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NightWatch 20111122


For the night of 22 November 2011

North Korea-South Korea: Update. Last week North Korea refused to accept $4.5 million in humanitarian aid for flood victims. The North claimed that certain food items, such as ramen noodles, are unhealthy. It asked for rice and cement instead. It did accept Heppatitis B vaccine from South Korea.

Pakistan: On 22 November, a military spokesman and a Pakistani Taliban spokesman denied that the government and the terrorists have agreed to a ceasefire or peace talks, despite prominent headlines to that effect in Pakistani newspapers.

Comment: The spokesmen did not deny the earlier report that only claimed that initial and preliminary talks had taken place. Simultaneous and near identical denials of events not alleged are so rare that they support a reasonable suspicion that the two sides are in communication.

Pakistan-US: Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani accepted the resignation of Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani. Haqqani resigned because of his alleged involvement in the memo to US Admiral Mullen.

Yemen: According to UN envoy Jamal Benomar, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is ready to sign a deal with his opponents to transfer his presidential powers to his deputy, Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi, ahead of early elections. Benomar said the agreement is drafted and that officials are working out the signing details. Opposition officials said a ceremony would be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and that Benomar will hold a news conference on the deal after the agreement is signed.

Comment: This report would have more credibility had someone from Saleh's office corroborated it.

Ethiopia-Somalia: For the record. A Somali government spokesman denied that Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia to fight al Shabaab. The spokesman said any such deployment by Ethiopia would require Somalia's consent and no such request has been received.

Comment: The government in Mogadishu also denied the Kenyan force had permission to cross into Somalia. When the Ethiopians intervened in Somalia in 2006, eyewitnesses at the border crossing points were the first to report the arrival of Ethiopian military trucks with soldiers. The eyewitness reports this week are reminiscent of those accounts.

Egypt: On 22 November Field MarshalTantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Sharaf's government and directed that presidential elections be held before the end of June 2012, instead of in 2013. He concluded a speech on the domestic political crisis with the following paragraph:

I have decided the following: Accepting the resignation of Dr Isam Sharaf's government and entrusting it with continuing work until a new government is formed with powers that enable it to continue the transitional stage in cooperation with the SCAF; commitment to carrying out parliamentary elections according to the schedule and holding the election for the president of the Republic before the end of June 2012. The SCAF does not seek power and places the higher interest above any other consideration, and is ready to immediately hand over authority and return to its original task protecting the homeland, through a public referendum, if that's what the people want and if that is what is needed. May God protect Egypt and its people from all evils! Peace and blessings be upon you!

The SCAF intends to hold parliamentary elections on schedule next week.

Comment: The demonstrators in Cairo reacted negatively to the concession and clamored for a faster pace of political reconstitution. Tantawi might yet be coerced into making more concessions, such as the public referendum he mentioned, above.

The demonstrations during the past four days are different from those that brought down Mubarak in February. Most important is that they seem concentrated only in Cairo. In February, anti-Mubarak demonstrations occurred in every major city. Unions and state workers joined.

The Cairo demonstrations appear to feature urban youth, who are not organized to win a national parliamentary or presidential election or any election, especially only half a year away. Certainly secular political parties will be disadvantaged because they will not have the time to raise funds and build their political organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be the most likely beneficiary of early elections. At least one news service reported that the Muslim Brotherhood had representation in SCAF crisis meetings on 21 November. That has not been confirmed. Nevertheless, the speed of Tantawi's agreement for early elections in the absence of nationwide political protests suggests the SCAF struck a deal with the Brotherhood and/or other political groups that gives them a significant electoral advantage in return for getting the Army out of the political cross-hairs.

Morocco: Comment. Moroccans will vote in national parliamentary elections on 25 November, the first such elections in an Arab monarchy this year. Political analysts judge this election will test King Mohammed's responses to the so-called "Arab uprising" by which he ceded some of his powers to elected officials, earlier this year.

A moderate Islamist party says it believes it can win the November 25 parliamentary election, buoyed by the resurgence of Islamists in the wake of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Other political leaders insist that Morocco is different from Tunisia, Libya or Egypt in political sophistication and education and that the Islamists stand no chance. At least the issues will be clear.

If the Coalition for Democracy wins a plurality, then the secular interests win. If the Justice and Development Party gains the most votes, the Islamists win.

End of NightWatch for 22 November .

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