Middle East
4:21 am
Fri August 23, 2013

Week In Review: The Latest On Egypt And Syria

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 7:25 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Mubarak's move to house arrest was just one development in a tumultuous week in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria also took a stunning turn. It appears chemical weapons were used in an attack on a rebel area on a far larger scale than anything that's been alleged before.

To reflect on the state of the region we called Shadee Hameed. He's an analyst with the Brookings Center in Doha and a frequent guest on our program. Good morning.

SHADI HAMID: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with that horrific attack in Syria. The opposition blames it on the government. But why would president Bashar al-Assad authorize a chemical attack when U.N. weapons inspectors are actually in the country? And if not the government, who?

HAMID: Well, all indications point to elements of the regime being responsible. Now, why would they do that? Well, I think Assad feels that he can get away with pretty much anything. And so far he's been proven largely correct. I mean he keeps on testing the limits of how far he can go. I mean he's killed more than 100,000 people.

And up until now the international community's response has been remarkably weak. So I think he's been emboldened and believes he can act with impunity.

MONTAGNE: One of the Syrian government's great allies, Russia, has suggested in these last couple of days that perhaps the opposition set up this chemical attack for its own purposes. As of this morning, Russia is calling for the Assad regime to allow in U.N. weapons inspectors to that area. What do you make of that?

HAMID: Well, first of all, to think that the Syrian rebels would deliberately gas their own people and kill more than 1,000, it would be quite an elaborate scheme. So I think it's difficult to take that seriously. But obviously the Russians are very much invested in the Assad regime.

So I think this is a very crucial period for the Russians. Because if it is verified that this element of the Syrian regime were responsible, that's going to put the Russians in a tough spot. How do you defend and justify that?

MONTAGNE: Shadee, let's turn back to Egypt. Do agree that Mubarak's release from prison shows that Egypt's Arab Spring is all but over?

HAMID: What we're seeing is the restoration of the old autocratic order, but it actually goes beyond that. We're seeing something significantly more repressive and intolerant of dissent than anything under the Mubarak regime. I mean under Mubarak there weren't mass killings on the street. Under Mubarak, there was a somewhat boisterous, independent press that criticized the government. So what we're seeing is really an unprecedented climate of fear in Egypt.

MONTAGNE: And the events of the last few days and weeks have shown that the U.S. has very little influence on Egypt. Who does have influence there? Who does have the ear of, say, the general behind the interim government?

HAMID: Well, I would actually disagree with that somewhat. I do think the U.S. does have significant leverage. The problem is the Obama administration appears unwilling to use it. As for others who can play a role here, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become two of the major supporters of the new military order in Egypt.

They're actually egging on the generals to continue their crackdown, so we're going to have a little bit of a collision course here between the U.S. and its close ally, Saudi Arabia.

MONTAGNE: Shadi Hamid is director of research for the Brookings Doha Center. Thanks very much for joining us.

HAMID: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.