The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 188

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 188, April 21, 2023

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s headlines: we analyze the increased Syrian diplomatic efforts, investigate the renewed violence in Sudan, and explore increasing enforcement of a law making wearing a hijab mandatory for women in Iran.

Written by Breje Khan-Williams; Edited by Jacob Van Veldhuizen

Syrian Diplomatic Efforts Intensify

Syria has been intensifying its diplomatic efforts in a bid to escape the political isolation they have suffered since the Arab Spring. (Photo from AP)

Syria Continues Its Campaign to Revive Diplomatic Relationships in the Arab World

The recent meetings between Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad and officials from Algeria and Tunisia continue to suggest that Syria is making efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties in the Arab world. This is significant because Syria has been isolated from the Arab world since the harsh suppression of large-scale protests against President Bashar Assad’s authority in 2011, which resulted in Syria’s expulsion from the Arab League. One of the few Arab nations that maintained diplomatic ties with Syria throughout the civil conflict was Algeria, and Mikdad’s recent visit to Algeria was aimed at strengthening the bilateral partnership between the two nations. Mikdad also praised Algeria’s assistance following the catastrophic earthquake in Syria and neighboring Turkey. The Foreign Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia lead both nations to declare they were working to resume flights and reopen embassies for the first time in more than ten years, indicating a possible thaw in relations between the two countries. Similarly, Assad is due to go to Tunisia to reopen the Syrian embassy there, and Tunisian President Kais Saied has instructed the nation’s foreign ministry to name a new ambassador to Syria. Overall, these developments suggest that Syria’s neighbors are beginning to move toward amity with the country as Assad expands his hold over the majority of the nation. While the recent regional leaders’ summit in Saudi Arabia pledged to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict, they refrained from supporting Syria’s reabsorption into the Arab League. However, Mikdad’s recent visits to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, as well as his attempt to mend relations with Egypt, indicate that Syria is making efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties in the Arab world.

These recent meetings between Syria and members of the Arab League signify a potential shift in the political landscape of the Middle East. Despite Syria’s international isolation following the 2011 uprising and subsequent civil conflict, the nation is taking steps to mend ties with its Arab neighbors. These renewing relationships will significantly blunt any attempts by the international community to put pressure on Assad to improve human rights. Sanctions and other measures will not be as effective and Syria will have more political clout in resisting them. Mikdad’s visit to Saudi Arabia also resulted in an agreement to resume flights and reopen embassies after more than a decade of strained relations. These diplomatic initiatives suggest that Syria’s neighbors are beginning to reconsider their stance on the nation and recognize it’s expanding hold over the majority of the country. Given the extensive power that Saudi Arabia has in Middle East politics, a renewed relationship between it and Syria could also open the door for Syria to begin to renew its relationship with other countries in the Middle East. As such, these meetings hold significance for the future of the Middle East and may pave the way for further dialogue and cooperation among nations in the region.

This situation gives rise to significant implications for the broader dynamic in the Middle East. After years of international isolation, these diplomatic initiatives suggest a potential shift in regional attitudes towards Syria, as more Arab nations begin to explore ways to collaborate with the nation. This could potentially have ripple effects throughout the region, as other nations that have been hesitant to engage with Syria may reconsider their stance. This shift in attitudes could also have implications for ongoing conflicts in the region, including the Syrian conflict, which has seen involvement from several regional and global powers. By opening up lines of communication and potentially working towards a resolution to the Syrian conflict, there is a possibility that regional tensions could be eased and conflicts resolved through dialogue rather than continued military action. Additionally, renewed diplomatic ties between Syria and other Arab nations could have economic benefits for the region, as increased trade and investment could lead to increased prosperity and stability. It is also possible that increased cooperation from Syria allowed Assad to act with more impunity.

While the recent diplomatic initiatives between Syria and other Arab nations are certainly significant in terms of regional politics and economics, it is important to also consider their potential impact on the humanitarian situation in Syria and the broader implications for democracy in the region. The Syrian conflict has had devastating humanitarian consequences, with millions of people displaced and countless lives lost. While increased diplomatic engagement between Syria and its neighbors could potentially lead to increased humanitarian aid and improved conditions for those affected, however, in the past, much of the humanitarian aid allotted to Syria for relief was siphoned off and hoarded by the Assad regime. It is possible that the re-engagement of Arab nations with Syria could have positive implications for regional stability and economic development, it is important to consider the potential impact on democracy and human rights in the region. Any such engagement should prioritize the promotion and protection of democratic values and the rights of all citizens, regardless of political affiliation.

While the recent diplomatic initiatives between Syria and other Arab nations are certainly noteworthy, it is important to approach them with a nuanced and critical perspective that considers both their potential benefits and risks. Ultimately, any such initiatives should prioritize the needs and rights of the Syrian people and the promotion of democracy and human rights in the region.

Fighting in Sudan

Renewed fighting in Sudan has made an already perilous situation worse. (Photo from Reuters)

Fighting Escalates in Sudan as the Death Toll Continues to Rise

Sudan has been plunged into another crisis, with deadly violence erupting in Khartoum earlier this week, causing nearly 200 deaths and 1,800 injuries. The conflict between the forces of Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has taken a devastating turn, with explosions, airstrikes, artillery, and heavy gunfire shaking the capital city. The situation is dire, and urgent action must be taken to end hostilities and restore peace in Sudan. The violence has begun to spread to other regions of the country, where humanitarian operations have been disrupted, and medical and other supplies have been pillaged.

Misinformation has proliferated on social media, confusing civilians who are anxious for news about attacks and reported looting, how safe it is to move, and what pharmacies are still open. The violence has stopped the few remaining grocery stores from restocking the few businesses that are still operating, leaving civilians with dwindling food supplies. The situation has been made worse by the fact that many people lack access to electricity and the Internet, making it harder for locals to acquire trustworthy information. This has left many civilians feeling helpless and vulnerable, with no clear idea of what is happening around them or how they can protect themselves and their loved ones. Four hospitals have been shelled and evacuated in the greater Khartoum area, and 16 hospitals across the nation are out of service, dealing with serious shortages of medical personnel, water, and food supplies. The violence has also grounded flights to and from Khartoum airport and damaged many commercial aircraft.

The international community has called for an end to hostilities, with G7 foreign ministers meeting in Japan, calling for the warring parties to “end hostilities immediately.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reportedly “underscored the urgent necessity for a ceasefire” in a conversation with the two generals. “The RSF has reaffirmed its approval” of a 24-hour “armistice to secure the safe movement of people and the evacuation of the wounded,” but the army has bluntly dismissed the statement, warning that it is not aware of any coordination with the mediators and the international community about a truce. Secretary Blinken also emphasized the Sudanese people’s desire for democracy. This crisis is a tragic reminder of the urgent need to strengthen Sudan’s transition to democracy, which has been delayed since the coup in 2021. The power battle between Burhan and Daglo over the proposed incorporation of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the regular army has escalated into the deadly violence that has claimed innocent lives. The RSF is a paramilitary force that the government of Sudan formerly operated under former President Omar al-Bashir. It largely consists of former Janjaweed militia fighters, who, during the War in Darfur, were reported to have committed multiple crimes against humanity. The violence has also disrupted humanitarian operations and deprived the Sudanese people of much-needed aid. This has led to a worsening humanitarian crisis, with one-third of the population in the country requiring assistance. The situation is critical, and urgent action must be taken to prevent further loss of life and suffering.

The likelihood of the violence and this incident ending is impossible to predict with precision since it will rely on several variables, including the behavior of the parties involved, how the authorities react, and the general political and social atmosphere in the impacted areas. It’s important to remember, though, that historically, conflicts and violent occurrences have a tendency to escalate and de-escalate in cycles, so this situation may do the same. In addition, there can be chances for mediation and negotiation between the parties, which might help to regulate the situation. Moving toward peace in Sudan will require a combination of political will, dialogue, and compromise from both sides. The Sudanese government must demonstrate a genuine commitment to addressing the root causes of the conflict and take concrete steps toward reconciliation with rebel groups. This could include granting greater political autonomy to the regions where the conflict is most acute and addressing the grievances of marginalized communities. Rebel groups, in turn, must be willing to engage in meaningful dialogue and compromise on their demands, while committing to the cessation of violence. At the moment, this avenue appears to be unlikely, as a proposed 24-hour ceasefire failed. The international community can also play an important role by providing diplomatic support and pressure on both parties to end hostilities and negotiate in good faith. Ultimately, a peaceful and stable Sudan requires a comprehensive and inclusive peace process that addresses the underlying political, economic, and social issues that fuel the conflict.

Ultimately, it will be important for all parties to prioritize de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the situation, to prevent further harm and restore stability to the affected communities. Urgent action is needed in whatever case, to end hostilities and restore peace in Sudan. The Sudanese people deserve to live in peace and security, with access to basic necessities such as food, water, and healthcare. The Sudanese government must also take immediate steps to protect civilians and ensure that humanitarian aid can reach those who need it. Members of the international community must provide support and resources to help the Sudanese government and humanitarian organizations address the crisis and prevent further suffering.

Iranian Authorities Crackdown on Hijabs

Iran has intensified their monitoring and enforcement of the mandatory hijab law for women. (Photo from AP)

Iranian Authorities Step up Enforcement of Mandatory Hijabs for Women

Iranian authorities are continuing their campaign to enforce the country’s strict dress code for women, with new measures including the installation of cameras in public areas and on highways to catch those who disobey the code. The government has also warned businesses and car owners to comply with thousands of messages as part of the campaign to boost enforcement. Those who urge women to take off their headscarves may face jail time. The actions are part of a broader campaign against women who disobey the dress code and come after months of protests, some of which were sparked by the murder of Mahsa Amini, 22, who was imprisoned by Tehran’s morality police for alleged dress code violations. She died while in police detention, sparking a nationwide uprising and protests against Iran’s clerics. In the subsequent crackdown, security forces are estimated to have killed 500 individuals and imprisoned more than 20,000, according to Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, granted a general amnesty for some detainees in February. In March, Iran’s court said that some 22,000 persons imprisoned during the protests had received pardons.

Rights advocates, however, claim that the government never produced proof that every person had been freed. According to rights organizations and many recently pardoned prisoners who talked with The Washington Post, some demonstrators were required to post bail or sign papers apologizing for their claimed offenses to be eligible for the amnesty. The pardons, according to Shiva Nazarahari, an activist who works with the Volunteer Committee to Follow-Up on the Situation of Detainees, an unofficial network both inside and outside of Iran, were given in part to lessen pressure on the government due to the outrage from both domestic and international sources over the mass arrests. According to Nazarahari, they were also made public to assist Iran’s already overcrowded prisons in accommodating the influx of thousands of new detainees.

Authorities have already increased enforcement of the required dress code for women, including in schools, on university campuses, at companies, and in public areas, even as they worked to quell the protests and free several inmates. For instance, from March 6 to April 5, police shut down at least 458 establishments, including hotels, restaurants, and leisure centers, because staff members or clients were donning an “improper” hijab, according to HRANA. These crackdowns are not new in Iran, which has a long history of oppressing women and human rights activists. However, the current wave of protests and government actions has sparked renewed international attention and condemnation. The United States and other Western countries have expressed concern over the human rights situation in Iran, and some have imposed sanctions on Iranian officials. The Iranian government has responded to these criticisms by accusing Western countries of interfering in its internal affairs and promoting “immoral” behavior. Iran’s leaders have also sought to rally support from other Muslim countries, portraying their efforts to enforce Islamic dress codes as a defense of Islam and Muslim values.

But despite the government’s efforts, many Iranians are pushing back against the dress code and other restrictions on their freedoms. The protests that erupted after Mahsa Amini’s death were not the first to challenge the Iranian government’s repressive policies, and they likely will not be the last. Some Iranian women have taken to social media to share photos and videos of themselves without headscarves or with loosely draped headscarves, in defiance of the dress code. These women are part of a growing movement that seeks to challenge the government’s authority and demand greater freedoms and rights for all Iranians. Despite the risks, many Iranians continue to speak out against the government’s repressive measures, including the newly passed laws targeting the country’s dress code. The Iranian government has long been accused of human rights abuses, including the suppression of free speech, the mistreatment of prisoners, and the use of torture and execution as a form of punishment. The recent crackdown on protesters and dissidents has only served to reinforce these accusations, and many are concerned about the future of human rights in Iran. Some activists have called for international pressure to be placed on the Iranian government to end its repressive policies and respect the rights of its citizens. However, there are also concerns that international pressure may be counterproductive, pushing the Iranian government to double down on its repressive measures in response. The situation in Iran is complex, and any efforts to address human rights abuses must be carefully considered and executed.

One potential strategy is to engage with the Iranian people directly, rather than relying solely on diplomatic channels. This could involve supporting civil society groups and human rights organizations in Iran, as well as providing tools and resources to help Iranians communicate freely and safely online. Another strategy is to work with the Iranian diaspora community, which has been vocal in its opposition to the regime in Iran. This community has the potential to play a significant role in advocating for human rights in Iran and providing support to those who are at risk of persecution.

Ultimately, the situation in Iran is a reminder of the ongoing struggle for human rights and democracy around the world. While progress has been made in many countries, there are still those who seek to suppress the rights of their citizens and maintain their grip on power through violence and intimidation. As the Iranian government continues its efforts to suppress dissent and maintain control over its citizens, it is up to the international community to stand in solidarity with those who are fighting for their basic human rights. Whether through diplomatic pressure, grassroots activism, or other means, we must continue to work toward a world where all people can live free from fear and oppression.