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China: For the record. The third plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party convened on 8 November. In its report announcing the opening of the four-day meeting in Beijing, state news agency Xinhua said it would discuss "major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms".

Comment: Senior Chinese officials have hinted that this meeting will discuss and decide significant social and economic reforms, such as more liberal market conditions and more measures to reduce official corruption. In the past two weeks, authorities also have made clear that political reform is not on the agenda.

Syria-al Qaida: Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has ordered the Iraqi faction of his network to stop meddling in Syria and anointed Al-Nusra Front jihadists as al-Qaida's proxy in the Syrian fighting. The order for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to shut down in Syria was included in an audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

Comment: This is potentially a setback to the Iraq-based al Qaida franchise. Zawahiri's order was written in June but ignored. Most fighting reports indicate the two groups cooperate in fighting Syrian government and Lebanese Hizballah forces. Zawahiri might be trying to head off a future challenge to his leadership or to prevent decentralization of the movement from evolving into fragmentation.

Syria-Saudi Arabia: Two western news services reported this week that Saudi Arabia is preparing to finance the training and arming of a new Syrian non-jihadi rebel force. The force is to be built around the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) which was created in September 2013 by a merger of 43 fighting groups.

According to the news services, Saudi Arabia reportedly has hired Pakistan to help train the re-purposed force. It supposedly would start as two brigades and would be supplied through Jordan. It would not be jihadist, but also would not be a secular force.

Comment: If this information is accurate, it implies that the Saudis judge the fighting will go one for two more years because that is about how long it would take to develop an effective fighting force. By that time, the Syrian government is likely to have stabilized the security situation or, less likely, to have fallen to the jihadists.

The amount of time, energy and multi-national coordination required in this effort, with highly uncertain prospects for a return on the investment, plus the direct involvement of Jordan as pivotal to the logistics raise suspicions that this is not a serious initiative. Rather it looks like a perception management stratagem to prompt more US assistance, if not intervention.

Egypt: For the record. Egypt will be holding presidential elections early in summer next year, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said on Friday. Parliamentary elections are due in February or March, two months after a vote on a new constitution currently being drafted by a 50-member panel. The referendum on the constitution is scheduled for December 2013.

On 8 November a spokesman said the 50-person constitution drafting panel voted to add an amendment that would eliminate the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, so that Egypt would have a unicameral legislature.

Comment: The interim government is making steady progress towards restoring the forms of elected government, though the Army will remain the ultimate guardian of the state. The elimination of the Shura Council removes one irritant to the groups that removed Mursi. He used the Shura Council as an ersatz legislature to rubber stamp his executive orders. The Council was stacked with Brotherhood members or supporters.

End of NightWatch ###

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