MAS Special ReportLEVANT: Middle East and North Africa

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DSM Special Report- Middle East and North Africa- March 2019

Claudiu Nebunu

Sursă foto: Mediafax


  1. Syria- Brussels conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”.
  2. Iran- the resignation that was not approved.
  3. Egypt- new limits for media and social networks.
  4. Algeria- Army: “attack on President”.


  1. Syria- Brussels conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”.

Between 12th -14th of March, in Brussels, it took place a conference dedicated to Syria- “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, commonly chaired by the UN and the EU.

There were present 57 state representatives and 20 international organizations and UN agencies. Within the first two days (12 and 13th of March, “dialogue days”), over 1.000 participants (representatives of the civil society from Syria and the region, ministers and policy makers from proxy countries to Syria, representatives of the donor countries and regional organizations of some UN agencies and International Committee of the Red Cross) have discussed about the problems the Syrian nation is experiencing, as well as about the international response to crisis.

There are still extremely huge humanitarian needs. Over 11 million Syrians inside the country and over 5. 6 million refugee outside the borders need humanitarian assistance.

The Brussels conference had two main objectives:

- supporting the UN political process (the Genève format) and

- mobilizing the international financial support for the Syrians (for humanitarian help inside the country, but also across the neighbor countries).

The conference managed to set up commitments worth of $ 7 billion (6, 2 billion euro) for 2019, as well as multiannual commitments worth of $2, 4 billion (2, 1 billion euros) for 2020 and afterwards.

The European commissary responsible for humanitarian help and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, as well as the UN Deputy Secretary General for humanitarian problems, Mark Lowcock, were extremely pleased with the collected/ promised funds, highlighting that this help will be used for fieldwork activities and will help millions of people, but the main issue remains the identification of a political solution.

If undertaking financial commitments is an important signal of the international community’s solidarity for the Syrian people and Syria’s neighbors, which are sheltering a huge number of refugees and are, somehow, aware of the tension this generosity involves, the political process in the Genève format remains blocked for now.

The peace efforts in the Genève format have started back in 2012 (when, in Genève and Wien, got reunited supporters of the opposition), aiming at electing a transition governance authority. But nine rounds of negotiations, mediated by UN, were not enough for a significant step to be taken. The pre-conditions imposed by foreign actors, Assad’s refuse to talk with the opposition, the division between different opposition groups and, especially, the demand for Assad’s abjuration to be included in any reconciliation process made the Genève process fail.

As a response, at the end of 2016, Russia, Iran and Turkey have committed to peace efforts, asking for a cease fire agreement between the governmental forces and the rebels. In January 2017, there were launched talks, in Astana/ Nursultan (Kazakhstan’s capital, renamed after the recent resignation of the former president Nursultan Nazarbaev) between regime’s representatives and opposition’s ones, under the mediation of these three countries. Hereof, it was created the “Astana Format/ Nursultan” (with reunions in Teheran and Sochi). It was followed by other reunions, being established armistices, different initiatives (de-escalation areas, creation of a commission for writing of a new constitution), but also revealing a series of divergences, as consequences of the Iranian influence, the lack of solutions for Kurds’ problem, the existence of rebels’ enclave from Idlib etc…

The Genève format was eclipsed and Astana/Nursultan remains, at least for now, the only instrument to normalize the situation in Syria…

  1. Iran- the resignation that was not approved.

At the end of last month (Monday, 25th of February), a surprise announcement from the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, related to his resignation, was raising some agitation in Tehran, but also in other capitals (important ones). In an Instagram post (where else, given that, lately, the political dialogue is mainly developed on social media), the Iranian official was announcing his intention to resign. “I am apologizing you for all the shortcomings in the past years during my time as foreign minister ... Thanks nation and Iranian officials… I extend my gratitude for the generosity that dear and brave Iranian people and its respectable authorities had in the last 67 month”, are some of the messages posted by Zarif on his Instagram account.  

Zarif did not give a clear reason for his resignation, which, for effective effects, it had to be accepted by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. He refused, two days later, foreign affairs minister’s resignation: “I think that accepting your resignation would go against country’s interests, hence, I reject it”, according to a letter sent to Zarif and published in Iranian media on Wednesday, 27th of February. Zarif was later seen with Rouhani and other Iranian officials during the welcoming ceremony of the Armenian prime-minister, Nikol Pashinyan.

The confrontation between parties and political factions in Iran is purely “lethal poison” for the elaboration of coherent foreign policiy, stated Zarif the second day after announcing his intention to resign, suggesting that the reason would be the radical elements that went against the Iranian Nuclear Treaty.

Javad Zarif was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister in August 2013, two years before Teheran’s agreement on the decrease of uranium increase program and the commitments to not develop nuclear weapons, in return of the suspension of international sanctions – the Iranian Nuclear Treaty (the format known also as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action/ JCPOA), signed with the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union.

Being a fervent supporter of the Treaty (even its “designer”), Zarif become slowly the target of Iran’s radical and conservative political blocs’ who opposed the creation of this agreement.

The critics have been maintaining even after JCPOA signing, becoming more and more stronger because the population did not felt the announced benefits, and of American president’s decision, Donald Trump, to denounce the treaty and reintroduce the American sanctions determined the withdrawal of the foreign companies which have been signing or were about to sign contracts with Iranian partners, reducing commerce, collapse of the national currency, rial, and prices’ increase.  

This situation was exploited by radical groups, in order to accuse Zarif and president Rouhani that signing the Treaty did not bring any benefits, but on the contrary, Iranian’s expectations were blown away.

Frustrated by evolution of the situation, many Iranians, supporters of these groups, initiated sporadic protests all over the territory. Hassan Abbasi, a retired General from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, has delivered a speech, at a meeting of the complaining population from Karaj city, stating that Zarif, Rouhani and Ali Larijani (president/ Parliament’s speaker, who actively supported Treaty’s completion) should be “spitted” by the Iranian nation.

Usually a calm person, Zarif seems to have been affected by these allegations.

On the other hand, the announcement was made a few hours after the “surprise” visit of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to Teheran, where he met the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and president Rouhani. Zarif was not there, stating that he not had be aware of the visit (?!). Would that be the reason?

During the last year, Iranian officials, close the Supreme Leader, have paid visits in many key countries for the foreign Iranian policy. Khamenei’s counsellor on international businesses, Ali Abkar Vellayati, was in Damascus (April 2018) and Moscow (July 2018) to coordinate Teheran’s policy in respect of Syria. In November last year, Kamal Kharrazi, very close to  Khamenei, visited many European countries to discuss about EU’s measures to facilitate trade with Iran after the re-imposition American sanctions. 

These visits and negotiations seem to have been independent of the Foreign Minister and allowed the Supreme Leader to enlarge his control over Foreign Affair’s portfolio, undermining Zari’s authority.

Further on, legislative measures demanded by EU to align the Iranian legislation to the international norms are blocked in the Parliament by radicals’ representatives, obstructing the diplomatic efforts to reinforce the economic relations with the European countries.

Whatever the reason was, there is one clear thing: Zarif’s announcement raised emotion and concern among the population and the political class, and some voices in radicals’ camp have even asked him to stay (135 deputies from different political groups sent him a letter asking Zarif to stay). Hence, the political and popular support for the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, implicitly for president Rouhani, was reinforced.

This evolutions seem to have been the true stake of the recent resignation which was not approved.

  1. Egypt- new limits for mass-media and social media

Shortly after the middle of the month (Tuesday, 19th of March), the Egyptian government approved new restrictive rules, which are allowing the Supreme Media Regulatory Council/ CSRM to block websites or social media pages to have more than 5.000 visitors, if there are suspicions that it could threat the national security.

The ocument adopted (9 pages) contains a lost list with prohibited topics, among them being “anything that actuate to breaking the law and the public moral principles, racism, intolerance, discrimination and hatred between citizens”.

The new rules allow CSRM to block these sites and accounts saddle have fines of to 250. 000 Egyptian pounds ($14.400). The media campaigns that continue to public “offensive materials” can be sanctioned with fines up to 5 million Egyptian pounds (around $300.000).

Egyptian journalists have called the measures as being unconstitutional, attacking media’s liberties and offering the authorities large blackout possibilities. A member of Journalists’ Union from Egypt leadership committee, Mohamed Abdel- Hafiz, has stated that the government is threatening the journalists with the vague definition of national security’s breach, as well as the political, social and religious norms. Another member of the committee, Gamal Abdel-Rahim, has stated that the “measure to block websites was not included in the legislation, and the Constitution itself foreseed that websites and newspapers cannot be closed without a juridical decision”.

CSRM president, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, has refused to comment on that matter.

In the last years, the Egypt regime launched an unprecedented campaign of reporters and media, tens of journalists being sent to prison, and some of the foreign correspondents being expelled. According to Freedom of Thought and Expression Association, at the end of 2017, around 500 websites were blocked. Authorities have motivated measures as necessary to prevent instability, dues to efforts to relaunch economy and terrorism combat in North of Sinai.

The new measure is more severe than the one approved by the legislative in July, last year, offering the government almost total control over media.

Since taking the power, in 2013, the new Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has systematically eliminated any obstacle that could take the power out of his hands.

This situation of not following human’s rights continues to deteriorate, Cairo’s regime imposing more and more restrictions, through adopting some laws to allow the punishment of any critical opinion or the creation of any dissident movement.

  1. Algeria- the Army: “attack against the president”.

After two weeks of large protests from the Algerian citizens, Tuesday (26th of March), the Chief of the General Staff and the Deputy Minister of Defence, General Lieutenant Gaed Salah, has asked, in a media appearance, that the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to be declared unable to run the country: “We must immediately find a way to get out the crisis, in an institutional framework”, reason Salah his proposal, calling on article 102 from the Constitution.

A group belonging to the main governmental party, the National Liberation Front (NLF), has announced their support for general’s proposal, but many other opposition parties and protestants have called the initiative as just an attempt to stop the demonstrations.

Also, former prime-minister Ahmed Ouyahia (replaced two weeks and a half before), recommended President Bouteflika to resign in order to ease the transition into a constitutional framework. Ouyahia is a member of the National People’s Assembly, which is part of the governmental coalition led by FEN.

Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, president of the General Union of Algerian Workers, an influent group in the governing coalition, showed his support for Chief of the Staff’s proposal.

According to article 102, the Constitutional Council can ask for the investigation of president’s physical condition and then, given the result, it can decide whether he is able to accomplish his mission or not. The proofs provided will be analyzed in a common reunion of both chambers of the Parliament, and the decision can be legitimated with a minimum of two thirds from the members. The Superior Chamber president takes the mandate for 45 days, and if the president remains unable to develop his activity, the executive has three months to organize presidential elections.

Tens of thousands of Algerians participated at demonstrations in many cities from Algeria, to show their disapproval against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to participate in the presidential elections, planned to take place on 18th of April, for a fifth mandate. Protests’ magnitude is unexampled, as the participants are not just chanting against the election of a sick president, unable to accomplish his duty, but also against the effective regime and way the country works.

The attempts to cool down the situation through postponing the elections, the change of the prime-minister or Bouteflika’s announcement regarding the intention to remain in power until the organization of a national forum to get to a consensus and adopt a new Constitution did not succeed.

The announcement of general Saleh has a symbolic importance. However, given the physical condition of president Bouteflika, the constitutional blockage on the enlargement of the current mandate until the organization of new elections and protestants’ complaints over such a scenarios, the actually chances to implement it are reduced.

Furthermore, there are some questions about  Army’s chief motivation , known as being close and loyal to Bouteflika.

On the other hand, not Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth mandate is the main complaint of the nation, but the fact that his inability to lead the country allows the regime to act as they wish, in behalf of the president, favoring those to have the power, without being concerned with nation’s condition.

Although the state has invested a lot in modernizing the infrastructure and encouraging the economic upswing, it could not develop a prosper economy, wherein the jobs and people’s wealth to grow. Corruption and cronyisms have created a feeling of injustice among those who are not enjoying country’s resources.

Demonstrations do not seem to stop here, and the situation remains free-flowing…