- By Mary Casey-Baker<p> Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p>
A mortar attack on a pro-Assad election rally in the southern Syrian city of Daraa Thursday evening killed at least 20 people, according to opposition activists and state media. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, however the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an Islamist rebel brigade carried out the strike. The pro-opposition group said 11 civilians were among those killed and at least 30 people were injured. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not at the rally, and has not been seen campaigning ahead of the June 3 presidential election. Meanwhile, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was appalled by the veto and the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, said the move was akin to "vetoing justice."
- The head of the Sinai Islamist militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Shadi al-Menei, was killed in a firefight Friday, in what may have been an Egyptian army operation.
- Three bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad killed an estimated 35 Shiite pilgrims traveling to commemorate the anniversary of the death of a revered imam.
- Pope Francis is making his first visit to the Middle East this weekend, where he will find a dwindling number of Christians, to push a mission of inter-religious dialogue.
- Libya’s cabinet has urged all militias to leave Tripoli after the parliament summoned the Central Shield militia to the capital to protect it.
- The Kurdish Ministry of Natural Resources announced it has shipped over 1 million barrels of oil concluding its first sale in the international market, bypassing the Iraqi central government.
Arguments and Analysis
‘One Year after Morsi’s Ouster, Divides Persist on El-Sisi, Muslim Brotherhood‘ (Pew Research Center)
"Nearly a year of tumult and violence has drained Egyptians of their optimism and battered the images of key players in the post-Mubarak era, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. As a controversial presidential election approaches, 72% of Egyptians are dissatisfied with their country’s direction, and although most still want democratic rights and institutions, confidence in democracy is slipping. In a shift from previous years, Egyptians are now more likely to say that having a stable government (54%) is more important than having a democratic one (44%).
Last July’s military takeover wins support from a slender majority: 54% favor it; 43% oppose. And while the next president is almost certain to be Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former general who has been the most powerful figure in the country since last year’s overthrow of the government, the new poll finds that his popularity is limited. Sisi receives a favorable rating from 54% of Egyptians, while 45% view him unfavorably, a more mixed review than many media reports from Egypt over the last year might suggest."
‘Elusive Equilibrium: America, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in a Changing Middle East‘ (Frederic Wehrey and Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
"Since the 1979 Iranian revolution replaced a U.S.-allied monarchy with a bitterly anti-American theocracy, Washington’s foreign policy in the oil-rich Persian Gulf has rested on two strategic pillars: enmity with Iran and amity with Saudi Arabia. In recent months, however, this thirty-five-year status quo has been called into question by a rapidly changing Arab political order and the promise of a U.S.-Iran nuclear détente.
The combination of the interim nuclear deal with Iran, U.S.-Saudi regional disagreements, and America’s newfound shale wealth has prompted predictions of a fundamental realignment of the geopolitical chessboard, with Tehran supplanting Riyadh as Washington’s chief regional ally. Rather than swap one ally for another, however, U.S. President Barack Obama has articulated a revised approach to the Middle East. The United States will no longer seek to isolate Iran but will instead attempt to ‘get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion’ to foster a ‘new equilibrium‘ between Iran and Saudi Arabia that will be marked by ‘competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.’"
‘Forced to Flee Syria, Young Adult Refugees Stall Out’ (Elizabeth Dickinson, The Christian Science Monitor)
"A government-employed technician building his fiancé her dream home now volunteers with an NGO for a food stipend. A master’s student in English documents medical needs in Syria, her studies abandoned. A factory worker who lost his leg in a car accident amid a firefight struggles to support his young family.
When Syria’s conflict eventually ends, this generation of young adults will be called upon to rebuild. But they have lost critical years. Their careers were put on hold and their educations ended early when they fled Syria with 2 million other refugees."
— Mary Casey