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Syrian Peace Talks Delayed

Syrian peace talks that were slated to begin today have been postponed, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while on a visit to Laos, played down posturing by the Syrian regime and opposition as “just tensions.” “We’re going to have the meetings and they’re going to start, but what we’re trying to do is ...


Syrian peace talks that were slated to begin today have been postponed, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while on a visit to Laos, played down posturing by the Syrian regime and opposition as “just tensions.” “We’re going to have the meetings and they’re going to start, but what we’re trying to do is make absolutely certain that when they start everybody is clear about roles and what’s happening, so that you don’t go there and wind up with a question mark or a failure,” Kerry said, saying he hoped the situation would be resolved in the next day or two. His comments come after a stop in Riyadh over the weekend to discuss the planned proximity talks to be held in Geneva. The political tensions, though, were clear in a closed-door meeting between Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and several senior diplomats in Davos last week, which a participant characterized as “a dialogue of the deaf.”

As both sides prepare for talks, aid organizations have accused the Assad regime of using humanitarian access a bargaining chip, citing starvation tactics being used by besieging forces. Assad regime forces have made new gains against Syrian rebel forces, retaking the town of Rabiaa, near the Turkish border, but are under increased pressure from the Islamic State in the city of Deir al-Zour, where control is divided by neighborhood. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Turkey on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States is prepared to proceed with a “military solution to this operation in taking out Daesh” if talks fail.

Protests Continue in Tunisia Despite Curfew

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid responded to popular unrest saying that “Solutions exist but some patience and optimism are needed.” Security forces made dozens of arrests enforcing a curfew, and while protests in Kasserine quieted, activists in Sidi Bouzid shut down streets with torched tires. Protests continued today when thousands of police officers marched in Tunis demanding higher wages.


  • The Egyptian government has increased security and set up checkpoints around Cairo to suppress potential demonstrations commemorating the fifth anniversary of the popular uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak; in addition to a wave of recent arrests, President Abdul Fatteh al-Sisi threatened a strong response to any unrest in speeches this weekend.


  • A new video released by the Islamic State, which features a new threat against Britain, purports to show some of the perpetrators of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks committing atrocities in Syria before returning to Europe.


  • The head of Bahrain’s al-Wefaq opposition bloc, Sheikh Ali Salman, was summoned from prison for questioning regarding a series of tweets that called for demonstrations; the country’s prosecutor general said he had decided not to press charges and returned Salman to prison to complete his sentence.


  • With European sanctions on Iran lifted, the Iranian government hosted an aviation business conference in Tehran this weekend and is moving to buy more than a hundred commercial passenger jets to revitalize its transportation industry; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in Europe this week to promote better trade relations.


  • Eight museum employees in Egypt will face trial for negligence in relation to the botched restoration of King Tutankhamun’s funerary mask in 2014, during which the beard was broken.

Arguments and Analysis

Investing in Iraq’s Peace: How Good Governance Can Diminish Support for Violent Extremism” (Mercy Corps)

“Evidence from this study shows that improving government legitimacy is vital to a just and peaceful Iraq. This does not mean replicating the failures of past “hearts and minds” campaigns meant to win legitimacy for the state through top-down, costly stabilization and reconstruction projects. Rather, effective development can happen even as the conflict continues in Iraq, if approaches are coupled with efforts to enable Iraqi citizens to make their government deliver for them through programs that promote citizen engagement, enhance government-citizen dialogues, and mobilize civic-minded youth to be leaders. Importantly, this research finds that recent citizen-oriented governance investments such as civil society programs are beginning to demonstrate impact: public confidence in civil society is rising, creating an opportunity that must be seized. This report recommends firmer, long-term support for Iraqi civil society, which can broker dialogue between government and citizens, improving transparency, accountability, and legitimacy.”


Palestine in Flux: From Search for State to Search for Tactics” (Nathan J. Brown and Daniel Nerenberg)

“But there are two other less visible but far more profound trends under way that may make the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians take new and less manageable forms. First, the institutions that have emerged over decades to speak on Palestinians’ behalf and lead them have lost their moral claims in the eyes of their own people. They are seen as ineffective and even co-opted; while they continue to occupy positions of authority, they can no longer lead. Supplanting the old guard is a new moral leadership, not linked to institutional politics, concentrating on a set of tactics to undermine the occupation and entertain new possible goals — perhaps unthinkable now — for Palestinian politics. Second is another portentous development: the whole raison d’être of the Palestinian national movement, the effort to build a Palestinian state, no longer exercises its hold. There is debate among Palestinians about ultimate goals and strategy, with the two-state solution and diplomacy losing their prominence. But nothing is clearly replacing them. There is some growing interest in various one-state alternatives somehow combining Israelis and Palestinians. But more significant is the tendency to defer questions of solutions in favor of developing tactics that can improve the Palestinian position — such as new forms of resistance and boycott.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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