MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

In 2003 American forces successfully took Baghdad, but without the benefit of a ‘day after’ civil-military stabilization plan. The unintended results: a chaotic occupation, a vicious insurgency, the premature withdrawal of the United States from Iraq in 2011, and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). This and other disappointments—Libya 2011 (again a stabilization plan AWOL), Syria 2011-today, and Iraq redux—fuel the rhetorical engines of those who today counsel some manner of American disengagement from the Middle East.

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UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has worked tirelessly to keep Yemeni peace talks alive in Kuwait, expressing cautious optimism.  He described the truce on the ground as holding at around 80 to 90 percent, even as the delegations of the Houthi-GPC alliance and the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi express frustrations at the other and even periodically walk away from the table. 

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On May 16, precisely one hundred years ago, two British and French politicians signed the now infamous ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement, which, according to one view, was responsible for setting in motion turmoil in the Arab world. Those two names of ‘Sykes’ and ‘Picot’ would probably have passed away into history with few people noticing, except that conventional wisdom dictates that they were responsible for carving up the region with little regard to anything except Western interests. The supporters, and detractors, of that view may yet be missing the point. It isn’t that the Sykes-Picot agreement was responsible for the turmoil of the region – nor that it had nothing to do with it all. Rather, that there are far more pressing issues to tackle – issues that should have overridden any effects from Sykes-Picot, and which still override that agreement today.

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Egypt’s opposition was dealt a heavy blow early this week after several courts sentenced 152 protesters, arrested on April 25, to two to five years in prison. They were detained for demonstrating against the maritime border agreement signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia in early April, ceding Cairo’s sovereignty over the two strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh. The defendants were also charged with joining an unnamed illegal organization, seeking to overthrow the regime, spreading disorder, and spreading false rumors to harm the country’s national interests.

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Tunisia has been considered by most observers as the success story of the Arab Spring. If compared with the disastrous situations in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, and with the increasingly complicated situation in Egypt, Tunisia’s success seems an apparent truth.

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On May 11, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri — the spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen for over a year — briefed reporters in Washington with a clear message: if the Houthis and supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh continue to insist on unreasonable demands at the negotiating table, Riyadh is prepared to storm Sanaa and win the war militarily.

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On May 4, 2016, the European Commission (EC) presented a draft regulation intended to overhaul the existing Dublin Regulation that has dictated the asylum application system in Europe for the past 20 years. By introducing a “fairness mechanism,” the idea was to establish a new system that imbibes solidarity among the EU member states.

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Hezbollah media outlets in Lebanon have announced the death in Syria of Mustafa Amine Badreddine, an intimate of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and the person reportedly in command of Hezbollah forces in Syria. The news outlets initially reported that a Hezbollah facility near Damascus had been engaged by Israeli aircraft; a claim omitted from subsequent reports. For the second time in eight years a senior Hezbollah operative reportedly familiar with the key details of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has died in Syria under the watchful eyes of Syrian intelligence. The first involved the violent end of Badreddine's cousin and brother-in-law: Imad Mughniyah.

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On May 1, police raided the headquarters of Egypt’s Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo and arrested journalists Mahmoud al-Sakka and Amr Badr. The incident is the latest development in a period of mounting tensions between journalists and the government in the wake of the April 25 public protests against the state. The protests, which were planned against Egypt’s decision to transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, were also preceded by dozens of arrests, with estimates that at least 100 activists were arrested in one day. Another 168 were said to have been detained on April 25 itself, including around a dozen journalists, who were later released.  

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The Turkish government is the most important external, pro-opposition actor in northern Syria. It will remain involved in the Syrian conflict despite concurrent political instability within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Yet the war has undermined US-Turkish relations, due in large part to disagreement over the strategy to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), and the United States’ military partnership with the Kurdish majority Democratic Union Party (PYD). This disagreement has hindered plans to take the critical Manbij pocket – ISIS’ only remaining territory along the Turkish-Syrian border.

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