Moneim Abdul Maksoud, head of the Brotherhood’s legal team. “From our perspective and from a legal perspective, the parliament is not dissolved so technically he can swear the oath in front of parliament. The last constitutional amendment made by SCAF is legally null and void so the part that says Morsi has to swear his vote in front of the supreme constitutional court is null and void.”

The Islamists must adopt a more inclusive approach to government, observers suggest, if it is to reassure would-be investors and retain the support of its current allies opposed to a perpetuation of military rule.

“Morsi has no other choice but to reach out to all political forces. Not only to fulfill his pledges by forming a coalition government, but also to strengthen his legitimacy in the face of” the military, said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University.

Brotherhood officials have hinted that the group may even forego Cabinet-level representation and establish a non-partisan coalition, perhaps with Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as prime minister.

“The cabinet will not include members of the Muslim Brotherhood unless he sees a specific person that is perfect for the position,” said Kamel Mandour, a Brotherhood lawyer. “It’s a very critical time, so I expect the cabinet to be divided up among all political groups.”

But some observers are skeptical that the group can shed its sectarian impulses or that strictly conservative Morsi will be prepared to make the necessary compromises on issues like sharia’s role in the constitution.

“Division of power issues remain unresolved,” says Hani Sabra, an analyst and Egypt expert at Eurasia Group. “It remains to be seen whether or not Morsi will keep the promises he made to the non-Islamist revolutionary forces a few days ago regarding the government’s composition and the constitution-writing process. The Brotherhood’s track record on keeping its promises to this bloc is poor.”

Critics of the Islamist groups claim that the last parliament, of which 70 percent came from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties, was ineffective. Making matters worse, a number of scandals and embarrassing incidents overshadowed the groups’ reputation, including one widely reported incident of an ultraconservative Salafi lawmaker who claimed that bandits attacked and brutally beat him, but it was later revealed that he had gotten a nose job. Earlier this month, a second hardline lawmaker from Al Nour party was charged with “violating public decency,” after he was found in a parked car engaging in intimate relations with a 23-year-old woman wearing a full face veil.

The newly-elected president “will strengthen his hand not by relying entirely on the Brotherhood but by reaching out to democratic political forces opposed to it,” writes the FT’s Roula Khalaf:

The Brotherhood weakened its cause in recent months when it alienated liberals and insisted on controlling the panel that will draft the constitution. One of its gravest mistakes has been to assume that the democratic game allows the majority in parliament to impose its will over the direction and make-up of the state.

Islamists and secularists remain deeply divided over key issues, including the role of sharia or Islamic law in a new constitution.

Ideology “has been the biggest stumbling block in this transitional stage,” said Mina Khalil, a Cairo-based Harvard law fellow at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. “You need to have a consensus for the constitution to work, and if that fails then Morsi risks having SCAF step in and taking over the process.”

It is unclear whether today’s court ruling “was part of any army-Brotherhood compromise on Egypt’s future governance,” reports suggest.

Following the election of the Brotherhood’s Morsi as Egypt’s first Islamist president, the group’s officials are negotiating with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to “define the president’s authority and salvage at least part of the dissolved parliament, in return for concessions that would safeguard some military privileges.”

“We do not accept having a president without powers. The solution being worked out now is scaling back those restrictions so that President Morsi can deliver to the people what he promised,” said Essam Haddad, a presidential aide:

Mursi, seeking to fulfill a promise of inclusive government, will then name six vice-presidents – a woman, a Christian and others drawn from non-Brotherhood political groups – to act as an advisory panel, said Sameh el-Essawi, another aide to Mursi.

The presidential election has set the stage for a tussle between the military, which provided Egypt’s rulers for six decades, and the Brotherhood, the traditional opposition – sidelining secular liberals who ignited the anti-Mubarak revolt.

Haddad said the military would keep control of its budget and internal affairs but the generals would have to keep their hands off the stalled constitutional assembly. In its power grab, the army gave itself the right to veto articles of the constitution that the assembly will draft, angering the Brotherhood, which itself wants a big say.

“The negotiations involve loosening the grip of the generals on the constitutional assembly so that it can draft the new constitution without interference,” Haddad said.

Known as a conformist in a group marked by Leninist levels of organizational discipline, Morsi will struggle to balance the Brotherhood’s interests and ideology with the need to placate the group’s secular allies and the ruling military.

“[The Brotherhood] will accommodate [the army] on some issues and flex their muscle quietly to remind people of their capacity but not to become so threatening that they shut everything down,” says Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The hard question for Morsi is how do you get that balance right, and how do you go for the fact that people in [your] organisation will differ with you about the balance that you strike.”

The Islamists face a dilemma, writes Peter Mandaville, director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Islamic Studies at George Mason University and a former member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff:

Having been short-changed at the hands of the SCAF by losing both their legislative power base and the prospect of full executive authority, they possess an unprecedented opportunity to rally popular sentiment to their cause. But doing so would lead inevitably to a direct confrontation with the generals, and it is not clear how far the Brotherhood is willing to push in this direction. The military as an institution remains broadly popular, and the Islamists know that at the end of the day, they will need to accommodate themselves to a political environment in which the military holds ultimate sway over matters of national security for some time.

If he is to stand up to the SCAF, Morsi will “need to cement new alliances and reduce the number of enemies who could be co-opted by the generals,” analysts suggest.

“If they want to confront the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, they need at least some liberals and leftists to join their cause,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre. “We have to watch how sincere the Muslim Brotherhood is in its efforts to reach out to a more diverse constituency.”

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Syria’s civil war – inside the opposition?

Turkey today dispatched tanks to its border with Syria in an escalation of tension following the downing of a Turkish reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defense forces. The move coincides with renewed fears that Syria’s opposition is being drawn into an increasingly sectarian struggle that is marginalizing democratic elements.

If hardcore Islamist groups continue to attract disproportionate amounts of foreign funding and assistance, the Obama administration will need to “rethink its hands-off approach to the crisis,” says one analyst.

The attack was a “stupid move” by Damascus that could internationalize the crisis, “something it and its allies had desperately been trying to avoid,” claims Middle East commentator Juan Cole. Writing on his blog, Informed Comment, he says:

But Ankara is unlikely to take further action, despite Premier Reccip Erdogan’s belligerent rhetoric, analysts suggest.

“The government of Turkey has absolutely zero wish to be dragged into anything in Syria; they can see it’s a complete mess,” says Hugh Pope, a veteran Turkey watcher with the International Crisis Group.

“The only way Turkey will ever get involved in anything there is with complete international cover,” says Pope. “They’re going to NATO, they’re going to international fora. It’s all about [Turkey] being seen to do the right thing, it’s not about hatching dark plots in the night with cruise missiles and taking things out [in revenge].”

The good news is that most Syrians distrust the hardcore Islamists, Tyler Golson writes in the New Republic:

A public opinion survey conducted by the US Institute of Peace in September 2011 found that only 35 percent of Syrians see religion as an important issue in the anti-government demonstrations, with less than 14 percent preferring religious leaders or parties to lead a post-Assad Syria as compared to 66 percent who viewed “democratically-elected leaders” as the most qualified.

Compounding Syrians’ ideological unease with jihadists is the widespread concern that Islamist groups have either been infiltrated by, or are directly working for the Syrian regime.

“Syrians seem to be mostly pragmatic about their revolution,” says Golson, an Arabic social media analyst with Concepts & Strategies, Inc.:

With the Syrian opposition containing so many different sects, ethnicities, tribes, and political affiliations, an insistence on ideological purity is a hindrance to the greater goal of ousting the regime. Indeed, whereas independent jihadist groups are ideologically bound to reject any help from “infidels and traitor governments,” Free Syrian Army units freely accept cash and increasingly sophisticated arms, including anti-tank weaponry, from Gulf patrons, facilitated in part by non-lethal American assistance.

Russia’s unconditional support of the current regime remains the principal obstacle to effecting a political transition.

But the Kremlin needs “clear incentives” to change its position, says Radwan Ziadeh,* a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition group:

First, the Syrian opposition, including the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, should issue a statement genuinely assuring Russia that, in spite of its support of the Syrian regime, Russian national interests would continue to be protected in Syria post-Assad. ……..

Most of all, the Syrian opposition as well as the international parties involved should guarantee stability in Syria post-Assad so as to protect Russian interests. It should be made clear to Putin that those currently lined up to come to power in Syria after Assad’s fall will not be quick to shake hands with a government that aided in their slaughter. So, it is clearly in Russia’s interests to begin trying to form a relationship with the players who might be in power in a future Syria. And those potential Syrian players should, in their country’s interest, rise above principle, and unlike Russia, “be the bigger man,” so to speak, by extending a diplomatic hand to reassure Putin.

Assad has become a liability for Moscow,” says Levant analyst Mona Yacoubian, but Russia may still be persuaded to take up a role in planning for a post-Assad transition.

‘Russia may be persuaded to work for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster under two conditions: first, Moscow must calculate that the cost of supporting Assad outweighs any benefits, and second, Russia must feel that it can help shape an alternative to Assad that is consonant with Russian interests,” writes Yacoubian, project director for Pathways to Progress: Peace, Prosperity and Change in the Middle East at the Stimson Center:

The United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan’s proposal to hold a June 30 international conference in Geneva holds the most promise for shifting Russia’s position, particularly given fresh fears of a regional war. With recent developments, both Russia and the United States may feel a stronger imperative to set aside their differences and work toward building a consensus on Syria. The Geneva conference could serve as an effective venue for Russia to assume a role in planning for a post-Assad transition.

U.S. Senator John McCain has warned that the conflict risks degenerating into a sectarian civil war with profoundly damaging implications for Syria’s territorial integrity, fears that are shared by Syrian activists.

“The country is being partitioned. Waiting will allow for the partitioning to actually take effect. There will be repercussions that will be felt in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Jordan, in Turkey and perhaps even in Israel as well,” says Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The Obama administration’s “largely hands-off approach to the Syria crisis has so far been greatly assisted by the Syrian public’s broad rejection of the hardcore Islamist rebels,” Golson argues in the New Republic. “But there’s no telling how much longer America’s strategic interests and the Syrian people’s sympathies will remain in sync.”

The US and other democracies may need to reassess their positions if funding and assistance from Islamist sources in the Gulf continue to take the revolt in a disturbingly sectarian direction, he suggests:

If a unified jihadist opposition did manage to challenge the Free Syrian Army’s primacy in the coming months, it could be an ominous indicator of where Syria’s opposition is heading. We could see the Free Syrian Army’s central leadership beginning to placate the Islamists by adopting Islamist rhetoric or institutions such as a sharia council, or Saudi Arabia starting to hedge its support of the FSA by taking meetings with upstart Islamist “emirs.” Either way, it would mean that the jihad is very much on in Syria. It would also mean that the United States had better rethink its hands-off approach to the crisis.


* Ziadeh is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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