The Middle East Channel

Syria stalls on troop withdrawal but Annan remains optimistic

Syria stalls on troop withdrawal but Annan remains optimistic

Violent clashes continue across Syria as government troops, heavy weaponry, and tanks have not been pulled out from urban centers despite the passing U.N. deadline for withdrawal. According to activists, 101 people were killed Tuesday, predominantly in Homs. Meanwhile the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed Annan, issuing a statement of "deep concern" while Turkey pushed for a Security Council resolution after another incident of shots fired from across the border. Nonetheless, United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan remained optimistic that there could be "improved conditions on the ground" by the ceasefire deadline of 6:00 am on Thursday if all sides respect the plan. According to Annan, he received assurances from the Syrian government that they would implement the ceasefire, and are no longer pressing for a written guarantee from the opposition but merely an affirmation from Annan that they will lay down their arms. Elsewhere, in a trip to Tehran, Annan is appealing to Iran for assistance in ending the Syria conflict saying, "Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution."


  • Clashes between the Yemeni military and al Qaeda-linked militants, mostly in the strategic town of Lawder in Abyan province, killed 127 people.
  • Iran said it uncovered an Israeli "terror and sabotage network", a claim that Israel called "baseless" and a statement typical of Iran ahead of the upcoming nuclear talks scheduled for Saturday.
  • Renewed unrest in Bahrain may cause the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix set for April 22.
  • Egypt’s suspension of the constituent assembly will very likely change the transition timetable with the presidential elections coming before the drafting of a new constitution. 

Arguments & Analysis

‘To stop the killing, deal with Assad’ (Asli U. Bali and Aziz F. Rana, The New York Times)

Ultimately, the best way to reduce violence is to pursue negotiations for a political transition that would include rather than explicitly threaten the Assad government. Given the mortal fears of communities on each side of the conflict, the first goal has to be making clear that all groups have a future in a new Syria…The six-point plan offered by Kofi Annan, the United Nations intermediary, is a good starting point. But both sides have to treat a cease-fire seriously, and any arms embargo would have to apply equally to each party. Crucially, real negotiations would have to include Iran and Russia. Both have stakes in the Assad government; their involvement in an inclusive mediation process could set the stage for concessions by the government.

‘Will Khamenei compromise?’ (Reza Marashi & Ali Reza Eshraghi, National Interest)

"America’s starting point is clear: Closing Iran’s Fordo facility; halting Iranian enrichment at the 20 percent level, and removing Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium from the country. To defuse the crisis diplomatically, the United States will need to consider the political, economic and security incentives sought by Iran-and the protection of human rights sought by the Iranian people-that any negotiated solution would have to address. This does not imply that concessions must be made to Iran on each of these three fronts. Only sustained diplomacy can determine whether it is in America’s interest to address Iranian concerns."

‘Special report: In Egypt’s military, a march for change’ (Marwa Awad, Reuters)

On a warm Wednesday morning last October, around 500 Egyptian army officers based at the Air Defence Institute on the outskirts of Alexandria staged a mini revolt…According to a lieutenant colonel with direct knowledge of the protest, the men were angry about the punishment given to a fellow officer by his superiors. After refusing to train, the officers demanded to meet either Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s military and in effect the country’s acting president, or his second in command. They wanted to meet the commanders, they said, to make the case for better treatment…The rebellion, unreported before now and confirmed by three other officers in the unit, lasted several days. As Egyptians were calling for quicker and deeper change – demands directed at the military council that runs the country — at least one part of the country’s military was itself split.

‘A monarchical affair: from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula’ (Samia Errazzouki, Jadaliyya)

Through a combination of efforts across the political and economic spheres, Morocco succeeded in temporarily postponing the inevitable wave of dissent. The Gulf monarchies provided a comfortable cushion for the Moroccan monarchy, while boosting the confidence of the regime’s allies both within and beyond Morocco’s borders. However, Morocco’s income inequalities remain the highest in the region, along with a staggering 56.1% illiteracy rate. Morocco can seek temporary economic assistance through aid packages from the Gulf, but all this succeeds in doing is nurturing a dependent and weak economy still coping with the obstacles of post-colonial development. Meanwhile, Morocco’s commitment to democratization has stalled with consistent cases of arbitrary arrestspolitically-motivated trials, and ongoing protests met with repression. This only shows that the constitutional reforms have done little to change the social reality of Moroccans, and the Gulf monarchies have no intention of challenging Morocco’s approach to addressing popular grievances. Instead, the Gulf monarchies have rewarded Morocco with billion-dollar aid packages, investment, and an increasingly stronger political alliance.

–Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey