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NightWatch 20121226

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For the night of 26 December 2012

Syria: Major General (Syrian: Liwa) Abulaziz al-Shalal, the head of the Military Police, announced his defection from the regime to join the rebels. In his broadcast statement, Shalal said the army had failed to protect Syrians and turned into "gangs of murder", the general said in a video statement.

An unidentified Syrian security sources minimized the defection because General Shalal was due to retire soon and joined the uprising to "play hero".

Comment: This defection is the first to raise a suspicion that Syrian army generals at the end of their careers and prospects might join the rebel fighters to try to steer the movement.

The most important news from Shalal is his assertion that the Asad regime used chemicals against Homs. His statement, however, needs to be put into the context of Soviet chemical warfare doctrine. The victims of the alleged chemical attack had symptoms of crowd control chemicals having been used against them. They include tear gas and various irritant gases that are not lethal.

In Soviet chemical warfare doctrine, crowd control gases are considered chemical weapons and were controlled by chemical troops.

The key take away is that the Asad government already has crossed an important decision line: whether to use chemical warfare against the rebels, in the Syrian military context. In that context, use of lethal chemicals is an escalation tactic, not the critical line that it is in US chemical warfare doctrine. That implies that it will use escalation tactics because the fundamental decision to use chemicals already has been made.

Egypt: On 26 December President Mohammed Mursi signed the new constitution which he said will help put an end to political turmoil and allow him to focus on fixing the country's economy. Yesterday, 25 December, the election commission announced that the constitution passed the referendum with a 63.8% majority.

Mursi broadcast a recorded speech to the nation in which he congratulated Egyptians on the new constitution. He said that Egypt was observing a remarkable historic day because it has a new constitution that was not imposed by an occupier, king or a president. It came through the free will of the people, he said.

He averred that the passing of the constitution meant Egypt could now move to a new stage that should bring security and stability for Egyptians. He urged all political parties and groups to participate in the sessions of the national dialogue that he oversaw to reach censuses on the issues of the coming period.

Mursi said the economy was a priority and promised to take necessary steps to heal it. He added that changes to the cabinet would be made if necessary. "I commissioned Dr. Hisham Qandil, the prime minister, and I was consulting with him on the ministerial changes which will suit this stage."

He also promised to carry out projects to support the Egyptian market and the economy. "The coming days will witness, God willing the launch of new projects in the fields of services and production, and a package of incentives for investors to support the Egyptian market and economy."

He added that Egyptians will start a new stage of work and production and said that the legislative powers have now been transferred to upper house of parliament, until a new lower house is elected.

According to Mursi, he is only working for God and the interest of the nation, as he is not after power as Egyptians know. He said: "I have shouldered the responsibility of taking difficult decisions to make this constitution a basis."

Comment: The process of enacting the constitution apparently climaxes with a presidential signature. Thus the president of Egypt begins and ends the constitutional process by decree. He even decrees himself to abide by it, which means the President remains the ultimate source of state political authority. This is not a modern democracy, despite Mursi's description of it as such. It is a modern Islamist state, relative to a caliphate.

For the record, the army continues to be the source of supreme sovereign authority and that means the guys with the guns win. Mursi has not consolidated control, despite having been in office since June, in the sense that the army and 36% of Egyptians - most of those who have advanced degrees, foreign study and live in the big cities -- oppose him as a would-be Islamist dictator.

He has chosen economics as a national priority because he has gone as far as he can go with politics for now. In the end, economics will dictate Mursi's fate as president of Egypt, not religion.

His failure to satisfy the political demands of the urban elite risks he will have little success in attracting the foreign aid and investment Egypt desperately needs. The farmers count in a referendum, but their prosperity depends on outside aid.

Mursi has little with which to bargain, even if the educated class agrees to help him and assuming he is committed to free markets, which is not clear. Thus, despite his speech today, the new constitution does not usher in an era of political or economic stability.

End of NightWatch for 26 December.

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