Night Watch

China: Update. Chinese observers reported on 6 July that the Chinese aircraft carrier has begun its ninth sea trial. China declared a closure area for a military exercise in the northern part of the Bohai Gulf between 5 and 30 July, matching the carrier's departure from port. One observer reported seeing a mockup of a J-15 combat aircraft on the deck.


Syria: Update on Brigadier Manaf Tlass' defection. The Tlass family is an example of elite Sunni Arabs that have had historically close ties to the al Asad and the Alawite-dominated government. Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass was a classmate of Hafez al Asad and was the Minister of Defence during the massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sunnis who staged an uprising in Hama in 1982. Hafez, Tlass, and the Syrian armed forces razed the city.

Manaf Tlass was a close associate of President Bashar al Asad and commander of a Republican Guard unit. He fled, reportedly, because he was about to be arrested for disloyalty.

According to one account, Mustafa Tlass, a Sunni, had a falling out with the Bashar al Asad and the Alawite generals over a year ago; was demoted to lieutenant general and fled to Turkey and then Paris with the assistance of his daughter, who is a wealthy widow, heiress and Parisian socialite. Her late husband was a notorious gun merchant. This past week, the daughter rescued her brother. A second brother also is in Paris.

Comment: The Tlass defections do not signal the beginning of the end of the Asad regime. These were wealthy elite Sunnis who profited enormously from their association with the al Asads. They acted to save themselves and their fortunes and have no use for the Brotherhood or the Syrian opposition.

Military exercises. Last week President Asad declared that Syria is in a state of war, primarily with outside influences. This weekend, Syrian armed forces began what have been described as large scale exercises to repel an external attack. It is a show of force against the UN and NATO as well as a show of the regime's resilience.

Egypt: On 8 July, President Muhammad Mursi issued a decree abolishing a Supreme Constitutional Court verdict on dissolving the People's Assembly (lower house of parliament) and ordered it to reconvene, according to the Egyptian press.

According to the acting presidential spokesman, Yasir Ali, President Mursi issued Decree No. 11 of 2012 with the following articles:

Article One: Decree No. 350 of 2012, which considers the People's Assembly as dissolved, shall be withdrawn as of Friday, 15 June 2012.

Article Two: The elected People's Assembly shall reconvene to hold its sessions and practice its competencies stipulated in Article 33 of the Constitutional Declaration issued on 30 March 2011.

Article Three: Early People's Assembly election shall be held within 60 days of the People's Assembly's approval of the new constitution and completion of the People's Assembly law.

In reaction the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) convened an emergency meeting to deliberate Mursi's decree.

Comment: What is missing in the press coverage is that a subsequent Court ruling suspended the earlier Court ruling that suspended the parliament. The dueling court rulings left the parliament intact, still dominated by the Brotherhood and the Salafist parties. Mursi has convened it.

Mursi appears to have the law on his side but the appeal process is not complete. Thus, he deliberately has challenged the authority of the armed forces during the pendency of the appeal. This is the second time he has confronted the armed forces.

Mursi is acting on political issues that earlier SCAF declarations indicated were outside the purview of the SCAF. The Brotherhood President is outsmarting the generals. He is pushing the limits of his authority, presuming that anything not proscribed is permitted.

In convening the parliament, he is gathering elected allies for a confrontation against the appointed generals. As president, and with the backing of parliament, he has the legal authority to fire the entire Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The SCAF has operated with no legal authority for its various declarations, except its monopoly of guns.

Mursi appears to be pitting the results of elections against the guns, provoking a potential constitutional crisis. The generals have the option of refusing the challenge, which they are likely to do. In which case, parliament will convene; a constitutional assembly will gather, but the generals will remain the parens patriae, the guardians of civil order.

Libya: The wartime premier, Mahmoud Jabril, has called for a grand coalition of the 150 parties that competed in the general elections on 7 July. Official results will be announced on 9 July.

Comment: Libya is broken and the elections have done little to mend it. The first elections in more than 40 years were peaceful. Nevertheless, Libya was not well prepared for an exercise in democracy.

Jabril, a US-educated and English speaking secular leaders, heads a coalition of 60 secular parties and groups, but that does not mean he will have a national mandate nor will it prevent regional challenges from Cyrenaica (Benghazi) or the Fezzan (the southern desert tribes).

There remains a strong possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood party will make a strong showing and takeover the Libyan revolution as they have done in Egypt. Jabril's call for a national unity government could be trumped by the Brotherhood and supportive Salafists.

End of NightWatch.

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