The Middle East Channel

Egyptian court suspends elections planned for April

Egyptian court suspends elections planned for April

A top Egyptian court Wednesday suspended parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on April 22. The Cairo Administrative Court said the electoral law must be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court. Egypt’s main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, had planned to boycott the elections, claiming the electoral law favored Islamists and demanding an overhaul to the Islamist-backed constitution. President Mohamed Morsi said it would respect the court’s decision, which was another instance of confrontation between Egypt’s prerevolutionary judiciary and the Islamist ruling party. The announcement came amid continued violence and turmoil in Port Said over death sentences issued over the 2012 football riots that killed 74 people. On Wednesday, Egypt’s interior minister dismissed Port Said’s security chief. Meanwhile, Egypt has backed away from making economic policy changes necessary to negotiate a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The delays have come just days after a visit from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during which he committed $250 million in assistance but urged political collaboration on economic reform.

Syria

The United Nations has begun talks with a group of Syrian opposition fighters in efforts to negotiate the release of 21 peacekeepers from the Philippines. The observers were captured Wednesday in the Golan Heights where they were monitoring the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. They are being held by the "Martyrs of Yarmouk" rebel brigade in the nearby village of Jamla. The rebel group said Syrian government forces must leave the area before they will release their "guests." They initially claimed they took the U.N. observers to get the Syrian army to stop firing on them and civilians in the area. On Thursday, they said that they had actually rescued the observers from fighting in the area. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes on Thursday in the northern outskirts of the village. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has condemned the capture of the peacekeepers, and the Philippines has demanded their release. Meanwhile, the humanitarian aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) released a report on Thursday saying Syria’s healthcare system has collapsed. The charity has over 200 staff members working in opposition held territory in Syria. President of Doctors Without Borders Marie-Pierre Allie said, "Medical aid is being targeted, hospitals destroyed, and medical personnel captured." The report said that medical facilities have become tools "in the military strategies of the parties to the conflict." Trained medical staff have fled the war torn country and a large number of hospitals have been closed forcing healthcare work underground, with treatments conducted in caves, basements, and farms.

Headlines

  • An investigation by Guardian and BBC Arabic has found Pentagon ties to Shiite police units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centers.
  • Clashes between anti-government protesters and police on Wednesday night in Tahrir Square sparked the arrests of 160 people.
  • Jordan is working to commission two nuclear reactors which it says are necessary to meet energy needs. But the announcement has increased concerns over the risk of regional nuclear proliferation. 

Arguments and Analysis

How Syrian Women Are Fueling the Resistance: And Why Washington Should Support Them (Fotini Christia, Foreign Affairs)

his is a good start, but in order to prevent further human catastrophe and the spread of Islamist extremism in Syria, Washington needs to do more. Specifically, the United States should aid opposition women’s organizations. This strategy would help address the current humanitarian crisis and ensure that aid reaches its intended receipts, in addition to elevating the status of women in Syria.

… Al Kisar’s actions exemplify how Syrian women are not only better at identifying and supporting vulnerable communities; they are also more effective than male-led rebel factions in preventing the mismanagement of aid. Women have repeatedly identified men in the opposition who have tried to misallocate vital resources in hospitals and camps for the internally displaced. They have held them accountable in Syrian Facebook groups, Skype chat rooms, and in the field. Alhaji, who is establishing a school for children in the Atmeh camp, has personally secured and overseen the provision of school supplies to ensure that they don’t end up being sold on the black market."

End the Arab Boycott of Israel (Ed Husain, The New York Times)

"Many people condemn Israeli settlements and call for an economic boycott of their produce, but I saw that it was Arab builders, plumbers, taxi drivers and other workers who maintained Israeli lifestyles. Separatism in the Holy Land has not worked and it is time to end it. How much longer will we punish Palestinians to create a free Palestine?

I abandoned Muslim groupthink and went to Israel because there is a new momentum in the region. Egypt’s former grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, and the prominent scholar Habib Ali al-Jifri, broke ranks with Qaradawi and went to Jerusalem last April. They justified their visit on scriptural grounds, citing the Prophet Muhammad’s encouragement for believers to visit the Holy Land. Their trip was facilitated by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, the principal religious adviser to King Abdullah II."

Egypt’s Coming Constitutional Crisis? (Michael Wahid Hanna, Tahrir Squared)

"In November 2011, a judge from Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) remarked to me in passing that the parliamentary electoral law codified and promulgated by Egypt’s interim military leaders was unconstitutional. At the time, it was impossible to imagine that only a few months later Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament would be ruled unconstitutional by the SCC and dissolved by order of the SCAF on the basis of that judgment.

As Nathan Brown has noted, however, the SCC has "struck down the country’s parliamentary election law four times. Three of these times that led directly to a dissolution of the parliament. On the other occasion, the parliament had already been dissolved." Yet, despite this past history and jurisprudential background, the Morsi government and its allies are heedlessly courting a similar disaster yet again. And this time the forewarnings are plentiful, including today’s administrative court ruling suspending the elections and referring the electoral law back to the SCC for further consideration. 

Egypt’s transition has squandered much of the early promise that was evident in the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall. With the country suffering deeply-rooted and interlinked political, economic, and social crises, Egypt can ill afford a constitutional crisis that once again raises questions about the fundamental sources of political legitimacy. Still, whether or not the amended parliamentary electoral law is constitutional remains a serious issue, particularly in the context of the fraught post-Mubarak relationship between the judiciary and the Muslim Brotherhood."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey