Concern Continues to Grow in the Middle East

February 7, 2012 By Mac Stoddard

Concern continues to grow in the Middle East as the U.S. closed its embassy in Syria yesterday and violence mounts there.  Lawmakers are watching Egypt very closely as representatives of NGOs promoting democracy programs, including IRI and NDI, face charges for their work.  Primary voters go the polls today in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri fresh off the Nevada caucuses over the weekend.  Romney gained another win, but none of the other candidates show any signs of pulling out of the race.

Must Reads

Who’s in the News

How to Rescue the Syrian Peace Plan (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Financial Times)

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of State said on Sunday that the friends and partners of the Arab League would continue to work with it to press for a political settlement and to provide as much direct humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people as possible. William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, said that the League did not need the UN’s endorsement to continue with its work. That is the right stance. The Arab League and Turkey must remain in the lead.  Even creating a contact group along the lines of the one created to co-ordinate assistance to Libya, as Ms Clinton suggested, would be likely to buttress Mr. Assad’s foreign conspiracy narrative. The proper lesson to draw from Saturday’s vote is not the veto, but the remarkable degree of support for the Arab League’s plan from the thirteen other members of the Security Council, including Morocco, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan (all Muslim nations), Colombia, South Africa and India.  The US and Europe should broadcast that support as directly as possible to the Syrian people, expand and tighten sanctions and exclusionary measures aimed at the Syrian elite, and provide all necessary assistance in a supporting role.

Why the Global Economy Needs Businesses to Invest in Women (Melanne Verveer and Kim Azzarelli, Daily Beast)

Businesses are starting to understand what development experts have long known: investing in women pays dividends. Women are more likely than men to put their income back into their communities, driving illiteracy and mortality rates down and GDP up.  Women can also be the best innovators of the products they use and sell, sometimes transforming their communities with something as small as the knowledge of the optimal use of a household’s single electric light.  “There is no doubt,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “that the increasing numbers of women in the economy … has helped fuel significant growth everywhere. And economies that are making the shift more effectively and rapidly are dramatically outperforming those that have not.”

Smart Power

Web site strives to fight corruption in Kenya (Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post)

A new Web site — I Paid a Bribe – is allowing Kenyans to share their experiences with bribery. Activists say the site could become a potent weapon in the fight against graft in one of the world’s most corrupt nations.  “It brings a human face to corruption,” said Samuel Kimeu, executive director of Transparency International-Kenya, an anti-corruption watchdog group. “When people tell their stories the way they do on the Web site, it has the potential to catalyze action.”  Drawing some inspiration from the Arab Spring uprisings, activism appears to be on the rise here and in many other corners of sub-Saharan Africa.  More than 400 bribes have been reported; the total amount paid is nearly 9 million Kenyan shillings – or about $110,000.

Politics/Foreign Policy

U.S. Sending Commander to Repair Ties With Pakistan (Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh, New York Times)

A senior American military commander is expected to travel to Pakistan this month in what Obama administration officials say is the first step toward thawing a strategic relationship that has been in effect frozen for more than two months.  Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the military’s Central Command, will meet Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff, to discuss the investigations of an exchange of fire at the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode.  General Mattis’s visit, the first by a high-ranking American official since the cross-border confrontation in November, was to have begun Thursday, but has been postponed by at least a week pending what is expected to be a spirited debate in the Pakistani Parliament over a new security policy toward the United States.

Russian Envoy Meets Syrian Leaders as Fighting Continues (Nada Bakri, New York Times)

Russia’s foreign minister reported a “very productive visit” on Tuesday in Damascus with Syria’s top leaders after flying in for an emergency meeting on the violent 11-month-old political uprising in that country, where thousands of pro-government Syrians lined the streets of the capital waving Russian flags of welcome.  Russia, along with China, vetoed an Arab-backed resolution at the United Nations on Saturday that called on President Bashar al-Assad to delegate some of his powers as part of a plan to defuse the crisis. Rebuffing harsh criticism from the resolution’s sponsors and Western critics of Mr. Assad, the Russians insisted that the resolution amounted to outside interference in Syria’s affairs.  The visit came a day after the American government shut its embassy in Damascus, withdrawing Ambassador Robert Ford and the rest of the staff.

Egypt names 43 targeted in democracy groups inquiry (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times)

Egyptian state media Monday published the names of 43 people accused in a politically explosive investigation of pro-democracy groups, saying they are suspected of receiving illegal funding with the aim of destabilizing the country’s national security.  The 19 Americans on the list of those to be prosecuted on charges of violating foreign funding laws included Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and country director for the Washington-based International Republican Institute, and Charles Dunne, the Mideast program director for Freedom House, a research and advocacy organization.  Egyptian officials consider foreign funding of the groups as interference in their country’s political system. The nongovernmental groups insist that they aim only to provide Egyptians with nuts-and-bolts technical assistance to help them take part in the democratic process.