Middle East Weekly Wire by POMED

These are some excerpts from the latest Weekly Wire by the Project on Middle East Democracy.

November 26, 2007

Questioning the US Approach to Lebanon: Andrew Exum and POMED's director of advocacy, Stephen McInerney argue that the U.S. tendency to view Lebanon only "through the lens of confrontation with Iran" prevents effective, coherent policy toward Lebanon. Moreover, another pundit says that "the US position doesn't carry much weight with the Lebanese these days mostly because of its role in Israel's invasion last year, when American officials did little or nothing to stop the incursion." Also, according to one observer "Lebanon remains the one bright hope in the Bush administration's waning attempts to promote democracy in the Middle East," but "If the opposition prevails, then Syria and Iran will have gained extra regional leverage at the expense of the US losing its Levantine toehold." Others ask "Is this deadlock in Lebanon someone's way of getting Lebanon on the agenda when the USA, Israel, and representatives from key Arab States meet in Annapolis this week?"

Commentary on the "Military Option" for Iran: Some argue that a military option toward Iran should be kept on the table because "Attempts to stop Tehran's rush to develop nuclear weapons are less effective without it," however, they argue it "must be a last resort." Others argue that crippling Iran's nuclear program by force is necessary because "Nothing else will stop Tehran." Some maintain that a military option toward Iran is not feasible because "the collateral damage inflicted by the [Iraq] war on America's relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have realized," as such, she asks "What, then, are we left with?" One pundit responds to this question and says deterrence is the answer.

In the Middle East

Lebanon After Lahoud: Last week, following the departure of President Emile Lahoud with no elected successor, some are saying that "Lebanon has entered a perilous and unprecedented constitutional vacuum..." Consequently, one pundit asks "So where does this leave us?" Moreover, in light of the emergent power vacuum another observer says "the most predictable pressures will come from Lebanese Maronites, for whom the presidency is reserved." Also, some analysts are worried that in the midst of the political stalemate "the opposition could take to the streets, name a rival government or take up arms against the government." Some say the agreement to postpone Parliament's presidential election for one week "is a very wise move" and that it has "defused some of the tension plaguing the country." However, Hezbollah warned "that failure to reach agreement on a new president in the week ahead could leave the divided country without a head of state for a long time." Some say that "Lebanon is on the brink of being torn apart by the combination of internal and external polarization" and that "Speculation is rife in Lebanon that some countries might see benefit in igniting such a fire." In addition, one observer argued that both sides of the political divide seek to find a consensus candidate in secret negotiations and that "This is a disappointing confirmation" that "A lengthy period of non-democratic rule has dangerously eroded Lebanese democracy."

Results from Jordan's Parliamentary Election: Supporters of Jordan's King Abdullah II defeated the country's Islamist opposition last week in parliamentary elections which consequently dropped their number of seats in parliament by nearly two-thirds. Prior to the election, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which is the main opposition, threatened to boycott the polls because they argued electoral law ensures independents will win most seats. Also, ahead of the election, the polls suggested a low voter turn out because of "growing frustration and disenchantment among voters." Moreover, Jordan played down reports of electoral fraud in which Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez said the authorities arrested two people who "tried to buy votes," but said otherwise voting was trouble free. In addition, out of the 885 candidates there were a record number of 199 women.

Arab Participation at Annapolis: In the final days leading up to the Annapolis meeting the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia and Syria have agreed to attend. However, according to one observer, the Annapolis meeting is "unconvincing" and "insincere," therefore he suggests "If Annapolis is a confused and murky process, the Arab world should respond to it with clarity and confidence." Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for Gaza's Hamas rulers to be "brought down," which is his strongest call yet for their removal. One pundit has called Abbas' remark "understandable, but misguided."

Musharraf Deemed Eligible for Presidency: Last week, Pakistan's newly appointed Supreme Court issued a ruling affirming President Pervez Musharraf's presidential eligibility, while imprisoned opposition leader Imran Khan began a hunger strike. Most recently, Musharraf has allowed Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan after being exiled to Saudi Arabia and now Sharif prepares to register for parliamentary elections although he says he will boycott the vote unless Musharraf ends emergency rule. Moreover, in response to the political chaos and power struggle between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto one pundit argues that the "core problem plaguing Pakistani society" is that "Without a strong and independent judiciary, Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, will forever be at the mercy of dictators and power-hungry politicians."

Assessing Security in Iraq: Despite persistent sectarian tensions in the Iraqi government, Sunnis and Shiites are collaborating at the local level to protect their communities from militants by way of a US backed policing movement called Concerned Citizens, which some think is "a genuine public expression of reconciliation that has outpaced the elected government's progress on mending the sectarian rift." However, one critic questions this optimism about the good sign emerging in Iraq and notes that "there have been a number of 'lulls' in violence" since 2003. Another observer analyzes Moqtada al-Sadr, claiming that descriptions of him as "anti-American provocateur" and a "nationalist force...selflessly serving the interests of all Iraqis..." are both inaccurate.


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