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Friday, September 28, 2012

Recent Protests in Muslim Countries: Background and Issues for Congress



Christopher M. Blanchard, Coordinator
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Muslims in a number of countries have responded in recent days with anger at the United States that many observers describe as a response to a privately produced film circulating on the Internet that denigrates Islam and the prophet Mohammed. In some cases, this outrage has taken the form of public expressions by relatively small groups of demonstrators, and in other countries the demonstrations have been larger. In the most extreme cases, such demonstrations have been accompanied by violent attacks against U.S. diplomatic personnel and diplomatic facilities. Preexisting anti-U.S. sentiment and domestic political frustrations also appear to be contributing to the unrest. On September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. interim diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, killed four U.S. personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Vandalism and violence against U.S. facilities in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Sudan indicates the potency of the issue, as does the spread of clashes between protestors and local security forces elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa and in some countries in South and Southeast Asia. The geographic scope of the protests and the reportedly broadly shared outrage of participants have overshadowed important distinctions in political context, divergences in host government responses, and the fact that the groups demonstrating, particularly those committing violent acts, are small relative to much larger and diverse populations.

This report provides background information and analysis about the recent wave of protests and includes a summary appendix of select incidents and international responses organized geographically by country. The report discusses several issues of potential interest to Congress, including emerging debates on foreign assistance funding for countries affected by unrest, intelligence and diplomatic security policies, war powers considerations, and the potential effects of the current controversy on long-running international debates on religion and freedom of expression.



Date of Report: September 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42743
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Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Prior to the wave of unrest that has swept the Middle East in 2011, the United States had consistently praised Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id Al Said for gradually opening the political process in the Sultanate of Oman in the early 1980s without evident public pressure. The liberalization allowed Omanis a measure of representation but without significantly limiting Qaboos’ role as major decision maker. Some Omani human rights activists and civil society leaders, along with many younger Omanis, were always unsatisfied with the implicit and explicit limits to political rights and believed the democratization process had stagnated. This disappointment may have proved deeper and broader than experts believed when protests broke out in several Omani cities beginning in late February 2011, after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The generally positive Omani views of Qaboos, coupled with economic and minor additional political reform measures and repression of protest actions, caused the unrest to subside. However, protests have continued sporadically in 2012. High turnout in the October 15, 2011, elections for the lower house of Oman’s legislative body suggested the unrest produced a new public sense of activism, although with public recognition that reform will continue to be gradual.

The Administration did not alter its policy toward Oman during the height of the unrest, perhaps because Oman is a long-time U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. It was the first Gulf country to formally allow the U.S. military to use its bases and other facilities and has done so for virtually every U.S. military operation in and around the Gulf since 1980, despite the sensitivities in Oman about a visible U.S. military presence there. Oman is has become a regular buyer of U.S. military equipment, moving away from its prior reliance on British military advice and equipment. Oman also has consistently supported U.S. efforts to achieve a Middle East peace by publicly endorsing peace treaties reached and by occasionally meeting with Israeli leaders in or outside Oman. It was partly in appreciation for this alliance that the United States entered into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Oman, which is also intended to help Oman diversify its economy to compensate for its relatively small reserves of crude oil.

Unlike the other Persian Gulf monarchies, Oman does not perceive a major potential threat from Iran. Sultan Qaboos has consistently maintained ties to Iran’s leaders, despite the widespread international criticism of Iran’s nuclear program and foreign policy. Successive U.S. Administrations have downplayed the Iran-Oman relationship, perhaps in part because Oman has sometimes been useful as an intermediary between the United States and Iran. Oman played the role of broker between Iran and the United States, including in the September 2011 release of two U.S. hikers from Iran after two years in jail there. For further information on regional dynamics that affect Oman, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: August 30, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS21534
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy



Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on U.S. interim offices in Benghazi underscored the serious security challenges facing Libya’s citizens and newly elected leaders. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed after armed individuals attacked and burned a U.S. compound and subsequently attacked a second site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated. Libyan officials and citizens have condemned the murder of U.S. personnel and an investigation has begun. Armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country. On August 27, the U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens against visiting Libya. This report provides updated information on the attack, and includes information from the August 9 version of this report that will be updated.

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. The recent flare-ups in violence are coinciding with a number of important steps in the country’s political transition. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC has elected its leadership is now overseeing national government affairs. The GNC elected a new interim Prime Minister on September 12. Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shuqur will propose members for a new cabinet, and the GNC is expected to determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a national referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition process to a close. Security conditions remain an immediate concern.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. The shift from an appointed interim government to elected leaders may provide the government more democratic legitimacy and better enable it to make decisions in key areas, such as security, fiscal affairs, and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. However, further deterioration of security conditions may disrupt the transition, and the continued presence of armed non-state groups appears likely to continue to challenge the interim government. Libyans are debating the proper balance of local, regional, and national authority and the proper role for Islam in political and social life.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern. The Obama Administration has been implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable weapons, including MANPADs. Non-government reporting indicates that some arms depots remain unsecured. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

As of September 2012, the U.S. government has allocated more than $200 million in assistance for Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011, including $89 million in humanitarian assistance, $40 million for weapons abatement, and $25 million in nonlethal assistance from Department of Defense stockpiles. Attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities may disrupt U.S. aid programs temporarily. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Obama Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.



Date of Report: September 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
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Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations



Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

This report provides a brief overview of the key issues for Congress related to Egypt and information on U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. The United States has provided significant military and economic assistance to Egypt since the late 1970s. U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Successive U.S. Administrations have viewed Egypt’s government as generally influencing developments in the Middle East in line with U.S. interests. U.S. policy makers are now grappling with complex questions about the future of U.S.-Egypt relations, and these debates and events in Egypt are shaping consideration of appropriations and authorization legislation in the 112th Congress.

For Obama Administration officials and the U.S. military, there is a clear desire to engage Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s new government on a host of issues, including immediate economic support and Sinai security. For others, opportunities for renewed diplomacy may be overshadowed by disruptive political trends that have been unleashed by the so-called Arab awakening and allowed for more expression of anti-Americanism, radical Islamist politics, antipathy toward Israel, and sectarianism, among others. The events of September 11, 2012, in which a visiting U.S. business delegation dispatched to Egypt to expand trade and investment was in Cairo while an angry mob attacked the U.S. Embassy, may be a harbinger of increased dissonance in U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations for years to come.

For FY2013, President Obama is requesting $1.55 billion in total bilateral aid to Egypt ($1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid). The aid levels requested are unchanged from FY2012 appropriations. According to multiple reports, the Administration is currently negotiating with Egypt the terms for obligating funds that have already been appropriated by Congress, such as up to $1 billion in bilateral debt relief and the seed capital for an enterprise fund. Egypt currently owes the United States approximately $3.2 billion from decades-old food aid loans. In order to provide debt relief, U.S. government agencies are required to value U.S. loans, such as bilateral debt owed to the United States, on a net present value basis rather than at their face value, and an appropriation by Congress of the estimated amount of debt relief is required in advance. P.L. 112-74 did provide that ESF funds appropriated for Egypt in the act and from prior acts could be used for an Egypt debt initiative. Moreover, according to P.L. 112-74, bilateral debt relief funds would be a “swap” and channeled into programs that improve “the lives of the Egyptian people through education, investment in jobs and skills (including secondary and vocational education), and access to finance for small and medium enterprises with emphasis on expanding opportunities for women, as well as other appropriate market-reform and economic growth activities.”



Date of Report: September 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Iran Sanctions



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The principal objective of international sanctions—to compel Iran to verifiably confine its nuclear program to purely peaceful uses—has not produced that outcome to date. Since late 2011, a broad international coalition has imposed progressively strict economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export lifeline, producing increasingly severe effects on Iran’s economy. Many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions, because the energy sector provides about 70% of Iran’s government revenues. Iran’s worsening economic situation is caused by:

  • A European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian crude oil that took full effect on July 1, 2012. Previously, EU countries were buying about 20% of Iran’s oil exports. This embargo is coupled with decisions by several other Iranian oil customers to substantially reduce purchases of Iranian oil in order to comply with a provision of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-81).
  • Together, these sanctions have reduced Iranian oil exports to about 1.4 million barrels per day as of late August 2012, down from an average of 2.5 million barrels per day for all of 2011. This loss of sales has caused Iran to reduce oil production, to the point where it is producing less oil than is Iraq. Iran is widely assessed as unable to indefinitely sustain this level of lost oil sales, although it does have a large foreign currency reserve fund that can, at least temporarily, mitigate the impact of the lost oil revenue. Other oil producers, particularly Saudi Arabia, are selling additional oil to countries cutting Iranian oil buys, thus far preventing the lost Iranian sales from raising world oil prices.
The signs of economic pressure on Iran are multiplying and are increasingly acknowledged publicly by Iran’s leaders. The value of Iran’s rial has halved since September 2011. Iran is virtually cut off from the international banking system and is increasingly forced to trade through barter arrangements rather than hard currency exchange. Inflation has soared, many major international firms have left the Iran market, and Iranian firms are laying off workers.

Department of Defense and other assessments indicate that sanctions have not stopped Iran from building up its conventional military and missile capabilities, in large part with indigenous skills. However, sanctions may be slowing Iran’s nuclear program somewhat by preventing Iran from obtaining some needed technology from foreign sources. Iran is also judged not complying with U.N. requirements that it halt any weapons shipments outside its borders, particularly with regard to purported Iranian weapons shipments to help the embattled Asad government in Syria.

Despite the imposition of what many now consider to be “crippling” sanctions, some in Congress believe that economic pressure on Iran needs to increase further and faster. In the 112th Congress, a House-Senate compromise version of an extensive Iran sanctions bill, H.R. 1905 (“Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012”), was passed by both chambers on August 1, 2012 and signed on August 10 (P.L. 112-158). The bill makes sanctionable numerous additional forms of foreign energy dealings with Iran, including shipments of crude oil, and enhances human rights-related provisions of previous Iran sanctions laws. For a broader analysis of policy on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: September 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 84
Order Number: RS20871
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