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Still Focused on the Political Transitions…

February 2, 2011

Yesterday, Jim Cason and I both did blog posts that focused primarily on U.S. foreign policy and the political changes that are taking place in Egypt. Today I feel compelled to say more about what’s happening in other areas of the Middle East.

But first, to complement the offerings Jim and I made yesterday, for more analysis of the implications for U.S. policy of the political transitions in the Middle East, see:

Philip Weiss  in Salon: “The road to Jerusalem runs through Tunis and Cairo”

Stephen Zunes in The Huffington Post: “Obama’s Shift on Egypt”

Diane Singerman in Foreign Policy: “Unmasking Mubarak’s ‘chaos’”

Kate Seelye of the Middle East Institute: “Obama’s Woodrow Wilson Moment”

Jordan: Yesterday King Abdullah dismissed Prime Minister Samir Rifai and his cabinet, and appointed a new prime minister – Marouf Bakhit. The new prime minister has been charged with enacting political reforms. In Jordan, as in Tunisia and Egypt, the change in government has taken place in response to some three weeks of street protests that have been largely peaceful. Yet some of the political opposition in Jordan is not enthusiastic about the King’s choice for “new” prime minister.  For more details, see this BBC report.

West Bank and Gaza: Palestinians are watching developments across the region with great interest. To date, the massive street protests that are taking place in neighboring countries have not taken hold in either the West Bank or Gaza. The Palestininan Authority has, however, just announced that it will hold local elections, postponed last year, “as soon as possible,” seemingly in response to the democratic change movement sweeping the region. For the perspective of veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who resides in Ramallah and has reported from the occupied Palestinian areas for decades, see this Haaretz article. And for a perspective from both the West Bank and Gaza, see Fares Akram and Isabel Kershner’s article in yesterday’s New York Times.

Israel: As I wrote yesterday, Israel has been urging the U.S. and other allies not to push President Mubarak from power in Egypt. Some voices within Israel are, however, urging the government to break out of the box. One example is yesterday’s editorial in Haaretz.

Syria: Two Wall Street Journal reporters interviewed President Bashar al-Assad and published an article “Syria Strongman: Time for ‘Reform’ “ indicating that: President Assad believes the Syrian government is more closely linked to its people and therefore will have more time to make changes than President Mubarak does in Egypt; and Mr. Assad intends to push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations, and establishing a new media law. It is also worth noting that the Obama administration installed a new ambassador, Robert Ford, in Damascus in January. Ambassador Ford is the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since the 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon.

Yemen: Demonstrations inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt have been ongoing in Yemen as well. Today’s news reports indicate that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will step down in 2013 and will not promote his son to succeed him. Similar to President Mubarak in Egypt, President Saleh has been in power for some thirty years, had hoped to promote a family dynasty, and is now beginning to relinquish power, albeit not as rapidly as many of their respective fellow citizens are demanding.

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