Syrian Opposition Groups Prepare for Peace Talks Invitations

U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday that he hoped to convene proximity talks on resolving the Syrian civil war in Geneva this Friday, but it is still unclear who will participate. He is expected to issue invitations today. Syrian opposition leaders are gathering in Riyadh to consider the delay, and some ...

GettyImages-506695266
GettyImages-506695266

U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday that he hoped to convene proximity talks on resolving the Syrian civil war in Geneva this Friday, but it is still unclear who will participate. He is expected to issue invitations today. Syrian opposition leaders are gathering in Riyadh to consider the delay, and some reiterated calls for the regime to release prisoners and halt bombardments of rebel-held areas as a precondition for talks. The joint leader of the Kurdish PYD faction says they expect to be invited -- something that Russia has pushed for -- but they do not know in what capacity.

At least 20 people were killed in a series of bombings targeting regime-operated checkpoint in Homs today. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack. Farther south, regime forces seized Sheikh Miskeen, a strategic town near the Jordanian border.

Small Protests Mark Anniversary of Egyptian Revolution

U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday that he hoped to convene proximity talks on resolving the Syrian civil war in Geneva this Friday, but it is still unclear who will participate. He is expected to issue invitations today. Syrian opposition leaders are gathering in Riyadh to consider the delay, and some reiterated calls for the regime to release prisoners and halt bombardments of rebel-held areas as a precondition for talks. The joint leader of the Kurdish PYD faction says they expect to be invited — something that Russia has pushed for — but they do not know in what capacity.

At least 20 people were killed in a series of bombings targeting regime-operated checkpoint in Homs today. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack. Farther south, regime forces seized Sheikh Miskeen, a strategic town near the Jordanian border.

Small Protests Mark Anniversary of Egyptian Revolution

Several small, scattered protests marked the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising, which resulted in the ouster of then-President Hosni Mubarak. Many of the protesters identified as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and raised their hands in a four-finger salute, a reference to protests after President Mohammed Morsi was removed from office. Protesters that congregated in Tahrir Square were removed without major incidents by a large police force, and the New York Times reports that the day “passed largely without serious violence” elsewhere in the country.

Headlines

  • President Hassan Rouhani, who is visiting Europe this week in an effort to improve trade relations, said today that economic growth and new jobs in the Middle East is “one of the roads” for fighting terrorism; Italy announced $18.4 billion in business deals with Iran yesterday.

 

  • An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, killed Judge Yehia Mohammed Rubaid and seven others, mostly women and children; on Friday, Hashem Homrane, a journalist with a Houthi television station, died of wounds sustained in an airstrike in Dhahian.

 

  • The World Bank and other international donor groups are proposing billions of dollars in interest-free development loans to countries hosting Syrian refugees to close large shortfalls in humanitarian aid; the idea will be discussed further at a donor conference on February 4.

 

  • Saeed Abedini, the U.S. pastor held by Iran from 2012 until he was released this month, says he was beaten in captivity to the point of developing stomach bleeding when he did not sign a forced confession.

 

  • Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, Iraq, discovered another mass grave containing the bodies of 18 people killed by the Islamic State during their occupation of the city.

Arguments and Analysis

Egypt Adrift Five Years after the Uprising” (Michael Wahid Hanna, The Century Foundation)

“Whereas late 2010 was marked by creeping dissatisfaction, increasing boldness, and stepped-up organizational efforts among opposition actors, there are no corollaries in today’s Egypt. While the government continues to fare poorly in terms of overall performance, political life is stunted by fear and fragmentation, and there are few avenues that allow for the amplification of dissatisfaction into a broad-based challenge to the regime. Opposition forces are fragmented and intimidated, while the regime, the state, and social elites retain a baseline of cohesion, and domestic and regional instability have produced quiescence in some sectors of society. It is clear that 2016 will not be the year of the next Egyptian uprising, let alone revolution. Yet, despite indications that, for the time being, the regime is safe from any popular threat, it is behaving as if it faces an imminent challenge. Its actions reveal a deeply ingrained worldview in which even minor forms of dissent and nonconformity are no longer permissible.”

 

Unmet Needs, Tenuous Stability: Egypt Five Years after January 25” (Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy)

“Political debate and activism in Egypt have ebbed and flowed over the past several years. The government’s efforts to limit access to critical, accurate information has been somewhat effective, but Egyptians are well aware that the demands of the 2011 revolution remain unmet. The drop in protests since the summer of 2013 is partly a product of the government crackdown using both violence and prisons to punish government opponents. However, another deterrent to protesting is the current lack of faith in the benefits of protest. From the perspective of the average citizen, Egyptians have undertaken two uprisings to overthrow their president and neither instance has led to an improvement in their quality of life. As the economic situation continues to deteriorate the government will likely prioritize measures that offset hardship for the most vulnerable citizens. The military, over the past few months, has been selling food below market prices in working class areas in an effort to offset the substantial increase in the cost of basic commodities. Given the drop in revenues from tourism, the Suez Canal, and potentially from Gulf supporters, the government may be forced to pull back on its largesse, which risks exposing everyday Egyptians to even greater hardship and risks exposing the government to their wrath. While the parliament is composed primarily of government supporters and the media broadly continues to endorse government policies, two things must be understood. First, the government is not a unified entity. Within the government there exist competing interests seeking to expand their respective share of power in the Egyptian state. Secondly, censorship and repression are not guaranteed mechanisms for preventing opposition and resistance. Mubarak-era restrictions on expression, the media, and protest were effective for thirty years, but eventually succumbed to a wave of public frustration and anger.”

-J. Dana Stuster

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

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