The Middle East Channel

Assad denies Syrian crackdown as constitutional reforms cement his presidency

Assad denies Syrian crackdown as constitutional reforms cement his presidency President Bashar al-Assad held his first interview in Damascus with a U.S. reporter since the start of the Syrian uprisings, telling Barbara Walters that he did not order a government crackdown on protesters. Assad said that he had the support of the Syrian people and ...

Assad denies Syrian crackdown as constitutional reforms cement his presidency

President Bashar al-Assad held his first interview in Damascus with a U.S. reporter since the start of the Syrian uprisings, telling Barbara Walters that he did not order a government crackdown on protesters. Assad said that he had the support of the Syrian people and denied the credibly of the United Nations reports estimating the violent death of more than 4,000 people. He claimed that the majority of people killed since March have been government forces. He admitted that some mistakes had been made, but were undertaken by individuals, claiming that as president he does not “own” the army. The U.S. State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, responded to the interview stating “I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game [and] claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country.” Meanwhile the government committee advising on drafting a new constitution announced new provisions that would ban “discrimination between political parties.” However, the amendments further entrench Assad’s rule by legalizing his presidency by lowering age requirements and advancing his military rank to commander in chief of the Syrian military and armed forces.

Headlines  

  • Preliminary run-off results show the Muslim Brotherhood winning the most parliamentary seats in the first round of Egyptian elections as SCAF offers greater powers to the new prime minister.
  • Government forces and tribesmen clash near the Interior Ministry in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a further challenging the GCC’s plan for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s transition from power.
  • Kuwait’s emir dissolved the parliament over “deteriorating conditions” after allegations of corruption setting the country on a course for elections within 60 days.
  • Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav began a seven-year prison term on rape charges.
  • The U.S. ‘virtual embassy’ aimed at improving dialogue between Americans and Iranians was blocked by the Iranian government a day after its launch.
Daily Snapshot

    A convoy of armored vehicles carrying U.S. Army soldiers from the 2-82 Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, drives through the night to Kuwait from Camp Adder in Iraq on December 7, 2011 near the Iraqi border. After seven months in Iraq, the 3rd Brigade is pulling out of the country as part of America’s military exodus by the end of December after eight years of war and occupation which included the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    Articles & Analysis

    ‘U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq’ (Joost Hiltermann, Conservative Middle East Council)

    “The end of the occupation will turn whatever armed resistance to the US military presence remained into something else. Insurgent groups could turn on the government instead, as some already have for some time, or shed their arms and melt away or join politics. A few might seek to continue their violent campaign against the US by targeting its civilian presence: the embassy and consulates, as well as other Western sites throughout the country. The question is whether Iraqi security forces will be capable of reining in and suppressing violent groups without US military support.” 

    ‘Clinging to the Egyptian army’ (Graeme Wood, New York Times)

    “The citizens of Cairo learned a small lesson in the banality of evil last week when they saw the face of Mahmoud al-Shennawy, the police sniper who allegedly aimed for Tahrir Square protesters’ eyes. When Shennawy’s photo came out, the city gave a collective gasp at his youth. He looks about 15. Is it really possible that that those rosy cheeks were fed by such icy blood? The citizens of some other parts of Egypt were perhaps a little more prepared for the shock. Upper Egypt — the region of the country upstream from Cairo — and especially the area between Cairo and the tourist traps of Luxor and Aswan, is a place where violence and bloodshed happen regularly, and where all the goriness of Cairo in the last few weeks is not novel. And if a three-day visit just before the election last month is any indication, the Upper Egyptians’ acquaintance with violence has shaped their politics profoundly.” 

    ‘Continunity in the Kingdom: Morocco’s new Islamist ruling party’ (James Asfa, Think Africa Press)

    “Even if the PJD did decide to take on a more radical agenda, it would only have very limited ability to enforce it. Although the position of prime minister was strengthened in September’s constitutional amendment, the king remains the supreme power in Morocco with an effective veto over any policy and control of the police and military. As such, the PJD-led parliament will have little scope to introduce policy shifts without the blessing of the king. This is especially true as Morocco’s electoral system consistently results in a parliament in which no one party holds an absolute majority. Thus the PJD [Justice and Development Party] will be forced into coalition with parties that have close links to the royal palace, such as the conservative Istiqlal party.”

    Latest from the Channel

    ‘Rached Ghannouchi: the FP interview’ by Marc Lynch

    ‘Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister’ by Avi Spiegel

    ‘Saleh wins again’ by Charles Schmitz 

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