Middle East Roundup: Israeli-Palestinian Talks; Egypt’s Turmoil; Resurgent al Qaeda; Tunisia

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry named Martin Indyk, vice president and director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, as U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. At the announcement event, Indyk reflected:

It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a student in Jerusalem. In those dark days, I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a ceasefire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.

Watch the announcement and read the remarks on »

The Middle East and North Africa continue to pose a variety of challenges to peace and development. Here you will find a gathering of very recent and topical views and recommendations on the sweep of the issues from Brookings experts.

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Previously, the State Department announced that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume peace talks in Washington this week. After Israel’s cabinet approved the release of over 100 Palestinian prisoners, Secretary Kerry formally invited the two sides to send their teams to Washington.

Fellow Natan Sachs with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings says that we should hope for success in the talks, but “we should also prepare for the worst.”

While [Secretary of State John] Kerry must lay the groundwork for giving the resumed peace talks the best chance of success, he must also plan for their failure. If the negotiations collapse, there is a danger that people will take the secretary of state at his word and conclude that the door to peace is finally shut.

Read more of Sach’s piece at »

Egypt’s Troubles

Even before Egypt’s military killed over 70 people during a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo this past weekend, Nonresident Senior Fellow Bessma Momani warned that “Egypt’s military leadership is playing with fire” when its chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, called for Egyptians to return to the streets to show that they back the military against the Muslim Brotherhood. Momani is prescient:

Sisi is clearly feeling the heat of the international community for overthrowing a democratically elected government. But to respond with a call for protests to be matched by more protests is hardly the strategy of a man who truly wants “national reconciliation” unless it is on his terms, and it could put the lives of thousands of Egyptians at risk. Whatever Egyptians want politically, they don’t want the current violence and chaos to continue or worsen, which is exactly what Sisi invited with his Wednesday speech.

Read Momani’s view in full »

Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center, spoke on CNN yesterday about the latest crackdown, calling the massacre “unprecedented in recent decades.”

This is a very dark omen of things to come and it suggests that the military … really wants to just crack down as much as possible and isn’t interested in national reconciliation or re-integrating the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process. So I worry what we’re going to see is more of what happened yesterday, and if that does continue then really all bets are off.

Watch the full interview here »

Al Qaeda Resurgent

Bruce Riedel, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, says that al Qaeda is back. In Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and especially in Iraq, where the terrorist group has killed 500 this month and committed two major jail breaks, the terrorist group, though “battered,” is regenerating. “The resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes, “has sobering implications for what is likely to follow the drawdown of NATO forces in Afghanistan for the al Qaeda mother ship in Pakistan. … Iraq is a sobering lesson in what happens when a battered al Qaeda movement gets a second chance.”

Riedel warns of a new “epicenter of global jihad”:

Al Qaeda in Iraq is spreading its franchise into Syria and Lebanon. Syria has become what Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Iraq were to earlier generations of jihadists: the epicenter of the global jihad. From Western Europe to Southeast Asia, the networks that shipped fighters to Iraq a decade ago are now sending them to Syria.

Read Riedel’s entire piece, which first appeared in The Daily Beast »

Tunisia Following Egypt?

Tunisian opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi was assassinated in Tunisia last week, and the government linked the killing to al Qaeda. That plus faltering economic conditions and ongoing corruption lead Senior Fellow Hafez Ghanem to wonder if Tunisia—considered the “Arab Spring” country “most likely to succeed in its democratic transition”— will follow Egypt.

Ghanem points to two similarities between the two countries:

  1. Tunisian society is polarized between secularists and Islamists.  Tunisian secularists are even more vocal than their Egyptian counterparts.
  2. … the Islamist-led government in Tunisia has so far failed to deliver on the revolution’s economic demands

However, Ghanem points to three major differences:

  1. … unlike the Muslim Brothers, Ennahda [the Islamist party with the most seats in the elected assembly] has not been governing alone. It is leading a coalition with two secular parties and therefore may not carry all the blame for negative economic results. 
  2. … the process of constitution writing in Tunisia has been long and has included a real debate between Islamist and secular members of the constituent assembly; both sides have been making concessions and accepting compromises.
  3. … the Tunisian military is different than the Egyptian one, in that it does not have a history of political involvement.

Ghanem concludes that the chances of the opposition movement turning Tunisia into another Egypt are “slim.” But, he says, “Tunisians are starting to show signs of impatience.”

Read more and see polling data comparing Tunisians’ attitudes to Egyptians’ »

Brookings’s research on the region is led by our Saban Center for Middle East Policy and the Brookings Doha Center, with contributions from around the Institution, including Global Economy and Development.